Tuesday, January 30, 2007


From Hoi An the Lewises and our crew of five took a torturously long bus ride overnight down to Mui Ne, a small coastal town which is becoming an ever increasingly popular spot for kite surfing. Our plan from the beginning was to spend a few days hanging out at the beach and just enjoy both relaxing and simply remaining in a single spot for more than one day.

There's really not a lot to the Mui Ne we saw most of the time. There's one long stretch of road that is dotted with hotels and resorts on the left and shops and restaurants on the right. On the other side of the hotels is the ocean. We spent the first day walking down the strip and swimming a little. The waves were terribly strong, though, and it wasn't long before I was ready to be out of the water. Yesterday morning, however, the water was perfect. The tide was lower and the waves were more gentle.

I realized after the first day that I'm not really a beach person. I get bored quickly, and there wasn't much to explore in the area where we were staying. It seemed that the others felt the same way too so we decided we would leave on the one a.m. bus for Saigon. Since we had the whole day to kill, we rented bicycles and biked down the road a little ways to a little spring called Fairy Springs. The water was really low, and the bed was purely sand so we were able to take our sandals off and walk along the middle of the spring. The spring was in a valley, and on either side of it were the most beautiful, multi-colored sand walls. The sand was blazing hot to climb on, and when the wind blew (which it does frequently in Mui Ne), we would be pelted by thousands of grains of sand. We got sand everywhere - in our hair, in our teeth, under our nails - everywhere. But it was really cool. We walked awhile and found two routes to a rather insignificant waterfall. Yve, Tommy and I took the high road and ended up on top of the small waterfall while Jeremy, Derek and Janice remained below. The top was the place to be, in my opinion, because it opened up into a beautiful oasis of sorts. There were coconut and tamarind trees all around so I immediately took off exploring. I crossed the spring by walking over fallen coconut trees and came upon some rice paddies. I'm not sure how they can have such fruitful vegetation in such a sandy location, but there were fields everywhere. Tommy caught up to me, and as we waited for the others to arrive, a local boy approached us with a coconut. He wanted to lead us somewhere (a persistant ploy to get us to pay him money), but we declined for quite some time. Eventually, when we realized the others weren't coming, we set off with the little boy. He led us past the rice paddies, through a desert-type area to a little ghost town. It was so strange. There was a nice little dirt road with a few tin houses on both sides. Nobody was around. It was so quiet. We walked along the road just a short ways and decided we should head back. As we did, two little kids popped out of one of the tin houses and started yelling "hello's" at us and waving. After we passed by, they went back inside and the town went back to being eerily quiet.

On the way back, we walked on a muddy pathway between two rice paddies, and Tommy got some pretty amazing pictures. Our little buddy stopped us at a tree, climbed to the top of it, and began picking something from it. When he descended the tree and rejoined us, he had two tamarinds in hand and gave one to each of us. The fruit was really sour but strangely interesting.

We soon rejoined the group and headed back down the spring to retrieve our bikes. I had put my flipflops in my little backpack which Janice was carrying which was okay because I planned to bike back barefoot. Tommy and Janice took off a ways ahead of the rest of us, and as I stopped to wait for the others, I noticed a map of Mui Ne. If we went back to the main part of town, I figured we would just sit around and nap a little and do what we had been doing for the last day and a half. Or I could bike the other way and come across a fishing village, a church, and eventually the great sand dunes. I didn't like the first option, and the second option was full of so many possibilities so I told Derek and Jeremy I was heading the other direction. Yve, who is always up for anything, readily joined me and we took off in the opposite direction from town - me shoe-less and money-less and Yve with camera in hand.

The cool thing about traveling this way is that there's no schedule and we can stop whenever we want. We first stopped at this stone walkway that sloped down to the beach because there were hundreds of fishing boats in the water. I think this was the fishing village, but it was so fantastic to see so many boats in such a small area. While we were taking in the view, a couple little girls ran up to us to sell us seashells. Of course, I had no money (and didn't want any seashells) so they stopped trying to sell them to us and began jumping on our bikes for us to take them for rides. So Yve and I spent the next few minutes with between one and two girls riding on our bicycles with us. They were really cute.

Right after that we came to a fork in the road. As we were trying to decide which direction to go, several guys (mostly boys) came up to us. Yve got a really cool tattoo on her right leg while we were still in China, and the guys were fascinated by it. Everyone was congregating around her to touch the tattoo, and then they giggled like little school girls afterwards. It was funny, and the guys were pretty nice, but we quickly moved on.

We road down to the sand dunes where you can rent sheets of metal to slide down the hills. Since we didn't have much money on us, we just rolled down them ourselves. It was awesome! We made friends with the kids who were renting the sleds. One girl spoke perfect English which she did not learn in school (since none of the kids go to school), but rather learned from her three years of working with tourists. I was so amazed. Anyway, we did walk up a huge hill and looked out over the sand dunes. It was pretty beautiful and best of all, free! So, again after giving some kids bike rides, we set off. Instead of heading back the same route, we took a different road which took us through the countryside. There was this little boy who couldn't have been older than ten riding this insanely huge bicycle going in the opposite direction of us, but after passing by, he turned around and began following behind. I motioned for him to race me, and we began this impromptu Tour de France down the highway. He's a quick kid, and I maintain that he had an unfair advantage with multiple gears, but I do stand defeated! Anyway, we kept biking for awhile. The Vietnamese people are some of the friendliest people I've ever met. They always smile and greet us. The men are kind of typical sleaze bags and would make cat calls as we passed by, but the children are great. We did run across a goat farm and walked over to pet some of the goats. It was a little gross since I still had no shoes and was walking on goat pellets, but I sort of got used to that as a kid. Anyhoo - too much information - we turned around shortly after all that and headed back. Our little biker friend went a really long ways with us, even when we picked up two little kids for a quick bicycle ride, our faithful companion stayed at our side. Eventually, he left without saying goodbye, which was a little sad. Yve and I were enthralled with this cow drawn cart, and after we passed it, the boy was gone.

Anyway, we continued towards home, and as we came upon that stone walkway overlooking the fishing village, we decided to stop to watch the sun set. First we grabbed a couple sandwiches (they make the best sandwiches here), and then we sat down on the side of the walkway to enjoy the food and the view. Our friends from before, the seashell selling girls, came over and joined us. They shared their popcorn with us and then brushed off all the sand we still had on us from rolling down the dunes. Then we chatted for a bit, and upon realizing that the sunset was not going to be very spectacular, we left.

Yvonne is in love with the idea of finding and eating a fresh coconut. The first day we arrived, she found a rotten one on the sidewalk, picked it up, opened it and began eating a little of the rotten meat. It was pretty tasteless (yes, I tried it), but she refused to throw it away. She refuses to throw any food away, good or bad. But as more and more locals began pointing at the coconut and shaking their fingers at her and telling her she shouldn't eat it, she finally threw it down.

So on our way back from our bicycle tour, she found another coconut on the side of the road. She picked it up, put it in my basket, and when we returned to the Lewis' hotel room (we had already checked out of our own), she decided - after everyone but she and I were gone eating supper and after one of the "motobike" guys at the hotel told her to throw it away - to break it open on the brick floor in the Lewis' apartment. It exploded and brown goo went all over the floor. I'm still not sure quite what she was thinking when she decided to slam the coconut down on the floor inside someone else's apartment (or what I was thinking by letting her do it!), but she did get it open.

After cleaning up the big mess which I'm pretty sure there are still remnants of on the curtains, we walked down to the beach, grabbed a beach chair and began chomping away on this rotten coconut. Actually, this one was mildly better than the last one. We were really enjoying ourselves when the "motobike" guy from before happened upon us. He again told us how bad the coconut was and why we shouldn't eat it (I think he mentioned the hospital, but I'm not really sure) and then said he would get one for us. So immediately he climbed this tall coconut tree like a monkey, grabbed a big coconut, dropped it to the ground and descended all within the span of maybe a minute. It was amazing. He made it look so easy, but when I tried to climb the tree, I failed miserably. Anway, our friend soon disappeared and returned shortly with a machete and three straws. He went to work quickly cutting away the green outer shell and then drilled a small whole in the top of the coconut with the point of the machete. After dropping two of the staws into the whole, he handed it to us and disappeared again. Yve and I sat down again in the beach chair and guzzled so much coconut milk, I thought my stomach would explode. We couldn't believe how much milk there was in this sucker. We drank and drank and drank and actually couldn't finish it all so when our friend returned, he killed it, as Yve would say, and then he tinkered with the coconut for a couple seconds and it split right in half. What a difference between Yve's salvaged rotten coconuts and a ripe good one! The meat was half an inch thick, and Nam (I think that's this guy's name), cut the meat away from the shell for us. It was so good. Again Nam disappeared and returned with a little bowl of sugar for us to dip our coconut meat it. The three of us just sat out on the beach, listening to the high tide pounding in, eating coconut and talking. It turned out that Nam is not merely the "motobike" man, but his family actually owns the hotel where the Lewis' are staying and where we would always eat breakfast in the morning and drink the worst coffee I've ever had and play cards at night (our hotel was across the street).

Later that evening, after a shower to remove painful sand particules, and a quick round of spades, Yve and I jumped on Nam and his friend's motorcycles and headed quickly - oh, so very quickly! - to an outdoor restaurant where we had delicious syrupy coffee and attempted to converse with these guys. Nam speaks English pretty well, but I could almost never understand his friend, and, stangely and unforutunately, his friend did most of the talking. But we returned before ten where I quickly took a nap on Courtny's bed. Apparently I missed all the fun/partying because Tommy was rather loosened up, to put it gently, when I was awoken to grab my things and wait on the street for the bus to pick us up. It was about 1 a.m. when we went to the street with our baggage. A couple New Zealand guys hung out with us for a bit. They seemed like pretty cool guys, but I didn't get to talk with them long. As we were talking, three American guys wandered over to our little posse for a little chat. All three of them are Peace Corps Volunteers in Mongolia! They are loving their experience so far and totally reinforced my desire to want to join the Peace Corps one day.

Anyway, during all this late night chatting, Tommy wandered off in search of something, and the bus pulled up ready to take us to Saigon. Tommy was nowhere in sight. We hesitated and didn't know what to do so finally Derek dropped his stuff with me and took off running in the direction Tommy had left. The rest of us were dragging our feet and being as slow as we could be to postpone the bus's departure. Luckily, Tommy came over the hill just in time and just barely made it to the bus. But we all got on safely, endured a very long bus ride (even though it was only about four hours), and arrived in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) this morning around 6. Since then we've had breakfast, got a hotel, and rested. We're going to check out the city this afternoon and probably leave tomorrow for a boat trip down the Mekong Delta on our way to Phnom Penh, Cambodia. We're not too interested in spending much time in big cities. They're too loud, too expensive and too busy. We don't want another Hanoi on our hands so we're splittin' fast...

Friday, January 26, 2007


We left Hue yesterday morning for Hoi An. We have these open bus tickets which we purchased in Hanoi. With them, you can travel to Saigon stopping at six places along the way. You can choose how long you want to stay in each place, and then jump back on the open bus when you're ready to leave. It's pretty convenient, I guess, but yesterday we wanted to leave from Hoi An in the afternoon (we arrived in the morning), but the open bus was already full so we were forced to stay over one night. It's not such a bad place to have to stay over, but we were ready to head further south to the Mui Ne beaches.

We haven't done much in Hoi An. Yesterday afternoon/evening we walked around town. It's so touristy and full of shops. I guess one problem with the open bus tickets is that every other tourist buys them as well so we end up seeing fellow travelers at every stop of the way. It's kind of strange, actually. Anyway, after dinner I walked around by myself and found a nice, quiet coffee shop to relax in. I'm not sure what the others did, but we retired early (which is abnormal for us).

Since I went to bed so early, I woke up pretty early and decided to go for a run in the opposite direction of all the tourist shops. I went quite a distance (walking, mostly) and went through a few nice villages. The sunrise was really nice over the fields, and it was such an enjoyable way to begin the day.

This afternoon we again rented bicycles and went to the nearby beach. We didn't stay long because it turned chilly and started raining a little bit. The beach was kind of nice, though, and I think it was Janice's first time to see it.

Our bus leaves tonight at 6 pm, and we've been finding it a little difficult to kill so much time here. I have a strange feeling about Hoi An. It's nice, and I feel comfortable here, but it seems really fake. It's pretty westernized, and I get the feeling the entire atmosphere (cafes, architecture, the laissez-faire attitude of the people) is wholly created for the western foreigners who come here and spend tons of money. Maybe I'm wrong, but that's the feeling I get when I look around and feel more like I'm in Europe than Vietnam. But, like I said, it's nice. I am ready to move on, though.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007


Yesterday we arrived in Hue around 10 am. Hue is a little town in the center of Vietnam. Even though Derek had told all of us that the weather would be warm and sunny when we hit Vietnam, we've had nothing but rain and chilly weather, and yesterday was no exception.

After arriving, haggling over hotel prices, getting checked in and eating, the majority of us (minus Rena and Antasia) rented bicycles, with the exception of Tommy who rented a motorbike, and began riding towards what we saw on the map to be old tombs. Just as we began riding down the street, the rain began. At first it was merely a small drizzle, but as we got further away from our hotels, it came down a little heavier. It was fun, actually, getting totally drenched. The only problem was that I was wearing my glasses so at times it was like driving down the road with no windshield wipers in a downpour making it rather difficult to see.

The traffic in Hue is so much calmer than the traffic in Hanoi, but it's a lot different than cycling in the States. Everyone moves in a fluid motion constantly disobeying what we would think of as traffic laws. But it actually works out nicely, and once we got into the groove of handling ghetto bicycles, we were moving along like the rest of them.

Through our explorations, we came upon old mausoleums and beautiful country side scenes of people farming in flooded rice paddies. It was so awesome. Vietnam is a totally beautiful country. We also stopped at one point at this little outdoor coffee shop on a small pond. There were bamboo huts, sort of (I'm tired so I can't explain things very well right now), and we were able to order some coffee and two fishing poles and fish for awhile. Janice caught a small fish, and shortly before we left, Derek caught a slightly larger fish. The rest of us had no luck, but it was a cool way to spend some time out of the rain.

After we returned from biking, Tommy took me on a motorcycle tour of Hue. There's an old, French citadel and Chinese stronghold in the middle of the city as well as old canons and other historical things to see. It was a fun way to see the city. At one point, he took us down this one way bridge where there was maybe six inches of space between our legs and what would amount to an incredibly painful collision with a metal fence. But he kept the bike steady and became my hero for a few minutes!

DMZ Tour

This morning we left early for a bus trip that took us north of Hue. We saw a lot of beautiful country - green and mountainous. We visited a couple of very small museums showing pictures from the war, and we crossed the DMZ (demilitarized zone). It was pretty interesting because we had an English speaking guide who talked about the war and pointed out areas where American troops were stationed. It was also interesting to hear and see (like at the museum) a different perspective of the Vietnam War. Our final stop was to see these underground tunnels that were dug during the beginning of the war where residents of this particular village lived for, I think, four years. The tunnels were pretty intricate and impressive, but I can't imagine living down there for so long.

We didn't get home until this evening, and we've all kind of split off to do our own thing. Tomorrow we'll begin traveling toward Mui Ne, a small town on the beach, where we hope to chill for a couple of days and soak up the sun. I think all of us are ready to just relax and do nothing for a couple of days, but the next two days will consist of bus rides and lots of waiting.

Monday, January 22, 2007


We arrived in Hanoi Saturday afternoon. The Vietnam border crossing was less of a big deal than I thought it would be. We had to get off our bus and go through a passport stamping session to leave China. We were worried for about five minutes about Janice, our Chinese companion, because when she handed her passport to the Chinese guy, he took it and began acting all official and mysterious. Janice and Derek had to wait for a few minutes until they let her through, and then we could breathe again. After that, we had to go through all the checks to enter Vietnam (customs and whatnot). We actually entered this building where there were a few windows. Everyone was congregated at the first one, which should have been our first clue, but we just kept walking and would have been able to walk all the way through the building and outside to catch our bus again had we not thought this was too easy. So instead Janice found out from our Vietnamese friends that we had to declare our stuff, get a health check (aka, spend 2 kuai for them to give us a piece of paper saying we're healthy), and send our bags through an X-ray machine. Then we were home free...

On the bus here, we sat next to another American who is studying Chinese in Beijing. Tommy is from LA, but he went to school at UCO and OU which provided for some common ground. He's been traveling with us since, but I imagine we'll part ways before too long. He's nice, though, and fun to travel with.

Hanoi has been rather uneventful. We've walked around the Old Quarter for the past two days trying to avoid being hit by motorcyclists (of which there is an abundance) and worse yet, trying to avoid the mass numbers of tourists. When you've been living in Shiyan City, Podunk Town, China for the last four months, you get used to being the only white face. So it's really weird seeing so many of them here. It's hard to explain how annoying it is seeing them too! Anyway, we did go to this place called the Temple of Literature which was built in 1070 and became the first university in Vietnam in 1076. It taught Confucian thoughts and was a really peaceful spot in this loud, overcrowded city. We also retreated to a large park in the afternoon to get away from the street noises.

There's a really unique performance in Hanoi involving water puppets. We went to one of the performances yesterday. Basically, a few people behind a curtain manuever these beautiful puppets using long sticks. The puppets dance and interact in a pool of water. It's a tradition about 1000 years old that supposedly originated with the farmers in Vietnam who would entertain themselves and others by puppeteering in the murky waters of a flooded rice paddy. It was interesting.

The Lewises arrived in Hanoi yesterday so we met up at our hotel last night and caught up on travel stories. We aren't traveling together, but our travel plans match up more or less so I'm sure we'll continue to bump into them. We plan to meet up for sure on the beaches of Mui Ne in a few days where we will just relax and swim for three days or so.

Today we're going to try to go to Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum. We went yesterday, but the line was way to long for us. We're going a little earlier today, and really, that's the only thing we have planned before we leave tonight at 7. Our next stop is Hue. We'll get there tomorrow morning and may try to visit these tunnels that were used as bomb shelters during the war. Whole families lived underground in them. I don't know too much about their history though.

Well, I'm using a public computer and people are waiting on it so I'll try to write more as I have opportunity!

Friday, January 19, 2007


Yesterday evening we went back to the street where we had eaten lunch earlier and found that it was completely transformed. Tons of tables and tarps and lights had been set up and street food was a-plenty. We walked to the end of the street and looked to see what everyone was eating. We finally chose some fried bread and dumplings with a sweet brown sauce poured over top. The fried bread tasted like, well, fried bread, but we noticed that everyone was dipping it in a bowl of white sauce so we looked around and found the source of this magical looking liquid. Derek bought a bowl and we were quickly disappointed as we realized it was just like condensed milk or something equally unflavorful. But the dumplings were really good.

After this quick, not quite satisfying meal, we mosied on down the street where we saw that the street vendors were grilling seafood (clams, lobsters, crabs, etc.). It looked interesting so we ordered a clam and calamarie on a stick. The clam was out of this world amazing. But since it was kind of expensive, we stuck to just enjoying one and then continued on. A few vendors down, we came upon the other specialty food the Lonely Planet guide book had mentioned we should try: it was like a crepe stuffed with something unidentifible and covered in either a brown sauce or a red sauce that tasted like the sweet and sour sauce found in American Chinese restaurants. I really liked it, but Derek wasn't a fan.

The whole meal reminded me of A Taste of Edmond since we were just walking up and down the street tasting food from different vendors. It was fun and a nice way to sample a lot of different types of foods.

After dinner we headed over to one of the coffee shops to enjoy (or suffer through) one of the worst cups of coffee we have ever had. But it was cheap so I suppose we got what we paid for. It was nice to sit down, too, after two days of walking through this city.

In about an hour, Janice and Yvonne will arrive at the train station where we'll be waiting to pick them up. We have several travel arrangements to make today so that we can set off early for Vietnam tomorrow morning.

Thursday, January 18, 2007


After spending awhile in the internet bar, we decided to find some food. Nanning and all of Guanxi Province is known, so Derek keeps telling me, for the exotic foods eaten here. There were a couple of suggested dishes in the Lonely Planet guide book so we decided to check them out. The dish we finally ordered contained noodles and some kind of meat along with an assortment of pickled vegetables which were really tasty. It was called laoyoumien (old friend noodles).

The Lonely Planet hardly had any suggested sites to visit in Nanning. Again, everyone thinks it's a rather terrible place to visit. But it did list a museum which sported the largest bronze drum collection. After walking around an intercultural shopping/eating area where we spied a couple nice and cheap coffee shops (to which we will return later), we went to the museum. It cost 8 kuai which Derek is still lamenting over, but I kind of enjoyed the museum. The bronze drum collection was rather boring; in fact, it was a terrible let down, though now we can say we've seen the largest bronze drum collection in the world. I kept reciting this to Derek, but it didn't remove the regret he felt for paying 8 kuai (that's a dollar, by the way). Anyway, besides the drums, we also walked across a "nail-less bridge" which was a first for me, and we explored some house which I'm pretty sure someone still lives in. There was also a room of contemporary paintings which was nice to see. Though most weren't very good, it was nice to see modern art in a nation of antiquities.

Derek and I left Tuesday morning for Nanning, a city in southern China. Four of us (Derek, Yvonne, Janice and I) are planning on traveling Vietnam, Cambodia and possibly Hainan (if we still have money) during our winter break which began, for the four of us, the day we left Shiyan and will last until the end of February. Yvonne was detained until today so she and Janice left this morning to meet up with us and will arrive sometime tomorrow. Derek and I came early to Nanning to apply for our Vietnam visas so that when the other girls arrive, we can leave pretty quickly. We also filed for the Lewis' visas because they're planning a similar trip to ours but are following a few days behind us.

Yesterday, after getting a hotel, Derek and I walked quite a distance to find the Vietnam consulate. We didn't find it, but we did find a Wal-Mart which, after eating and taking a taxi to the consulate to apply for the visas, we perused for awhile. The Wal-Mart was surprisingly similar to ours back home, only instead of a smiley face mascot, they had a smiley PIG face mascot. Kudos to Wal-Mart for their adaptation abilities!

Everything we've heard about Nanning is that it's a boring, rather worthless city to visit, but it's not so bad. The streets are clean, the air is crisp, and aside from almost getting runover twice by bicycle carts, the atmosphere is pretty relaxed. Derek and I are going to have to find things to kill time for the next two days, but we found a nice Internet bar that promises to drain a few hours of our time, and we'll probably just explore the city by foot later. There's a rather famous dog market we want to check out too!

Monday, January 08, 2007


Christmas was perfect. The week before I spent nearly every day shopping for gifts. I am a horrible shopper, and most days I was rather unsuccessful. I am just a bad bargainer too. I don't like to bargain, and I never know what is an appropriate price to counter with. But, like a true Sides, I was able to procure all the gifts I needed the day before Christmas.

Since Christmas Eve was on a Sunday, the entire family met at a hotel where, after meeting, we had a large dinner and then played Dirty Santa. I must say that I have never played Dirty Santa well. In fact, I'm always the one who ends up with a can of possum roadkill (or spam disguised as such) or something far worse. But there was one gift that I really wanted: a can of root beer brought by Laura and Thomas from Shanghai who were visiting for a few days and staying with me. There was chocolate added to the mix, but what I really wanted was the root beer. Here they only have Pepsi, Coke, Sprite and Mountain Dew. I'm not exactly a soda fan, but I really wanted that root beer. So I played (through the awesome strategic help of Courtny) quite wisely and secured my ownership of the root beer which I shared with about forty people. It was like the loaves and fish: the soda stretched so that everyone could try a taste!

Christmas Eve night was typical. I stayed up till two wrapping presents. Laura, who used to be a teacher at the technical school and is now teaching in Shanghai, crashed early, but Orange, who was also spending the night, stayed up "studying". My place has become a fairly popular late night study location, and since exams are running rampant around here, there was hardly a night I didn't have company.

I arose early Christmas morning to bake some cinnamon rolls per the boys request. I'd never made cinnamon rolls before, but they were actually rather easy - just time consuming. Laura was up early too, and since Yve had my cinnamon, I woke her up too, and both girls joined the me in the kitchen where we had quite a nice talk. Yve's mom had come the week before to spend the holidays with her. She is one of the coolest and most fun people I have ever met. We had such a good time with her around.

Since my room was the most decorated and cleanest, the boys and Yve had brought all there presents to put under my small tree. Around 11 we began opening the presents. Dacy and Janice were here too, and even Cindy joined us for a bit. It was just like opening presents with the family.

Most of the afternoon we just spent hanging out and playing games. Then around six, we went to the Lewis' to have our foreigner Christmas party. The crew consisted of all of us from our program (13 in all minus Cindy who didn't come), Laura and Thomas, Yve and her mom - named Vera, by the way - Beth from Yichang who was staying with the Lewis', Christence from Wuhan who was staying with the Hill's, and a British couple we met awhile back who are teaching at a primary or middle school. We played a lot of games and ate fantastic western dishes and desserts. It was such a warm way to spend the holiday!


Wednesday night I began to feel ill. I went to bed around midnight while Orange and Alice continued to study in my apartment. I kept waking up during the night not feeling well at all. On Thursday I couldn't get out of bed. I literally slept until 5 pm that evening. And I only got up at that time because I had to go to class. After class I returned to my bed immediately. I only woke up when Derek called me to check out his apartment. He was at the Lewis' when he got a call from our waiban saying his apartment had water in it. I drug myself out of bed and stumbled into the hallway where there was so much steam rising from below that it looked as if smoke from a fire was climbing its way up. When I entered Derek's apartment, there was water gushing out of a pipe in his bathroom and half an inch or more of water pouring into his living room and both his bedrooms. I picked all his electrical cords off the ground while a group of repair men tried to stop the flowing water. They finally turned it off shortly before Derek arrived. It was really hot water that was pouring out so even his couches were wet from all the steam. That night he had to sleep in Brian's apartment and is now in the process of moving into the apartment right below me (though I'm afraid he might experience the same problem in that one considering the facet or something is constantly running water). Anyway, after that huge catastrophe, I went back to bed and didn't get out of it again until 3 pm the next afternoon. I just had no strength!


But after that I began to regain my physical stamina while losing my desire to socialize. I stayed home all day that Sunday until the New Year's Bash at the medical school. I didn't actually care to party, but I went long enough to say hello to everyone. Then I slipped away to the Lewis' house where they were having a very quiet and lovely family New Year's Eve. I spent the evening watching a movie and enjoying not being a host and not being at a large social gathering.


Monday (New Year's Day) was Antasia's 17th birthday. I spent nearly that entire day reading, and by 6 pm - which was when Antasia's party was to begin - I still was feeling very anti-social. In fact, I spent nearly the whole party hiding out in one of the rooms on the computer avoiding the thirty or so people who had come to celebrate Antasia's birthday. Since I wasn't quite back to my normal self, I decided the best medicine would be to spend yet another night at the Lewis'. I was so right, too, about this because the next day I felt rested and relaxed and back to myself - for the most part. I went home that afternoon, took down my Christmas decorations, and finished my book.


On Thursday Derek, Darla, Mollie, Gun and I left Shiyan for Xi'an at seven in the morning. To get to Xi'an from here, you must take a train to An Kang and then another train to Xi'an. We were only able to get standing tickets, and when we boarded the train in Shiyan, it was so crowded that we couldn't even ride in one of the cars. We had to stand in the pathway that connects two cars together. I don't know how it happened, but somehow I ended up with two guys to my right and a lady and her grown son to my left. At first, it was uncomfortable because I was wearing five layers of clothes up top PLUS a coat and my travel backpack, three layers of pants, and two pairs of socks (it was a cooold day). But then things just went downhill from there. First, the guy to my right who was sitting on his bundle of something was falling asleep on me. Then, one by one, each person around me began falling asleep, again, ON ME. During the entire ride, there wasn't one time that my feet, legs, upper body and head were aligned. They were always in weird, contorted positions, and I wasn't able to move because these people were using my legs as pillows! And the first guy who kept falling asleep on me? Well, let's just say, that after that two hour ride, I'm pretty sure we should have gotten married (or at least exchanged phone numbers!).

But our four hour trip from An Kang to Xi'an was so much better. Again, we had standing tickets, but all of us were able to find a place to sit down. When we arrived in Xi'an, we found our way to the Muslim Quarter (through no help of the Lonely Guide map!) and had the first real food we'd had all day. We were all pretty tired so instead of looking around, we made our way to our new friend Nancy's house. Nancy is a sister who has been working in China for about nine years, and she always opens her house to anyone who is passing through. She's really nice, and we won't hold the fact that her bunny Qing Qing ate Mollie's textbook against her...

On Friday we left for the one thing we really came to see - the famed Terra-Cotta Soldiers of Xi'an. We had the full intention of going straight to the soldiers, but through some kind of miscommunication, we got off the bus earlier and bought tickets to the mausoleum of the famous Emperor who had the soldiers built. In fact, we had talked about avoiding this place because we had heard it wasn't worth seeing, but the grounds were rather extensive, and we ended up spending a pleasant two hours walking around it exploring. There were practically no other tourists there which was only because the timing was off-season for this tourist attraction. After buying a few souvenirs, we continued our journey to the Terra-Cotta Soldiers. There are three different pits we could view, and having been warned aforetime, we saved the first one for last. It was a good call because the first pit is certainly the most entact and incredible collection of the soldiers. It was so cool to finally see this awesome site!

That evening we met back at Nancy's house for their weekly meeting. It was cool to meet some of her friends and just spend time with people from another city.

On Saturday we slept late and then the Americans went to Metro, which is this huge, almost Sam's like shopping center where one can actually buy cheese and other western items. Metros can be found in many of the larger cities like Wuhan, etc., but in our small little Shiyan we make due with what Chinese items we can tamper with to resemble western foods. Since we were all running out of money, however, we didn't actually buy much.

After Metro we engaged in yet another American activity - eating pizza. Although the pizza was really more Chinese tasting, it was still nice to order pizza. It was also fun to watch Mollie use a knife and fork!

We had planned on paying to go onto the city walls, rent bikes and ride around it, but we went to the Muslim Quarter instead and shopped for cheap souvenirs. Again, I hate to bargain and this is like the Mecca (forgive the pun) of the bargaining world. I was looking at a knife carved out of the bone, and a woman came down to "help" me. I asked how much it was (my first mistake), and she said 300 kuai!! I think I audibly gasped as I put the knife back down. She said, "How much? You tell me." I said, "I don't have enough money." But she didn't let it go. She kept giving me her final friend offer: first 100, then 60, then 50, and finally 50 for the knife AND the little red book of Chairman Mao's quotations. I'm sure that I still got gyped, but at least I was able to get away from her!

Sunday morning we met with Nancy's group, and after a quick bite to eat, headed for the train station. Our train left at 1 pm, and this time we were actually able to procure seats. Seeing the country by train is such an awesome way to get to know the landscape. China is indescribably beautiful.

In An Kang (aka, Purgatory), we had to wait four hours before our train left. Yet again, we could only muster standing tickets. There is no door entering into the train station, just a massive whole in the wall so as the sun went down, the place became unbearably cold. I'm pretty sure if I had to stay much longer than we did, my toes would of had to have been amputated when we pulled into Shiyan! But we made do - we complained and laughed hysterically (or was it dementedly) a lot - but we made do.

When we boarded the train, we walked through a ton of cars searching for a possible seat. We entered one car where there would have been plenty of seats, but people were stretched out sleeping on two or three of them. At one point, a woman told us we had to go back two or three cars because we were in a sleeping section, but then another man, who seemingly had more authority, began waking people up and making them move for us. So we had seats for the four hour ride back! (If you're doing the math, the train from Shiyan to An Kang three days earlier only took two hours while the train back from An Kang to Shiyan was going to take four!)

Excitement on the train: I was just beginning to fall asleep when I realized that everyone was handing this police officer something. After much confusion and another officer later, we discovered that the two cops were searching for a "bad man" (that's Derek's translation so we aren't sure exactly what they were looking for) and were taking all the men's IDs and checking them against a Palm Pilot list of some sort. The cops were really nice, actually. One even took the time to sit down across from me and kindly explain to the woman next to him the differences between Americans and Englishmen (since she thought we were British). After the cops left, the whole car seemed to awaken and we enjoyed a rather lively ride the rest of the way.

About twenty minutes before our train was to arrive at the Shiyan train stop, the train stopped. Gun got up and started gathering all his things so we did likewise assuming we had arrived. But the doors didn't open so Mollie thought we were just stopping aways outside the train stop. We waited for a good bit, and when it was about 30 seconds before our train was supposed to arrive, Gun or Mollie or both realized we had, in fact, arrived at our stop and that if we didn't get off immediately, we would be on our way to the next stop several hours away! They were able to get someone to open the doors, and we tore out of them like our life depended on it. A few seconds after we stepped onto the platform, the train's engines started up and began pulling out. We were saved from what could have been one of the most disheartening train rides ever!!

We then stole across two sets of train tracks, jumped onto the other side of the short platform, and ran to the gates which were locked up. Darla said, "If you want something done right, do it yourself," and began pounding on the office door where a tired and rather unhappy woman emerged and opened the gates for us so that we might be devoured by the vultures known by their other name as taxi drivers. We did make it home safely, quite exhausted yet content after a more or less relaxing weekend.