Friday, June 13, 2014

Train Travel is Best Travel

Since coming to China, I have found traveling by train extremely convenient, and I am more than satisfied. In a country full of bureaucratic difficulties, it was such a pleasant surprise to find out how easy it was to go traveling. With a super streamlined online ticket purchasing system, train stations located at city centers, immaculately maintained stations, all at a good price, I got to hand it to China. I have been extolling the virtues of taking the train for years now, but until I came here I had no idea that train travel could be so fantastic.

You average train trip looks like this:
1. Purchase your ticket about two to three days in advance online or at the station. Foreigners are allowed to sign up for web ticketing service!
2. Arrive at the station about an hour ahead of time to pick up your tickets.
3. Head to security check, should take a grand total of 2 minutes
4. Board the train, stow your luggage. Note that there is NO limit to the size or weight of your luggage!
5. Chill out until you arrive at your destination!

(disregard all of these rules if you are traveling during Chinese holidays, see article on Xichang)

This process is infinitely more simple that taking an airplane and has usually resulted in much less headache. I have only heard of a train being delayed once from all of my friends, as opposed to flying, where delays have seemed to me to be more of a rule than an exception. Also, as someone who moves around a lot, this unlimited luggage policy is really attractive.

Here in southwestern China, things go at a slower pace. Up in the more developed areas, there are regularly scheduled "D" trains, its speed only second to the "G" train, "gaotie" 高铁, meaning "high-speed rail." These trains are AMAZING- you can get from Beijing to Guangzhou in EIGHT HOURS, and costs about $150 USD. 1300 miles apart, thats like going from California to Kansas. I'm am just absolutely tickled when I think about it. They are hoping to extend high-speed rail service to Kunming by 2016, but for now we will have to be placated with th"T" for "tekuai" 特快 or "extra fast" and the "K" train, standing for "kuai" 快 meaning "Fast." These are glaring misnomers, as these trains are incredibly slow. But even though it takes 8 hours to get to the next cool city, they are still more convenient than flying.

I still am unable to understand why America has yet to understand the value of train travel. The last time I drove from San Francisco to Sacramento it took 4 1/2 HOURS. There is clearly no reason for this! I know that there is a rail line in this region, but archaically slow speeds coupled with stupidly expensive pricing makes people who own cars unwilling to use it. Imagine a world with no traffic and low risks for collisions. You just sit back and relax, unconcerned with any of the classic problems plaguing road or air travel. You guys, a well thought out train system is absolutely fabulous.

California is making baby steps towards getting a north-south rail, and there are plans to expand on a national level. I think it would be a valuable means of transportation in the US, and I encourage people to support development in this sector. Just seriously: trains are awesome.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Working in China: My Experience at a Yunnan NGO

My internship finished last Friday, and I am still wiping the sweat from my brow. I spent the weekend properly by lounging on my couch watching ancient episodes of The Simpsons, sort of in a state.

These past four months have really been something; I say something, because I still can't quite tell what. Working with my group has been incredibly challenging, and I am still figuring out which combination of factors made it so difficult for me to adjust. Foreigners in China are prone to blaming their problems on "China" with a capital C, but since China is such a large country with varying cultures I try to avoid doing this. I am more apt to say that maybe it's a Yunnan thing, but I also don't thinks so, because we are actually pretty relaxed out here in comparison with the more developed areas out on the coast. I am at an NGO, which are notoriously fast paced and 辛苦, according to all of my classmates in NGOs right now.  There is also the intern factor, where they were just piling on the work because, well, I work for free. But then again I'm not even really familiar with what real American work life is like, so maybe I am just being overly sensitive about the whole thing.

I remember arriving at my office with my two classmates on the first day. Us three, along with my two coworkers and my boss Amy sat around that giant dark wood conference table eating watermelon. There was a small whiteboard and a giant piece of white paper absolutely drowning under the ink of hastily written Chinese characters, which I would soon find out was the plans for my four months of work. My work was strange and nebulous, hard to pin down: about ten different long term projects were plunked down in front of me, some of them of types completely unfamiliar. "Just begin like you are starting a qualitative research report," Amy says to me. "You can interview news media reports, it should be fun," Amy says-- please imagine the my dear-in-headlights look that might accompany these intimidatingly offhand statements. After four months, many deadlines, and an excruciating number of meetings later, a large bulk of these plans, plus some other projects added on top, were only about halfway completed. I completed the major ones, but I was disappointed to see so many slip by the wayside.

Working with my organization sure had its quirks. We are made up of university professors in the area who come together several times a week to plan and do projects. This makes for much running around between universities, extended meeting times, company meals, and rescheduling. Much different from the classic nine to five scenario, I didn't have a classic boss who came to check in on me very much, and sometimes I felt like I didn't have all the support I needed to get my work done. It even dawned on me that the professors themselves might not be entirely clear about the organizational structure of the group. Three to four meetings per week was not only a total time sink, but would also make it difficult to keep priorities straight as they would add on new and "important" projects for me to do.

On a more positive note, being with my NGO also gave me some really interesting opportunities to learn about Chinese life. I will never forget the ability of my coworker Geng to be able to buzz around gracefully keeping everyone's teacup full, or Yin to be able to graciously fill everyone's rice bowls at our lunch meetings. I reflected to my classmate that it was really foreign for me to pour tea for the professors and serve them as needed and took some adjusting, whereupon he cried "I would never do that!" Our workplace had an unspoken hierarchy in which I and my two coworkers were much below our teachers. Another very interesting experience I had was listening to my professors speak openly to each other about their opinions on the Chinese government and Tibet and other topics which I thought were off limits. There was even one of these discussions in which a government worker participated in! I was surprised and delighted to be included in on these talks, and to find that contrary to popular belief, intellectual Chinese people have no qualms about talking politics. Another major discovery I had was that academics are cool. It's where the young people are and it where the interesting progress is happening. I'm not sure why this surprised me, because America is similar in this respect, but I always sort of had a tendency to think that academia is stuffy and snobby. It's part of the reason why I never had the urge to immediately enter graduate school. But in this country where so many people don't even make it into high school, college students clearly have an advantage for understanding the global zeitgeist, and they were crowd with which I felt most comfortable and welcomed.

Overall my experience was surprising, interesting, and challenging. I am really thankful to my organization for accepting me into their group and having me work alongside. I feel that a position at another NGO is not in my immediate future, but they have successfully launched me on a good trajectory, and I am looking forward to new employment in a similar vein. Maybe getting a job that actually pays me money will put my work into a more positive light? We shall see! I am fast in pursuit of a new job, and hopefully I will be able to answer that question very soon!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

June in Kunming

I am 22 years old right now, and have spent almost as many years in public school, and I am obsessed with the month of June. These two things are no doubt related--after years of pavlovian training that June = Summer Vacation, I simply had no choice in the matter. 

And here we are again, June. I have been waiting for you.  June means that it is still warm and light outside even well into the evening. It means swimming in the lake. It means sleeping with just a sheet on and with the windows open, and taking cold showers.  

June is usually the month when I quit my job and leave where ever I happen to be staying to go to the mystical OUTDOORS. Ah yes, you might have heard of it. It is everything which is the opposite of being indoors: cramped spaces, stuffy air, computer screens, beeping electronics-- none of these things are allowed during the month of June. They are all replaced with the warm smell of hot dirt and pine needles, big mouthfuls of tart lemonade, and the sounds of a choruses of buzzing bees.  

I remember this time last year I was cruising down Highway 101 heading north with my family, looking out of the open backseat window of our car and over the ocean, feeling the cool coastal air. My silly family--we just drove and drove and drove until we decided to head home. 

This June, I will be much farther above sea level than I was last year. My Mom is going to brave the trip to come see me here in Yunnan, and we are going to have a look around down here. We will do some hiking in Dali, lounge for a few days in Lijiang, and check out Lugu Lake where the mysterious Lugu people live. Think Chinese cottage towns with criss-crossing cobblestoned alleyways, and great green plains where livestock graze underneath towering mountains peaks. Mostly I am excited to be with my mom, and for us to just wander around out there together. We will have a lot of time to spend taking rides on the slow train to remote locations, sitting around in tea houses eating sunflower seeds, and seeing the sights. We can enjoy the sun again, and be free. 

Now that I am graduating, I suspect that me continuing to asking for June off into my professional life will not be as socially acceptable. I've been applying for what have been known to me in college as "real jobs." But seeing as I am unemployed for the time being, I will continue to indulge myself, if not at least for just one last time, in June.

Friday, May 30, 2014

5 really cool things I bought in China

When I came to China, I had a really lengthy shopping list of things like custom made qipao dress, majiang set, tea set, etc. It turned out that these things are all either very expensive or very heavy. Also it is reasonable to accuse me of being a cheapskate. But for one reason or another I just didn't get to everything on my list.

But I did get some other unique items for not too expensive either, I thought I could share.

1. Fengyoujing 风油精 This small glass bottle contains a bright green, oily liquid inside, and which has a very pungent menthol scent to it. It is very effective for relieving the itching of a mosquito bite. This stuff is a god send if you get bitten a lot like me.

2. The sparkliest nail polish I've ever encountered and some neat nail polish remover sheets. Would you just look at this nail polish! It was only 10 yuan and was of pretty decent quality. The nail polish remover sheets are really great too, which smell like blueberry and claim to be organic.

3. A Chinese medicine scraping tool made out of ox horn. I originally purchased this as just sort of a novelty trinket. It is very pretty, but I never expected to actually use it. One day I picked it up and tested skin scraping out, I found that it actually feels fantastic, and does improve you skin! I have used it similar to a skin brush, scraping in long broad strokes, but I know that shorter, more intense strokes can also be done near strategic accupoints to relieve sickness. The pointed end can also be used to stimulate accupoints throughout the body for good health. I probably should have stayed away from the animal products, but I thought, what the heck. This was about 30 yuan.

4. This sweet ball cap. Just look at it! 15 yuan!

5. THIS BASKET. This basket is definitely at the top of my list. For one it is absolutely beautiful. And two, it is totally functional. I could probably fit about 20 pounds of stuff in there! I take it with me to the vegetable market, and all the sellers comment on how pretty it is, and how good it is to carry. So what if you have to make wide turns with it?!
It was about 45 yuan, about $8 USD. Don't ask me how I am going to fit it in my suitcase, but by george I'm taking it with me.

So there you have it, my top six purchase in China! Thanks for reading everyone, see you next time 下次再会~

Thursday, May 22, 2014

How to buy a plane ticket.

When the time rolled around for me to purchase a plane ticket to China, I had no idea where to begin. Now I feel sort of qualified to tell you about my experiences, and hopefully it can help you out.

The first time I came over, I felt overwhelmed and didn't know where to start. So many online travel sites! So I just had someone else do it! Travel agents can come in handy in this respect, because they do all the footwork for you. It was such a weight off of my shoulders to have someone just handle it for me. Travel agents in the US have been somewhat outmoded, but there are still some hiding out in the woodwork in the U.S. See if your more experienced friends (read: seniors) can recommend a travel agent to you, or just do an online search. Contrary to what I originally thought, travel agents get paid by their airline partners and do not charge you any cost for the tickets.

If you are feeling brave enough, you can try online airfare sites. I discovered that they were extremely easy and convenient to navigate. Most major travel sites directly link to each others' prices when you search for airfare. All the prices are provided right in one place, cutting down on the hassle of going to each sight individually. Most sites also had very similar prices, and a direct flight on any given day would only vary by a few dollars or so, so don't feel like you have to look at every travel site on the internet. When viewing ticket prices, make sure to note if the price includes tax or not.

This time around, I purchased my flight about 8 weeks ahead of my departure date from, and I felt like that I got a pretty good deal on a one way ticket (about $600 for a one way flight plus taxes, totaling about $850). Start monitoring websites about 10 weeks ahead of time, and just do a quick search once a day. When I was looking recently, prices started at about $1200 (tax included), but eventually came down to something more reasonable. Round trip seemed to be much cheaper than buying one-ways, so if you know when you are coming back, definitely spring for the round trip. Also, be ready to purchase tickets when you see a good deal; there is no reason to wait and worry and wonder if a better deal will come.

That just about covers it for my tips. There are not a whole lot of info here, because purchasing a ticket was actually much less mysterious and difficult than I anticipated. Just watch, wait, and the price will come down. If the price is right, buy it and be on your way! Go check it out and see how easy it really is.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Yunbike is best bike, or a tale of two bicycles

In my crusade to make my life better and more exciting, I rented a bicycle. This was a GREAT idea. I rented it for one month from a bike shop in my neighborhood. Little did I know, this bike shop was magical.

So the boss rented me this great bike. They tuned it up all nice for me and gave me a helmet and a bike lock. It was pretty red and white, slightly flashy, definitely new-ish and rust-less, as opposed to ancient like most of the bikes people ride around here.

So I had this bike for a grand total of FOUR DAYS. I thought that bringing the bike up into my apartment building to the sixth floor and locking it to the fence would be plenty fine theft prevention. After all, its a pretty schmancy place, and I didn't think that anyone would take it. But lo and behold, I come out of my place on Thursday morning, to an empty fence with a cut lock on it. Who would do this!!

So I'm pretty bummed out, and I don't know what the heck I'm gonna tell the bike boss. I'm like turning this over in my mind, thinking of ways to turn the story to make it seem like its not my fault, thinking of how to argue my way out of paying for the bike, etc.

I head over to the shop the next day, fully prepared to have a chinese yelling match about not paying. I get there, sort of nervous, you know, and just lay it on him. "You're bike got stolen." -------

And the the boss just kind of looks at me, slightly bummed out, and basically just says, "oh, well."

And then, he invites me to go biking with them on Saturday. And I'm thinking, well you know, I don't have a bike anymore, so... And he says just says to go ahead and take the other rental bike. What!! This guy is the best ever!

So on top of having gone on the most epic bike trip that I have probably ever been on today, I also have a bike to ride for the next month! Totally excellent.

If anyone is coming to Kunming and looking to get hooked up with a bike and an awesome biking group, go to --->Yunbike<--- they are totally the bomb. Also if you are coming to Kunming and thinking about biking, it might be worth it to schlep along those U-locks you've got, apparently bike theft here is awful, ahem.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Sweet Video: Fresh off the Boat with Eddie Huang in Chengdu

I had an American friend ask me recently, in all sweet sincere honesty, "so, do Chinese people really eat Chinese food?" And the answer is a resounding yes!

I was cruising around youtube and stumbled upon this cool food series and thought I would share it. Eddie Huang and friends eat and hang out in Chengdu. They talk about some of the delicacies from Sichuan province, include Mapo Tofu, and various dishes that have rabbit in it.

I was actually just in Chengdu, and have some friends living there now, so it was cool to see it onscreen. They get some nice footage at the Panda Base and chit chat about modern Chinese life. Despite the overwhelming cool guy bro feel and Eddie's mediocre Chinese abilities, it was kind of a fun modern viewpoint, a nice antidote to all of the stories of unusual deaths and coal pollution that unendingly stream out of China.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

How to move a lot without going nuts

I am not a big fan of moving. You would think that I would be used to it by now, seeing that in the last five years, I've moved six times. Or maybe I didn't mind at first and now it is just getting old. Originally it was kind of exciting, going to a new place! -- but now it is just a hassle. It makes me feel sort of unsettled. I don't know where the market is, or the cool hangout spots, my bike is probably left somewhere else, I don't have furniture again, etc.

But now, after move number six, I'm sort of getting the hang out it. These are some of the things that I have found really important.

>>Don't get caught in the short-term thinking<<
Sometime you move somewhere for just a short time, maybe like 3-5 months. You think to yourself, well I shouldn't buy a lot of stuff for my place, because I won't get the money's worth in such a short time. While setting up your sad apartment with no furniture, you start skimping on the things that you really shouldn't skimp on. Like a mop. Or a garbage can. A laundry basket, or enough hangers. These are things that you really do need!
As time goes by, your place gets messier and messier, you become more and more miserable, and start really longing for this items that you really should have purchased in the first place. Yet you are caught in this trap in which, now, your stay is already shorter than it was before, and you are really not going to get the money's worth now, so you are definitely not going to buy it! Even though you are totally miserable!
This sort of thinking is totally unnecessary. A messy place brings you down, and can make you less productive. Don't pinch pennies unless you are totally broke: buy the stuff you need in the first place and save yourself the misery of a cluttered messy home.

>>Get your workout/activity situation in order<<
I am so happy that I did this for myself in Kunming. A lot of times when you are packing your bags, you only consider things like clothing and toiletries. If you are moving somewhere for a substantial length of time, you should also consider bringing some active gear, like a yoga mat, running shoes, or any gear you want. Being able to get active is really beneficial for your sleep and for relieving stress, which, couldn't we all use that. If you really can't fit it, just fork out some cash and buy your gear again. A lot of this stuff you can buy for minimal dollars online, especially on Taobao. I got my yoga mat for 10RMB plus shipping. Purchasing a gym membership can also be wonderful. College campuses usually have great deals for students, and private gyms usually let you try it out for free, so you can see which one you like best.
I really went crazy on this one personally, and got a gym membership, a yoga mat, and a bike. I spent a fair amount of money, but I think it has really been fun, and worth it in terms of my mental wellbeing.

>>Figure out where natural recreation areas are<<
Being in a city environment can be really stressful, and being in nature is something that can counter that worn-out, pavement-y type feeling. See if there is an area near you like a park, or a lake, that is easily accessible, where you can just go and hang out and look the trees or water. After starting at a computer screen all week long, it can really bring your spirits up.
On some dark days in Nanjing, Xuanwu Lake 玄武湖 really cheered me up. I liked to go jogging there. The lily pads and quaint bridges and pagodas are lovely. Kunming's Green Lake 翠湖 is also great to walk around, eat some pineapple on a stick and look at the swaying willow branches.

>>Don't live alone<<
Living alone sucks because its lonely. Also your place will be messy because no one else is there for you to be considerate of. That is all.

>>Get a smart phone<<
I was probably one of the last people on the planet to realize that smart phone are actually a good thing, but they really are. If you have a dinky old phone with buttons on it, I would really advise you to get any smart phone. I would say also you should get one that you like and think works well, to make sure that you actually use it and don't "forget it" at home.
There are some really cool apps for holding group chats and things (in China we like WeChat and QQ). Especially in Flagship, being part of the group chats really keep you in the loop--news, what up to, activities, questions that might help you, all really good stuff. I felt like if I wasn't connected via my phone, I would have probably missed out on a lot of group activities. It makes meeting people and making friendships so much easier. And it also makes it really easy to keep in touch with the people you moved away from as well.
I used to think that getting a smartphone would turn me into a zombie that plays mobile games as they are walking around in real life, but lo and behold, it did not! Turns out its just a useful piece of machinery that can help you out with tasks that might be overly laborious without one. If you are worried like I was, calm down and embrace the technology. It's a good thing.

>>Remember the things that you used to like to do<<
This is my final and most important tip. When you move, you are bombarded with so much minutiae about bills and money, and you feel disoriented, like, "where the hell am I, even?" Once all of those things begin to subside, you can start to get back to normal life. With all of the excitement died down, you might even start to feel bored. It's really weird, but when I moved to Kunming, I was so spun around, I forgot what sort of things I liked to do for fun, and I did started to feel bored. But boredom is clearly not to proper reaction: what I needed do to is go get out there and have fun and do the things that inspire me! I literally sat down and made a list of things that I used to like to do, but haven't done in a while. Things like hiking, going to museums, seeing movies, listening to music and concerts, having dinner with friends, and writing my blog. This has brought my life a needed shot of excitement, and I feel much happier and more energetic. So if boredom sets in for you, if you feel hazy, or that your life is lacking excitement, definitely nip that in the bud, get creative, and go have some fun.

Moving is tough, takes a lot of effort, and is kind of an emotional roller coaster. That pretty much covers it for my best tips on moving, and I hope that they are useful to you! Peace and love from Kunming,


Monday, May 5, 2014

Xichang wasn't as remote as we thought!

We went to Xichang! What a wonderful time! We thought we were headed to a tiny little village with nothing there, but turns out it was so fun and charming and met so many nice people. It was awesome. Click -->here<-- to see it on the map!

Since it was the Labor Day holiday last week we all went to go hang together. I think I have mentioned in one of my previous posts how crazy travel during holidays are in China, but I would just like to reemphasize this via a brief anecdote: there were so many people in line that me and vicki missed our train! We got to the station about an hour yearly, like normal, but we just couldn't fight our way to the front of the line to get our tickets in time. We were so upset! There were literally lines like I have never seen at the train station, and those lines are ordinarily plenty long! You live and learn: next time we will make sure to be early on a holiday. We hopped the next train in the evening.

So we left around 7pm, and arrived in Xichang at about 3am. We got the "hard bed" so I could sleep most the way there.  Xichang is located in Sichuan province in southwestern China, in the Liangshan Yi Tribe Autonomous reigon. Liangshang means "cool mountain" in Chinese. As you walk around, you can see people in traditional dress, and doing traditional rituals. My friend +Shayn Stephens explained to us that there are many social problems in Liangshan: drug use and crime like robbery is unfortunately widespread. She told us to be careful not to step on needles when we were walking on an unpaved road. She said some of these problems come from the resentment of the Yi people towards the Han Chinese for their takeover, and that they feel like their disobedience is almost a form of payback for their hardships. I'm not sure what the initial situation was when they took over, but I can imagine that it wasn't pretty.

Anyways, most crime occurs after dark, so we just took care to make it back to the hotel in a timely manner. We ate Xichang style BBQ, went to the ancient city, bartered at the street market, and saw a traditional ritual performed by a shaman! We met Shayn's coworkers, celebrated Jacob's birthday with cake, played majiang, and made it back to our overnight train on time! Vicki, Shayn and I had girl talk until late into the night, and (tried) to help Jacob on his online jazz test. Overall, it was just fantastic.

Take a look at all the fun we had:

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Slow on the update: moving is hard.

Dear Everyone:

Greetings! I've taken a small hiatus recently to basically get my stuff together. Moving and working every day and getting used to everything has been a bit of a process, but I am finally feeling ready to get back in action.

Moving to Nanjing was such a breeze. I was immediately welcomed into a community of students who were my age, my country, and of similar interests. We ate western food and hung out at western bars and listened to jazz and went to class and it was basically just like back home. It was wonderful! I feel like I can say I avoided culture shock for a good six months!

But ever since I moved to Kunming, things haven't been as cozy. I think the most obvious difference was that my group of friends split up! I have lamented about this endlessly, but it was really hard to let everyone go! In Kunming, I have two classmates who are wonderful, but they unfortunately work at a different office than I do, and live quite a ways away, about an hour by bus. We haven't done much hanging out, just because of sheer distance.

The obvious cure for this would to go and make some friends (duh!). My coworkers have become the best friends I have here. They have been really sweet and fun to be around. They help me correct my Chinese, I help them with their English, and they take me out to eat at cool places sometimes. I feel really lucky that my coworkers turned out to be so welcoming and open to sharing and talking with me.

Meeting other people outside of work has been sort of hard though. Like in the US, I feel like it is not uncommon to meet people and have a genuine connection. Its different here though. First of all, less people talk to you, because they just don't think you speak the same language. Second, if they do try to talk to you, they are probably just a dude trying to flirt. Just, no. Third, I find that a lot of cool girls I meet are just passing through, traveling. It's fun to finally feel connected, but a bummer to have to just say, "kay bye" so much. And lastly, I find a lot of people are weirded out by my foreignness. It's a bigger divide than a lot of idealists would like to think: "We're all just people, right man?" But it really is more than that.

Another obvious cure would be to be with the friends that I've got! This has proven really useful. Travel here is SO convenient, and so having a get together with friends from Xichang and Chengdu has been really easy, and has really made me feel so much better. We are all converging on Xichang this week again for the May Holiday to be together and check out where our friend Shayn lives. I am really looking forward to that.

Anyways, I am beginning to feel a bit lighter and open than before. I'm just a little slow on the uptake, okay! You can expect some more regular posts from me in the future, I'm looking forward to putting out some good articles. Cheers everyone.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Adventures at the pharmacy

So lately I have run into one ailment after the next. My boss told me that in Kunming during this time of year, it is really easy to get sick. It would seem that way. She also said that Kunming produces some special medicine that I should try out if I get sick, and I took her advice. I have made a few trips to the pharmacy recently, and I thought I would share some of the things I got, because they are slightly different that what you get in your western pharmacopeia.

Last Friday, I came down with a little cold. I picked up some "Cold Medicine." This medicine is specifically for colds caused by excessive heat in the body. The ingredients include parsnip, dwarf lillyturf root, bitter almond, dried orange peel, and mulberry root bark, among other things. It comes in packets of powder to be mixed with water. The taste is bitter, and seems to help me feel better during the day. 

The next day, I developed a cough, and so I picked up some cough syrup, which also seems to be completely made up of herbal ingredients, including loquat leaf, mulberry root bark, and menthol.

Then to my surprise and dismay, and slight disbelief, my cold had given rise to this earache that I developed, according to the pharmacist. He suggested that I pick up a pack of "Gentian Root to Soothe the Liver." He said the pain in my ear was caused by my liver fire being excessively strong. Again, full of herbs. He also said I should pick up a pack of these mysterious white pills.

So I get all this stuff home, and I am taking these white pills, and I'm like WOW these taste awful. And then I crack open the instruction manual, to find that these pills are definitely not Chinese medicine, and that they are in fact antibiotics. Over the counter antibiotics! This always drives me crazy that you just purchase them like that. Especially given the fact that the pharmacist didn't even bother to tell me what they were, even though I specifically requested no western medicine. I'd been taking them one a day on and off for a while there! Not good! Really not happy about that situation!

So anyways, after like 4 days of this, I have a fully stocked home pharmacy, a lingering cough and a nasty ear infection. In the beginning, this whole getting sick thing was somewhat of a novelty, but now I kind of just wish this earache would go away. I should probably just throw in the towel and go to the doctor, I don't really know what I didn't do that in the first place. But there is a little introduction for you about medicines in China! Cheers, R.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Taobao Account is now up and running!

Dear Folks,

Hello! I've gotten through yet another eventful week here in Kunming. So many thing's have happened: I successfully got myself out of a scam (<-- read the story), I wrote lots of reports at work, and most importantly, I got my Taobao account up and running!

Some of you probably don't know what Taobao is, but it is a fantastic online service, similar to Amazon, where you can buy all sorts of great stuff online, and get it delivered straight to your door within a matter of days. It also runs under the name Alibaba, and is available all over domestic China,  I think even including some options for international delivery. Check it out here.

Unlike the states, China has a really robust group domestic delivery services, I'm not sure exactly how many, but many many more than your standard UPS/Fedex dichotomy, a fact which makes shipping really convenient. For example, I ordered coffee from Hangzhou, and it got to me here in Kunming a day and a half later (that is over 2000 kilometers folks). I was in the a delivery service office around 6pm on a saturday, and someone comes in asking if there was still time to put something out in the last shipment, and they were like oh-yeah-sure-no-problem.

Taobao is really popular in China, everyone has an account. People buy clothes, electronics, kitchen supplies, light bulbs, cleaning supplies, even food! What had me sold was that I could buy a french press coffee maker and ground coffee beans, something you'd be hard pressed to find in any regular grocery store (believe me I've looked). Another really convenient aspect about Taobao is that once you have your account set up, you can use the payment system to add value to your cell phone account, and to pay for other daily expenses.

So all in all, my life has been made easier now that I have Taobao! I can just go online, find what I want, at a fixed price, and have it delivered to me. This is so much easier than going out and hunting for whatever obscure item I want, wondering how much it is, asking the shop keeper, wondering if I should haggle, feebly trying to haggle for a moment, paying the (probably exorbitant) price, and lugging the thing home... It was totally worth all that time I spent trying to set up my account; it literally took me three entire weeks to get it right, between all the security checks the have on there, all the passwords they require you to make, all the calls to customer service.

Haha but Taobao, I commend you. You are pretty awesome. If you want to make an account, make sure that you make the payment account, 支付宝, FIRST, then open the taobao account itself, this will save you some time. Also, if you have any questions about opening account, ask me down below. I made all the mistakes possible when I opened mine, so I may be able to help you sort out your situation. Anyways, happy shopping everyone, 购物愉快!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Kunming is Kool

Dear Friends,

Since I've gotten here and gotten settled in, I've fallen in love with the place. Things are just excellent. I have my own little apartment, which is smack in the same building as my work! Let me tell you, it really cuts down on commute time ;) Also, Kunming is located in southwest China(<---look at it on the map!), very very far from the watchful eye of Beijing and the super-rich commercial centers of Jiangsu province and Nanjing and Shanghai and all of that, so things seem much more relaxed. Women wear less fur, there are less high heels, people don't look at me as frequently or as suspiciously. And it's much cleaner, with flowers everywhere, people spit less, or at least try to keep it in the gutters. I've got to say, this place is much more "civilized" than Nanjing ever was, and it's out in the middle of nowhere basically (signs everywhere remind you to be 文明, civilized, in the metro, in cabs, in the restaurants...).

Work is going really well also. I know have the pretentious title of being "an intern" which I think is funny and laugh about. I am working at the Yunnan Province Health and Development Research Association, which does grassroots research in rural areas of Yunnan Province to help increase public health conditions. I feel really lucky to have landed a spot here, and I feel like my education and training and personal thoughts really go well with this organization. They are going to keep me really busy though, I will definitely be on my toes for the next four months.

My social life has diminished greatly since I've left Nanjing. All my friends are dispersed all over the place, as I have lamented about at great frequency... Its okay though. I'm doing my best to stay open and friendly, and to hopefully make some new friends here. I went to Salvador's last night, which is an international coffee house on the main drag here to try and meet some new people (go there if you're in the area, they have organic milk and Santa Cruz Juices haha!). Turns out it was mostly drunken foreign students from the local Yunnan University, and Chinese couples snuggled up together, but I did manage to meet a traveler from Shanghai who was just on her way out. We did have a fun chat though, we talked about China and America and Ireland, where she'd traveled before...

I've been tired lately. Chinese company's don't really do "weekends" or "overtime." You just sort of, work. You work at a company, and then they tell you to do things. And they text you and call you and send you messages on your QQ at any old time. Lord how I miss good old American work culture where, when you're off the clock, you're off the clock. My work had made plans for me on both Saturday and Sunday of this weekend...!!! I just about died when they casually mentioned that, by the way, we are having a meeting tomorrow, Saturday, at 8:30am, and make sure to leave early because it's an hour away by bus. Now, I didn't actually end up attending for other reasons, having to do with my ATM card being mysteriously swallowed up in the ATM machine, but that story, that is something for a whole other blog post.

Anyways, love to my friends everywhere, be safe, eat good food, drink clean water, get some rest, because tomorrow, we got some work to do...! Love, R.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Happy new year and wishes of auspiciousness in the year of the horse! 新您快乐,马年吉祥,心想事成!

Greetings everyone, and happy new year! It is now officially the year of the horse. I spent new year's eve delayed in a plane in Sanya trying to get to Shanghai, but I'll get to that later.

So Chinese New Year first hand in China was quite an experience! From what I gather, the holiday spans eight or so days, including all sorts of practices according to what day of the new year it is etc., but which are still mysterious to me. Because the holiday is so special and long, it is a time for people to return to their hometowns to be with their families, which often times, is very very far away (China- is- huge- ). People work like dogs all year long, but once CNY hits, they close up shop and get out of town. Everything all around the country shuts down. No more noodles, midnight BBQ stands, dumplings, fruit markets, etc. No banks, post offices, Public Security bureaus...All that is left are major grocery stores, and some over priced foreign stuff (which is never that good anyways).  This leaves people like me sort of at loose ends. We hunted down the only Lanzhou Pulled Noodles place within a 5 mile radius that was open.

Another special thing about CNY is fireworks. Families will set off fireworks, and the bigger the better. None of these sparkler, ground-bloom pansy type fireworks; people bring out the big guns and set off the giant fireworks that you can see for miles. We were up in our friends high-rise on day four or five of CNY, and someone right below us was lighting them off, and they were exploding right outside the window, while at the same time, other families all over were doing the same thing. You could see fireworks in every direction. Other than being a spectacular fire hazard(!!!), they were pretty wonderful to watch.

The fireworks bring me back to my delayed flight from Sanya to Shanghai. So fireworks equal smoke. And so the most important day of Chinese New Year, the eve of the new year, a day that involves lots and lots of fireworks, also just happened to have horrible smog and pollution. It was just a deadly combination, causing the entire Pudong Airport to shut down, leaving us delayed down south for several hours there. Even worse, when we arrived in Shanghai, I immediately got a terrible cough, which seeing as I was feeling fine hours earlier, I think is clearly attributed to the bad air. Yuck.

Overall though, it was very fun! Even though nothing was open, I enjoyed Shanghai, and enjoyed being together with my friends, the closest to family that I can get over here. It was also to see how important of a role CNY actual does play in the lives of Chinese people; in the states I never knew.  Anyways, happy year of the horse everyone! Cheers~

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Vacation, on my own

I am so glad it's vacation. I am calling for a moment of silence here to celebrate:


No but really this is awesome. I have been off school for about a week now, and not much has happened since then. Hung out with some friends, watched a whole lot of movies, ate a hamburger...

Most of my friends have split for wherever in the world they call home, their next vacation destination. And today I realized that for the past month or more I have been absolutely surrounded, almost 24 hours a day, with friends. Between the Flagship office, hanging out at Craft Beer, and meeting up with people for meals, this entire semester has just been constant face time with my awesome awesome classmates. I think that today was the most time I have spent on my own in weeks, and it's only been like 20 hours.

It's coming as sort of a shock to me. I used to spend all sorts of time on my own. I would just like walk around and go places and study and eat, just all on my own, for like days. I never found it strange until today, when suddenly my usual pals have left, and my life has swung back to its polar opposite. Its like this recent past has put the farther past into better perspective, but all that does is leaves me here in the present, wishing for either my friends back by my side or the independence that I used to be able enjoy.

This is a good thing though. It's time for everyone to go and take care of themselves, take a break. That's true for me, for sure. My apartment is a filthy mess, I'm moving out in the middle of February, and I've got a half-read novel that needs my attention. I'm melancholy, but I get it. And I cannot wait for the next time that we can all be reunited--that goes to everyone: my classmates, my family, and friends back home. Now that it's vacation and I'm without a set schedule, I am feeling more deeply the fact that time stretches on for a long long time, and that we really do have a lot of time, and I have faith that during my personal little slice of eternity, we will meet again, and it will be wonderful.

But for now, I'll be missing you, yes, I do mean you, my dear friend. Thanks for reading, peace and love ~

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The coldest shower of all

So i'm going to tell you the story of the worst shower ever, which involves three funny and unrelated occurrences, and goes like this:

Most showers here have little tiny gas powered water heaters, not so much different that the water heaters in the states, save for the fact that these are like 1/5 the size, much smaller. Another funny thing about most showers here is that they all seem to include heat lamps, so that when you turn the shower off, you aren't freezing cold. Great idea! It really does help. But in my case, they heat lamp seems to run the same circuit as the electric fan, so if the ceiling fan isn't running, you can't use the heat lamp. And the last and final thing about showering is that in order to have a clean dry towel, you must launder and dry it (duh), except there are no electric clothes dryers here, and all your stuff must be hang-dryed. Some drying are inside, and some including mine are outside.

Now, these things are all part of a normal bathroom/shower situation, but recently all of these things seemed to take a turn for the worse, turning my shower into the worst shower ever. First, I like to take pretty hot showers, especially when it is cold outside; the problem is that it makes the hot water run out in just a few minutes, we're talking like 8 minutes if you're lucky. On top of that, the electric ceiling fan broke: no more heat lamp! Lastly, on one particularly windy day, I forgot to place a clip on the drying wrack to hold my towel in place. To my dismay, the next time I went to go look for my towel, it was hanging off the edge of someone else's drying rack two stories below me.

So cut to me, on a particularly cold night running to hot water up on high in the shower, conditioner in my hair, and suddenly the hot water just totally runs out, and there is no heat lamp or towel. I was SO unhappy, it was a pretty comical moment. It was so inconvenient, it was almost like I had never even considered how wonderful instant hot water is back in the states. Obviously I just bit the bullet and finished up, but it sucked! haha SO anyways, all my people who are stateside, go enjoy a hot shower and run your electric clothes dryer, and think of me and how jealous I am ;)