Sunday, August 28


Before I went to Beijing, I found out that my debit card had just expired, so I've been on a limited budget since then. I was able to enjoy Beijing a lot since I stayed in a really cheap place, so I even got to shop a little bit, and I had enough money to make it for almost two weeks afterwards here in Yanji on the remaining money. Today, I had about 30 yuan left in my wallet, so I hadn't hit rock bottom yet, and I finally got the ATM card! Woo hooo! Now I can buy a water heater and start taking some hot is good.

This week, we just have a lot of meetings, but the pace is still pretty slow. I've been reading a lot, studying a little, and taking a few naps. The pace will pick up considerably once classes start, because I'll be taking language classes and teaching language classes, getting to know my students, grading, making tests, all that fun stuff that goes with teaching at a university.

Thursday, August 25


Yanji has taken another step towards civilization. Cabs are now required to use their meters! Since I've been here, I've learned how to bargain a taxi rate before I get in. Yesterday, I learned that the drivers are actually expected to use the meters that are in every taxi anyway. So last night, coming back from downtown, one of the girls first asked the rate to take us back to school and he said 10 yuan. That's the usual rate at night from downtown, so we got in. Then, we remembered that we could ask him to use the meter, so we did. He didn't want us to use it, so he said it didn't work, but we insisted. It was only 7 yuan, but then as we sat and he tried to get us to pay 10 like he said at the beginning, it went up to 8. So, we paid 8 and he acted like he was giving us a deal. The great thing about the meter system is that it won't matter that I'm white (which usually makes it harder to bargain) and it won't matter if it's raining or if it's night time, because taxis will always be the same rate! What a concept.

Sunday, August 21

a few more days of rest!

I've been taking it easy, reading a lot, going for a walk every morning, and getting my place a little better organized. Good times. This weekend, I had two surprise calls from friends! One call from Korea and one call from California. That made me smile. :)

Today, I went to the plant market and bought three nice plants. I didn't get ripped off, I don't think, but I didn't get that good of a deal either. I've gotta work on my bargaining skills (which means working on my Chinese skills).

New teachers are coming in, so it's fun to meet the people I'll be working with. Old teachers are returning, too, so it's becoming more lively around here, plus the freshmen are in the middle of their required military training on campus, so there's a lot of activity, but still two weeks before classes start!

Thursday, August 18

i'm back!

My last day in Beijing, I met my friends for the famous Beijing duck, which was very good and very expensive, then I got on my 26 hour train ride back to Yanji. Oh my goodness. The sleepers were all full, so I sat up the whole trip. It was SO long. You can't even imagine. I got a little sleep, read a whole book, studied a tiny amount of Korean, and sat in a daze the rest of the time, trying to keep my mind off how much time I had left. Finally, I made it back at 4:30 yesterday afternoon, stopped off at the grocery store to get some food (I had only packed a little bag of chips, some Chinese fruit roll ups, and some nuts that turned out to be so nasty I couldn't eat them), then got home.

It feels so good to be back here. I've only lived here about two months, but it's home. I did laundry, talked with a friend who got back just before me, ate some noodles, and slept. Oh, sleeping in a bed is so good. Today, I got to reconnect with some people at the coffee shop. That was really good. This is a good place for me to be now.

Monday, August 15

The Great Wall

This post could end up being really long, because there are many stories to tell from yesterday...
The day started with meeting one of my friends at the subway station that was next to the bus station that we were departing to the wall from. After much waiting and searching, we finally connected an hour and a half later than we planned. I won't go into all of that, but it was a good lesson in patience and many other things for me. We decided, at my recommendation, to go to the Hwang Hua section of the wall, not Badaling (like most tour groups go to) because we didn't want to be surrounded by other tourists and we wanted to see the real wall, not a rebuilt version.

We got on the bus, already pretty wet from sweat, and began asking (my friend is Chinese) about a mini bus that we could take from where the bus stopped. They said there weren't any mini buses that went to the great wall from where the bus stopped. We weren't phased, though. We got off the bus and were immediately latched onto by two guys trying to get us to take their taxi for too much. We went in to ask about the bus situation, were told there were no buses, then after some deliberation, one taxi driver actually told us that there was a mini bus station and he would take us there. He did, but on the way he tried to get us to just go with him. We bargained and bargained and weren't satisfied, so we just asked him to take us to the mini bus station. We get on our mini bus, wait and wait, then finally take off. Soon, we see two white people looking a little lost, so we yell out the window where we're going and they jump in. They're a couple from Poland.

We get to the section of the great wall that we want to visit, and when we get off, an older lady escorts us across a dam to the base of the hill. We each pay her 2 yuan and another guide passes us and starts walking quickly up the hill. We are told to follow him, so we do, but he soon leaves us. We are walking beside the wall and keep walking, then we see a ladder to go up the wall. The couple starts to climb, then the man at the top says that it's 2 more yuan to go up. That's not much money at all, but the lady told us that our 2 yuan we already paid would get us up. So, we keep going to see if there's another way. After a while of walking up this narrow and steep path with rocks, bugs, trees in the way, we decide to go back down to the ladder. Now he tells us that he wants 20 yuan from each of us. (We don't know if he was mad, or if he just didn't say the right price the first time.) The Polish guy had already gone up, with the ladder man expecting his wife to pay. When she wouldn't pay that price, the ladder man moved the ladder and wouldn't let the Polish guy down. We spent a while waiting, deciding what to do, while the P0lish guy tried to find another way down. He couldn't, so we bargained the ladder guy down to 12 yuan per person.

The view from the top, and actually being on the Great Wall, was worth it. We climbed up until a lightning storm came, then decided it wasn't the best place to be. We walked down a little until the lightning subsided, then the Polish couple shared their bread with us. It was the first time I had been cool in Beijing, being wet from sweat and with the cool breeze blowing on us. It was also the first time I'd been able to sit and enjoy being away from tourism. We four were alone up there, with the amazing wall stretching out before and behind us. After our rest, we walked down to our ladder and found out the guys were gone, and with them, the ladder. We could have been upset (especially because the guy had said the ladder would be there when we got back), but it was just another obstacle to overcome. So, walking a little further, we found a place to get down and walked down the other side of the wall to the river. We proceeded across a two plank bridge, and then found that there were people behind us yelling that we pay to cross their bridge. Again, they were only asking two yuan per person, but the principle behind it was what upset us, because we should have been able to take our 12 yuan ladder down for free!

The Polish couple is convinced that everybody works together to make sure the foreigners have to pay at every spot. They probably do. We tried to get out of paying our bridge fee, a fight almost broke out, and one of the guys threatened calling the police, but we ended up paying. When we got on the bus, there was a group from France who had gone to another section of the wall on a tour and their guide actually left them there by themselves! Through all of these experiences, I really do believe that I got an "authentic Wall experience" (as Lonely Planet called this section of the wall), although I definitely wouldn't recommend it to anyone unless they have a Chinese speaker to go with them!

Sunday, August 14

day 4

I rented a bike yesterday and really enjoyed it. I also had a McDonald's kids meal with pancakes, hashbrowns, and hot chocolate for breakfast. There's not much of a chance of a day going bad with that to start you off!

The first place I trekked to was an old market, about a thirty minute bike ride away. I couldn't figure out how to get there by bus the day before (and the subway doesn't go out that far), so having a bike was excellent. On a bike, there's always some wind surrounding you and you feel a little less like a tourist even though you can't get away from looking like one. The market was great. It was full of antiques, fabrics, lanterns, carvings, paintings, all sorts of stuff. The best part about it was that none of the people there reached for you or called out "lady, lady! looka, looka! cheaper for you!" like they do in every other market I've been to in Beijing. Hearing that all day is enough to make you want to leave the city on its own. Anyway, the market was really nice.

I rode up to the China Art Museum and had a great time (in the air conditioned building) looking at the mostly Chinese, and some French art. From there, I rode around the Forbidden City moat, went to Wang Fu Jing (the big shopping street that feels like any big city) and bought two cheap classic books to read on my long train ride home.

In the evening, I finally caught up with the two friends I came with. They had a late dinner and we shared stories. Today, we are going to the Great Wall together. I'm happy to have someone to go with!

Saturday, August 13

day three

Today's high points:
-finding my way to Beijing University on my own by reading the bus map in Chinese! (okay, I only had to know four easy characters to do it, but still, I'm sorta proud about it)
-seeing the beautiful campus
-walking in an air conditioned mall in the afternoon when I thought I would melt because of the humidity
-drinking an Orange Julius
-finding my way back to my hostel area by reading a bus sign again, this time reading the characters for my area

Today's low points:
-somehow missing meeting my friends at the main gate of the university. either I was at the wrong "main" gate, or they couldn't make it (no cell phones is pretty freeing, but in this case, it would have been helpful!)
-sweating about a million liters in this crazy humidity

I am really enjoying being here, seeing things at a leisurely pace, but I am thinking about leaving sooner than I thought because I am missing the lovely weather of Yanji. I just thought it was hot there during the day! Either way, at night there, it's so beautifully cool. Well, I do still want to see the Great Wall and the Summer Palace, so maybe I'll stay until Tuesday night.

Friday, August 12

day two

We got a sudden downpour in the middle of the night last night. It had stopped by the time I went out at about 7, but started again later in the morning. I went to the train station to try to get a ticket back home, but they wouldn't let me reserve more than five days in advance. They don't have any sleepers available, so unless I get someone to pull some strings for me, I'll be sitting up all the way back home. As one of my friends says, it will help me understand more Chinese culture, because that's the way most of the Chinese do it. So, I haven't reserved yet. I'll probably go again tomorrow. From the train station, I took the bus back to my hostel, but decided to ride it a little longer to see what else was in the neighborhood. I got off after seeing a McDonald's, with the intention of going in for coffee (they have free refills and air conditioning there), but when I got off the bus, I found that I was right next to an entrance to the Temple of Heaven park. So, I went in and spent a few hours wandering through. The buildings there are really interesting. If I were still a math teacher, I would have an application for next year. One of the structures (it's an altar of some kind, I think) has 9 levels because 9 is the largest single digit odd number, thought to have significance of some sort. The top level has circles of marble slabs with the multiples of nine, so the first has 9 and the last has 81.

After the Temple of Heaven, I walked and walked. I found one of the big markets here and bought a few things, even though I'm trying to keep myself on a very tight budget. Things here are cheap, and I'm getting a little better at bargaining, although I'm sure I'm not getting things for the prices Chinese people would.

I came back to the hostel and took a nap, because I was exhausted from walking all day. It looks like I missed a good chance to see Tianamen at dusk, though, because it just started pouring again. Well, maybe journaling in the hostel is a better bet for tonight.

Thursday, August 11


We got in to Beijing this morning, took the subway over to Tianamen square, which is the area where my hostel is, and I got to check in. Walked through the square, did the Forbidden City (which apparently means something like purple palace in Chinese, so our Chinese friend laughed at the name), walked along the touristy commercial street, got lost in the traditional alleyways, ate in air conditioned McDonald's (nothing like that where I live!), and sweated buckets. I happened to meet one of the students from the university I teach at on the street. How random! She's here for the break, staying with relatives. She bought me some spicy marinated tofu at a place where you could also get four live scorpions on a stick. I suppose they fry them before they eat them, but I didn't get to witness anyone try. They also had skewered beetles (or maybe they were silkworm larvae) and seahorses for sale. I was so glad she bought me the tofu.

The weather is kinda strange. It's not really that hot, but you're just wet all day. In the middle of the Forbidden City today, a big white guy stripped his shirt off and then his son followed suit. The wife was already in a spaghetti strap shirt. Everybody around stared with googly eyes as he then put his backpack on his bare back and kept walking. Other than the fact that he was a big guy, I don't know why the Chinese had reason to stare, because the men here make a regular practice of lifting their shirt up above their belly when it's hot and walking around like that everywhere. Some also do the no shirt thing.

On my way back to the hostel this afternoon, two students walked along beside me and started talking. They invited me in to their student show and explained about Chinese artwork. It was all very interesting, and I realized that there would be a catch at the end, but I stayed. They did my name and a message in Chinese calligraphy at the end of the tour, and I expected to pay for that, but they told me it was free. They said, though, that if I'd like to support the scholarship fund, then I could buy some of their artwork. So, I did. I think now that it could have all been a ploy, that maybe they weren't even students, but it doesn't matter. I might not have gotten the best deal on the things I bought, but by American standards, it's a great price.

Well, the internet here is free, but we're asked to limit our time, so I am going to get out of my two day old nasty clothes and get as clean as possible in the hostel shower, then journal a bit and head to bed. I hope to get an early start, maybe to see the sunrise flag raising at Tianamen.

Wednesday, August 10


We're at the halfway point of getting to Beijing. We were escorted to the train station last night, even all the way to our car (they had to pay one yuan each to be able to do that) and we had a relatively peaceful night's sleep in the "hard sleeper" section of the train. There are six beds per room (which isn't really a room since there's no door). Getting to the top bunk is actually a bit of an adventure in itself, but I just know by observation since I was allowed the bottom bunk. Next to me was a young mother and a really sweet little one year old boy who even paitently waited for his mom to wake up this morning as he laid his head on her stomach. Nothing like a sweet picture like that to make you want a kid. :)

We spent today in Changchun, just seeing random stuff like the university, Wal-Mart, and eating some good food. For dinner, we had some pancake/crepe/tortilla like things that you put meat and veggies in, then dip in your choice of sauces and eat. When we were asked by our friends we met here what we wanted to eat, I said I wanted Mexican. This was the closest we could get. It was really good. I don't know the Chinese name, or I would tell you. Anyway, if you ever get a chance to try it, I recommend it. We left full and satisfied, all for less than two bucks per serving. Tonight, we're on the night train to Beijing. We're excited!

Monday, August 8

you've all been of my apartment

In keeping with tradition, I thought you guys needed to see my apartment here at the university. The wooden door in the background leads to the hallway. The posters on the wardrobe are of basic fruits, foods, etc. in Chinese. I'm actually learning something by glancing at it everyday! Just to the right of the outside door is my bathroom, which doesn't have hot water yet. I think when I get back from my trip I am going to buy a hot water heater. Right now, I heat up a bucket of water with a water coil (if you put your hand in the water to test it while it's heating, you'll get a buzz!) and pour it on me with a ladle type thing. It's an OK way to shower, actually, but I think when winter comes I will appreciate having hot water on demand. Behind where I stood to take the picture on the left is the picture on the right. It's my kitchen area, which actually isn't a kitchen, but has a fridge, little oven, electric skillet, shelves for food and a desk that I keep dishes in. Those two extra doors separate the porch (kitchen) area from the rest of the apartment. I just took them off for the summer to let more of a breeze flow through. On the porch, there is a big window where I can see the beautiful landscape behind the university.

This picture of the rainbow shows the landscape behind us, but it's taken from our office window. I went for another walk this morning around some of the paths back there. There are a lot of little houses and their little farms. It's really a nice place to walk!

I am headed out tonight for Beijing. We'll see if I can post there. I'm sure I can... I guess I just mean we'll see if I have the time and get motivated to post from there.

Sunday, August 7

a day of rest

This is my first real free day since getting to China, and it's lovely. The last person from our team left this morning, so I got up, had breakfast with her in my apartment, then saw her off at 7:30. Since then, I've just been taking it easy. I took a walk around the beautiful green farm land behind our university, cleaned a little, read a little, had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch. I really am going to try to get around to some language study this afternoon. My friend and I finally got train tickets last week, so we're heading to Beijing tomorrow night. We're actually making it a two day trip with a day stop in the capital city of our province. I'm really looking forward to seeing some more of China.

Saturday, we had our final summer team meal at a good Chinese (I say that because there are quite a few Korean restaurants here, so it's not a given that you'll eat Chinese) restaurant. We ordered way too much food and all ate more than we needed to, so a few of us decided to take the 40 minute walk back to the university since it wasn't too hot that night. On one of the street corners not too far from our university, there is a group of old men and women who gather to dance every night. It's all old people, and they all dance pretty formally. It is so sweet to watch. There are inevitably more women than men, so a few of the pairs were two women. We had passed by this before, but never on foot, so this time we stopped to watch for a while. I really wanted to join in, but I didn't know if it was some sort of club, and also I can't dance at all. Maybe I'll get someone to teach me sometime if I can get up the guts. That might throw some of those older folks off, though, to see a young white girl joining in.

When we got up the hill, we stopped for a while to take in the night sky. In Korea, I couldn't ever see more than a few bright stars at best, but here on a clear night, the sky is absolutely beautiful. It feels like I'm back in the countryside of West Texas it's so clear. It helps that the university is up on a hill and there aren't too many outside lights to interrupt the view. (Don't worry, the university is a safe place.) Wow, it's amazing. We found a few constellations and marvelled at the fact that they're the same ones we can see at home.

Thursday, August 4

miscellaneous activities

I don't remember what I posted about before, and I can't view the page, so I don't know where to start when I write these things. But, I want to try to stay in touch with friends at home as much as possible, so I write these random entries. School ended last week, and all of us who are staying just took the weekend easy. I got settled into my apartment that I'll live in for the year. Monday morning, our team split up. Half of us went to Tumen to help at a new business and half stayed here to volunteer at a coffee shop that just opened in Yanji. I went to Tumen first. It was some tiring work, but a lot of fun to work with a team and help out the factory. Getting a
better feel for Tumen was nice, too. It's a smaller city, so it has sort of a homey feel, I think. We stayed at a hotel together and had some fun team time while we were there. Yesterday, we came back to Yanji and switched places with the other half of our team. So, we have the easy job now...just hanging out at the cafe, talking to people, and helping serve when they're busy. Today, a group of tourists came through and I got to help cut fruit for about 10 bowls of pat bing su, which is an ice, fruit, and red bean dessert that is really popular in the summer here. This evening, we got to help with an evening English class and were treated to dinner by the teacher. That was a good experience.

Next week, I'm hoping to travel, but the train tickets are really hard to come by, especially for the sleepers, so we are waiting on our friend to help us get some tickets. He's been trying every day for almost a week now, so I hope if we're patient, we can go. Until then, I'll just be settling in and trying to spend some time language learning after the summer group leaves on Sunday and Monday morning.