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toastykitten

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toastykitten: (Default)
I am back in my home sweet home of California. I had a great time in New York City, and was sad that I could not stay long enough to make all the stops that people recommended to me. So sorry, Angie, no Uniqlo for me, sorry Dave, no BBQ, but I had some excellent times and even grabbed myself a Marc Jacobs wallet that was on sale!

I had a friend who's staying in NYC for her law internship, and her advice really helped us out a lot. Without her, we couldn't have navigated the subway system as well as we did (ohmygod it's so cheap too and it goes in more than two directions!), wouldn't have tried out some cool places to drink and eat, or walk around the East Village. It was a lot of fun. We also had another friend come with his girlfriend and we went to Coney Island with them and walked around Brighton Beach a bit, which is apparently, a Russian enclave in which nobody speaks English. It was pretty awesome.

So there are two modes of traveling - the touristy and the not-touristy. Mark and I actually fall into both camps; we like to do stuff like see the Empire State Building (which, by the way, I would advise doing early in the morning to avoid the long waits) and Statue of Liberty, and have our friends show us the places that tourists wouldn't necessarily know about. Some of our friends are aggressively anti-touristy stuff, though, and they sort of scoff at us when we want to do those things. I am old enough not to let it bug me too much, but I don't really get all the hate for touristy stuff. Some stuff is touristy because it's cool, you know? Don't tell me the Statue of Liberty isn't awesome. Ellis Island has an excellent exhibit on immigration, and for a bit I was walking around thinking, dude, when are they going to talk about the Chinese Exclusion Act and stuff like that? And then I walked right in front of a caricature of a Chinese person made to look like an ape. It was very sobering, actually.

Although I have to admit I was a bit miffed when we went into Chinatown and all we saw were vendors selling crappy fake designer stuff. I couldn't find the authentic Chinatown that my friend swore existed, and it turns out we were on the wrong street anyway.
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I'm going to New York in a few hours. For one blissful week of vacation. I'm so excited!!!
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Philly was fun. Kind of more ghetto than I expected it to be, and people seem to be not as nice? Whatever it is, I'm not used to it. The whole vacation was not relaxing at all - we wandered all over the place, and ate a lot and drank a lot. (Well I didn't, but the people around me did.)

By the way, what is up with people and PBR? That stuff smells awful.

Did have a Philly cheesesteak, and also pretzels that were sold only from midnight to noon. I have to admit, I didn't think they were that good. Maybe if you're drinking a lot, they taste better.

Saw the Liberty Bell, saw UPenn's campus (it's pretty, but not nearly as pretty as UCLA), tramped around downtown and walked a lot, went to the Philadelphia Art Museum (wish we could have seen more, but I was exhausted).

Flew: US Airways. I so do NOT recommend this airline. The flight was delayed both coming and going, and the website does not print properly on Firefox. It also is totally unhelpful - it won't let you print boarding passes if you mess up something the first time.

Read: Hanne Blank's Virginity: The Untouched History - Great book.

The New Yorker - About WalMart hiring liberals to touch up its image.

This post to be edited later.

Why is there no Save as Draft function on Livejournal?
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Mar. 30th, 2007 07:49 am

philly

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I like Philly so far, all three hours I've seen of the outside. Our room is small, and the toiletries suck, but there is free wireless and we're right in the middle of downtown. And this city is immensely walkable, unlike, say, San Francisco or Los Angeles, which I love.
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Guangzhou was a short flight from Hangzhou. After everyone waited forever and a day for their luggage, we took off for our hotel. Some of the tour people were going elsewhere, and the rest were going to visit relatives either in Guangzhou, Hong Kong or neighboring villages. Getting to the hotel was a relief. All we did was sleep for the entire day, and my parents made arrangements with my cousin Nina to see us for dinner later.

You know what was also a relief? Speaking in Cantonese! In Guangzhou, I could be understood, and even find my way around if I wanted to. I felt like less of a stranger in someone's house, and more like I was home.

Guangzhou was hot and humid. We broke into a sweat every time we went outside, even at night. For dinner, Nina took us to a Macau restaurant, and it was the best meal of the entire trip so far. I don't remember much of what we ate except crunchy, delicious, tasty, tasty fried pork skin. Nina seemed pretty cool - she was a little older than my oldest sister, but still very nice and not motherly at all. She worked for Mary Kay, and was hoping to be able to get a work trip out to the U.S. It would have to be in Dallas, though. We found out then that she had applied to go to college in the U.S., but was denied based on the fact that her mother and one of her sisters already lived in the U.S., and the government thought that she would attempt to stay past her student visa. (Well, wouldn't you?) She had no way of seeing her mother except when her mother occasionally went back to China to visit, and that happens at most, once a year. Anyway, I later discovered that she was also divorced due to infertility, whether on her part or the ex's part was never determined. It was something that no one really talked about.

On the way out we bagged some leftovers and my mom got accosted by some beggar kids, who came up to her and pointed at her grocery bags. Nina stopped my mom from giving them anything, saying they had someone taking care of them and were there only to rip off unsuspecting tourists.

Afterwards, my parents got really tired and went to sleep early. Nina took me and two of my sisters out for a night on the town. We went to where all the "goo-wahk jai lui" kicked it, in a little shopping area that no tour bus would ever take us to. The shopping area was filled with the youth of China smoking, drinking, playing cards in the alleys, and totally not wearing deodorant at all. The uniform of the moment seemed to be crimped hair, baggy pants, sweatshirts and a cigarette. All the shops were really tiny and crowded, and smelled like a blend of alcohol and sweat. Nina was an expert bargainer, and helped my sister bargain to get some cute anime shirts and nice jewelry. I am in awe of her bargaining powers, because she held her ground no matter how hard the seller cajoled and wheedled, and she got what she wanted.  She was also going to take us to snack on some street food, but by the time we got there it already closed.

She took us back to our hotel and wouldn't let us pay for cab fare. We American-born haven't learned the stubbornness of holding our ground like they have. Oh well. Anyway, we promised to see her again if we came back, and hopefully she'll get a chance to come visit us.
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Hangzhou was our last stop before the end of the tour. It was also one of my favorite places because it was so beautiful and CLEAN. For the past ten days my snot had been coming out black, but it was actually starting to clear up a little here. We were given a terrible tour guide, who kept punctuating every sentence with "Ah"! Granted, the other tour guides whose Cantonese was not their first dialect did it, too, but they didn't do it as much as this one. "Ah! We are at the tomb of YuFei. Ah! He was a war hero. Ah!"

We were told by Leslie that the reason Hangzhou was so beautiful was because of Nixon's historic visit to China. Hangzhou was one of his stops, and he made an offhand comment about how it was beautiful, but kind of old-looking. So then the Hangzhou government decided to clean it up and make it into a really beautiful place. It is actually pretty crazy - if you compare it to the crowdedness and smog-filled cities like Shanghai and Beijing. You can actually breathe in Hangzhou, and have some semblance of a private space.

We walked around SaiWu, or West Lake, and also took a short boat ride that was pretty awesome. I loved all the landscapes, and we passed by several people who had rented their own boats for the afternoon. A Mongolian tour group passed us and started singing loudly in their own language - they were wearing their own country's clothes - furs and all - and all of them had very red, sunburnt faces.

After the boat ride was a visit to the temple and tomb of YuFei, who as far as I could tell was a war hero in some far off dynasty. We were informed that most of the original tomb had been ransacked and destroyed during the Cultural Revolution (at least I think that's what she said) and that many of the items we saw, such as statues, and paintings, were pieced together afterwards.

Hangzhou is famous for their tea leaves, supposedly some of the best in the world. So of course our government sponsored tour stop for the day is a tea house where they sell us tea leaves at fucking outrageous prices. And I mean prices that would be outrageous even in America. Our salesman talked a lot about the antioxidant benefits of green tea, which I was with him on until he told us that some dude had been injecting the AIDS virus into watermelons and that you could actually get AIDS that way. The implication being that drinking green tea would purify the AIDS virus out of you. "Don't worry, he has been caught." I shot my sister a look and could hardly hold my laughter in.

Oh, and this may be a betrayal of my heritage but I thought the Chinese green tea was way too bitter. I prefer the Japanese kind.

God, Chinese medicine.

Our next stop was actually for Chinese medicine. This won raves all over the bus, as many of the tour participants were old immigrants and had various aches and pains, and believed that the stankier something was, the better it was for you. My sister and I joined my mom in a room where the salesman gave us some handouts. My sister and I were given the English translation, which was full of grammatical errors and almost seemed to hail from a different universe. What is "wind-phlegm"? I still have the paper somewhere.

My sister and I had to leave the room, though, when the salesperson started rubbing free samples of ointments all over people. You would have thought he was giving out gold or something, the way people were like, "Hey, over here! My back hurts!" Have you ever smelled Tiger Balm? It's a god-awful smelling herbal ointment that people (even Mark's mom uses it) use to rub on places that hurt. Picture an enclosed space with thirty people clamoring to be rubbed with something even more foul-smelling than that.

Ugh. Yeah, so we had to leave the room. The front had a display of various Chinese alternative medicines with probably mislabelled English - many of them said "Semen _____". There was one of dried human placenta. You can probably see the rest on my Flickr page.

After dinner we saw an acrobat show that was supposed to showcase all of Chinese history, I think. I think one of the dancers was Indian - she didn't look very Chinese to me. It was pretty cool and my parents both loved it. I couldn't get any good pictures on my camera though.

Afterwards Leslie mentioned that he competed in a singing competition once and had even been offered a record contract. He turned it down because he was in school at the time. Anyway, he serenaded us with a few songs - the first one, from Leslie Cheung's archive, the second one, Andy Lau's "mong ching sui" and the third, Teresa Teng's famous song whose title escapes me.

At the hotel, I was relieved to find out that our beds were soft.

The next day, Guangzhou!
Dec. 26th, 2006 08:23 am

village

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Pictures of my parents' villages are up. You'll have to add me as a contact in order to see pictures of my family.
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So every tour guide told us how to cat-call in the Suzhou dialect, and told us that Suzhou was known for both being a "land of pretty girls" and a really romantic city in general. Many go to Suzhou to get their wedding pictures taken because it's so scenic. We did not get a pretty girl for our tour bus, but the other tour bus did. Our tour guide was a baby faced guy with glasses named Ah Jun, who had an equally babyish voice. It was a bit disconcerting.

During our long tour bus ride, Leslie opened up a little about the harsh realities of Chinese life. Leslie just about fell over when he learned that Americans don't pay for public school education at all. He mentioned that he knew one of his friends who got pregnant and decided to abort the baby, even though it would have been a boy, because she couldn't figure out a plan to pay for the child's education. Every year costs about $10k renmenbai. The average, lucky person with a steady job makes about $2k renmenbai a month.

He also told us that if a person needed surgery in China, the family would save to give a $5k renmenbai red envelope to the doctor. He was careful to say that you didn't have to do it, but you'd just feel a lot better if you did. Of course, he horrorified the majority of us with this small detail, because we were so used to having our doctors just follow the law and not take bribes or things that would seem to be a conflict of interest. He then changed the subject, saying something like, "well there are lots of things to like and dislike about China, just as there are in America", and the topic changed to stars that Chinese people love and hated.

Chinese people LOVE Andy Lau, Anita Mui, Roman Tam, etc. He named a number of people that were already dead and I think Andy Lau was the only person who was alive on that list.

Chinese people really hate Zhang Ziyi because they think she's so arrogant. And she has the nerve to go and ACT in ENGLISH movies when her English is so TERRIBLE!

I'm sorry - the Chinese hate for Zhang Ziyi amuses me a lot.
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Everyone slept on the ride to Wu Xi. I think we were all just really tired, after climbing the Great Wall, and the millions of steps.

The first stop was yet another government-sponsored jade shop. The tour-enforced shopping gets old pretty quickly. Usually there is someone who introduces the subject and educates us on possible things we might not know about said topic, then the person transforms from educator into salesperson, and tells us exactly what kind of bargain we're getting, even though what we're paying is definitely more than what we would pay outside of the tour. We are warned that since the prices have been discounted already that we can't and shouldn't try to bargain, but people do it anyway, and sometimes they get away with it. Once the pitch is done, then the madness ensues with the tourists aiming to find some bargains for their relatives and friends, and salespeople being as pushy as they possibly can. It usually takes about an hour to an hour and a half. Towards the end we are instructed to go to the restroom, since it will be cleaner than the next site we're going to.

Throughout the trip, bathrooms become dicier and dicier. Some bathrooms have only the flat toilets, which my sisters and I deemed the "squatting" toilets, and occasionally at the end there will be one American-style toilet, which we call "sitting". We would ask each other as each took their turn, "Squatting or sitting?" and that would determine our plan of action. Also, a lot of places had no soap, so I strongly recommend bringing some anti-bacterial hand gel if you go.

Our stop that day was a former judge's house. Or rather, large mansion. It was hundreds of years old and gorgeous, and looks exactly like it does in Chinese period pieces. It also had a chrysanthemum garden. In a few rooms we were treated to live classical music from teenage kids in period clothes. When we walked past them I spotted their sneakers.

In the afternoon we went to TaiHu, which I guess would be translated as "Great Lake". It's a very large, but shallow lake where large ships are barred. It's so wide that we can't even see across to the other side, almost feels like standing at an ocean's coastline. The lake is used to raise oysters and fish - "Taihu pearls" are famous for their beauty.

The last stop was another government-sponsored tourist stop. Except I actually liked this one. What they were selling were "purple sand" teapots. At first I misheard and thought they were talking about cast-iron teapots, since the pitchman said that you can't wash these teapots with soap, and they pick up the flavor of the tea you put in. But they are "purple sand" teapots, and you can only put in one type of tea per teapot. You can leave in the tea leaves until the next day and the tea you brew the next day with the old tea leaves will taste just as good as the first day. Over time, you won't even have to put tea leaves in.

I didn't buy a teapot. I was tired and grumpy and really indecisive. If anyone I know decides to head to Wu Xi, buy one for me?
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Dec. 6th, 2006 10:57 pm

nanjing

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My notes for the first day in Nanjing is really short. I know we got introduced to Leslie, a tour guide and native of Nanjing who would accompany us throughout the tour. He looked like this Taiwanese singer/actor that I used to think was cute. He was fairly young - only a year older than me, actually, and he talked a lot about how much he loved his mom. It got my parents clapping, as he went on and on about filial piety, and made me and my sisters roll our eyes.

In Nanjing we visited Sun Yat-Sen's mausoleum. You had to climb something like three hundred steps to get to it. Did I mention how many tripping hazards China has? There's no such thing as "wheelchair accessible". I tripped over everything - in restaurants, random rooms would be slightly raised a few inches over the actual floor, for no reason I could discern - it wasn't for aesthetics, that's for sure. It drove me crazy.

Sun Yat-Sen's body is actually up there in the mausoleum.  There are also a couple of pots that were shot at by the Japanese. The holes were never mended, to remind us of what the Japanese did. Here, we were informed that any Japanese person visiting Nanjing is required by the government to visit all the memorial sites. Hence, no Japanese ever visit Nanjing.

I know we went to a jade place. That was boring. And expensive. I note in my journal that the funny thing about all the government-sponsored tourist shops is that they all seem to be staffed by young women. Shortage of females in China? Not in these shops - they outnumber male staff 10 to 1. And they are so, so pushy. They will not physically let go of you until you purchase something. I had to do a lot of ducking to avoid being caught in their clutches.

We also went to visit the Yangtze, I think, which is actually called something else in Cantonese. I don't remember what it's called. The weather was starting to get cold, so our pictures didn't come out that well. In the building where we stopped, we met a government-paid artist who painted stuff inside crystal balls. It's a lot prettier than I'm making it sound. My parents bought a few.

Next day is WuXi, where we'll go to Taihu, a great lake.
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One of the reasons I don't talk much about the food in China is that most of the time, there's not much to talk about. It's there, and we eat it, and it's not revelatory or mind-blowing or delicious. But picking up the manners in China was sort of a different story, especially for us tour people, since we were so used to our Cantonese/American habits. For example, we learned the following:

  • Each dish needs to have its own pair of chopsticks, which are shared communally. After you pick up your food and put it on your bowl or plate, you switch back to your own individual pair of chopsticks. In San Francisco, we would just use our own chopsticks to grab food, and just make sure you hadn't touched other people's food with it.
  • In China, you need to ask the waiter/waitress to refill the teapot. In San Francisco, you just move the lid off the cover, and a waitperson will come by to refill it.
  • Soup for some reason comes near the end of the meal, instead of the beginning.
  • Watermelon is always dessert. I can't tell you how sick of watermelon we all were by the end of the trip.
We had various dumplings, which Beijing is known for, for lunch the previous day. They were all right - but everything ended up tasting the same to me. We had Peking duck for dinner that night, but it was a bit of a disappointment. The duck was dry and not juicy at all. At least the skin was crispy. Our tour buddies told us that they considered the Peking duck in the Bay Area far superior to the ones you got in China. So that is something we'll have to look into.

Next stop: Nanjing.
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Welcome to day 2 of my China trip. I forgot to mention that I'm making these notes based on a journal I kept while in China, but they're not very consistent or anything, so I'm elaborating on things as I go along. I make no guarantees for the facts that our tour guides imparted on us. I know these entries are really long, but I really need a way to remember as much as possible, and the only way I can do that is to write as much of it out as I can.  Otherwise I'm going to be looking at my notes and thinking, "What the hell did I mean by Super8-Hotel Breakfast - bleh?"

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My first international plane ride was a horrible experience. I threw up as we landed in Beijing, and then threw up a few more times on the way to dinner. It makes for a wonderful appetite.

Before we got on the plane, we checked ourselves in with the tour administrator. He would accompany us throughout the entire trip, and would be the one constant. We hated him in our first impression, because he took so long. Our tour was much larger than expected - 70 people in all. I have no idea why they didn't just split the tour up into two groups, since once we got there we would be split into two different buses anyway. The tour admin, named Alex, started checking us off a list. A lot of people showed up really late - our flight was for 11:30 AM, and some people didn't show up until 10:30. Needless to say, it pissed me and my sisters off.

Alex looks like the kid in the Doraemon comics, all grown up. He was even carrying all his documents in a Doraemon folder. I thought nothing of it then, but if anyone from America his age (he was definitely mid-thirties) carried around such a thing, I'd have thought he needed help or something. As it was, I just chalked it up to him being from Hong Kong. You can get away with such things there. Alex assigned us all numbers, to which we would be referred to throughout the trip. We were instructed to wear our badges (I resisted as long as possible) to identify ourselves as part of the tour group. He went through a whole explanation of the process of the trip, and at 10:45 was still going. Meanwhile, boarding would start at 11:20. My sisters and I left the group early so we could wait at the actual gate, which sort of pissed my parents off. We made them lose face in front of other people.

I hate saving face. It's futile and demeaning. My mom would apologize to Alex later for it.

The tour group was made up mostly of Cantonese-speaking immigrants, some who spoke English, and one family who spoke Mandarin. There was one couple with a really young kid, and another with two kids. They had been pulled out of school and given make-up homework for the trip.

There was an elderly couple who sat next to me on the flight, and the wife kept putting on her Chinese ointment. Whatever it was, it was a thousand times worse than Tiger Balm. She would also periodically stare at me, seemingly for no reason at all. It got very uncomfortable for me at times.

Her husband grabbed a can of soda right off the drinks cart when it came around without being asked. Later his wife would repeatedly ask for a Coke even though the attendant replied that they only carried Pepsi drinks.

The dad of the eight-year-old boy walked over to him in the middle of the flight and said to him, "I forgot to tell you to do your homework."

The kid did his homework.

Once we arrived in Beijing, we were introduced to our Beijing tour guide, Kelvin. Kelvin kept referring to himself in the third person, which was really weird, especially in Cantonese. Kelvin gave us a bunch of warnings:

* Wear your backpack or purse in front, because otherwise you'll make yourself vulnerable to pickpockets.
* Carry cash in your pockets, not in your wallet. If you carry it in your wallet, a pickpocket will easily be able to see how much cash you carry and where you keep it.
* Don't drink the water. The tour would give us free water bottles each day. I should note here that one of my sisters packed one luggage piece entirely filled with bottled water and snacks. I'm not exaggerating. Her plan with the water was foiled, though, when my mom drank most of it during the three days we were in Beijing.
* Don't talk to natives or anybody outside the tour group. They may be trying to find out where you're staying so they can rob you. Throughout the trip, my parents seemed to be hell-bent on making themselves vulnerable to anyone and everyone. Alex had to stop my mom from talking to strangers during one of our stops - she was telling them everything they asked - where we were staying, what group we were with, etc.
* Don't ask to borrow people's cell phones, because they assume you're trying to steal their cell it from them.
* Guangzhou has a lot of pickpockets.

After the mediocre dinner (even the tour people admitted it was mediocre), we were taken to a shopping street where we walked around for about an hour. I didn't like the spot at all - all the potted flowers were fake , everything was really expensive, and nothing was laid out in a pretty way. To quote Nina Garcia, "It's not aesthetically pleasing."

I did see the 2008 Olympic mascots. I didn't think they were that cute at first, but over the course of the trip they grew on me. Of course the products associated with them were ridiculously expensive, especially considering that you know you can get cheaper things elsewhere in China.

We saw some security detail around some black people. I wondered if they were ambassadors or something, or if they were in town for the China-Africa forum.

The traffic - I have never seen anything like it. I totally was not surprised that I threw up two more times on the bus before dinner, because that was a hellish commute. If you were ever stuck in LA on the 5, be glad you don't drive in Beijing. Kelvin informed us, "You may be wondering why we are not allowing you to sit in the front seats. Well, consider Chinese traffic. Of course there are laws and regulations, but it's basically a free-for-all, and we have to guard you against sudden stops. Just think - there are no seatbelts in front." I looked out the window and there were lanes marked clearly, but no one was using them. Instead people just maneuvered around each other, so that three people would jockey for position in the same lane.

We were also warned that cars did not stop for pedestrians, and to be extra-careful while crossing the streets.

My first impression of Beijing was that it was pretty weird seeing all these Western structures - highways, streets, malls, etc being imposed on Chinese foundations without much apparent thought being given to Chinese social habits. For example, we were told to carry our own toilet paper. In the past, they explained, toilet paper was available in public facilities, but people kept assuming that they were free paper and just took them. It's like the government just expected people to adopt social urban ways without considering that most Chinese people aren't city people at heart. They have village habits that aren't easily unlearned.
Nov. 26th, 2006 03:58 pm

whoosh

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I am back! It feels so good to be home in the Bay Area, despite the rain and the cold. I missed home so much.

Some things I have learned while in China:

1. Chinese people really, really loathe Zhang Ziyi. On a level that just goes beyond reason. Ok, I don't think she's that hot, either, but I don't have enough energy to hate her. Seriously, one of the reasons the tour guide listed for hating her was that "She tries to speak in English, and it isn't even that good."
2. Chinese people really, really like Andy Lau. I'm with them on that.
3. My sisters are the pickiest people on the planet. The pickiest one? She literally starved herself the entire time because she couldn't stand the food. She snacked on stuff she brought from the US instead. And it wasn't because the food was really, really bad - it was just mediocre. I offered her a bite of my jook (rice porridge), which is bland and has zero flavor. She tasted it and made a face. "What?" I asked. "There's no flavor to it." Her response was, and I kid you not, "It has too much of a rice taste."
4. Guangdong people are known for loving to eat. It was in Guangzhou and Hong Kong that we got the best food. (Those weren't part of the tour, though.)
5. Cool Guangzhou kids live in the eighties, and are slowly edging towards the grunge stage.
6. My dad did a lot of things in China that I didn't know about. Many of his students came up to him and still recognized him. I should mention that this is only his second time back in thirty years.
7. The villages my parents grew up in are dying out.
8. My grandpa on my mom's side had three wives. One of them ran away. We used to think that was my mom's birth mom, but then we visited her grave to pay our respects.
9. Peeing in the squatting position is very hard if you're not used to it, and requires some strategy if you don't want to pee on your pants or miss the toilet. I did not have to pee in front of anybody, thank god.
10. Our tour guide almost fell over after learning that American primary, middle and high school education were free.
11. United Airlines sucks.
12. Tour guides like to tell you how to catcall in the Suzhou dialect. If the girl's pretty, you say to her, "Ai-yoh", drawing out the "o" sound at the end. If she's really pretty, you say "Ai-yoh-yoh". If she's not pretty, you would say, "Ai-yah." Really ugly: "Ai-yah-yah!" Suzhou is known for its pretty girls, although I couldn't tell the difference.
13. I saw more black people in Beijing than I do in a day in San Francisco. (The China-Africa forum was going on at the same time we were there.)
14. Chinese people like to sleep on hard beds.
15. There is a phone and a scale in every hotel bathroom in China. I have no idea why.
16. My cousin Nina, who lives in Guangzhou, was unable to come to the US for college. Why? Because US Immigration knew that she had an aunt and a sister living in the US on green cards already, and said that she would probably try to stay if she came to the US.
17. Chinese people - at least our relatives, anyway - can't hear the word "No". It gets very irritating. "Do you want something more to eat?" "No, thank you. I'm full." "Here, have a pear." "No, thank you." "How about an apple? You should have an apple." "No, thank you." "How about some sugar cane?" "No, thank you." It got so bad my parents had to basically tell them that they should not bother asking us again after we've said no. Do people just eventually give in after saying no a million times?
18. Families really know how to push all your buttons, even when they aren't trying.
19. The place to buy fake purses is Ladies Street in Hong Kong. Just point at the Marc Jacobs or Prada knockoff you want and someone will get it for you. Don't pay more than $30.
20. Chinese people are shocked to learn that I don't understand Mandarin, or Putonghua, as they call it. Salespeople would just keep talking to me as if I understood what they were saying, and I just smiled and nodded. Also, the salespeople here are really fucking pushy. They will grab you by the hand and put stuff on you and all the while you're squirming to make a polite getaway.
21. The Chinese government must make millions off all the tour buses that show up at all these national sites and buy their government-sponsored trinkets.

That's about it for now. For the next couple of weeks I might write up the stuff I saw. I really regret not bringing a sketchbook with me, although there wasn't much time to sketch. I wish I wasn't one of those people who get carsick or airsick, but I am, and it just bugs me that all that time I could be drawing or reading I had to stare out the window or sleep. I tried listening to the histories that the tour guides told us, but my Cantonese wasn't good enough to follow, and eventually I would just fall asleep. Anyway, the most interesting stories that the tour guides weren't the histories, but rather stories about themselves, and when they veered off-track from their scripts. I felt a bit bad for the tour guides - a number of them had college degrees or were working towards them, and they were stuck with us, people who were lucky enough to have made it to America and able and willing to spend more money in two weeks than they made in two months.

I didn't feel like I reached some sort of new conclusion about my Chinese identity, which I thought might happen. I think it's part of growing up in the Bay - if I wanted to surround myself with Chinese people and talk about Chinese stuff, I had that option already. I did, however, learn exactly how much of a spoiled American brat I am, and it's not a pleasant realization to have. The trip just made a lot of things in my head make more sense - sometimes if you don't see a thing, no matter how much you know it's true, it just isn't there. My parents used to tell us all the time about how hard it was to farm land and how they had to pick up cow poop for manure and how small our house in the village was - and my sisters and I rolled our eyes and would say, "But we are living in America now. We don't have to do those things, so why bring it up?" And then I saw the village, and it was tiny - just a row of houses stacked close to each other - most not having more than two rooms. My sister, who was old enough to remember living there, said that our house was better now that it had walls. My parents pointed out where they used to carry water from the well, the mountains they had to climb to get firewood, and how they had to take the vegetables to the market, and something in my head just clicked - I had a better idea of what my parents used to have to do, and it's really nothing compared to the life they lived in America. Life in America was hard for my parents (I don't kid myself that it was hard for me), but compared to the farm life, it's not really hard at all. We had a roof over our heads, we had (some) support from relatives, if my dad lost a job he could get another one. We had days off, and we ate better than anything we would have had in China.

I'd like to go back, after the 2008 Olympics are over. It's fascinating to me how much things have changed, and in such a rapid time-span, too. I wasn't able to look at the BBC on the Internet, but every hotel had the BBC International Channel on, which I found hilarious. Our tour guides would often pepper their conversations with "Mao Zhe-dong said..." It made me think that it was the new "Confucius say..." which one of my English teachers used to do, until somebody pointedly said, "Confucius says."
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toastykitten: (Default)
Hi,

Heading out to our village today. This trip has been pretty fun for the most part - and it puts a lot of stuff in perspective. Anyway, I will write again when I get back.

There's one thing I really miss, though: SMOKING BANS. Good lord do I miss them.

See ya in about a week!
toastykitten: (Default)
I head to China tomorrow. I am so excited, and yet kind of nervous. I've never been on a plane this long before, never flown overseas, and can't really imagine what China is actually like even though I've seen pictures and spent most of my life around Chinese people. I also don't know if I will survive my family for the next few weeks. We'll see.

Anyway, we'll see. The first stop is Beijing, then Nanjing, Suzhou, Shanghai, Hangzhou, Guangdong, Hong Kong.

See you in a few weeks.
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toastykitten: (Default)
We just finished having dinner with [livejournal.com profile] angeeela and some other friends - it was, as usual, yummy, and we got to meet the owner's cute daughter. She recognizes us now, and is always friendly - we always bring people in to eat there because a. it's French, therefore it is good food, and b. it's so home-y, and c. it is relatively cheap.

Our second and final day in Portland started off slowly. While printing out our ticket confirmations for the flight out that day, we ran into a glitch - I got assigned a seat, but Mark got what was, according to United, a "Departure Management Card". The DMC instructed you to wait at the gate for your seat assignment or for if you were stand-by. Mark bought his ticket from United several weeks before I did.

Mark called the airline, and spent nearly half an hour trying to figure out if he had a seat or not. The customer service representative kept talking around him in circles, trying to avoid the word "confirmation", and eventually Mark broke it down to him: "I am going to ask you a DIRECT question. When I get to the airport, and I do not want to be stand-by, I do not want to be offered stand-by, and I ask the person at the gate if I have a confirmed seat in 10A, will I be able to get on the plane? YES OR NO. And I would like your employee ID number or some identification so that I can refer to you if I have trouble at the gate." Finally the guy confirmed that he had a seat on the plane.

Did I mention that the first time Mark tried to explain his problem, the customer service rep looked at his flight from San Francisco to Portland? Not from Portland to San Francisco, which is what he was asking about. And when he pointed that out, the rep get all testy with him.

This isn't the first time it happened, either - last time it happened, we woke up at 6 in the morning and I drove him to the airport. Then an hour and a half later I got a phone call from Mark saying that United overbooked his flight and that he would have to go back to the airport eight hours later. And I had to go pick him up and drive him back. This wasn't some vacation thing, either - it was corporate travel to a short conference, and time taken out meant that he had less time to prepare for his stuff at the conference. He lost nearly a day's work because he couldn't be at that conference. United offered him some compensation, but still - I don't think it's any way to do business. And especially not with your corporate customers, who don't have the kind of time that they seem to think stand-by passengers do. Conferences won't stop just because you got pushed off a flight.

Anyway, so Alice made breakfast for us. Man, foodies are awesome. Zack and Alice are so endearingly liberal it's cute. I noticed that they had a ton of Aveda and Body Shop stuff, and Alice's eggs were from "Vegetarian-fed, cage-free" chickens. Her bacon had "forty percent less fat than regular bacon", and it actually tasted better! She explained that they'd probably cut the meat from a different side of the stomach than normal bacon.

Mark and I made plans to meet up with his friend Matt, who works at IBM. Matt doesn't have a car, so we had to wait for him to shower up and get on the train first. We spent nearly half an hour looking for a place to eat - it seemed like every restaurant we went to was closed. Finally we ended up at a seafood grill place. Along the way, we passed by some street festival - I think it was Pride weekend or something, but I didn't want to believe it because it looked kind of sad. There was hardly anyone there, and the people who were there were just sort of milling around with no energy. It's nothing like it'll be here in San Francisco.

Oh, and we did not get smited. Perhaps there wasn't enough energy.

I fall in love with places so easily. I could see myself living there, but I haven't confirmed that they have any good dim sum, and their produce doesn't seem to be as good as what we get in the Bay. I love walking around all the old church buildings, though, and I love all the greenery. I love that the blocks are so short, and that there's a lot of interesting literature. I love how laid-back it is - time seems so slow and mellow compared to the way it is in San Francisco, where everyone's sort of bouncing off the walls with energy.

We left early to ensure that Mark would get a seat. It was a good thing we did, because less than an hour after we arrived, the people at the gate started informing other stand-by passengers that they were kicked off the flight.
Dec. 30th, 2005 11:26 pm

plans

toastykitten: (Default)
Tomorrow we're flying to Seattle, to meet up with some friends for our New Year's Eve celebration. Since Mark and I hardly ever spend any holidays together, it's definitely a treat for me. Apparently the plan is to go to some "good underground hip hop" concert. I have not heard the words "underground", "good", and "hip hop" all in the same sentence lately, so I have my hopes up. I don't have a name. Will probably write about them once I see them.

The next day we're driving up with Mark's friends to Vancouver. I am the queen of packing. I packed all our stuff, including umbrella, beanies, gloves, undies, heavy sweaters and towels all in our luggage, and we still had room for Mark's laptop. We're bringing his laptop because we got a hotel with wireless. Geeks need their Internet. In Vancouver, we plan on eating dim sum, possibly taking a walking tour of Gastown, going to the aquarium because they have beluga whales, and checking out the underground historical drama of Vancouver. There may be more.

We're going to have to remind ourselves to take lots of pictures. We always bring the camera and forget about it. It's such a waste of my money. ^_^

Project Runway has podcasts! Tim Gunn explains what goes on behind the scenes, what the cameras didn't show, etc. Zod's meltdown went on for about ninety minutes, Diana's clothes looked nothing like what she pitched to Heidi, and Heidi surprises everyone by having a brain.

I hate Zod. I don't even think he's that talented - he just keeps adding ruffles and thinks that makes up for his lack of understanding about a woman's body. There's no one I really root for right now like I did in Season 1. This season, they're either mean, or boring, and they seem unwilling to listen. I mean, did any of them even watch Season 1? So far I think Nick has the most potential, Chloe is talented but boring, Diana totally disappointed with this last challenge and is so inarticulate I wanted to smack her, Emmett is a cute boring robot overcompensating his menswear background with pink frills, Marla can't sew, Zod is evil incarnate, Daniel V who? I can't remember anyone else.

Must. Sleep.
Nov. 29th, 2005 04:13 pm

mania

toastykitten: (Default)
The weekend, overall, went well. I loved spending time with my nieces and nephew, whom I hardly ever get to see, and seeing Hearst Castle was a lot of fun. It's pretty amazing what OCD can do to a man with lots of money. I loved how the tour guide mentioned that William Randolph Hearst "in three years, turned the San Francisco Examiner from the worst paper in the country, to the most-read" but didn't mention that these days, the Examiner is considered little better than a tabloid. The Castle itself is very, very pretty, with lots of intricate details and genuine artifacts bought from auctions around the world, including a few pieces from King Tut's tomb.

Driving up the 1 was an experience with a lot of twists and turns and panicking for me, because I kept worrying that maybe my sister would drive off the cliff. It was a totally unfounded fear because my sister is a great driver. Yep, I'm paranoid. Other than my paranoia, the trip up is beautiful, with awesome views of the ocean and driving through lots of forests and state parks. I think driving the 1 would be more fun in a good sports car.
toastykitten: (Default)
We went to Hearst Castle today, on the way back from visiting my oldest sister and her family. This is the short version: Rich people craaaazy.
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