Thursday, July 10, 2008

travelling: Yangshuo

It's been forever, I apologize.

Anyway, since forever ago, I've moved out of my apartment completely,
packing all my things into a few bags to carry back to the US at the
end of the month. My brother is here visiting, and we're travelling
around southern China, doing our best to see a few things before we
have to fly home.

Time flies when you're having fun. The last months of the semester
went by in a blur of delicious food and great friends. Just how it
should be.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

after the quake pt. 2

The next day it rained. All day. But when I went out to see what campus was like in the morning, there were tents set up on the soccer field and tennis courts.

I went with my friend Donna to her grandma's for lunch. She was feeling lonely, though fortunately no one she knew was harmed. She reacted to the situation much better than the students. She counted herself lucky, but wasn't really afraid. We looked at some wonderful photos from when she was younger and China was a much different country.

Later, I watched a movie and went to go to bed only to be awaken almost immediately by a tremor. There had been a few during the day, but you feel them more when you're lying down, especially up here on the sixth floor. On my way upstairs I saw a lot of students from the Australian program in their teachers' apartments, and after the tremor, I went down to see how they were doing. They had been sleeping outside in the rain, soaking wet, but secure in the knowledge that no roof was going to fall on their head. The teachers had convinced them to come inside, but they weren't so comfortable and all ran out the door when everything started shaking. Most of them came back, but some chose the rain over our perfectly safe building. Anyway, I spent the rest of the night there inside with the students, sleeping off and on.

Tired from sleeping on the floor, I nonetheless set out on my bike with Donna to explore the city. Try as we may, the only damage to be found was out of place roof tiles

and some fallen concrete.

Many stores were closed, except of course the groceries which were mobbed with the usual panic-induced mass buying of natural disasters.

Around lunch time, I started getting calls and messages saying the explosion of a chemical plant had polluted the water. The restaurant I was at kept refilling my glass, so I wasn't concerned and highly doubted the veracity of those warnings. Others, however. did not and most stores sold out of water, at least temporarily. At 10:30 PM, I got a text message from the phone company stating there had been no explosion and the water was fine.

After lunch, we checked out the Red Cross center which was flooded with people donating money and necessities. They had lots of people stopping cars on the street and unloading their donations, passing them down the line to a storage area from which stretched another human conveyor belt loading trucks, vans, and cars heading for the affected areas.

They also started collecting donations on campus.

In the city, we also saw loads of people camping outside in almost any grassy space, such as by the river or in the medians of wider roads. An unnecessary precaution I think, though the people seemed calm and almost enjoying themselves which no doubt wouldn't have happened had they been home watching the news.

On Thursday, there was a benefit concert at the Bookworm, a restaurant/bar/cafe/library. All told, they raised 30,000 RMB (more than $4,000 US).

Things are slowly getting back to normal, but I don't think people will be forgetting about this anytime soon.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

after the quake pt. 1

I was going down the stairs, on my way to class and heard and saw all the doors rattling in their frames. I thought it was some strange combination of wind and open windows, but the trees outside didn't confirm my hypothesis. When I got to the first floor, Bill was standing in his doorway with a strange look in his eyes.
"I think it's an earthquake."
"Well then let's stand in the doorway."
Stacy and her friend Becky came running down the stairs, panic in their faces.
"What's going on?"
"Stand here in the doorway with us."

30 seconds later, the girls suggested we go outside. Bill agreed. Outside, the sun shook as it shimmered off the windows. The earth continued to move. Students in various stages of siesta-induced undress and panic streamed from the buildings. Screaming. Hugging.

Once it stopped, lot of questions. What about our classes? What can we do now? Are the buildings safe? No one had any answers. I found half of my students huddled near the building next door where we were about to have class. No way were they going back in there, so we found a place to have class outside in a small amphitheater near the lake. We were surrounded by groups of scared students, teachers, and their families. Cellphones didn't work, but that didn't stop anyone from trying. What about their families back at home? Was everyone okay? Needless to say, any attempts at having class failed with the discussion always returning to the current situation.

Rumors spread through the crowd. "The epicenter was in Wenchuan." "They felt it in Beijing." "There'll be another one at four o'clock." Some people were too scared to do anything but sit and stare off into space. Others tried to make the most of the situation and played cards or amused themselves any way they could. (As I write this, another tremor causes everyone to flood out of their rooms again and loiter in the the courtyard the safety of which would be quite dubious were their logic correct.)

Just after 4, I tired of sitting there with my students so, comfortable in the knowledge our class was supposed to be over at 4:05, I went to go in and check out the internet. Two of my students had just gone to their dorms to get their laptops (presumably for entertainment, not communication) and they warned me that going back in was probably not an option, that the doormen were no longer letting anyone in due to safety concerns. After looking around the building and seeing no evidence whatsoever of damage, and knowing that no buildings on campus or nearby had collapsed or suffered significant damage, and that our apartment building is relatively new, I decided to go in anyway, only to have the doorman shout, "Don't go in!"
"It's okay, no problem."
"No problem? Well, okay," and in I went. Neither the stairwell nor my apartment showed any signs of damage other than a bottle which fell off my refrigerator and broke. Unfortunately, I could only access the school's intranet - there was no connection to the outside world, probably because a server had been turned off and no one had gone back in to turn it on. I grabbed a book and a cup of tea and went to join another foreign teacher on the grass across from our building.

At six we went to eat, where all the customers insisted on sitting outside. Afterward, I went home to pour some tea with another friend of mine, ignoring the completely unauthoritative warning to go in only to get things and exit immediately. After much delicious tea and conversation, my friend, a student, went to stay at her aunt's house on campus and I joined the other foreign teachers who were picnicking on the grass with wine and beer, taking advantage of the rare opportunity to walk and sit on the grass which is usually prohibited, a rule always quickly enforced by otherwise useless security guards.

Later we walked around campus a bit and found hundreds of students sleeping on the tennis and basketball courts,

though the largest group by far was in the stadium, sleeping on the soccer field, track, and concrete bleachers. They were all ill equipped, afraid or locked out of their dorms, most too scared to sleep.

I, of course, slept inside, and that's what I'm going to do right now. I'll continue the story for you tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


I felt it on my way down the stairs to go to class. I thought it was wind. It wasn't. After about a minute, it stopped. The rest of the day, everyone was too afraid to go inside. The students are mostly sleeping outside in the light rain and chilly wind as I write this. But everyone's okay, no need to worry.

More info after I've slept.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Siguniang Shan

Two weekends ago we had an extra-long weekend since the students had some sort of sports day on Wednesday and Thursday, and Friday was Grave Sweeping Day, one of the "new" national holidays introduced by the government this year, though in fact it goes way back. As I'm sure you can guess, I didn't stay in town. We don't get 5-day weekends that often, so this definitely called for a trip. Matt, another teacher here, drove Stacy, Tarn, and I (all teachers here as well) in his little hatchback all the way up windy, potholed roads to Siguniang Shan, a 5000+ meter 4-peaked mountain about 7 hours west of Chengdu. It took us 11 to get there. Reason 1: flat tire.

Reason 2: dirt roads inside clouds turn into mud.

The pass the road goes through is at 4523 meters (14,839 feet), which is higher than Mt. Whitney, the highest mountain in the continental US, so we were all a bit winded after throwing just a few snowballs.

Just down from the pass and around 30 or so bends, Siguniang Shan, often translated as Four Girls Mountain) came into view.

The next day we went for a hike in one of the three valleys surrounding the mountain. The scenery was breathtaking, and I don't think it was just the altitude. It was also nice to be out of the city, enjoying the sun.

There were a number of frozen waterfalls in the valley, some of which had melted on the inside but were still frozen on most of the outside.

Almost all of the trees were covered with moss, either a long stringy kind or this dense fur coat.

Since it's called Four Girls Mountain, we dressed up in "traditional" Chinese dresses.

As we were finishing our walk, it started to snow, but not light, flaky snow. Instead it came down in little balls like Dippin' Dots.

Fortunately, the next day was clear. Not a cloud in the sky.

From the ridge we walked along you could see Rilong, the town where we were staying,

and many Tibetan houses on the hillside above it.

Every year there is a Tibetan pilgrimage to pay respects to the god of the mountain.

On the way back, the blanket of clouds had disappeared and, unlike on the way up, we could see the road and all the surrounding mountains.

We stopped at the Wolong Giant Panda Breeding Centre on the way home.

And now, for the main event: panda wrestling.

So cute you almost forget they're wild animals.

Snack time.