Monday, May 27, 2013

How to learn a language without really trying

The short answer: you can't.

The longer answer: you still can't, but I'll talk about it in more paragraphs. Ever since I have started trotting off to teach English in Asian countries, one of the most common questions from friends back home has been more of an assumption than a question. They'll ask if I speak Korean, or, now I guess, Chinese, but they seem kind of surprised to learn that the answer is no, that I am not fluent, not by a long shot, in these languages of countries where I have lived.

And by the way, I am the person who likes studying languages, who has always liked studying languages, who got the highest of my high grades in high-school German and French, who took Polish for a semester in college just 'cause, who regularly reads newspapers and books in French and Spanish and is always looking for simple German books, who has taken Korean and Mandarin classes while living abroad,. etc. etc. The spirit is willing, indeed! One of my friends said to me the first time I lived in Korea, after a few months of my being there, "If I know you, you're speaking better Korean than the Koreans by now." But I wasn't, and I still don't, and here's why: when you teach English abroad, you often find yourself working full-time in an English speaking environment, immersing your students, disciplining the children who speak in their native language. Even at my current job, teaching adults, there's an English-only policy that is indeed enforced.

Most people don't very much of my day is spent speaking English. Add to that the fact that I live with an English-speaker, and the tendency of expat teacher communities to be separate from locals in nightlife, poetry readings, arts, etc.. and you have a recipe for being nowhere near fluent in the official language of your country.

Yes, I believe you should try. You should take a class (I'm doing that) and listen to the language in various media and study a bit on your own and jabber with people in your daily encounters. I got really proficient at store/taxi/ticket counter Korean!  As it happens, I would try to learn Mandarin even if I didn't feel compelled to, because I like language and languages. I just invite you to consider how good of a football player you would be if you hung around watching football practice for a year, or how well you would play the violin if you worked in the box office of symphony hall.  News flash: language is a skill. It totally needs to be practiced to be acquired, just like a sport or musical instrument. You might have a talent for it, but you still have to pick up the equipment and do something to bring out that talent.  Living abroad gives you chances to practice a language, of course! But not 24/7.  Not when you are teaching English and being paid not to speak any other language.

I would also invite you to consider how a person from Honduras or Ecuador living in Phoenix who gets a job as a dishwasher in a Mexican restaurant and speaks in Spanish with a bunch of co-workers every day and then goes home to Spanish-speaking roommates might not magically become fluent in English overnight. Just putting that out there.

That said, my goal for June is to ramp up my language study. The first four months here were busy, chaotic, and full of out-of-town commitments. I plan to spend most of the summer right here in Guangzhou, and I am going to improve my Mandarin when I am not working. Let's check in come August and see how I did!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Cool runnings

It's air-conditioning season in the GZ! You might also know it as sticky-muggy-sweltering-it-rains-every-day-and-when-it's-not-raining-life-is-a-mushy-pile-of-sweat season. Now, I am not here to complain about the heat because as anyone who knows me knows I am sort of mystified by all the folk who are always complaining about the weather all the time. I mean, it's like, well, summer is hot. Winter is cold. This does happen regularly -- every year, in fact -- and yet they always seem so surprised... Anyway, no, I am not going to lament the fact that the summer rainy season in a sub-tropical place is steamy and hot because that would just be silly. I am just going to point out something, just this one teeny little thing. OK? Ready, China, are you listening? Here goes.

It's not that I don't like the feeling of the cool blast of air that I feel through the wide open doors of the department store/office/coffee shop ATM vestibule when I'm walking down the sidewalk. Like today, when I was running and all gloriously hot and sweaty and I trotted by the Bank of Whatever and felt a little arctic blast for a second. Yeah, that felt great and all, but here's the thing: every time it happens I kind of freak out a little bit and lose a little piece of my soul. I come from a place that would actually not exist as we know it without air conditioning (Phoenix!) and I come from a family of engineers, several of them electrical engineers, and they design power plants for a living and coordinate all sorts of mysterious power grid supply things, and in particular I have a parent who worked for Arizona Public Service, electricity provider extraordinaire. I was raised to shut that door quickly quickly quickly no that's not quick enough!! if the air conditioner was running (which, in Phoenix that could be like nine months out of the year. Maybe more.)  So I'm just pretty much blown away (see what I did there) every time this whole "Wow! Feel that A/C blast through the open doors out to us here on the sidewalk!" thing happens.

The thought does occur to one that if you people would maybe, you know, just kind of shut the !@#$&* doors you could save a whooooooooooooole lot of energy and maybe you wouldn't have actually needed to build that gargantuan mighty largest ever Three Gorges Dam and stuff. Just a thought.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

A tiny glimpse of Guangzhou life and food

A faithful blog reader asks what a typical day is like for us. We actually have a few different "typical" days here in the G-Z based on the particulars of our work schedule, but there are some common themes among them. 

Being part of an English teaching couple, a lot of our days at home -- that is to say, in our residence -- are actually indistinguishable from days at home-home in the U.S. (wherever that home-home may be). If Brian and I are hanging out in the apartment watching a movie, blogging, reading, or having a glass of wine, there is nothing particularly Chinese about the scene. Our apartment is in one of many, many indistinguishable apartment buildings found in Guangzhou and other cities: tall, grey or earth-toned, rows and rows of places to live. It's a one-bedroom (desk, wardrobe, nightstands) with a small living room (couch, glass coffee table, bookshelf, TV, cable, DVD player), dining area on the side (where we also have our shoe rack), small kitchen (fridge, microwave, stove, sink, tiny countertop, dish drainer) and small bathroom (dark blue tile floor, glass-doored shower, no bathtub). I'm reminded that I am in Asia by the washing machine on the balcony/laundry area whose buttons are still indecipherable and the rods on which we hang clothes to dry. Dryers: the ultimate electricity-devouring appliance that is definitely not standard in minimalist apartments around the world. 

It only now occurs to me that I should probably take pictures for this blog post. Oh well, a thousand words are worth a picture. We'll do a visual tour in some upcoming entry. 

Since we work in the evenings, we usually spend our weekday mornings at home. We make French press coffee and breakfast on fruit and/or bao zi, the latter of which are sold hot and fresh about a 2-minute walk from our building. I'm partial to the shu cai bao (vegetable dumpling) while Brian often gets pork. This is an incredibly cheap breakfast of champions -- 1 RMB per dumpling! That's like 16 cents. Yum!  We always get bao zi  when we head out to our weekly morning Mandarin language class or when we head to work at 10 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays, too. 

I like to go on walks, listening to my mp3 player, and I haven't really found a good nearby running route yet. I've done a few runs to the river and back, which sounds nice, but isn't at all -- we are in the middle of urban crowded urban-ness, and the route to the river is a throng of cement, people, storefronts, traffic, hotels, taxis, parking lots, restaurants, you name it. I can go either by busy street or by the little canal/river off-shoot, which, again, sounds like it would be nice but is really just full of people walking and is more like a sidewalk. A crowded sidewalk. I spend most of the run, about 3/4 of a mile from here to the river, dodging people and cars. I should also add at this point that neither the river nor the canal smell nice -- the Pearl River is evidently quite polluted. Such a shame.  Brian usually works out on our all-purpose balcony, which is small, longer than it is wide, and sadly has a not-very-exciting view of the sides of tall grey buildings and a smattering of green plants and treetops.

We live right next to the subway station, at the corner of a very busy thoroughfare-like road and our less busy road from which you enter our place. Everything small is within walking distance: convenience stores, snacks, banks, the pirated-DVD selling man, Lenscrafters, 7-11, the bottled water place with which we have a contract for delivery -- you know, those big bottles you turn upside down into the water cooler, like in an office, and then they come back to trade out the empties for new full bottles. It's a little bit farther (one subway stop or a longer walk) to the big grocery stores, of which there are many in GZ, including several with imported goods (I totally found everything I needed for a Cinco de Mayo party for my students), but within a five-minute walk between here and the river is our local market, a crush of people and stalls and chaos where we can buy vegetables, meat, tofu, snacks, condiments, live chickens (no thank you), and plenty of other things for incredibly cheap. 

Within a 1/4-mile radius we probably have three dozen restaurants; we have tried a bunch and have a few favorites. Sometimes they have picture menus. A few have English printed on the menu, including our much loved northern cuisine restaurant right on the corner which has a giant menu we are working our way through. We dine out weekly or so at one of these nearby places. Our evening work schedule isn't really conducive to going out to dinner, so we often dine separately on our way to or home from our separate workplaces. We like to lunch at the delicious noodle places and other spots nearby, and Brian has been using his wok to cook up delicious lunches with vegetables, tofu, pork, fried rice, and his newly discovered favorite condiments. 

Every afternoon I spend time at my desk writing, checking in online, emailing, organizing my life, making lists of books to read, etc. From the desk I can gaze through the window at the less-than-thrilling view of the air conditioners and windows of the side of another wing of our building and the always gray sky. I do mean always gray. We see the sun for an hour or two about once or twice a week, but even then the sky isn't really blue. This is partly because of the seven-month rainy season and partly because of the ever-present pollution haze, as I understand it. 

We leave for work around 5 p.m., scattering in opposite directions on the subway. The Guangzhou subway is extremely crowded and although it is clean and convenient, the sheer mass of people who refuse to stand-to-the-right-walk-to-the-left on the escalators drives me batty. It's cheap, though! We have our transit cards and probably spend about $20-25 a month on commuting at most. 

On Saturdays and Sundays we leave for work in the morning and work a full 8-hour day. I almost always lunch at this place by my center called Long Lin which is kind of like a cafeteria -- you go down the line with your tray and just tell them which dishes you want (or in my case, you point). There are always at least a dozen options, and I almost always get a tofu dish (I've had five or six different ones there) and a vegetable or two, but I've also had fish -- even a whole fish once, just there on my plate -- and accidentally some unidentifiable things too that I had thought were chicken or beef but could be any animal, really, to hear the Guangdong province locals tell it -- they eat everything from turtles to what we would call house pets. It hurts my heart and brain. I have been trying to go completely back to vegetarian, and it's not too difficult to do so, but I tend to indulge in a meat dish when that is the path of least language-barrier turmoil. I also eat the occasional burger at the Western, expat-filled pubs we go to. I suck. Brian has an awesome lunch spot near his center, and we eat there together every week after our Wednesday Chinese class, which is also held at his center. It's a large food court in a huge, nice mall, but get those pictures of Sbarro's and Hot Dog on a Stick out of your head. This mall is full of Louis Vuitton and Dior and elegance, and they don't let people loiter around near the doors, and the food court is full of real, delicious food of all sorts: Flavors of Xi'an, Macao, spicy hotpot, vegetarian place, Japanese place, Vietnamese place, etc. 

We've been doing a bunch of traveling on our days off but there is also stuff around here to do. We like to go to Shamian Island, which is a tiny little island of city created by the river that was once a foreign concession and now has an interesting look and feel, architecturally and plant-wise. We enjoy our favorite Starbucks there -- it's in a really cute setting with great outdoor seating -- followed by a walk along the river and dinner. Yes, I openly go to Starbucks, often. There are eleventy gazillion of them in Guangzhou. I have also tried a few other coffee shops, and I drink tea, too, but coffee is just a part of my life and it's completely a part of the (urban) landscape here as well. On Wednesdays we go to trivia and dinner at The Tavern, a British-y pub with lots of western grub. Imported beer is much more plentiful here than in Korea, although it's still cheaper to drink Tsingtao or Harbin or Pearl River Brewery beer, but Chinese beer is leaps and bounds ahead of Korean beer, in my humble opinion. 

We're friendly with a bunch of our co-workers including a group of teachers who live in the same apartment building as us. We often join them for dinner or drinks or to see a band play live. I've been to a bunch of different bars and restaurants, which are everywhere, but there are definitely concentrations -- in Zhujiang New Town, the super-modern, all high-rise district where the Opera House, Guangdong Provinicial Museum, and two of our Western pubs are located; in Taojin, the foreigner-laden district with all kinds of nationalities and some sketchy people and several Indian restaurants among other cuisines; Tianhe, which is where Brian's center is and has a bunch more tall buildings, malls, modern things, cafes, bookstores; and the Party Pier, which is a new crop of restaurants and bars and clubs along the south side of the river, also within 10-15 minutes of our place by cab. And this really only scratches the Guangzhou surface! The subway stops running at 11-something, so we head home in a taxi for about $2-3 dollars from many of our nightspots. 

It rains at some point about six days out of every seven. 

I like to stop at the little Uighur-bread stand near my work, when I get off early enough and they are still there, or sometimes I'll get bread before work. The Uighur culture is from the far west Xinjiang province of China, bordering Kazakhstan and Tajikistan, and in multiple places you can find Uighur Muslims here in GZ selling the round bread baked in their oven right there on the sidewalk and kebabs that they grill up right there as well. There are other late-night street food options to be had, too. You cannot go hungry in Guangzhou and you will not run out of new places and delicious foods to try. We also have a favorite Uighur restaurant, in the Tianhe district, one subway stop away. 

I'll stop jabbering for now and maybe even go take some photos to illustrate all of these things I've been babbling about. And I will talk about our work and students and job environment in a future post! 

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Great Birthday Hong Kong Adventure of 2013

From the "You don't say..." files, Hong Kong really is a nice place.

We just returned from our birthday celebration, wherein we spent the 3 days between our 2 birthdays in the city/territory/not-quite-another-country-except-it-kind-of-is-though down the road. We once again stayed in Causeway Bay and we once again did some wandering in both Tsim Sha Tsui/Mong Kok and Central. We also discovered new areas, like Stanley Beach and its neighboring promenade and market, and we ate at a bunch of new restaurants. We checked out the Hong Kong Museum of History and we became enthusiastic fans of the tram as a convenient mode of transportation in addition to just the subway. We knew this before coming to Guangzhou, but it's worth saying again: living down the road from Hong Kong is kind of awesome.

Among the restaurants we sought out this time were a vegetarian place highly recommended by the guidebook and one of Anthony Bourdain's favorite hole-in-the-wall meat spots. I would call Pure Veggie House overpriced, considering that the food is not particularly spicy or mind-blowing. It's got tons of delicious options, and that's great, but I was not blown away. I would definitely return if in need of some meatless sustenance, though. The meaty hole-in-the-wall was much cheaper and sinfully delicious. On one night of our trip, the place we sought out was already closed at 9:30 (despite having posted hours saying it's open until 10:30...) so we had to find something else. We had tacos on the brain and so we put on our Mexican food radar and - here's the shocking part - found  a Mexican place! Yes, I am still in Asia. This is why Hong Kong is special. Can you imagine me typing that sentence in Korea, or China, or even Japan? That we started thinking about Mexican food, set out looking for it, and found it? No, no you cannot. Hong Kong rules. Brian even now has an "I-heart-HK" t-shirt to prove it.

The history museum is highly recommended, by the way. It goes from the prehistoric natural state of the land and the islands rising up as the sea level went down all the way through dynasties, opium wars, and being handed back to China, then leaves you with the question of what lies in store next for Hong Kong?

My favorite thing about Hong Kong, which we experienced on our previous trip as well as this birthday celebration journey, is probably the amazing Lan Kwai Fong happy hour scene. I really love a place that knows how to do happy hour right. Well, actually my favorite thing might be walking on the promenade and gazing from Kowloon at the water and at Hong Kong Island across the way. Or maybe my favorite thing is taking the Star Ferry and gazing at both sides.

Who says I have to pick a favorite, anyway? I just like having it available down the road for our birthday celebration!

Monday, May 13, 2013

How the other half karaoke

It should go without saying that one of the greatest things about living in Asia is the plentiful, unabashed karaoke. As many of you know, this usually takes place in karaoke room establishments. Unlike in the U.S. where, if you're lucky, you have one or two bars within stumbling/cheap cab distance that have karaoke once a week, and it's packed, and you can probably do your song, maybe, three hours after you put in your request, and if it's in any way problematic (bizarre, tinny accompaniment/weird key/you realize you don't know it after all) then your night is shot, the karaoke places in Asia are a different animal. You go into a room for which you pay by the hour. The room has couches, a screen, a song book, etc. You and your friends have it to yourselves. You can sing whatever you want, as much as you want. You can press a button to skip ahead when a song turns out to be a bad idea. You don't have to worry about anyone who is annoyed that you're making a fool of yourself. You can order beer, and often some salty snacks show up. The places don't ever close, it seems. This is a wonderful industry, and I find it delightful that in certain cities in the U.S. (New York, Boston, where else?) enterprising Asians have started these same businesses there (although they are sadly more expensive in the U.S.A.)

Now, I have been to multiple noraebang ("singing rooms") in Korea, but I must say the softest spot in my heart is for the one we frequented in Andong, there in lovable Ok-dong with the woman who I developed quite a rapport with throughout our year of late night arrivals. The place is tiny, cheap, and a little dingy, with a convenience store cooler-like fridge of beer in the lobby. It's like home. If home had squat toilets and a few disco balls.

Here in China the karaoke magic happens in KTV establishments. Due to our whirlwind of activity these first few months as well as the general (and annoying) tendency of most people I know to not want to go singing every week (I mean, why not people? Really, why not?) I had not even been to KTV yet (I know! the horror!) until last night.

But about last night:

Wow! This was our company party for the center where I work, a reward for hitting all of our sales and numbers targets for the quarter. The place we went, apparently a favorite of our staff, is quite the posh karaoke joint. First, you walk down a wide, marble-like hallway lined with aquarium walls -- fish on one side and sharks on the other. I mean, they're little but geez! And no, I do not approve whatsoever of imprisoning little sharklets but I'm just trying to convey the sort of "glamorous" approach this place takes. Then you check in at a desk that looks more like a hotel reception. I happen to know that our center director made a reservation for our group, although I don't think you have to do that. Then, we go into our absolutely palatial suite. Did I say suite? Why yes, there was more than just the room with couches and tables -- there was also a wet bar and a private bathroom. (With a western toilet!)  The biggest screen was HUGE, and there were two smaller screens on each of the side walls. Then we got a printed menu (Chinese and English) and proceeded to order beer, and bottles of wine, which were brought to us along with wine glasses (!) by uniformed service staff. Our snacks included things like M&Ms, popcorn, noodle dishes, and god knows what else we ordered up, plus fruit baskets -- really beautifully arranged with the fruit of many colors all carved in spirals and whatnot.

Meanwhile, rather than punching numbers into a grubby keypad, you have a touch-plasma screen to scroll through and search by artist or title (with Roman alphabet options) as well as a one-touch button to move your song to the top of the queue, which by the way you can see on the side of the screen the whole time, or minimize if you prefer. Note: I do not approve of skip-your-song-to-the-top features any more than I approve of the sharks, as they are constantly abused despite a noble effort to keep the Chinese-English-Chinese-English rotation balanced.

Needless to say, I won't be spending all of my hard-earned yuan at this place, but when the boss is paying? Yeah, fill up that wine glass and let's sing!

For those interested in the set list, I believe I was involved with Taylor Swift, Avril Lavigne, "The Loco-Motion," "American Pie," "Single Ladies," and "Waka Waka," among others. But I may have been at my best most drunk when we did "Gangnam Style" and the words were actually in hangeul and out of the 40 or so Chinese, Canadian, Scottish, New Zealand, and me employees, but one of us knew how to read the language of Psy, and so the microphone was passed to me and I handled vocals while the others galloped around gloriously.

I would not really like to discuss the hangover with which the KTV gods saw fit to punish me this morning. Didn't someone once say that there's no such thing as a free night of luxurious karaoke? I have certainly paid the price.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

And so this is 1/3 of the year,
and what have I done?

Blog! Blog o' mine! Here I am. I am so sorry, little bloglet, to have neglected you so, but I was stuck behind this big ol' wall* and I've only just found my way out and back to you, oh dear little blog. And readers. Readers! There you are, reading the blog, because I have come back, and it is nice to be with you again. What, the readers must be breathlessly asking themselves, has life on the other side of the wall been like? This is indeed a question to be answered. But where to begin?
*(a wall of fuego, as they say) 

Today it has been four months since Brian and I boarded the plane that would take us across the Pacific Ocean to Hong Kong, from where we would hie ourselves up the road a piece to our new home for another year of teachin'-in-Asia. As I mentioned in my last post before disappearing, we accepted a job in Guangzhou, also formerly known as Canton by ye olde foreign westerners, and so it has come to pass that we are now living in the Pearl River Delta and learning the ins and outs of life in this big, crowded, brightly lit, restaurant- and skyscraper-filled metropolis. It has also come to pass that we have learned very few of the linguistic ins and outs ... but more on that in a later post devoted to language troubles.

In fact, our first four months of living in China have been an insane whirlwind of taking forever to get settled and kind of being forced to travel all the time, thus dragging out even more the time it takes to get settled. I know, poor us, right? Oh, we've just been forced to take these international vacations, boo-hoo... but seriously, I would not plan it this way if I had my scheduling druthers. First and foremost, this is because I am a complete and total save-the-best-for-last kind of gal, and I would much much much much much rather start out my year contract in Asia by diving into weeks of work work work and then, a few months in, start having holidays, and I would take my annual leave vacation and my long holidays as late in the year as possible, whereas we of course had quite the opposite by arriving in January because that meant Spring Festival was right around the corner.

  • February / Spring Festival / Lunar New Year / The Philippines

Therefore, we had to start planning a vacation before we even had internet in our apartment and practically before we even had an apartment and definitely before we had received our first paycheck. This is not as easy as it looks, my friends! But the alternative would be to sit at home for our 9 days off in a row (shudder to think!) and furthermore to squander the biggest holiday of the year. It would be like moving to the U.S. on December 5th and not figuring out what to do with yourself for Christmas break. Unheard of! But because of the aforementioned lack of even one paycheck, we had to plot this carefully, and that's where Expedia saved us by popping up in my inbox with a last-minute deal from Hong Kong to Manila, and so we were off to the Philippines for the Lunar New Year holiday, and we rang in the Year of the Snake on the beach at Boracay, followed up by a few days of strolling around Manila. And we planned the whole thing using Starbucks' wi-fi. (This concludes your corporate shout-outs paragraph.)

  • March / Hong Kong 

Of course, this meant we had now passed through Hong Kong multiple times without ever being able to really stop and smell the Hong Kong roses; we just kept arriving and departing at the airport and the Guangzhou-Kowloon train station and even riding the subway and having lunch at an Indian restaurant or grabbing a coffee but not getting to explore the city. The city a mere couple of hours down the road from us, this fabulously exciting, beloved-by-every-traveler, one-of-the-greatest-cities-on-Earth city. And so it was time for a proper trip, a "weekend" in Hong Kong (our weekend actually being on Wednesday and Thursday, due to our work schedule - but also we don't work until 6 p.m. on Fridays, which is awesome). So we got back on the train and spent a couple of days checking out all the glories of Victoria Peak and Victoria Harbour, Tsim Sha Tsui and Admiralty, happy hour in Causeway Bay, the steep and winding streets, the dim sum, the laser light show, the art museum, the tailors who whip up a custom-fit suit in 24 hours or less, and not least of all the markets and shops and street of kitchen supplies where Brian had his sights set on wok shopping. In fact, Brian had basically been talking about buying a wok since the day we had our first job interview for this China gig back in Mexico in September, and he had determined that a particular street in Hong Kong would be the best place to procure a wok, and so procure it he did, along with some other wok-cooking utensil essentials including a knife that had to be checked as luggage on the train back to Mainland China. Since we had traveled with only our backpacks, the authorities took the big ol' chopping knife -- one of those rectangular deals that you might have seen being whipped around on a "But wait there's more!" infomercial in years gone by -- and wrapped it in newspaper and put a little tag around it and off it went down the luggage conveyor belt, to be retrieved by us back in Guangzhou.

  • April / Macau

And back in Guangzhou, we had another holiday on the way. I really wanted to catch my breath, get into a routine, attend my Wednesday ("Saturday") morning Chinese class more regularly, and start saving up some freakin' money, but instead we had to decide what to do for Tomb-Sweeping Day on April 3rd, which gave us a three-day "weekend" April 2-3-4. The obvious answer, of course, was to head to the other kinda-sorta-China-but-you-cross-a-border-to-get-there Special Administrative Region hereabouts, that being Macau. And I am here to tell you that Macau. Is. Awesome!  So much awesome is the Macau! It was Portugese, you know, or perhaps you don't, seeing as Macau kind of flies under the radar in terms of Places the World Often Jabbers About, but like Hong Kong, it, too, has reverted to being part of China. Sort of. This is actually an ongoing debate, as to whether it counts as going to another country when we go through immigration to Hong Kong and Macau. All I know is that Macau now offers the following: cobblestone streets, Portugese egg tarts and other ridiculously delicious cheap food, and gambling galore! "The Vegas of the East," they say. (They who? I don't know.) Massive big name casinos -- Wynn, Venetian, MGM Grand, you name it, and I have rarely enjoyed wandering around any city for two days quite as much as I enjoyed wandering around Macau. Oh, yes, I will be back there.

  • April Redux / Vietnam 

But no rest for the weary!! Because now our company was suggesting - strongly suggesting - that if anyone would please like to take a couple of days of unpaid leave during the month of April then we should definitely take them. Please do so. Please. And maybe some teachers might be forced to reduce hours if we didn't get enough volunteers, please, and thanks. What's an English-teaching couple to do, but realize that May 1st is going to be YET ANOTHER holiday (Labor Day/International Workers' Day -- you can thank Grover Cleveland for it not being celebrated on that day in the U.S.) and therefore if one were to take a mere three days of unpaid leave (highly appreciated by one's regional director!) and switch one's days off in the previous week, one would find oneself with eight consecutive days off that are clearly meant for one to travel to Vietnam...? And so, there we were again, eking out a budget for tickets, hotel, visa, etc. in order to not lose this time-off opportunity (I know, I know, such problems...but SERIOUSLY why did this all have to be in our first three and a half months?)  and then we were off to Hanoi! By the way, if you have yet to look at a map, Guangzhou is very close to Vietnam -- closer to Hanoi than to either Shanghai or Beijing, for example. Anyway, Vietnam just may have been the most revelatory trip yet, largely because of Sapa. Holy cripes! This mountain destination is ten kinds of amazing, and I can't believe that before whipping out Lonely Planet Southeast Asia on a Shoestring I had never even heard of it. All I know is that a wise man would do a lot less dropping of bombs on northern Vietnam, and a lot more sitting in a hotel on the Sapa hillside sipping his beverage of choice and staring at the stunning view.

Which brings us to mid-May. Which means it's our birthday month! Which means that Brian and I totally have to spend another weekend in Hong Kong, right? (Right?!) I mean, what else would one do for one's birthday when one lives a mere two-hour, $24-ish dollar train ride from the H-K? So that's where we'll be. Next week. And then I am going to just absolutely sit still for a minute and ... plan my celebration of the upcoming Dragon Boat Festival.

Meanwhile, you want to know what it could possibly be like to live in China. Isn't it an interesting question? Sure it is. However, I'm so close to the situation that I'm having a hard time at the moment figuring out what to talk about. But now that I'm back on the blog (praise be!) I will happily answer all your questions. So what are they? I would love to know what you want to know about life in Guangzhou. Ask and ye shall receive -- especially if you ask in the form of a comment here -- because the blog is back! Check in every Monday and Thursday for all the latest and greatest Linda Without Borders happenings. Although lately it feels like a more appropriate name might be Linda With Lots and Lots of Borders to Cross...