A Travellerspoint blog

July 2008

Still in Bangkok

Kristin's bag arrived late yesterday. Yippee! We tried to buy a train ticket to the border of Laos but we found out that we need to buy our ticket at least 3 days in advance to get a seat. Also, we need a visa. I'm not sure why I didn't know that. It's a pretty fast process to get one, but given the fact that we have to be back in Bangkok for a flight to the south of Thailand on August 3 it didn't make sense for us to take a 13 hour train ride for only a day or two. Instead we bought a tour. This morning we traveled to the floating markets about an hour our of Bangkok. It took us about 3 hours to get there because our mini-van didn't have air-conditioning and the tour guide pretty much refused to travel without it. It took that long for us to wait for a car and 3 more passengers who were stuck in traffic. When we got to the markets, we took a long boat down narrow canals. I took a video of it. There were traffic jams in the narrow canals. When we finally had some space to move, the driver would kick the motor into high gear and we would zoom away. Since all the boats would do this, we had to go over some pretty high waves. The market was outstanding. Women were cooking on the boats and selling the food. They were selling hats and fruit. You name it, it came floating by on a boat.

After the market we drove to a wood carving factory. Kristin and I were passed off to another tour guide/group and the third mini-van of the day. We went to a crocodile farm and an elephant show for lunch. It was buffet so I got to sample Thai food. The Panang curry chicken was the best. We didn't have tickets for the elephant show, so we were whisked away to our fourth mini-van and tour group to be driven to the rose gardens. We walked around the grounds, checked out the Thai silk making process (outstanding), and watched a cultural show. There was a dance where instead of people jumping over a Chinese jump rope they jumped over moving bamboo sticks. There were about 16 sticks being smacked together in a rhythm that kept getting faster. The faster the bamboo sticks were smashed together the faster the dancers had to jump through them. I video-taped it. Wow, it's nice to have a camera again!

From the rose gardens we went back to the third mini-van we were on and headed into Bangkok. All the tour groups met at a gem factory. I bought a very, very small ruby. Kristin bought a small gem. I don't remember what kind. We were escorted out to our fifth mini-van. The driver brought us back to the hotel.

The traffic in Bangkok is hideous. It is miserable to go anywhere. We sat in traffic for hours. Tomorrow we are off on a three-day tour to a tiger temple where the monks are rehabilitating tigers, a bamboo raft river trip, and elephant trek to a waterfall, and a train trip over the a very famous river (can't remember the name of it). I won't have email for 3 days, so I'll fill you all in when I return. I finally have some cool postcards, so please send me your address, especially if you just moved into a new house (HOLLIE!).

Posted by venisha 05:14 Archived in Thailand Tagged backpacking Comments (3)

Part II: Bangkok

I arrived in Bangkok last night at around 7:30 PM. It was nice to arrive in a new city where I knew a friend was waiting. I took a taxi from the airport to the hotel where Kristin and I had talked about meeting if one of us was delayed. She got to Bangkok at 10:30 in the morning and waited for about 3 hours before realizing that I wouldn't be in until the evening. Her bag is still not here. We were going to leave tonight for the Laotian border, but we're waiting out the bag until tomorrow. We're buying an overnight train ticket for tomorrow night. Luckily she packed the essentials in her carry on. The taxi driver sat on the right side and drove on the left side. I was perplexed. I'm not sure I've ever been to a country where that was the custom.

This morning I got in a run in the extremely cool weather. It's overcast and high 70's. I felt like I should be wearing a long sleeved shirt. The traffic is NUTS! In China there was a separate lane for bikes and scooters and a sidewalk for pedestrians. Here everything just smashes together and there are NO bicycles. Also, there were absolutely no others outside exercising. Nobody was practicing Tai Chi, playing ping pong, or partner dancing.

After the run, Kristin and I ate a buffet breakfast at the hotel. It was DELICIOUS! I ate banana pancakes, bacon, yogurt, scrambled eggs, toast, and fresh fruit. Kristin ate green curry broccoli with rice. She's happy to be eating Thai food; I'm happy to be able to eat American food for a day or two. I'll switch to Thai food when we head out to the rural areas. It was nice to not eat a TON of grease, but not so nice to eat with a fork. I've enjoyed eating with chopsticks.

After breakfast we took a tuk-tuk (a motorcycle with a double seat and a roof on it) to the river for a water ferry. We got off at the Grand Palace and the reclining Buddha. Now we're hanging out in backpacker heaven where internet is about 10 cents for 30 minutes. It's so nice to be able to use internet and not have blocked websites. It's nice to not sit under surveillance cameras.

In a day or two I'll stop comparing China to Thailand, but I think it's human nature to compare and contrast. It also helps me understand the different Asian cultures. Thailand has flowers everywhere. Amidst the exhaust there are hints of jJasmine and Gardenia. There are flower shops everywhere. The airplane had flowers in the bathroom. Our hotel room as plants and flowers in the bathroom. Part II is going to be quite the journey...

Posted by venisha 23:05 Archived in Thailand Tagged living_abroad Comments (1)


We left Beijing at 7:00 pm after a dumpling fest at a local restaurant. We were expected to eat 16 dumplings a piece but knowing I would be on an overnight train for 9 hours, I opted for 3.

The train wasn't as nice as I thought it would be. I was expecting the first class accomodations like we'd had from Beijing to Shangai. Forget it! We were in the "hard sleeper" section. There was no privacy and the bunks were stacked by threes. I had the middle bunk. It was too narrow for me to sit up. If I wanted to stretch, I had to climb down and stand in the aisle. We were the only foreigners in this section of the train. The Chinese people thought it was so cool to have English speakers on the train. Pretty much everyone on the train was hanging out in our space. Luckily smoking could only occur in the spaces between the trains otherwise we would have been smoked out. China made smoking illegal, but it really hasn't stopped Chinese people from filling every space with second hand smoke. The last elevator ride I took had 3 men smoking in it. Yuck!

We arrived in Xi'an to meet our guide Peter. I'm not sure how to pronounce his Chinese name. He took us to breakfast at this hotel that was the sketchiest place we've been in China. The restaurant didn't even serve any hot beverages...imagine! I drank a cup of airborne before I left. I figured that would balance out the sour potatoes and spicy bean sprouts I ate. After breakfast we headed over to our hotel. It was in an AMAZING location, but it wasn't very clean. Kylie and I shared a room again and when we walked in we needed to call housekeeping to clean up piles of "stuff" all over the floor. Not sure what it was, but we needed a place to put down our bags. The beds were clean, which is really all that matters. I did, however, sleep with the sheet I brought. We didn't have much time in the hotel, which is probably a good thing because I surely would have fallen asleep. I didn't sleep at all on the train. From there we went to see the Terracotta Warriors.

The Terracotta Warriors are a recently new archeological find in China and truly are a sight to see. They are still being excavated and pieced together. The clay soldiers are lifelike in size and appearance. They were built to bury with the emperor instead of following traditional practices of burying alive the emperor's troops with the emperor.

After the warriors we went to the hotel to change clothes for dinner at a dinner theater. We saw the most amazing theater performance about the Tang Dynasty. There were acrobats, jugglers, tradionational dancers, and music. I'm sure tickets for a performance like this would be in the hundreds in the States. I knew, now, we had a gotten a cheaper hotel... The dinner at the theater was steamed dumplings. We all got our own steamer basket of 16 dumplings. I ate a lot of them, but ended up passing many of them off to the guys.

The following day we had a hearty breakfast of dumplings, noodles, and greasy eggs to prepare to climb a mountain. I guess the show "Amazing Race" was on this mountain for some clue. The name of the mountain is Huanshan. We were told to buy gloves for the hike because we would have to climb some pretty steep steps with ropes or chains along the sides. We bought them. There were so many Chinese people climbing the mountain that we didn't really need them. We had to go so slowly that we could just chill out as we went. There was a group of us together heading towards the "South Peak" where there was some rappelling. I got lost when a large group of Chinese people stopped in front of me to rest and I couldn't get around them. Some of them were climbing in business suits and high heeled sandals. I ended up taking a couple of wrong turns and completely losing the group. I went to the "East Peak", half-way to the "West Peak", and finally stayed at the "Central Peak" to just sit and think. All in all I hiked for 3 hours, which proved to be a great workout.

That night we ate at 9:00 after we got back to the city from the mountain. I ate my last granola bar on the drive back. Luckily Kristin has a new stash of Kashi bars for me (if I ever get to Thailand to get them!)!

We got up for a hearty breakfast of greasy eggs, dumplings, noodles, and BANANA BREAD! Not sure where it came from but it was amazing. It tasted just like the bread in the states made from REALLY REALLY ripe bananas. The plan for the day was to eat, visit a mosque in the Muslim part of the city, visit a buddhist temple, and head to the airport for the flight back to Shanghai. I was feeling a bit tired after the hike from the day before and because I knew this was the last day the group would be together. I knew I would no longer be rooming with Kylie Dirks. SAD! I feel very fortunate to have met such a wonderful group of people and to have roomed with such a fantabulous gal. She did wonders to get me motivated to work out. After 4 weeks with her I feel like I can finally say I'm back on an exercise plan. THANKS KYLIE! This group has also inspired me to reconnect with a structured religion. I'm not sure what that means, but I have a couple of books to check out from the library that were being read by Bryce (the dean's son). It always amazes me that a group of people can come together and connect in such a strong way over such a short period of time. We came together for a purpose, became friends, and now our purpose is over so the group breaks apart. We have a reunion planned for August 24, since all of us live in Minnesota. Bryce is heading to Nigeria for a teaching assignment, but the rest of us will be in the Twin Cities area. During the first few days of orientation the dean, Brian, wanted us to have a group hug and do trust falls. We all just uncomfortably laughed. At the end of the trip, we definitely did the group hug thing. And, I believe we did a lot of "trust falls" throughout the four weeks.

When we got to the airport, we tipped the driver--something we were told we should not to do by our Chinese interpreter from camp. The driver took the money, smiled, and thanked us. When the guide came into the hotel after saying goodbye to the driver, the guide gave the money back to us and told us that the driver had never been so offended before. He was offended that we hadn't given him enough money. He was expecting about 8.00 dollars a day per person. Wow! That would have been almost 200 dollars. Peter, our guide, said that since they work with Americans they expect a tip like that. That would have been around 400 dollars. None of us had that kind of money at the end of our trip. Plus, we found it so inappropriate that in the Chinese culture we don't tip for anything else and he is so..."offended" that we didn't give enough money. We thought we were being extra nice in giving something. I have a lot to learn about the Chinese way of life.

The flight to Shanghai was uneventful. I was stuck in the back of the plane with a group of business travellers. The flight attendants were polite enough to pull me from my window seat and put me in an aisle seat. When we got to Shanghai, I felt like I was home. It felt good to be back...until our taxi ride. The driver was so mad that he had to take us into the city. He was yelling at the guards to make us get out of the cab and the guard was yelling at him to drive us to the city. We've had several experiences during our time here when taxi drivers REFUSE to take us. They lock their doors and don't let us in the cab or they tell us to get out. It's the most bizarre experience being refused a ride. It's not even because we aren't paying a fair fare. There is a meter. I believe they just don't like to drive around with "white people." Anyway, since he didn't have a choice, we felt we didn't either. The ride was miserable. He kept rollling all 4 windows down and up. He turned his lights off and was swerving in and out of traffic. Obviously we made it safe and sound, but it wasn't that fun. Hia Feng (our accountant for the camp) was waiting at the hotel for us. The cab driver wasn't going to take a transportation card we had for some reason and there was a small dispute over it. I finally had enough and went into the hotel to order spicy peanut chicken for dinner and wash a load of clothes before the next portion of the trip.

Walking into the room at the JinJiang Inn where I had stayed for 3 weeks was like heaven. The room was so white and clean. It was miserable getting up at 4:30 to hurry up and get back to the airport to sit and wait. Dave and Jamie came with me to the airport to split expenses. I was happy not to have to go through the whole taxi experience alone.

Now, I sit, waiting for my flight to Thailand. Kristin will be waiting for me with a new box of Kashi bars, a new "refurbished" camera from EBay and some new contact solution. After 4 weeks of travel, a small part of me is ready to head to the States. I know, however, that with gas prices as high as they are, I need to appreciate the international travel. In the dead of winter and the burn-out that comes from teaching, I'll wish I were on a trip to some fabulous tropical destination.

China was, overall, a very peaceful experience. Some of my favorite experiences came from the early morning runs and Tai Chi. The streets are so alive with older (retired) people practicing Tai Chi, dancing, playing ping pong, and walking. As polluted as the cities are with cigarette smoke, exhaust, angry taxi drivers, unhealthy food, and factory pollution, there is a peaceful energy here. I'm happy I chose to visit a country that wasn't on my list of places to visit. I've been pleasantly surprised and renewed on this journey.

Posted by venisha 17:37 Archived in China Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

Beijing in detail

Internet access has been rather spotty the last week. I'm taking advantage right now of the fact that I'm stuck at the airport as my flight to Thailand has been delayed until this afternoon. They gave me a room to "take a short rest" but I'm a bit worried about the condition of a airport room. I've decided to spend A LOT of my last Yuan (Chinese currency) to update the blog. Ok, I was going to spend some time writing a bit more about the Beijing portion of the trip, but when I read Dave's blog, it made more sense for me to copy and paste and do some editing. Thanks, Dave, for typing this up!!

We left Shanghai on Sunday afternoon and took an overnight train to Beijing - about a 12 hour train ride. It was actually a lot nicer than what I expected. (I was envisioning something that was incredibly dark and dingy, sort of like the trains they have to take on the Amazing Race.) Aside from people constantly smoking on the train, it wasn't too bad.

We arrived on Monday morning in Beijing at 7:15 am and pretty much hit the ground running. At the train station, we met our guide, Cecelia (don't ask me how to pronounce her Chinese name), who took us to a hole-in-the-wall place for breakfast. Normally, Jamie won't eat the food if the quality and cleanliness of the place is a bit sketchy, however, this was so bad, that well over half of us barely touched anything given to us! Right outside the restaurant, we could see dead pigs that had just been slaughtered being brought into the restaurant in plastic grocery bags! Yuck!!!!

From there, we visited Tianamen Square which is full of history, mostly dealing with Chairman Mao, however, it was actually set up during the Ming Dynasty (several hundred years ago for those of you who aren't Chinese historians). Immediately behind that was the Forbidden City. This area covered several square kilometers, and yes, we walked all of it! The architecture was absolutely amazing, with all sorts of elephants and dragons painted on to the buildings. (After awhile, it started to feel like we were just seeing the same things over and over.) However, it was very interesting just to see the place. It's just so cool to see a country that has had numerous kings and dynasties and thousands of years of architecture to see! After that, it was off to lunch and then, the Summer Palace.

The Summer Palace is set on a massive lake with all sorts of beautiful buildings surrounding it with a massive Buddhist temple at the top of a hill. (We didn't go in there because it cost extra money and time...both of which we don't have a lot of. There is a massive overhang that you can walk under that spans the North side of the lake and each cross beam has a different scene hand-painted on it. With over 8000 beams (yes, I counted them...just kidding), somebody must have really been paid well or had too much time on his or her hands! This was where the emperor during the Ming Dynasty would come and, well, spend the summer! The only downside was that the lake was incredibly gross. Apparently, the powers that be have cleaned it up quite a bit in recent years, however, it was still incredibly nasty looking!

From there, it was off to dinner and then back to the hotel to crash.

On Tuesday morning, we got up early and thought we were headed to the Great Wall. (Quick story about breakfast though: there were probably 30 people in the restaurant for breakfast, and our group was the only one to use chopsticks to eat which made us feel a lot less touristy. Then of course, we followed our guide, waving a big yellow flag so that we would not get lost, and got on our coach bus to head north!) Instead of hitting the Great Wall, we stopped off at a place that made authentic vases out of copper. It was really cool to see how they were made, which I can tell you about later, but to be honest, most of us were pretty frustrated that we had to stop because, after all, the Great Wall had only been around for several hundred years and we were afraid that it might disappear in the next 30 minutes! Finally, we arrived at the Wall!

For some reason, unknown to me other than the fact that it was the closest to us, we picked the most difficult part of the wall to climb. (First of all, let me say that the arrival itself was incredible. The land looked completely flat until you were about 5 miles from the wall and then, all of a sudden, we were amidst this massive mountain range.) I take pride in being in pretty good physical shape, however, the wall humbled me. First of all, the weather was hotter than Shanghai, although, a bit less humid. Secondly, the first portion of the wall was about a 60-70 degree grade (yep, almost straight up). Third, the stairs are all of varying heights, widths, and are not anywhere near being level.

After lunch, we headed off to the Ming Tombs where 13 out of the 16 Ming emperors are buried. We liked this one because it was mostly underground and a lot cooler! We then hit Hutong and got to experience life for the normal Chinese citizen. We took a rickshaw ride around a neighborhood that most tourists don't get to see and actually got to see a traditional Chinese home from the early 1900s and sit down and talk with the people who live there (as it was passed down through their ancestors). We didn't get any really great stories out of it, but it was just facinating to see how people live. By American standards, they are definately in poverty, but they were just so happy. The grandpa, a 92 year-old man, was so excited to have company and wanted desperately to be in pictures with us! It was so cool! Afterwards, we did a little bit of driving and saw, from a distance, the "Bird's Nest", or Olympic Stadium, which will be in use very soon!

We then visited a tea shop and became educated on the five different types of Chinese tea and sampled them all,which was a lot of fun. Then, we had dinner and then came back to our hotel, which we've decided is, um, a bit sketchy. Don't get me wrong, it's a fancy place and definately isn't a "hole in the wall", there are just some questionable aspects to this place.

Beijing is so incredibly different from Shanghai. I feel like I've seen more of Beijing's history in 2 days than I saw of Shanghai in 3 weeks. It's definately not as commercialized, however, the pollution is much worse. At the Great Wall, the mountains in the distance were incredibly hazy and at the Summer Palace, you could not see the temple on the island, just a few hundred yards off of the shore. The city is doing many things to clean up the city, however, it's still pretty polluted. I can't imagine what it's like during normal times!

Tomorrow is our last day in Beijing, then it's off to Xi'an to see the Terra Cotta Warriors, among other things. I'll try to update this again in a few days. Keep emailing us! It's fun to hear how you're all doing!

Posted by venisha 17:29 Archived in China Tagged backpacking Comments (0)


Our work at camp ended on Saturday and we went shopping to celebrate. On Sunday I shared a lunch with Al Liu's mom. It was wonderful to talk to someone who understands the culture in the United States and the culture in China. Al's very lucky to have such a special mom. Sunday evening we boarded a high speed train to Beijing. We were in sleeper cars with 4 beds. It was the nicest public transportation I've ever been on. We were given tooth brushes, blankets, pillows, and a comfy (surprisingly) clean mattress. We were picked up from the train station by our tour guide and whisked away to breakfast. From there we checked into the hotel. This hotel is a lot older than the hotel in Shanghai. It's expensive, but older so the halls and rooms are pretty dark. We spent the day visiting Tianamen (spelling???) Square, the Forbidden City, and the Summer Palace. It was an exhausting day, but well worth it. The pollution is supposedly better for the Olympics because the factories have shut down and people can only drive their cars every other day. I can't imagine how bad the air was before because even with all the work the air is still relatively think with smog. The air just seems to have a haze to it likes it foggy. Today we got up pretty early and headed for the Great Wall of China. On the way we stopped to see a Cloissonne factory. I always thought the big Chinese vases I saw in stores and in homes were ceramic. If they are authentic, they are copper with hand crafted copper designs glued on and glass dropped in to each hole. The pots are then fired and polished and polished and polished. This handicraft was more impressive to me than the silk. After the factory, we headed over to the Great Wall. WOW! We climbed up the very steep steps for a little over an hour. It's really amazing to think of all the work that went in to building the wall. It seems impossible to know all the history. After the Wall we went to the Ming Tomb, which was an underground tunnel. I thought we would never get to the bottom. From there we went on a rickshaw ride through this neighborhood called the Hutong. The streets are narrow and winding. We were allowed to enter a house and visit with the family. They invited us to tea and let us wander around the courtyard and the kitchen. It was cool to see the inside of a home, but I just kept thinking how bizarre it would be if a Chinese family was allowed to wonder around my condo into my bathroom and bedroom and into my garage to see how I lived. After the Hutong we went to a tea house to learn about tea, partake in a tea ceremony and sample about 10 different varieties. After the tea ceremony, we went to a local restaurant for a Peking Duck feast. I never ever thought I'd eat the duck I'd seen hanging from the shop windows in Chinatown in New York. Well, I did and it was delicious.

So, that pretty much sums up the day. I'm exhausted. It's hard work being a vacationer when the day is jam packed with fun. I'm happy I haven't had to figure out the transportation system. We drove by the Olympic stadium today. I probably wouldn't have found it on my own.

Tomorrow we are off to the Temple of Heaven and then the train station for another overnight train to X'ian to see the Terracotta Warriors.

Hope all's well in the States.

Posted by venisha 07:55 Archived in China Tagged living_abroad Comments (3)

Pictures of camp

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Camp ended yesterday. We have been staying at the school later than late! Today we came back to type up our final reports and finish any last minute packing. I don't have time to add much more than this, but please, check out the photos and the information about camp on this website:


Posted by venisha 22:30 Archived in China Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

Pictures of camp

Camp ended yesterday. We have been staying at the school later than late! Today we came back to type up our final reports and finish any last minute packing. I don't have time to add much more than this, but please, check out the photos and the information about camp on this website:


Posted by venisha 22:30 Archived in China Tagged living_abroad Comments (3)


99 °F

The best thing that happened today (tonight actually) is that our Chinese translator returned. He left last Sunday for Beijing to help the French Olympic team. He was their driver/translator. He is FANTASTIC. His name is Flex. I'm pretty much convinced that he's magic and can make just about anything happen.

I got in a great run this morning and then a group of us headed to church. Kylie found a Christian church about 2 miles from here that had an English service in a small building off of the main building. The service was mostly singing, which I thought was outstanding. It felt good to sit in an air-conditioned room and have some peaceful time. I was surprised there was a Christian church. For some reason I thought a lot of Chinese were atheists or Buddhists.

After church, we went to the Shanghai Zoo. We rode the subway, which was a treat. The closest subway stop to our hotel is call the high-tech park and it is pretty much the end of the road on the green line. The zoo is all the way at the other end of the green. It took about 45 minutes to get there. We went to the zoo to see a giant panda. I've never seen one so I was excited. It was nice to walk around without any scooters, bicyclists, or cars honking and trying to run you over. Plus, I used my newly purchased umbrella to create shade where ever I walked.

When we got there I got really sad. The Chinese people were throwing garbage into the tiny animal cages. They were stepping over the fences to be able to feed the animals. At one point a monkey was given an entire bag of onion ring chips and took the bag to the top of a tree and tried to eat it. Parents were lifting their kids and putting them inside the fence with giraffes. It was so hot for the animals. This bear was standing in one spot just crying. He was trying to cool himself off but there was no water in his dish. A Dhole (looked like a fox) was pacing back and forth in its small space with drool dripping from its mouth. The panda bears were pretty impressive, but their living spaces were not. The elephants were all in separate cages and were chained up so they couldn't move. Even the baby elephant was chained away from the older elephants. I immediately thought of Dumbo. One of the elephant cages looked like nobody had cleaned the poop for a week. This was the first zoo I've been to in another country. I thought it would be OK because I've really gotten the sense that China is not a 3rd world country and respect living creatures. Boy, was I wrong. I would love to come back and try to do some education programs focused on the purpose of zoos and how to treat animals in captivity.

Kate and I got separated from the group so we ended up getting McDonalds. Kate has been talking about it since we got here. She lived in Saudi Arabia with her youngest daughter and husband for 2 years prior to coming here. I didn't think she would ever splurge and go so I drug her across the street for dinner. I had a hamburger and she had a cheeseburger. It was quite the treat. When we got back to the hotel, the rest of the group, minus Kylie, Bryce, Jonathan, and Justin, were eating our tried and true hotel meal of peanut chicken and beef stir-fry. The others went to the Bund, which is a street along the river known for its nightlife.

Tomorrow's the start of the last week...should be a good one.

Posted by venisha 05:02 Archived in China Tagged living_abroad Comments (2)

Sleep is Spectacular

We returned from the school today at about 1:00 pm. I had the best of intentions of getting some lessons done, but after lunch at the hotel, I came up to my room and fell asleep for 4 hours. When I woke up, there was a note that the group went to a soccer game and to the city center. I'm very happy I didn't go. I really needed some sleep. I ended up watching Chinese news (in English) and washing and drying a load of my clothes and a load of my roommate's clothes. I tried to put pictures on this blog but every time I try to upload a photo the computer crashes. I'll keep trying. Kylie has downloaded some of the photos from her camera onto her computer.

Tomorrow there are tentative plans of going to the Shanghai zoo to see a giant panda. I'll probably do that, but I think that recharging in an air-conditioned, smoke-free environment (Chinese people smoke incessantly and really have no concept of second hand smoke) is worth more than an afternoon traveling around Shanghai if my body and mind are so exhausted I'll not really appreciate it. It's just so hot here. A big topic on the news is that water consumption in Shanghai with the record temperatures is at an all time high. There will be more regulations on how much water can be consumed. I think that once all 12 of us counselors leave they will notice a drop in consumption. Some of us are showering twice a day, which is quite necessary after an early morning run and a day of playing sports outside with the kids.

Not much to report today. Time to turn in. I feel like I haven't slept in months.

Posted by venisha 06:56 Archived in China Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

TGIF and S

I was so happy when Friday came to a close. Camp is fun, but it's nice to have some time to stop and process. It was Christmas and we were in Minnesota. We sang Christmas carols, ate duck and cuddlefish, and decorated a Christmas tree with ornaments the villagers made during arts and crafts and language class. We also took a "family" photo, which I'll hopefully get posted on the blog so you can actually see a picture of the school, the counselors, and the villagers.

Last night we tried a bunch of different foods. We had a dish with super long stemmed mushrooms, a dish with lots of pork fat, and another with raw chicken in its own juices. I stuck with rice and a noodle dish. All of the dishes were super spicy. We returned to the restaurant next to our hotel that we were at when I really needed a cold beverage and didn't get one. We weren't planning on going there, but our restaurant was having a buffet that was 60 Yuan (about 10 bucks a person), which was just to much for a group of 14.

Today we are at the school to do some prep. I'm hoping to get next weeks lessons pretty much done so I can help out in other areas like breaktime, sports, or arts and crafts.

Skype is awesome! You should check it out. My roomie, Kylie, paid 6 dollars for a month of unlimited international phone calls. You can't call me, but I can call you. The only challenge is actually having the time and the energy to call. I'm not sure I've ever appreciated phone conversations as much as I did yesterday. Living in the States with a cell phones makes me very addicted to hearing peoples' voices. Happy Birthday Dad! Gracie and Ella, I'm happy to hear the cats are happy and aren't missing me and that your new house is so spectacular.

Ok, time to work so I can get out of the school.

Posted by venisha 18:21 Archived in China Tagged living_abroad Comments (1)

Almost to the 1/2 way point

At the end of today I will have reached the half-way point. Only one week of camp to go. If plans hadn't changed, we would have headed south to Guangzhou for a 2-week resident camp. That means we would have stayed in a dorm/camp setting with the kids. Given the heat and the intensity of our days already, I'm starting to realize it's not a bad thing that we are done at the end of next week. It probably wouldn't have been so intense because the curriculum we are using for this 2-week program could have been used again. I'm trying to keep everything we use pretty organized so whoever does this program next year will have minimal prep. It would, however, have been just as intense with a new group of kids.

Yesterday we ventured from our normal peanut-chicken stir-fry. We ate bowels...yep, "bowels." That's what the Chinese call hotdogs. We celebrated the "4th of July" in Chicago yesterday and had bowels, meatballs (instead of hamburgers) and watermelon. We've eaten watermelon everyday so only the bowels and meatballs were different. The kids played baseball and sang, "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" and a hand game song to "Miss Mary Mack Mack Mack, All dressed in black black black..." At the end of the day we "paraded" up to the assembly room for a movie and some skits. The day ended with some outdoor games like a water balloon fight and some water relay races.

Last night we had a buffet dinner at the restaurant. It had a few of the regulars like peanut chicken and watermelon, but there was also sweet and sour chicken with pineapple. Yummy! I was happy to see there wasn't a dish that we had tried the night before as one of the few buffet choices. It is by far my least favorite dish here. I'm not sure what's it's called but it's basically a plate of out 10 different mushrooms and some bony chicken parts.

I bought a Chinese umbrella yesterday for the sun and the rain. I think it's going to rain soon because the dragonflies are almost at our ankles now. Most people carry umbrellas for the sun and the rain. You can always tell when the temperature reaches a certain level because the street is full of a variety of colored umbrellas.

Ok, time to head down to breakfast. I've moved away from the bean curd sticky buns to toast with sunflower butter and jam with a sweet coffee beverage.

Posted by venisha 15:57 Archived in China Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)


99 °F

I'm so happy it's Thursday. The students are getting very comfortable and we are hearing a lot more English. Yesterday a girl at my family vomited under the table. Even though my Mandarin is sketchy at best, I was able to explain to the cooks that we needed the haz. mat. team stat. Our nurse (my roomie Kylie) escorted her out of the cafeteria to wash her face and surprisingly escorted her back into the cafeteria. The girl finished lunch and the day with no problems. The other kids say she was guzzling water. They said she would fill up her bottle and slam it. I guess worse things have happened.

While I was in the computer lab yesterday barefoot (we have to take our shoes off at the door and wear slippers but I forgot my slippers), I realized I was doing all the computer commands automatically. When I needed a word in bold, I just hit "ctrl b" and didn't think anything of it. Well, yesterday I needed to create a table. Everything on the computers is in Chinese characters. I had to try and remember if "create table" was under the third column, the first column, etc. I knew the computer was set up for Chinese because to type in English you have to hit "Shift" and then type otherwise it's in Chinese character font, but it didn't dawn on me that all of the "file" "edit" etc. commands at the top of the page on windows are in Chinese. Today I need to create some visuals. Should be interesting.

This morning on my run I saw a man on his scooter carrying an entire butchered cow (possibly a pig) behind him. The inside was cleaned but the body was completely in tact. It was so large it was dangling off both sides and bouncing around as he went over each bump. I'm not sure I'll eat my beef vegetable stir fry today.

I'm not sure I mentioned it before but when we enter our hotel room we have to put our key card in a slot to be able to use lights or electricity and have the air conditioner come on. When we take the key card out, everything turns off, including the air conditioning. It's a novel concept. Our hotel has a washing machine and dryer on first floor by the reception desk that we are able to use for a small fee. If you turn the lights off in the room when you leave, the washing machine and dryer also turn off. It took a very tired counselor a while to figure this one out. Luckily it wasn't me. :)

It's really cooled off around here. I think it's in the high 90s. Just to give you an idea of the heat, I think you should all go outside during the hottest part of the day like around 12-2:30 with a winter jacket, boots, scarf, hat, and mittens on and go for about 5 mile run while carrying a backpack with 5 big books in it. A boy at school yesterday told me that it's going to rain soon because the dragonflies are flying low to the ground. He said that the air gets so heavy the weight is too great for them to fly high. Smart kid! I've been thinking a lot about the comment my friend Carrie made in Peace Corps Guatemala when we were out on a field visit during training. It was so hot none of us could sleep. At about 2:00 in the morning Carrie was so frustrated listening to us sigh and she yelled, "If you think this is hot, wait til the Devil wakes up and stokes the fire!"

Well, that's it for the update today. I was just having a "what????" kinda morning.

Posted by venisha 15:37 Archived in China Tagged living_abroad Comments (1)

Tai Chi and Running

101 °F

Tai Chi and running made it back into my schedule this morning. It was a short run and I FINALLY joined the Tai Chi group. They were really sweet. Because of the Tai Chi I did in the States, I was able to follow most of the movements with the exception of one or two. Of course, I'm not touching all the pressure points I should or grounding myself equally on both sides, but hopefully they have a routine and I'll be able to get more detailed as I go. I was definitely the youngest one there. Everyone was in there 50s or 60's or older. I'm not sure why the young-folk have given up such a wonderful meditative practice.

Al (Chinito), emailed me that the name of the city, "the Venice of China" is Suzhou in the Jiangsu province. His maternal grandfather is from that province. I've heard that the people from Suzhou and the Jiangsu Province have exceptionally fine skin are are extremely beautiful, which is one of the reasons the emperor wanted to search throughout the city for women. Al, I guess that explains why your skin is as soft as it is. :)

The good news from home: Kristin found me a camera on eBay and is bringing it to the Thailand. Now, I'll for sure have to scrounge some photos from my co-workers in China.

Off to breakfast so I can fuel up on dumplings and noodles. Another hot day in China is underway.

Posted by venisha 16:25 Archived in China Tagged living_abroad Comments (1)

Day 2...Check

110 °F

Day 2 is finished...only 8 to go. Today was much better than yesterday. I was able to get the language lessons planned for all 6 groups for both language sessions. I didn't participate in the morning or evening program, but we were able to leave school at 7:30 PM instead of 9:00 PM. Our day was only 12.5 hours long. Not bad! The kids really warmed up to us today. They are starting to talk to us. It's hard to understand them since they've really only been reading and writing English. It's fun when they discover how to say a word that they thought was said in a certain way. Today was Thanksgiving and we were in Boston. Each day we have a theme/festival we focus on and a state we are traveling in. Yesterday was New York City (Ellis Island for customs) and New Year's Eve. We had a ball drop from the balcony at the evening program while we did a countdown, gave toasts we prepared during language class, and told what our resolutions were (also created during language class). Today we had a traditional Thanksgiving lunch with roasted chicken in a Chinese sauce, green beans with lots of oil, mashed potatoes Chinese style, milk soup with winter squash, and a banana for our postre. I pretend we were eating banana cream pie. It was quite a fun game for me. The villagers in my family were a bit confused, but at our table or in my family is one other counselor, Dave, and 6 villagers aged 6-14. One of the 6 year olds who chose to be grandma (all of us have family roles) lost her front tooth yesterday during the meal. She was way too shy to tell any of us so she kept it hidden until one of the other kids saw the blood (yep, real blood) all over her hands. She seemed to survive (as did Dave and I) and she wrapped the tooth in a napkin and tucked it away into her bag to bring home. I tried to ask the kids in my family if the tooth fairy would come. The only thing I managed to get from them is that they put the tooth in their shoes. Not really sure if that is what they were trying to say. I didn't really press too much for information.

The "naughty" boy got a bit worse today and punched another 6 year old in the face. He was escorted out of the room to our Chinese translator who gave him hugs and wanted to send him back into the program. We put our foot down and said that he had to stay with her. If after 30 minutes he was behaving, he would be allowed to participate. He never made it back today. Perhaps tomorrow will be better.

Our dinner routine has stayed consistent. We haven't tried any new dishes. Dave, Jamie, and I have taken to ordering for the whole group since our Chinese translators rides the bus home with the kids. Our latest dish which started yesterday and will be a constant for the rest of our stay is breaded and fried apple slices with coconut sprinkled on top. Yummy! The rest of the food is the peanut chicken, beef with peppers, sliced, raw potatoes with some buttery oily sauce, some noodle dish with a Chinese sauce and a few green leaves (not sure what), and rice.
A few of us were wondering today if we would ever get tired of ordering these dishes. They are so familiar to us. After our travels on Sunday, we were happy to get "home" to the hotel and eat "our food". We order platters and we all dish up our plates using our chopsticks (dropping food along the way) or we just eat from the communal platter. It's really hilarious.

Today was again over 100 degrees. I think it will be this temperature for the rest of the summer. Eventually my body will get used to it...I think...ok, hope.

Until tomorrow. Thinking of you all. By the way, it's 9:30 PM on July 8 for me and if you are in Minnesota, it is 8:30 AM on July 7. I lost a whole day when I came here. I'll never get it back. So sad. I will gain a day, though, on my return. I leave on August 18 and I arrive on August 18 almost at the same time. Some people in my group will arrive to the States before they even left China. Weird.

Posted by venisha 06:16 Archived in China Tagged living_abroad Comments (1)


112 °F

On Sunday we bussed two hours to see a city nicknamed "The Venice of China." It was the coolest thing I've seen in China so far. I would have loved to stay for awhile and sit by the canals. The story goes that a long, long time ago an emperor wanted to have the canals dug so he could move easily through the city looking for a wife and his concubines. We took a boat trip and were able to understand his logic. It's so much easier to see all that's going on on the banks when you are slowing floating. We were able to see into the back alleyways and into peoples' homes. I swear I was in the National Geographic magazine.

On the way to the Venice of China we stopped off at some amazing Chinese gardens that used to be the homes of the emperors. Our mansions in the States are all extremely private and have lots of enclosed spaces. In China the mansions are all open. They have windows that frame the bamboo plants or plum trees from the outside. It is called, "natural art". There are ponds dug and little caves for privacy. Of course everything is facing particular directions for the seasons.

We also stopped at a silk factory. The city we were in (I have a hard time remembering the names) and the province is the biggest silk producer of all of China. We saw the process of the silk worms eating Mulberry leaves. Silk worms only live for about 60 days. They eat for the first 25 days. Then, they start making the cocoon. The cocoon is baked to kill the moth inside. Then, the cocoons are soaked in hot water. After that a person (usually a woman) finds the beginning of the thread of the cocoon and unravels it. Once it's unraveled, it's joined with others treads to make the fabric. Of course the process is way more tedious than I've described. It really is an amazing process. I felt very bad for all the women working. The 110 degrees outside was intensified inside. It really was unbearable. I'm not sure how they coped. They weren't even sitting.

So, that was Sunday. We arrived from our trip very late on Sunday night and were up and ready to head to school at 7:30. Our "customs" was a success. The kids entered the United States by going through a language interview, changing their names to an English name (most already had them), stopping at the health post, and making a name tag. I believe it was similar to "Ellis Island". After that, the parents who came with their kids, stayed for an hour long program to demonstrate our teaching talents. Kate and I didn't participate too much in that program as we had to have all 35 kids placed into language groups before it ended. The language interviews were about 2 minutes long so the placement piece was tricky. Overall our language groups are nicely divided. We'll make a couple of changes today, but I think we did fairly decent job.

The hardest part of the day was the sports rotation. It was about 110 degrees yesterday (and has been for awhile now). The kids got really not playing soccer. We brought a huge container of water and that disappeared in a mere hour. We'll be better prepared today.

The kids are soooo cute. Most of them are really polite and sweet. We have a couple who were climbing on furniture, pinching and hitting the counselors, and pulling peoples' hair. Their families would be very ashamed. I'm glad we only have a couple of those kids.

Most of the kids have been studying English in school and can read and write fairly well, but they can't speak or listen. That, I guess, is going to be our role. I wonder if we'll be able to do it it 2 weeks. :)

Well, time for me to put on the skort and head down to breakfast. My breakfast now consists of toast with jelly (they've increased their supply for us as it's really the only non-grease saturated food there), and watermelon. I'm in love the red bean that is in the pastries and sticky buns, but I need to limit that intake cause it's just not so good for me. I'm going to start running tomorrow. That'll help me feel like my red bean curd intake can be higher. Kylie, my roommate, runs daily to stay in shape for soccer. She's on the team at Bethel College. My neck is still sore. I think it'll take some time to heal. I'll take it easy out there. Even a solitary walk with thousands of Chinese will be me good.

Thinking and missing you all!

Posted by venisha 15:35 Archived in China Tagged living_abroad Comments (2)

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