LongER Break

So I realize it has been a little while since I contributed anything to this little written log of mine. Thats not to say that things haven’t been happening, ohhhh they’ve been happening. Its just a number of elements have leapt out in front of the metaphorical bus that is my progress, and so…no I’ve just been lazy. BUT heres whats been going down recently!

THE SHANGHAI HALF MARATHON

It’s actually the Toray Cup Shanghai International Half Marathon, or something like that, and it takes place along the Huangpu River in downtown Shanghai. This is my first race in months, which had lead to my highest mileage in months. And an increase in mileage, if not approached carefully, will almost always lead to one thing.

MY FIRST INJURY IN MONTHS

Ok injury may be a stretch. I tweaked my calf a little and had to take a few days off, but after that I was right back to training. Until…

MY FIRST COLD

Spending your day around kids and their germs is a grade A recipe for illness. Lucky for me it was nothing a little vitamin C and rest couldn’t shake off. And speaking of rest….

MY FIRST SLEEPING ISSUES SINCE I GOT HERE

At some point in the last week I made the switch to a nocturnal lifestyle. I’m not sure what brought about this change but I can tell you I have no welcomed it warmly. For some reason I just don’t get tired until around 4 AM at which point I pass out for the majority of the day, until I teach that night. But of course there is one upside to staying up late…

GOING OUT

I’ve been going out a little more these past weeks. For a while I kind of avoided the bar scene and just kind of hung out. Considering my first bar experience ended up being at a roller disco, I’m sure you can understand why. But last night I went something called the Drunken Dragon bar crawl. It was pretty awesome. The drinks were affordable, the people were cool, and there was a shuttle bus that took you from bar to bar, which is convenient because

ITS COLD ALL OF A SUDDEN

Yea that pretty much says it all. Back to the bar crawl.

THE BAR CRAWL CONTINUED

So yea it was a good time, plus I met someone who works for an online publication and needs freelance journalists. Thats awesome because, well, I like journalism! But theres always a downside to going out, and in this case it was…

MY LOST CELL PHONE AND SUSUBSEQUENT HANGOVER

Yes, for the first time in my life I managed to lose my cell phone. That isn’t to say its the first time I’ve had to replace an embarassingly destroyed cellphone, just the first time it simply vanished. There was the time freshmen year when I managed to submerge my phone in gatorade, and the time this past summer when I managed to submerge my phone (and myself) in a decorative pond. Unfortunately my phones fate will remain a mystery this time as I don’t remember a whole lot after arriving at the third bar and thus is why I was hungover today.

A CAMERA

I don’t have one yet.

HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER

No I haven’t met a Chinese girl but I did watch the first four seasons of that show this past week. NPH, what a bro.

Well, thats pretty much it. I’m sure theres some stuff I forgot, but hey I have roughly 2 hours before I finally get tired so if I remember anything urgent I’ll be sure to post it. Peace out bros and broettes.

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And the rest..

I feel like this Hunagshan story took so long to tell that its not even relevant anymore haha. Well basically after parting way with our mobile tin can and snagging some breakfast, Matthew and I agreed our next move should be finding a place to stay for the night. Luckily we located a small hostel not far from the train station. Unluckily they were all booked up, except for the possibility of having an open ‘tent’. Its a popular thing in hostels, at least in China, to have a room full of tents that can be rented out for much cheaper than a bed. Having not slept on the train I was ready to sleep right on the floor, so a tent seemed like a dream. However, after further examination the little guy behind the front desk diminished our hopes of finding an open sleeping space anywhere in their building, but did give us the address of a hostel located in the Ancient Town section of Huangshan. 
  Ancient Town looks exactly how it sounds, which was absolutely fantastic. Even though it was a preserved area of ancient China within a much larger, more developed, city…it was still more old school than anything I had seen in Shanghai. Plus the hostel had open beds at a relatively cheap price. The only downside was that we couldn’t check in until noon, and at the time it was approximately 7:45. TIME TO WANDER! and wander we did, straight into the first place we found that sold wonton soup (figurative food-boner achieved). I love me some wonton soup.
  We walked around, got our picture taken by some random lady, and saw some cats. Thats about all that registered between The Soup period in time, and the brief coma I slipped into on my hostel bed.
   After waking up Matthew and I did some more wandering, sampling the local street cuising along the way. We booked bus tickets to Huangshan Mt. (where Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was filmed) for the next morning. We eventually decided to kick our stroll up a notch and purchase some drank but, having eaten so irregularly all day, that landed both of us in the bathroom that evening.
   The next day we squeezed into a small bus and headed for the mountain. Upon arrival we were left with literally no clue where to go, and the only distinguishable feature of our surroundings was a bus station. We headed down the road, hoping to find someone with a map, where instead we found the Johnny Knoxville of cab drivers.
   A small van stopped across the street and the driver yelled for us to come over. Why not? He held out a map of Huangshan Mt. which we took for him asking us where we would like to go. The mountain was a lot bigger than it looked in the pictures, but eventually we pointed to an area called 9 Dragons Waterfall. We hopped into the cab and breathed a sigh of relief at finally being on our way. What we didn’t realize was that we were almost on our way to an early grave.
   Whenever I call home, there are certain aspects of life in China that I leave out of the conversation with Mom. Most because they are insignificant, but occasionally I’ll exclude something  because it would literally turn every hair on poor Anne’s head grey. This was one of those experiences. The route to the base of the waterfall park was hilly. Thats an understatement, we were driving on the edge of a mountain. Our driver was utilizing techniques that wouldn’t be safe if you were driving in the middle of Nebraska with no one around for miles, let alone on a narrow mountainside road with cars seemingly appearing from thin air. At one point, and I can’t be positive about this, but we got into a bit of a chicken match with an oncoming cab driver. Our driver jerked the wheel violently, throwing me out of my seat, and almost out the sliding door window to my left! I was having a pretty awesome time to be honest. We began descending further into the valley, and luckily at that point the guard rail dissapeared. Finally! Nothing like a shitty guard rail to spoil a near death experience. But, have no fear, we arrived safe and sound…and only minorly bruised.
   The park, which of course cost 60 RMB to enter, was beautiful. About 1km into the hike we came across a big pool at the base of a small waterfall. The sign pinned to the tree nearby read “Absolutely no swimming, Water is too deep”….so of course we went swimming. Well actually, first Matthew almost fell down the small waterfall after we decided to “blaze a new path” on the trail, because its the American way obviously. But he fell, I laughed, and since his feet were already wet it only made sense we should jump in. It was freezing, I got a lot of rocks in boxers, but in retrospect it was worth it.
   We hiked farther, the trail got steeper, and the views got better. We came across several of the main waterfalls, many of which you could just hang out on the rocks below.
   There was still about 5 km of hiking left on the trail, but Matthews knee hurt, so he stayed behind while I continued. After about 1km the trail turned vertical, as I was pretty much walking on make shift steps for what seemed like forever. Eventually the trail leveled out a bit, but with this it also lost width. Before I knew it I was walking on a narrow trail on the edge of a cliff with, you guessed it, no guard rail. Good..fuck the guard rail haha. I was really hot, and even more thirsty, but as far as I could tell I wasn’t going to come across any refreshment until I completed the trail (which quickly became vertical again). Now besides water, the one thing I DEFINITELY needed was a sprained ankle haha. So I found myself tip toeing on the edge of the trail, and jumping from rock to rock. I did this for a while until a realized I wasn’t moving very quickly, and thus put the shenanigans on hold and resumed my traditional walk.
   The rest of the hike was pretty standard. I had some great views, saw some wildlife, didn’t take pictures because I’m an idiot, and then reached the end and turned back. I picked by excessively bored and slightly aggrivated amigo up about, and the two of us hiked back down to the entrance of the park.
   We knew we only had one option for getting back to the bus station. Actually thats not true, we had about 6 different options, but we had to go with the epic daredevil who drove us here. Matthew scored his card, and we called him up. He couldn’t understand a word of our English, and we couldn’t understand a word of his Chinese, but ten minutes later he came flying into the parking lot, narrowly missing a group of hikers. “Oh, there he is”, we both said aloud.
   The ride back up was just as epic as the ride down. He dropped us at a nearby station, where we waited on the side of the road for a small bus to pick us up. We knew this bus wasn’t untraditional, what we didn’t know was just how untraditional it was. The bus had 5 passengers on it, including Matthew and I. Hardly enough people to make the drive to Huangshan City worthwhile. So, instead we drove back and forth through the small towns near Huangshan Mt. while the female bus attendant shouted from the window “HUANGSHAN CITY!!!!, ANYBODY GOING TO HUANGSHAN CITY!!!”, but in Chinese. It took me a little while to grasp exactly what was happening because at first it seemed like such a ridiculous concept. But believe it or not she managed to pull enough random people off the sidewalk to fill the entire bus. We were on our way.
   The rest of our time in Huangshan was pretty uneventful. We got some dinner, drank a little, hung out with a Chinese girl at the hostel who we later found out was engaged (buzzkill) and then called it a night.
    The next morning a shuttle arrived outside our hostel to take us to the bus station. I should mention that I have been to more bus stations on this trip then in my entire life prior. Our bus was set to leave at 7A.M. I was there at 7, Matthew was there, most of the passengers were there, even the bus (who had been drinking heavily the night before) managed to wheel itself out of bed. Everyone showed up except for the bus driver. By 7:15 one of the other drivers came over and offered to give our driver a call. As he spoke, I tried to study my peers facial expressions to see if I could determine the reason for his tardiness. They all seemed pretty calm so I assumed that meant he was still coming, but then where was he? One of the guys there came over to me and said “he’s eating breakfast”. Ohhhhh hes eating breakfast, well thats cool I mean far be it from me to disturb a guy whos getting his snack on…BREAKFAST!? China is the country of handheld breakfasts! Not to mention, these hand held breakfasts are sold on literally every street corner! Grab and go partner! Now I should mention that I had not eaten breakfast, so my anger was fueled partially by jealousy for this guy, but come on man. Eventually he did show up, and around 8 we finally departed Huangshan City for Shanghai. Oh and did I mention the bus ride home takes 5 and a half hours. Rewind a bit Colin, didn’t it take 13 hours to get there? Why yes it did Imaginary Readers, but because of the indirect route taken by the rail system, the trip time is almost tripled. I looked at a map and it was pretty clear that the 3 and a half hours spent traveling southeast (in order to get to our western desination) was the likely reason for the time increase.
   All in all the trip to Huangshan was a total blast. Although some parts were boring its hard to say they were dull. The mountain was fantastic and my only regreat is that I wasn’t able to capture it all on film. Thats what happens when you pack your bag in 3 minutes…you forget the video camera.

Thirteen hours I will never get back

  Thirteen hours is a long time to do anything. Just think about it, even the best things in life could get boring after 13 hours. Swimming in a pool of Jello would get boring after about 4 hours, you would likely tire of riding an ostriche somewhere around 6 or 7, and, dare I say it, Discovery Zone would even become lame somewhere around 10 hours. But sitting on a train? Thats a whole new ball game! 
  For anyone whos ever taken a long trip, we know how it starts. Countless vacations crammed in the back of the family minivan between the suitcases and the boogie-boards should have prepared me for this, but I remained blissfully ignorant. You always start out listening to the iPod, or reading a book. This isn’t so bad, you think to yourself, maybe its time to break open the snacks. Four or five cookies later the headphones are starting to bother your ears, so you switch to an alternate mode of entertainment (taking in the sights, reading a book/listening to iPod depending on the initial selection, drawing?). After what seems like a solid chunk of time you decide its ok to check the time piece which is almost immediately followed by “ONLY A HALF HOUR! WHAT THE FUCK! WE LEFT LIKE 6 YEARS AGO, HOW HAVE WE ONLY BEEN TRAVELING FOR A HALF HOUR”. Then the panic sets in. You think ” I can’t do this! I’ll never make it! Why hasn’t anyone invented teleportation yet?! Maybe by the time we get there they’ll have figured it out!! This is the worst trip ever!”. But as we all know, this will pass.
  Fortunately I had some time to cope with the concept of a long train trip. Almost all train travel in China seems to take some absurd amount of time, so I knew it was inevitable that I would eventually find myself in this situation. Luckily we were able to get seats. There were plenty of people who stuck out the trip on their own two feet. My hats off to you ‘standers’! 
   There were a few interesting characters on this train, but none greater than Napoleon. The 5’3″-ish train conducter who menacingly paced the cars for the duration of our trip. He donned a navy blue suit that was probably two sizes too big, and wore an assortment of the grumpiest facial espressions I have ever seen. At one point this grouchy little guy decided to stop and yell at Matthew and I for seemingly no reason. We told him in Mandarin that we didn’t understand, so he repeated himself but this time much louder. This prompted an older Chinese woman in the seats behind us to poke her head out and restate, louder and still in an indiscernible tongue, Napoleon’s complaints. Eventually we figured out that he wanted to check our tickets. Thats the thing about a language barrier that I guess I never thought about; the smallest things become difficult. I don’t blame Napoleon, if I had to ride this train for a living I would be pretty pissed too.
   Traveling is definitely one of my favorite things, but I have a really tough time sleeping in moving vehicles. Matthew and I both stayed awake for a while, but eventually he moved to a vacant bench and passed out for a couple hours. Shit, I thought to myself, now I’m bored and I have no one to talk to. I continued reading What is The What, a novel about the Sudanese Lost Boys, but I was so worried that I would finish it, and be left with nothing to do, that I skimmed the pages at glacier pace. Then, sure enough, something absurd happened. The older Chinese woman who had attempted to clear up our ticket predicament earlier decided to take a nap on the bench across from Matthew’s. At first I thought nothing of it, and then I heard the first fart. Hearing a fart in a public place is a tricky situation to adress. For one thing, you don’t want to call out someone on a fart if it didn’t actually happen. You need to wait for, at least, one more in order to confirm the kill. Sure enough that second fart came, followed by a third,fourth, etc. At first I thought it was Matthew until I caught him laughing to himself. It was the woman! She was ripping left and right! This was a closed compartment! Thats like farting in a space ship! Luckily, the guy in the booth behind us had the solution. I’m not sure who this guy was, or what relation he had to the woman. I thought she had been traveling alone, but I could have been wrong. Midway through the ‘Gaseous Assault on Car 4’ (which is what the based-on-a-true-story film will be likely called) the man stood up and began gently pulling the curtains off of the windows, and then proceeded to cover the sleeping woman in them. He removed all the curtains from his booth, then the ones over the booth Matthew and the woman were occupying. Finally he made his way over to my booth and pulled the curtain down from the, now empty, seat across from me. His gaze shifted over to my curtain, then down to me, back to the curtain, and then back to me. In retrospect I couldn’t care less, it was the middle of the night, and as far as I’m now concerned that curtan had his name on it. But in that moment I just stared at him. I don’t know if I was feeling protective of that dark blue cloth that, if it wasn’t the middle of the night, would shield my eyes from the blinding sun, or perhaps I was just perplexed as to what on earth he was doing. Either way, we locked eyes for just a moment and then he moved on, blanketing his target in the remainder of the his collected curtains. Baffled, I opened my book and burried my confusion in its pages.
   There was a snack cart that would pass our booth every once and a while but the food was hardly appetizing. Chicken feet and other kinds of vaccum packed meats seemed to be the dish of choice and, as much as I tried to fight it, I was getting pretty hungry. I settled on some kind of paper thin meet that almost resembled beef jerky. How bad could it be? I offered some to Matthew, fresh off his nap, but he refused. I picked up the first meat square, it was coated in some kind of orange and brown oil. Yum. I bit down, and instantly felt like puking. I couldn’t even bit the piece off, just the biting down was enough for my brain to start screaming, “NOOOOOOO NOOOOOO DON’T EAT THAT!”. I think I blacked out after that.
   Alright I didn’t really black out but it was still pretty gross, like a mixture of hot sauce and balloons. Woof. I have no idea what that meat was but I see it in convenience stores all the time now. It kind of stares at me, waiting until the next time I get desperate. Little does the meat know that I would rather drink a chicken feet milkshake. Suck it balloon meat! (balloon meat haha thats kind of funny if you think about it). 
   The sun started coming up around 5:30 AM (5:30 PM for most of the people reading this) and with it came a wave of relief. Only 2 and a half hours left in our journey. I scribbled down a few notes about the trip in my notebook, and then started sketching some of the weird looking trees I could see from my seat. They looked like lolli-pops, or some tree out of a Dr. Seuss book…minus the funny colors. Before I knew it we had pulled into the station at Huangshan City (not to be confused with Huangshan Mt., a mistake that would haunt us later) and exited the train. I would have kissed the ground but I was so hungry at this point that I thought I might end up taking a bite out of it. We immediately hunted down some steamed buns and dough sticks, an awesome breakfast. Just like our last trip, we had not booked a hostel, so that was next on our agenda. And so our journey in Huangshan began!
   I will have to write the rest of this story in my next entry, I’m falling asleep! Later bro and broettes!

You’re waiting for a train…

  I have a difficult time accepting the idea of remaining in one place. In fact, within a few weeks of my arrival in Shanghai I was already thinking about where I wanted to go next. Why is this? I don’t know…I mean I love Shanghai and I’m in no rush to leave (hence signing a one year teaching contract) but I just like knowing that where I am today isn’t the end of the road.
  Now, the annual schedule for a school such as mine is littered with several breaks, however none of them are particularly long. Therefore it is important to take advantage of the ones you have, especially if you want to travel. I had every intention of traveling when I came to China. I would be lying if I said it wasn’t the major reason I booked my ticket in the first place. So when I found out last week that October 1st marked the beginning of a seven day work holiday I practically shit myself….with joy of course. 7 days! Thats awesome, thats more free time then I’ve had since I got off the plane. I knew I had to take advantage of this week and travel…but where to?
   I attempted to book a flight to South Korea, but that failed. Within the 5 minutes of discovering the flight and attempting to book one the last few seats, they were filled. Bummer. Well, I thought to myself, I guess I’ll be staying in China. In reality Shanghai is very different from the rest of the country. For one, its a massive city with a fair number of foreigners as well as being generally forgiving to an individual with little understanding of the language. I wanted to see more of the traditinal China, but then again there were so many historic locations to explore. So where would I go? The Great Wall? Hong Kong? Or maybe one of the rural provinces of Western China? None of the above, in fact I almost ended up spending my vacation traveling no further then the Pizza Hut at the end of my block.
   Jenny, one of the TA’s where I work informed Matthew and I that most tickets for the holidays are booked up months in advance, and that the odds of finding tickets anywhere were relatively slim. WHAT THE FUCK, I thought to myself silently. THIS SUCKS! I didn’t want to spend one of my few chances to see China sitting at home eating rice, I wanted to get out there and make my own rice…or watch someone else make rice! (In all honesty I could have used a break from rice at this point). No way, I was going somewhere even if it meant walking.
   Fortunately I didn’t! Matthew and I made the executive decision to simply go to the train station first thing in the morning and buy two tickets to whatever location was open. Sure enough something had to be free, and I was up for anything.
  As our luck (and a night of drinking) would have it, first thing in the morning actually turned out to be 2 in the afternoon. We dragged ourselves to the station and got in line for the English Service ticket window. I had done a little research on hiking locations in China and a place called Huangshan had come up in a few of my searches, so I suggested to Matthew we at least mention it. Lucky for us there were two open seats(actual seats!) on the next train to Huangshan. The woman at the counter did not speak great English (especially for a counter labeled English Service) but we were able to make out our departure time as 5:45, and that the next train was not until 7 A.M the following day. Without missing a beat we handed her our money, grabbed our tickets, and set off to find the platform…and snacks.
   As we walked I tried to recall what little information I could on Huangshan. All I could remember was that Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon had been filmed there, and that it was famous for a series of beautiful waterfalls. This was going to be awesome, I had been dying to go hiking and no doubt this was the place to do it. But then I remembered what else I had read about Huangshan, and my joy temporarily came to a pause. Matthew, I said, 7AM is not when the next train departs…thats when our train arrives! (for all you math majors out there) WE HAVE A 13 HOUR TRAIN RIDE! THATS ALMOST HOW LONG MY FLIGHT TO CHINA WAS! THATS MORE THAN HALF A DAY! I couldn’t really do anything but laugh about it. After all, 13 hours is nothing compared to some of the train rides in China. My friend Kevin had just visited and filled me in on his 20+ hours spent on a train, so I really had nothing to complain about. That said, it still doesn’t make 13 hours on a train something to look forward to. I was going to need some serious snacks and serious reading material to face this bad boy, and luckily it was within my grasp to procure both.
   Matthew and I wrangled together some cookies, peanuts and other snacks that we were confident would last us the trip ( they didn’t last the Waiting Area) and I was still finishing What is The What, a book about the Lost Boys of the Sudan. We had the situation under control, this was going to be a breeze. Or so we thought!!
   Now, because this is a pretty long story and I want to make sure I have it all written down (mostly for my own record) I’m going to tell it in a few parts. Plus, its like 3 in the morning here and I’m falling asleep!! Peace out!

Getting technical

So I recently created a Youku.com account. Youku is like the chinese version of Youtube, hence all the directions on the page are in Chinese. BUT by creating an account I am able to upload videos of my travels and keep them all on one page. This is not taking the place of blog posts, but instead will provide a face to the story. “Face” being used very loosely in this sense as I’m referring to an entire city/country/continent’s worth of faces, and unfortunatley mine on occasion. Sooooooo here is the link:   http://u.youku.com/user_video/id_UMzA3NjE3ODUy.html . If you want to bookmark it or something thats cool haha right now I just have a dumb test video posted but I plan to use the next couple days to find something interesting to film. Oh I also spent the last few days in Huangshan, which is the mountain range where Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was filmed. It was probably one of the best trips I have ever been on. But I will get into that in the next post because frankly its a very long story, one that I will probably break up into a few posts. Alright well I hope the link works…please let me know if it does not…and I apologize for the lameness of the Test Video. Thats all for now!