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Terracotta fever

So I last left off with seeing the Giant Pandas. We had one more day before leaving for Xian and we wanted to get the most out of it. Unfortunately, we are lazy bastards and slept in again. After a lazy morning and a late breakfast / early lunch, we headed to the train station and bought our tickets to Xian for later that day. I spotted a guy with a really cool (and massive) umbrella hat and when I asked if I could take a photo of him, he said no but I could wear it for my own photo. He made my day.

There’s not really much to do in Chengdu proper and so we ended up at this ancient poet’s cottage to check it out. It’s been converted into a huge park with all sorts of stuff related to him. In his museum, they quite modestly said, “The DuFu cottage museum is superior to any other places in the world.” Now that’s quite a statement! I had my doubts at first, but very quickly realized that it was the greatest place on earth. After all…it was DuFu’s cottage! (yeah…who the hell is Dufu?)

We ended up running into a couple we met in Tiger Leaping Gorge and we all talked for a while. They said they spotted us on the train coming from Dali – passed out on the hard seats in crazy random positions. We didn’t see them. So later, it was time to catch our train and we did that. It was pretty uneventful and we had hard sleepers so after some beers and a few games of chess, we passed out and woke up in the morning. We had met a nice Chinese guy who spoke perfect English and we went with him to his hostel in the morning. The hostel was pretty nice seeing as it was huge and had lots of corridors and patios, a restaurant and bar, and cheap rooms. But we had no time to marvel at the hotel – we had to go see the terracotta warriors! For anyone who didn’t know, Xian is the home of thousands of man sized stone soldiers in China that were excavated in 1974. They were all broken up so they have had to reconstruct them. So we wanted to see them, but didn’t have much time so we planned to do it the next day. In the mean time, we went to the museum and grabbed some coffee which we sipped over an intense game of chess. Nancy has been beating me recently and I was having a very difficult time coming up with all sorts of excuses as to why. I finally had to admit that she is a really good chess player and that defeat comes with the territory. It’s much better than playing against someone you always win though. When you are traveling, a 2 hour game of chess can really entertain you through some boring times (as long as you are one of the ones playing).

That night we hung out at the pub and played some pool while we chatted with some Australians, English and an American. I played the drums with the band in the pub which was cool. That morning, we met up with an Australian girl and headed to the bus station so we could go check out the Terracotta warrior statues. The admission to the park was pretty steep (nearly 12 dollars) and my fake student ID card didn’t work seeing as they only allowed Chinese students in – so I just had to pay it. I’ve heard lots of people go on and on about the statues but I’ve also heard most of them say when asked how they were, “…ummm…they were cool”, which led me to believe that they would be somewhat of a disappointment. Well, let me tell you! …They were…

Why? Well, you go in and see all these statues (only about 15% of which have actually been excavated) and you really know nothing else about them. You don’t know why, when, how, how they reconstructed them, why they destroyed them, when they would finish, what the future plans were. You just walk around, see a bunch of statues in some buildings and leave. It would have felt the same just looking at photos (and I had seen my brother’s so I already knew). But oh well, it was on the way, so I’m not complaining.

When we returned, we had our tickets already booked to Beijing. We caught the train in the afternoon – and sadly, we only had hard seats for the 17 hour train ride. So basically, we sat in two pairs of opposing chairs, staring at the Chinese guys in front of us for the whole trip. While passing through the dining car, I saw a foreigner reading John Stuart Mill and of course struck up a conversation. He was an international human rights lawyer from Gibraltar (look on the map – an English colony in the south of Spain) working in Beijing and we had quite a fascinating conversation about the world. I hadn’t talked much about human rights and the farce of the European Union (which he actually believed in) in Spanish so it was really cool. The funny thing was that neither had he. In Gibraltar, they speak Spanish on the streets and English as the official language, but we both chatted away for hours before heading back to our car and chatting with Nancy. Nancy and Jaime played chess while we drank to pass the time away (in these trains, there is not much else to do – and at 20 cents for a huge bottle, it’s hard to resist). I slept from exhaustion for a few hours (maybe two) and we arrived in Beijing at 7:00am. I took Nancy to her hostel and I headed for my friend’s house and gave everyone a call. My old roommate Shery said I could stay with her and I was to meet up with Maurizio for some dinner. I took Nancy out on the town to show her around and then that evening went out with Maurizio and his friends for coffee and dinner. Then me and Maurizio went to the campus pub and hung out there for the night. It was really fun to be able to do that again and it reminded me of so many weekends in Beijing when I lived there.

Well, that night, I had to make it back to Shery’s apartment. To make a long story short, I ended up getting the wrong building and really freaking some Chinese people out at 2:00AM before wandering around the complex and finding the right one. In the morning…well, afternoon, seeing as I woke up at noon, Shery and I got some lunch and then I headed into town. Nancy and I were to get Beijing Roast Duck for dinner and I happen to know where the best place in town is. We went and gorged ourselves – and loved it. What an incredible meal a good Beijing roast duck is, hey.

The next day, I bought my train ticket to Shanghai (a 19 hour hard seat again seeing as they were all booked out – but which I managed to get for 10 bucks as opposed to 40) and then we headed to the Beijing TV tower so I could show Nancy Beijing from above. Even though I had already seen it, I was blown away yet again.

That night, I went out to dinner with Maurizio and some other friends from here and we all had a really nice evening joking around. And this morning, here I find myself doing this post. Funny how that happens.

So how does it feel to be back? Very comfortable. I know where to go for everything and I have lots of friends here. Things have changed, but not as much as I expected. Some stores are different and stuff like that, but nothing too dramatic. My friends haven’t changed at all. People from the stores I frequented still remember me, even, and that’s pretty cool. But otherwise, it’s just a place I’m passing through again. Like being back home for a few days.

So today I’m going to go to the market and who knows what else – then it’s off to Shanghai and then down to Hong Kong, depending on how much time I have. A ticket to Cairo from HK is 650 bucks, but it’s only 100 to fly to Bangkok and 380 from Bangkok airport to Cairo. So I’ll do that and save some cash. My friend Colleen is in Thailand right now so she will reserve the ticket for me. It sure is a weird feeling to have friends in so many countries, let me tell you…

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.


I sat around doing nothing. Watch a DVD. Drink some tea. Recover. That’s usually the plan for Thursday mornings. No work until the evening, so it’s a nice break. The thing about my job is that yeah, it’s fun, it’s easy, and I get paid well – but I don’t get paid for breaks between classes, nor for time in the taxi (although Berlitz does pay for the taxi). So that basically means that from the time I leave the house to the time I get back, I’ve been gone nearly 12 hours and only get paid for around 5 or 6. Oh well. I make like four times what your typical college grad makes here so I can’t complain too much, but the problem is that it’s draining. I see that I will be gone in a month (my god, I can’t believe it!), so it’s easy to trudge through it. But yes, Thursday is the day to relax.

So I figured that I would take care of my Vietnam visa last Thursday. I took out my passport and flipped through it.

“Hm…” I thought to myself. “I wonder when my Chinese visa expires…”

I flipped to the page.

“November 26th,” it read.

I did some quick math. That left me with one day to renew my visa.

I snapped into action. I called Berlitz and barked begged them to have a letter saying I worked for them and a copy of the business license, both of which needed the official stamp, ready for me by the time I got to the office. I threw on my suit, flew out the door and off I went.

I hopped in a taxi on the street corner and when I said my destination, he said he had to eat.

“What the hell?” I thought to myself. Why the hell did he pick me up if he wanted to go get some food. I explained that I didn’t have time (was this guy asking me out???) and he let me off at the corner. I got another taxi and hopped on the “express” way with about a billion other people, which is why “express” is in quotes. An hour later, I arrived at Berlitz, got my letter, filled out my application and was back in the tax, and back on the “express” way toward the Visa Office. No taxi drivers seem to know the name of this place, so telling them where to go is always a challenge. Although I know very few words, I was surprised at how easily I was able to say “I want to go to this building but I don’t know the name. I know where it is and I’ll tell you when we get there” in Chinese. Trip out.

So we eventually arrived and I hopped in line with the other hundred or so foreigners trying to get a visa just like me. I’d done this before, so I was ready with everything I needed. Last time it was easy. Give the papers to the lady (I even chose the same one that I spoke with last time since she knew English), get the receipt and pick up the passport a week later. This time, however, was different.

“Umm…do you have a residency certificate?” the lady asked me.

“Well, I don’t want residency. I just want to extend my business visa,” I calmly explained.

“Well, you need to go register at your local police station. They will give you a certificate and you can come back,” she just as calmly explained.

“Is this something new?”

“Yes,” she replied.

My stomach turned. Once you start the paper chase, it doesn’t end in China, especially for something “new”. Undoubtedly, no one who was supposed to know about this would know about it. I would just end up going from place to place begging a bunch of people who didn’t speak English to have mercy on me.

“But my visa expires TOMORROW!” I begged.

“It’s no problem. Just go to the police station today and then come back tomorrow,” she explained.

“HAH!” I thought to myself. She might as well have just stabbed me and explained that there was no problem – I could just go to the hospital and put some bandages on it.

“What’s the fine if I go over my days on the visa?” I asked.

“500 yuan a day.”

“Where is ‘my local police station’?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” she replied.

“Can you write ‘police station’ in Chinese on this paper so I can show a taxi driver?” I asked.

She did. I left. Alone. Confused. A little scared. A little dismayed. How the hell was I supposed to find the police station? And what was I supposed to do when I got there?

I walked from taxi to taxi asking if they knew where it was.

“Bu zhi dao!” they all replied. One after another after another. I was close to giving up. Then I found one.

He didn’t know exactly where it was ( must be in Beijing, he probably thought). We set off. He headed in one direction, then back another. Then back another, as though he were exploring the crevices of his brain with the actual taxi itself.

We got stuck in traffic and I wondered how I was going to do this. How many days would I miss from work getting this done? Who would teach my students? Am I going to have to fly to another country and apply for a new visa? Within 30 minutes of crawling through traffic though, he found it. I was at the police station. I hopped out and walked in.

Everyone looked at me. I looked a bit out of place. A woman at a desk barked something at me. I showed her the brochure they gave me at the visa office that said I needed this residency certificate. She barked something else at me and I stared blankly back at her.

“I’m sorry, I don’t speak Chinese,” I explained (in Chinese).

We were at a stalemate. We both stared at each other.

“Your passport. She wants your passport,” a young girl said behind me as she walked out.

“Ohhhh,” I said as I handed it to her.

She asked where I lived. Then explained to me that the landlord was going to have to come down and verify me. And so was my “district police officer”.

“What the hell?” I thought. The LANDLORD??? And who is MY district police officer?? Certainly there had to be a more convenient way. People can’t just drop everything and come down to say “okay” for every white guy in China. Maybe I could bring George Bush. Maybe Chairman Hu Jing Tao. What the heck, why not Bill Gates. They could represent America and China for me.

No, there wasn’t. She had to come down or she couldn’t do anything. George, Hu, and Bill wouldn’t need to come down in person though. So that was a relief.

I called my roommate who was away on business in another city. He talked to her and then explained to me that he was going to have to call the landlord and see when, or IF, she could come down.

I sat for an hour and waited at the police station. My feet were cold. The door kept slamming.

Finally Brad called me back and said he didn’t get a chance to talk to her because she was in a meeting. He would call me back later and let me know.

I headed to work. I called my boss, Val, and explained that I wouldn’t be able to make it to class the next day due to visa problems. She was very understanding and told me that it wouldn’t be a problem. She would take care of everything.

I taught my class for Bristol Myers and then Brad called. The landlady would be able to come down at 9:00am tomorrow. His friend Ray would come down to the apartment at 8:30 and find the contract in Brad’s room and we would head down together to meet this woman at the police station.

“Great. Hopefully it goes smoothly,” I thought pessimistically.

The next day, Ray showed up. We found the contract and headed down to the police station. We talked to lots of people. After walking up six flights of stairs, me, the landlady and Ray were interrogated by a permanently confused police officer.

“What do you need?” he asked in Chinese as he squinted his eyes and scratched his head.

“A residency certificate,” we explained.

“A what??” he asked.

This was going swell, I thought.

He wrote down all my info. All of Brad’s info. All the landlady’s info. I’m sure he made some stuff up too. He folded the paper up and went downstairs. We spent some time waiting around and finally someone started to help us. The looked at all my documents and I handed all my stuff over.

“You should have done this the day you arrived. You should have read the Chinese law,” she said to me.

“Yeah…” I thought. I must have missed the place that the guy with the CHINESE LAW RAY GUN at the airport when I arrived. You know, that guy that shoots you in the head and the knowledge magically appears in your brain? I slipped by him somehow.

It took me all of 10 minutes from the moment I stepped off the plane to the moment I stepped out onto the sidewalk when I got to this country. I like to learn. I really do. If there was a place that I could learn about the laws, I certainly would have done it. Assuming, of course, I didn’t have to learn Chinese to do so.

“Sorry. It’s my fault. Sorry,” I smiled and said respectfully. My tongue hurt from the pressure of my teeth as I bit it.

“You know, she doesn’t have to do this for you. She is doing you a favor. You should have done this when you first arrived. Make sure you thank her,”someone explained.

I made sure I thanked her. I would have given her a massage if it meant she would give me this paper.

So to make a long story short, after nearly two hours at the police station, I got my paper. I went down to the visa office and everything went over well. I pick up my visa in a few days. No fines. No worries. Just a nice dose of Chinese bureaucracy.

And that’s how it goes here. I couldn’t have done it without everyone who helped me out though. It really was incredible. I think I’ve got to be driving my roommate Brad crazy now. I’m like a little kid that goes and gets in all this trouble and he’s always gotta arrange a hundred things to bail me out.

That crazy Casey. What trouble will he get into next???


I am venturing into unknown territory nowadays. It’s a very strange land, Beijing – and even stranger, my attire. When I left the house yesterday, I was wearing: not one, but two pairs of socks, long underwear, two jackets, gloves and a huge scarf.

Scarf? Yeah. I’ve never worn a scarf in my life. As you can imagine, scarves aren’t all that necessary in nice and sunny Southern California. But there I am, every day, wrapped up like an ancient Egyptian mummy ready for burial. I feel like that fat kid you always see on TV whose mom always makes him wear like 9 times the amount of warm clothes as his friend and he just waddles around after his friends. Damn it…I am so that kid.

Yes, the heat is on. The little radiator in the corner of my room indeed radiates a semblance of heat and takes the cut off of the cold if you keep your door closed. Yesterday, I woke up to the sound of someone pounding on my door:

Upon opening the door, a middle aged Chinese woman drenches me with Chinese.

“Huh? Wo bu hui shuo zhong wen” (I don’t speak Chinese), I reply.
I bring her a paper so that she can write down a note that I could give to my roommate and she rights down a flurry of Chinese and points at it while waiting for my response.
“Ting bu dong” (I don’t understand).
So she writes down some more and repeats the procedure.
“…..ting bu dong” (I don’t understand).
So she writes down some MORE and repeats the procedure.
“Wo bu hui zhong wen, wo hui ying wen. Ni hui ying wen ma?” (I don’t speak Chinese but I speak English. Can you speak English?”
So she comes inside my apartment and goes to the big heat pipe in the kitchen (yes, there is a big pipe that runs through all the apartments). She points at it, points down, and at the note.
“uhhh…wo gei wo de peng you zhezhang” (uhhh, I’ll give this note to my roommate).
She thanks me 20 times, bows five times and is gone.

What the hell that was all about, I don’t know. But hey, that’s life in China.

So what else is new beside crazy Chinese women attacking my heat pipe?

Well, it seems that there is a city wide effort to build little lattices over all plants on the side of the road. I couldn’t figure it out for the longest time until I saw the other day that they were putting tarps over the lattices. I guess the tarps protect the plants from the cold and the lattices support the whole thing.

And please tell me why ALL glass cups in China have chips in them? I can’t understand it. How do you chip ALL your glasses? I’ve never chipped one in my life. My friend told me a story about how her maid chipped all her expensive china cups that she brought from America (China cups from America in China, ironic, eh?), one by one each week until they were all destroyed. She just couldn’t figure out the concept of being careful while she was washing them. But you can still drink from them, yeah? That’s what’s important. Until you cut your tongue open, I suppose.

The other day, Maurizio and I were walking to the DVD store and after going inside, we heard a huge explosion and the outside lit up. The power went out. Everyone ran to the door to see what had happened. A HUGE transformer up on a power pole was black and smoking. It must have been as big as a wide screen TV. So we browsed our DVD’s in the dark. The power was out for the entire block and I wouldn’t be surprised if it stayed that way for a long time.

Even funnier is how we got to the DVD store in the first place. From my apartment we hopped in a cab and started our 20 minute journey to the DVD store. The taxi did not sound like it was in good shape. It sounded sick. It was creaking, squeaking, shaking, rattling and the driver had to turn the wheel nearly a half turn before the car started turning. There was a large crack in the window. And the transmission sounded old and cranky. After we got off the highway came the problems as the driver had to start shifting. He grinded the gears with the skill of a noble warrior but two blocks before getting to the destination (and in the middle of one of the busiest streets in Beijing) I heard the most god awful noise I have ever heard coming from a vehicle. I heard the car die..and it screamed with the agony of the most gut wrenching and mind numbing grinding noise ever. It heaved and spat – and would go no more. The taxi driver looked over at us and sadly said “Sorry…” and we paid him and got out. I felt really bad. Taxi drivers have to pay for their own repairs here. I met a taxi driver who spoke pretty good English the other day and he said he wanted to improve his English so I invited him to dinner with some friends of mine. He seemed somewhat confused – first because he didn’t think I would call and second I don’t think he had ever been invited to dinner by a bunch of westerners before. But we all chatted, I helped him with his English and I learned quite a bit about the taxi life here in Beijing.

The taxi drivers make about 100 yuan a day (about 12 bucks), they work about 10-11 hours a day seven days a week and they have to pay for their own repairs on their cars. If they total their car, they have to pay 20%. China is decommissioning several thousand cheap taxis (there are three classes, cheap, middle, and expensive) to make way for new and more expensive taxis). Crazy stuff.

In other news, my Economist magazine this week had an interesting story about China. Unfortunately I was unable to read it. Why, you ask? Well, it seems that all four pages have been torn out. I looked in another. The same thing happened in all the rest as well. As much as I would like to believe that it was an accident at the printers, I suspect a bit of censorship going on. I spoke with the writer for Asia of The Economist the other day and he said that this is quite common – the Chinese government likes to hack out stories deemed inappropriate. So he’s going to email me the stories.

Ahhh, the crazy crazy life of living in China.


Hey, it’s time to go vote (if you’re a US citizen, that is)! If I could do it all the way from China, many more thousands of miles away from my nearest polling booth than you, you should make it down the street and:


Let there be heat!

It’s getting cold here. Really cold. The nights drop down to about 40 degrees every night here. My feet take about 2 hours to warm up in my sleeping bag and big blanket each night after going to bed. I leave my computer on for warmth. In a genius effort to save energy, the Chinese government prohibits any building from turning on the heat until November 15. Everyone has a big metal coil in their rooms and when the heat turns on, you can’t turn it off. It’s a recirculating system, so any effort to turn off your heat would prohibit anyone else from getting heat. Even then, it would be either on or off. So how do you regulate your heat? Simply open your window and let the biting cold in. Too hot still? Open your window more. Like I said, it’s devilishly clever and efficient.

And Beijing is slowly changing. Whereas in the summer, each day attacked with the ferocity of one million angry bees, the beautiful blue skied autumn mornings begin with a sharply cold-freshness. As I walk to class each day, bright orange and red leaves casually float down from Beijing’s many towering trees and land where they please. Millions of multi-colored leaves dot the green fields and cracked sidewalks; roses bloom with a humble yet vibrant intensity. And I am left in awe at the beauty around me as I meander through the tiny and chaotic streets. People with bright red cheeks hurry by, sometimes bundled up in three or four sweaters and a jacket, and the old men (of course) skate around on bicycles with their morning trash finds tied to the back.

And the hocking up of vast amounts of phlegm from the back of nearly every Chinese person’s throat echos through the morning.

Oh, you don’t know about the phlegm? Well, it’s quite simple, really. Lots of people Chinese people like to spit – Everywhere and extremely loudly. Massive globs of snot dot the sidewalk in every which direction (in stark contrast to the natural beauty of the leaves) and you casually have to reroute your path around them as you go. You can’t avoid it and it alone drives many westerners nuts here. People hock (imagine the loudest possible way you could hock phlegm from the back of your throat) and loudly “phfleww!” it out of their mouths from wherever they happen to be: the bus window, the front door of a store, the toilet – I’ve even had a taxi driver stop and open the door to spit.

I just got back from a haircut. It’s quite a process and is always draining. Today has been pretty relaxing, seeing as I got back from a Halloween party at 1:00AM and slept until 3:00PM (that’s right, I slept 14 hours!). I had lunch, got coffee where I ran into some girls I know from Spain and chatted with them for a while. Then I got a haircut.

A haircut in China is unlike anything you’ve ever experienced (especially if you don’t know Chinese. You walk in, sit down and have them wash your hair while you are sitting in a chair. They put shampoo in your hair and squirt water in it while they massage your scalp for about 20 minutes or so. Then they take you to the sink, rinse your hair, then take you back to the chair and give you a massage for about 30 minutes and try to talk to you (which doesn’t go over too well seeing as I can say about 6 words). Then you finally get your hair cut, your hair washed and scalp massaged again and your hair blowdried. The whole process takes about an hour and 20 minutes and you spend a considerable amount of time with 3-4 people. And at the end, you pay a whopping 15 yuan (about $1.80).

In other news, my roommate came up with a GENIUS solution to our water problems. You may recall that we have been having problems with the shower. It just randomly shuts off in the middle of your shower for minutes at a time. But there is a faucet in the bathroom that always has water pressure. The problem was that the water heater is all the way in the kitchen, so how were we to get the water from the bathroom to there without any plumbing knowledge. Solution? Reinforced tube and scotch tape, my friend. I came home one day to find that Brad had bought a bag of Y-joints, tape, fittings, clamps and reinforced tubing. I came home the next day to find that he had run the reinforced tubing through the wall, over the pipes leading to the kitchen, through the cabinet and hooked it up to the water heater via a Y-connector. A tear almost came to my eye at the sheer beauty of the whole system. Granted, it does drip and we don’t leave the pressure on when we are gone just in case the clamps burst under the pressure and fill the apartment with water – but it solved the problem and we now take uninterrupted showers (although it still changes from hot to cold occasionally). I LOVE IT!

Did you hear? Colin Powell just visited Beijing! He crashed at my place for a few days but I eventually had to ask him to leave after he outstayed his welcome. From what I gather, he was here to discuss the Taiwan issue. In case you weren’t aware, tensions are high between Taiwan and Mainland China. China says that Taiwan in part of China, and Taiwan says (off the record) that they are an independent country. The US is an ally of both China and Taiwan and is trying to play a friend to both at the same time.

So if you ask your average Chinese person what they think about the whole thing, they will most likely reply that Taiwan is a part of China and that they are all Chinese. It is as simple as that for them.

So I’ve been asking around. I’ve met a few people (some Communist party members, even) who say that there is a lot more to it than that. More than anything, it is in China’s strategic interest to maintain open and free access to the Pacific Ocean. America already has China boxed in so to speak in the northern area with South Korea and Japan and is trying to do the same with Taiwan.

China has stated publicly that it will not let the Olympics in 2008 stop them from pursuing Taiwan if they were to publicly state that they were a separate country. But it is more likely that any drama would wait until after the Olympics.

What’s my opinion? I haven’t one. All throughout history, power has prevailed. What will happen with Taiwan? It depends on whoever’s alliance is the most powerful. What should happen with Taiwan? “Should” doesn’t exist. Should the leaves fall from the trees?

Should the sky be blue? Whatever happens, happens. Whatever is, is. I am merely an observer.

It’s funny. My speech has changed since being in Beijing. For one, I use a lot more UK English words. “Bloody”, “clever”, “quite”, “has got”, and “ill” (to name a few) are all everyday words for me now. In addition, I also speak in the present tense a lot more. Most languages use the present tense a lot more than we do in English. As do the Chinese, and it’s a constant battle to get my students to think in the past or future tenses. But now I catch myself saying “so where do you go now?” or “what do you do now?” instead of “where are you going to go now?” It’s pretty funny. It’s always a challenge when teaching English to correct actual mistakes. It may be that the student merely learned UK instead of American English. One big difference is the UK people’s tendency to say “the group/team/government/country have (instead of has) said that they will change their policy”. They say “have” or “do” instead of “has” or “does” when referring to something that comprises of many individuals – even though it’s just one group or team. Crazy, eh? So when a Chinese student says that, it could be that they are either mistakenly conjugating the sentence, or are using UK English.

Well, it’s time to watch a DVD and read The Economist. HAPPY HALLOWEEN

Take me for a ride, sir.

“That cheeky bastard!”…I thought to myself.

My taxi driver was silent, driving diligently ahead. He missed the turnoff for the “quick” way to the office. He had then missed the turnoff for the “semi-quick” way to the office. And he was now driving a new way to the South, but I kept quiet and left it to him. After all, he was the “professional” and maybe he knew something I didn’t. Maybe there was traffic on the other ways or maybe this way was actually quicker, but no one ever took this way. I thought back to the map of Beijing I have stuck in my head. Beijing, much like Santa Cruz in Bolivia is laid out in rings. First Ring Road goes around Tiananmen Square, Second Ring goes through the city in a wider loop and parallels the subway, and Third Ring Road makes a much wider loop and I happen to work in the north-east corner of it. There are lots of other rings, but I never go out there – and as you can imagine, the traffic is considerably less on every ring further out.

My driver kept driving and I glanced at the meter. 32 yuan.

I was fuming, but kept my cool. The whole ride should be no more than 27 yuan at most and we weren’t even close yet. I always try to think of the story behind sayings for class and I was now experiencing the old saying, “he was taken for a ride.”

“Wo men zai nar?” (Where are we?) I asked.

“Zai nei biar,” (It’s over there,) he explained.

I pointed at the meter.

“Shenme??? 32??” I said incredulously. I shook my head in disbelief.

He just looked straight ahead in silence. I sat for a moment and quietly took out my famous pad of papers from my back pocket and wrote down his ID number and supervisors telephone number and put the pad away.

He acted as though he didn’t notice and continued driving.

By the time we arrived, the meter was at a whopping 51 yuan. That’s almost as much as it costs to go to the airport! I got out, wrote down his license plate number and got back in the car to pay him.

He silently leaned over to me and whispered, “Si Shi” (40 yuan).

At that point I knew I had him. His taxi plaque looked a bit weathered which meant he wasn’t new, so he did know the better ways. He also was down for negotiation, which meant he knew that he was in the wrong.

“Bu, wo gei ni 51” (Nope, you get 51), I said. I gave him a hundred and he gave me my change. I silently pointed at my notebook with his info on it, smirked and nodded my head.

I wasn’t quite sure if he would get in trouble. My roommate Brad had told me that they do get in trouble if you report them. So that was my plan. Hah. Like I care about 11 yuan. Berlitz pays for my taxis anyways.

When I got home, I asked Brad to call the guy in and he did. The manager apologized and said he would address the issue and get back to us the next day.

So get this…

Brad has informed me that the taxi driver has been suspended for three days from driving (and if you don’t drive, you don’t make money), they would refund my entire 51 yuan and I could even meet with the taxi driver and the manager for an apology if I wanted. He also wanted to know if he thought that punishment was sufficient…

JESUS CHRIST! This is China! Stuff like this doesn’t happen. It’s an entire country of people trying to wring money out of you for everything possible. If you get frustrated, they don’t care and will take it as an opportunity to wear you down and wear you out. You have to keep fighting. You have no power and they have no consequences. It’s a huge system of people who don’t care because if you refuse to go back, there are plenty of others who will.

Except the taxi industry, apparently. I was floored. I couldn’t believe it.

I asked Brad to relay to the manager that I didn’t want the money back – I just wanted to make sure that the driver didn’t do that to anyone else. I thought it was fitting punishment. He gets in trouble and all the other taxi drivers are on edge too. I’m sure news like that travels fast.

It’s so strange, too. Why the taxi industry? They are privately owned and from what I gather, there are many different companies running them. And you can’t distinguish between them before getting in the cab. They have no reason to try to prevent cabbies from cheating people, because you can’t, in your head, blacklist certain companies. It won’t improve business and they get nothing from the taxi drivers always driving the right course, anyway. They might actually lose money because they would driving less.

People here really are embracing western ideas, like customer service. They then apply them blindly to anything in hopes of progress. When you see a place with efficient and friendly service and quality products, you are blown away. It’s so out of place, but that is the future. Western consultants abound, this place is slowly but surely rising out of its “don’t innovate or try to make a difference” mentality installed in the people by the former hardcore communist government. People are slowly but surely being encouraged to think for themselves (to a certain extent, at least) and innovate for their own betterment and enrichment.

Anyway, I don’t think that guy will be taking me for a ride much longer. I’ll keep my pen and pad of papers on me just in case.