Monday, March 31, 2008

Success! NDS

So today I decided to head into Hangzhou since I had nothing else going on. I also thought it would be a great time to pick up that Nintendo DS Lite that i had been lusting over for the rainy days of China.

This morning I head out of my apartment at 9:30 am. Just make it down to the bus stop in time to catch the K-9 bus that heads to the South Bus Station. I have my music kicking out some Scary Kids Scaring Kids and everything is looking up for a day near the lake. I make it to the South Station, pay my 4 rmb and jump on the K509 that very quickly fills up with travelers and workers alike. I turn up my music and settle in for the 25 Km trip.

About half way into the trip a lady jumps out of her seat, covering her mouth and running to the back of the bus for the garbage bin. Ugh, the smell... So for the next 20 minutes, I and the rest of the passengers have to deal with a hot, packed, funky smelling bus.

Well I end up making it to Hangzhou, jump off the bus and start to walk to West Lake. (yes, for all my Chinese friends, I walked from the East Station in HZ to West Lake) I found a killer silk market that took up nearly 2 square blocks. Hundreds of shops selling everything from suit jackets and neck ties, to Hugh Hefner Sleep Wear, to raw silk fabric.

I push on.

I make it to West Lake, I grab my directions to Ding'an Video Game store. I find it but before I go in, I check my wallet...

Crap, only 1000 RMB. Surely not enough.

I walk to the first bank I can find. I put my ATM card in and attempt to take some cash out. No dice. I try again. Once again denied. I head around the corner to a different bank. It's closed for lunch. I find a third bank. Same as the first, it will not allow me to take money out on my ATM card.

Now this is a problem that I have run into many times while here. The only bank that seems to work are, of course, HCBC and ICBC. Wouldn't you know it, these are the two banks that I have not passed on my way here so I have no idea where to find one.

By this point, I am hungry, tired of walking and getting irritated. I break down, go back to Agriculture Bank of China, think to my self "Screw it!" and use my Visa to take some cash out. I know that I am going to get hit with like $10 in service fees, but i really didn't care at that point.

I grab my cash, head back to the store, and am instantly greeted by the most glorious sight. A cabinet of Nintendo DS Lites and a stack of games. Like a jewel, Pokemon Diamond in ENGLISH!!! I quickly pay my 1450 rmb, grab my Chinese version NDSL (Called the iQue DS in China)and head to Hooters to treat myself to a burger and beer for my hard work!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

I have NGC TV!!!!

So I was blessed with National Geographic TV today. Back in Canada I would often spend many a Sunday, sitting on the couch watching Crisis Zone while drinking coffee. Now it looks like I will be able to do it in China as well. Just swap coffee for green tea and couch for bed...

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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

My City - Yuhang/Linping

This guy sits in a park that is in between two busy shopping streets.

This is a street market that opens up every night, but during the day it is just a regular crazy Chinese street. If you are a local, it is a great place to buy bootleg clothes and DVD's.

The city is full of crazy canals. They are everywhere. I am sure that they are full of pollution though. I never see anyone in boats like Venice.

The city is also full of monuments and other large granite artwork. Makes for pretty cool scenery at night.

I know it sounds crazy seeing as how I just got here and all, but I am already planning my return to Saskatoon in a year. You see, I found this thing called the Trans-Siberian rail line. Basically, it travels from Beijing to Moscow in 14 days. I think that would be a hell of a trip. Take that and then catch a bus or 6 to somewhere near England, fly into England, hang with Jim and tony for a few days and then fly back to Canada. If anyone wants to come, just let me know in the next 11 months.

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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

A Day of Meeting People

The Bund in Shanghai. This was a typical sight at the Bund, tourists taking pictures of the Cityscape.
Today I went into Hangzhou city to have my medical test done. This is needed to get a work permit. This is the last permit that I have to get. The only findings were that my tonsils were swolen, but that makes sense as I am just getting over a cold, and the ECG showed "Left Ventricular High Voltage" What ever that means... Also my blood pressure is WAY down from what is was in Canada. I am 116 over 90 and in Canada I was 166 over 99. Way to go China! Making me healthy. It could be the fact that I can't find a good cup of coffee here.

While in Hangzhou I walked around West Lake for a while. I sat on a bench and an old man came up to me. I was expecting him to ask for change. I get that a lot, being one of the few white people here. But instead he just wanted to talk in English. We talked for the better part of an hour, him asking me questions about the English Language (Various rules, like possessive nouns and what not) Turns out, he learned English while serving in WWII and has continued to study it to this day. At one point, while I was showing him some examples on paper, we had a crowd of nearly 15 people watching us. They were enthralled at an old Chinese man and a Young Canadian were talking so easily. In the end, He pulled out a book and asked me to write a little about me. I flipped through the pages and he has correspondences from hundreds of other tourists.

Mr Yu, you made my day in Hangzhou! Thanks for the conversation.

On the bus ride back to Yuhang (Linping) I met a guy named Taj from Delhi. Turns out he lives in the same town as me and also doesn't really know anyone here. So we swapped numbers and are going to hit up the town one night. Finally another foreigner!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Supper with friends

So as part of a tradition, when you get your first pay cheque at a new job, you take your friends out for supper. Well today my friend Annie received her first cheque. She called me up and told me that she would like to take me and one of her other friends Fabio (or as she calls him, Little Penn) out for a meal. All I had was my iPhone, so the picture isn't the best...

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Thursday, March 13, 2008

NDS - The neverending search

So I have been on a quest to find a Nintendo DS in Yuhang. In Shanghai they are sold on EVERY street corner. Heck, there was a stall next to my hotel that had hundreds of them, and any game you could think of. Here in Yuhang, for the life of me, I have yet to see any sort of video game. I even went to the soulless wal-have-everything-mart. No dice. Amazon will not ship video games out of Canada. Plus I don't want to wait 4 to 8 weeks for one. I need my Pokemon fix dammit.

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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Yuhang, Hangzhou - I have arived!

Hangzhou. If Shanghai is like Sin City, Hangzhou is the Mesquite. Maybe that isn't being fair. I'll call it the Atlantic City to Nevada's Vegas. It has all the lights and fanfare of Shanghai, but on a smaller scale and more clean.

I am stuck in a suburb of Hangzhou though called Yuhang. It is still a decent size. 800,000 people. The region reminds me a lot of Toronto and the GTA. I'll call it Hangzhou and the GHA. Yuhang is like Mississauga. It has all the comforts of the big city, you can see the big city, but to try and walk would take forever!

Yuhang, unlike Shanghai, makes me feel very much like an outsider. In Shanghai, I would see many westerners walking around, doing the same stuff that I was doing. Here, however, people on the street stare at me with wonderment. They obviously don't get many western people in their town. It would probably be different if I was right in Hangzhou proper, but in the sticks, I stick out.

My apartment is decent. It is a small bachelor pad with everything I need. Including a view of a set of slum apartments, a few factories and a bunch of neon lights.

The area that I live in is quite interesting. My apartment is part of a hotel complex. It is right across the street from a very large park with a lake in the middle. Very beautiful. Right beyond that however is a slum.

The slums here are not like any that I have seen in Detroit, Saskatoon, Vancouver or anywhere else. While the people may be poor, there is no violence. Just crappy houses and lots of people milling about. At no point did I feel like I was in danger, even when walking through the dark back alleys at night.

On the other side of my apartment, the side where my window faces, are factories. There are factories everywhere here. Making everything from socks to iPods to vacuums. I am not sure what the factory next door makes, but I do know that it isn't pumping out harsh smoke or funky smells, so I am quite relieved.

For the time being, internet is going to be once every few days. My connection at the apartment should be hooked up in a week. I am hoping to get a cell phone today as well.

Cloud Nine Mall

China Day Three

I am now onto day three in Shanghai. Yesterday I spent the day at the school observing classes to see how things are run. it was also the first day that I saw any other white people and actually had a conversation. I forgot how much it means to talk to people in your own language.

After school I crashed for a few hours. Still feeling the effects of the jet lag, it was a welcome sleep. However, since it was only 8 pm, I decided that I needed to wake up at 9 and head out to get rid of this time / brain paradox once and for all. Too all of the people who said that the jet lag wouldn't be that bad because of the direction I was traveling... I am almost exactly on the other side of the planet, why does the direction of travel matter?

After waking up, I was feeling hungry, the first time since arriving that I had. Jet lag does funny things to your stomach. What do I find but some glorious smelling street meat.

On the vendors cart, I spied all sorts of interesting kebabs on sticks. The only one that I could determine the origin of the meat was squid. ¥4 latter, I have a belly full of some nice rubbery BBQ squid.

I head back to the hotel, crash and actually sleep until 7 am.

Today, with a day off, I wander Shanghai for hours. Upon my departure I grab a snapshot of the street signs near my hotel in the event that I get hopelessly lost. I figure that is the easiest way to show a cabbie where I want to go.

This next big is mostly for Danielle and Brian. However, to all my faithful readers, read on!

Shanghai is FULL of markets. Small little street side stalls, one room buildings, carts and sidewalk vendors. They are everywhere. They are placed by the thousands on every block.

Walking back to my hotel, I decide to head down Anxi Road. A small side street about as wide as a car. About half way down one block, I see many people coming out of what I assumed was a back alley. After a little investigation, I realized that it was a fresh food market.

I enter and am immediately greeted by millions of eyes, all looking at me with the same expression.

"Where does this white guy think he is?"

I continue on, my iPod blasting out some Cold War Kids. This market was amazing. Hundreds of stalls. Set up with fresh vegetables in the center and meat on the outer walls. I saw duck, chicken, pork, beef, all the regular meats from a deli. Then I ventured deeper into the abyss. On the back wall was what I had come to see. The foods that you can't get back home. Even with all the searching and specialty shops on Broadway. Eel, snake, mussels, clams of all sizes, mollusks, fish ranging from minnows to 100 pound mammoths.

My only hope is that once I make my way to Hangzhou I can find a place with half as many interesting treats as I have in Shanghai.

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China - An Epic Trip

Today is the first day in Shanghai. Really I flew in last night, however, after getting my bags, waiting for my contact and the two hour bus ride and 20 minute cab ride, I really just wanted to get to my hotel, check in and crash. I had been up for over 30 hours at that point. However, I decided to try and plug my laptop in to see if I could get a wireless signal.

I grab the ol' power adapter and power bar. First problem, the power bar has three prongs and the adapter has two... I decide to risk it and plug the whole mess in. Bzzzzz crack! From what I can tell, I knocked power out to the entire floor. I sheepishly unplug everything and walk to the counter and pantomime the lights going out. The front desk clerk looks at me like I am a big dumb white guy, which at this point I knew there was no contesting the fact. He spouts off some words that I can't understand and points to a man wearing a maintenance jacket who promptly runs up some stairs. I meekly walk back to my room and within 30 seconds I have power again.

Needless to say, I scrapped the power bar and things work great. However no wireless...

I was tired. The type of tired where no matter what you do, you crash hard. My contact asked me if I wanted to get some water and bread, but all I had on my mind was sleep. And sleep I did. From 8 pm local time to 4 am. Then it was sporadic sleep for a couple hours.

For people that have never been to China, let me tell you about first impressions. Initially my thought was that it is not much different from a place like Toronto. There are big buildings, lots or people and street vendors everywhere. The type of place that you expect a big Hollywood movie to be filmed in.

And then... The noise.

That is the one thing that has been throwing me for a loop. All night long, different noises. Birds that just don't sound right, people yelling things that can only be determined to be drunken salutations, and traffic.

Traffic has no rhyme or reason here. Street lights at best are taken as suggestions. Scooters rule the roads and seem to have right of way over all forms of movement. Walking included. Turning left on a red light is par for the course. Lanes are there to let you know that you are on the road. Even on coming traffic is fair game as long as you honk a couple of times to make eye contact, and even then it is more like a game of chicken to see who will swerve first. Frankly I am quite surprised that I made it to the hotel at all.

Now for todays first adventure. Breakfast. All I knew from last night is that my contact will be calling me at some point today. No clue as to when. So I wake up, get ready, watch a little bit of western TV that I have on my laptop and at 8:30 my hotel phone rings.

I grab it and say hello.

"sjkhserlkhgs sdfsh sfeiytnv" That is about as much sense as the call made. All I can determine is that it is a wake-up call. No one comes to my door and no other phone calls.

With that, I decide that I am on my own for breakfast. I grab my passport and room key and head off to the wild unknown, but not before finding something in the hotel room with what I hope is the address in case I get lost.

I first wander up the street for blocks, then down the other side. I find endless shops with steamed buns, fruit and various other local culinary treats. I almost stop and go for the steamed buns, which smell like heaven. Almost. However, fear gets the better of me and I spy a McDonald's. The last bastion of Western civilization in my foreign nightmare.

I enter and the solitude washes over me like a warm grandma knit security blanket.

I walk up to the counter and point at the menu and order a #2. A McSausage, Hash brown and coffee. Total, ¥15. I initially curse at the price, but then do some mental math.

Carry the 7, multiply by the cosine...

$2.05. I continue on.

I wander through a park that from what I can gather is about the size of Saskatoon. There appears to be some sort of festival going on. Dancing, Thai Chi, military, haircuts, blood pressure testing. I have no idea what it is, but I watch for a while from the sidelines. Having left my camera at home, I am just another big lost white guy.

Then I see them. They giggle, the smile, they avert their eyes. Three young local girls, all with their cameras out. They try to disguise themselves and make it look like they are taking pictures PAST me. I look behind me and all I see are trees. I smile back and wave. They all giggle frantically and give me peace signs and then hurry off.

Today, I am the tourist attraction in Shanghai.

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