Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Halloween. Hate. Children.

That about sums up 2.5 hours of hell. I would have preferred being assaulted by legions of the dead and ghastly to Chinese children pumped on candy and excitement overload. Fucking hell, I just can't censor how happy I am tonight is over with. It was complete Chaos. Chaos Manifest, I think was how I described it as to Angie.

By the second 20-minute set of kids, I was drenched in sweat. My poor TB 5B helpers (two girls who volunteered to help me) got flashed as I tore off my sweater from under my volumous black robes that was my costume. I just didn't care - it was the most indifferent I've felt as a teacher yet.

I screamed and yelled myself hoarse by the 4th barrage. They just kept coming in waves and I wanted to cry, or pummel them. The only satisfaction I got was causing a stampede towards the door with one group (5th wave, I think) because I stood perfectly still in the middle of a candle-lit classroom with a freaky mask then ran right at them, yelling. There was a pile-up of chil'luns in both corners, 3 and 4 deep, respectively, and lots of crying and fear. It sustained me for their session and the final group. Yes, I'm a bastard, but believe me... you'd have run screaming had you seen and experienced this fiasco. ... and had to endure it for 6 x20 minutes... on your day off. Can't wait for Christmas...

God, I hate Halloween right now. I wish I could say I was kidding, but I hate it. I can't wait to celebrate a decent Halloween back in Ottawa next year, sans 140 Chinese children wired on sugar and excitement.

Time to sleep off these two beers that, due to dehydration, have me semi-drunk. Today sucked, but it was good in that feeling it over is something of a euphoric relief.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Evening of Hangyu

Had a decent day yesterday - classes were kind of shite, but not horrible. I just hate some VIP classes. One-on-ones can be difficult, especially if they're adults.

Then at 6:40 I raced to the bus stop to head to my Chinese lesson. Learned a few cool things, and attempted to relay my Beijing experience in Chinese. I don't know what the Palace Museum is called, but at least I knew that the Summer Palace is Yihe Yuan. Then was introduced to the wonders of "de" - there are 5 uses of it in Chinese, and it took a bit to get my head around a few of them. Some were straight-forward, like "Wo ji dao de" (I understand! [firm/forceful inflection]) or "Wo de kuzi shi hei se, ni de shi hong se" (My pants are black, yours are red). Other ones were more difficult to grasp.

Then we (my teacher and I) headed to the supermarket down the road to put some Chinese into use. Specifically, we were practicing "Ni yao mai shenme?" (What do you want to buy?) and "Wo yao mai ", as well as "Ni xi huan ma?" (Do you like ?). That blank ended up being zheige (this/that thing) more often than not, since I don't have a strong items/objects vocabulary. It was cool, though, getting out and trying it as opposed to a more academic class environment.

The looks we got were a bit much, though, and quite... disapproving/angry. Everyone stared at the 40-something Chinese woman being escorted by the 20-something white guy, especially when she was checking out pillows and trying to elicit a preference-based response from me. That got us some nasty glares from other Chinese nearby to the point where I thought some were going to spit. I guess it was a "huang se de" kind of perception - yellow (huang se) being a... hard to explain... traditional colour for "illegitimate encounters" or impropriety. Yet it was the imperial colour for so long. Weird. Anyhoo...

Today is going well, so far. My kids were great this morning, and reminded me why I like teaching, especially them. They had a test which they bitched mildly about, but I'm sure they did fine. A manager sat in for the last half of the class, and was taking notes. Not sure what that was about, but she seemed happy with everything. I may have had a complaint from a parent or student, and she was checking up on how the class dynamic is. Whatever. The kids were great, and got everything I was presenting, and I was just myself. At the end (thankfully after most students had vacated) one girl asked me if I was married. Quite cute, and funny the questions they have the moxy to ask.

Another two classes today, then I'll grab something to eat nearby and head home to change for tai ji quan, which I've been absent from a bit too much lately. Wo mang gua le (I've been busy [emotional inflective]). I'll show the masters my work schedule so they can understand what my weeks look like, on average. That's been hard to convey thus far. Also, maybe I can fit some other training time in there (like mornings, which I haven't done for a week and a bit due to the trip to Beijing).

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Beijing - Summer Palace & Forbidden City

So much Beijing, so little time. (had a hard time choosing which pic to use... went with the wicked awesome lion statue from the Forbidden City/Palace Museum)

So classes finished up fine on Sunday, and I raced back to my apartment, got all my junk together, and split for the train station. I had a real can-do taxi driver, so I got there in record time, and hopped the last bus to Beijing. Camilla was on board as well, so I sat next to her for the trip up.

Had no issues finding the hostel and Steve and Nika around 8:45pm. We checked in - I was in a nice little 6-bed 'dorm' - dumped our stuff off, and hit a hotpot place they had seen earlier in the day. I got to say "Kuai ying li Jungguo!" ("Welcome to China!"). Beer tasted soooo good. We then wandered down to Wangfujing Street in search of a bar of some sort. None there, of course, so it was off to Sanlitun, the bar district. I chatted with the taxi driver the whole way, and I knew what he was saying! It was a marvel. We talked about the weather and people from Beijing, as well as which areas of Sanlitun were alright.

We went into a small bar first, then moved on. Found a decent little spot farther along where a couple were singing/playing guitar. It was nice, and we could talk. We were there til around 1:30am.

The next morning, we got up at 8:45 and dragged our asses down to the lounge where I had three coffees (they tasted amazing - I hardly get decent coffee over here) and set our agenda for the day. We had some breakfast at the hostel, and departed. We took the subway as far as we could on the Loop Line of inner Beijing, then after standing around like dolts waiting for a bus that wasn't coming, cabbed it northwest to the Summer Palace (about 15 km from where we got off at Xizhimen subway station).

Ah, the Summer Palace. It was fucking amazing. We had incredible weather for late October. It was about 23 degrees, sunny... amazing. We wandered most of the place, seeing plenty to keep us "oooh" and "ahhhh"ing for hours. We were there for about 4 hours or so, and watched the sun set from the quiet western point of an island that juts out into Kunming Lake. Absolutely gorgeous. We sat there for about thirty minutes, just watching the sun sink over the water, and in behind the Jade Bridge and scenic hills.

When we got back to the hostel around 6:15pm (Beijing rush-hour sucks, by the way...), I found us a Sichuan restaurant called Baguo Buyi up north a few streets past the Forbidden City, so off we went. I had no idea what the address was, but managed to ge the driver to trust me. Found it easily: could spot the Qing costumes of the staff from a ways away. We approached and were greeted by 5 young teenage boys, all dressed up. One mashed a gong as we moved towards the stairs, and in a chorus they all chanted a greeting... and whammed another gong. Quite an entrance ritual, I tell ya.

The food rocked - it was some of the best I've had in China. At the end I tried to order mantou and we got a cool platter of rice bread (half of which were fried) with custard instead. It was a fabulous botch.

We then walked back to the hostel... a good 5 kms or so. It took us 35-45 minutes to walk past the outside of the Forbidden City. It gave us a taste of what to expect the following day, and the idea of going back and walking it was a tad daunting after that sojourn. Fantastic little side roads, though. Saw a shu fa shop doing some late business and stopped to peek in. It was a pretty nice evening, though the temperature had dropped 8 or so degrees and it was a tad nippy.

Exhausted from the triumphant day and the 5-6 hours sleep from the night before, we crashed early (10pm or so) after attempting to have a beer in the hostel lounge. We were falling asleep at the table. I had my dorm room to myself for some reason... all five other beds were empty. ... So I built a bed fort. (Okay, I didn't but I thought hard about it for quite a while)

The next day, we had a slightly earlier start, sans breakfast. We booked tickets to Tang Shan for 5:30pm and then hit the subway again for the short 2 km jaunt to Tian'anmen Square and the entrance to the Forbidden City/Palace Museum. The sheer size of the place of the entrance alone was staggering, nevermind the actual Palace Museum area. It really is a mini city. Unfortunately, they're doing renovations in stages, so one of main gates inside was closed off with weather sheeting and scaffolds. However, they only had renovations happening to two buildings out of like 800 so no big loss... pun intended.

Alistair was right when he said he was a tad disappointed by it. It's amazing, but so much has been stripped out of the buildings to preserve the relics, furniture, etc. Also, the weather was a bit foreboding: it was overcast and a tad misty/hazy. Added a bit to the feel of the place, but I depended heavily on the Enhance feature of iPhoto to brighten and sharpen contrast in many a picture of that place. The number of people in there was a bit irritating as well, but to be honest it helped provide a sense of scale. I would have loved to see a mock military assembly, with all soldiers ordered according to rank and station on the stairs and across the courtyard of one section. (I don't have a wide or long shot to show distances... but 9,000 sq meters would not be an over-exaggeration.)

We walked through most of the place for three or so hours, then headed back and had hotpot before getting our stuff ready for Tang Shan. No issues on the train, nor getting back to Tang Shan. We were all tired, though, and slept in fits on the train. We were back by 8:30. After supper at 'the restaurant' (our usual Chinese food haunt here), we went for a beer at Yi Yang You Mang, our usual bar. Sleep was very very welcome that night.

Steve and Nika headed out this morning after we had breakfast. Work wasn't too bad - but it felt like a long day. Now I look forward to sleep and sleeping in.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Mingtian, wo chen que Beijing ba! Woooo!

Yay Beijing! Heading there tomorrow to meet up with Steve and Nika. Should be a blast... if this weather improves. Temperature is set to drop to 10 degrees, so qouyi and qouku (long underwear) will be the order of the day. Not too much else to post except all has been well the last few days. Tried to get to tai ji quan last night, but no go. The masters were out and about on a Tang Shan adventure. Fighting evil or some such is what I was given to understand. Of course, my Chinese sucks so the other student might have said they're meeting business partners or something. I dunno.

Right now it's pouring harder than I've seen in a very very long time. The streets are completely obscured and rain is bouncing about two feet off the ground (where the ground wasn't already under 10 centimeters of water). My Chinese teacher had brought me an umbrella. lol And she brought me yu mi - corn. A sweety she is, but like an old-school head mistress. She's very very happy with my progress, and I hope to find a decent coursebook on Wangfujing Lu on Monday or Tuesday morning. That's about the only thing on my Beijing agenda, to be honest. Otherwise, it's act as barely-functional translator for Steve and Nika and enjoy the sights. We may have to opt out of the biking idea given the weather and suck up taxi costs, or hazard the subways.

Then Tuesday afternoon/evening, Steve and Nika will brave Tang Shan and stay overnight before heading on to Shanhaiguan near Qinhuangdao. Will be treatin' 'em to dumplings and other goodies tomorrow night. I think a round or three of beer will also be in order if we can find Shanlitun district.

Anyway... hopefully I will have a good batch of fresh photos to upload in the next three days.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Tai Ji Quan Photo Madness

Lots and lots of pictures. And two videos. Just don't know where to host them. Photobucket is teh sux for that, but I may have to use it.

I haven't gotten the pictures from the other night sent to me yet, but I took a tonne tonight, and was able to give my gift to Xiang Laoshi - I gave him my Malak photo book of Ottawa. I think Xiang is his surname... it could be 1 of 30 or so variations based on intonation and how it's being pronounced (Xiang, Sheng, Cheung). Of course, it could be an honourarium: xian also means 'gentleman', 'sir' or 'mister'. Though Sir Teacher would be an odd title... I'll see if they'll write it in pinying at some point.

But yeah... go here for tai ji quan picture madness. Got pictures of him with the qiang (spear), jian (broadsword) and dao (sabre), as well as pictures of him demonstrating ji focus with the 'master in white'. That was very cool. They started off in traditional duel stance (I guess), and then just began this circular whirlwind, with Xiang Laoshi gaining so much of an advantage that he had the other master up and on the calligraphy table. (I got a video of that.)

Anyway... I must go to bed. I have to be up in like 6 or 7 hours just so I can go back there.


Yup, his name is Xiang (shiang, said quickly), and the 'master in white' is Song (soong).

Friday, October 13, 2006

Blown Away

My master at tai ji quan just gave me two shu fa scrolls. I'll take pictures of them soon (edit: a picture taken). He also took a bunch of pictures with us both, which hopefully I can get on Monday or Tuesday so I can post them. It was an awesome night. I didn't learn tonnes in terms of form progress, but I learned a great deal in terms of movement and focus. It felt so much more natural tonight.

Xiang Lao Shi also had me try to fight him, and he whipped me... badly... by just watching my reflection in the mirror. He taught me a tonne through demonstration. He also wants me to learn Chinese as fast as I can so he can take me to Beijing and all over the place to help him translate and train with him. (I'm not quite sure why he wants me to do that... except that he plans on coming to Canada soon. I dunno. I was a bit lost in the conversation.)

Xiang Lao Shi and the other master want me to come in whenever I can, including mornings. I'm so there - Monday, 9am. Apparently they think I can do exceptionally, but I have to practice with them more often and really apply myself. They were asking me how much I make a month, and if I make money in other ways. They then segued into asking me how much I would charge them to learn English. I said "Meiyo!" (Nothing).

Sorry, this is a rambling post. Just such a surreal night. They were very disappointed in how short a time I'll be in Tang Shan (short in terms of tai ji quan training, anyway). Oh, the master was also filmed (a good 8-10 minutes, solid movement, like watching water). Maybe I can get a copy of that.

Crazy night. I just need to find a safe place for those shu fa scrolls.

This Is a Call...

... for pictures. At work, we're doing a big picture board for the kiddies. We teachers are supplying what we have from our various wanderings here in-country, but they're also looking for pictures of our home countries (more interesting to the students, obviously). So if you guys are out and about with a camera in your respective Canadian cities - Geoff in Vancouver; Suzi, Jamie, Angie, Kelly, Roger, Adam, Roxanne, Andy and many many others in the Ottawa area; Michelle and Jason in Toronto - fire a few pictures of landmarks, country-sides, whatever to me. I'd be most appreciative! Thanks!

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Golden Week - Datong

This is freakin' long. You have been warned. Let's do this:

I left Tang Shan by bus at 8am, arrived at the Beijing (eastern) train station at 11:30. It was busy, but not too too bad. No trains to Datong, though. Enter stupidity number one: coming out of the train station, a guy offered to take me to the bus station. He said it was a ways away, so wanted 150 yuan for it. I offered 80 and we settled on 100. The guy wasn't a taxi driver like I thought. He was just some guy with a car. Whatever. He dropped me off at the wrong bus station, also, on the west side of central Beijing. When I got in and they didn't have any tickets to Datong, I was about ready to take a bus or train back to Tang Shan and say screw it. However, a taxi driver took me all of 4 kms to the other side of an expressway to the main bus terminal, and I got a bus ticket there to Datong. It was 12:40 at that point, and the bus left at 1:30.

Finished Dracula on the bus (holy anti-climactic) and got into Datong around 5pm. Had no issue at the hotel, which was across from the train station in the utmost north chunk of Datong. So I checked in, dropped some things off, had some tea, and wandered. Found a nice restaurant near the hotel and had dong bao tze ding (spicy chicken, green pepper and peanuts) and a good qiezi (eggplant) dish that was tangy. Had a beer and relaxed, happy to be in Datong finally after 10 hours of traveling and messing around. Then pretty much went to bed around 8:30pm.

Woke up at 6:30, had breakfast, and tried to find a way to get to Heng Shan and the Hanging Monastery. I asked a random local bus driver, and he wrote out instructions for me to get there, taking local buses. I jumped on the first one, and a woman who'd said hi to me the day before was sitting across from me. She asked where I was going, and told me to just walk a few dozen meters to the Old Station and get a long-distance bus from there, Heng Shan being 65 kms away. It's funny how much depends on random chance and kindness from locals. I took her advice, paid 27 yuan and hopped on.

There were three Canadians sitting right behind me. They were from Toronto and had arrived on National Day, thinking it was only a one-day holiday. Whoops. So I talked to them the whole trip. The countryside was gorgeous - rocky, with glacier defiles. The houses were mostly built into the hillsides. (that's not a great picture example... but I wasn't fast enough with my camera to get the really good complexes.)

Two hours later, winding through the foothills of Heng Shan, we got there. The bus was going on to Wutai Shan and Taiyuan in the south, so I was the only one getting out. It was pretty chilly up there - definitely an autumn morning. The Hanging Monastery was a good first expedition for two reasons: 1) it was 65 kms away and as buses travel (especially over mountainous or hilly ground) it took an hour and a half, and 2) the sun had just risen over Heng Shan (left)... the lighting was perfect. The sun shone through a spur in Heng Shan, putting the monastery in perfect illumination. Also, by seeing the Yungang Grottoes second, the caves/grottoes were wonderfully lit by the mid-afternoon sun. But I'll get to that.

Admission to the Hanging Monastery was 60 yuan, well worth it. The monastery itself didn't hang too high off the side of a mountain - maybe 150-200 feet up. The temple is of ingenius construction: pillars supported those parts of the temple that jutted out from the rock, and the rest was rooted into the rock by virtue of half the rooms being in the rock itself, as well as with thick wooden beams. That's not to say my fear of heights didn't kick in, standing on 200-year-old walkways of stone and wood, looking over a railing that is supported by slender poles, and climbing steep, narrow iron-studded stairs.

I bought something in one of the shops, then got a taxi to Hunyuan, the nearest town 3 kms away. Got on a bus heading to Datong, and that was that. That took two hours... to go 65 kms. I was let off at some random bus depot, and crossed the street to have lunch (it being 11:30). I went into a Chinese fondue place. I don't know what the official word(s) is for that style of restaurant, but basically they bring you a big soup dish that is set on a burner. It has two soups in it - a spicy one and a milder one. Then you order what meats you want, and you're given an array of garnishes and sauces, and you cook it all up yourself however you want. Rice porridge (really good) ended the meal.

Around 1pm, I went to the long-distance bus station again, and for 25 yuan, hopped a bus to Yungang Grottoes, a world heritage site. When I got on, everyone tried to talk to me. Once I told them I was Canadian, they went off on their Bethune praising. That guy is way more famous than he ought to be. I think the Chinese government uses him to epitomize Canadians in order to maintain strong associations to Canada in the minds of the Chinese. A girl seated in front of me wanted my phone number for some odd reason. Her boyfriend then proceeded to yell at her. Weird exchange, anyway.

The caves/grottoes were fucking amazing. Most of the grottoes, statues and carvings were over 1,500 years old, having been built between 460 and 495 CE. The details and sheer quantity of details were staggering. At 'infamous' Cave 20 (the central "cave" - the front section of the roof had collapsed in the Liao dynasty) I lit incense and said a prayer for Poppa, whose ashes were being scattered the following night.

I wandered around there for two hours, until about 3:30, just taking my time and really enjoying everything. I hopped a local bus back into Datong (which I should have taken to get there in the first place), got off at some random stop, and took a taxi to the old part of Datong where the Jiulong Bi (the Nine Dragon Screen) was located.

Jiulong Bi was cool, but it was just sort of there. A wall enclosed it, and 10 yuan got me in. One woman was there, at a table at the back. I snapped numerous pictures, then sat down and did some writing under a tree. As I was sitting there, a few others came in, so I helped them out by taking pictures for them so they could all be in the photos. I spoke with one family for a few minutes, the grandmother taking especial interest in me and trying to translate through her granddaughter and son-in-law. Very nice people.

I took a local bus back to the hotel around 5 or so, and planned to head out the next day (Saturday). From the journal I was writing: "I still need to get a bus or train ticket to Beijing. I'll do that and buy some fruit or something before bed. Should be back in Tang Shan by 1 or 2 tomorrow. Hope I don't have any more issues."

Followed the next day by: "I'm stuck in Datong. [...] There is no way out by train tomorrow, either." Anyway, I headed out Saturday morning at 6:15 to check on train tickets. There was one that afternoon, actually, but it was late and train from Datong to Beijing is not direct. So I went to the bus station... at 7am it was pandemonium, a mosh-pit fueled with people's urgent needs to escape and return home at the end of the holiday.

Short of it was: I was stuck in Datong that day, and possibly all of Sunday as well. I went for a walk to clear my head, and then went for lunch near the hotel. I saw two foreigners in there, approx my age, whom I'd seen at 6am in the hotel lobby. I went over and invited them over for a beer. They were from Sweden, and had been in country for six days, but had been in Mongolia for ten days just prior. They'd taken the Trans-Siberian train in. So chatting with them raised my spirits a bit. I then showed them the long distance local bus station place and worked out that they could get to Pingyao from there by going via Taiyuan. Then we hopped in a pedicab and I took them to Jiulong Bi. The lady in the back of the pedicab had been my server at breakfast that morning, so she chatted with me. Made for a fast pedicab ride. At Jiulong Bi, I split from the Swedes and headed west to try to find a temple (couldn't locate it). We made plans to hook up again that evening.

I took a cab to a third bus stop, thanks to the taxi driver's knowledge of it. I got a ticket for Sunday morning to Beijing and was ecstatic. Truly, I can't express the absolute relief I felt that that night would be my last in Datong.

Back at the hotel, I ended up helping 5 other foreigners (two Germans, a French woman and a guy of unknown origins) translate at the hotel front desk. I had gone down to complain that there was no attendant on the 4th floor. The staff kept gesturing me over because they assumed my Chinese was better than the other guests'. Ended up down there for 25 minutes, helping them with check-in stuff and telling them how to get to Yungang Grottoes. It was cool to meet different folks. The only foreigners I've really met here have been my fellow teachers in Tang Shan.

Went for supper with the two Swedes (can't remember their names) and had a few beers and chatted about travel and different countries. Around 9pm we called it a night. In the morning, I had breakfast, took a taxi to the bus terminal, waited an hour, and headed out. Thus end'eth the chronicles of Datong.

However, I wasn't through yet, though I had thought that I was. There was still...

Beijing. No issues getting to Beijing in the morning, and it was a relatively quick trip. I really love the area around Badaling, to the S/SW of Beijing. There is a really nice section of the Great Wall there, and the mountain passes are just beautiful. (the emergency brake pits are funny, too - inclined gravel pits to drive into if your brakes fail.) It had been a drizzly morning, and the temperature was down. There was mist in the mountain valleys and the peaks were wreathed in low clouds. Just beautiful.

I chatted with an English major on the bus, and she pointed out her university once we got into Beijing. We arrived around 12:30pm, and she showed me where I could buy a ticket to Tang Shan from the bus station. I went in and... meiyo. No tickets. So, experiencing some of the same panic I had in Datong, I headed for a taxi and went downtown Beijing to the train station. Passed Qian Men and Tian'anmen Square. Got a train ticket for 5:30. Excited was I. That gave me about two and a half hours or so to wander. I knew I couldn't get far or see much (not without taxi'ing around, and paying entrance fees, and feeling rushed) so I went to Wangfujing Street, a pedestrian business district.

As I approached Wangfujing, two art design students started chatting with me, and offered to take me to Wangfujing and the two bookstores there. We talked for quite a while, and they had an exhibit in the basement around the corner from the Wangfujing Bookstore, so in I went. It was amazing. Their class has serious talent. Everything from oil paintings, water colour, ink on silk and rice-paper... really nice pieces. I bought one for 100 yuan and talked to them about Chinese history, the meaning of various Chinese symbols (bamboo, the crane, dragon, phoenix, plum blossoms). It was a nice intimate experience.

Then, left to my own devices with an hour and a half left, I wandered up to the other bookstore. No "Black Company" by Glenn Cook. Curses. But there was a digital camera shop next door, so I bought an adapter and a larger memory stick, a 128 meg. So now I can take... 350 or so pictures at a go. Combined with my 16 meg stick, I'm hanging at about 400, so I don't need to be as conservative with my photo taking. Then I sampled some tea from an assortment of tea vendors, and headed back to the train station.

The waiting hall was fairly quiet, for China. When the ticket agent appeared, the mosh-pit formed, and I forced my way towards the front. No problem with a seat (I didn't know they were only selling seat tickets). I sat down with four guys who were going to Tang Shan also, and a guy heading to Tianjin sat down beside me. We chatted for a while, and he showed me how to recognize a bunch of chinese symbols so now I know: people, some, numbers (different ones), wife, husband, percentile, sky, up, donate or give, strength, health, head, hand, kill, no, boxes, big, and small. It was a fun trip. One of the guys seated opposite me had to be a "volunteer from the audience" to help some vendor stress-test a sock. The vendor took a wire brush to it and began to beat on it. It was quite funny. Nice bunch of guys, anyway. At one point, a woman sat down with us and asked me if they were my students. We all burst out laughing. Comraderie is a good thing; language barriers just don't come into play. It's amazing what a shared grin over an inside joke can accomplish in so short a time.

Got in to Tang Shan around 9:30pm, and I was so happy to be back. So that's the story.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Lesson learned

Don't travel in China at the beginning or end of a national holiday week. I was fine in arriving in Datong (and saw all that I wanted to yesterday), but now I'm stuck here until tomorrow at the very earliest. No trains or buses to Tang Shan, Beijing or even Tianjin. I even considered Pingyao (south of me) but there was no train there, either. Today's travel insanity created a new record in China: 5.7 million took trains and 40 million packed the roads in cars and buses. ... yay.

So yeah... don't nobody panic if you don't hear from me until Monday morning (EST). That's likely the soonest I'll be home. I'm trying for tomorrow, but it's highly doubtful. I'll be waking up at 5am and going directly to the bus station, then train station if there's nothing. If no luck, then I'm locked in here until Monday. I had the biggest claustrophobia-esque panic attack this morning realizing I was stranded here, and with ebbing cash. Now that the latter has been rectified, I'm not doing badly. Just pissed. Got lots of great photos, anyway, mostly from Yungang Caves (which were absolutely amazing).

Heading to grab a bottle of beer, and hitting my hotel room for now. CCTV 9 here I come. Tonight, hopefully gunna grab a beer with a couple of Swedish backpackers I invited over to my table for lunch a few hours ago.

Mom, I burned incense at Yungang Caves in front of a 1600 year old Buddha for Poppa. I'm sure he'd grumble about heathen rituals, etc, but that was the best I could do. Hope all is going well in Sudbury.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

ESRB - go go government

I've ranted about this before, but three cartoon panels are worth... ummm... lots of words.

7 Days Off ZOMG!

Woohooo!! Passed through the storm, and now to reap the silence of its aftermath. The last three days have been crazy busy, an average of 9-10 hours spent at the school with hectic planning and lessons, numerous of which were cover classes so more difficult by virtue of zero rappart with students. We had a weird weekend. Usually, they're our busiest but because it's National Day [week] we had Saturday off (I had a 1h20m VIP) which was dedicated to planning. Then we had Sunday as per usual, Monday took on our Saturday schedule, and Tuesday took on a Sunday repeat. This meant we had 7 days straight of classes and prep in a row. Now it's over. Bless'edly over.

Tomorrow is rest and recooperation day for me, and then I'm off to Datong for 3 days on Thursday. The lads are hitting Dalian (Hong Kong of the north), Michelle is back in England until next Weds, and Camilla had to scrap some plans because of not being able to get in touch with her friend. She has also been on extra weird because there is a mouse in their apartment area. Apparently she has a severe phobia of mice. It bordered on fucking irritating because she won't go into their shared kitchen, and is afraid to sleep there. Whatevah.

I'm just happy this week (or 10 days) is done with. I feel mentally bludgeoned. Neither Alistair nor I could put together coherent sentences to combat Nick's oh-not-so-witty barbs. The cure and salt-in-the-wound was, of course, beer. But we got Nick pretty good by sharing an anecdote of him stripping and table dancing in a hip-hop place here in Tang Shan... for a bunch of cheering men. Katy, his lady-friend, thought that was quite funny/horrifying and pressed me for specifics (which I gave as a second-hand account) so the conversation persisted beyond Nick's control. Pwnt.

Datong in two days. Not sure how I feel about it. I just feel so battered right now that I'm not really looking forward to it. I know I'll have a blast, and again fill my camera. However, at the moment, I just want to vegetate for a few days and feel some sense of normalcy.

Apparently, Katy was telling me that a lot of the girls at the school are impressed that I'm doing these trips by myself, and that Alistair and Nick are somewhat envious. The thing is that I'm not doing these to be anti-social, but to lay claim to my own experiences. I love going out and just 'being' without accompaniment. Granted there's one person I'd love share every moment with, but given that that's a physical/geographical impossibility, I do my best to really enjoy myself and spread my stunted wings. I bungle most things, and botch almost all conversations in Chinese, but it's fantastic all the same.

So I'll be back on here with a dissertation on Datong and environs on Saturday. Hope you all are well, and adjusting to what I hear is a fairly chilly autumn back in Canada.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Vankleek Hill Explodes

Angie just told me about this. No one was hurt, thankfully, but kinda crazy. Three houses gone on Fournier St due to gas leak.