Thursday, December 10, 2009

I found the porkchops!

It appears that my trip to Somaliland is falling through. :(
I haven't heard from anyone since August and since I was supposed to leave in January (it now being December) it's too late to take time off of work. Which is rather unfortunate.
I have however discovered that I have enough aeroplan miles to travel to several locations globally. Anyone have any ideas?

I've decided that since I've no official travel plans anymore that I should blog about some of the random parts of my life. I do have some lovely random stories that happen nearly every day. I should have blogged when I still worked outdoors with East Parks. The stories I could have told!

Today was a rather pleasant day despite the fact that I had a training session. Yesterday we received a huge snow storm which gave us a good 25cm of snow. We got another 4cm today (but that's minor details). So, my drive into work today was long with the lack of snow removal on the streets plus I had to drive out way further than normal. When I got to the branch that I'd be training at I discovered a pleasant surprise! A few people that I had met at other branches were there for training as well.
At this point I should mention that I work at the Public Library and all of the branches within the city are merged into one giant system. So it's easy for employees to move from branch to branch for extra hours. I typically work in the East end of the city but I've been working alot in the central part of the city lately.
So, I say hi to some ladies that I've worked with in the East end before going to chat with the guys that I've met downtown Nick and Pat. Naturally I practically start my conversation by talking about the fantasia party that I held the weekend before (Nick asked how it went. He was invited but couldn't make it). Pat asked me what I dressed up as and I was like "Uh, you don't dress up for fantasia parties." He stared at me blankly for a moment before replying "oh. OH! YEAH! GIMME FIVE!" he shouted out the rest and raised his hand as it clued into his mind. It was hilarious to see the wheels working in his mind as he realized what it was. (For those of you who don't know it's an adult party where a lady comes to tell everyone attending about various adult toys and games which we can purchase at the end. The person hosting the party receives 10% of the total items sold of free items)
I then told them about my special cookies that I baked for the party. Little penises and boobies. They were adorable and I made giftbags. Unfortunately these two other people that I hadn't known came into the conversation at this point and I realized then that I don't exactly pay attention to proper conversational topics with strangers. They thought I was rather amusing.

It didn't take me until I got home that I realized I had spent most of the actual course flirting with pat. At least, I'm pretty sure we were flirting. I'm rather dense when it comes to this stuff. Plus I act this way around my close friends all the time which is why I didn't really think about it at the time. We basically spent the entire course writting on each others notes and arms, poking each other, I'd catch him looking at me and he kept doing the same. Every once in a while he'd grab my arm/shoulder or leg so naturally I did the same back to him. Our conversation was also pretty dirty the entire time. We were trying to list points for something and kept coming up with naughty comments such as "Pat's packing rocks". I felt like I was in high school again. It was pretty damn fun. Needless to say it turned out to be an awesome morning.

This afternoon after I got home I decided to go to the basement hunting for something to thaw for dinner. I went into the dry storage under the stairs to search for some form of noodle (I decided to make chicken with alfredo sauce) and I found a package of pork chops on the ground rotting away.

Let me backtrack a little. My mom left on Saturday December 5th with my dad down south for a week. A day or so before she left she made pork chops for dinner. Unfortunately she misplaced these pork chops and called home asking my brother to thaw some more out for dinner. Since she's been gone I've noticed a horrible stench in the basement and at first assumed it was the litter box. I've cleaned the box several times but could still smell it. Needless to say when I discovered these pork chops I was thrilled to have finally found the source of the stench! It's been annoying me all week! The mess was disgusting to pick up but the basement smells wonderful!

Huh, this was supposed to be a teeny tiny post. Sorry about that guys.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Africa here I come!

As the title suggests I may be heading off to Africa for my next travel destination. My friend asked me if I would like to join her and her mom on a work trip there to Borama, Somaliland to help organize a library there. Naturally, I had to say yes. There is no way I could pass up this opportunity.
Nothing is 100% but it's about 95% certain that I'll be going there in January!

Also: I'm hoping to post some more pictures of China at some point soon.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Lessons learned in China

Throughout the course of my trip I've learned a few lessons or tricks while traveling. If a hostel says that they have a DVD room with DVD's, they have 1 or 2 movies in the native language of the hostel. If there's more they probably won't work. If you plan on taking advantage of the DVD room, bring a small case with some of your favorite DVD's. It would have been so nice to settle in with the guys to watch a good English movie.

Afterbite. Bring it. I'm covered in mosquito bites. I can count 5 of them on my left hand alone. They itch like crazy and are slowly driving me insane. I'd love some afterbite to put on them.

Phrasebooks are your friend. They really do help. Asking for directions while pointing on a map really helps too. Especially if the map's in English and in Mandarin.

Talk to strangers (in the hostel). Most other travelers staying in hostels are really friendly. If you're traveling alone it's really nice to sit down and chat with a complete stranger who's also traveling on a budget. You can swap stories, share experiences, and give tips. What's good to see and what isn't. It's also useful to chat with these people on the first day of your arrival to see about places to eat or fun things to do. Sometimes they'll even join you if you both want to see the same thing.

When I was in Europe I saw some people at the hostels doing absolutely nothing for the entire day. I could never grasp how these people could do that when they're in a foreign country. I can now completely understand. Sometimes it's really nice to just sit back and relax and talk to the other people in the common room. If you're in the city for a while or have been traveling for a while it's fun to do nothing. I've done a large amount of nothing and it was nice.

You don't have to pre-plan everything. I have a habit of planning everything in advance. Buying tickets in advance. Booking tours before I leave home. You don't have to do this. Train and bus tickets are generally really easy to buy right at the station. Plane tickets can be bought for a low price a few days in advance as well. Tours can be booked through the hostel when you get there. I've learned to go with the flow and not to get upset if I don't get a chance to do something.

Toilet paper. I've learned in Europe that it's best to bring some toilet paper with you in case there's none in the stalls or if you have to pay for it. Now, pack enough or if you don't make sure the stuff you buy isn't scented. Discovering that the Kleenex I bought was scented came as a huge shock to me.

Knowing the language and accepting other cultures. I already knew it was important not to judge other cultures, especially when you're visiting it. I also already knew it was important to know a few phrases. I never realized how difficult it would be when you don't speak a word of the language and you forget your phrasebook at the hostel. It's also difficult not to judge or get revolted when you see people doing things differently. The spitting for instance. When someone spits they make this loud disgusting phlegmy noise and spit it out. It's pretty gross to see and hear but it's a part of the culture. Apparently people do this because they're getting rid of something negative in their bodies. One of my tour guides told me that when they feel something negative they have to try to spit it out. It can be absolutely nothing physical and they'll do it because of a feeling.

Pictures. I've learned that in China it's an honor to have your picture taken with a foreigner which is why they always ask foreigners to have their picture taken. If you refuse it's like giving them a slap in the face and cursing at them. It's also polite to ask first instead of simply clicking.

Rubber sandals are awesome. Cheap rubber sandals are even better. This things are great to wear in the shower and around the hostel. I got myself a good pair for under 2$ CDN.

I've also learned that even when a situation looks absolutely horrible there's often a lot of good that can come out of it. In Suzhou I absolutely hated my hostel for the first day but I stayed because I was stubborn. I ended up having a great time there despite my bumpy start. It's good to always look on the bright side of life. If something goes wrong or doesn't go as planned it's all right. Things usually end up working well in the end.

Above all I've learned not to panic. Take everything in stride even when the initial plans you've made seem to fall apart. Things always seem to work out in the end while giving you a wonderful life experience.

This trip was a great experience and really opened my eyes to the world. I knew that the countryside was absolutely gorgeous and I had never really been a fan of large cities but I've found such beauty in Shanghai and Beijing. I'd love to go back there someday there's so much to see and do. Even though I've been home for a day I'm already itching to go away again. I already have an idea for another backpacking trip. I'm thinking of doing Eastern Europe before I go on a major trip across the world. I've decided that if I can survive in China by myself I can survive almost anywhere. Nothing ever goes completely according to plan when it comes to backpacking. I wonder what my next travel adventure will bring?

Always make sure connecting flights are relatively close to each other

My flight from Beijing to Vancouver was uneventful. I took a bunch of pictures of clouds and some of the mountains below while I watched a bunch of the in-flight movies. There were several great movies playing. I watched some serious drama first which nearly put me to sleep and then I watched Coraline. For a kid's movie, it's pretty creepy but it was good. I also pulled out my laptop and watched an episode or two of Supernatural. I'm now on season 4. I'm still near the beginning of the season. For our meals we had a choice. Dinner we were offered beef or fish. I took the beef, it was okay. There was some rice and gravy with it. We also got an amazing brownie on the side. Breakfast there was a choice between noodles or eggs. I chose the eggs but I really wish I had taken the noodles. Those at least smelled good.
I talked off and on to the guy sitting next to me. He was on his way to St-Johns for school. I felt a little bad for him since he had another long flight ahead of him. It was about half way through the flight that I started to question how long I would have to wait for my flight when I realized that the wait would be over 12 hours.

My flight from Beijing arrived at 11.30 am on the Friday and my flight out of Vancouver would leave on Saturday morning at 9 am. When I initially booked my flights I could have sworn I saw that my flight was scheduled to arrive at around midnight. I asked a volunteer for directions to get to the booking desk for Air Canada so I could see about catching an earlier flight. The first man I spoke to told me that I would have to leave the airport entirely and the second woman told me to go pray at the chapel because it can't be done. I wanted to throttle that woman but instead I thanked her and left the baggage claim. I easily found an information desk and explained my situation to the lady working there. She was nice and pointed me to the direction of the Air Canada ticket booth in the airport. It was a bit of a hike to get there but when I finally did I jumped into the line. Luckily there were only 3 people ahead of me and I got to the front quick enough. I explained my situation and the man told me that there was a flight leaving in an hour if I'd like that one. I said yes, paid the small fee to have my tickets transferred (since it was done at the last minute) and thanked the man. He also checked in my bags since I wouldn't have had time to get into the other line to do it (plus I still had to do the security check to get to my boarding gate). I immediately went to the boarding gate even though my stomach was protesting that I should get some food first and it didn't take too long to pass through and I was on my way to the boarding gate. Before I went all the way I stopped by at a payphone to tell my mom that I would be arriving home that night instead of the following day. On my way to the boarding gate I got pestered a lot by people trying to sell credit cards. It took forever for them to take no as an answer and when I walked by them again to check on the status of my flight they pestered me again about it.

We were about 10 minutes late to board the plane and it seemed to take forever to take off. My seat was in the middle on the first row right after the business class. Since there were two seats I got no little TV in front of me. I believe mine was folded up in the armrest to my side but the man next to me was hogging it so it was a little difficult to pull out. It didn't matter too much though since I didn't end up wanting to use it at all.

I chatted for a while with the girl sitting next to me (who grew up in China) and we ended up chatting with the flight attendant as well. We talked about various things but mostly kept on the topic of China. We drove a few of the other passengers crazy since we were laughing quite a lot. The guys sitting in business class ahead of us were a little peeved since there was an opening and they could pretty much hear the entire thing. Oh well, they taunted their free wine and fancy food at the us the entire time. When the flight attendants came by and asked if we wanted to buy anything to eat I ordered a chicken wrap but found that I couldn't eat it. I had gotten so hungry that it was too heavy for my stomach to handle. About half way through I thought I was going to throw up so I gave up on eating it and went to sleep. I slept off and on for most of the flight while I had a constant feeling of nausea. It wasn't the best flying experience. I was even more upset when the pilot announced that we would be arriving much later at the airport than scheduled. The only thing I wanted was to land and possibly collapse on a couch or bed. When I finally did arrive at the airport it seemed to take forever to get my luggage (which was the same in Vancouver, my bags seriously came out last). So as I stood there waiting ready to pass out my mom snuck up on me. It was nice to see her again but really strange at the same time. We talked a bit but I had a some trouble hearing her since my ears were still a little messed up from the flight. When we finally did get my bags she helped me carry them to the car (even though I insisted I could do it myself).

The drive home was long. I was starving and getting hungrier by the minute. Luckily I wasn't feeling sick anymore so that was good. When I did finally get home it was really strange. I hadn't been there in 5 weeks. My brother came outside and helped me carry my backpack into the house and into my bedroom. I also brought down my other bags and gave some of the gifts that I could find right away to my family. My special gift for my brother was a cone hat. He loves hats and it was the only thing he had asked me to bring back for him. I gave my dad 2 huge bottles of beer with some incents and my mom a pearl necklace and jade earrings. I then finally went upstairs and ate. There was some left over noodles in the fridge that I reheated and practically inhaled before I had a bowl of fruit loops. Food never tasted so good. By the time I went to bed it was almost 2 in the morning. My own bed was really, really nice to sleep in. It was soft and fluffy and my cat slowly crept up towards me. The entire night she kept jumping under the covers and then over them for a bit. I woke up with her curled in a ball near my face. She was purring away. I got out of bed since it was almost 1 in the afternoon. I don't want to be jet lagged for work on Monday.

Friday, May 29, 2009

I've access once more!

The train terminal at the Beijing airport to get to the international departures.

My bunk with my bag mostly packed up on Thursday. My camera bag is hidden between the night table and bed. The other bag is the one I purchased for Cory's special gift.

A delicious bowl of rice with sesame seeds.

Chicken, zucchini, and peanuts. This stuff is to die for!

Now that I'm sitting in the Vancouver airport I've regained access to Blogspot! I'll be putting up the second half of my flight as well as some of the things that I've learned once I get back home. I also plan on putting up a series of images taken from my 50D. This time you'll get to see them in good quality and not off the litte LCD screen.

Day 33 - Thursday May 28th -My uneventful last day

Thursday was my last full day in China and it didn't go exactly how I wanted it to. I was hoping to go to the zoo to get some pictures of animals but it was raining. A lot. I basically spent the day relaxing in the bar chatting with other travelers while clearing out my inboxes. Even though I didn't do anything exciting it was pretty fun since I know I'll be busy once I get back home. It's nice to sit back and relax.

I let myself sleep in since I was so exhausted from the day before. I woke up stiff and sore with a really bad shoulder ache. I actually had a bit of trouble moving my shoulder. I quickly jumped into the shower and let the warm water soak into my shoulder which actually made a huge difference. I could move it again without any pain. I then went to the bar to get myself a good breakfast. The day before I had a small croissant for breakfast so it was nice to order a huge meal. Bacon, eggs, sausage, hash browns, and toast. It was great. Tomorrow I may get the pancakes with strawberry syrup or another egg type breakfast since it was so good.

While chilling in the bar I've learned that the bar plays a huge variety of music. It's awesome. It switches from Latino to Oldies, to modern rock to country. It's really random. There's quite a few songs where I've caught myself starting to sing along to them. I've gotten a few strange looks.

I've also discovered that this weekend is another holiday weekend here. The Dragon boat festival. It's more celebrated down south since there's more rivers but the prospect of traveling on a holiday isn't too exciting. I'm going to leave the hostel earlier than I normally would to avoid traffic (if there's any) and if the airport is really crowded it might make a difference there too. I'll have to make sure I have some spare cash on me for food at the airport.

I went out for dinner with a guy I had met in the bar. I feel awful because I can't remember his name. I think it might be Will. I'll call him that anyway. He's another American that's been traveling around for several months. He's been around Europe, Australia, and is now starting the Asian countries. His trip is going to last a total of 6 months. He was interesting to talk to and I found out that he has a dual citizenship. He's also Canadian. He was great to talk to because he was into Politics, history, world affairs and the like so it was pretty awesome. We went out to a small restaurant down the street and ordered some of that chicken with zucchini and peanuts (which was awesome) and some sweet and sour pork. We got little bowls of rice to go with it and had ourselves a lovely meal. It was really nice to split the bill with someone. We went our separate ways after diner since I was heading towards the Quik convenience store while he wanted to go to a supermarket for fresh fruit. He's going to be hiking the Great Wall tomorrow and wants some food. I wanted to buy my dad a little something special because he'd never believe me if I simply told him.

When I got back to the hostel I pretty much just packed my bags and got everything ready for tomorrow. I made sure I had my passport and exit card ready for customs tomorrow while everything's safe and secure in my bags. I want to make the least amount of noise as possible for my other roommates since I'll be getting up early enough to be able to have enough time to eat and find my way to the airport. I'm hoping I can get a lot of sleep on the plane because when I get home on Saturday afternoon it will feel like Sunday morning for me.

Day 34 - May 29th - My last morning and first part of my flight

Today was my last day waking up in Beijing. I had made plans to get up early, shower, eat, and then head off to the airport. One of my roommates alarms rang at 6 in the morning which made me panic momentarily since he had the exact same alarm as mine. I glanced at the time and realized that it wasn't for me so I went back to bed. When mine did finally ring I groaned and wanted to get back to bed. I had some trouble sleeping the night before. I couldn't see to find that nice comfortable spot in the bed and a mosquito kept buzzing around. The last thing I wanted was more bug bites.

My shower was also very reminiscent of my first day here. The water got either too hot or too cold during the entire thing. It was a little annoying but at least I was used to it so it didn't really slow me down. Every time I felt the water start to change I moved over the knob.

After my shower I finished packing most of my things (except for my towel, pillow, and shampoo/conditioner) and went to the bar to get some breakfast. I got myself some crepes with strawberry sauce. It came with a few slices of watermelon. I lazed around the bar for a bit while checking my e-mail one last time before I left and went upstairs to finish packing. I had hoped that my towel would dry by the time finished breakfast but I guess it was too humid to fully dry. It did get mostly done which was good since it's not going to get too musty smelling. I'll be sure to start to a load of laundry when I get home. It's a good thing that towel's anti-bacterial.

Once I finished packing I double checked my room to see if I might have left anything behind and went downstairs to the reception to check out. I received my 100 kuai deposit back (which was later used as my cab money) and went out the door in search of a cab. I got really lucky in finding one. There's a hotel right in front of our hostel and I had plans to wait in front of the hotel. As I was walking next to it there was this line of cabs on break playing cards. One of them asked me where I was going and I said the airport. He then asked me which terminal and offered to drive me. Normally if it were an unmarked car I would have refused but since it was an actual taxi I said yes. This just saved me a good 20-30 minutes on the street with my hand sticking out in hopes that the driver would be okay with going to the airport.

I arrived at the airport at 9.45 am, I didn't have to be there officially until noon. I wanted to get there for about 11 since it's a holiday weekend. I left the hostel at 9 because I thought it'd take a while to find a taxi and I was anticipating a lot more traffic. I didn't think it would only take 45 minutes to get there. It can sometimes take 45 minutes to get a few blocks because of the heavy traffic. I've just turned a 36 hour trip into a 42 hour trip. How fun. At least I've had plenty of experience at waiting in airports from Europe. No wait is as bad as sleeping overnight in an airport on the floor next to some closed stores and constantly getting pushed around.

The two hour wait for the check-in to start was tedious and long. I found a seat and started to write yesterday's entry while glancing at the time every 5 minutes. I finally caved in and opened my bag to pull out a book Martha had given me. I took the smaller one so it would fit better in my camera bag and started to read it. I might have it finished by the time I get home. I went to the counter a few minutes early and was one of the first people in line. It was really odd to have 2 checked bags. The lady told me that I'd have to claim my bags and then re-check them in once I'm in Vancouver because of my overnight stay there. I wanted to ask "what over night stay?" since my flight is scheduled to arrive at midnight and my next one is supposed to leave somewhere between 8 - 9.30 am. I've been getting a lot of e-mails from Air Canada with changes in my flight itinerary. The changes involve the time that my flight leaves Vancouver. I'll start to look through departures at 5.30-6 in the morning to see when I'll have to go to the counter. I was quite pleased to discover that my backpack wasn't considered oversized baggage on this trip. It did go up in weight. It's now at 22.5 kilos. My smaller suitcase weighs 7.5 kilos and my camera bag is a nice 11.5 kilos. It feels like it weighs a lot less. The total weight of my bags is a whopping 41.5 kilos. I never knew I could carry so much on me at once. It really wasn't that heavy. I guess that tiller really helped me out last summer by building some muscles. Luckily I didn't have to pay any overweight fees in Beijing. I'm hoping for the same luck in Vancouver.

Once my bags were checked in I decided to get myself something to eat. It was nearing 1 and I was famished. One of the cheapest places they had to eat there was a Burger King. I got myself a chicken sandwich and fries. It was delicious. I had to pay a little more than what I initially wanted to but it was worth it. I'm not sure what kind of food will be served on the airplane or if anything would be open in Vancouver when I get there.

After lunch I made my way towards the boarding gate. There was a first initial security check point where the guard checks your boarding pass to see if you're at the right place. There's 3 different gates. Two of them are for domestic departures and the third, the one in the middle is for International departures. The domestic departures stay on the same floor while the international ones go down a set of escalators to a train terminal. The train takes you to the boarding gates. It now makes sense why I had to initially take the train with Kevin to get to our luggage. All of the international departures and arrivals are in a much further section from the rest of terminal 3. I wasn't aware of that when I first arrived. After I got off the train I had to go through customs and then another security check. Before I arrived to customs I had to go through another security check. This one was basically going through a set of gates that could detect heat. It didn't slow anybody down since it involved walking through a set of gates. Nobody was stopped near me so there weren't any problems. A lady then pointed me towards the queue line for customs.

The final security check after customs went by real quickly but the customs took forever. The guy working at the counter was so slow! He'd sit there and stare at you and then your picture for a good 5 minutes before asking if you have another piece of ID. He'd then compare that ID with your passport and then stare at you and back to your ID's for another 5 minutes before he nods and sends you through. He also spent a good few minutes feeling the paper on my passport and visa to make sure it was real. I felt a little bad for the girl in front of me because he asked the guy working next to him to compare the ID's and then he got the supervisor to come look at them too. In the end she was pulled aside and had a good 6 security officers around her comparing her ID's. She kept taking off her glasses and pulling her hair back. She seemed quite nice about the entire thing. What was driving me nuts about this was that the other officers working for customs only took 2 minutes with each individual. I had 2 people in front of me and it took nearly 30 minutes, during this time the guy next to mine had done at least 10 people.

When I finally made it through customs and the security check I browsed through some of the duty free shops. I ended up buying a lovely tea set. It's bright red with characters that signify 'happiness'. It comes with 6 matching cups. A tea set was one of the things that I wanted to get the most with my game of Go. I never got my board game since I didn't want to get soaked the day before. I don't regret not getting it since I know I can always return some day. I also plan on going to Japan some day and that game originates from there. I'll get my board game and find my own little ninja or samurai to take home with me. =D

After my little bit of shopping I made my way to my boarding gate. I settled down with my bags to wait. I had some fun watching people walk by and other planes take off. As I waited to board the plane I sawit arrive. It was different to see passengers coming off of the plane that I was about to use. I saw the staff refuel the plane and reload the supplies while taking off the baggage and putting ours onto it. It was also interesting to see foreigners come to the gate and sit down. The last 2 flights I took I was the only foreigner there. It will be really weird to be back at home and to not be a visible minority in the country.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Exploration of the pool room/gaming room.

I spent most of Tuesday night in the lounge/pool room with some guys I had met in the bar (Cody and Pat). There was a guy from Bangladesh that we called TJ, another guy from Germany (I can't recall his name) and a guy from Columbia named Santiago. They grabbed a few beers at the shop next door and hung out. We played some soccer on the PS2 and basically just had some fun. Every once in a while we'd run out on a booze run to get some more before going back to the room. A beer costs 3 kuai. The bottles are huge. I also went back to the night market to get some lovely shots of the various foods that they offered and tried one of the wraps. It was supposed to be chicken but I doubt it was since the meat was really stringy. I'd rather not think about what it really was. I couldn't finish it.

On Wednesday morning I woke up at 6 to get ready. I was meeting up with a girl named Laura so we could go visit the Temple of Heaven. She was traveling with two of the other guys I had met the night before. She's a dance teacher back home. We made our way to the metro and easily found our way into the temple. That place is gorgeous. I've been there before with Kevin but it was really cool to be able to wander off the path and explore other parts of the temple. I encountered an awesome rose garden. There was a huge group of people performing Tai Chi in the park while some others were singing together. It was really neat. We got back to the hostel at around 11.30 in the morning to see if Cody and Pat were awake. They drank quite a bit the night before so they were a little hung over when they finally woke up. We went our separate ways for the afternoon and I walked to the Forbidden City. It took me about 20-30 minutes to walk there and then once inside I made sure to mostly stay away from the main touristy line. The city was pretty empty. I walked along the more ruined part of the city and it was gorgeous. A lot of the paint was chipping off the walls while where there'd normally be brightly colored illustrations on the ceiling it was black and fading. I absolutely loved it. I finished off the card I got in Hangzhou and put in one of my cards from Shanghai. I had cleared out some of my bad shots and made enough room for another 130 pictures. I eventually left as the place was closing and made my way back to the hostel. I was going to take the metro but I decided that the distance was about the same if I were to walk back and I could save 2 kuai for a bottle of water.

When I eventually did get back to the hostel I found my way to the pool room and collapsed on the couch. Cody, Pat, and one of my new roommates were there, playing soccer on the PS2. I can't remember the guy's name but he's from South Korea. We chilled and relaxed for an hour or so until we decided to get up for dinner. I went out with Cody, Pat, and Laura at a restaurant nearby. They ordered some sweet and sour chicken as well as some chicken, zucchini and peanuts with 4 bowls of rice. The food was great! We split the bill 4 ways and it only cost us 21 kuai. It was awesome. After diner I went online for a bit before I went back to the pool room and hung out with the guys. We watched the movie The Waterhorse before I went to bed.

We've also established that there's a really creepy guest staying here. Kevin's met the guy when he was in Beijing. He's studying in Beijing or something while staying at the hostel instead of a hotel. His name is Jamie and man he's freaky. Last night he asked if he could touch my face when I told him no he asked if he could touch my legs. I told him no and backed away from the guy. He left shortly after. He's been very clingy creepy whenever we're around. We also suspect he has a huge crush on Cody since he constantly asks about him and tries to touch his muscles. Cody and Pat are football players back home. They've gotten into college with a football scholarship which is absolutely awesome.

I've also uploaded some more images to Photobucket for you to view. The URL is Enjoy!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Return to the Lama Temple

As I reviewed where I finished off yesterday I realized I wrote Summer Palace when I most definitely meant Temple of Heaven. Which I plan on going to either Wednesday or Thursday. I'm thinking probably Wednesday and I could check out the zoo on Thursday. It's next to an Aquarium which could be really fun too. Forbidden city and Temple of Heaven on Wednesday and then Zoo and Aquarium on Thursday. That botanical garden is a little too far out of the way, rather it's not exactly located in Beijing (according to the tourists desk) so I guess I'll have to do a weekend trip to Montreal at some point to get to one. I could do the Biodome while I'm there too. Friday will be pretty much a lost day. Shower, eat, finish packing and hop a cab to the airport since I don’t want to bother with the shuttle bus. I'm too lazy to take the metro with my huge backpack, transfer stations and then walk a bit to the bus stop. I might get the driver to drop me off at Terminal 2 and take the airport shuttle to the 3rd terminal to save myself 30 kuai. This way I can have a good meal at the airport just before I leave since it'll take me 36 hours to get back home. I'm not looking forward to a 36 hour trip. Can't people hurry up and invent a teleportation device? Before Friday would be nice.

I woke up a little late today since I was pretty tired from the flight yesterday and the rock hard bed was surprisingly comfortable. I thought it would have taken me longer to get used to it again. Guess not. I did wake up a little stiff and sore but it's all good. The stiffness went away after a warm shower. I've already figured out the trick to keeping the water temperature at a nice steady temperature. You have to turn it on to scalding hot and then once it warms up flip it towards freezing and then place it back towards the middle between both hot and cold. I've had that problem wit the showers in Shanghai as well and that's how I fixed it so I tried it here and it worked! I also have to note that the shower stall size is huge here! I guess I got so used to taking a shower in a cramped space that a normal sized shower seems monstrously huge. The entire shower stall is about the total size of Martha's bathroom. After I got over my shock and excitement at a large shower I went to the bar for breakfast. I got there just a few minutes after they stopped serving breakfast food so I ordered a Traveler's Club. It came with fries, a thinly sliced apple, and some watermelon. It was awesome and toasted to perfection. I was also rather entertained at the fact that they were playing a lot of older songs. I had to stop myself from singing along to "I shot the sheriff" since the place was rather full.

After I finished eating I went down to the reception desk to give a small bag of laundry to get done. I didn't have too much stuff and I could have waited but I really didn't want to wear a bunch of dirty shirts this week. It was nice and cheap since my bag was so light. It only cost 7 kuai. I also checked out the metro map at the tourist desk. They don't have any paper copies of it here so I took a picture of the map so I can use it as reference while I'm on the road. As I actually looked at the stops the city's layout was coming back to me. It was finally starting to look different from the mental map of Shanghai that I previously had in my mind (I knew that metro pretty well when I left). After I was familiar with the stops I was on my way out the door.

As the title suggests I went back to the Lama Temple. It was quiet and empty. Which was really eerie since last time I was there it was jam packed with people. It was also a holiday last time I was there. I easily found my way to the temple and as I entered a couple of monks were also going into the temple. They saw me and smiled politely before wishing me luck in English. I thanked them in Mandarin which made them laugh before they asked me how I doing in English. I said I was doing good and asked them the same question and that was the extent of their English. They tried to talk to me in Mandarin but I'd already used everything I knew in turn so we smiled and said goodbye. I did ask if I could take their picture but they politely refused which I respect. I generally hate being in pictures as well so I didn't push it and instead I went on to look at the temple (with some nice sunny weather). The temple was under a lot of construction this time, workers were redoing some of the tiles on the sides while rebuilding steps in various spots. It was nice to see that it wasn't mostly abandoned. I also had to remind myself that I couldn't take pictures inside like I could in Shanghai.

As I left the temple I noticed an awesome souvenir that I know my brother would love so I haggled my way to a good price and left quite happy. I assumed that it would fit in my foldable bag to carry home but it didn't so instead I went out in search of a suitcase. I got a decent cheap suitcase and it cost me less than mailing something back home would. This way I can also give it right away and distribute weight from my backpack to my other bag. I'm pretty satisfied with it. I packed the special gift securely in the suitcase before I went out to find my way towards the Forbidden city. I'd like to know the route in advance so that it's easier to get to in the morning. I might not have to use a map tomorrow. I also plan on hopefully getting out towards the Silk Market tomorrow at some point too for the game of Go. If I don't get a chance to go out there I'm not going to be overly upset.

I've accepted the fact that I probably can't access blogspot while I'm in China. I've been wanting to show people a bunch of images so I've uploaded some of them to Photobucket instead. The following link should take you directly to the front of the album with the images.
As usual the pictures with the black framing and numbers on the top were taken with my 50D and I basically just took a quick picture with my point and shoot to show them off. I'll try to upload images regularly for the next few days while I'm still here.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Just because it says it's Western style food doesn't mean it really is...

Even though I’m back in Beijing, I apparently still don’t have access to blogspot. This is rather unfortunate. As I did before I’ve gotten a friend of mine to post it for me.

Days 24 and 25 - May 19th and 20th

Tuesday was a pretty lazy day. I mostly stayed indoors and relaxed. Martha and I did go out in the late afternoon so we could do some grocery shopping. As we were on the bus I realized that I knew the city a lot better than I had originally thought I did. Which is a really good thing seeing as there's no metro.

Before we went to the store we decided to get some dinner. We went to a local restaurant that fortunately had English written down on the menu. Since we weren't overly hungry we each ordered a bowl of rice and shared some mini fried sweet potatoes and scallion pancakes and onions (which are to die for). The restaurant even had a little thingy with buttons that had the words "order, water, bill, and cancel". We realized that it was to help us communicate with the waiters. When it came time for us to get our bill I happily pushed the button. I was expecting something more grandiose to happen when it pushed it so I may have pressed it a few times. Eventually an annoyed waiter did show up. I felt a little bad but really they shouldn't have left something filled with buttons on the table near me. It was like the little red button on Martha's door. I had to press it. Which I did and nothing happened. That too was a little disappointing.
We eventually arrived at Carrefour, an international grocery store that basically sells stuff you wouldn't otherwise find in China. We got some salted popcorn (which is very rare to find here), frosted flakes, and old cheddar cheese. We had fun going through different aisles and looking at what there was in the store. I was nearly out of Q-tips so while I was there I went to the cosmetics to find some since I had no luck in my search for them the other day at the store next door. I found some black Q-tips. Naturally I had to get them. They were about the same price as the other ones so I figured why not? I needed them and they were unique.

When we got back we went to the local grocery store to buy some milk and toilet paper. The less things we had to bus with the better. We fell into our typical routine of watching Supernatural before bed. That show is awesome by the way. I'm going to have to look into downloading the 3rd and 4th seasons for the summer so I can be ready for the 5th one in September.
Wednesday, I pretty much did nothing. I have to say that it felt really nice to sit back and laze around all day. I've pretty much gone out every day that I've been here so it was really nice to be a hermit for once. I know that when I get back home there won't be much rest for the summer with my jobs so this was great. I watched a few clips of Doctor Who and settled in for some Supernatural. We watched the season finale and started the second season. My goal is to finish the second season before I leave for Beijing.

Martha hasn't been feeling well today so she called in sick and kicked back as well. When she took a nap in the afternoon I did the dishes for her and cleaned up a little. I also brought the garbage out to the can. Apparently there's a communal garbage here instead of a garbage day. That was an interesting fact to discover.

Day 26 – Thursday May 21st

I had a pretty lazy day today. There really isn't much to tell. Martha gave me the key to her apartment so I could sleep in (which I did) before going online to check my mail. I saw some friends online, chatted with them (which was awesome) before heading out to walk along the canal. Since Martha still wasn't feeling well when she woke up in the morning she decided that she'd only do a half day so we agreed to meet up at 2 in front of her building.

When she got back we pretty much lazed around and watched more of Supernatural since it was too warm outside. I eventually ventured outside to Dico's to pick up a burger for dinner (Martha got some French fries) and went back to the show. I did spend time figuring out what I'd like to mail home from here and I made that sign for Eni. All in all, it was really nice to do basically nothing.

Days 27 to 29 -May 22nd, 23rd, and 24th

It's been a while since I've gotten a chance to write in my journal so I'll be combining Friday the 22nd up until Sunday the 24th together as one entry.
Friday was another relaxing day. Martha gave me the key to her apartment so I could sleep in again (which was really nice). I lazed around the apartment for a little bit before getting some lunch and heading out to find a bank. The ones near Martha's house wouldn't accept my card and I had a scare that I lost my card in one of them since it took forever to reject and the machine basically froze on me. After giving up on the bank I took the bus to the West Lake. I wandered the area for a bit before I realized that I had to go meet up with Martha. On the way I remembered that there was a Construction bank where my card always seems to work so I went off to find the ATM for it.

My previous scare at almost losing my card must have been an omen or something since this time I actually did lose my card in the machine. There was a line of people behind me and I was starting to freak out. Luckily one of the locals spoke a little English and told me that she would see if the bank was still open. Luckily it was and I was able to get my card back. I did have to show my driver's license as well as my passport to prove who I was to get my card back which really made no difference since the signature on the back of my card is faded anyway because my card's so old. The lady at the bank stayed with me as I put in the password (she looked away while I did it) and when she saw that I could access the information for the card she was satisfied that I was the owner of it because apparently being the only foreigner in the area with a non-Asian bank card doesn't make the owner of it. I can understand her precaution over it which I'm thankful for. I'd rather her be extra careful than just give the card to whoever claimed it was theirs.

I finally did meet up with Martha but I was a little late due to the whole bank card scare. We were both absolutely starving so we decided to go to the Western restaurant at our meeting point. Unfortunately they didn't have too many vegetarian dishes so Martha had to get a fruit pizza. It was interesting to say the least. The dough was made of some sort of pastry so it was sweet while the sauce was sweet as well. There was plenty of cantaloupe on it with some other fruits. There were 2 pieces of that strange white with black speckled fruit on top of the pizza. To make it even more interesting it was covered in melted cheese. The pizza was warm. I didn’t try any of it since I was too full from my own meal. I had ordered a bacon flavored rice casserole which was really bacon stir fry on white rice. The bacon, at least I think it was bacon was way too salty so I couldn't eat much of it but there was plenty of vegetables on it too which I rather enjoyed with the rice. It also came with some sort of salad (which was warm and soggy), that strange soup from before (Martha enlightened me that the white flaky stuff was actually egg even though it tasted nothing like eggs) and some kind of dessert that tasted pretty foul in itself. For a Western restaurant the food certainly wasn't remotely close to being Western. It was an experience.

After dinner we wandered around the lake for a bit which was gorgeous to see at night with the lights. We saw a bit of a concert/show thing in the park which was really cool. Some of the performers had these really neat costumes. We had no idea what was going on but it was cool to see. As we were heading home we decided to stop by McDonalds (it was right there) to pick up some fries or something since we were still a little hungry from that non-Western food Western restaurant.

Saturday was fun. We both slept in and took our time leaving the apartment before we went to the West Lake again. Before we went off to the lake we found our way to the post office so I could mail some things back. I had some clothing that I wouldn't be wearing anymore as well as items that I knew I wouldn't need so it was pointless to keep them. It would only make my bag heavier (speaking of which it now weighs 18.5 kilos, it used to weigh 15 kilos. I'm doing really good since I can still easily lift it)

After the post office w were going to attempt to get to the West Lake Museum but once we got there we realized that it was closed for renovations. That was mildly unfortunate. We'd also decided since it was a fairly rainy day to go to the movies in the afternoon. We went off to see X-men Origins: Wolverine. I personally loved the movie but Martha wasn't too fond of it. We got ourselves some popcorn (this time we tried the multicolored one, turns out that each color is a different flavor: blue = blueberry, pink = strawberry, brown = chocolate, purple = grape, I've yet to identify the flavor of the yellow and white ones). We ended up bringing the popcorn back with us.

When we got back from the movies we went out for dinner and then went back to the apartment to finish watching Season 2 of Supernatural. We also started Season 3 (I left her halfway through the 3rd season, she let me put the rest of the episodes on my laptop. YAY! If I don't get a chance to watch them in Beijing I can watch them on the flight back)

Sunday was a nice day. The sun was out and the rain clouds were gone. We went out for lunch to a Japanese restaurant located at the bottom of a large hotel. It was a really nice place. I ordered some chicken curry (and was pretty surprised to still find some of the bones in the meal) while Martha ordered eggplant tempura and some noodles. Since we weren't using any of the sauces that the meal came with the waitress came up to us and prepared the sauces for us before dipping the food in to show us how to properly eat it. That was very reminiscent of my first meal in Beijing. It was awesome. For the noodles there was this brown sauce that looked like soya sauce. She mixed in some horse radish and a quail egg before dipping the noodles in. The tempura had some of the similar brown sauce where you just mixed in some of the horse radish and soaked the food into the sauce. It was really good. Martha let me try some of the eggplant. At least we knew how to use chopsticks properly. We were also confused on what language to speak. When we walked into the restaurant the staff greeted us in Japanese and they spoke some Japanese throughout the entire conversation so we were like "Do we say shishi or arigatou?" it was pretty funny since we had no idea what to do. We ended up talking about the fun times in Japanese class while we ate.

After lunch we went off to the lake again to do a boat tour of it. I love boats. After we boarded the boat and found a seat Martha thought it was relevant to ask if I got seasick easily or if I had a fear of boats. I asked her that if I did would I have taken 2 ferries in Europe? We got off the boat at one of the islands and wandered around it for a bit before catching the boat to another section of the lake. As we wandered that section I realized that it was the same section we had first wandered on my first day in Hangzhou 3 week earlier to the day. That got me a little sentimental since it was my last day in Hangzhou with Martha. We realized that we were quickly wandering towards the bad side of the lake (for catching a cab back home) so we turned around and decided to start making our way back since it was already almost 4 (it's always taken us a while to get back).

It did take us a while to find a way back home. We ended up walking towards a bus stop and took the bus to another part of the city (where we were supposed to be able to catch a different bus but we couldn't find the stop so luckily we got a cab). As we were wandering in search of the bus stop I grabbed some watermelon on a stick. The pre-cut slices looked really good and fresh but the one he cut for me on the spot tasted pretty funky. I chucked it after a few bits since I didn't want to risk getting sick off of possibly bad food. It was really slimy tasting and didn’t even smell like proper watermelon. I wasn't too upset over it since it only cost me 2 kuai to buy. I also encountered a man with a bunch of caged bunnies for sale. I felt so bad for the little bunnies! They looked so tiny and frail and scared in their mini cages stacked on each other. I sincerely hope they were being sold as pets and not food even though I know it was probably for food since they sell live turtles in the grocery stores for 120 kuai each.

When we got back to the apartment we watched Supernatural while we ate some leftover pizza (just plain cheese) and then I started to pack my bags to go to Beijing. It took me a little over an hour to pack them since I had to take everything out and figure out how to pack my parasol (it's gorgeous). I also had to empty out the purse I bought and refit things into my camera bag since I was only allowed 1 carry on and 1 checked bag for this flight. My backpack had gotten heavier and when I was checking in my bag I discovered that it had gone up by 3.5 kilos. It's really not that much weight which is really good. I'm hoping it'll stay in that range when I fly home. I'll also probably have another bag when I do fly home to help spread out the weight (I'm allowed 2 checked bags on my flight back plus technically 2 carry-ons. A purse and a camera bag/laptop bag. It's awesome that I have a professional camera bag.)

I went to bed relatively early since I had to get up at the crack of dawn to catch my flight. It was a little strange knowing that when I'd leave on Monday I wouldn't be back on the Friday.

Day 30 - May 25th

I woke up at the crack of dawn to get the last bits of my stuff ready so I could head out. My flight was at 10 am and I had to be there at least an hour or two before it departs. I left Martha's apartment at 6.45 am (after waking her up to say goodbye) and went off to the street to find a cab. I had gotten Martha to write down my destination in Mandarin, unfortunately it didn't work so well this time. The driver had a bit of trouble reading her handwriting. He flipped the paper over and saw the writing for airport shuttle and understood after making gestures like he was a flying airplane. I had wondered if he thought I wanted him to take me to the airport or just where the shuttles were so I could buy tickets. He took me to the office to book the tickets and I was in the bus by 7.10. It left at about 7.20 and arrived an hour later at the airport. I had no problems finding the check-in counter and was on my way through security. I really love small airports. It's so easy and fast to get around, it's awesome.

The flight itself was uneventful. I tried to sleep throughout most of it which was nice. I got a thick fluffy blanket (which was awesome since they had the AC on high) and pretty much curled up next to the window. I did wake up for the mini snack, a cheese and chicken sandwich. The cheese was all melted and the chicken warm so it was amazing. I hadn't realized how hungry I actually was until I ate it. I did have a bowl of cereal before I left but it was ways off. The flight arrived in Beijing at noon and it didn't take me long to get my backpack and jump into a cab to get to the hostel. I booked a bed at the hostel I had stayed at with Kevin since I already knew the surrounding area and it would be easier to simply jump out if the driver didn’t know where it was. He got most of the way there and when it pulled up in front of the hostel he looked confused. I guess he was expecting a large hotel and when I pointed at the building that I was staying in he seemed a little shocked before smiling that he had found the place. It was a little less than when I first came with Kevin so that was another nice surprise. I saved enough money for a bottle of water. Score!

When I walked into the hostel the staff still remembered me (why wouldn't they, it's only been 3 weeks). It was nice to see them again. We talked for a bit and laughed as they were checking me into the hostel. I'm staying in room 205 again. This time I have the bottom bunk. It's under the bed I had previously so that's pretty fun. I really lucked out with this bunk. I even have a table next to the bed so I can put my watch on it when I sleep. There's a little slot between the night table and my bed that fits my camera bag rather nicely and I can put my big backpack in the way. It's perfect. The beds themselves are rock hard but I got used to them in Suzhou so I'm sure they'll be just as comfortable by the time I leave Beijing in a few days.

I've a few goals to accomplish while I'm here. First, I'd like to return to the Summer palace, Forbidden City, and the Llama temple. I'd also like to visit the zoo, botanical gardens, and quite possibly the aquarium. Can I do all of this in 3 days? We shall see. I'd also like to go to the Silk Market again to buy myself Go. I'll have to break everything up and figure out which metro stops are associated with which place. I'll also have to get up at a decent hour in the mornings too. Which won't be that bad of a thing since I'll be working with Parks starting Monday. I need to get used to this up before 8 thing again.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Martha! I can't pee, there's a toilet in the way!

It would seem that I have lost access to blogspot while I’m at Martha’s apartment. This could mean one of two things. First, China has blocked off access for anyone in the country or second the connection here really hates me. I do have issues when I use the internet. I’m personally hoping it’s just the connection here and that I’ll have access to it once I’m in Beijing next week.
For the time being I’ve asked one of my friends to post my entries for me. I can still see the replies through my e-mail but I can’t reply to them right away. I do plan on replying to them as soon as I can. This next entry will be rather large as it’s 4 days of my life here.

May 15th - Martha! I can't pee, there's a toilet in the way!

I woke up nice and early this morning and had trouble sleeping for a few hours. I eventually did get back to sleep at around 6 and slept nicely until 9. I dragged myself out of bed and finished packing my things before I went to the lounge for some breakfast. I had some bacon and eggs with toast and banana's which tasted amazing. The bread is so much lighter here. I love it. After breakfast I ventured out to an ATM since I know that they're difficult to find in Hangzhou. The few machines that work for me are difficult to find. Once that was over with I checked out of my room and was on my way to the bus station. I had asked the guy working at the hostel to write down the name of the bus station in Mandarin so the cab driver would know where to take me. She was a very pleasant lady and real talkative even though I couldn't understand a word of what she was saying. She pointed me in the direction of the ticket booth and I was on my way! The bus ride back was pretty uneventful. There was a guy that pretty much stared at me for the entire trip which got really creepy and fast. I figured he was probably wondering how I managed to get onto the bus without knowing Mandarin. It took a lot less time than the way there. We also didn’t get caught in any traffic jams so I guess that made a huge difference.

When I got to Hangzhou I decided to attempt walking to Martha's apartment from the bus station since I had a few hours to kill before she was done work. I've managed to walk about 3/4 of the way before I gave up and got a cab. I wasn't sure how much further it was (the map wasn't very useful) and I'd been walking in the sun for an hour already. I was fed up and exhausted. I could feel some blisters forming and I felt like I was ready to collapse. Turns out I would have had another 20 minute walk ahead of me. I could have managed that especially since the second I got into the cab clouds took over the skies and it got really windy. Go figure. It probably would have stayed really sunny had I kept walking. When I finally did get back to Martha's apartment it was 4 pm. I only had an hour left to wait. My insane mission to walk to her apartment to kill time was successful even though I badly abused my body in the process. At least I kept myself hydrated during the walk by drinking lots of water. Turned out that Martha had stayed home during the day because she wasn't feeling well (and hasn't been feeling well for part of the week). She came down at around 4 and saw me sitting on a bench outside. I was waiting for her to come home from school you see.
We brought my stuff upstairs and went out for dinner. Food was heavenly. I hadn't realized how hungry I was until I walked into Pizza Hut and I could smell the food. We ordered a cheese pizza, some onion rings, and garlic bread. We also got these awesome fruit drinks to go with it. Mine was kiwi mango and Martha had mango. When our pizza arrived the waitress put the first piece of pizza onto our plates, she saw that mine was covered in crumbs (from the garlic bread) so she grabbed my plate and went off to get me another one. I tried to tell her that I could eat off the same plate since it's only some crumbs from bread I've just eaten but alas the language barrier didn't let me. After dinner we've decided to kick back and relax since we were both exhausted.

When we got back to her apartment we decided that it'd be fun to watch Prince Caspian. We started some laundry before watching the movie (since I was completely out of clothing) I'm surprised we managed to stay up long enough to watch and enjoy the movie. After the movie as we were getting ready for bed I ran to the washroom and came out a second later in confusion, the washing machine was still connected to the water pipes on the toilet and I didn't know how to disconnect them so I cried out to Martha "Martha! I can't pee, there's a toilet in the way!" I definitely meant to say that the washing machine was still hooked up to the toilet. She stared at me for a minute as the words I'd just spoken registered in my mind. Being the goof that I am I continued to say more seriously "Yeah, you heard right. There's a toilet in the way." We laughed for so long at that. I think it's going to become a great inside joke between us.

May 16th Mission accomplished!

Today was awesome. I slept in a little and took my time getting ready. I think one of the best parts was warm water! It felt so heavenly. Since I'm a spaz every time I went to rinse out my hair I kept turning off the water because of the way the shower is made (and the limited space in the shower) If I didn't accidentally turn off the water I switched it to cold water. I also dropped my shampoo a lot. I believe Martha must have thought I was dying in there with all the noise I was making. It was still really nice to have a decent shower.

After a quick breakfast (I had something that was supposed to be corn flakes) we decided to venture off towards the electronics plaza to continue my quest for that legendary compact flash card. The first store we walked into had a 4GB card. I asked how much out of sheer curiosity and they told me 400 yuan! They were out of their minds! I politely said no thank-you and we went on to the next store. As we started to browse one of the staff asked what we were looking for (in English too!) so I showed him my card and he nodded and said that he had some! He asked if I wanted a 4GB or an 8GB I said I'd prefer the larger one and asked for the price of it. It was only 250 yuan! (that's approximately 50$CDN, a card that size costs twice if not more back home)I asked if they accepted credit cards and they said no. Martha being the lovely person that she is, passed me the money for the card. I then asked if we could look at lenses (I've been wanting a more practical one). We quickly found the Canon section and I found a lens that was perfect but being a brand name lens I knew it would cost 3 times more than a different brand so I asked if they had a similar lens but from Tamron instead. Tamron is a good company that sells good lenses (most of my other lenses are from that company, with the exception of my macro). They had the one that I was looking for too, I asked how much it was and they gave me the price. It was much cheaper than back home. I have to say that Martha is an angel. She offered to pay for it and I'd pay her back in Canadian funds (she has difficulty transferring money from her Chinese bank account to her Canadian one so in a way it was doing her a bit of a favor). We got the lens, I must have thanked her a dozen times (or more) while giving her several hugs as we went back to the apartment to drop off the lens before we made our way to the museum. For those of you who are savvy in the way of lenses I got an 18-200mm, it can basically replace 2 of my lenses allowing me to take both close up and wide shots without having to change lenses in between.

Since it was rapidly approaching lunch time we made ourselves some sandwiches when we got back and I put in my new lens to test it out. It works amazing. It took a lot of effort to leave it at her apartment as we went off to visit a museum. As much as I love my camera and even though I got a new card I didn't want to squander all of my memory on museum pictures. I settled with bringing my compact instead and we were off. We went to a history museum (it had the history of the Zhejiang province dating back to 7000 years). It was really cool to see all of the old artifacts. The detail work that can be seen in some of the items is so impressive! Especially considering the time period. I took a bunch of shots throughout the entire museum.

When we left the museum we were getting hungry so we went to one of the restaurant/bars next to the museum and got ourselves some food. It was a rather expensive place to eat so we decided to split the cost of a pizza. It was also one of the only foods there without any meat. We also ordered a fruit salad that came with some sort of sauce on it. It wasn’t the best tasting sauce so we didn't finish the salad. We should have ordered the Cesar salad. The pizza tasted amazing. After seemingly inhaling our food we left in search of either a bus stop or a cab. We eventually came across a bus stop that could take us to our next destination (we had actually gone down the wrong street and I asked if any of these buses would take us, one of them did so we got really lucky).

The bus was really crowded. I was really glad I had left my camera at Martha's apartment because I have no idea how I would have managed to stay standing in the bus while having to hold that extra bag. When we thought nobody else could fit into the bus 4 more people somehow managed to cram into it. I was also very glad that my purse was pressed up against Martha and I had nothing in my pockets because I could feel hands brushing up against my pockets throughout the ride. That could also just be me being paranoid of pickpockets. Luckily the bus did empty out and we were able to find a seat for a few stops before we had to get off. We had successfully made it to the movie theatre! There were 3 movies coming out in May that I had absolutely wanted to see: X-men origins, Star Trek, and Transformers. Since Transformers wasn't out yet and Martha isn't into comics I asked if we could see Star Trek. She said yes because the actor playing Spoc was one of her favorite actors from another show.

When we walked into the theatre we were both a little stunned. It was so awesome! It's located on the 4 floor of a mall. The entire place has this older appearance to it. There's these giant rounded benches with tons of posters from classic movies (such as Gone with the Wind and Casablanca). The floors had giant posters seemingly glued onto them and they had a wall of fame! There were pictures of stars and their signatures and handprints. I recognized a few of them such as Jackie Chan and Brendan Fraser. There was even a bar/restaurant inside of the theatre! I really wanted to take some pictures of the theatre but I'm pretty sure they wouldn't have let me. I might try and ask next time we go (since it was such as awesome experience)

We didn't have too much trouble buying our tickets (and they even have assigned seats in the theatre were an usher shows you the way). We also got ourselves some popcorn and drinks. The price of the ticket to get into the theatre is about the same as back home but the snacks are so much cheaper! For a large popcorn and 2 large drinks it cost us about 6$CDN. Mind you the drinks were warm (as most drinks here are) and they don't have salt and buttered popcorn either. We got a caramel type popcorn since we weren't sure about the other ones. They give you the popcorn in a tub like you'd see in the movies. It was awesome. The movie itself was really good. It was in English with Mandarin subtitles. We laughed throughout the movie and had a really good time. We did have a bit of a scare since all of the previews were in Mandarin (even for Hollywood movies). There was a Star Trek movie in Mandarin playing so we thought we might have accidentally bought tickets for that one. The theatre was also really tiny, it was about a third of the size of the one from Empire Theatres (on St. Joseph blvd) and for a bit we thought we were going to be the only ones there. The seats were absolutely amazingly comfortable! Even better than the ones at Silvercity with more room in them. It was opening weekend here so we thought it'd be a little more packed. We're thinking of going back to the movies at some point this week since there's a local movie that looks really good. It's about this boy who protects an injured baby panda from these hunters and they develop a friendship together. It looks really cute and the panda's adorable. We have to figure out the name of the movie and if it’s in theatres yet.

When we got back to Martha's place we were both still a little excited from the awesomeness of the movie so I got myself some bubble tea (without the pearls since I don't know how to ask for them). A cup of the latte tea only costs 4 yuan (that's like 60 cents). It was really good! I may try the strawberry one next. The store for it was practically next door and it was on the way from where the cab driver dropped us of (it had started to rain so we thought it would be in our best interest to hop in a cab instead of finding the right bus stop). We then watched Mulan (which Martha had downloaded the night before) and after Mulan we started to watch Supernatural. Martha's computer area is covered in posters of it (and Dr. Who) and Supernatural looked pretty good. We watched the first 4 episodes before heading to bed (since by that point it was almost 2 in the morning).

Days 22 and 23 – May 17th and 18th Lotus root is not fake pork.

By the time this gets posted it'll be a little late but Happy Birthday Cory!

The past 2 days have been very quiet. It’s been really nice. It's also gotten pretty cold (it went down to 30) so that's been a little odd to be outside in. The skies are mostly overcast while its very misty in the morning. In the afternoon the wind tends to pick up while you can smell rain in the atmosphere but it doesn’t rain. It did rain Saturday night but it was clear again in the morning. I'm not complaining at the lack of rain, I consider myself quite lucky that the only rain I've gotten has been at night. I'm just a little tired of the constant appearance of rain. I'd like it to warm up a little.

Sunday morning we slept in. I woke up at around 11 and did the dishes before writing some stuff for the blog and Martha eventually woke up at 12.30 (I was about to wake her up too). After eating a quick breakfast and showering we ventured out into the city for lunch and in hopes of seeing the West Lake Museum. By the time we got to the museum it was closed. It takes forever to bus anywhere here because of traffic. When I'm back home if I ever complain at a traffic jam or in a crowded bus just say "China" and that should shut me up. The crowded buses and the traffic jams at home are nothing compared to the ones over here. Even during the OC strike the traffic was nothing.

Anyways, before we went to the museum we decided to grab some lunch. We didn’t have much for breakfast so we were quite hungry. Martha's been asking me to try out this vegetarian restaurant for a while now and since I promised that we'd go we went to it. It was a rather lovely place on the second floor of another restaurant. I ordered a massive container of orange juice (I didn't think it was going to be that big) and some fake pork. I thought it was going to be tofu. Turns out it was fried lotus roots in some sort of batter in the sweet and sour sauce. The roots were way too crunchy and the batter wasn't that good tasting so it's turned me off of eating anymore lotus root. Martha's meal on the other hand was amazing. She ordered thinly sliced potatoes with some kind of fake meat on it (that actually tasted like meat, I can't identify the type of meat but it was awesome!) She let me steal a couple of slices and since she wasn't too fond of the potatoes I got to have some of those. They were heavenly!

After lunch we walked towards the West Lake and discovered the museum was closed, it was almost 5 in the evening so it was understandable. (It took us over at hour to bus out there in the first place) Since we were on the West Lake we walked around it a bit before grabbing some ice cream (which we ate sitting next to the lake, it was quite lovely). As we were eating our ice cream and gazing into the lake at the giant gold bull I noticed these 2 little girls with a fish net and an old Fanta bottle. They were trying to catch some of the fish! They had actually caught a few of them too. When their mother came I thought she was going to lecture them but instead she helped them catch the poor fish. The bottle didn't even look clean (the water was a little orange from the pop). I felt really bad for the poor fish and secretly wished them luck in escaping the net since I couldn’t speak Mandarin to talk to the mother about at least giving the girls a clean bottle for the fish.

After our ice cream we ventured off to the shopping street because I wanted a shoulder bag to put my camera in. With my new lens it's a little pointless to carry around my big bag with my other 3 lenses in it. The strip malls here are awesome. They're all connected from the inside. We walked into Levi's and as I was about to leave the store Martha was like "You idiot, it connects to the next store." That really amazed me so we walked through store after store after store and I couldn't find anything. We started to make this loop when we walked into a Mickey Mouse store and I quickly went through it. They had bags but I didn't want a Mickey Mouse bag. I found my bag in the next one. It was a darker themed store and I'm rather embarrassed that I hadn't noticed what it was at first. The store was mostly black and orange for Halloween with a few pumpkins hanging around. At I was looking through the bag to see about the pockets, straps, and space Martha told me that this was the Nightmare Before Christmas store that I was so eager to see while I was here. I looked up at the walls again and noticed the designs a little more. They had that cliff in the movie painted on the walls. As excited as I was I did have my goal to accomplish too. My bag. I glanced at the price and wanted to cry. It was way too expensive but then the guy who worked there showed me this sign which showed the price at way below half off. I had found my bag and it was on sale! After buying my bag I quickly browsed through a few shirts and saw some wallets which I wanted but I resisted the temptation and walked out. Martha said we could go back at some point. Yay.

Once we got out of the store I examined the bag some more while putting my purse and my giant bottle of orange juice into it ( I wasn’t able to finish it at lunch so I took it with me). The bag itself is half in jean fabric and half in this velvet-y fabric. Its orange/burgundy/brown. The inside of the bag has faint pictures of Jack Skellington and that hillside while there's an obscure image of Jack on the hill on the side of the bag. It's awesome and doesn't really look like a Nightmare Before Christmas bag. I also found out that Martha got her purse there too! She has a Zero bag (for the dog) there's even a picture of Zero on it. It's so cute. We're thinking of possibly getting Robynne one so we can complete the circle.

When we got back to the apartment we went to the grocery store next door to buy some water and some dinner for later. I got these bread filled with god knows what. They didn't taste that good. I also bought some more bubble tea! I got a strawberry latte and it had pearls! Oh the joy I felt when I got to have some of those tapioca pearls. Interesting fact for you bubble tea lovers, they call it Milk tea here.

Monday was a little slow. Martha and I got up early (she had to go to school) and I was being kicked out of the house since it was apparently such a nice day. It was misty and overcast but it did turn out to be decent. I walked over to the bus stop to take the Y8 to the West Lake so I could walk around for a bit. It felt a little weird taking a local bus to see a local site instead of jumping onto a long distance bus or a train. I got several odd stares from both locals and this foreign couple coming out of a hotel as I made my way to the bus stop. I guess they thought I was living here or something.

When I finally arrived at the West Lake I went into a 24hour convenience store and bought myself a drink. I think it was lime flavored water or possibly lime juice. It had extra vitamin C, D, and something else in it. It was awesome. I also bought what looked like fruit by the foot except it was made by Trix so it was something else. It tasted really good and actually does resemble fruit by the foot. They were grape flavored. I may buy some more for the next D&D session since Geebs occasionally likes to buy them for us. When I go grocery shopping with Martha I'll see if there's other flavors there. I also bought some breath mints. I think its spearmint.

Since I hadn't had a chance to grab some breakfast before I left I grabbed a bit to eat at a restaurant around the lake. Big mistake. The prices were rather expensive and I couldn't exactly walk out after glancing at the menu. So I got the cheapest thing there (which really isn't that much in Canadian dollars) ate and went on my way. I walked a bit on the lake before I sat down at a really gorgeous spot and pulled out a book to read. The skies being a little overcast weren't the best for photography so I wasn't going to use up my precious memory on that (which by the way my camera has me puzzled, it keeps switching my file formats on me whenever I turn off my camera. I don't want to take JPG's I want RAW! So that's getting a little annoying. I'm going to have to look into that). I got a little too into the book because before I realized it, it was time to go. It took me 2 and a half hours to get back to Martha's apartment. I told her I'd be back by 5. I got there at 6.30. I left the lake at 4 figuring that I could catch a cab. 6 drivers slowed down and turned off their lights as they drove by me and turned them back on again afterwards. 1 of them stopped 20 feet past me to pick up a local. 3 drivers saw where I was going and said no. It wasn't that far. I finally gave up and went off in search of a bus stop that would take me home. I eventually found one and it took forever. The bus was so crowded we were like sardines in a can. We were so squished it was getting difficult to stand properly and breathe since people were pushing into you. At least if you lost your balance you weren't going to fall because everyone else would support you.

I eventually got off the bus at the wrong stop but instead of jumping back onto the bus I decided to walk. It was only 3-4 blocks away so it didn’t take too long. When I did get to Martha's place this lovely lady let me into the building and I went up to her door. She wasn't there. A few thoughts ran through my mind, she went out grocery shopping so she'd be back eventually. She panicked and is outside looking for me. She's in the washroom be patient. I didn't want to go back downstairs in case we were on different elevators and we'd miss each other. I was getting pretty hungry so I had one of the little snacks that I took from the apartment while waiting for Martha. I didn't have to wait too long maybe about 10 minutes at the most before she came down the hall the look of relief on her face. I'm pretty sure I looked the same way. I apologized and explained my troubles getting back. She was going to give me until 7 before she called her co-worker and asked what the procedure was on filing a missing persons report or how long she had to wait to do it.

We both decided that it was too late to go grocery shopping and since the place was virtually out of food we went to Grandma's kitchen for dinner. It's an inexpensive local restaurant. We waited a bit for a table and when we did get our food it was amazing. We ordered some little breadball/cake things that were covered in sesame seeds and had a hint of garlic, deep fried potatoes with little faces, noodles with onions, and tofu wafer cracker things. It was all so good! We tried to get the leftover noodles as takeout but the waitress misunderstood us so we left noodle-less.

For the past few days we've been wanting to go to a bakery to buy a cake. Martha wishes to celebrate my birthday early over here. She gave me a part of my birthday gift (I can't remember if I mentioned it or not) chopsticks! They were designed for the 2008 Olympics and had the fire mascot on them. They're so cute and pretty! I love them so much. Martha has a set with the Earth mascot and she gave Robynne some with the water one. It's tradition for us to get each other elemental themed gifts or if one of us gets something we tend to buy another for the others. The 3 of us will totally have to get together some day with our chopsticks and eat because we're just that crazy. I'm probably going to have enough trouble adjusting to using a fork and knife when I get back. I'm so used to these chopsticks! I get a fork or a spoon here and I'm like "uh…" as I awkwardly use it.

Back to the cake, so we went to a bakery that was still open at 8.30 at night and found ourselves some lovely cakes. We saw a Doraemon cake which was adorable! (For those of you who do not know Doraemon it's a children's cartoon in Japan about a blue ear-less cat from the future. It came back in time to help a boy and a girl. It has a stomach where it can take out useful items for the children. We used to watch a couple of episodes of this in Japanese class to help us with our Japanese) It scared Martha a little bit. There was this one green cake with these creepy faces on the side of it that scared both of us. We finally got this gorgeous cake covered in fruits. We asked if we could get that one and the lady explained that it was a fruit cake. We blinked at her confused and then stared at each other before looking longingly at the cake. We tried to take the cake out of the fridge but the lady stopped us so we stared at each other and the cake and the lady again. This process of blank staring repeated for a few minutes before Martha remembered the Mandarin phrase for "I'd like this one". The lady smiled and nodded and took the cake out of the fridge for us and wrapped it up to go. They put it in this styrofoam container and gave us a bag with a knife to cut the cake, some plates and little forks to eat it, as well as a candle. The candle came in a giant box and it resembles a lotus flower. Apparently when you light the candle the flower is closed and it opens and this thing of fire shoots up a little. We decided that even if we had matches it might be in our best interest not to use the candle in the apartment. We're going to wait until July to use it with Robynne (yes, Ribbons I'm stealing you for a sleep over in July with Martha).

So we got back and I took a few pictures of the lovely cake before we decided to dig in. We ate the fruit first and then cut it open and finally understood what she meant by a fruit cake. There were chunks of kiwis and mangos on the inside of the cake in the middle filling. The icing was actually whipped cream. It was awesome. We didn't eat it all so we put the rest in the fridge. Near the end of the week we might get the Doraemon one just because it's Doraemon (we're also hoping to get another awesome candle).

As we ate the cake we settled into our routine of watching the Supernatural before bed. We've been watching a disk a night so that I might be able to see the first 2 seasons before I leave for Beijing on Monday. Martha also showed me an episode from the 4th season because it involves the 2 characters discovering that there's books on them. I had somehow managed to figure out some of the information before I saw the episode so Martha was a little shocked that I wasn't as confused as I probably should have been with the characters and plot. I got the spoilers from her wall but when she looked at the wall we couldn't figure out how I came to the conclusions that I did. How do the words "dark side" equal "demonic blood"? Either way, it was an awesome episode which I think I might steal so I can show Nora a clip from it since they discuss slash. She'll love it.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Of Hills of Tigers

I think I could have slept forever today. This bed is getting oddly comfortable even though it's pretty much a thin fabric on wood. My roommates left this morning at around 8 to catch a 9 am train so it was different to wake up later in the day to an empty room (except for myself of course). It was also quite nice to be able to get changed in the room without fear of someone walking in. People usually arrive in the late afternoon so there was no real worries in the morning.

I finally crawled out of bed at 10 because I wanted my eggs and breakfast foods stop getting cooked at 10.30. After breakfast I ended up going back to sleep for a half hour and emerged at around 11-11.30. I quickly got my stuff ready to take a shower and was stuck in the third stall, again. I've come to realize that the first stall works pretty good except there's no lock on the door so the door itself won't stay shut. The second stall has a broken shower head but it has hot water! Yes, it has that mythical thing known as hot water. Finally the third stall, the one I always seem to get stuck with has a broken shower head and has either cold or freezing water. There's never any warm water no matter what. I've gotten used to taking cold showers. They kind of feel really nice and really wake me up. It just takes me a little longer since I have to get used to the cold water.

Before I left the hostel today I decided that since it was around lunch time, I'd order myself a snack. I got some French fries and they came in this huge basket. I was expecting half of that amount for what I paid so that was awesome. They were so good. For some reason they made me crave a fajita and stir fry like the ones I have at home. So that was a little odd.

After my mini lunch it was almost 2 in the afternoon. I had wanted to see a few gardens today and the Tiger Hill but knew I'd only have a chance to see one or the other. I decided to ask at the reception for her recommendation. She suggested seeing the Tiger Hill since I'd already been to the nicest gardens in Suzhou and the others basically looked like mini imitations of the larger ones. She even gave me a coupon booklet to get 5 yuan off admission. That's only a buck but 5 yuan is still 5 yuan. That's like the price of 2 water bottles or a Pepsi or watermelon on a stick or even that awesome ice cream. You get the picture.

I ventured outside to discover that it was another cloudy/misty day. Le sigh. At least it wasn't raining. I jumped into a cab and went for Tiger Hill. That place is rather nice. It's mostly mausoleums, bridges, and trees but it was nice. The scenery is mostly all natural which was an added bonus. I climbed to the top and back down before venturing over to the bonsai tree garden. There's always a bonsai tree garden in the places I visit here. As I was wandering through the garden I could feel a few drops of rain and knew that it was my cue to leave. I didn't want to get stuck in another downpour. I lucked out on a cab once again and made it back to my hostel before the rain started.

I'm going to kick back and relax at the hostel again this evening and pack my things so that I don't have to worry about doing it in the morning before I leave for the bus station to get back to Martha's place. I'll be spending next week at her house and the next time I leave it will be to catch my flight back to Beijing. That's a bit of a scary thought (I've already been here for 19 out of my 35 days).

Tiger Hill:
A section of the bonsai garden

The ultimate bonsai tree. That thing was huge!

A waterfall near the entrance of the bonsai garden

A ginkgo tree! These things are awesome. I love these trees.

A section of one of the walls.

The top of Tiger hill. The building is actually tilting. I held my camera straight for this shot.

One of the many spider/fly/bug things that was constantly flying around on the hill. I don't know what these are but when they bite/sting you it hurts.

Tiger hill from the rock of a thousand seats (or something rather).

The Humble Administrators Garden:

A view of one of the ponds

Ladies really enjoy their parasols here. She walked into my shot so I grabbed a photo of her (I guess I am stealing the locals souls with my camera).

An awesome tree providing a roof. It was really cool looking and the shade was most welcome.

I think this was one of the temples in there....

A view of part of the garden from one of the many round doorways. I should add that round doors are awesome. We need more of them in the West.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Getting lost in a garden is the best way to spend a day

Today was a whole lot cooler than it was these past few days. It felt kind of nice. I slept in again and lazed around the hostel until noonish when I decided to venture out. I easily found a cab and went off to see the Humble Administrator's Garden and I must say that's it's absolutely fantastic! The garden covers over 50,000 sq.m. It was huge and I got lost. The garden was built during the Ming Dynasty (1368- 1644) and it's the largest garden in Suzhou (there's easily 5 of them that I can find on the map without any trouble). Plus this garden has a reputation of being one of the nicest gardens in all of China (and maybe even the world) When I paid for my admission I was asked if I'd like a tour of the garden. I refused it since I wanted to take my time with photographs, in retrospect it might have been nice to have known what everything was. Luckily I got a map so I could at least know which building was which one. Assuming of course I was following the map correctly.

I wandered around the garden for over 4 hours and left because it was closing. The place is absolutely fantastic and gorgeous. There's hill with little gazebo type buildings that really cool you down since a wonderful breeze seems to always pass by while there's a bunch of ponds and streams going through the entire place. Naturally there's a lot of bridges too. Most of the stairs seem to be built from stones and are pretty worn down which made it a little difficult to climb in some areas. There were a bunch of young artists in the garden drawing various places. I ran into one of them at the top of one of the hills and we chatted for a good half hour. He was learning English and wanted to practice with a native speaker. We had fun chatting away about various things before I went off on my own once again to see the rest of the garden (I had only made it half way through at this point so it was also rather nice to sit and rest for a few minutes). He did ask me if I spoke any Mandarin and I said "Nihao" and mispronounced thank-you (again) he then thought me the word for duck (which I've already forgotten). He asked if I knew any characters and I proudly showed off my knowledge of numbers, dates, time, and other random characters that I can remember) I eventually explained that I took some Japanese which is how I knew them. He looked pretty impressed.
One of the questions I always seem to get asked is why I am alone. People always seem shocked that I've somehow managed to make it where I am without speaking Mandarin. I find that rather amusing.

It was really easy to find a cab back since I lucked out and snatched one as these girls were dropped off (if I could always be so lucky!) I got back to my hostel at around 5.30 so I grabbed a bite to eat and went over the map of Suzhou to figure out what I'm going to do tomorrow. I'm going to attempt to see 3-4 gardens (they're much smaller) and Tiger Hill. I would also like to check out 2 temples. Most of these gardens are close together so it'll basically come down to how slow I walk through the gardens. If I stop every 2 minutes to take a picture then I'll probably only see one or two things tomorrow.

After dinner I watched a movie (again) called the Black Book. It was a war movie based in WWII about a Dutch woman's experiences in the last few months of the war. Her and her family were trying to escape Germany but they get caught and everyone dies (except the woman of course). She flees and joins a resistance against the Nazi's and finds herself having to infiltrate the Nazi army by working for them. She ends up falling for one of the generals who discovers her secret and keeps it a secret (since he loves her too). Turns out there's a guy in the resistance that's actually working with the Nazi's so her resistance buddies mostly end up getting massacred and her general get's hunted down as a traitor. I didn't quite understand the second half of the movie but from what I gather she got away for a bit until she got caught by the English/French and gets tormented until some other general saves her and tries to kill her and she ends up going back to the traitors resistance or something. The entire movie was in Dutch and German with very little English. There were Russian subtitles but that didn't help me. I can recognize the name Alice written out in Russian now. All in all the movie was pretty good and I'd really like to see it in English to fully understand it.

I also had some fun chatting it up with one of the staff members. I was telling him about the student who was learning English and the staff asked me if he asked certain questions and laughed when he got them all right. Apparently these odd questions are what their teachers tell them to ask. We then had a lovely discussion on alcohol (since he was drinking a huge bottle of beer). I told him some drinking games (which he loved and can't wait to try out) while he explained to me how guys hit on girls in bars. Apparently they pull off the label of their bottle and pass it to the girl if she gives it back it means she's not interested. I thought that was pretty interesting. I wonder if that works in other countries or if it's just over here? It's not something I plan on finding out any time soon though. It's just cool to know.