Chinese Wedding and a Mountainous Adventure

I know last time I said my trip to Yunyang was the most fun I’ve had since training, but this trip to Yunyang proved to be filled with tons of excitement and adventure.

My counterpart, Tina, had her wedding today in her hometown of Yunyang and invited the English department of our college. Unfortunately only two other teachers, Summer and John, and I were able to make the trip – most of the other teachers had gone home already for the holidays. The trip there was fairly slow, as John is a new driver and drove probably half the speed limit the entire way there. Yunyang on the bus is about an hour away but with the way John drove, we needed a potty break before we got there.

Tina and her new husband greeted us at the door, which warranted several pictures from strangers. It’s rare to see laowai attend weddings.

Tina looking gorgeous

John guessed that about 600 people were at this wedding, which meant that not everyone could sit in the main hall, which was fine by me. That meant that 600 people wouldn’t be taking their eyes off of the wedding to stare at the foreigner. The wedding was held at a hotel, and several floors were reserved as banquet rooms.

Table with cigarettes for the gentlemen. Take two, to wish you a long life!

I hear ours was a special room – we got couches and a nice bathroom in addition to a huge banquet table.

Summer doing the baigujing!

All the guests received red envelopes with 18 yuan inside! Hooray~

Hongbao

Tina’s wedding was far from anything I would call Traditional Chinese, and far from anything I would call Traditional Western. They played the Pirates of the Caribbean theme song before she walked down the aisle, and as she walked, a crowd gathered behind her in the aisle. Fire shot out from the stage and confetti popped and covered everyone’s food.

There was a huge crowd behind the couple, so I didn't feel as bad taking this picture.

After taking this picture I soon became the main attraction and went back upstairs to eat.

We returned to the banquet room and were greeted with tons of food!

With so many guests, we barely got to see Tina and the whole thing was very fast-paced. Most of the guests left after an hour. The couple did, however, enter our banquet room to toast us with white grape juice. If it were a smaller wedding, they would toast us with baijiu which I can only describe as Chinese moonshine. I helped myself to some grape juice instead. The other guests in our banquet room (I knew none of them) helped themselves to two bottles of baijiu and quickly started bullying one another to drink more. By the end, they were all red-faced and I felt it was time to leave.

John mentioned taking the old highway back to Wanzhou, so we headed out on a different road, where we could see more of the countryside. There are many small “villages” sprinkled about, where old buildings seemed as if they’re about to crumble, and many already have. I loved the scenic route, as we encountered several streams and waterfalls as well as farms and livestock.

The bridge to Wanzhou, which we didn't take.

Waterfall on the side of the road

Another waterfall

A tongzi, which is used for oil in lanterns and ships?

At one point, John pulled over so I could take a picture of a beautiful fresh mountain spring.

A mountain spring

He said he was going to do something illegal for us and went off-road and out of sight, which left both Summer and I confused.

Waiting for John to return

After several minutes he returned with a small moving creature – a crab!

Surprise! I brought you a crab!

Summer was brave enough to hold it, but got pinched when I attempted to take over.

We're gonna take you home and eat you!

Say Cheese, little guy!

I wondered what crabs were doing in the middle of a bunch of mountains, but John insisted that this was an untouched habitat for them and they were safe there. They hide under the bridge after it rains.

John decided in the end to give it a second life.

After about half an hour driving around after our crabventure, John realized that maybe this wasn’t the road back to Wanzhou. He pulled over to ask a woman which way to Wanzhou, and she pointed to a very slick and muddy unpaved road. Off we went, Summer and I scared for our lives that we would slide off the mountain and die.

The muddy road

Luckily John was extra careful and slowly but surely we made it through the long and narrow mud road.

John driving on the mud road

That wasn’t the end of our adventure, though. Once we finally hit the main road back to town, John saw a fruit stand and pulled over to buy some fruit. The catch was, you picked your own. It all happened so quickly, but within seconds, the three of us followed a worker and I was hiking up a slippery and muddy mountain to pick my own grapes. The worker was very proud of his grape-picking basket, as it was made out of a bag that came from the United states.

The worker and his Meiguo bag

The trail up the mountain was so steep and muddy that we all had to hold hands to make sure nobody slipped and fell to their doom. There were makeshift stairs made of bricks but with all the rain and mud they did little to help, as they slid all over the place. Panting and hearts racing, we reached the vineyard and were greeted with a spectacular view.

The view after arriving at the vineyard on the mountain

Summer about to pick some grapes!

The grapes, protected from the wasps that were everywhere

Vineyard

This is the house of the man who tends to the grapes

Summer pointed out that it was a good thing that I changed my shoes that morning, because my nice black boots would not have had enough traction to let me slide up and down the mountain with ease. On the way back down, John tied some dried plants to my feet for better traction. It didn’t help much, as I effortlessly slid down the muddy mountain side as if I were skating.

Red pepper plants

In the end, it was worth it. We were rewarded with several bags of grapes and they were sweeter than you would find in the local markets, but that just might be from the labor we put into getting to them and picking them. John recalled a story from Aesop’s Fables about the fox who couldn’t reach a vine of grapes. The fox remarked that the grapes were probably sour anyways, and he didn’t want them. We couldn’t get enough of the grapes we picked ourselves!

The reward

We finally made our way to Wanzhou, with one last stop to go. John stopped by the Yangtze river so we could enjoy the scene and our fresh grapes. He recalled how different the river is now that the dam has been built. He said he liked the old river much better, as it was smaller and livelier, and much clearer. It made me wish I could have seen the old Yangtze.

The new Yangtze River steadily making its way through Wanzhou

This eight hour adventure with Summer and John was great. Besides the slow driving, I enjoyed getting lost and getting to see lots of mountains up close. It was nice not having to think about planning tomorrow’s class – it made me enjoy today so much more.

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Apartment tour video

Hey everyone!

Before I head out for the holidays I promised myself I would upload this video that’s been sitting around since I moved in. I’ve seen a few Peace Corps Cribs videos and figured I could probably make one of my own too. Enjoy!

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Diablo III Beta Live

Oh, how I wish I had home internet and free time to spare again.

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Bad internet, new friends and early morning phone calls

HALP

This is how I've felt since my proxy stopped working.


I know, I know. I’m in Peace Corps. I’m lucky to even have internet at all. But given that in general, Volunteers in China DO have internet, and use it to communicate with staff and other PCVs, this is frustrating! You would think that in joining the Peace Corps, I would become less reliant on technology, but it has been the opposite: I use Powerpoint presentations in all of my classes and rely on using a computer for my lesson planning. One of the part-time English teachers hooked me up with a proxy and warned that it might stop working at any time. Sometime last week, this happened, which has also narrowed down the websites I can visit during my free time.

Luckily, there are other things to do other than be on Facebook! I’m slowly starting to go by the when in Rome approach, though Wuqiao is much less exciting than Rome and Chengdu (where I had my training). Since Wuqiao was established within the last six or seven years and many parts of the town are still under construction, there are no real sites to see or things to do during the day. At night, though, people of all ages gather around Xuefu Square. Elderly women and small children do a synchronized dance called baba wu, some children skate around on roller blades, old men smoke and toast one another, and students chat with friends and eat street food. Saturday night, Kristin and I decided to be a part of this phenomenon and grab some street food and a beer and just chat for a while.

What we didn’t expect was the sudden company of a handful of middle-aged men joining us at our table for two. They quickly toasted us and welcomed us to Wuqiao. If the help of a designated translator among them was right, one man was an ex-cop and a few others were teachers at the local middle school. One of the men had a lot of pride for his school, and insisted that we go give a lecture about American culture sometime. Not being able to say no, I explained that Kristin and I were new teachers, that we had just come to Wuqiao a few weeks ago, and maybe once we got used to the area we could come and give a lecture. This actually means “go-stare-at-the-laowai(foreigner)-talk.” Seconds quickly turned to minutes, minutes turned to hours. We had a great time in our broken English conversations. We talked about things to do in Wuqiao and Wanzhou, different kinds of vegetables, teaching, and who knows what else.

My biggest mistake of the night, however, was to have my cell phone out on the table (in case fellow Volunteers wanted to hang out that night), because one of these men promptly asked me for my phone number. I explained that I would be getting a new cell phone soon so my number wouldn’t be good for very long (which is true – I will be getting a new phone number once our internet is set up in our apartments. Don’t ask why we have to buy a phone, but it’s part of the package deal), so I said I could get someone else’s number for future reference. The teacher who had the best English dialed in his phone number into my phone, and then proceeded to call his phone to get my number since I was so reluctant to give it out. One reason, among many, I did not want to give out my number to these new teacher friends was that Chinese people LOVE to call early in the morning. My host family and academic supervisor have both been guilty of this – calling me at 7:00 or 8:00 on the weekends to see if I want to have dinner together that night. Of course, this was no different. The next day, sure enough this teacher was calling early in the morning.

I didn’t have my camera for this occasion, but I do have some completely unrelated visuals to accompany this post. As promised last time, here are some more pictures from training and China adventures (again, in no particular order) for you to enjoy.

How I spent most of my evenings after training - napping with this adorable kitten

Tai Chi push hands

A red panda!

Cute lazy panda tongue!!!

Enjoying some delicious Western food at Pete's Tex Mex, founded by a foreigner who missed the food back home

Me and Danny with our model school students

A few leaks in the ceiling during a storm merited a photo during Chinese class

My host sisters Wenwen and Chongchong posing in front of the local Pizza Hut at Wanda Plaza, which is a huge shopping center

Danny, me, Nick, and Wendy Wu pausing our delicious Tibetan meal for a picture

One of my paintings - 'Bamboo rain'

Lonely orchid

Kicking butt at Majiang at my host family's villa

My amazing host parents in Chengdu (my host dad is the one making the "OK!" sign)

One of several frisbee games that the 17s had.

Good job Ian!

Celebrating Chongchong's birthday with the host fam

Chongchong's birthday cake. Very similar to mine. Loved the pear-flavored top!

Gotta love China & no copyright protection. I don't even know where they got a Wendy's sign, let alone why they used a redhead for a gelateria

My host sister loves to stand up in the back of my host mom's convertible VW bug and wave to all the other people on the freeway. Yes it's dangerous. No, nobody does anything about it.

They have an IKEA in Chengdu!!!!!

Ikea Swedish meatballs.

Chilling with some PCVs who became some of my closest friends here.

At Sichuan University (where I had my training)

More of SU. Those pedicabs are so popular but I've never ridden in one before.

More of SU!

This became a very popular place for us SU ren to hang out at

My host family at the appreciation dinner!

The Chinese rapping & breakdancing crew posing after the performance.

Relaxing in a creek in Huang Long - My host mom's hometown

Host sisters posing before a delicious banquet

Some 17s chilling after a game of frisbee

Some more of Wanzhou:

Kristin posing so I could snap a picture of this guy snoozing

Wanzhou in all its glory - construction and buildings everywhere that's possible.

Zai jian!

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MUCH overdue catch-up post!

So sorry for the unforgivably huge delay in updates. I’m required to have a disclaimer approved before posting anything here, and time just flew by during training and I quickly forgot about the existence of my blog. I won’t write about training – most of it was just teacher training and learning Chinese, with some awesome fun stuff in between. Rather, I’ll sum up staging and training with a handful of photos and captions in no particular order. If you want to read about what training was like, feel free to check out blogs from some of my fellow China 17s below:

http://peacecorpspanda.blogspot.com/
http://vivreenpaix.wordpress.com/
http://brendonhahns.wordpress.com/
http://occidentallyoriented.wordpress.com/ (My site mate Kristin’s blog)
http://natemoyer.blogspot.com/
http://horsehorsetigertiger.net/
http://bluepandabear.wordpress.com/
http://ashleycunn19.wordpress.com/

(More to come once I get my VPN at home working – the proxy at the office has given up on me!)

My training experience was a blast. I think my training site got along better than the other sites, but I may also be biased. Every time we would go out somewhere, everyone was invited and there were not any major personality clashes. I now have some awesome friends around China now to visit when I have time and money. Moving onto my site: Wuqiao!

Wuqiao is a district across the river from the actual city of Wanzhou. It was built 6 or 7 years ago as a result of the flooding from the Three Gorges Dam. It’s home to a few colleges, including Chongqing Three Gorges University where fellow city mates Nate and Marissa teach. Kristin and I teach at the Chongqing Three Gorges Medical College, down the street from the university.

When I first arrived in Wuqiao for site visit in August, I was heartbroken. Wuqiao was a ghost town then. The streets were bare and construction was abandoned due to the heat. Things quickly changed once the school year started, for better or for worse.

I say this because once people started showing up, we quickly became the main attraction. It has been exhausting. I’m sure most PC China volunteers are experiencing the same thing we are, especially at brand new sites where no foreigners have ever stayed at before (like ours). As soon as I leave my apartment each morning, I’m met with double-takes, stares, sneaky camera shots, synchronized giggles, and an overwhelming amount of “Hello”s that sound more like, “Ha-LO?!” when said by the locals. Needless to say, this will take some getting used to.

Onto the school: My students, though I’ve only met them all once or twice, have been wonderful. They are enthusiastic and want to get to know me. Many have asked for my QQ number – QQ is like MSN for China. After a while I reluctantly signed up and gave out my number to my students. On QQ they mostly ask where I am, what I have been doing, and some things about American culture. I’m excited to get to know them better.

The staff I work with is great. Kristin’s counterpart, Summer, has been such a big help in getting settling in. My counterpart is pretty busy, as she is getting married in October. Our Waiban contact, Wang Hua, is a sweetheart and has been doing everything within her power to help us. Unfortunately every time she tries to get our internet set up, she is met with a new problem. For now, office internet will have to do.

Here are the pictures I promised to share with you all from training. I don’t want to have this blog turn into an “I did this today” blog, so tune in until next time. (I’ll put up more pictures!)

The Chicago skyline

Last meal in the United States - delicious pizza and beer

Some of my students from Model School

Some of my students from Model School

Some fellow Trainees relaxing during break time.

Some fellow Trainees relaxing during break time.

Some awesome tea martial arts performance.

Some awesome tea martial arts performance.

Delicious falafel!

Delicious falafel!

Famous Poet Dufu's Thatched Cottage (and me!)

Famous Poet Dufu's Thatched Cottage (and me!)

Gotta love the pandas

Gotta love the pandas

Chinese class with one of our LCFs

Chinese class with one of our LCFs

Spent my birthday with new friends in Wuqiao.

Spent my birthday with new friends in Wuqiao.

My birthday cake! Delicious chocolate and fruit

My birthday cake! Delicious chocolate and fruit

A drawing that my Chinese teacher drew of me for my birthday

A drawing that my Chinese teacher drew of me for my birthday

Pretty stuff at Jinli Street

Pretty stuff at Jinli Street

Kicking ass at Majiang!

Kicking ass at Majiang!

My girls and I in our Qi Paos!

My girls and I in our Qi Paos!

Some amazing PCVs - Ian & Zack

Some amazing PCVs - Ian & Zack

Chinese arcades are great!

Chinese arcades are great!

Especially the bathroom signs

Especially the bathroom signs

Gotta love the visuals

Gotta love the visuals

The aftermath of a great celebratory dinner

The aftermath of a great celebratory dinner

Cute little dog!

Cute little dog!

Zack getting a little brave around the snakes

Zack getting a little brave around the snakes

Steve's host mom got a little hungry

Steve's host mom got a little hungry

My lovely host family at the appreciation dinner

My lovely host family at the appreciation dinner

Showing some love for Oregon with Danny!

Showing some love for Oregon with Danny!

Steve - no caption necessary.

Steve - no caption necessary.

All of the Sichuan University volunteers at swear-in.

All of the Sichuan University volunteers at swear-in.

Sweatmarks! Nobody else gets this.

Sweatmarks! Nobody else gets this.

Me and Wu Fei, the little birdy who couldn't fly.

Me and Wu Fei, the little birdy who couldn't fly.

Returning from site visit, I was greeted with newborn kittens!

Returning from site visit, I was greeted with newborn kittens!

Cats love their milk.

Cats love their milk.

My first time making dumplings completely from scratch

My first time making dumplings completely from scratch

My host dad doesn't know how to make dumplings either :]

My host dad doesn't know how to make dumplings either

Danny & Jaclyn cheering me up

Danny & Jaclyn cheering me up


Sleepers on the train! Wow this made a huge difference in an 8 and a half hour train ride.

Sleepers on the train! Wow this made a huge difference in an 8 and a half hour train ride.

Chillin

Chillin

What my apartment looked like after dropping off all my luggage. Thanks Peace Corps for all the extra bags to carry!

What my apartment looked like after dropping off all my luggage. Thanks Peace Corps for all the extra bags to carry!

The one beautiful place at my school is behind the school.

The one beautiful place at my school is behind the school.

A statue of Li Bai on top of Tai Bai Yan across town in Wanzhou.

A statue of Li Bai on top of Tai Bai Yan across town in Wanzhou.

The rooftop - my host dad's garden

The rooftop - my host dad's garden

Amazing flowers given to me for Teacher's Day

Amazing flowers given to me for Teacher's Day

The note with the flowers!

The note with the flowers!

More flowers for Teacher's Day. Thanks Wang Hua~

More flowers for Teacher's Day. Thanks Wang Hua~

Gotta love the English on this

Gotta love the English on this

One of many mooncakes I got for Mid Autumn Festival

One of many mooncakes I got for Mid Autumn Festival

Lovely presentation of mooncakes. Thanks Wang Hua!

Lovely presentation of mooncakes. Thanks Wang Hua!

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On the plane!

Here I am, on the plane to Chicago. I’m lucky enough to be sitting next to a fellow Peace Corps Volunteer who will also be going to China! Yay for knowing someone right off the bat. We knew of each other via WordPress and actually met up going from the parking lot to the main terminal.

Leaving everyone was really hard; everyone followed me all the way up to the security gate to say goodbye. I promised myself I wouldn’t cry but ended up getting a little teary eyed anyways.

I don’t know when I’ll be able to publish this, but hopefully in Chicago. I have a feeling I’m just going to pass out in my room once I check in. Anyone who knows me knows it’s impossible for me to sleep on planes, no matter how long the flight is or how little sleep I got the night before. I’m currently running on nothing but a half cup of coffee after staying up all night. Anticipation and anxiety aren’t good sleeping partners.

I’m sad I didn’t get to see absolutely everyone I wanted to see before leaving, but I know i’ll have opportunities to keep in touch. Time for airplane food. I totally forgot that apple my aunt gave me. :(

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Still in my thoughts, Andy

I want to take a few moments from my hectic travels to say a few words for a friend of mine, Andy.

Today, June 28th, marks five years since Andy was taken from this world. 

Andy was the kind of guy who lit up a room as soon as he walked into it. And then, he breakdanced in it. He had a kind soul and a playful spirit. And he had a crazy sense of humor.

I didn’t want to admit this for a long time, but Andy and I weren’t always on good terms. The last time I saw him alive, it was at Karma Cafe in Portland. He had dyed his hair green, and came over to talk to me. I was still upset about something stupid and ignored him.

The next week I got a call from a friend asking if I heard about Andy. I said, “No but I saw him and his wild green hair last week.” The next thing I heard sent me to my knees. “He passed away last night in the Sandy River…” 

At his funeral, they dyed his hair back to black. And he was in a suit. It just didn’t look right. In my mind’s eye I saw him jump out of the casket and start break dancing on the floor, pulling out an air freeze and smiling his contagious smile. I still watch his breakdancing videos sometimes.

This is one of my biggest reminders to cherish everyone in your life, and cherish every memory you have with them. You really don’t know when the next time you see them will be.

Rest in peace, Seunghee oppa. 

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Last night in Oregon

Wow! I can’t believe this day has finally come. I spent the day meeting some friends for lunch, doing last-minute errands like buying a years’ worth of contact lenses, and in the afternoon/evening I spent time with family. I had friends come from other cities to visit me, which was simply awesome.

I wish I knew more about where I’ll be. I have no idea if during my three months of training I’ll have internet. I have no idea which province or city I’ll be in. I have no idea if I’ll even BE in a city or a village.

Time to do my last load of laundry and transfer some movies to my iPad for some entertainment for the flight to Chicago for my staging. I can never sleep on planes, no matter how tired I am or how long the flight is.

It still hasn’t sunk in yet. I think as a defense mechanism I distract my mind with other things and think about things I have to do so the realization doesn’t hit me that I’m leaving everything I know and am familiar with for 27 months. I know it will hit once I’m gone. Hard.

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Saying goodbye to my room…

This is what will be with me for the next two years. Even though I spent hours repacking and weighing things, I still have a feeling that I overpacked…

Tonight is my second to last night in Oregon. Not much excitement just yet, but at least now I know my checked baggage doesn’t exceed the limit of 80 pounds. No more vomiting from stress, please.

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It’s been two weeks since I returned to the United States.

And in one week I’ll be on my way to China. Dude…I need to unload my suitcases and pack them up with everything I think I’ll need for two years. Yikes.

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