Friday, September 26, 2008

I ate snake!

I now can say I have eaten snake. It's not that great. The taste is like the exact mix of chiken and fish. The meat is white, the texture stringy and dry like chicken, but the taste is slightly fishy and chickenish at the same time. But the hightlight was not eating the snake, but how we came to eat it.

So yesterday, most people were swimming in the river, but I decided to go back to the hostel with Bing, our leader and the Danish couple. We start talking about weird foods that we have seen on menus and in markets and someone brought up snake. I don't really care for snakes, but I am not afraid of them either. I think they are a little icky and would never own one, but I would much rather cross paths with a snake than with a roach. Anyway, when we get to the hostel (which is in a RURAL...RURAL part of China let me give you a clue-one main road, everything else is dirt roads and chickens and cows take up most of them) Bing asks the owner where we can get some snake. He laughs and they start talking in chinese and we are just looking at them and then Bing says, come and we will pick out a snake for dinner.

It turns out that in this village there is a snake catcher. Of course!! When I was choosing majors, I never thought this was a career, but it is! and a very lucrative one. Well, we enter a real life chinese village hut (running water and electricity, but very very simple concrete floor, just one bedroom) and he motions us to the barn, where there are empty mosquito net-like sacks. We had gone there to chose a live snake that they were going to cook for us. It was so strange to stand in this man's house choosing a snake. He pulled out all kinds of wild non-poisonus snakes and let us hold them. He then weighed them and bartered with Bing in chinese. We finally picked a big fat one and settled on about $20. He then showed us a cobra!! At that point Chrystal and I were half out the door. But this man is a professional. He wasn't going to let that Cobra run away.

So after our adventure, we got to see how they killed and skinned the snake. I didn't look when they killed it, but I did see when they ripped out the skin in one piece. WOW! Then they took it inside and 30 minutes later it was in some sort of soup.

I have to hand it to the chinese for not wasting food. I have never seen so many animal parts sold and eaten out like that. Entire chickens, head and feet are served on the table. Chicken feet specially are sold separeatly as a snack. There are numerous kinds of cured meat, packaged in a vaccuum sealed plastic and sold everywhere. At the meat market they have all kinds of birds, eggs, un-laid eggs and creatures. Frogs, scorpions, all types of fish some still alive others fried or salted and dried. They deep fry the entire shrimp eyes and all. At the beginning I was kind of apalled and perhaps a little disgusted, but really, it makes so much sense. Why be choosy and wasteful? After all who decided that steak is ok, but brains are not. It's still shocking, but I have come to terms with it. Especially after being out in the country and seeing how hard life can be. I feel eternally blessed that I don't need to harvest rice until I am 80 in order to survive.

But yes, they do eat dog. I have seen it cooked, raw, and in all it's forms.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Yangshuo and other random observations

I had never heard of Yangshuo, but at this moment it is my absoult favorite place in China. It is a very small town in the middle of the mountains and has a river through it. Needless to say it is infested with tourists. I can best describe it as a kind of Cape Cod/Nantucket in the US, Pucon in Chile and maybe a little bit like Rincon in PR. Everywhere you go there are advertisements for "western" food: pizza, burgers, falafel, steak. It's pretty funny the way they try really hard to cater to tourists by offering exactly what they paid so much money to get away from. There are hundreds of little bars and restaurants with neon lights and English words like Happy Hour, Sale, Bargain, Cheap Prices. They sell some really neat things too. I am not very good at the haggling yet. I try my best to appear uninterested and use the walk-away method, but my face shows it all. I have made Line, one of the danish girls my shopping buddy. She has a gift for it. Line has gotten the cheapest prices I have ever seen and her technique is flawless. All she has to do is say "how much" when the person comes over with a calculator and writes a ridiculously high price. Line says NO, that's too much, I will give you 5 and writes a five on the calculator (she always says 5 which is about 80 cents, regardless of the item. She would haggle a house for 5 yuan) and then they go back and forth. She helped me get a silk scarf for 10 after I was ready to pay 30. I haven't bought a lot, but I really want to perfect my skills before Line is gone.

The reason Yangshuo is so cool is because they are really smart business people and they charge you for everything, but make you think you are getting the "real chinese experience". They will teach you anything and take you anywhere. When we arrived,they had a list of optional activities ranging from cooking, dancing, kung fu, chinese language, rock climbing, rafting, calligraphy, tai chi, etc. etc. I chose the rafting and the cooking. Everything is about $20 which is super expensive for here, but really cheap considering they are like 3 hours long and they include everything. Today we did the rafting and it was absoultely beautiful. It was funny though, cause in the brouchure they show these rustic bamoboo rafts floating down a lazy river. When we got there, they were PVC pipes painted in green and had a little tiny motor in them. It was still amazing because the river was so shallow and clear and the mountaings are just breathtaking. We had a really great time taking pictures and just looking at the scenery. It is like 1000 degrees here, so even if the pictutures look nice and cool, don't be decieved. I am permanently drenched in sweat and so sticky that I have to scrape myself off chairs when I get up.

At night the stores are open until really late and people literally stalk you. They don't grab you but will just not leave you alone, almost like when you are teaching, you hear 100 voices go "Miss, miss, miss" "look miss" They also have fakes of EVERYTHING: watches, bags, t-shirts. so they go "you like Louis Vutton" or "you look nice in Prada". hahaha Some people learned the words "no thank you I am not buiying today" in Chinese. I just like saying witty things in English like "I am too fat for your clothes" or "That's not my style, I am more into Juicy Couture" etc. etc. It works too. Sadly, both are true. Apparently chinese women don't have hips or thighs. At least not like mine. I have tried on some cute things, but there is no hope I would ever fit into any of them. The shoes, I just gave up on even before i came.

Sunday, September 21, 2008


Shanghai is China's New York City. All the ideas of China that I had ever gotten from movies and TVshows became true in Shanghai. Thousands and thousands of people walking in different directions, neon lights with Chinese characters, huge skyscrapers, noise, pollution, etc. etc. '

This is by far the biggest city I have ever been in. The subway map is humongous with over 300 stops on over 12 different lines. Let's just say I have probably visited 0.000001 of it.

Our first day here it rained like crazy. It was one of the girl's, Claire's, 22nd birthday and we all wanted to go out. This tour is becoming more and more like high school by the second. There is a "popular" group with the "it" guys and girls, there is "the girl nobody likes" and the groupies who others make fun of behind their back, but still hangs around the cool people.

There is drama and gossip and lots of funny things that I am really not used to anymore. Like one girl called another girl a ho, etc. etc. I am really really happy to be the oldest, because that is my answer to everyone and everything. I talk to everyone, come and go as I please, sometimes I hang out with the cool kids, many times I just go by myself. I speak my mind freely and openly.

Well, clearly people think that I am cool, because EVERYONE has started telling me their stuff. It's probably cause I am married, so I am not a threat on the boy hunt. Or maybe it's because I definitely didn't bring any cute clothes and I have made it clear that if my bag gets stolen, it might be a blessing in disguise. Regardless, it is all too funny. Like a real life soap opera with british accents.

I have done a couple of things here, besides sit in a hotel room while it POURS rain outside. We went to an acrobats show and it was really impressive. They had the typical routines of the flying through the air, the balancing plates on sticks, tumbling and all of that. They also had a trick I had seen once in PR, where they take this gigantic steel sphere and start getting people in motorcycles in and they circle it around. Personally, I think that driving a motorcycle in the streets of Shanghai is WAY more dangerous.

Speaking of that. My number one complaint about China in general is that there is no such a thing as Yielding. People don't yield for anyone. THey just keep driving. Crossing the street is a NIGHTMARE. I use what I call "the human shield method" which consists of waiting for a small crowd to form (fairly easy considering there are 17 million people in this city!) and then position myself so that if a car/bus/truck/motorcycle/tuk-tuk runs over someone, they hit at least 5-6people before me. It's very very stressful.

My favorite thing about China are the kids. All children are absolutely adorable (and no, it's not my biological clock ticking!) The kids here are super cute! They shave babie's heads when they're really little so that the hair grows back thicker and fuller, regardless if it's a boy or a girl. IT really works! Also, toddlers pants are slit at the butt, so all they have to do is squat anywhere. I really want to take a picture of this, but I don't want to be super rude, so I have been waiting for the right moment. It's so funny to see them walking around with their little butts showing!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Xi'an and the Terracota Warriors

So Xi'an is a "mid-sized city", which in Chinese standards means 8 million people. I have liked it better than Beijing, even though its dirtier, poorer and more run down, but there is a lot of character to it. On our first day here, we went to their city wall (aparently the emperor's LOVE building walls) and rented some bikes and biked around the entire place. It was great because we were ON TOP of the wall, so there were no cars and hardly any people because there is an entrance fee. I had not been on a bike for over 10 years, but I redeemed myself from the "lazy fat american) and finished second. Then we just walked around the city and hung out.

Going out in China is very cheap. Every night at around 6:30 the entire group eats dinner together. We meet in the lobby and the guide picks a place where we can all sit together. We eat everything with chopsticks (which I kick-ass in now!) and the guide orders 15 dishes so we can try different things and share everything. We all get a coke or a beer and the meal is about 4 dollars. LOVE IT. So far I have tasted yummy things, but I hate to admit that I like American style chinese better. hahaha. Also, people love Peach flavorings. I have seen Peach Fanta, peach sundaes and peach vitamin water.

The best thing about Xi'an were the Terracota warriors. Now, this tour is supposed to give you "maximum flexibility" so not all excursions are included. For example, the Wall part was included so I didn't pay extra. The TC warriors weren't so the group decides
A. who is going to go
B. If we want to get a "local guide" or not and
C. if we are going to go by public bus or on a private bus

This time we chose B and C. Turns out we got jipped! The private bus was great, because it was raining and the public buses here make the 80 bus in DC look like the freaking pope mobile. But our local tour guide was a total rip off! She literally told us a quick joke about Bill Clinton (apparently beloved by many Chinese-inlcuding myself :)) and then she walked us to the place and blatantly dissappeared. We were all pissed. Granted, she was very cheap (200 roughly 30 bucks) but still! We could have done the thing ourselves. Since our regular tour guide, Bing, was the one that arranged this we decided to talk to him about it-more on this later.

The Warriors were amazing. I just can't believe how they just found them out of nowhere in 1974. That is crazy. And there are so many of them! Thousands and thousands and they are all different. So the experience was very cool. I was able to tailgate a Spanish speaking tour full and get some more info.

So after all this, we went back to the city, did the internet thing and did a little shopping. Some people had to do laundry (not me thanks to Simon and Lydia!) and when they went to pick it up it turns out that all the girls' racy underwear was stolen!! HAHAHAHAHA they did not return any thongs or lacy panties or bras. All the girls were SOOO angry that people started planning a coup against our leader. Poor guy!! So we went to dinner without him and of course we got SUPER RIPPED OFF. First, they told us all the cold beer was gone, so people had to drinkwarm beer. Mind you it was the same place and same beer we had had the day before. Then we see the lady giving out cold beer to other patrons! Then when they bring our bill, they charged us TRIPLE of what we had paid the day before. There is NO white privilege in china. We argued with the owners but got nowherwe and I guess some people called our guide up and he showed up and just laughed. The when people yelled at him about the lost panties he told them to call the police! HAHAHAHAHA. Im' like WHY did you bring your fancy undies? DBs? Mine are all target brand granny kind.

Anyway, the main reason I love Xi'an is the street noodles. They don't have them all the time, but in the evening, people open this cart and stir fry noodles with just veggies, eggs spices and sauce. They are less than a dollar and ABSOLUTELY delicious. I am serious, I am getting one of those carts and setting myself up in Adams Morgan.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Great Wall and Overnight Train

So I am definitely reinforcing all our stereotypes that Americans are fat and lazy.
On Monday we headed over to the Great Wall for what was suppossed to be a fun, intrepid 5 hour hike to a non-restored part of the wall. As we were getting on our way, I was already thinking it wasn't such a hot idea. Like always, I already felt some blisters forming and after like 20 seconds I was already soked in sweat and out of breath. Geeez. How embarrasing! The good thing, is that I am the oldest person in the group by 2.5 years. So all these things I attribute to my"old age" and I get away with things like still having a single room (yay!) and having some of the boys carry my bags. This was different though. If I quit I would have had to get back on our bus and gone to the hostel with the driver. So I asked our guide how much worse it was going to get and he looked at me and said "we haven't started" the actual hike starts over there" and he pointed at this super far away mountain. And then I was like HELL NO! I want to come back home alive! So a couple of people laughed, and this girl Laura whispered to me, If you quit, I'll quit too. HAHAHAH So we both told the guide we were going back to the bus.

What a great idea! We had a lovely day! The driver took us to the hostel and then drove us to the top of the entrance of another part of the wall. Later, another girl almost passed out after 3 hours of trekking so the guide came back with her and joined us at the wall. We walked up and took lots of pictures and then took a a sling seat down. It was a ton of fun. When we met up with the others, they were dead! I am so so glad I decided against it when I did!

The wall is amazing when you think about how long and massive it is and how in the world they were able to build it, but it's not like super pretty or fun. The scenery is very nice and peaceful around though.

The next day, we drove back to Beijing and got on the over night train to Xi'an. I had taken overnight trains before in Europe so I wasn't freaking out or anything. The train ride was 13 hours and was leaving at 6 PM. We got to the station early to buy some snacks for the trip. So far, I am not too happy with the candy here. Apparently chocolate is not huge, and I LOVE chocolate. Also, it is very hard to read the labels, so you are not always sure what you are getting. I settled on two big bottles of water, some potato chips (lay's with chinese flavoring and some oreos and a chinese version of ramen noodles.) People are making a big deal out of the water and unpeeled fruit and apparently there have been some bouts of diarrhea. Since I am a real third worlder, i have not had any problems whatsoever. YAY!
We got on the train and it was like a party bus. People were drinking and talking really loudly and eating all kinds of things. I saw a man devouring some chicken feet and washing it down with pure rice liquor in a flask! We got on our bunks which are 3 to each side in a completely open compartment. I had the top bunk, which kind of sucked cause I had to climb up there and I couldn't sit because my head was going to hit the ceiling. But then I learned that the top is good, because it is customary for everyone even strangers, to sit on the bottom bunks, so next thing we know there were two men sitting on this girl Claire's bed. SHe was not pleased at all.

The train ride was a lot of fun. We bought some beers and went around telling things about each other. Someone had a little ipod player with speakers adn it he played all alternative music and stuff, so then Jen (the other american girl ) and I were like" we need to turn this into a hip-hop dance party, so I plugged my Ipod with my wedding mixes and it was way better. I only stayed up till 10 because, again, I am old and not have the energy these kids (19-22 most of them) have. Some of them I think stayed up all night. My chinese bunk mate was snoring and I really couldn't fall asleep. Eventually I did, and now I am in Xi'an at the biggest internet cafe I have ever seen. People can smoke in here, which is gross. Also, 99% of people here are local chinese customers and are playing video games with anime characters and are wearing headphones and laughing out loud. Love it.

Finally, IT FINALLY HAPPENED: a chinese woman asked me if i was chinese. I said no, I am from the US. she said yes, american and chinese. I said no, not chinese at all. Then she said, you look chinese. So I asked our guide who is 100% chinese and he said I looked like I could be from a specific province from the north of china. Ha!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Group-quick update

So when I booked this tour, I thought it was going was going to be All Australians and me. But guess what? NO AUSTRALIANS. There are 16 of us. 6 guys and 10 girls. There is a Danish couple, a German couple, one New Zelander, me, a girl from California and everyone else is British. Only 4 of us are going all the way to Bangkok, so we have already made our little clique. Because they make a lot of trips that overlap, we will be with new people once we are done in China. Everyone is really nice and friendly and the accomodations have exceeded my expectations, but I don't want to consider myself lucky so quickly. I got a double room and for this city, I did'n't get a roomate so I have a bathroom and a room all to myself. The beds here are SUPER hard, like a board. Also, everything is very low, so my back is killing me. I'm still having really good food, but today I freaked out a little cause they didn' have diet coke. It's really really hot here and I've been going through like 4 bottled waters a day.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Foot Massage

So yesterday, the jet lag caught up with me and I just could not do anything. I was super tired, lazy and just incapable of leaving the apartment. So I decided to stay in, read and make friends with Simon and Lydia's ayi. According to this book I have, and ayi is technically a nannie, but since they have no kids, she comes in cooks and cleans like twice a week. I didn't want her to think I was like "supervising" her or anything, so I just stayed in my room reading for the first couple of hours and then I wandered into the kitchen for some water. She had made SO MUCH FOOD! She made pork balls, chicken and carrots and a salad. Apparently, tofu is considered a vegetable here, which makes sense, but for some reason, I always had it in the meat/meat substitute category. But no, it's a vegetable and she just cut it up and tossed it in the salad as if it was a cucumber. I think she could tell I was hungry and salivating, cause she offered me a big plate and I was in heaven.

Then we started talking about the difference between an American diet and a beijing diet and I took advantage to ask her to write for me in Chinese characters "please give me ice with my drink" and she answered my breakfast question, which is basically they don't really have breakfast and they certainly don't have bacon. I tried to explain our national obsession with boxed cereal, but she kept saying oh, that's good, it's so healthy. and I was like NO- not nice cereal like muesli or whatever they bring here. I am talking about Lucky Charms and candy cereal and she just laughed. I don't think she knows what I was talking about.

When Simon and Lydia came home, we got foot massages. I usually don't like massages because I am super ticklish and jumpy, so it gives me more stress than I already have, but they promised it would be memorable. OH MY GOD. Memorable is the understatement of the year. This was freakin' AWESOME!! First, they give you food or drinks, then they put your feet on this hot tub and rub your neck back and shoulders. This is all in a private (for the 3 of us) zen-like room, with dim lighting, relaxing music, reclining chairs. After half an hour, they do your feet. It was like a great pedicure, except they don't paint your toenails, but they massage every tiny little part of your toes and scrub you up to your knees and then use lotion and fancy sprays. They also have these pillows that are heated and have incense smells. I was in a trance! The whole thing lasted 1.5 hours and was $20!!! If I lived here I would go every weekend. My feet have never been so happy! Check out some pics of my last two days. I am going to upload pics to my facebook, because its much easier and quicker than doing it here. So stay tuned for more.

Today I check into the hostel, so no more fancy living for me. I will update as soon as I can. Thanks for all the messages! As much as I am having fun-I am a little homesick already!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


I am here! After 22 + hours of traveling, I made it to Beijing. I am incredibly lucky to know an American couple, Simon and Lydia (introduced to me by Sarah :) who just happen to live here. They picked me up at the airport, fed me some delicious home made dumplings and gave me my very own bedroom with Luis Vouitton sheets. I felt like a princess. Since both of them work at the embassy, I spent my first day inBeijing by myself. And what a day it was! First of all, very few people understand English, so I have a little book with places written in chinese characters. I know two words: Nihao (hello) and xie xie (thank you). So when I got into a cab I just say nihao, point at my book and off I go. The cabs make me a little nervous, because the drivers talk to you as if you understood. I just nod and smile. Also, traffic is crazy. Bikes, cars and pedestrians share the road and are equally entitled to pass. I have seen three people in one bike! The cabs are cheap and fast, but it is so hard not knowing where you are going that I thought I would brave the metro/subway.
Thank Jesus the subway has roman characters, so i could memorize the station I want and then get off when needed. It is only 15 cents! I decided to go to the Olympic Park and check out the venues. I was lucky to score some swimming tix and watched about 8 competitions with the medal ceremonies and all. Needless to say, the bird's nest and the entire Olympic Complex is this bubble of amazing, clean, new architecture and the atmosphere at the games was awesome. I can't believe I sat where I saw Michael Phelp's mom sit only 3 weeks ago! I am so so lucky.
It is too bad that paralympic athletes are not as sought after or famous as their counterparts. I was thinking about that the whole time I was there.

Obviously, I have had some really good chinese food: ribs, dumplings, noodles and beef, etc . They are really into their desserts too. I have had dessert at every meal. Usually some flavored shaved ice with a red been sauce. I am not so much into the bean, but I love the green tea shaved ice. I wish they could just do plain shaved ice an pour a Diet Coke on it. But my lack of chinese language skills makes it impossible for me to request it. So far I have seen a couple of subway sandwich places, 3 McDonald's, Starbucks and other American places. I don't think they have cheese. I am also not sure what breakfast is like as I have only had lunch and dinner.

Tomorrow I start my actual tour, so I will update on that and on the people I meet. I am really excited, but a little concerned on the overload. I am being way too overstimulated that I don't want to forget all the amazing things I am seeing.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

24 hours!

I am almost ready to leave! After two weeks in PR, where the trip was the last thing on my mind, I am now verging on the full-blown freaking out stage. Yesterday, I had a 17 item to-do list. I crossed out about 12 things, only to add 9 more today. My backpack is up to 30 pounds, but it's 100% ready. Check out the pictures:

I have realized how age really makes you be more careful. I have become such a princess! I have so much stuff that if I have to empty my bag in customs, I am going to be mortified. I have over-analyzed each item at least three times, making pro and con lists in my mind. I always end up bringing it-because -"what if I NEED it"?

NEED has become my new key word. I will not survive without certain things. When Phil and I went to Europe 7 years ago, I took the same bag, but it was half as full and I certainly didn't feel like I NEEDed anything except money. Now, certain toiletries, pills, and electronics have taken precedence. I have noise-canceling headphones, an international cell phone, chargers of all kinds, a voltage converter, a generic version of every over the counter medicine produced in the US and one thousand Wet Wipes. How do you say "that girl" in vietnamese?