Friday, November 30, 2007

Pictures!

I have stubbornly stayed up to upload pictures and tap away at my blog. All my pictures have been uploaded to my Flickr site (there are 1496) and you may now look at them at your leisure. I may add other peoples pics there (as long as they are ok with it) as I obtain them (i'm excited!!) so there may be more updates.

ALSO! There are 3 more China entries to read if you keep scrolling down.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Flowery Afterthoughts

The 10 (+/-) of us that came right back to Honolulu arrived yesterday at 10am. I was soooo excited to get off the plane and take a big sniff of some dank humid air that didn't have any hints of sewage in it, instead the air smelled slightly of worms as it does after a good amount of rain.

The island was dark green from all the rain recently which was great to see. The air was clear and the sky cloudy. I was so happy to go in the line marked US citizens. We were all so happy to be back, there was much hugging and smiling and plan making to spend more time together now that we're back. I hope it happens.

Dave got an ear full from the moment I saw him until the fatigue from a sleepless flight set in with the added spice of sadness from the disbanding of my family for the last month set in back at the apartment. I hadn't been expecting that feeling and was even more surprised that it hadn't changed after a nice 4 hour nap. I woke up only because I had promised myself lasagna for dinner and had to make good on it. Dave and I walked down to Arminio's (I think that's the name) in Waikiki, and although I was still stuck in that place of limbo that comes with a long trip, I had the best lasagna I've ever had. I don't know if it was the best because of the month in China or if it's just the best ever ever! It was that good. I'll know (maybe) in a few when I heat up the rest for my breakfast. Halfway through my meal I was surprised to find that I had a weird sensation of heartache or something like that - I think it was because the food was finally something that would stick to my bones and somehow that allowed this emotion to come out. It was very strange and I had some tears to deal with.

After 12 hours of sleep I feel much better although still not completely myself. Unpacking is moving along at my usual slow pace as I try to figure out where I'm going to put most of the newly accumulated stuff.

I really hope that those of us on the trip stay as close as we became during this crazy month away. I'd hate to lose those connections. So far plans are in motion for a before Christmas party at Polly's sometime around the 13th!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

China Day 21

Today was a wonderful day full of interesting things.

When I woke up, Bowen was still not back from Macau (although I wasn't completely sure that's where he was.. and I didn't know whether overnights were acceptable in China-non China relations, this is a crazy place) so Val and the rest of the crew headed to Qi Gong practice in the park like every other morning. Today is Master Wei's last day with us here in Hong Kong though so we had a special practice complete with healings and other interesting little treats for the senses..

Bowen showed up in time to also enjoy these things, and I couldn't help but wonder where he'd been hiding himself away. I knew that Chris had gone with him, but Chris didn't show up this morning (which I thought was unlike him - and since I like to make up fantastic stories in my head of running from Chinese spies and whatnot, I enjoyed my little imagination adventure to myself until I got the real story) so I wasn't sure if he stayed.

After our interesting morning of getting all of our problems fixed (Thanks to Master Wei) and all the interesting inner thoughts that come with those experiences, we headed back to the hotel and eventually made plans to go to this beach that Zach had been after us to go to for a couple of days. The bus ride turned out to head right past all the places I had gone yesterday on the tour (minus the giant buddha) and was very pretty and fun. We didn't make it to the beach until about 2 or 3pm and it was only warm enough to disrobe for Hong Kongs entertainment for about an hour.

We must have made a pretty interesting sight sitting in our little Hawaii circle, complete with open mostly empty Pizza Hut box, ipod with speakers blaring, scantily clad women (well, really just me), tattooed men (once again, really just Zach), and complete lack of racial homogeneity (my favorite). As such, we were getting lots of blatant stares, which I find highly amusing. I eventually figured out that the Chinese find it inappropriate to lounge on the beach in a bikini and a long sleeve shirt. I kept having older women walk past me staring at my ass - I was sitting down so it was even more conspicuous than it would have been, but since they were stopping and staring right in front of me it was pretty easy to notice. I mean, I WAS wearing a bathing suit!! It's not like a brazilian bikini or anything!!! The ass is plenty big to cover all controversial areas!!

I shouldn't be surprised though since they didn't even take their shoes off on the beach, walked up to the water and seemed surprised that it was wet, and that it moved on it's own. They stayed completely covered up and thought that we were quite possibly the strangest group of people they'd ever seen. Kinda like every other place we go.
It's good stuff.
So to make our guilty consciouses feel better about skipping out on the Taoist festival, we headed over to the Kuan Yin temple on the far side of the beach - a nice blond woman had scolded us on the bus saying that we'd "better get some culture while we're here.." Look lady (rook rayree). I think we've had more culture in 3 weeks than you've probably had for the whole time you've lived here. I think we can handle a few hours on the beach without having to learn something.

But yeah, we were feeling guilty and headed over squealing about extra-credit.. we're easily amused.

The temple was pretty cool, but was definitely over shadowed by the fact that it was getting mighty cold to our Hawaiian blood pretty quick. We all took many pictures to prove we were there, along with pretty sunset pics and me doing some ear nibbling (love those big lobes! How appropriate that she's the Goddess of Happiness..) before we headed back up to catch the bus back.
On the way back we stopped in and had a hot chocolate/coffee in Hong Kong proper and I bought a wrap for Hailey. We were doing lots of talking about tomorrow night being Thanksgiving and scheming about having dinner and going to some Jazz club that Zach and Val had found the other night. Apparently Val has some special surprise for us that she's going to unveil tomorrow night, too bad I'm horribly impatient with surprises! I love them and hate them completely.


We finally made it back to L'Hotel and proceeded to have bubble bath theater and leg shaving night. It was a ridiculously good time int he purest sense of the phrase. Probably of the the funniest things I've ever seen is Bowen showing Val how to properly take a bubble bath. It was great.
My legs were unfortunately anti-climatic for everyone but me. Nothing like a constantly clogged razor to dampen everyone's fun. Also, it just took forever... BUT my legs have never felt so silky smooth ever. I quite enjoyed myself and took a celebratory bubble bath myself (plus I had to finish the job). I wonder how long I'll think it feels nice before it gets too scratchy or itchy. It's been a long time!




update

Pictures are quickly being uploaded to Flickr..(click on the China set) I'm almost done! The amount of pictures drops off sharply at the end on the trip in Hong Kong - I just didn't want anything to do with the camera anymore and I got a little more nervous bring it with me around town. Sorry about this (mostly to myself since that was the best part of the trip), but I'm very excited to snag everyone elses pics and consolidate!!

Posts are also getting updated although slower. It takes a long time to upload the pics to the blog and I have a lot to say (surprise).. I'm learning patience.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

China Day 20

I took an ass-load of pictures today! Overall, the day was exhausting and had many highs and lows. The day started early (many times with early morning/late night phone calls.. including one from Rhonda and Polly blaming Bowen for something I don't really understand. All I knew was that I was trying to sleep and all the interruptions weren't appreciated. ESPECIALLY since we were all supposedly REQUIRED to attend a tour put on by the Taoist Association of Hong Kong today so we could take advantage of hospitality and get shown around Hong Kong for free. Of course Val, Bowen, and I got put in charge of talking everyone into going when we were initially told it was optional and then at the last minute told it was mandatory. Due to our previous experience with group tours, no one wanted to go, and unfortunately for me, some ridiculous sense of responsibility kicked in and made me feel like I should and that I might miss something cool if I didn't.



Now, this being the trip that it has been, the morning didn't go smoothly. In fact it was a disaster just like everything else we do. Four or five of us showed up to try out the tour with Master Wei and Ming, only to start freaking out about how long the tour was, not wanting to be out all day, and worrying about whether or not we'd be back in time to prepare ourselves to attend the concert that we were all supposed to go to tonight, dressed in style (or our Taoist outfits) - we all know that requires a certain prep time. SO. It turned out that Matt, Drew, and I got duped into going. Ming was yelling and pulling arms, Master Wei was giving the puppy dog face, and then we got told that we'd be back and finished with the tour by 3pm (insert laughter here).

So yeah, it was a day of broken promises, but it did have some high points... First of which was the Giant Buddha! This was exactly what I needed for the last couple of days, and completely made me feel like it was worth going on the tour for. I can't remember the name of the temple, but they have the largest buddha in Hong Kong (maybe China, I don't know) and all I wanted to do was climb up and sit in his palm.. How much fun would that have been?!! Unfortuately for me, it's not socially acceptable to do such things (I would have also wanted to sit on his shoulders in devil and angel poses) and all access was strictly denied through use of ropes and chains.
The other wonderful things about this place were the lunch (YAY shiitakes and baby bok choy! I could have kept eating it til it was gone but we had to leave - I think all the chinese people thought I was nuts) and the Walk to Wisdom.
The Wisdom Walk definitely made me want to run away from the group and climb the mountain which I did in small scale by climbing the little hill at the end of the walk. I disappeared for a while and had to get reined back in. AND too bad for Drew and Matt cause they missed it when they explored on their own..

Another great thing about today was learning that Drew plays guitar! I had no idea. I knew that Matt could (obviously) not go a month without his guitar (since he bought one the other day and now carries it with him at all times), but I didn't know that Drew has been playing for over 10 years! It was great to be tooling around on a bus full of Chinese people through Hong Kong while listening to "Another Brick On The Wall" being strummed next to me.
While walking back to the bus from the Wisdom Walk I decided to play a song for Ming. He has a long standing (for us) joke with Chris about "moneymoneymoney" recordings that they play at the street market stalls that is supposed to draw you in to spend I guess.. so I have this Brazilian song from Anne that has a section in it that goes "a-ch-ch money money.. a-ch-ch moneymoneymoneymoneymoneymoney.." in the background. I LOVE this song and thought it'd be fun to test one of the few words Ming knows in English (and see what his taste in music is). It went AWESOMELY. I was anxiously awaiting the moment when that part of the song would play and as I fidgeted and sang it to Master Wei and finally Ming looked over at me and said, "moneymoneymoney!" I died laughing and squealed loudly on the inside. I was very excited.. we communicated!!! Then it was even better cause I taught Master Wei and Ming the "universal" sign for money (you know - when you rub your fingers with your thumb palm up) which somehow transitioned into teaching Master Wei the words "fat" and "skinny" which had great physical expression and different voices to go with them while Ming kept listening to my ipod... It was all around a great morning.

I didn't want to leave the nice mountains and hiking trails to go back to the city and the crowds, but when the us is leaving the bus is leaving. What can you do? AND since it was only 1pm or something, Drew, Matt, and I all thought we were going to go back to L'Hotel so we could shower and dress for the concert tonight. As we were to soon find out, we were misinformed.

The next stop on the bus tour was the Madame Troussard's Wax Museum at The Peak (shopping mall)...

I could have totally skipped this as I don't give 2 shits about wax celebrities or important Chinese people in wax, BUT Master Wei is excited about everything (it's cute, like he's a little kid on recess) so I tried to just enjoy him wanting his picture taken with wax Bruce Lee and wax Michael Jackson, as well as wax Mao and the Chinese president and some other important figures that I don't know. It was amusing, but overall boring.

After the wax museum we looked out at the overlook and got ice cream. I then got to mess with Master Wei a bit by sitting next to Ming on the bus. This make him squeak a little which was unexpected, but highly amusing.

After The Peak we were taken somewhere down by the water to see some iconic gold statue of Hong Kong - looked like a torch or something. By this time Drew had informed us that he didn't even have his ticket to the concert with him since he thought we were going to be dropped off back at the hotel first. We weren't quite sure what this meant for us, but we thought it might be a problem.

The water front was ok, but whenever I look into the water I really want to look down into the water and see some huge kind of sea monster writhing about (especially when I have no intention of ever going into the water there) like a 30 foot shark or a giant squid or something. But of course there wasn't anything of interest anywhere. I did get to embarrass myself when 2 Chinese guys were asking me to get out of the way so they could take picture of each other, but I thought they wanted to take pictures WITH me.. you know it happens once at Hanauma Bay with some Japanese guys and you're spoiled for life I think. I'm in CHINA... not JAPAN! geez..

After the waterfront they attempted to make us shop (but only for 20 mins) and then we were taken to a crappy dinner before being dropped off at the Taoist Association Concert. We were poorly dressed, exhausted, and stinky (I can speak for myself and Matt). We didn't want to be there (none of us, even Ming since he fell asleep after he looked bored as hell for a while, although Master Wei seemed to enjoy it) and were annoyed but not surprised when the concert turned out to be about 3 times as long as it was supposed to be. The music was ok, there were a couple of really cool performances, but I was ready to go after about an hour. The coolest was the Wudan Mountain Kung Fu guys.

Of course, even getting back to the hotel didn't go as planned and Drew and I regretted not getting on the bus with the couple of other people we knew and instead going back to the bus we came on and took what felt like 2 hours to get home.

Interestingly, our bus got filled up with performers from the Taoist temples around China since we were the las bus to leave the concert hall. Drew and I were completely snubbed and no one would even look at us or sit next to us. It was incredible.

Apparently all the "real" Taoists think we're phoney posers and to a certain extent they're right, but when they behave in such an unfriendly way, that makes them no better than any of the other religions.

Anyway, I have never been so excite to get "home" and try out some silky bubble bath. Bowen had gone off to Macau so I had the place all to myself. It was a little lonely, but I slept very well.

Monday, November 19, 2007

China Day 19

Today we met Master Wei in the lobby at 10am and went to our first Qi Gong class in Hong Kong. We walked to this little park that's about 15 minutes away from our hotel. It was pretty nice. I have been having a horrible time getting distracted by the littlest things during the QiGong sessions lately. I start obsessing about how tired my arms are going to be and then of course they start to hurt.. then I try and relax about it, but the damage has already been done.

Anyway, today my problem was my lower back. It was all crampy and wouldn't let go. It was irritating during the morning and pretty much stayed like that all day.

After Qi Gong, we went back to the hotel and I don't actually remember, but I'm pretty sure I did nothing all day. Maybe Bowen and I chatted in the room and ate pastry while Val and Zach came in and out.. I'm not quite sure.

What I do know is that later that night, I showed Master Wei Google Earth. It was pretty fun. I've never seen him quite as excited. He really wanted me to be able to open up the doors to the temple and show him around, but I could only show him the roof. Then Bowen got back and we showed Master Wei all the Chinny-Chin theater movies we thought he'd like. I hadn't thought he'd like it but he laughed so hard I thought he was gonna cry. And he didn't even understand what was being said! ..and then we got him to do one. He was so into it he wanted to draw his own eyes and nose. It was pretty great.

After that, Bowen, Master Wei and I went out for hot pot - we were only a slightly strange thing for the other people to see at the restaurant. I think I'm done with hot pot for a while.

After dinner we went back to the hotel and I got one of the best massages I've ever received (even though it wasn't focused - I'm told). I'm still glowing!


video

I asked my friend Jessica to translate what she could for me - this is what she came up with:

Huanying dao Zhonguo lai (I welcome you (to come) to China)....
wo he nimen shi hao penyou (I and you (plural) are good friends).....
wo gei dajia gei xiao gushi (I give the crowd (audience) a little story)....
zhe shi women... neige... (this is our... um..)
yi shujia (summer vacation)...
Jian de yi ge xiao pin (? a little ?)....
Xiao pin, zhe shi shuo shi gong pin yi yuan jiao a... fa bei fa yi a (laughs) (Xiao Pin (Little So&so... name?), this is [said] to be fair ????.... ????? )
Gan bei a... (Cheers, eh! literally "dry cup")
ba bai ba yi a (8 hundred 8 1...)

I guess this is a joke with a pun? maybe cuz the fa bai fa yi , then ba bai ba yi...

zhe jiu shi... gui, a (this is, I mean, expensive)

I forgot a word... back in "fa bai fa yi... bei" (the bei = cup) so, I think they are trying to buy a cup of liquor? and it is costing too much?
then.... ba bai yi wei, a (I don't know what the extra 'wei' means)

women mei ren lai yi bei, a, gan bei (we don't have anyone that came for one cup (shot?)... Cheers!)

wait... fa = pay, fei = fee... so maybe fa bai fei yi = pay Y100 each

Sunday, November 18, 2007

China Day 18

Understandably, this morning was rough. I had WAY too much to drink last night, but I had soooo much fun. It was definitely worth it. BUT. My head was quite painful this morning - not as bad as it could have been if we'd had anything to do other than sleep until 10am - but lucky for me that's all I had to do!

We were all ferried over to the L'Hotel at 11 (check out time) which is our new hotel - they have an hourly shuttle to the temple where the festival is going on and all of the other Taoist participants are staying here too. I was still a little drunk by the time we got to L'Hotel and was not too happy to find out that to eat lunch we had to go to the temple.

It turned out well though, the food made me feel a little better and Bowen showed me a wonderful spot next to a big Banyan tree that I could have stayed at all day, especially with the kind of story telling that was going on - I'll never look at birds the same again.

But I was fiending for a mountain top SOOOOO badly today. I just can't stand any more racket (taoist music) or crowds. All I could think about all day was getting myself to a place like the top of Haleakala or Yosemite or Zion or something... Canyon Falls! Good grief. Not that China has been so incredibly crowded. I've actually been really surprised about that. I was expecting crowds like you see on tv when they show Manhattan or something to that effect at least and it's not at all like that. The only place that there's been so many people that it was difficult to navigate yourself through the crowds was the Forbidden City... the tourist meccas.. that kind.

It was also nice to see how good of a mood Shifu was in today. She was maybe the happiest I've ever seen her and it was nice to be around that. Especially with how rotten we've been on this trip. I've been wondering (and I'm sure other people have too) if she'll ever want to do something like this again. I'll be shocked if she does...

Anyway, we left the temple on the 2:30 shuttle (we barely made it) and all headed to our new rooms. Bowen and I are in 1818 and I think it might have some kind of lazy curse. I sit or lay down on the bed and that's completely satisfying. I don't want to do anything else. The other funny thing of course, is that there's no wall between the shower and where the beds are. Just a big piece of glass - it's hilarious. There's a thin shower curtain to block any visitors from bathroom activities - which of course we had to test when Zach came over.. we could see his nipples only when he was completely pressed up against the glass. ...I'm so disappointed. I had SO wanted to make some friends out in Hong Kong and invite them up for a shower.

Anyway. After lazing around for a while, Polly, Rhonda, Val, Zach, Bowen, and I went on a dinner wild goose chase. It was good for walking around and getting some exercise (trying to find chinny-chin eyes and perhaps some bubble bath and a razor), but terrible for my mood (and Zach's, who's even worse than me - I didn't think that was possible) which was crashing due to extreme hunger. It took a ridiculous amount of time to find a non-chinese place to eat that didn't have a 2 hour long wait. We ended up at Outback steakhouse (my first time) which upset Bowen so much he left and ordered room service. When my burger arrived I wished I had done the same. It was not good. I shouldn't have been so cheap and ordered the mushroom filet like Zach did, but I'm a cheap-ass. Oh well. Hopefully I've learned.

It was especially frustrating to find out that the hotel was only a 5-10 minute walk from where we ate, even though it took us an hour to get there.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

China Day 17

Today we graced the Taoist festival in Hong Kong with our presence once again. It's definitely a little strange getting your picture taken by so many people that you don't know while getting stared at from all sides. It wasn't as noticeable as the first day we weer here right off the train from Shenzhen (the 13th)... man that feels like it was a month ago when it was only 4 days ago. China is a time warp like when I try to get in or out of Coconut Island on time.
As we walked in Master Wei saw a friend of his (no name). It was pretty cute, he was so excited.

Once again, we were in full costume (check Bowen rocking the stairs in a full length robe), prepared to spend the day sweating in attendance at the least, but hoping to sing something like Chapter 33. This was eventually made impossible as there was no way to hook up my ipod to the PA so we could have Jud to lead our tone deaf and shy group. We were instead to follow the group led by Pauline (Shifu's disciple) around to each alter and pay our respects. It would have been nice to have learned the song they sang for that, or at least to know when to bow, but hopefully we didn't look too ridiculous (or too much like fakers).

I wish I would have thought to bring a deck of cards, or maybe I could all of sudden be one of those always full of fun ideas to pass the time people, but really we ate lunch and followed Pauline and then sat around waiting for the next performance to finish. Shifu was performing in this one. She had been telling us how she wasn't exactly looking forward to it as they would be singing in Cantonese which she can converse in, but not read. I ended up taking pictures for a while and then hanging out with Master Wei and Ming trying not to laugh too hard when they started making fun of the songs and whatnot.

I got a couple of cool pics of Rhonda, Chris and Zach, Val and Josh, etc. fun stuff while trying to do my part to entertain Master Wei while he fetched me a can of coke (even though I tried to tell him I didn't want any - how much can you pantomime?) and the occasional cup of water.

Eventually Shifu started doing her thing and it was much more interesting to be on the outside looking in than the inside looking out. Plus we had to eat, so I went back down off the stage to join the masses. Speaking of masses, I was really expecting more of a crowd at this festival, but not so much. Just a handful pf people checking out the craziness going on at our little alter area. Finally, after hours and hours of sitting absorbing, we saw the finale of the performance (not for the night but the piece) and demanded leave for the night.

After a semi-nauseating display of bitchiness by most of us - it was difficult to demand passage home to a hotel that none of us had been to much less knew what part of town it was in - when Shifu was clearly exhausted from her performance and had been up since 5am like the rest of us.

We got out though on a bus and then I had my first experience on the Hong Kong subway. I was pleasantly surprised to find it clean and easy to use. We even found our hotel without too much trouble and were surprised to find Ming and Mater Wei waiting for us there. We checked in and then the craziness started. I was back to rooming with Bowen and Zach decided to kidnap Master Wei and give up his bed in the room he shares with Chris. We were thinking that this would be a no no with Ming and Shifu, but Ming actually seemed pretty stoked about it. Chris later explained that this helped them out because otherwise Master Wei would have been staying with them in Shifu's small apartment.

So we decided we'd be going out on the town. Chris said he knew where to go, and that there should be plenty of things to do in the part of Hong Kong we were in. Zach and I had already started drinking on the way to the hotel, so we were fairly confident that even though we'd been up since 530am, it'd still be a good night .. and it was.

We started off the night by introducing Master Wei to pizza. He'd never had it and it was pretty funny to see him sniff it suspiciously before he'd venture a bite. But luckily for Val, Zach went out of his way to find some for her so she's quit bitching about chinese food and how she only wanted to eat some pizza.

From there we headed out form the hotel (a boyscout hotel in the Jordan district - very strange place with tiny rooms) out to prowl the Hong Kong Streets. Before we went out, Chris let us in on an little story that had us start questioning Master Wei's innocence, and as the night went on we had a few more reasons to question who was corrupting who. We had some difficulty finding a place we would all enjoy this night, and to avoid further frustration, we stopped at one point and purchased a little mood lubricant by the names of Hennessey and Black Velvet. This definitely made things go a little easier and after Master Wei tried to take us to a men only bar with dancers we finally took Chris's advice and jumped on the tube to a part of town called Tsim Sha Tsui.

As soon as we got out of the tube station we saw an Irish pub called Murphy's. I got all nostalgic for Sean and Nuuanu Street and had to go there at least for 1 Guinness. Murphy's turned out to have a bunch of non-Chinese people in it, surprise, surprise. We all had a round of Guinness on me (holy expensive! I thought we were in China! Good thing I'd had all that Hennessey already!), except for Val who had a cider and Master Wei who didn't appreciate the fine drink placed before him and had to have something a little more golden in color.

We left Murphy's and after a little walking around found the place for the evening... Sticky Fingers. They had a live band and drinks. What more could we have asked for. We (Zach, Val, and I) danced the night away and Chris and I got more than a little drunk. It was a fine time. From what I am told and what I can see from the pictures, we made some friends - a couple from Beijing and a guy from Argentina (?), someplace like that. I'm not really sure. But really the important part was that we had so much fun together that we went back to the hotel and had a sleepover so as not to disturb Sheryl and to give Master Wei a place to sleep. This sleepover was minus Master Wei and Chris of course who went back out on the town for a little extra credit fun and had a room of their own.


Friday, November 16, 2007

China Day 16

It was tricky waking up today, but I made it Qi Gong in time. My concentration is still about where it usually is (meaning I get distracted all the time, especially when my arms start getting tired) but todays Yang absorbing went well.
I actually was fidgeting a lot and then I started going like last night and felt like I had to shut it down. I spoke with Polly about that later and she was surprised it shut it off like that. Maybe it would have been fine, but it didn't feel like the right time.

Today is our last day at Lychee World.. Tomorrow we go back to Hong Kong and go to the Taoist festival til the 24th or 25th. We might be performing a song at the festival if we can get our act together. This has definitely been a point of contention the last few days between Rhonda and the rest of the group. The difficulty started in the airport in Beijing when we were waiting to fly to Shanghai. Shifu and Rhonda were talking about when we were going to have time to practice the Kong form that we had started working on before we came to China. Shifu all of a sudden started saying that that wasn't the form she had wanted us to do, but really she wanted this other, more obscure form that of all the people on the trip, only Rhonda had ever seen (2 summers ago). this was quite the upset and then Shifu refused to help Rhonda remember how the form even went. Rhonda worked on it diligently though and finally got approval for her arrangement. Of course that was only a few days ago and we are supposed to learn a long (10 minute) song in Chinese, a ridiculously complicated charm, and a walk. and put it together like we've been practicing for a year instead of 3 days.

So. It's completely understandable that people would have different opinions about the likelihood of us pulling this feat off with 3 days for practicing when we have unplanned dinners out with visits to tea houses, long-winded conferences about products that most of us aren't really able to use for a few years, and the fact that many people are sick. It's also difficult because so many of us want to learn this ritual and be able to use it ourselves, and want to make Shifu proud of us, and we know how hard Rhonda has been working on this, but we have the equivalent of a few hours to learn this. Plus, the way Shifu has been talking about it makes it sound like she doesn't even plan on letting us go up there anyway. What she's said is that we will be performing Chapter 33, which is a song that most of us have been performing for at least a year and we can't even get that right unless we can play my recording of Jud singing it and follow him. Of all of us, only Rhonda and Zach are really performers.

Anyway. That's the drama of the last few days.
the conference this morning was wrapped up semi-quickly. Before beginning this morning, Master Wei, Drew, Zach, and Ming had a nice little round of push-hands. I think everyone won at least once. It was pretty funny.
Also, I checked out Josh's knee.. that's pretty nuts. I don't know what that guy put on his psoriasis, but it does look a little better.
We had one more lecture from Master Lee and then had our usual many times over group photo-op. We also are going to have another session with later tonight.

After lunch we were given some free time so we culd check out the rest of the gardens and greenhouses. Zach, Val, Bowen, Master Wei, and I ventured off and found some giant bugs and lots of longan trees before finding out that Val is deathly afraid of butterflies. Unfortunately the small one that flew by and then the giant one in the display must have been too much for her as she took off before we even got to the greenhouses. It's definitely because of that, not because we have to be completely packed before 5:30pm.

We were informed that we are not allowed to bring all of our luggage to Hong Kong. Shifu doesn't want to have to arrange special transportation for all of our crap to make it to Hong Kong just to have to bring it back to Shenzhen for our last 3 days in the country. BUT, we're also getting more and more things added that we MUST have with us... gotta have the uniform, dress clothes, shoes, and enough stuff for the next 12 days. all in the smallest bag possible. and then we're not supposed to buy anything more until Shenzhen, when we will be staying at a place called "healthy Hospital for Healthy People".

So the cactus room was pretty cool! There were many different kinds of pinchable succulents and cacti. I was super smart and ran out of batteries right as soon as I got there (and brought no replacements with me). Then halfway through the cactus house Master Wei wanted a picture and it worked! But then I left the polarizer and lens cap there... probably won't have time to get it tomorrow morning before we leave (5:30am!)

So. We got back from sightseeing and got to packing. I got interrupted and had to take plant pics and then hurry and stuff everything into my bag so I could be ready for Master Lee's session.

Right. Master Lee's session. What a crazy experience. I didn't have anything like last night, I wasn't able to get back to anything near a calm place tonight. I was fidgeting and distracted the whole time. Then we had the rest of the people in the group diagnosed and worked on. I got told that I have some kind of female problems that apparently Shifu will be telling me about later.

The craziest thing that happened today was Rhonda's exorcism. I don't know what to say about that other than wow. All my hair still stands up just thinking about it.

After the session we went out to dinner. No one was really sure what was happening with that, but we sat around for a long time while Shifu talked story. There was another bout of push hands challenges with Master Wei before we finally were told to get walking. Cars come out of nowhere and we were shuttled off to another hot pot place after witnessing a strange, tense moment between Ming, Shifu, Master Wei, and the Lychee world guy. this on it's own was a little more than most of us could handle since we didn't get to the place to eat until 9pm (we're supposed to be up and out the door by 6am or something) and then we got dropped off at this other place where they tried to get us to drink tea and watch them roast rice or something at 11pm! This was just too much so after the photo-op, we all headed for the door and finally headed home in time to get our usual 4-5 hours of sleep.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

China Day 15

Today is one day past 1/2 way through the trip. We started with morning Qi Gong. The group is bigger now than just me, Zach, Drew, Matt, and Bowen (who were initiated what seems like months ago in Tianjin). Now Val, Christine, Josh, Chris, Rhonda, Charles, and Polly are in the group. Master Wei showed up and went through the whole form again and then came around to give us a little something while we were practicing. It's not really my thing to be getting up at 630 every morning, but it does feel nice to be outside (not directly in the city) around some trees getting some practice in.

After the form today, we went over to the area where the statue is that I took pictures of yesterday and did a sun salutation of sorts. We sit facing the sun and absorb the Yang. I quite liked it. Sitting for me is much easier than holding a ball of Qi between my hands with another ball inside my arms and another one under my feet while I think about nothing and breathe correctly. So far I need a lot of practice cause I am not so good at shutting off the thinking while I have so much to be paying attention to. Sitting and absorbing the Yang is much more my style!

Some of us showed up for the continuation of the "conference" today. We were told that participation was optional, so understandably some people didn't go. This is fine, except that the rest of us who were there had to wait around for a couple of hours for everything to start up because the people kept waiting for more of us to show up. We didn't know this until they finally started. Of course it was more of the same product demonstrations and not anything really interesting. One funny thing though was this guy, who makes these little bottles of apple cider vinegar plus something else that makes it better than just vinegar (enzymes or something), went off for a good 10 minutes about how doctors are killers and they get trained to point guns at you.. stuff like that. It as interesting, and extra funny because of how hard Shifu was laughing.

After the days worth of talks, we were offered a tour of the garden which I jumped on right away. I thought it was going to be different, but it turned out to just be a ride in a gold cart around a couple of the roads that gained some kind of elevation so we could see some kind of view. Not that we stopped for photo-ops.. =( I got a few on the fly shots, but there was so much vegetation that I stopped trying after a few.

After everyone got back from the tour, Shifu came over to see who was going to go to Master Lee's class. This is where everything got crazy. I heard her explaining what was being offered and I couldn't say no. She said that he was going to open our third eyes, and what this meant is that if it works (and it would work differently for different people) what we would get out of this experience is the ability to diagnose like she does. I know that saying it like that doesn't mean much, but that's the best way I have to describe it. The specifics were that we'd be able to SEE the meridians in our patients, see the flow of the qi, and consequently see where the blockages are with our eyes. We'd also be able to communicate with the spirit world, see spirits (I guess), and possibly be able to see events over long distances.
Now I would love to have these abilities, but the things that some of us were talking about before deciding to go to this class is the responsibility that a person would have to accept along with things of this sort. I think that's an important thing to think about and not actually one that I would have considered on my own. The other thing that was going through my mind is whether or not I believe that anyone can do these things. Right off the bat, I am very skeptical of anyone who makes such claims, but I've always wanted to experience and believe these things, and a few of the people on this trip know that. I just felt like this was a good chance to step out and see what would happen. I had to try.
That night I had one of the craziest (if not the most crazy) experiences of my life. The class had 2 sessions. One before dinner and one after. The first session didn't really hit me as life changing, although I did feel much more relaxed than usual and I just felt like I wanted to spend the rest of the night outside just staring at trees or the stars (if I could see any anywhere in China). This trip has had me pretty amped so that calmness was really enjoyable, and I think very necessary for the second part of the class after dinner.
I'm not sure how much of the experience I really want to write out. I'm a little worried that it will lose a lot in translation so I'm just going to say that I had an experience that I've never had before and it really shook me, mentally and physically. I was physically shaking for maybe 20-30 minutes afterwards, teeth chattering and everything. All of this from only a a few minutes of a breathing exercise followed by just sitting quietly. I was in shock for sure, especially when Master Lee said that I'd done a really good job getting to the quiet place that one needs to be in for the 3rd eye to open up. Of all people, I least expected myself to have something like that happen and I have to say that I got a little of what I asked for. So far the world looks the same and I'm glad for that. I don't think I'm really ready for too much more.
After class I sat with Chris, Kristin, Charles, and Bowen and had some lychee wine. We talked about our experiences. It really helped me to have other people hear me and bring me back to reality a bit.
I can't help but wonder what Qi Gong is going to be like now.. is it going to be any different? Will I have an easier time feeling anything there? I'll find out in the morning!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

China Day 14

Today was our first day at Lychee World, the "research garden where they have only organic foods that they grow there on their 5000 acres that reach all the way to the mountains". I have to say that off the bat I'm not impressed. So far all I've seen is a lot of dragonfruit on the walk in last night and a whole lotta longan trees this morning.

We started the morning off with some delicious bread and some kind of vanilla condensed milk sauce (and juk, etc.), I'd like a vat of it outside my door later...

We were instructed to dress up today as we were to attend a special conference set up in Shifu's honor. It was interesting because instead of it being lectures like we thought it was going to be, it was like more infomercials after long gratuitous thanks. Some of the products were interesting but nothing absolutely new, just labels we can't read. The actual lecture was to be by Dr. Steven Sui Shi Wai and could have been interesting if we'd had an interpreter and actually could have had time to go through all of his research and heard his whole talk. It got cut short cause so many people were there to talk to us.

After lunch I walked around the "garden" which is more like a tourist attraction/park a little bit and took some pics.

I really like this statue and big plaque behind it. I have no idea who it is or what it's about, but it's really pretty!

Also after lunch, Rhonda had a dance party with one of the product girls, very funny, and we met Master Lee, the most expensive calligraphist ever and so far interesting guy. He says that what western people call mental illness is caused by spirits attached to people. I'm a little confused about whether he was saying that the spirits attached to the people don't know their missions or if the people they are attached to don't know their missions. Either way he says he can cure mental illness within a minute by communicating with these spirits. It was a very interesting talk and definitely caused my ears to perk up (otherwise the day had been pretty boring). The guy has eyes that go right through you for sure and the audience that wasn't us got fairly riled up during his talk.


Later Shifu told us that we could pay and sign up for a special class with Master Lee. He's saying that he will open our third eyes. He also (according to Shifu who says she's seen it) has a reputation for healing people, balancing them out and what not during these sessions.. something about people losing like 15 lbs during a session. That got a few people's attention and I have to admit that it'd be pretty impressive to see people walk out of the room with their clothes falling off cause they were all of a sudden 5 inches smaller all around.

After the talks and before dinner Shifu, Bowen, Matt, and I were sitting around talking about Master Lee and a story he was telling about Chairman Mao when Master Lee walked up. We had been wondering about how likely it was to have this experience that was being offered. Master Lee said that 30% of adults are able to get it. The price is pretty high for an experience that isn't likely to happen and that carries a heavy responsibility if it does.
As of right now, I don't think I"m going to go for it.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

China Day 13

Today was rough. I mean rough. First of all I got NO sleep on the train. I had a bed, I had a pillow, I had a blanket. I was lulled by the rhythm of the train... until it lurched every 10 minutes or so and shook me. I was also uncomfortably aware of the fact that my computer was just under the bunk under me and that anyone could walk by and grab it at any time. Consequently, I tensed up and opened my eyes every time someone walked by.
So understandably, morning came early. We were all excited to see Ming waiting for us at the terminal. A few of us were happy and irritated at the same time since we could have avoided all of the planning and worrying the night before, but hey at least he was there and he had a giant truck that we were to put everything in that we didn't absolutely need for the day. I could have kept a few things if I hadn't been sleep deprived, but oh well. I'll take pictures when we go back in a few days on the 17th.
We met up with the truck, unloaded, and then took taxis to the bus station at the border. The taxi rides were hilarious. The one I was in with Rhonda and Kristin and I don't remember who else was FLYING. The guy was driving like me when I get sassy! It was so fun, especially when we passed the car carrying Ming and Shifu - guess the guy knew where he was going and wanted to get the most os his payment.
The border crossing consisted of walking into the border on the China side, filling out a form, going through the passport checker, and out to a bus station. There we waited with Ming (cause Shifu had places to be she went on) for everyone, got on a bus which then took us to the Hong Kong side of the border where we again filled out a form and waited in a line to get through the passport check. Then we waited again on the other side for everyone and got on bug #14 to Tsuen Wan. This bus took us to the part of town we'll be staying in after the 17th. It was interesting looking.. not as busy as I was expecting, but I don't really know how big Hong Kong is. It was pretty funny trying to keep up with Ming. They guy must be an olympic power walker. Of course the usual people were complaining that they couldn't keep up, and were yelling and whining, but we made it to L'Hotel where we waited around for the delivery of our Taoist costumes.
After changing we hopped on the shuttle to the temple. When we arrived, Polly and Rhonda were helping each other get all the hair tucked into the hats and they were swarmed by photographers. It was more than a little disconcerting, but most likely completely due to the fact that they are both blond (and cute) as none of the rest of us were getting hassled (I was a little disappointed, I admit it). We walked in, met a few people, and then stood with a bunch of other Taoists for the opening ceremony. It took me a while to realize this, but we were able to see ANYTHING. It was so f-ing hot, especially with 4 layers on with my tank top, WMI tshirt, shirt, and robe on top and 2 pair of pants and the robe on the bottom. It was torturous having had no sleep and not having any water. After the opening was over and we were hoping we didn't look like too big of fools since we didn't know any of the songs or when we were supposed to bow, kneel, turn around, or anything like that... we had lunch (very tasty).
After lunch some of us mutinied and left to go hang out in Hong Kong for the afternoon. This was me, Chris, Polly, Zach, Bowen, Christine, and Aadrien. We walked around til we all found a place to get a massage (Chris at the first place) Zach and Bowen at the second, Polly and I at the 3rd and who knows where Aadrien and Christine went. Polly and I lucked out and get the only semi-good massages of the day. Then we had some tea before walking around to find some place to eat. We ended up with hot pot and made it back to L'Hotel in time to do the revers of this morning to end up at the garden place tonight.
Now, I must have gotten the wrong idea from Shifu cause I could have sworn that she said the words, "2.5 hours out of town", "5000 acre organic research garden", "so far away that last time we got lost", and such things. It took maybe an hour and the city bus took us there!! I couldn't believe this crap. We'll see what it looks like in the morning, but right now I'm irritated. PLUS, most of the rooms reek of mold (luckily not mine).

Monday, November 12, 2007

China Day 12

Today we hopped the train from Shangahi to Shenzhen. It was an interesting morning, starting with having to bribe the train people to let us on the train early cause we ll have so much crap, we'd have no chance of getting it all in if we acted like normal people. It just never ends. Anyway, we got on no problem and then learned that Jessica (our lovely tour guide) had called up the guy that was supposed to help us out at the train station and told him not to help us out cause we're such a crowd of assholes (the word she used was cavemen though), and unfortunately I'm not feeling like I'd have a good case to argue with her (again). He finally got ahold of Shifu at the last moment and helped her with the bribe. China is ridiculous.

Anyway, the train is interesting. It's not quite as dirty as we all were told by Shifu it was (she's starting to catch on). I finally saw some country side and snapped a few pics. I like having a bed as my seat, although it'd be nice to be able to sit on them like chairs without having to be all bent. Can't have everything I guess. It was very smoky in the train at times and definitely loud. There's a guy that comes through every 20 mins selling fruit. I almost know Chinese for fruit now, although I'm sure I'll forget it soon enough.

The train ride has been good for contemplation. I can't believe we're not even 1/2 way through this trip. Not til the day after we get to Shenzhen. It's taken what seems like months just to get to this point, but I have a feeling that the second half of the trip is going to go a low faster - no more tours as far as I know. Thank god! And we're only going to be in 2 cities, Shenzhen and Hong Kong.


So of course there was some drama on the train. This time it was Shifu's drama though and me, Bowen, Chris, and Zach were the ones getting sucked into it. We were getting told all about how it's going to go once we get to the train station. Apparently we're going to get off the train and then have to go straight to Hong Kong to be a part of the opening ceremony of the Taoist festival. This is problematic for a number of reasons starting with how many bags everyone has. So first, Bowen, Chris, and Zach got together and made all these lists of the order that everyone is to walk in so we don't lose anyone (it's definitely been a problem in the past). We were all paired up with our roommates and were told to memorize who was in front of us and who was behind us. If at any time we couldn't see anyone, we were to yell that persons name and they were to answer and then try and link back up. We were supposed to stay as close as possible to the people in front of us as the Chinese are very pushy and would cut in between us and separate the group.
This is all to come into play during the transit from Shenzhen across the border into Hong Kong. This was the first plan.
Then it was put on Bowen to make a schedule of the activities for the rest of the trip, including classes with Master's Wei and Xiang, eating, practicing for our performance at the festival with Rhonda which is happening the 17th, and time to enjoy the fancy 5000 acre gardens we're going to be staying at.
I was sitting there when this task got delegated and I offered to help since Bowen is always getting asked to take care of so many organizational tasks and he said at the beginning of the trip how much he hates that and didn't want anything to do with it on this trip.. of course it happens anyway. So anyway, I tried to help and it was the worst mess. There just wasn't time in the day for all of this stuff! Plus we weren't given any information on what was going to be taught or how much time we should allot for anyone (other than Rhonda who was demanding 3 hours/day). We ended up having to be up at 6am and not having any time until 9pm. It was ridiculous, especially after coming off a similar schedule with US Tours and the fact that almost everyone is sick. Shifu changed her mind on what and how the schedule should be more times than I can count. It was maddening. If she knows what she wants, why can't she just tell us??!!! ARGH!
Then, once we got it finally settled (for the moment) she started in on why we're never going to be able to get everyone to the opening ceremony without someone getting lost. Saying alternately that Ming was going to get a truck to take all of our luggage to the garden place and we'd just go into Hong Kong with nothing other than what we could run with (which for me would be nothing), change into the Taoist costumes there and go, and that Ming won't be able to get anything and that only people with small bags that REALLY want to go to the ceremony would be allowed to go and the rest of the people will have to sit around the train station for 12 hours and wait for everyone to get back before moving along to the garden.
This situation was causing all kinds of problems for everyone. Everyone wants to see the ceremony, but only maybe 2 people have small enough bags to make it there with all their crap. I offered to take one for the team (with someone else) and sit at the station with all the luggage cause I'd rather miss it than listen to everyone bitch all day.. but of course the plan was left open ended all pivoting on whether or not Ming got a truck for our stuff or not.
Bowen ended the night more pissed than I've ever seen him. He called Shifu an energy sucker and was especially annoyed by the fact that she started laughing about the whole thing at the end of the conversation. Like she was just saying it all to get us all worked up.

I guess I'll see what happens in the morning, but as of right now I just hope I can sleep.