So, I went to training in Takeo in mid Septembe and right after that I went to Kep. Kep is a province in the south with a nice beach. I stayed there for a while because my province was flooded for a long time. Then I went straight to Phnom Penh for a few events. The first major event was a pool party!!! I had forgotten how much fun it is to play in a pool. Then we had a CHE meeting to talk about the future of our program. It was actually really productive and hopefully a stepping stone to really improving the health education program here in Cambodia. The next morning we had an all volunteer training session and in the afternoon the new k5 volunteers officially swore in. The minute it ended I swooped in on the snacks and had myself a free pre-dinner. Some pictures were taken, though right now I’m not sure whose camera they’re on. (I’m going to teach english class in about an hour and it just took me three tries to get the right “they’re”) After swear in was the swear in party. Unfortunately, I had to catch a 6am bus the next morning. Fortunately, my messed up sleep cycle somehow made me more alert when I finally did get back to site.
I spent about a week back at site and then I had to run off again! This time to CHINA. Yes, I am traveling a lot. Oddly enough a lot of it was for work and this is only my second time out of the country. The first time was a measly 3 days in Thailand. I went to Thailand in July. In September my Health Center director asked me when I was going to go to Thailand...
My two weeks in China was awesome. The first week was spent in beijing and it was exhausting. Eileen and I spent pretty much everyday walking about 8-10 hours a day. Beijing just has so much to see and so much shopping to do. We went to the Forbidden Palace, the Temple of Heaven, lots of different shopping places, saw a movie in a REAL movie theatre, ate lots of food (including at least 3 stops at Nathan’s), and on our last day we went to the Great Wall of China. And yes, it was great.
Growing up, I’ve seen a ton of pictures of the wall and people on the wall. It always just seemed like a large pile of stones to me. But, in real life, it’s epic. A super long stone wall on TOP of a mountain range. When was the last time your ancestors built a wall on TOP of a mountain range? We went on the one smogless day in Beijing and it was beautiful. Blue skies, perfect fall weather, trees changing color, an endless sea of mountains. The climb was a bit strenuous for someone used to completely flat land, but I did manage to pass a 2 year old, a woman with stiletto heel boots, a monk, an old grandma, and perhaps some other small children. If you use a stepmaster you’re golden.
At the top of one of the forts, Eileen and I sat down to a nice PB&J picnic lunch. PB&J never tasted so good. If you ever go I recommend that you pack food and expect to use up all your energy trekking up and along the wall. Then you can take the easy way down via gondola ride or a toboggan. The toboggan, though life-risking, would have been epic. If it were not for a pink hoodie wearing scaredy cat that kept stopping every time she hit a curve. There were, literally, people with blow horns yelling at her to keep going and don’t stop.
After Beijing we headed to Shanghai by bullet train, sort of. We were trying to save money so we took the second fastest train in China which got us there in about 7 hours. The bullet train takes 5. I think if you look up the distance you will be impressed, but right now I am without the internet. The train was quite comfy and along the way I got to be interrogated by two chinese ladies. The ladies were heading somewhere I can no longer remember and they were very curious about Eileen and I. At first they thought I was a dark southerner that was Eileen’s translator. This is partly because of my awesome authentic Chinese accent. Most people did mistake me for Chinese, which is a welcome change from always being Japanese in Cambodia. The ladies and I talked, not always willingly, for the entire train ride. Oddly enough, I’ve had the exact same conversation many times in Cambodia. We went through the usual; how old are you, do you have a husband, what do you do, how much money do you make, what did you study, what is better America or China, the old white skin versus tan debate, is stuff more expensive in China or america, are you Chinese?, is this brand of makeup good (that’s a new one), etc. Near the end they ended up giving me lots of free food which I greatly appreciated.
Shanghai and Beijing were very different from each other. We took the subway and public bus in both places, so we got to wander around a lot and see a lot of different places and people that aren’t on the tourist map. That’s a euphemism to say that, sometimes, we got lost. But, the general feeling I got from Beijing was that it was trying to be perfect in many ways. The temples, attractions were all beautiful and perfectly kept. The people were all well dressed. The subways were clean. Even the not touristy places were sort of touristy. However, underneath it all you could sort of tell that it was all an act. People dressed well and spoke clearly but when it came to your stop on the subway you are ready to kill everyone else so you can get out in time. Beijing just seemed a little too unreal.
You get to Shanghai and things are a little grittier. You get to feel the rhythm of the city. People dress like they live there, not like they’re supermodels. Honestly, I even think the food tastes better there, maybe a little more dirt helps the seasonings. Or maybe my uncle’s wallet also helped. People got on and off the train like civilized individuals. I couldn’t listen in on conversations anymore because so many accents and dialects were mixed in. You could tell when the guy next to you just got off the train from the countryside. People brought their kids and baby carriages onto public transportation, something that I would never do in Beijing. Shanghai is a beautiful city. The lights and architecture. But other than that it’s not filled with attractions like Beijing. It’s a place where you have to do a little more digging.
So, Eileen and I went to the Shanghai Science and Technology Museum and had a blast. It would have been even more awesome if we were actually 10 years old instead of just acting like it. We tried to look for a propoganda poster museum but it was closed cause they lost power for some reason. We went to the top of the Radisson hotel to get a beautiful, and free, panoramic view of the city.
Halfway through the week we hopped on a train to Hangzhou which is about 3 hrs away on the slow train. Hangzhou was a bit more difficult to navigate upon arrival since no nice subway system exists, yet. But we managed to get to the place we were staying at and the 2 day trip was so worth it. Hangzhou is famous for its dragon well tea and its giant West Lake. The area is beautiful. It even smells beautiful. Walking along the lake, drinking some tea. Climbing up a mountain, which ironically was infested with dengue mosquitoes, to get a gorgeous view. It was a really nice nature retreat and the couple whose apartment we stayed in were super nice and I definitely want to go back to see more of the town.
We spent our last two days back in Shanghai. Our second to last day we saw an acrobatics show and it was amazing. It wasn’t flashy or full of lights. No animals were used. It was just pure skill. Half the time I was worried that someone would die. Ok, so this one act involved a seasaw and a platform. Basically, two guys would jump off the platform and land on one end of the seasaw. Then the other end would flip up and fling a small asian girl really really high up in the air. The amazing part is that the girl somehow is caught on the top of say three people already standing on top of each other. and she lands perfectly...almost. So the really awesome part of this show is that people make mistakes. And when the performers make a mistake they do it again until they get it right. Originally, the girl was going be flipped onto a human ladder of I can’t even remember how many people. Something goes wrong and she plummets to the ground, but, thankfully, she has professional spotters on the ground and they break her fall. But for about 3 seconds she was just falling and no one knew what would happen. After the spotters got her back on her feet she went straight back around and did the same trick again. This time executing it perfectly. The entire show there were no nets. I only saw them use safety wires a handful of times when the girls were being flipped so high no spotter could ever hope to catch her.
It’s fascinating how lack of perfection is really what makes this show good. It makes it all the more real, more human. There seems to be so much more at risk. Other shows I’ve seen in America need to set things on fire, force elephants to stand on one leg (which must be painful), or have all kinds of smoke and mirrors. This show simply shows you that there is inherent risk. There aren’t five million invisible hi-tech safe guards behind the scenes. Part of me even wonders if they make mistakes on purpose once in a while.
One of the last segments of the show was a giant metal globe. It’s lower half can fit about 3 motorcycles in a triangle formation comfortably. They fit about 8 motorcycles going around in ridiculous highspeed circles. Then there was the ribbon dance? It’s not a gymnastics ribbon dance. It’s one where there’s a long piece of cloth attached to the ceiling and two performers can wrap themselves in it so they can do tricks in the air. It’s much more eloquent and beautiful than I can explain.
My last day in Shanghai I ate raw fish. It was awesome. My uncle and aunt took Eileen and I out to a japanese restaurant. I haven’t touched japanese food in about a year because I really don’t want to risk eating raw fish in Cambodia. Normally, I eat cooked food and I get sick. The food was delicious. I was so stuffed by the end I only really needed to eat one meal that day, but I ended up getting pizza in the airport. Also, free airplane meal! I love airplane meals. Mostly because you never know what you’re going to get and also it’s very cutely and neatly organized. Part of why I also love bento boxes. Food in well-organized compartments just makes me want to eat!!!
Now I’m back at site and trying to get back into the swing of things. Teaching and getting projects off the ground. Halloween weekend I’ll be heading into Siem Reap though to meet Kurt’s grandparents! I’ll be biking in at 6am tomorrow. Hopefully, arrive by 7:30am, but I haven’t biked in a while and 30k is a long way on a painful bike seat.