Let there be snow!

It almost doesn’t seem real. Packing up again and getting ready to get back on the road. I’ve made a whole new life here in Beijing. I’ve got a good paying job, friends, stuff, an apartment. And now it’s time to continue on.

Images dance around in my head. Unbelievably cute little kids with rosy cheeks wrapped up in huge jackets walking up to me and asking for money while eating a sweet potato (half of which is smeared all over their faces). Taxi drivers giving me Chinese lessons on the way to my next class. Bracing myself mentally for my first English class. The insane heat of Summer and the bitter cold of Winter. Literally running away from old women trying to sell me socks (5 for 60! 5 for 60!). Hopping into the back of a car with the windows covered to change yuan to dollars.

Haha, oh, I didn’t tell you about that? Well, China is funny. You can change dollars to Yuan, but you can’t change Yuan to dollars. So all the money you make here is supposed to be spent here ¨officially”. The only problem is that English teachers make way more than they would ever spend and so I am sending some cash back home. I couldn’t go to the bank though because “that’s not allowed”. So how to do it, then?

When my buddy Simon was in town, he got a lead on a fake newspaper stand that was actually a black market money changing place. I went to the general area and tried to find it. After asking lots of random people who couldn’t speak English if they could change money, I gave up. Then I got another lead. My old roommate had the number of someone who could help, but she didn’t know anything more. She gave me a note with some Chinese on it. I showed that to the taxi driver and we were off. In the snow. Yes, it finally started snowing today! Although it melted within a few hours. We drove around Beijing until we arrived at the place on the paper. I hopped out and showed a guy the note. He walked to a group of guys not too far away and they all yelled at me “Change money!!” and pointed at a car next to the building.

I got inside.

The windows had curtains over them so no one could see in and as I sat down, a woman in the front seat turned around and stared at me.

“25,000 yuan,” I wrote on a paper.

She pulled out her calculator, showed me the rate of 8.26 (the official rate is 8.27, so that’s not too bad) and I handed over a FAT stack of Chinese 100 notes, all rubber banded. She counted it, then sent her “associate” to the bank. He eventually returned with more money than most Chinese earn in a year, handed it to the woman, who counted it and gave it to me. I showed each 100 note up to the light, checked for the watermark, the little strip inside, and texture. Everything was good and I hopped out. That was that.

Ahhhh, life in China!

So anyways, my money is changed, so now it’s just a matter of wiring it back home. We’ll see how that adventure goes. In other news, I’m just getting over a pretty bad stomach bug. I had to go home from work Saturday because I felt so bad and I’ve been spending the past week or so trying to recover. Only today am I able to stay awake past 8PM and walk around with the feeling that I’m not going to vomit. I still have a splitting headache and have no appetite, but tomorrow will probably be better. Today was my day off of work (my last day is in two days) and I spent the day changing money, picking up my visa, turning in my taxi receipts to Berlitz, picking up some scarves for my mom (I don’t know anything about scarves so I hope she likes them), getting a gift for my roommate, Brad, and coming home to size up what exactly I’ll be keeping and what I’ll be throwing away.

The problem is that I need to figure out where I’m going to go next. I have until the 1st to get to Saigon in Vietnam to meet up with my mom, stepdad and aunt, and I’m not sure where I’m going before that. I have decided that I want to take a train there so I can see the countryside, but the whole train ride will only take maybe 4 days total, so that leaves me with another 6 days to kill somewhere else. Where do I want to spend Christmas?

This is tricky because it will be my first solo Christmas. Last Christmas (you may remember) was spent with Erika and her family in Argentina (my god, it’s been a year already!). I am a firm believer that things are only as important as you make them, so Christmas shouldn’t be too bad alone, but then again, you never know exactly how you will react to it. More than anything, I want to do it as an experiment to see just how I handle it. We’ll see how it goes.

So now I’m pondering what I want to send home. It’s funny because I really don’t have much to send. Just a few gifts from students and maybe some clothes and my pictures. My apartment was furnished and I’m selling my computer. I haven’t bought much else. I have honestly learned how to live on next to nothing and it’s a great feeling.

Ahhh, China, so many memories. I’ll be back though after Southeast Asia to check out Southern China. You can’t get a feeling about the whole place just from one city.

This whole trip up until now has been a surreal experience. I can’t believe all that I have done and I can’t believe that it’s only a little over halfway complete. I will try to put a better summary on my Beijing experience in a future post (when I can get some perspective). Stay tuned.

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