Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Welcome Back to Louisiana!

After a somewhat grueling 15 hours of driving from North Carolina to Louisiana, I finally made it back to the Rouge. I knew I was home when I stepped into a gas station and saw this sale rack of Rum right at the front. Oh Louisiana, I did not know how much I missed thee...

Friday, May 23, 2008

Some China Highlights

I have been back home for nearly a week now and it has been a nice chance to put everything in perspective. I have been able to catch up with some old friends and hope to follow through with some more throughout the long weekend. I am happy to have cheese and hamburgers again. Its nice to be able to shower everyday and have clean towels. It is a little weird to slow things down, when I am traveling almost everyday is jam-packed and my schedule is always pretty tight. The culture shock has been minimal, and I have been getting plenty of sleep. I am not all that excited about going back to work, simply because it is so much of the same old...

My challenge to myself for this week is to plan out my next couple of years and begin executing my plan. I have been really impressed with my girlfriend's cousin and her husband, and it is really inspiring. Two years ago they were living out of a small rented apartment and still trying figure out how they were going to get married and start their lives together. Now they have a home that they designed and built from scratch, they have a child on the way, and everything was planned from the beginning. A friend of mine also reinforced this impression with a little story that I will share...

A study was done in a Harvard business class regarding goals and planning. Out of 100 students, 5 had explicitly written and set goals for their life. Years later, the study caught up with the students and found that each single one of the 5 who had goals were worth more than the entire sum of the other 95.

So not that monetary worth is at the top of my life list, but I think this can illustrate that it is much easier to get what you want if you know exactly what it is. If you are not making the decisions that guide your life then someone else is.

So right now the only goal I have written down is:

1) Spend more time at the beach

which I will be following up with this afternoon.

Happy Memorial Day weekend everyone and be careful driving home when everyone gets out of work early. Take the back roads if you know them, it will be a much better way to start your weekend just easing into it rather than sitting in traffic.

Also - I have way too many China photos to show everyone, but I made a little highlight reel of some of my favorites. I still have no wedding pictures, but I will let you in on the combo Judeo-Chinese wedding when I get my hands on them.


Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Back Home!

After 12 hours next to a group of middle school Chinese tennis players, 3 hours in DC, and another two hours getting ignored by a flight attendant back to Raleigh, we finally made it safe and sound back to Willow Spring. I am still trying to put my whole trip together and take some perspective, but as for now I will just have to post some pics that I hope you will enjoy.

Check out the Greatest Wall in all of China

Friday, May 16, 2008

Longman Grottoes

I am trying to get some more pics up for your viewing pleasure. Here are some shots from the Longman Grottoes. This is mountainside which has buddha's carved throughout, all different sizes and shapes. Many of the smaller buddha's have their faces smashed due to the upheaval during the Cultural Revolution after Mao came into power - a sad consequence, and many other entire buddha's were stolen by thieves and plundering armies throughout the years. All is protected now, and it all adds to the historical significance of the site.

Longman Grottoes

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Louyang and Chinese Wedding

We spent the last week doing alot of prep-work for the wedding and sneaking in some sights and stops in between. We went to one of the world's oldest buddhist temples in Louyang, it was commisioned in 68 B.C. by the Emperor after two monks arrived from the West on White Horses with teachings and scrolls from India. Not far was hundreds of thousands of Buddhas carved into the side of a mountain, some as small as my fingers and some as large as a house. For all of these trips we hired a private driver to take us out of the city and around the surrounding areas, Louyang is considered small as it has a mere 3 million people.

The rest of the week was devoted to buying suits, shoes, wedding rehearsal, and preparation. The wedding was a combination of Jewish and Chinese, so I didn't really understand a thing that was said or done throughout the entire ceremony (except for the "I do's" at the end). A funny thing about Chinese culture is that they really don't tell you everything you need to know because they don't really know until it is time to act. We found out at 11 PM the night before the wedding about a tradition that the man cleans the house the night before the wedding for the bride's parents to visit after the ceremony (keep in mind this was after we spent the evening in a local bar watching a friend defeat a Chinaman on TV in a MMA match - not the most sober of evenings). A tradition I really enjoyed was before the processional we (all of the dudes) had to run upstairs to the ladies' hotel room and use our money, songs, and fists to force our way into the room. We then had to find the bride's shoes before we could take her downstairs, which my friend had to carry her down the 12 flights...granted he got to use the elevator. The wedding then HAD to start before 12 (another tradition) and once the ceremony was over and the glass was broken we partied it up until they kicked us out of the hall. The party did not stop there as we got a room at the hotel and carried on until everyone stumbled home or passed out.

I also want to pass some general knowledge about our trip to hina, but I also feel like I have learned too much to pass along so easily. Travelling and meeting new people are experiences that cannot be replaced by books or words. Just learning how ater is consumed has been an educational experience. I eat beef at almost every meal but I have not seen a hamburger or a teak in three weeks. The language has shaped the minds of the people so that pictures and characters that represent ideas and actions are more important than specific adjectives and adverbs to express detail. The population density in urban areas is astounding, its hard to be alone and the crowds can be overwhelming yet there is very little crime. The free market thrives with little to no regulation, we could buy beer in one shop, buy bbq meat across the street and consume all of the above in the shop where we buy the appetizers and side dishes. Low prices and high quality can go together, but the low prices associated with the low quality items are astoundingly lower, mere pennies on the dollar. You can always bargain for a lower price, in fact it is expected nearly everywhere, if you pay more than half of the sticker price then you are geting a terrible deal. Taxis are a way of life, a metro would be nice in many of these cities, but when there is such an efficient and cheap taxi service there is little motivation to add public transport. I still do not understand the tax system, since every business is run nearly exclusively on a cash only basis, I have gotten maybe four reciepts (including two from ATM's). There are many common products here that you rarely see in the U.S. - many fruits and vegetables I have never seen, spices and teas, an astounding amount of Jade, bags of watermelon seeds, bbq squid, a dizzying array of cell phones, and outrageous ice cream products (not really ice cream - maybe soy cream) with beans and seeds inside, but finding a gallon of milk is like finding the Temple of the Crescent Moon.

I have lots of pictures, but I am also missing some as I will need to collect from other friends that I am visiting with. I uploaded some pictures from the Shaolin Temple, the internet is slow at the hostel we are staying at so I only have time to get these few uploaded.


Monday, May 5, 2008

China...the beginning

The lanugage barrier is hard to get through, especially since none of the signs make any sense and there are no real cognates or similar words. A waiter was trying to pour me more tea at dinner for me, which I tried to deny. The word "no" and waving my hands did nothing to stop him, but a simple "boo" worked (which is the equivalent to the word "not"). My friend that lives here is pretty fluent, so he helps us get around by writing his address down so that we can have a cabbie just read it and get us back to his place (written in chinese characters which are entirely unintelligible).

Here is a little twist to our trip...My friend that we are staying with has recently purchased and moved into a brand-spanking new apartment. To the point where very few people even live in his building, and most of the other buildings in the complex are not at a habitable state of construction. So apparently, upon unpacking, moving, and closing his lease on his old place, he finds out the new buildings are not on the city gas grid yet, which means no cooking on the stove or oven (a luxury that he had installed) and no HOT WATER! However, a lucky convenience, there are two bath houses across the street from the complex, where you can bathe, sauna, jacuzzi and get a massage for less than $2 (I think the massage costs a little extra). So the inconvenience of having to walk across the street to shower is easily mitigated by the pampering you get for such a low cost (kind of). Either way, I am no stranger to such travel twists and its just another way to unfold a good story.

The city we are staying in right now is called ZhengZhou (pronounced Jung-Joe), which is the capital of the province. They estimate the population to be around 6-8 million. So it is a massive, bustling thriving city. Taxi's are everywhere, (and they are metered - no negotiating necessary) and they cost around 1-2 dollars to get almost anywhere within the city. We hired a private driver to take us to a temple outside the city today, maybe an hour+ cab ride and it ran us about 50 bucks for a round trip. So getting around has been pretty smooth (knock on wood). The downtown is a little overwhelming, with traffic laws being merely suggestions and all kinds of traffic, from pedestrian, to bicycle, to electric motor bikes, to buses, taxis, vehicles, and the occasional three-wheeled trucks. I can't even count on my fingers the times we were in a cab and we were moving directly into on-coming traffic, but everyone drives pretty slow around town and everyone understands the unspoken rules of the road - basically if you can get your car there then it is fair game - so there is this feeling of organized chaos that is kind of comforting considering the line of work I am in.

We spent all day at the Shaolin Temple today, which is where they invented Kung-Fu, saw a great show there and a temple that is way older than Jesus. I have lots of pics and some cool video of the Kung-fu show. One of the dudes threw a metal pin through a glass plate...
I saw a really great show for the bachelor party, but that might not go into written form....
I have eaten like a king pretty much every meal, there is a lot of family style here with rotating tables and the big bowls of food, so we usually order as many items as we can fit on the table and just spin it around until we are full. Each restaurant is unique, although there are some similar dishes (like the roast duck plate) the menus and the ambience is an entirely new experience. When my friend is not around we are left to our own devices so getting a translated menu is quite a kick, I'll bring some example's back when I get home, but today we ate a dish translated as "Jam burns the roasted eggplant" and "fragrant flowering garlic roasting duck blood" - hilarious and delicious at the same time.