Monday, October 30, 2006


We hosted a haunted house in our apartments Friday AND Saturday night, and sticking true to form, we waited until Thursday to begin preparing for it. Actually, all we did Thursday was go to the Korean market with Alice and Zoe to buy a few necessary items for our room. Brian, Derek and I were in charge of the "mad scientist" room. It was simple enough; we had a white sheet draped between two coat racks. Behind the sheet was a couch and a lamp with red plastic over the light to create an eerie glow. We also had creeping music playing in the background. Then when our visitors would come to our room, the doctor who was behind the curtain would perform surgery on the patient and pull out his/her intestines, put them in a bowl and hand the bowl to the host who would pass the bowl around to the visitors to feel the intestines. Then the doctor would do the same thing with eyes and tongues. Since the light was behind the doctor and patient and the rest of the room was dark, you could see the shadow of everything the doctor was doing to the patient. It was pretty cool. Our Chinese friends ran that part of the show (Dacy was the host, Zoe the doctor, and Alice the patient). Brian dressed up like Frankenstein's monster, and when Dacy gave the cue (after everyone had felt all the disgusting body parts), he came from my front balcony into my living room to scare the visitors. The first couple times Brian came into the room, he had his arms stretched forward as he walked towards the people, but I guess they thought he was wanting a hug instead of their brains (which was what he was supposed to be going after), and all these boys in the room kept giving him hugs. It was pretty funny, but Brian changed his approach and raised his arms a little over his head so it didn't look so much like he was searching for love! Antasia had fixed my face to look pretty disgusting (like a zombie), and after Brian started scaring people towards the door, I would step out of the closet that's by the door to scare them from behind.

Andrew, Jaime and Darla created a maze of sorts in Brian's room using furniture stacked up on top of each other and strategically placed things like brooms or balls hanging from the ceiling throughout the maze to touch the people as they went through. Then Andrew shaved his head and haunted the people as they tried to make it through the tiniest maze ever created!

On the second floor in Derek's apartment, Antasia, Courtny and Breanna created a fortune telling room. I never saw what they did exactly, but I think they gave people bad fortunes and screamed a lot.

We made a couple dummies too: one which was hanging by a noose outside our building by the entrance to our apartments and one which was just sitting in the stairwell. Derek also dressed up like a dummy and sat between the third and fourth floors. He looked just like the other dummies so people weren't expecting him to jump out at them. I think he caused a lot of traffic jams because once people knew he was alive, they didn't want to walk by him.

Jeremy dressed up like the Grim Reaper. He had a special costume made which looked awesome, and he was in charge of crowd control. He was pretty scary looking, and he carried a toy gun around with him that shoots caps/fireworks of some sort. So if the crowd got a little rowdy, he would shoot the gun off in the air, and it would light up the sky when the bullets exploded.

Cindy had a snack/relax room on the third floor. I don't really know what went on in there because I never got to go, but many of the students who went through the rest of our scary rooms were too scared to even go into Cindy's room. There were several children who kept coming through the haunted house, and they took practically all of Cindy's candy. Cindy only did the snack room Friday night and bowed out of participating Saturday so we just had candy in each of our rooms Saturday which we handed out as everyone left.

Friday night we invited the students at our school, the automotive school, to come through. I don't think we ever counted how many students came through, but there were a lot. We began at seven and went until nine, and there was a crowd near the entrance of our building the entire time. Darla would let small groups go through one at a time since our building is too small to allow big crowds through. The unfortunate thing about Friday night is that our students could recognize us, and they would say things like, "Miss Sides, Miss Sides" while waving their hands in my face. But Saturday night students from the medical and technical colleges came through, and they didn't know Brian or me so we were terrifying to them. We had girls crying and falling on the floor, guys jumping and screaming, and with big groups, a mosh pit erupted as the students would slam into each other, into the wall, into our set just to get away from either Brian or me. We also had more help on Saturday night. Dacy's guy friend, Chery, wanted to help as did our friend Grease. Grease was awesome. At one point, Brian, who was about to die of heatstroke from his costume, allowed Grease to play Frankenstein. He did such a fantastic job! While Grease was playing Frankenstein, Brian hid behind the sheet that was blocking off my kitchen and grabbed people's feet.

Anyway, it was good fun, but I'm glad it's over. It was a lot of work!

Friday night Antasia and Zoe spent the night with me. I planned to go to bed semi-early since Saturday was going to be a long and busy day, but I didn't make to bed until two. I spent Saturday morning tutoring some kids and then cleaning my apartment which was disgusting after the previous night's festivities (people would drop the eyeballs [grapes] or the tongues [dyed mushrooms] on the floor, and then they would get squished. My floor was one giant, sticky mess.

In the afternoon, Alice and the Lewis girls came over. We played badminton, and then Courtny and I went on a wild goose chase for butter. I wanted to make banana bread because after the party Saturday night, we were going to have a girls' sleepover and I needed something to feed them for breakfast. So my afternoon was shot by shopping and baking, and then we had to prepare for Saturday night. After a late dinner at Happy Guy's that night, we returned to my apartment, cleaned up and settled in. Darla, Alice, Zoe, Dacy, Emily (aka, the Chinese girl formerly known as Orange), and the Lewis girls all spent the night. I think everyone enjoyed themselves. Sleepovers are great ways to get to know people better!

Sunday morning we had a full house and after lunch together, many of us came back to Derek's apartment to learn songs that the Chinese don't know very well. We sang for quite awhile - until several people had to leave, and then some of us watched a movie while others of us opted for much needed naps.

Sunday evening Derek and I went over to the Lewis's for dinner. Rena makes amazing home-cooked meals! We later went to Andrew and Jaime's to meet with those who weren't able to meet with us in the morning. Jakie and Frank weren't able to spend any time with us this weekend because they had a big test on Sunday morning, but we did see them last night looking pretty relieved but avoiding the topic of how well they did on their test! There are several family members I don't get to visit with very often from the other side of town so I was grateful for last night to be able to see them.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006


Last Thursday was Breanna's 13th birthday so we celebrated it with her on Friday evening. Rena is like supermom and decked out their apartment in Sponge Bob stuff (Breanna's favorite show). It was awesome. The place was decorated like Bikini Bottom, and Rena made a special dinner with menu items like "Crabby Patties" (small hamburgers), "Sandy's nuts" (peanuts), pizza and jello jigglers (I can't remember the clever names for the latter two). I went over to their house Friday afternoon to help decorate, and everyone else came over after five thirty-ish. I don't know the final count, but most of the Americans came and several Chinese students as well. We played several games, and Rena gave out buckets of prizes. It was one of the coolest birthday parties I've ever seen.


On Friday and Saturday, students from our school participated in a school-wide sports meet that is held once a year. Opening ceremonies began Friday morning pretty early, but I pulled myself out of bed to attend them. They had a few performances including a spectacular one showcasing the long dragons that are carried by several people holding them up with sticks. I can't explain them well, but before I came, I always saw these dragons used in any kind of celebration. It was pretty neat to finally see them personally. The boys showed up a little later, and we sat with the English Department. Each department had it's own section in the bleachers surrounding the track and field.

The races were pretty typical of a track and field competition: 100 m, 200 m, 400 m, 5 k (3 k for girls), triple jump, polevault, etc. A few of our students participated so it was fun to cheer for them. The whole atmosphere was totally different than competitions in the States. It seemed so unorganized. There were a lot of people everywhere, and spectators would stand on the track to get a better view of the people running so there were workers whose job it was to specifically push people back behind the lines and off the track. While the students were running, people from different departments would give words of encouragement over the loud speaker. Some of our English students wanted our help in writing these statements, and Derek told them to say, "Go big or go home!" which they did. Then we were called up to the announcement box to read a statement over the loud speaker. Of course, Derek was the one who took the microphone. He read the statement that was provided him, and then he asked if he could say one more thing. They gave him the microphone back, and he yelled, "Let's get ready to rumble!!" in the loudest voice possible, and the stands erupted in clapping. It was pretty funny. Anyway, the person who heads up the radio club enjoyed all this so much that they have decided to have an "English corner" on the radio once a week with us as guests when we have the time. I'm not sure if it will pan out, but it could be interesting.

Saturday I went back to the meet and hung out with Zoe and her friends through lunch time. They had some different competitions on Saturday: a race where two people must carry a lot of soccer balls one at a time from one place to another using only their backs and a race similar to the three-legged race only with 20 people instead of two. Also, on Saturday the teachers participated in the races. We were invited to participate the day of the races, but none of us are in the shape we need to be in in order to compete so we declined. Maybe next time...


Saturday afternoon Courtny and Jeremy came over. The three of us and the boys went to the gym to play badminton - a first here for me. It's so much fun! There's a guy who runs the gym who is pretty much the gym nazi. He gets angry easily, and you don't want to get on his bad side. I don't think he was too happy about Jeremy and Courtny playing with us - a fact we found out the next day - because, apparently, the gym is only for teachers and students of our school.


Saturday night many of us met in Cindy's apartment for a ladies' get together. It was encouraging and uplifting. We have some wonderful ladies here! Afterwards, we went up to Brian's apartment, and I taught some of our Chinese friends how to play Nertz. It was fun but didn't last long because many of our friends had to head back home.

Alice, a friend from the medical school, and Courtny stayed the night with me. It's nice having friends stay over. In the morning, I made muffins, the boys came up, and we all enjoyed muffins and coffee for breakfast.

After our meeting and lunch at Happy Guy's, we went back to the gym to play badminton. Keri, a super quiet girl who we only see once a week, came with us to play. She's a fantastic badminton player and put us all to shame! The gym nazi seemed kind of upset with us because we didn't bring our teacher cards that prove we are teachers, which is something we didn't know we were supposed to do, but Keri is friends with him so she smoothed things over.

Later in the afternoon we made brownies and watched Joe vs. the Volcano which Brian had found randomly mixed in among the DVDs at one of the DVD stores. It's pretty much the worst/best movie ever!


Two of the crazy freshmen girls, Christina and Abbi, and two of their friends, Dustin and I forget the other one's name, came over Sunday night to play games. We tried teaching them Nertz, but Christina was pretty vocal about not liking it so after awhile, we switched to UNO - a game which never fails to please those who play it. At some point during the evening, Dustin suggested that Christina sing for us. Once one person suggests a performance, there is NO getting out of it so Christina and Dustin sang a love song duet. Then they told Derek it was his turn to sing and that he must choose a partner. Having said that, they pointed to me! We decided to sing Father, I Adore You in rounds with Derek and Brian leading and Alice, Courtny and I following. The freshmen loved it, and Christina said, "Perhaps next time I see my father I can sing it to him." (:


Tuesday evening three of my students came over (Sean and Maya from one class and Sophia from another) to watch a movie, The Legend of 1900. I had never heard of the film, but I was browsing in a DVD store with Sophia a couple weeks back, and she got really emotional about the film promising me that I would cry when I watched it. She almost started crying right there in the store just from thinking about it! So I thought I couldn't pass this tear jerker of a film up, bought it, and invited Sophia and the others over to watch it. Unfortunately, a fourth of the way through it, the DVD stopped playing. We couldn't figure out what was wrong with it so we eventually gave up and put in Monsters, Inc. per Brian's suggestion, I might add. I think Maya was the only one who enjoyed it. Sophia and her two roommates, Sammi and Nancy, left early, and Sean fell asleep!


Today Brian, Grease, Zoe and I attempted to play badminton at two different times, but both times the courts were unavailable. So tonight Zoe asked if she could come over to learn some words. I thought, of course, she meant English words because she has a pretty big English exam coming up in December she needs to study for, but when she and Grease came into my apartment, Zoe asked if I could teach her Spanish. So for about an hour we went over some basics while I appreciated the irony of teaching a Chinese person Spanish in China using English!

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

LATER PLAYER (latah playah)

Apparently Derek is a huge fan of ghetto slang because he's always throwing out phrases that we inevitably have to explain to the Chinese friends or students around us. The phrase he uses most often is "Latah Playah" when he's saying goodbye to someone. Unfortunately, he's teaching our sponge-like students this phrase too! After class today I was speaking to one of my students, Sean, who is really intelligent. He's sort of the typical nerdy type, intelligent guy, but he's really cool and nice too. Anyway, he was asking me if we could get together this evening to discuss American/Chinese customs. After our conversation, I told him goodbye - to which he replied, "Oh, uh, later player." Uhhhh! Derek!


This afternoon Angel called me and asked me to come down immediately to retrieve a letter she had in her office. Everything must always be done immediately when Angel is in charge. Anyway, the letter was from a woman who is a member of our family in Edmond. She teaches the girls who are in the Tabitha Club, a really cool club for young ladies in our family (9-11 year olds). Each girl had written me a note on construction paper cut-outs of pumpkins, apples, and leaves - telling me a little about themselves and offering me encouragement. It was so cool! They have adopted me as a pen pal and will write me a letter once a month. I am so excited about this and can't wait to receive more notes.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006


Day of Splurge

Tuesdays are my free days, and I've learned to really cherish them. I spent the morning reading and talking to family on Skype. I was able to talk to two of my brothers and their wives, which was nice considering we haven't talked since I left the States.

After noon Brian and I went to get foot rubs. We tried a new place, and I'm glad we did because they did a better job than the first place we went to. Afterwards, we decided to continue the "day of splurge" and went to UBC, the coffee shop, where we read and drank fancy coffees.

Terror in the Classroom

Brian and I teach the same class on Monday nights; it's such a large class that the English department split it into two classes - Brian teaches one and I teach the other. Last night we wanted to show a movie to our classes, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, so we decided to combine our classes instead of buying two movies. After taking roll, my class went upstairs to Brian's room where he informed me that his classroom computer would not play the DVD, and his personal computer would not connect to his classroom computer so playing the DVD in his room was not an option. Then we moved the entire class down to my room (80 something students, by the way). However, my classroom computer would not play the DVD either, and we weren't having any luck hooking Brian's computer to my classroom computer. We just looked at each other and were like, what are we going to do? We had 80 some students expecting to watch a movie which didn't look like an option any longer, and we hadn't prepared any backup plan to cover the three periods our class lasts. Just when I was sure I would soon experience a stroke, Brian's computer connected to my classroom computer, and the movie was projected onto the wall. Unfortunately, we didn't have the right cable to connect the sound from Brian's computer to the classroom computer so the loudest the sound would go was as high as Brian's computer volume would go. Clearly, that would not be loud enough, but, fortunately, each classroom has a small microphone that the teachers can use while lecturing so we turned it on and placed the microphone on the speakers of Brian's computer. It worked, but it also projected the sound of the vibrations caused by the rotating of the DVD in Brian's computer. Anyway, it was better than nothing, and we were able to watch all but the last few seconds of the movie (apparently, at a certain time, the power to the computers is shut off in all the classrooms, and this happened right before the very last lines of the film were spoken!). Anyway, the whole thing stressed me out a bit, but next time we will know exactly what it takes to show a movie in our classes.

Friday Luncheon with the Ladies

Friday Cindy and I met Jaime and Rena near the medical school for lunch. It was a ladies only get together and our first. It's kind of nice to be part of a ladies group; I'm so used to my identity being merely a college student (which has its perks like little responsibility or expectation), but I am glad to be away from all the perceptions of being a college student (like the lack of responsibility and expectation!), and it's good to be identified with the ladies. We're going to try to meet together at least once a month from now on.

Saturday Spent with Sophia

In my Monday night class, there are a couple girls whom I adore because they are always smiling and always receptive and always interested in class. They make me feel like a good teacher whether I am or not. One of the girls is Sophia. Last year she apparently spent a lot of time with the foreign teachers, but all of those she hung out with have left. So she called me Friday to see if I wanted to have lunch with her Saturday. I jumped at the chance to get to know her better so around 11:30 we met at the bus stop and left to find her favorite restaurant. Sophia's a really neat girl. She has a great heart, and I have high hopes for her. We spent several hours together shopping. One of her roommates joined us, and we walked along Wuyen - the shopping street here in Shiyan. It was a good way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

Sunday Night - Home Alone

We had invited the Rice Boys (4 guys Derek met awhile back whose English is lacking but good nature is not) and the Four Crazy Amigas (the freshmen girls who had taken us to dinner several weeks back) to Derek's apartment to watch the newest Jackie Chan movie - the one that has babies with chest hair (we don't understand it either!). They all (and a few others) showed up, but the Jackie Chan movie was only in Chinese without English subtitles so we opted to watch Home Alone instead. It's a classic favorite, and I forgot how much I like it. Our guests, especially the crazy girls, were entertaining as usual. I wish everyone could meet them because it's impossible to adequately describe their typical antics.

Chinese Casanova

There's this senior guy who is not technically in my Thursday night class but has requested to attend it anyway to improve his English. This isn't an out-of-the-ordinary request by any means. But this particular guy is one of the smoothest speakers I've ever known (and I'm not talking about his English ability). For instance, one evening I was sitting outside one of the teaching buildings reading, and Derek and this particular guy whose English name is Crystal came out of the building. Derek had just finished teaching and was hungry so the three of us and this other guy who I had been talking to decided to go to Happy Guy's. As we were walking, Crystal and I were catching up: we hadn't seen each other in a few weeks. Crystal told me he was good at reading people based on first time impressions. I asked him what his impression was of me (since that's what he was getting at), and he merely said, "Wonderful", with an adorable smile. Later when we were at Happy Guy's, I poured everyone a glass of hot water, and Crystal said, "Water poured by a woman must be sweet." He's a self-proclaimed spoiled city boy from Beijing, but I think Derek and Brian could learn a few things from him!

Sunday, October 08, 2006


Back to reality, I guess. School resumes today after a week long hiatus. We were given the entire week off to celebrate China's national holiday. I'm not up to date on my Chinese holidays yet, but I do know that Friday (the 6th) was Mid-Autumn Day (aka, the Moon Festival) where everyone supposedly spends the day with their families, eats moon cakes and looks at the moon which is supposed to be full that night. Although, I talked to several Chinese people who didn't even eat one moon cake! I was so disappointed. Plus, in Shiyan the sky was too cloudy to see the moon. Mid-Autumn Day was the only cloudy day all week.

Derek and I joined Jakie and Frank on quite a long journey to Shanghai where his brother and sister live. We left Friday afternoon at 4:30 from the bus station. We decided to take a sleeper bus which is exactly what it sounds like - a bus filled with beds instead of seats. There are three rows of bunk beds with two aisles in between each set of bunk beds. It's really difficult to explain seeing as we have nothing similar to it in America. But it was pretty much awesome! I slept quite a bit, read some, talked some and watched a few movies. There were two ridiculous Chinese movies with English subtitles and one American movie (The Medallion with Jackie Chan) which had been dubbed and had no subtitles, but since I only watch a Jackie Chan movie for the action anyway, I still enjoyed it!

We arrived in Shanghai 20 hours later. It was a LONG trip, but since we could sleep a lot, it wasn't so bad. Jakie's siblings don't live far from the train station so it wasn't long before we arrived at their apartment. They weren't home yet so we went for lunch at a Muslim noodle shop. The Muslims are well known for their noodles. Even in Shiyan the noodle restaurants are run by Muslims.

We returned to the apartment where we basically hung out the rest of the day. Jessie, Jakie's sister, came home around five-ish. Jessie works for a Taiwanese English magazine, and her English is incredible. She is so well read and knows more about western literature than I do! She made dinner for us while we began watching the first season of PRISON BREAK. I never really cared to watch it, but we weren't going to do anything else that evening so we ended up watching like six or seven episodes in a row. Shameful, I know! We were actually waiting for Darla to arrive. Darla is a returning American teacher at the medical school (where Andrew, Jaime and Brad teach), but she hadn't joined us in Shiyan yet because she had been waiting for her sister-in-law to have a child. Anyway, she and Jakie and Frank are really good friends so she was flying in to Shanghai to spend the week vacationing with us.

Darla arrived sometime after eleven and after some catching up, we all went to bed. Darla and I shared a room so we spent awhile updating each other on some things: I caught her up on everything that's happened in her absence, and she gave me a lot of background info on the people I know now as well as on different things that happened last year. She's from Tennessee so we actually share a lot in common - two Southern girls and all.

The next morning the boys, Darla, Jessie and I caught a train to Hangzhou. Hangzhou is famous for its beauty. In fact, some saying goes that the skies have heaven, but the earth has Hangzhou - or something similar that probably sounds much more poetic! We arrived in Hangzhou after noon sometime and tried to catch a bus to our hotel. We had a lot of difficulty, however, and finally decided to take a taxi. It seems everyone and their dogs were trying to get taxis too so we spent a really long time trying to hail down two taxis (since there were six of us, and they don't allow you to pile into their taxis like they are clown cars).

When we did finally get a couple taxis, they brought us to a hotel which Jessie's friend who works there had pulled some strings to get us in. It was a military hotel, and we were given a really good deal for the rooms. Unfortunately, no one told us that foreigners were forbidden to enter the gates of the hotel - only veterans and military personnel. So they recommended some other hotel to us and worked out a much lower price for the rooms than what we were supposed to actually pay. However, we almost had a problem with that because Darla forgot her passport, and they didn't want to let us in without each of the foreigners' passports registered. Fortunately, Jessie is the master negotiator and worked things out.

We ate that night in the expensive hotel restaurant, and afterwards all of us, minus Darla who wanted to take a nap, walked around West Lake - one of the main attractions of Hangzhou. There were a lot of people walking around enjoying the fresh night air and beautiful scenery. After our walk, we returned back to our apartments to do what we normally do on Sundays but hadn't yet had time to do. Jessie joined us to "watch"; she is searching, I think, but she's quite an intellectual in the negative sense of the word, and I think she just needs more time to study. Remember her!

Monday we had our hotel's van take us out to Dragon Tea Village - a small village famous for its tea. We first walked along a pathway crossing several streams and passing terraced earth planted fully with tea plants. It was so beautiful. After walking a short while, we arrived in the Dragon Tea Village. Last year the government made the people living in this village build lavish homes to perhaps increase the image of the village. The homes were ridiculously huge and cost a lot of money which the homeowners had to shell out personally.

Since it was too early to eat, we just wandered around the village. There was a VIP entrance which would have cost 10 kuai to enter. We didn't want to spend that so we took another route. We walked up some trail that led through the tea plants. Jessie and Darla took a rest while the boys and I climbed higher up the mountain. We wanted to reach the top so we cut through some areas that didn't look like real paths. While we were up there, we heard some people yelling and singing so we yelled back. Before long the workers, or the ladies picking the tea leaves, began singing traditional Chinese songs which radiated throughout the mountains. It was incredible. All we could do was yell "RICCOLA!" in return. (: We climbed pretty high and found a map which said the next nearest destination spot was a 30 minute walk so we decided to go back to the girls. Instead of going back to the trail, we took the more interesting route - straight down the mountain. It was fun. Derek about bit it several times, but we all made it in one piece. We came back to the village taking a different route - one that spit us out into the VIP area where we were supposed to have paid to enter. We didn't know what we should do because if we walked by the gate, the guards would clearly remember us from before and know we didn't pay. So we decided that Jakie, Jessie and Frank would leave first since they're Chinese and not so identifiable as the rest of us. Then we would leave a couple minutes later, and if the guards tried to say anything to us, we would say, "ting bu dong" (I don't understand) and keep walking. But we weren't stopped so it all worked out.

For lunch we ate at a place Jessie had tried once before. We ordered fish soup, chicken soup, and a bunch of other dishes. It took awhile to prepare our meal because they killed the chicken fresh, and Derek and I actually watched a guy kill and gut the fish for the fish soup. The meal was good, and we also drank some of the tea from the village. It was pretty expensive, and I couldn't tell the difference between it and the tea we normally drink. Then again, the Chinese people here can't tell the difference between Nescafe instant coffee and Starbucks coffee so I guess I haven't been raised to be a tea connoisseur like they haven't been raised to be coffee connoisseurs.

There was a rumored bamboo forest which we next set off to find. We had a map of Hangzhou, and we kept asking locals where to go. We started walking through the fields of tea, and the area was pretty steep. Then we entered a wooded area, and it got REALLY steep, even sporting several switch backs. I got quite a bit ahead of the others, and then Frank and Jakie caught up. We stopped to wait on the others, but only Derek showed up to tell us the girls were stopping, and Jessie thought we were going the wrong way. I wasn't ready to give up yet so while the boys grabbed a snack, I told them I would go a little further to make sure we weren't near the bamboo forest. I went for quite a ways, and finally the trail opened up onto a paved pathway leading higher. I remembered the word for bamboo and asked a couple people where it was. They kept pointing up the pathway, but I was concerned about the others so I called Jessie and let her talk to a Chinese guy to get directions. It turned out that we were headed the right way. So everyone finally met up with me, we rested for a bit, and then set off. We were actually a greater distance away from the bamboo forest than we realized (and it's probably a good thing we didn't realize it), but we walked down hundreds of steps before reaching our destination at last. It was well worth the ridiculous hike, though. At the bottom of what I assume is a sort of valley was a small area with a restaurant, a temple and several other attractions.

While there we tried lotus powder which is made into a porridge of some sort. On top was sprinkled the flower from the guai tree - my absolute favorite tree here so far. When it blooms, its smell permeates the air, and it is the sweetest smell ever. It even masks the smell of rotting garbage and some of the other interesting smells we usually encounter in the streets of China - like stinky tofu! Anyway, the lotus powder porridge was amazing. I loved it so much that when we went shopping at a big grocery store a few days later, I bought some instant lotus powder porridge which I've yet to try.


Our train for Shanghai didn't leave until 9 p.m. Tuesday night so we had all day to hang out in Hangzhou. We mostly just stayed around West Lake. We took a small boat onto the lake for a few minutes. We were hoping to take it around the lake, which is huge, but the boatman only kept us out there for maybe 10 minutes - which just happened to be enough time for the boys to teach Derek how to harrass and embarrass Chinese ladies by saying the equivalent to "What's up, Baby. Come over here and give me a kiss." Of course, he's said it so many times since then that I can now add that phrase, as well as "I'm going to eat your table" which Derek uses at restaurants quite frequently, to the small number of phrases I can already say.

After boating we walked around part of the lake. It was really crowded, and we saw quite a few foreigners. Jakie and Frank know English really well including a lot of slang. Whenever they saw foreigners (white people), they would say things like, "What's up, man?" or "What's up, Baby?", depending on the sex of the person, or they would just say "Cracker" every time they saw a whitey. They think "cracker" is absolutely hilarious to say when refering to a white person. Of course, they said all this under their breath so as to avoid offending anyone.

We took a break in a grassy park area. We had our backpacks with us so it was nice to lay them down and relax for awhile. Jessie, Jakie and Frank wanted to rent a few bikes and bike around West Lake, but the three of us Americans opted to relax in the park and eat ice cream - thus reinforcing the image that Americans are lazy and Chinese are active! (: We spent most of the time watching a group of young Chinese people playing some version of duck, duck, goose. It seemed that no one wanted to sit by us because when you looked around, you could see pockets of people congregated closely together, but around us was a rather large, empty space. We did have a few people ask to take pictures with us. I wonder how many times I show up in other peoples' photo albums. "On my holiday vacation, I saw an American..."

When our Chinese friends finally returned, we decided to eat dinner at a Papa Johns that was nearby. On the street with the Papa Johns, there was a Starbucks, Dairy Queen, TCBY and perhaps some other American restaurants! We had little time before our train left, but we downed some breadsticks and two pizzas before rushing off. It was so good! It was my first taste of western food since I left over a month ago.

We got back to Shanghai late and slept in the next day. We didn't really have much of an agenda Wednesday. We went grocery shopping and bought stuff to make hamburgers for lunch. We watched some more PRISON BREAK and pretty much just hung out all day. That night Jessie and Neo (her Shanghainese boyfriend) took us to the famous downtown area of Shanghai. We saw all the skyscrapers you see in the movies (the Pearl Tower and the two important skyscrapers in Mission Impossible 3). Since it was night time, everything was lit up. We also walked along the river. There were several boats along the river including one carrying a cinema sized tv which broadcasted commericals with Yao Ming and Jakie Chan and other famous Chinese people. We found a Starbucks, ordered some drinks, and sat out on the patio overlooking the river and the rest of the downtown area.

Before returning home, we stopped for a really late dinner at a barbecue place. Everything tasted really good, but it wasn't even close to our barbecue back home.


Thursday we were given the option of going outside the city to some nearby towns (one where MI:3 was filmed or another that is known as China's Venice). Since my cash flow was getting low, I suggested just hanging out in Shanghai and getting to know the city better. Everyone else agreed that that would be a better choice so Jessie and Neo acted as our tour guides and took us to some of the local tourist hot spots. I can't even begin to explain the places we went to, and unfortunately, Derek didn't bring his camera so I couldn't even show pictures. Basically, we walked through several areas that have a lot of western shops dealing with high fashion, foods, etc. as well as a lot of touristy souvenirs. It was cool to see. We had fried quail on a stick and bought a Dairy Queen blast to share among all of us. I was constantly surprised by how much our Chinese friends enjoyed the greasy, sweet or terribly fattening American food, but they loved pizza, hamburgers, Starbucks and Dairy Queen a lot!

We pretty much spent the afternoon walking around. Since we were in the touristy part of town, we ran into tons of British and German tour groups and many Americans too. It was interesting seeing so many foreigners. In Shiyan there are very few foreigners.

Thursday night we ate street hot pot. You can choose whatever foods you want to be put in your very own hot pot, and they cook it for you. They call it crazy hot pot, but it was pretty good. Usually, anything I didn't like, Frank or Neo would eat it and anything anyone else didn't like, I would eat it.


Jessie wanted to cook some Chinese food for us Friday before we left around 9 p.m. that night. So in the morning we first went to a Carre-four, a French/Chinese joint supermarket. They are supposed to have foods we don't have here in Shiyan, which I think they do, but we wanted cocoa powder, which they didn't have. We did buy a lot of snacks and things for the train ride home that night.

Next we stopped by this special bakery shop - Lillian's bakery. Jessie said it is the best bakery shop in Shanghai so we bought some egg tarts which were amazing. There was cheese tart that Jessie said was horrible, but Derek bought one anyway for us to try. It turned out to be cheese cake! It was awesome, but none of the Chinese with us liked it. Then Jessie bought each of us a beautiful pastry to have after dinner later.

After buying veggies and some meat at the outdoor market, we went home where Jessie prepared a fantastic lunch. When lunch was over, the boys wanted back rubs so everyone left but Jessie and me. We immediately began working on dinner. It took a really long time to get dinner ready, but when everyone returned, we had just enough time to eat dinner, eat our pastries, grab our stuff and run to catch the tram. The tram took us to the train station where we parted with Jessie and Jon (Jakie and Jessie's other brother who is a professional cook at one of the Shanghainese restaurants and who worked so much we seldom saw him) and boarded the train. We each had beds on the train so we were able to sleep a lot. Well, I was able to sleep a lot, anyway. When we first got on the train, Derek made friends with two little kids - a boy and a girl. They NEVER left us alone after that. They climbed all over our beds and woke Derek up whenever he tried to sleep. They climbed all over Frank like he was a jungle gym, and they yelled a lot. Fortunately, I can sleep through anything.

Twenty-two hours later we arrived in Shiyan. Jakie, Frank and Darla headed for the medical school, and Derek and I came home to unload our stuff. We then met back up at Happy Guy's. It had been too long since we'd had some good sweet and sour pork and some of our other staples here.