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Friday, June 27, 2008

The start of my journey through the USA

Kunming, Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Vancouver, Tacoma...

And all those places in just 55 hours! That is how long it took Shosh and me to get to where we are now (Tacoma, WA). We left our apartment with a taxi at 15.00 on Tuesday the 24th. Wolfgang and a bunch of Shoshannah's students came with us to the train station to say their final goodbyes.
Our train departed at 16.33 as planned and all Shosh and I could do for the next day was looking out of the window to enjoy China's beautiful scenery one last time. After 28 hours we arrived at the Guangzhou station at 19.35 on Wednesday. Quickly departing the train and "running" (whoch is kind of hard with all the baggage we were carrying) to the ticket office we were just in time to catch the 20.13 train to Hong Kong. We cleared Chinese immigration and now were officialy out of China. A good two hours later we were in Hong Kong, Hung Hom Station. Going through customs here and collecting our bags took some time, but just in time (23.00) we caught the last public bus to the airport. Midnight... time to sleep, but that requires a place to sleep. Walking around a bit we found a nice spot, locked all our bags together and tried to get a little shut-eye.
Around 7.00 in the morning on Thursday we woke up, refreshed ourselves as good as possible, got some coffee and breakfast and checked in. No problems here, the flight would even leave 10 minutes early at 12.35. The Air Canade flight was good! Nice seats, very decent food and no crying children. And we arrived in Vancouver at 9.30 in the morning, THE SAME DAY... So strange, being in a plane for over 11 hours and then arriving 3 hours earlier than when you left...

The last part of the trip was to take a Greyhound bus to Tacoma. First a couple of public buses to the the bus station and there we got into one of the famous long distance Greyhound buses. The bus was a little late but nonetheless everything went fine again. Although it has to be said that both Canadian and American customs are quite a pain in the ass... where are you going? Why? Alone? Show me your tickets! Which one is your girlfriend? Fill out the green form! And so on... But at 20.45 we arrived in Tacoma where Mrs. Sharon Marshall, a good friend of Collin's dad, was waiting for us and took us to here place. We had arrived!!!

Now on with our road trip!!!

Monday, June 23, 2008

Black/White and/or Orange Champagne Goodbye/Birthday Party

From amazement to adaption to normal and at times incredibly annoying, but overall an absolutely great experience!!

5242 pictures taken, 3585 cycling kilometers, ±800 times of eating out, 441 days away from "home", 275 hours of teaching, 135 days of traveling, 3 apartments, and zero bike crashes.
That is about what I did in China :-)

Last Saturday Shosh and I organized a party to "celebrate" our leaving and my birthday. Just like Sander and Susan did half a year ago we labeled the party: Black & White Champagne Party. However since Holland was playing later that night we decided that people could/should also wear orange. Besides our foreign friends I invited all my students and Shosh invited her six most favorite ones. And the turn up was great!!! I never expected so many of my students to be willing to leave their campus at 19.00 only being able to return at 7.30 the next morning. Between these times there are no buses between the campuses and taxis are way too expensive for my students.

As good Chinese people ought to my students showed up way too early... I told them to be here at 21.00 and the first ones arrived at 20.15! The foreigners did it exactly the opposite way: I told them the party would start at 20.30 and they started arriving at 21.00. Once again a beautiful example of cultural differences :-)
Besides talking, drinking and having a good time we took many, many pictures. And as usual they give a much better impression of the evening than anything I could write. See for yourself.

We planned to leave our place around midnight and go to The Hump to party on and watch the game. But it got a little later and Marc was just about to surprise us with one of his goodbye presents when it happened: the police arrived. Just before 0.30 they were at our door telling us to end the party... And we did, but not without making a little fun of them such as offering beer, inviting them in and so on (which we probably only got away with because we are foreigners a.k.a. laowai/waiguoren).

As everyone knows the Dutch team sucked that night and lost hopelessly from the Russians. I have to admit that I missed most of the game because I was sleeping on a couch in The Hump. At least I saw the Dutch goal and the extra time... after the game we said our goodbyes and arrived home at 7.10. And then it struck me... where is my camera?? The entire evening everyone had been using it to take pictures, but I couldn't remember taking it to The Hump. Texting my students and other people, asking them who knew where the thing was, but no one had a clue. Really pissed that I lost the camera and all the pictures I got out of bed after an hour and started cleaning. It wasn't till 15.00 that Marc texted me with the simple message: "do you know that I still have your camera here?" What a relieve!!!

Yesterday and today are again days of packing things, giving away things, exchanging Renminbi into US Dollars, picking up suits... but we are doing fine. Everything is going as planned and I am positive that tomorrow we can get in a taxi to the train station without worrying that we forgot something.

The next post will almost certainly be from the United States where we'll arrive in Tacoma some time on Thursday evening after a 27,5 hour train ride, another 2 hour train ride, 12 hours in a plane and 6 hours in a bus ;-)

China... Goodbye!!!
Birthday Boy Ruud

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Just one more week...

Busy, busy, busy...

Since we are leaving in a week, a lot of things need to be arranged such as money transfers, shipping boxes home, giving stuff to friends and so on. But most of all we need to say goodbye to everyone. So we already had a bunch of dinners with Shoshannah's students and of course those "parties" involve going to KTV as well...

Last weekend we also celebrates Sandhya's birthday and that was really fun! Marc arranged a couple of tricycles to drive us around the northern part of Kunming. But of course we took control and ordered the drivers to go sit in the back and we cycled a.k.a. raced against each other... add a couple of boxes of beer and a megaphone to this and the party is complete. Later that night we were invited to Kundu but only stayed very short since we were both exhausted.

Why exhausted..? Simple! Besides all the stuff we have to do before we leave we also have to watch Holland on their way to become European Champion!!! No problem you would think, but don't forget about the time difference! All games Holland played started here at 2.45 at night... Not the best time to watch football matches haha! But still great to see the Dutchies kick those Italians, French and Romanian asses!!!
Now what? Well, I am grading the final exams of my students and packing more things. We also had a bunch of suits made, so we needed to go and try them on. And we are preparing for our big "Black & White (& Orange) Champagne Party 2nd Edition" this Saturday. Besides all of our foreign friends Shos invited her favorite students and I just invited all of my students (most of them are in the picture below. And believe it or not, I am not standing on my toes or anything else. The average Chinese just isn't very tall...).
We don't know how many will actually show up but we are preparing for the "worst"! First drinks and snacks at our place and then we head out towards a bar to drink more and watch the quarter final of the Euro Cup!!! Hup Holland Hup!!!
For now, that is it. I have to get back to actually doing things so we can leave China next week without freaking out about last minute sh*t we forgot ;-)

Ruud laowai

Monday, June 09, 2008

Cycling & Olympic Torch

The Beauty and the Beast

This entire post will be about China. Not about what I do in China, but more about what I think of China... I'll start with something that you can see (quite regularly) at Chinese restaurants: drunk people. It seems that Chinese do not have a very high alcohol tolerance and this manifests itself in drunk people. Their favorite drink, baijiu ("white alcohol"), is pretty heavy and scenes like the one below are what you get when you had a cup or two too many... (ps: this is at seven in the afternoon!)

Then the beauty of China or more specifically Yunnan Province. Last Sunday I went cycling with a group of Chinese people and they took me to one of the most beautiful parts of Yunnan I have ever seen. And we did not even have to take a bus to go there since it is just north-west of Kunming. It was a trip of almost 140km with some killer mountains in it, but worth every cent of pain! I could talk on about it but just look at the pictures and see for yourselves!

And then the beast...
The Olympic Torch Relay of June 09, 2008 in Kunming.

Everyone was excited about seeing the torch and was planning on standing somewhere along the route that would lead through the entire city. Mind you, I am not just talking about foreigners, but in particular the Chinese were extremely looking forward to the event. T-shirts, hats, flags, stickers and so on were being sold in the past days (on the streets of course, even though the government warned that they would be very strict against the sale of illegal Beijing Olympics merchandise... haha).

But this morning it happened... text messages, phone calls... the route had been changed yesterday... The entire innercity had been cut out of the route and now it was going from the World Expo Gardens to the Minorities Village. Not in a straight line but over the third (yes, third!!!) ring road of Kunming. Stressssssssss, because where should we go to watch it..? Of course Dianchi Lu, the only street that seemed to be somewhat accessible. Getting there was horrible because the nice Kunming government decided to cancel all public buses going in that direction and taxis and other vehicles were stopped 5km from where you actually wanted to be. And then you end up at a square like the one below together with 200.000 other Chinese...

Still no worries because we can just walk down the street and go see the torch, right..? NOT!!! All streets were closed, even for pedestrians. People rushing forward, talking to police officers, coming back, moving in different directions... nobody knew where to go. We decided to try to walk around, but no way that you could get anywhere near the official route. After about 2 hours we found a big TV screen and decided to watch the remainder of the relay on it together with a bunch of Chinese "Olympic fans".

And this was the moment I decided that I really despise everything that has to do with Chinese politics. As we could see on the TV along the route people were lined up maybe three rows thick (and only on one side of the street that is!). And along the last stretch the only onlookers were police officers!!! Just on the streets we walked there were enough people to make the lines 5x as thick! I couldn't help but to feel sorry for all those poor people that were so excited about the relay and all they could see were other dressed up, disappointed Chinese... They never stood a chance!

Conclusion: The entire torch relay was a typical example of how China turns the PEOPLE'S GAMES into a private, retarded parade that is IMPOSSIBLE for REGULAR PEOPLE to experience!


Our high note of the entire farce: It was great seeing the enthousiasm of the people!!! Oh yeah and we got to see the buses with all the torch bearers in them drive by... ;-)

Now on to the more important things in life: EURO 2008!!! Tonight the first Dutch game and I am excited about it! Too bad that 20.45 European time means 02.45 in China... Not the best time to watch live games especially if you have to work the next day at 8.30! But I'll pull an all-nighter and if (or better: when) we beat those Italians, I'll teach in my orange suit tomorrow :-)

Hup Holland Hup!!!
De Chinese Oranjeleeuw

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

The end is near...

Three more weeks before China is "history"

So what does that mean for Shos and me? Well, it means that we've been thinking hard about what to take with us, what to send back and what to donate to friends here in Kunming. We both can take two big bags and we already filled a package of 20kg to send home. We also already gave away a bunch of our stuff and even though the apartment is getting emptier, there still is a lot of stuff lying around.
Last week I received an urgent e-mail from Susan (who was here last semester together with Sander). Supposedly they are about to graduate but were missing some pictures of a certain part of Kunming (they are doing landscape architecture...). Of course this wasn't an area close to where we live but in the southern part of Kunming. And the day we went to take the pictures Shos discovered just how big Kunming is. Cycling there, taking pictures at various locations and cycling back took five hours and a total of over 70km... But it was a nice, although rough, ride and we saw a beautiful part of Kunming.

Today I am going to Wolfgang to give him some more computer lessons and install Internet in his new apartment. After that Shos and I are going to the wholesale market to shop for some souvenirs and see if we can have some clothing made.

Knowing that you'll leave Kunming so soon is kind of a strange experience. Packing, only having to teach for two more times, preparing to say goodbye to some very good friends. But on the other side we're also very excited since new adventures lie ahead of us!