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: