Monday, December 29, 2008

PS2 and the new year

Well for New Year's it seems that I have to attend a party that my department is holding. But it's not too bad, I didn't have any other plans yet anyways. I can't spend New Year's Eve with Jean because at her company they have to work until midnight on New Year's Eve. They do go out to dinner stay and later they get like a phone call from the head of the company wishing Happy New Year, but in the time between dinner and midnight, they do actually have to work, it's not a party. Seems pretty rough to me.

Anyhow, pretty soon many of my foreign friends will be gone. 3 of the kids (20 somethings) here either already have or will have left China by the middle of January, and Nellie isn't leaving China, but moving to Shanghai. So at that point it'll pretty much just be Ellis and I here in Huzhou, save for a few other older foreign teachers who have families here.

I did get to break in my football today! On Mondays I have an English Corner, and I brought the football with me. I asked some of the kids there if they'd like to throw the ball around afterward, and a couple of the guys threw it with me. Sure, their form was horrible, and it was cold outside, but it felt good to play some toss and catch again.

I'm actually going to try to plan on inviting some students, and whoever else is interested, to the school soccer field Friday afternoon to introduce them to football. Now that I think about it, maybe I ought to look into getting some flags.

On another note, I did get the "genuine" PS2 disc, but when I put it into my PS2, it wouldn't even load at all. So, I contacted the seller (in Chinese of course), let him know, and he said to send it back and he would take a look at it.

So, last Tuesday, I sent it. He got it a couple days later and told me he tried it and had no problems. My guess is though that he got it, popped a game in, and when it worked, felt there was no problem. So I tried explaining to him my specific problem and with which specific games. He then said he would try to play those games himself and see if he could see the problem.

Well, later on, he said he tried them and had no problem. He suggested maybe it was the discs' problem or perhaps I was operating it incorrectly. It DEFinitely isn't that I was operating it incorrectly, and while it's possible the problem is the discs, I find it less likely that ALL of the discs, EVERY single game I tried had this problem.

(By the way, the problem is, the game would load and play, but then in the middle of playing the game, the audio would get all messed and the game would freeze. The game might unfreeze a few moments later but the audio would still be all screwy. In a game like Guitar Hero, which is THE reason I got the PS2, audio problems mean unplayability.)

I ultimately explained to him that I just wanted to be able to play my game, and the way things currently are I cannot. The seller was not being confrontational or uncooperative (from a Chinese standpoint that is, returning or exchanging merchandise in China is not as simple a process as it is in the states). To look at it from his end, he tried some games, and they seemed to work fine, so there wasn't a problem. Although I bought this online (from China's version of eBay), the seller was based in Shanghai and has a shop there. So being that he didn't see my problem, and knowing that I can recreate it easily, I asked him if I could go to his shop and show him the issue. He said ok. SO, on Thursday, the 1st, I will go to Shanghai (with Jean) and get this whole thing taken care of once and for all. Either the PS2 doesn't work when I show him and he replaces it OR it DOES work with a different disc, perhaps one he used, and then I just know I need to use a better disc. Either way is fine.

I also found out today that my break isn't as open as I thought. The semester is over for me after next week. However, the training center that the school has a relationship with will be having a winter program from Jan 11 to 17. Not terribly looking forward to it, but at least they do pay so will get a little bit of extra cash.

In other news, the losers lost again. The Bucs, just 3 weeks ago playing for the NFC South, lose 4 straight games and will sit out the playoffs. What a collapse. Pretty crappy, but frankly even if they'd lost 3 and won this last won, they'd've just snuck into the playoffs and lost the opening game anyways, taking it away from a team that actually deserves to be there (like this year's scrappy Eagles). The Dolphins, on the other hand, won 5 straight games, took the AFC South, and are heading into the playoffs on a good note. They play a tough Baltimore team who beat them earlier in the season, and I don't know if they can beat them this time, but at least they didn't just up and quit with 4 games left in the season.

What I am slightly concerned about is the very real possibility of Atlanta, or worse, Carolina winning a Super Bowl in our house, IN Tampa, since that's where the Super Bowl is this year. Oh well. What I do think is funny is the fact that New England goes undefeated last year and doesn't even get into the playoffs this season. To be fair, they did finish 11-5 which is a pretty darn good record, and it's just luck that this year 11-5 isn't good enough to make the playoffs for sure (which is rare).

Christmas and the End of the Year

So last week was Christmas and some of the other foreigners and I went out to dinner. As I said in the last post, the original plan was to go to Nellie's but there would've been just too many people. But before we went to dinner, a few of us did go to Nellie's first just for to hangout for a bit, and have a few snacks and drinks.

I brought along the Christmas episodes of Futurama. Man, that was a great show.

Anyways, when we went to dinner, we all ate at a western-style (meaning western food) restaurant here in Huzhou. I had eaten there once before with Wayne actually, and made the bold mistake of ordering the pizza there. Ketchup with pizza is not very good.

So this time I ordered something different: the steak. I was actually pleasantly surprised, it was really good. So, now I know where to get a tasty steak in Huzhou :D

Anyways, since I didn't end up having a potluck Christmas dinner, I didn't get a chance to make the baked ziti, but I still had all the stuff to make it. And I wanted to make it and make it soon since acquiring the ingredients was kind of expensive and since some of them wouldn't last much longer. The ricotta cheese I bought actually had a date of December 19 on it, but I figured, it had never been opened so it might be ok. But, to be safe, I would taste and smell it when I finally opened it. If it was good, I'd use it, otherwise I'd trash the whole thing. So, on December 26, (a week after the ricotta's date) I made the baked ziti before bringing it and heading over to Jean's in Hangzhou.

The only thing it was missing: meat. Originally since I had planned to make it for our small Huzhou group, two of the girls I know are vegetarians, so I didn't buy any meat to add to the ziti. Even though I wasn't making it for the group anymore, I didn't think to get any meat until I began cooking the ziti. Despite that, it actually turned out pretty damn good if I do say so myself! Ellis tried a bit before I left for Hangzhou, and she said it was good too.


Jean also really liked it. She agreed that it would be better with some meat, and also perhaps just a small amount of chili peppers to add just a bit of kick. I'm actually looking forward to making it again for some other occasion and serving it gooey and hot.

Also in Hangzhou this weekend, Jean took me to an "Italian" restaurant in Hangzhou. It wasn't one that caters to westerners, but rather Chinese. The advantage of this is that it wouldn't be as expensive as the former. The disadvantage is the risk that it may not be very good. In terms of Italian food, it was ok. The spaghetti was just ok and the garlic bread was fine. The pizza however was actually not bad, certainly no worse than at the Pizza Hut in Hangzhou, and yet at a third of the price. The best pizza I've had in China so far was still at the Papa John's, but this place's pizza, at only 20 yuan (about $3), was pretty fair.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Eve

So, some students had invited me to a couple of Christmas parties here on campus so I'll probably make an appearance at those.

Tomorrow night, I had originally planned to go over to Nellie's (another American English teacher) apartment for dinner with her and some other American/Canadians. But unfortunately for Nellie, the list of attendees grew a little too large for her apartment to accommodate (instead of 5 or 6 people, it would be 13 to 15 people). As such, we will all go out to a restaurant for dinner.

However that means that I won't bring the baked ziti I had originally planned to make. But it's not so bad. It means I can make it this weekend just for my girlfriend and I, and it leaves more for us to eat as well! :)

Anyhow, today when I went to the office before class, one of the Chinese English teachers had bought gifts for us, and she gave us some candy which she said was a gift from the school.

On my way to my first class, I was in for a surprise. As soon as I walked in, the students shouted "Merry Christmas!" and the one who had been waiting behind the door showered me with "snow" (shaving cream). They got me pretty good, but they did help me clean myself off and it didn't stain my jacket. In addition, they had all bought me a gift, a really beautiful cake!



My second class also wished me Merry Christmas and brought a gift for me: a smiling yellow dude coin bank, and they gave it to me inside this stocking (so I will have a stocking this Christmas).

All-in-all, I got a lot of loot today:


Anyway, if anyone back home is reading this, Merry Christmas and I'm thinking about and missing and love all of you!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Internet Connectivity

Well, My internet is finally back on.

For the 3rd consecutive weekend and also for 3rd time in a one week span, my internet was out. It's finally back on now.

It's been fairly frustrating, but this time the phone company actually came out to replace something, so I think (hope) it will finally be good this time.

Jean visited me this weekend and gave me my Christmas present since we won't see each other again till after Christmas. She told me last week that she got me something that she thought I would like, but I had no clue what it could've been.

So when I saw her, she gave me... a football!

I was really surprised and was seriously an awesome gift. I've been meaning to try and find one to toss around and maybe teach some of the students how to play. It's an official collegiate size ball.

Even more interesting though was she had planned to buy me a Tampa Bay Buccaneers football, and she even bookmarked the link, but when she went to go buy it later, it had already been purchased. (It was from an eBay-type website so there was only one available) Even though she wasn't able to get that one, I felt it was really cool of her that she even thought about that.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Guitar Hero! or Merry Christmas from the Chinese Supermarket

So I had been itching to play Guitar Hero and/or Rock Band since I've been gone. I'm sorry, that game is just too much fun.

Last month I had ordered a Guitar Hero controller (for the Playstation 2) and a USB adapter so I could play a "Guitar Hero" clone game on the computer.

However, it didn't quite work right. The timing for the detection was often off, and sometimes it just wouldn't detect it at all. I didn't know if it was the controller, the adapter, or maybe the computer processor just wasn't good enough to handle it.

In any case, I couldn't satisfyingly play Guitar Hero, so I began to save up for a Playstation 2 (PS2). And this month I ordered one off of Taobao.com (Chinese e-Bay). it cost 1100元 (yuan) or about $160 for the system, 2 controllers, and some games.

So I ordered the system yesterday, Thursday afternoon, and received it today, Friday afternoon. That's the one nice thing about ordering stuff online in China: it's usually cheap for delivery, and as long as its ordered from Shanghai, it's next day.

Anyhow, I fired it up, and the good news was, for games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band, the game played as it was supposed to, the timing was right and the controller worked great.

The bad news however was that quite often, like 70 to 80% of the time, the song would stop midway, as it would as if the disc was cracked or scratched or something. I had bought discs for Guitar Hero 1, 2 and 3 and Rock Band, and they all experienced this, which WOULD lead me to believe that something was wrong with the PS2. HOWEVER, ALL of those discs were pirated copies, burned DVDs. So I'm not totally sure if it is the machine or the discs. So today I ordered an original disc for Rock Band (cost about $7). If the original disc plays fine, its because the other discs are copies. If it has the same errors, its the PS2, which I kind of hope its not, because it's always kind of a hassle to exchange stuff purchased over the internet, and you're usually stuck paying the return shipping fees at least one way. In any case, I'll learn what the problem is soon enough.

Anyhow, I have a gym membership here in Huzhou, and I try to go to the gym 3-4 times a week, but I often get lazy and it becomes 2-3 times a week (more often 2). Unlike at home, where I can just walk 100 yards and be at the gym, here I first have to bicycle 5 kilometers (3 miles) to the gym. And as the weather has gotten colder, it has made me less enthusiastic about going.

But, despite getting the PS2 today, I DID go to the gym, not the least of which reasons being if I didn't go, it would've been only once this week, and I do really try to keep it to at least 2 times a week at minimum. After the gym I went to Tesco, the Wal-Mart like store near my gym. Since about the middle of November they've been playing Christmas music throughout the store, which is nice, and they also have signs up saying "Merry Christmas"
The funny thing about it is this: You see where it says "Merry Christmas" and then right below it are some Chinese words? You'd THINK that those Chinese words are the Chinese words for "Merry Christmas". But you'd be wrong. Merry Christmas in Chinese is 圣诞快乐 (Sheng Dan Kuai Le, literally "Christmas, Be Happy") But the words in that sign are 疯狂购物节 (feng kuang gou wu jie), which literally translates to...

"Extremely Popular Shopping Holiday".

Haha, at least the Chinese aren't kidding themselves about it.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

This Week, New Stuff + Internet Woes

So this Monday, I received two things in the mail I'd been waiting for: the package from my parents with the quilt that my Aunt had made for me. I didn't take it with me when I left because I only brought two bags to China and only had so much space, there just wasn't room. Also, when I arrived, early October, it wasn't that cold yet, so it wasn't necessary as now. However, I am REALLY happy to have it now, it makes a big difference. The weather right now isn't so bad, but essentially, every day the high is in the 50s, and the low usualy around 32. And that's only right now. Technically, winter hasn't begun yet! :S

The other package I was awaiting was a new phone that I ordered. The phone I had been using since I arrived was one I had been borrowing from Nellie (another American teacher here). It did the job, but couldn't connect to the internet (on the rare occasion that I might need to check something while not at home), and also occasionally, I'd have to restart the thing or else it'd not send or receive any calls or messages. Also though, Nellie is moving to Shanghai, and so, needed it back.

So after doing a bit of searching on taobao.com (the Chinese version of eBay) I found what was listed as a ciPhone. It essentially looks like an iPhone on the outside, but is certainly not one on the inside, either in terms of hardware or software. But it was cheap, just under $90 (they don't do free phones with contracts so much in China), the touch screen works well, and it does what I need it to do: send and receive calls, messages, and connect to the internet. I am just a bit disappointed in its video playback capabailities however. The only videos it will play well are very low resolution with a low frame rate. Think worse than youtube videos. But oh well, you get what you pay for.

Anyhow, I have been having MUCHO problems with my internet connection recently. When I arrived back in Huzhou from Shanghai this last Sunday evening, I came home to find the internet connection was down. Just like the last weekend, when I went to my friend's house to watch the football game. They got it working again Monday. And then it was fine for Tuesday and Wedne/sday. But then today, Thursday, it was on, the off for about 30 minutes, then on for about an hour, then off again for about 5 minutes, then on again for about 10 minutes, and then finally off again for several hours. In fact, I'm typing this right now in a word processor, waiting for the internet to come back up so I can post it.

I really hope this issue gets resolved soon. One outage on a rare occasion, ok you deal, it happens. But this is becoming a fairly frequent and frustrating occurrence.

Anyhow, as promised, finally, here is a video of my new apartment that I moved into a month ago. Rather here is a link to the video:

Trip to Shanghai

Last weekend (the weekend of the 12th) was the birthday of one of my American friends here in Huzhou and so we (we 20-something American kids in Huzhou) had planned to go to Shanghai to celebrate his birthday.

So this would be my first time actually visiting Shanghai. Landing at the airport, being picked up, and going directly to Huzhou doesn't count.

The others headed for Shanghai Friday evening, but I instead would meet up with them Saturday. The reason being is that I first headed to Hangzhou to go see Jin Song... my girlfriend.

Yes, that's right, I have a girlfriend here in China. She is my “friend” from Hangzhou that I mentioned in some previous posts.

Anyway, I met up with her first, and then together we met the rest of my friends in Shanghai on Saturday.

Shanghai was pretty cool. The transportation was SOOOO much better than in Hangzhou. Reason being, Hangzhou is a city about the size of Chicago, with only buses and taxis to get around. And although Shanghai is actually bigger than New York City, it is spread out further and has a solid subway system in addition to the taxis and buses.

Not to mention, Shanghai has the world's only actively running maglev train track. It runs about 30km (about 19 miles) and goes from the Shanghai Pudong airport to some subway station whose name I forget. Since it's a maglev (magnetic levitation) the thing can go REALLY fast. The whole trip takes about 7 minutes, so it AVERAGES 160 mph (257 kph). And at its fastest the thing is moving at 270 miles per hour! (420 km/h). By the way, I was told that the trip taks 7 minutes, but that if you were to take conventional means (like a taxi) it could take you 45 minutes to an hour, due to both distance and traffic)

So, I had to ride that! And I took a video of it while I was on. I wasn't sure how the video would turn out, but you can really get a sense of the speed from it. The video is about 7 minuts long and we reached top speed (270 mph) at about 3:15 into the video, and that whole minute (3:00 to 4:00) we were going at least 250 mph in that stretch. I've uploaded it to youtube so you guys can watch it.



Something else about Shanghai. You can be in Huzhou (a Tampa-sized city) for a couple weeks and not accidentally see another foreigner (American, Canadian, or European). In Hangzhou, when walking along the street, you'll see a foreigner about every 8 to 10 minutes or so. In Shanghai, however, you won't go a minute on the street without seeing other westerners. It's a very international city. There's really nothing special about that per se. It's just, I have been living in Huzhou for two and a half months now, and I have gotten used to doing a “Oh look, another foreigner!” when I happen to see one.

Also, since it is more international, they do have some Christmas decorations up around Shanghai, here's some pictures

This last one actually reminds me of an episode of the simpsons. There was an epsiode where Homer makes friends with a guy owns a toy shop and is explaining to Homer some of the weird toys he sells. One of them is a Japanese toy, a robot Santa Clause, who the shop owner says the Japanese refer to as “Annual Gift Man.” Anyways, in Shanghai, they have a display of a giant robotic Santa Clause and it reminded me exactly of the one from the Simpsons.

So anyways, Saturday night, for my friend's birthday, he had been craving Mexican food, so we went to a Mexican restaurant he had heard about in Shanghai. It was a fairly nice place, and judging from the clientele, certainly seemed to cater to foreigners. Also, you know you're eating a restaurant that caters to foreigners when the menu is ENTIRELY in English... as in there is NO Chinese on the menu. (I didn't even realize that at first, until Jin Song mentioned that she didn't know what these foods were because the menu was in English. By the way, her English is actually pretty good, but when you start talking about Mexican dishes that Chinese people have never heard of, let alone eaten, she was pretty much in the dark.)

Anyways, there was a problem when we arrived there: we did not have a reservation and they didn't have any open tables. However, they were very accommodating and offered to seat us in a lobby area. I guess we didn't think about what that meant exactly, but that's exactly what it was. In the waiting area, the lobby, they have some sofas and a coffee table, and they cleared it for the 6 of us to sit and eat there.

It was actually a bit surreal. We “kids” (all 20-somethings) we sitting around the short table eating dinner in the extra space, while all the “grown-ups” went into the dining room to eat. It was actually kind of funny in retrospect, but it essentially was like a “kids” table. Anyhow, it was a Mexican restaurant that catered to foreigners, and as such, it was kind of a “fusion” Mexican restaurant, or what I like to call “yuppy-Mexican” (Kind of like how P.F. Chang's in the states isn't really like Chinese food, they call it “fusion” cuisine, but it's really just yuppy-Chinese food). The food here was kind of expensive relative to other restaurants, and the portions a bit small. Anyhow, Jean (Jin Song's English name) and I ordered some tacos, which actually weren't terrible, but the rest of what we all ordered was a bit disappointing in terms of what you'd call good Mexican food, coupled with the price and portions.

The next day for lunch we ordered food from a different Mexican restaurant in Shanghai, not as high scale. The ingredients themselves did seem to be more authentic, less “yuppy” but we didn't have a menu when we ordered. And so, when we ordered beef tacos, they were a mini tortilla (a taquito) with... just beef. That's it. Just beef. No lettuce, no tomatoes, no onions, no cheese. Just beef. And not like a lot of beef, a sprinkling of beef that was fairly dry. Anyways, it would seem that if you want good Mexican food, and you live in China, you will be SOL.

I actually feel worst for Gino, the guys whose birthday it was, because he was the one who had been anticipating getting some good Mexican food all week in Shanghai (in Huzhou, you couldn't find a tortilla to buy if you wanted to).

One thing I also took care of in Shanghai was mailing out the postcards to some of the kids I know back home. That was actually something I could've done in Huzhou, but I would always forget, or when I'd remember, I didn't have a Chinese friend around to help me explain what I wanted to do at the post office. Anyways, at a post office in Shanghai, Jean helped me get the proper postage I needed to mail them off. One thing that was kind of different, the stamps there are not self-adhesive. You have to walk over to the counter and paste it yourself with glue like this:



Finally, the last thing I did do in Shanghai... For Christmas next week, we Americans are going to get together for a Christmas dinner and everyone will make something and bring it. I deciced to make baked ziti! However, in Huzhou, you can find tomato sauce, yes, but the only Italian noodles they have are spaghetti, and forget about the cheeses. So while in Shanghai I bought some ziti, mozzarella cheese and ricotta cheese in preparation.

All in all I liked Shanghai, certainly the availability of western foods was much more highly accessible, and the subway system made getting around fairly easy. Maybe next time I go, I will buy some tortillas to try and make my own tacos. Also, Pizza was available in many places, and while most cities (even small cities like Huzhou) in China have a McDonald's, Shanghai even had a Burger King. Mmmm, flame-broiled hamburgers....

Return

I haven't posted anything to my blog in about a month now. It's not that nothing interesting has happened. It's a combination of me being lazy and forgetting to take my camera with me, or buying worthless batteries (for my camera).

So about a month ago I did finally move into my new apartment, and I will take a video tour of it, but that'll be the next post.

About 2 weeks ago Wayne (of the group of 3 Chinese that came over for pizza and poker a while back) invited Ellis and I over to his family's home for dinner and to teach us how to play the Chinese game of Ma Jiang. So we went over there, helped them make baozi (Chinese dumplings) by hand and after dinner, they taught is the “Huzhou” brand of Majiang. By the way, his family have a very nice home, and a 65” TV, but I didn't have my camera with me, so I don't have any pictures.

Apparently in China there are several different flavors of Majiang in different regions (kind of like how each region has its own dialect), each with its own rules, but the version we played was actually somewhat similar to rummy, and was rather fun.

So that weekend I was excited about the SEC Championship game coming up: Florida vs Alabama. Now, for those that don't know, I'm able to watch American TV using a device called Slingbox. It's connected to my father's cable and his internet at his house. Then over the internet I can watch cable TV, actually controlling that cable box. The whole reason I even bought the device was for football. And I mostly pay attention to college football this year because it's on at a time when I can watch. If a college game is on at 6pm Eastern time on a Saturday, that is 7am Sunday morning for me. So any evening games I'm able to watch. However pro games, specifically the Buccaneer games, are usually on a 1pm Sunday, which is 2am Monday morning for me, so I can't watch them.

Anyhow that Saturday morning (Friday evening back home) I woke up, and my internet connection was out. Usually its not that big a deal, and there was nothing I really needed to do at that time. However, a few seconds later it hit me that if the internet was not back up by the next morning, I would miss the game! So after shouting a few profanities in no general direction, I began to think, “What can I do?”

My gym has internet, and so do some local coffeehouses. The problem was, however, that the game was on at 4pm ET, or 5am my time. Those places wouldn't be open.

So, I knew it would be a bit of an imposition, but I had missed so many football games this year, and I get to watch so few, I really wanted to see this game, so I called up Wayne, and asked him what he was up to Sunday morning. He said he was free, and then I explained my predicament to him. He said “Sure you can come over. I had no plans, and my fiancee and my parents are out of town this weekend, so its no problem.” He even said if it would be easier (since the game was on so early, 5am) that if I wanted to I could just stay the night.

Anyways, later that evening, my internet still had not come back on, and so I went over to Wayne's and we played some video games (on the DS), went to bed, and the next morning, watch the Gators win the SEC Championship game. I owe Wayne a huge debt of gratitude for that. Plus, we were able to connect my computer to his 65” TV, so it worked out pretty well.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Winter Clothes & Western Food

This past weekend, I went to Hangzhou to visit my friend Jin Song again. However, this past week, the weather had turned noticeably colder, and I figured it'd be a good idea to go ahead and get some warm winter clothes for when it gets even worse. Earlier in the week I had bought some long underwear (didn't need it yet, but I want to be prepared) and a hooded sweater (because I had to have SOMEthing to wear while I washed my jacket, which had become a bit dirty).

But now I needed to actually do some serious shopping and get some more clothes. So Jin Song went to the a mall in Hangzhou with me where they were having a sale. By the way, Hangzhou has SOOO many more people. I guess that's going to be typical of a large city though, but I'm actually thankful to be in Huzhou for that reason, I'm not overwhelmed by the sheer number of people.

Anyhow I did find a new pair of jeans (because my 2 pairs that I brought with me are really all I have here in the way of pants) a nice long—sleeve shirt, some quality gloves, and a REALLY nice (at least I think so) down jacket. Here's some picture of the new duds.

I kind of look like a serial killer in this picture, but thats the look I was going for while posing, so there.

I was able to buy the down jacket for $75 USD at a Jack Jones store, which seems like it was a good deal, but I'm not sure how much a jacket like this would cost in the US.

Anyways, that day in Hangzhou I did get to take advantage of one of the benefits of being in a larger, more westernish Chinese city: availability of western food!

For breakfast Jin Song and I went to a hotel that had an “American style” breakfast buffet. It was definitely a heart-clogging, diabetus-inducing meal, but oh was it good! I went up several times, but here you can see my first plate:



I guess that may seem quite ordinary for the rest of you back home (basically a grand slam at Denny's), and don't get me wrong, I'm not ripping on Chinese food, but it was definitely nice (albeit slightly expensive) to get some familiar breakfast foods.

The culinary indulgence didn't end there though. After a long, hard day of shopping, we went to one of the many pizza establishments they have in Hangzhou: Papa John's Pizza. Again, nothing really out of the ordinary for those at home, but it was great for me to enjoy some excellent marinera sauce (and not be surprised by the taste of ketchup) and some tasty chain-restaurant style pizza. I have to say though, I like the pizza at the Papa John's here better than at Papa John's places in the states.



Also, here is a nice shot of West Lake near sunset, just because it's a cool picture.

Thursday Night Poker & Pizza

So this past Thursday, Ellis offered to have a pizza night (where we'd make pizza) and invite some people over. I had some other Chinese friends from Huzhou whom I had told about my attempt at making pizza, and they mentioned they'd love to be there for my 2nd try. So I figured this was a good chance to ask them over. So we invited Nicole (a woman from Huzhou who I had met online before leaving the US, and so was the only friend I had in Huzhou prior to my arrival) and Wayne & Jayne.

Jayne was an ex-coworker of Nicole's so they were friends. I had met Wayne & Jayne about 2 weeks earlier; Nicole mentioned they were interested in meeting me since they would be moving to the United States next year. I thought they were really cool people, very warm, very interesting, and very smart. (By the way, all of these Chinese people can speak English, so if my Chinese failed, we weren't stuck.)

Anyhow, Ellis, being a self-proclaimed “foodie” and amateur culinary artist, prepared the pizzas, making the dough and sauce from scratch and did an excellent job:

When the guests arrived they noticed the poker chips out on my table and said they were curious to learn. So, while eating homemade pizza, I taught them and we played poker! Everyone had a great time and our Chinese friends offered to teach us Mahjiang the next time we get together. In case you've never heard of Mahjiang, it is a very Chinese game played with tiles and that's about all I know about it as of now, haha, but I guess I'll know more fairly soon.

New Apartment

So about 3 weeks ago the hot water was not working in my apartment. I called Tian Jia and she sent some workers over to fix it, but the hot water had been in and out pretty much the entire time since I had moved in.

As a temporary solution, until the workers fixed my hot water heater, Tian Jia gave me the key to the unoccupied apartment on my floor, since the hot water heater worked in there.

So I took a shower in that apartment, #607, and it was difficult not to notice how big it was! The living space was about twice the size of my apartment, the kitchen and bedroom were slightly bigger, but also the bathroom and kitchen each had a window to outside, making it feel less dank. So later, I talked to Tian Jia again and suggested that since I kept having hot water problems in my apartment (606) and since it worked in 607, maybe I could just move into 607. She said that sounded like a good idea, but needed to ask her director.

The next day she called me back and said it was cool, but that I'd have to pay for the cleaning lady to come and clean it since they had already paid for mine to be cleaned. With the advantages of this apartment, more space, brighter feel, and not least, hot water, this was no problem. In the meantime, I had been waiting for them to install the cooking hood, curtains in the kitchen and bathroom, and for the cleaning lady.

Last Friday (the 7th) I invited a bunch of the other foreign kids in Huzhou over to my place to play poker. Originally I had thought it was going to be about 6 people, which I can easily manage in my current apartment (606).

But earlier that day I got a text from Nellie; she invited even more local-living foreign people, so we'd have a total of 10. It was cool, the more the merrier I say, but we ended up having to move the game into my new apartment, 607, to accommodate all the guests.

It ended up being a lot of fun: good snacks, good people, and good beer. Ellis took some pictures:

[Poker pictures to be added]

My apartment is actually a bit out of the way for everyone else, so we may not do it at my place next time, but hopefully it won't be too long before we can do it again.

I also remembered how much I like playing poker with a group of friends, so the next day I invited a couple of guys, students at the school, over to teach them Texas Hold'em. They caught on pretty quick, and I learned how to say different poker terms in Chinese: fang qi (fold), xia zhu (bet), xiang den (call), jia (raise), fa pai (deal), xi pai (shuffle).

By the way, I will finally be moving into the new apartment this Sunday and Monday. Once I get all moved in I will post a video of it.

Monday, November 10, 2008

This post is not in chronological order

The Monday before Halloween, I sent out a text to a bunch of the other foreign kids here if they'd like to have a poker game Friday night.

I had forgotten that it was Halloween, and they shortly told me that they would be going to Shanghai for Halloween, there were parties there. They invited me, and I said I'd love to go with them, but I had to find a costume.

Well the problem of a costume was short lived as the next day I got a call from one of the teachers at the school saying that Friday night the students were having a kind of a show and they had formally invited myself and some of the other Chinese English teachers and the heads of the school. I was told that it was kind of important that I be there, so my plans got changed.

So, Shanghai got scrapped and I went to the students' show which was more of a formal production than I had initially thought. Anyhow, I was warned beforehand that the students would invite me, the new foreign teacher on campus, to perform up on stage. So I decided to keep it simple and just sang "Frere Jacque" (luckily the school leaders had left, so I was just singing in front of a bunch of kids).

Anyhow, not as exciting as Halloween parties in Shanghai would've been, but on the other hand, I seriously had NO idea what I was going to do for a costume!

Also, the other foreign teacher arrived from the states that weekend, so she JUST missed out on having to perform.

So that's something else, as of November 1, I have a neigbor!

The new teacher's name is Ellis. She's from Arizona and just graduated from Wellesley in May. Upon her arrival, I learned that her Chinese was already REALLY good as she's beens studying it for 4 years, and spent a semester last year in Beijing JUST studying the language. I hope I can get that good eventually, but I'm definitely going to have to 努力 (nu li, work hard).

By the way, Ed and mom, here is a picture of my Huzhou bicycle:

Voting Issues

Ok, I haven't updated my blog in almost 2 weeks. There's still lots of things going on, I just get busy, or sometimes lazy. And when I get lazy, I let more time pass, and the more time passes the less I feel like updating the blog about something that happened. Anyhow, I had quite an adventure trying to vote in the election last week.

The following post is about that process for me, but be warned, its VERY long. Probably too long but I finally finished it (I actually began writing it last Tuesday, so some of the things, like my internet, that were not working properly are now fine) and I don't feel like making it concise, so if you want to read it, it's a lot, and if not, ya ain't gonna hurt ma feelins.

So two weeks ago I filled out this form and faxed it to the Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections that requests that they send me an absentee ballot via email.

However, I didn't hear or receive anything from them, but I had an alternative... or so I thought.

The elections office had mailed an absentee ballot to me in the beginning of October, but was received after I left for China. I figured I could have my brother fill out my choices and then have my father sign it, since he has my power of attorney.

So, I called my brother up Sunday night, the Sunday before the election. I asked him to read me each point on the ballot and I he selected for me.

Then I told my dad about this, and he told me to have Richie (my brother) bring it to my father's house before my brother left for work (they live very close about 2.5 km apart).

I'm not exactly sure about the sequence of events after that, but I know that at some point my father was at the elections office in Tampa, I suppose trying to submit my absentee ballot. They would not accept it, but they said they could send me an absentee ballot via e-mail, but they had to contact me and talk to me first to verify that is what I wanted to do. They called once but either Skype didn't forward it to my cell phone or I didn't hear my cell phone. They called me again and I heard my phone ring and I answered but the person on the other end couldn't hear me. Luckily they called me right back (since I can't make international calls from my cell phone, only from my computer). The woman asked me if I agreed to the absentee e-mail ballot, I did, and she said it would be sent that day.

Later that day I got an e-mail from that woman confirming our conversation and her contact phone number. However I did NOT receive the e-mail absentee ballot. I replied to her e-mail saying I had not received it, but this reply was sent at 2am Florida time, so I could only hope she'd see it first thing in the morning.

Anyways, Tuesday night (Tuesday morning in the states) I went out to dinner with Ellis, the new teacher at the school here and my new neighbor, and the other foreign teachers here in Huzhou, so Ellis could meet the gang. Afterwards she needed a few things and I needed milk so we stopped at the grocery store. I also picked up peanut butter and bread. When we got back she asked for some help setting up her internet. The school gave her a computer, like me, and it worked when she arrived, like mine did, but she was wanting to be able to use her Mac.

By the way, her internet works as it is supposed to. Meaning she doesn't have to install special software on her computer in order to access the internet, and her internet access doesn't cut out at midnight. These were problems that were supposed to have been fixed in my apartment as of this last Friday, but as of Tuesday, they had not been. Anyways, after setting up her internet and getting an actual wireless network up and running, the power in the building went out completely. Not a scheduled power off like they do for the students when the turn the students' power off at 12. The whole building lost power: the foreign teacher dorms, the lights in the hallway, everything.

At that point, I was about to go to bed, but I remembered I had to get the absentee ballot filled out before 7 PM Florida time. I guess because the internet is through a DSL line, it is not on the same power as the rest of the building, because I was still able to access the internet, using my laptop and its battery power. I tried to call the woman, Jacque, at the elections office, but the circuits were busy. I emailed her again. And then I called my dad to let him know my status. He said just to try to keep calling. So I did, and I got repeated circuits busy signals, but finally got through. I waited on the line, as calls were being answered in the order they were received. The receptionist answered and said "Hillsborough Country Supervisor of Elections." I asked to be transferred to Jacque's extension, and then the signal got cut off. So I tried calling back, again and again, and finally after many more "All Circuits are Busy" messages, I got through. I asked to be transferred, and finally, connected with Jacque. I told her I had not received the absentee ballot via email. She asked me to wait, she would check on why that was. After about 5 minutes she came back and told me it would be e-mailed within the next hour, and if I didn't receive it to call her back.

Now, this was at 11:30pm China time. The power had been out for about 80 minutes at this point. My computer battery only had about 20 more minutes of power (it's 3 years old so I only get 90-100 minutes of battery time), and even if the power DID come back on, my internet still turns off at midnight (even though it is supposed to have been fixed already).

Anyhow, at about 11:47pm, 2 minutes before my computer lost power, I did finally receive the e-mail with the absentee ballot. That my computer lost power wasn't so bad. As long as I could get to the internet somewhere, I could get it. And even if I had power and internet after midnight, all I would've been able to do is copy it to my USB flash drive. To print it, fill it out, and fax it I would've had to wait till morning anyway.

At that point, I was tired, and there was nothing else to do anyway, so I went to sleep. I set the alarm on my cell phone for 5:30 am. I woke up at 5:30 but still had no power. So, knowing that I had until 8 am (7 pm EST) to get the stuff taken care of, and knowing that nothing was open this early, I went back to sleep until 6:30. I woke up again at 6:30, still no power, but I could always just use a computer in the school. I would need to go into the school to print and fax anyhow.

So, I made my self a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for breakfast (no cereal, didn't want to open the fridge with the power off), and headed off to our office. I arrived at 7:15am (6:15pm EST, 5745 minutes till the polls would close in Florida). Once there, no one was there and no computer was on. I went to the office next door, which was also an English teachers' office. There was one guy there, and I asked him if I could "shang wang" (上网, use the internet). He said sure and he let me, but he then said "ke shi you yi dian man" 可是有一点慢 (but it is a bit slow). A bit slow was an understatement. After plugging in my USB flash drive to download the PDF file, it took THREE minutes for the thing to recognize it. About that time another teacher showed up in that room: Mr. Xia. (Xia is pronounced kind of like "sha") I've met him several times before and he's a really nice guy and his English is fair. He offered to let me use his laptop as it was a bit faster. So thanks to Mr. Xia (who would prove instrumental in this process) I was able to access my e-mail and download the PDF for the absentee ballot to my USB flash drive. It was now 7:30 am (6:30 pm EST). The next step was to print it. There is not a printer in either of the offices for the English department, and the room they [the English teachers] use to print was not yet open.

At that point, with just under 30 minutes to go before the deadline, I considered giving up; this was going to be nearly impossible to get done in time, and there wasn't much I could do about it. But I couldn't. It was my fault I didn't take care of this stuff sooner, and so I had to try down to the last minute.

With the help of Mr. Xia (Xia, 夏, means summer by the way), we went to other teachers' offices nearby where someone, anyone was in, asking if they had a printer (da3 yin4 ji1). Finally we found one, they booted up the computer and let me print the 6 pages I needed (the document was 7 pages, who needs instructions in Spanish?).

It was now 7:40am. I had 20 minutes in which I had to fill it out and fax it. Since I didn't know of any closer or better place to fax it, I went to the same office I went to last time to fax the absentee ballot form 2 weeks ago, Tian Jia's office. The last time I had sent an international fax, we used the fax machine FROM Tian Jia's office, but they cannot make international calls from that room. So, we had to bring the fax machine into the office of a man across the hall (I can't remember his name. How terrible! Let's call him Mr. H) in order to send it, so we'd probably have to do that again. Tian Jia works in the administrative building which is on campus, but not super close to where I was at that point. So, I sprinted down the hall, ran down the stairs, unlocked my bike and high-tailed it to the admin building. I then ran to Tian Jia's office, arriving at 7:45. I knew she wasn't there yet, but hoped maybe someone was. No such luck.

I then tried to see if I could find ANYone whom I could ask "Nar keyi fa guo ji chuan zhen?" (Where can I send an international fax?) The first person I saw walking up the stairs was Mr. H! Luck was finally turning. After asking him if I could send a fax, he said we could, but Tian Jia was not in yet. In Chinese (Mr. H was EXTREMELY helpful but unfortunately speaks very little English) I told him I knew, but that I had to send this fax Before 8 am. When we got to his office it was 7:46, but unfortunately, no one had yet arrived at the office across the hall, the one with the fax machine.

Luckily, one of Tian Jia's co-workers, a girl named Yuan yuan, arrived 2 minutes later, and then Tian Jia about 30 seconds after that. So, we moved the fax machine over to Mr. H's office and began setting it up. I scanned the instructions page for the phone number, but before we started that, I wanted to make sure we would be dialing correctly, so I called my dad from the fax phone. He picked up, I said, "It works, gotta go!" Then we began faxing the actual absentee ballot at 7:55 am (6:55 pm EST). However, I tried to put all the pages in at once, let the fax feed them through as multiple pages (5 in total, no need to fax the instructions page), but Yuan Yuan and Tian Jia said I had to feed them one at a time. Unfortunately, this meant it had to dial each page as a separate fax, which, figuring dialing, connecting, scanning, and disconnecting, ended up taking about a minute per page. Finally, on the last 2 pages it was 7:59 and I just went ahead and put both pages in the fax, hoping it would feed both pages through as one fax, and figuring if the pages were received after 8, it wouldn't matter anyway. The 2 pages DID feed through as a 2 page fax, and the time on the fax machine said 8:01.

Next I wanted to call the elections office to see if they had received my ballot. Unfortunately I didn't have the number for the elections office handy, so tried calling my father, my brother, my mother, and my sister to see if they could check it on my e-mail. But none of them answered, so I called the only other number that I could remember off the top of my head: Joe Molinaro. He was still at work, but he did answer and was able to check for me.

So next I called the elections office to see if they received my ballot. The receptionist who answered tried to transfer me over to the woman who could check, but she was not in, but the receptionist offered to send me an e-mail later to confirm that they had received it.

A couple hours later I received the e-mail, and they got it! After all that, my vote finally counted!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Getting the Hang of Things

So this last weekend, after a lack of options on pizza, I decided to try and make my own.

I've done this more than a few times before in the states, and it usually tasted pretty good, so I figured this would be easy. What hubris! I made some pizza, and it looked alright, but it didn't taste too hot.

However, I forgot that back home, I bought the dough pre-made, and the sauce was labelled "pizza sauce" and I knew which cheese to choose.

Here, you can't just go buy "pizza dough," the cheese selection in slim, and so is the tomato sauce. (Remember, the word for "tomato sauce" in Chinese is EXACTLY the same as the word for ketchup.)

I bought some tomato sauce in the imported foods section at the grocery store here in Huzhou, the RT-Mart or "Da Run Fa" (大润发) as the locals call it. The consistency looked pretty good, and it was imported from Italy. Also, it actually tasted alright as a pasta sauce when I cooked some spaghetti. But as a pizza sauce, it was lacking, perhaps not sweet enough. Maybe next time I'll try the Hunt's tomato sauce. Yes, that's right the cheap-o Hunt's tomato sauce. It's not cheap here, but maybe it'll do better service as a pizza sauce, no way to really know until I try.

I mentioned that when I went to Hangzhou the weekend before I had bought some mozzarella cheese. At the store there, there were 2 brands of it. I couldn't tell you what I was thinking when I decided to buy the less expensive one. The Land O'Lakes one. Bad move on my part. Next time I will definitely use the better mozzarella.

Finally, the dough. As I said I had always bought the dough pre-made in the past, but this time I had to make it from scratch. So I bought some flour, yeast, and sunflowerseed oil. I know it's ideal to use olive oil, but seriously, olive oil is REALLY expensive here, like it costs twice as much here as it does in the USA, and they have several other oils that were so much cheaper, and also, since it is my first month here, and I had to spend money on buying supplies for my place and for the gym membership for 9 months (you have to pay the membership all upfront), so I went with the more economical choice. Maybe it's because I didn't use olive oil, maybe not. The fact is, the making of the dough from scratch was a lot more involved than I had thought, and also, it was the first time I had ever done it. I began making the dough at 11, thinking I could be done and eating by 12, 1 at the latest. But mixing the dough, waiting for it to rise, beating the dough down, letting it rise again, that all took about 2 and a half hours before even spreading the dough on the pan.

Anyways, it was a bumpy process because I was looking at the directions online, going into the kitchen to do it, coming back and looking online, and repeat. Next time I will have a better idea of what I am supposed to be doing so it should be a lot smoother and more streamlined. If I do it again after that, even more-so an then maybe I can tweak the recipe for the dough.

After it was all said and done I ate at 3 pm. But it DID actually look pretty good. Have a look:

Anyhow, that was the first time I used the toaster oven, but the 2nd time came the next day, I baked some chicken. That turned out ok, but was a little too salty. That problem was easily enough fixed though; I baked chicken again last night for dinner: far less salty, much better. I will say though, it was UBER convenient back home being able to buy boneless, skinless chicken pieces. The bone part really isn't a big deal, but it's kind of a pain to take the skin off myself.

This week of teaching was quite a bit less awkward, I believe I am starting to feel a bit more comfortable in my position, but things are yet far from routine. I'm sure as time goes on it well keep getting better.

The weather has begun to turn a bit cooler, and it has been wetter the past week as well. My old LTC jacket is still deceptively warm and works quite nicely, but I think I will need to do some shopping soon for some long sleeve shirts, maybe a pullover, and, in preparation for winter, long underwear.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Wednesday Night Episode

Something fairly interesting went on Wednesday night.

But first, I appreciate everyone's comments, in fact I really enjoy reading everyone's comments, But I also especially like knowing who says what. The way these blogs work, I can either allow anonymous posts, or I can restrict so only registered users can leave comments, and I didn't want to do that because it's such a hassle and then no one would ever leave comments. And I know that at the time you leave your comment you think, "Well it should be pretty obvious to T.J. that this is me," and sometimes it is, but I've got a lot of friends and family apparent, so it's not always obvious. So as a favor to me, when you leave a comment as "anonymous" I'd ask that you put your name somewhere in the post. I love reading everyone's comments, so please leave 'em and leave more! Just let me know who said what. :)

Ok, back to Wednesday night, Oct 22.

Wednesday was Gwen Hoy's birthday. (Gwen is another American teacher in Huzhou, but at a different school.) So she invited everyone to a birthday dinner at 7. It was very nice, and afterward a few of us went to a bar for a couple drinks. It was fairly nice, had a live band, and since we were sitting too close, it was fairly loud. Anyways, afterward, I had to walk about 2 kilometers (that's 1.2 miles) back to my bicycle. Don't worry, I was NOT riding drunk. I had had about one drink at the dinner (dinner lasted from 7-9pm) and then maybe 1.5 drinks at the bar soon after we arrived at 9:30 and we left the bar at 10:45, so the each of them were completely processed by the time I arrived at my bike at 11:15.

So, I cycled my way back to campus, the guard opened the gate for me, and I rode the last kilometer back to my apartment, arriving at 11:45pm.

Now, the thing about my place is, it is in the same buildings as the student dorms, and the students have a curfew off 11pm. At 11pm, they lock the doors. Now, I have come home after 11 twice before tonight. Each of those occasions, I knocked on the door, and there is a woman posted just inside, and she would let me in. She can sleep, but since she is on-the-clock while at the school, she must be ready. (There are about 3 different women who do this and it's a different one each night.)

Now, normally there is a lock there, and they would give the foreign teachers living there a key. But apparently, the lock was not working right, so the door was chained shut from the inside. But it had been this way before, so I didn't worry at first.

So, I knocked lightly, waited a minute with no response. So then I knocked harder. Waited another minute. Then I tried knocking a little harder, still nothing.

About this time I noticed some flashlights walking toward my building along the path to my building. It was a couple of guards who worked there. As they came up, one of them asked me what was the problem. In Chinese of course.

Anyhow, I couldn't quite think how to say "I've knocked but she hasn't answered" but I certainly know enough to say 我住在这里 (Wo zhu zai zhe li, "I live here").

So then he and the other guy realized what was going on and they began just banging away at the door and yelling for the woman to come out. But still nothing. So they kept going at it even louder! It was quite a racquet and they went on for about 5 minutes, banging and yelling. Again, even if someone had the normal key to the building, it would do no good since the doors were chained shut from the inside, so she had to wake up and open it.

One of the guards tried to explain something to me, but I didn't understand, but then he explained it using some different words and I understood him. What he essentially said was that sleeping is not her job, this is her job. I'm not a student, I'm a teacher, so since the student curfew doesn't apply to me, she should be prepared to open the door if I arrive home after 11. He said something along the lines of, "if I just slept during my post, what good would that do?"(because he is a guard).

After several minutes of this loud noise, several students awoke. From the students I heard a lot of "Tian Na!", literally, "Heavens!" and from the guards to the students, a lot of "Bu hao yi si!", meaning "Very sorry." But the guards did ask one of the students to go down and wake the door woman. The student, a girl, did NOT seem too happy about this. But she did go down, woke her up, and she opened the door.

After that the guards left almost immediately and the woman at the door said nothing to me, but I've got a feeling she's not gonna like me too much anymore, haha.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Still kind of the first week of teaching

Since I had gone to Hangzhou last week on Monday and Tuesday for my physical checkup, I had not begun my Monday and Tuesday classes yet, so I had my first Monday and Tuesday classes this week.

The kids seem interested enough, but, and this may be a cultural thing, they are very reluctant to raise their hands and volunteer in class. And I mean when we're playing something like Hangman, and I said "Raise you hand if you want to guess a letter," I hear people whispering or saying letters, but still no one raises their hand. I have to call on them individually. But that's no big deal, I'll try and find some way to invite their participation, perhaps candy.

So Monday evening I went over to Nellie's (the other American teacher at my school) apartment to pick up an extra toaster oven she had. I now have the tools to bake a pizza! Just have to pick up the ingredients (as I will have to make the dough from scratch). I will give it a shot this weekend.

By the way I don't know if I mentioned it in previous posts, but last week a friend of mine invited me to lunch. So we went, and I knew I was taking an awful risk, but I ordered the pizza there. It was a personal sized pizza, and it didn't look very good, but I took one bite... and spit it back out. Can you believe that for the sauce they used.... KETCHUP! Gross. I couldn't even eat anymore, I ordered something else. Hopefully my pizza ends up alright. Worst case scenario, if I visit Hangzhou again or Shanghai soon, they have a Pizza Hut. If it's anything like the Pizza Hut in Beijing then it's not fantastic pizza, but at least it's edible.

Finally, I got my bicycle last week, but I made a HUGE mistake. It's a 1-speed bike. If I LIVED in downtown, that would be fine, because with all the traffic, other bikes and pedestrians, you're never really going at full-speed for more than a few seconds. However, I live a good 5km (about 3 miles outside of downtown. About 2.5km of that 5 km is in traffic, but the other 2.5 km it is fairly wide open with a few slopes (bridges) and I am limited to first gear. If I do a sprint on the bike I get going fairly quick, but you can't sprint for much longer than 30 seconds at a time. If I had a 5-speed, it would not only make it SO much easier, but I would be able to get home so much faster. Anyhow, I heard it is fairly common for bicycles to get stolen in China. One Chinese friend of mine has lived in Huzhou for 10 years and has had 10 bikes stolen. Nellie has been here just over 2 years and she said she is on her 3rd bike. Anyway, if something happens to this bike, I won't be too upset as it gives me an excuse to get a better bike. :D

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Weekend in Hangzhou

So I'm a bit late in updating, I've just been a bit busy, and when I haven't been busy I've been tired.

So this last weekend I visited Hangzhou, a large city about an hour south of Huzhou. I'd been here before for the medical checkup, but was just there for that and left. This time I was going as a tourist. I heard that West Lake (西湖 Xi Hu) is quite beautiful. So I went to Hangzhou and a friend of mine, Jin Song, met me at the bus station and we went to West Lake. It really was pretty nice, and I took some pictures of course!

There is a street there that my friend told me is considered the historic district, and the buildings do look quite traditional, but I actually forgot what the name of the street is.

But it is a tourist destination, and what tourist hotspot is complete without a Disney store?

I thought this was interesting because it's a McDonald's in an ancient building.

Here is West Lake itself.

They also had little boats where you could go out on the lake. We rented one of those and got some more pictures. Here is that same tower just closer.

And here is a daytime view of the downtown Hangzhou skyline.
These other pictures were in the park area around West Lake, nice imagery is all.

Hangzhou has a LOT more people than Huzhou. Once I rode the bus from downtown Huzhou back to my place and I thought it was crowded. I was sorely mistaken. When I was leaving Hangzhou, my friend and I took a city bus back to the bus station (to go back to Huzhou). It was like sardines in a can, it was so crammed! I don't know how they do it everyday, ugh.

However, with so many more people (Hangzhou is Chicago-sized while Huzhou is about Tampa-sized) comes some other benefits. For one, there are more foreigners. In Huzhou, in a week, granted my first week, I unexpectedly met 3 westerners that I did not know. In Hangzhou, I saw that many in half an hour just walking around.

But the BIGGEST benefit of a larger city is that it is easier to find certain western foods. Now don't get me wrong I'm willing to eat Chinese food for lunch and dinner. Some of it I like, some of it I don't, but for lunch or dinner I'm adventurous enough to give it a shot. But breakfast, I'm sorry, you just want something easy, comfortable, familiar, where you don't have to wonder what it will taste like. Now I was able to find one kind of cereal in Huzhou, some imported German cereal of cornflakes and freeze dried fruits. It tastes fine, but the selection here is limited to that or the box of plain cornflakes and they are expensive, like $8 USD per box.

But in Hangzhou there is a Chinese chain grocery store called "Carrefour." Now, their selection is still lacking compared to any grocery store in the US, but at the very least I could find other things like Frosted Flakes or Cocoa Krispies or similar things, and they weren't expensive! I picked up a box of Frosted Flakes for $2. They also had the German cereal, and it was still expensive. I think these other cereals weren't expensive because they were packaged in Thailand rather than imported from Europe.

But most importantly, I've been looking to make a pizza on my own here, due to Huzhou's lack of pizza. However, Huzhou lacks mozzarella cheese, but not the Carrefour in Hangzhou! These may seem like trivial things back in the states, but I was psyched to finally find some mozz.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Bicycling in Traffic

So, on Wednesday, my 2nd day with the bicycle, I rode to downtown to go to the gym SO it was my first time riding the bike in traffic.

I was a bit nervous at first because the traffic here is rather chaotic to look at. But after a few days I began getting used to it and actually, I'm not so nervous anymore, and it's kind of like a video game. Still fairly dangerous and you gotta watch out, but the city is set up for pedestrians and bicycles, and the cars are always definitely looking out for bikes and peds, so its really not too bad.

When I first got here I noticed they're constantly using their car horns. At first I thought it was strange but now I realize, it's a necessity. With so many bicycles, mopeds, and pedestrians, its not a "Hey get out of my way jerk!" horn, it's really a "There is a car approaching behind you, be careful" horn. That is unless you DON'T get out of the way, in which case the horn will beep repeatedly and then it DOES mean "Hey, get out of my way jerk!"

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

First Week of Teaching

So Monday I didn't start teaching because I had to go to Hangzhou (the capital of this province) to get some medical tests done. Unfortunately, after we had driven about three quarters of the way there, I realized I had forgotten my passport! The others who went with me actually had other business in Hangzhou, so it was a completely wasted trip, but I DID have to go again today.

When I got back Monday though, I did have enough time for my afternoon class: English Corner. It's not so much of a class as just sitting down with the students and having conversation. When I showed up, there were only 8 students, but that's because most of the students didn't know that the class had begun that day. I later discovered that there will typically be more students: anywhere from 30 to 80!

At English corner, among the 8 who were there, their levels varied, but there was some genuine enthusiasm. I also told the students that in my classes they were only to use English, but that since I am also learning Chinese, outside of class they may use either English or Chinese with me.

So that was yesterday. Today, I went BACK to Hangzhou, did NOT forget my passport, and everything went swimmingly. The classes I would've had today were cancelled because we weren't sure I'd be back in time from Hangzhou. I did get some cool new stuff today though: a water dispenser in my apartment, and a bike! I walked to downtown on Sunday, and from the door of my apartment to the heart of downtown Huzhou takes almost exactly 1 hour. Taxis are convenient, but would get too expensive to take them everyday. The bus is a reasonable alternative, but the issue is that to walk from my front door to the bus stop still takes 15 minutes. Sure, running would chop that in half, but then I'd be tired and out of breath, not too mention sweaty and stinky, so a bike is the best solution.

So, Tian Jia went with me this afternoon to go get a bicycle and it plus the lock cost me 398 yuan, about $60. After that she had something else to go to. I was wanting to go to the gym here in town. It has been 2 weeks since I've worked out and I'm not liking it. So, I walked with the bike to downtown, which was not far from the bike shop. I didn't ride because after buying it, I realized that has been 7 years since I've even mounted a bicycle. And the traffic here is pretty crazy, so I figured downtown Huzhou was NOT the place to work out my rusty riding skills. I did visit the gym, it looked pretty nice, they even have a nice bar and sitting area WITH WiFi. One of the workers giving me the tour could speak some English, so I used both English and Chinese with him. Also made a new foreign friend at the gym, a Mexican guy named Arturo who lives in Huzhou apparently.

After the gym it was about 6:00 pm and it started getting dark (that's when it gets dark here, but on the bright side, the sun rises at about quarter to 6 in the morning). So I walked most of the way back to my place, not wanting to ride in traffic just yet. Along the way I saw an old man selling fruits, and the bananas looked good, so I bought a few. 8 bananas for under a buck, not too bad. But more than that I felt good about my Chinese skills, and I should only get better from here.

When I finally got near the entrance of the school, I hopped on the bike. The first 10 meters were a bit wobbly, but after that it was all good. Like riding a bicycle.

I don't have any new pictures today, I always forget to bring my camera with me, but to be honest, my camera is a bit clunky to carry around casually. I want to get a new phone soon, preferably one with a good camera so that I needn't have that concern.

Also, something I forgot to mention in previous posts: Friday night, I was invited to go for massages with Nellie, Gwen, and Gino. We all met up around 9pm, and then Nellie mentioned to us that this other English teacher, Paul, a Canadian, invited is to go to S.O.S., a bar/karaoke place in town, free drinks, free good, etc. Once there we met Paul and his family, and some other Chinese people there with him.

We decided that we could get a massage anytime, so we hoofed it over to S.O.S. We arrived and started drinking and singing. They served a mixed drink of Jack Daniels and Nestea, which, surprisingly, is pretty good! There actually is one Chinese pop song that I know, so I decided to sing it. Some Chinese people told me that I did very well and that they've never heard a foreigner sing a Chinese song before, so they were impressed. As I began drinking more, as has happened in the past with my Spanish, I began speaking a lot of Chinese. It certainly can't be that know anymore while drinking, it's just that I become less conscientious about making mistakes in the language while drinking. Anyways, it ended up being a fun time, and I arrived home around 2.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Video on Blog

It seems that the video works for some and not for others. It actually does not work for me. For those who cannot see the video, I uploaded it to youtube:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v74fMnPE50Q

Also, if anyone ever leaves a post as anonymous, it'd be cool for me if you could also leave your name or something so I know who its from. Thanks!

First Weekend in China

Well, I've been here 5 days now. At first it was almost overwhelming so much stuff to see, and take in. But I've been adjusting.

By the way, I posted pictures before of my dormitory, but that was on the day I had arrived, before I moved into it. I have now moved in, and have purchased a few things to make it feel like a home (you know, soap, paper towls, garbage bags, S-video cables to connect the computer to the TV, all the typical stuff). As such I made a short video tour of my place:

video

Now, the few times I've been downtown I haven't been finding my way around, I've just been following my friends, so I don't really have an idea of what is where. So today I decided to talk a walk from the school to downtown and walk around and get my bearings.

I think I have a better idea how the downtown area is laid out now, although it takes nearly an hour to walk there from my apartment. I think I'll try and get a bike soon to make things more convenient.

I've seen quite a few Tiburons since I've been here, although, they don't say "Tiburon" on the car here, it just says "Hyundai Coupe"


I met Tian Jia today in the downtown area. She needed some passport-type pictures of me for some paperwork and we went to get those. Afterward, it was about 2:30 and I hadn't eaten lunch so we went to KFC. It was pretty much the same greasy stuff we've got at home. By the way, apparently, Chinese people don't verbally differentiate between "drumstick" and "thigh." You say "da tui" which means "big leg" but BOTH the thigh and drumstick are called this same thing, so it's hard to tell them I want just a thigh.

After that I went to get some fruit from one of the supermarkets. I picked up some seedless grapes. I had some grapes the day before, but they were seeded. Trying to eat seeded grapes is a lot like trying to eat small meat chunks that have tiny bones in them: you have to try and separate the soft parts from the hard parts in your mouth, then spit out the hard parts. Seedless grapes are a bit more expensive here, but SOOOO much easier!

While at the supermarket, I also scouted out the meat area to try and find the stuff I like to cook. You can't even find chicken thighs not part of a whole or half chicken. I also noticed some other interesting bits, and I took pictures:

Pig Heart

Pig Intestines

Pig Tongue

Pig Kidney

Pig Hoof

Finally, after I left the supermarket, I was just meandering around the downtown area for a bit, getting familiar with the area when I saw the AWESOMEST mannequin ever:


Also, I didn't think to take a picture, but they had an "official Apple retailer" in Huzhou. I went inside, and the MacBook they had on display was running Windows XP, haha.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

First Day Blog... A Day Late

I am actually posting this nearly 18 hours after I wrote it, but everything after this sentence was stuff I wrote the morning after my first day in China; I couldn't post it because I didn't have internet access until now.

Arrived in China:

So Yesterday, I arrived in China at about 10:30am local time.

Without much of a hitch I met the representative from the school at the airport and exchanged my US cash for some Chinese cash.
The school's rep will assist me with administrative things I need to do here in China. Her name is Tian Jia (also "TJ" she noted). There was a 2 hour car ride from Shanghai back to Huzhou. My body had no idea what time it was supposed to be, I was super tired. When we got to Huzhou it was about 12:30, so they (Tian Jia and the driver, who also works for the school) took me to lunch.

So, I had my first meal in China. We went to a Sichuan restaurant, and we ordered spicy frog and spicy rabbit, the first time I've eaten either of those two animals. Here are the pictures.



FYI: When Chinese people call something spicy, it is SPICY, no pussy-footing around it. This stuff will clear your sinuses something fierece, and even the driver (a Chinese) was sweating while eating it! Also, they don't take all the tiny little bones out of the frogs and rabbits, so you have to eat around it, or separate it in your mouth and spit out the bones... rather annoying.

Now, the dorms where I will be staying are brand new. SO new, in fact, that the hot water heater and shower was not yet completely installed, so the first night I stayed in a hotel. But before going to the hotel, Tian Jia took me to see my place. Here are some pictures. It's actually bigger and nicer than I expected, but then again, it is new.

Nice big balcony.


View from the balcony.



(And yes, the shower is adjacent to the toilet, without a separator.)

All in all, the only complaint I have about it is that is on the 6th floor and there is no elevator. I have a feeling that's going to get old Real fast.

Also, here's a nice shot of downtown Huzhou (not from my apartment).



After seeing my dorm, I went to the hotel to take a shower and nap. Originally I was only going to take a 3 hour nap and then Tian Jia was going to show me around downtown Huzhou a bit, but I ended up not hearing her knock at the door, so it became a 6 hour nap. We did go out around 9:30 saw a few things, but my stomach started aching a bit (I had had about 5 meals in 32 hours, I just needed to "evacuate" a bit). So I went back to my hotel and then went to sleep. Tian Jia is going to come fetch me around 10:30am, but I actually woke up at around 4am, and couldn't get back to sleep, so that's what I'm doing now. :)

Anyhow, I'll learn more about my schedule, my responsibilities, etc in the next couple days. As things are right now, I'm really excited. Almost hard to believe I'm actually here.