Thursday, April 30, 2009

Seoul Trippin'

I'm going to post some pictures and a few short stories about my trip to Seoul and this is the first of them...

On the plane ride to Seoul, I met a Korean woman who lives and works in Yantai. She was flying home to see her family and it was interesting talking with her because her Chinese was not that of a native speaker. I imagine it’s better than mine, but not by much. Part of this opinion is based on the fact that I taught her a word I thought everyone knew around here - “laowai” (which means foreigner). After we landed, she helped me find the bus to the area where Sunny and Jake were staying. This was the first of many times that women would be guiding me over the weekend.

After navigating China for over a year, I figured that getting around Seoul would be fairly easy and it was. A clear-cut sign that I wasn't in China anymore occurred when the airport bus left for downtown. It was about a quarter-full and we did not drive around looking for more passengers. Based on my experiences, this is unheard of in the People's Republic.

All of the bus stops were announced in Korean and English and it took about 40 minutes to get where I had to go. After getting off the bus, I felt a bit unsettled. I knew I was in the right place, but I didn't know where I was in relation to anything except the Sun and I knew that was far away. I showed some people in a coffee shop the address I was looking for and they couldn’t help me. Suddenly, I realize this will be a lot easier if I actually have the address printed in Korean.

So, I hit-up an internet café and, upon exiting, find a couple girls who speak a bit of English and ask them about the address. They're quite kind and walk with me for a few minutes before pointing me in the right direction and wishing me good luck. I would meet up with one of them two days later for dinner.

I walked a few minutes and, for the third time that day, saw someone that looked like Sunny but didn’t really think anything of it. Only, this time, it was Sunny. She was sitting on the steps of her guesthouse and I walked right by her. After I entered the building, I noticed her husband Jake. He’s tall, well-built and white so it’s a bit easier to notice him. That afternoon, we ate at an Outback Steakhouse and it was a glorious experience. If this last sentence seems a bit odd or overstated, spend a few months in Yantai and you'll know what I mean...

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Videos from Seoul

While staying at the guesthouse, I met a Chinese girl who was touring Seoul at the same time as me. That night, we checked out the area around the Han River and a tree blossom festival nearby.

I'm not real sure what these people were fired up about.

But, I know these people were fired up about dancing.

This was a rap group in the Hongdae University Area. I should have gotten closer.

This is the area where I stayed. The girl I'm walking with helped me find Sunny's guesthouse when I arrived in Seoul.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Die Hard

"Where are my detonators?"

I must have been 12 years old the first time I saw this movie and I remember thinking, "I don't know what detonators are, but they must be pretty important. This guy is really upset."

Friday, April 17, 2009

Yantai, as seen from Space

I'm not sure how well these pictures will turn out on the blog, but I wanted to give you an idea of what Yantai looks like form above. These images capture my neighborhood, with pictures from the ground and above. The bottom picture gives you an idea of how close we are to the ocean (the top-right portion of the picture is the Yellow Sea).

Penglai & Yantai

I'm about to post some pictures from the weekend of March 28 when my friend Winnie and I strolled the beaches of Yantai before heading to Penglai.

Penglai is a small town next to Yantai and it takes about an hour to get there by bus. It's known for its 1,000-year-old pavilion and beaches, but the weather didn't cooperate the day we went so we didn't get to enjoy the latter. Instead, we visited the Pavilion along the Yellow Sea Coast and ate fish from a local market.

"The Pavilion is closely entwined in Chinese mythology with the legend of the Eight Immortals Crossing the Sea. Perched on a cliff top overlooking the waves, the pavilion harbours a fascinating array of temples and looks out onto wonderful views of fishing boat flotillas."

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Coughing up 'The Wire'

I’m fighting a cold. It’s not the most glamorous thing to talk about, but if someone were to ask me, “What’s the latest?,” the cough and Korea would be my answers. I started to feel it coming on Wednesday, when I had a sore throat. By Thursday, whatever was in my throat made its way to my lungs and I started coughing a bit. Saturday was the worst day so far and I pretty much coughed constantly throughout the day. It’s a dry cough and its persistence is annoying. My colleague told me I could get a needle that would make everything better, but I’m not really up for that. In fact, I really don’t want to take any medicine at all but I caved over the weekend and bought some cough syrup.

In thinking about how it started and I’ve come to the conclusion that it has something to do with the weather. When the weather changes, I get sick. Not deathly ill, just some sort of cold. Two months ago, when I moved from Shanghai to Yantai, I had a cough for about two weeks while my body adapted to the weather here. For most of February and March, I was good though – no cough or anything. But now, the weather is changing again, in the 40s and 50s for the most part, and the heat is turned off in my building so I have this cough.

This has resulted in me changing my schedule to make it even more vanilla than it usually is. Normally, I’d be out right now, either doing a language exchange at a coffee shop, or eating with friends. But, I’ve decided to sit in bed and study instead. Luckily, this is the time of month where I can watch “The Wire.” That might seem odd so let me explain.

My arrival in Yantai in January coincided with the Chinese New Year and I had a cold. I had a lot of down time and, as a result, started watching this TV show. I found it addictive and tore through 24 episodes in 9 days. It’s embarrassing to say, but it’s the truth. Over the course of nine days, I spent one whole day watching a television show. So, I took myself off it for a month. At the beginning of March, the same thing happened, I started watching it and couldn’t stop. Hence, I took myself off it for another month. It’s the beginning of April so I can watch it again. So, as you read this, there’s a good chance that’s what I’m doing – laying in bed, coughing, and alternating between studying and watching the Wire. Again, not the most glamorous thing, but it’s life. With the Korea trip coming up, I figure the best thing I can do for my body is take it easy.

Monday, April 06, 2009

South Korea Awaits...

I booked my flight for South Korea yesterday. It was the first time I booked something over the phone using Chinese and it went fairly well. And while I realize the timing is bizarre (anyone hear about that rocket North Korea just fired?), this adventure actually started last week when I got in touch with my friend Sunny. She said she would be in Seoul next week with her husband. I told her I was close enough to Korea that I could take a boat there (17 hours) so we agreed to meet up.

And, while I am very interested in taking the boat, flying was too advantageous to pass-up. I found a good price and the flight time is about an hour from Yantai to Seoul. I will fly there on Thursday and Sunny leaves on Friday so I’ll have two days in the South Korean capital to myself. I recently got in touch with my buddy in Shanghai who used to live in Seoul and he’s going to set me up with some of his friends. If that falls through, I’ll be crashing in a hostel for three nights before returning to the other side of the Yellow Sea (Yantai) on Sunday. Until then, I’m practicing the only Korean I know – an yo ha say o (hello) – and looking forward to seeing another foreign country.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

An Average Sunday Night

Future President of China?

Max and his friends are entered into an English-speaking competition. Part of the competition requires that they recite a short story or speech. Max chose one of Obama's campaign speeches. Here it is:

At the Dinner Table

I never thought about using chopsticks to eat French Fries....

The Watermelon Talent Show

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Beards and Beaches

I shaved my beard yesterday. I must say I've become a big fan of beards since growing a few. It's nice going five or six weeks without shaving. All you have to do is clean it up once a week. If you're the low-maintenance type, I highly recommend it.

In other news, one of my goals for March was to start running again. When I lived in Chicago, I ran or swam every few days. However, before this month, it had been over a year since I ran. One of the reasons was the air. While Shanghai is a terrific city, I didn't like breathing the air at a normal pace, let alone having to take deep breaths while running. But, now that I'm living in a city with better air, I figure it's time to start running again. So, I jogged a few times last month and can now appreciate how nice it is to live near the ocean.

Yantai sits at the top of the Shandong province, along the Yellow Sea (Pacific Ocean) coast. It's a great city for jumping a boat to Dalian or Korea. When I was running last week, it took me about five minutes to reach the beach. As I was approaching, you could hear the sound of the ocean. I never realized how much I like that sound. The beach was mostly desolate as were the streets around it, with a few desolate vendor and lifeguard stands signaling that summer is not here yet.

But, it's still great that summer and the beach are so close. I have a feeling I'm going to like living here as the weather breaks. After all, I always wanted to live down the shore for the summer. I just thought it would be in Sea Isle or Wildwood.

(side note: I just heard the Rocky theme on Yantai great is that?)

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

April Fool's Day

This is one of my favorite days here. One of the things that always bugged me about April Fool's Day in the U.S. was that everyone knew it was April Fool's Day so it was tough to trick people. Your ruse (a cunning attempt to trick people) really has to be believable or you have to catch people off-guard. But, here, it's a different ballgame and I dig it.

The Chinese know today is April Fool's Day but I don't think they celebrate the same way we do, by playing jokes on people. Either that, or they're just not expecting it out of me because I've managed to fool just about everyone I've seen today. It started when I stopped in a shop on the way to school to see my friend, Xiao Shi. I told her today was my last day in China and I wouldn't see her again. She got a sullen look on her face and started crying and hitting me before I told her it was just a joke.

Then, I got to school and told my students that I was getting married this weekend and they were invited to the wedding. They were all excited and stuff. Suckers! At lunch time, I was on Skype and I told my Shanghai friend I was moving back there and opening an English school. She ate it up. Sucker!

I'm looking forward to tonight's class with the adults. Maybe I'll tell them I'm a movie star or something.

Oh, and by the way, that part about the girl hitting me and crying, that was just a joke. Happy April Fool's Day, Sucker.

In Heat

I have to turn my hot water heater on a half-hour before I take a shower. Otherwise, I'm looking at a three-minute shower followed by bone-chilling cold water. Discovering this the hard way was no fun! But turning on the water heater beforehand adds eight or nine minutes of hot water. And, let me tell you, they are a critical eight or nine minutes. This process is nothing newsworthy, but it's another one of those minor reminders that I'm not home anymore.

Another reminder is that the heat should be shut-off in my building today. One of my colleagues seems to recall that last year on April 1, his apartment got very cold. This makes sense. The buildings in our neighborhood appear to be at least 30 or 40 years old so they were designed before China made its change to a capitalist market. Everyone in the building pays the same fee and gets the same heat. It's pretty simple.

While this is a fair approach, it's also a sign that China has some work to do in terms of energy conservation. Sometimes the apartment gets too warm and you have to crack open a window. After all, wasting energy is no fun, but neither is sweating at home.

On the upside, I must admit that although the weather is colder here than in Shanghai, it is much easier to deal with because the inside is so much warmer. The two main reasons for this are that the homes in the south of China do not have central heat while the northern buildings are designed to insultate heat.

I'm posting this on the first day of April, the month where the weather convinces you it will stay cool forever before suddenly changing. While I like winter, I'm looking forward to the warmer weather and experiencing how life changes around here.