Thursday, August 30, 2007

Saying Goodbye... Can be Beautiful

Today was inevitable and a point in my journey which I needed to complete. Lily left this morning to head back to America. So many thoughts, so many emotions have been going through me all day today. I can't even begin to explain much of what I felt this morning, as well as throughout the day.

Overall, I have felt very empty inside, as if my best friend has left me for a long period of time. I look to the side of me in the back seat and see an empty spot. Everything is silent in the car, broken only by my simple Chinese. There's an empty 4th seat at the dinner table whereever mama, baba and I eat. Family and friends, this has already proven to be very very hard.
It seems that every other thought is about Lily. I miss her smile, her hugs, her smell, everything about her I really miss already. It seems like the whole time, both baba and I were strong, knowing that this day would come... when Lily would have to leave us. Despite our strength, we both had our fill of tears. I only needed to look at Lily's face the night before, and I felt a deep sadness; man, this is going to be really hard, I continue to tell myself. And, not just for me, but for Lily's parents as well.

It tore me up earlier today at the airport, when, as Lily was getting ready to go through customs, baba began to cry. They both hugged each other, both cried, it was very beautiful.

However, I believe we will all be together once again -- these are baba's words. I continue to look up to Lily's parents for strength. My god, how do they do it? Every year, they have to say goodbye to their baby girl (the only child for that matter). Each goodbye is almost worth a year, and at one point, it was worth 2 years, in which Lily did not see her family.

It isn't only just hard for Lily's parents, but for lao lao too ("lao lao" is grandmother). When I saw her this evening, she was very depressed. Part of this is because she did not get to see Lily one last time before Lily left. I hate to mention this, but I will never understand why Lily's parents insisted on heading to Beijing without first seeing Lily's grandparents one last time. One important thing that Brian has taught me is that family is very important, always make time for them, because you never know when that time will come again; I saw Granny this past July, she passed away later that month...

Who knows when lao lao and lao ye ("grandpa") will be able to see Lily once more. However, I did my best this evening, hugging both of them and trying to cheer them up. I told lao lao "bie ku," which means, "don't cry." I also told her that Meng, Ying (Lily's Chinese name) will be coming back home very soon, and that Lily loves her a lot; I also added that I love lao lao. I will continue to give lao lao as many hugs as I can!

Not just lao lao, but I will continue to love lao ye, mama, baba, da yi (eldest aunt), san yi (third aunt), ar yi (second aunt), baba's parents, and the rest of Lily's family. This time, they won't have to suffer as much with Lily being gone, because I will be a son to them. In fact, this early evening, I rode my new bike outside lao lao's apartment for them all to see, even gemener! If you don't remember, gemener is the neighbor whom I call my "bro." He's so awesome, he gave me bing qi ling ("ice cream") for free when I showed up today at lao lao's

It already feels like a very beautiful relationship I have with Lily's family, especially with her parents. Today was our first day in which we had to communicate with each other without Lily. Suprisingly, we made a lot of general conversation. I said things like, "Lily likes this," "Thank you mom and dad," "I like this," "I miss Lily," "I told Lily's friend, Camay, to take care of Lily while Lily is gone." We all shared laughs, and ate food together. In fact, after dinner this evening, they took me for a walk around Lily's neighborhood.

We passed all the neighborhood people on the streets, who were selling random goods, whether it be a necklace or some kind of clothing. We also watched people write calligraphy into the street, using water on a brush. This was very enjoying, to see people get such enjoyment out of water and a street; it was beautiful.

Baba and mama have also done a great job of teaching me Chinese any time they have the opportunity; I also have been teaching them English as well. As I said before, they are very humble people, and will not admit to their abilities in English. It has also been very touching that they have told anyone and everyone that I am their "son." "Ta shi wo de ir ze" ("He is my son"). In fact, this evening (before our walk), we went to this one place to eat. As usual, I get stares and people seem to have interest in me. Naturally, they ask Lily's parents about me. There is no lie, they tell them I am their son. In response, the people say "zhen de??," which means "really??" No explanation, baba and mama just nod their heads, implying "yes."

Around this same time, we also passed a game on the street, whereby you are supposed to toss rings on several rows of items; these items range from pottery to ash trays. Both baba and I tried our hand at the game. Baba almost got a tray his first try; he, unfortunately, didn't end up with anything. However, I gave it a shot, and after several failures, I finally landed the ring on a ceramic container; I told baba and mama right away that I would give it to Meng Ying :)

In no way do I want to imply that everything is all happy and nice without Lily, but the beauty does lie in saying goodbye. We all come to realize how much we love one another when we are faced with "goodbye." In some ways, seeing a person off for a year, who will be going to another country, is like saying goodbye forever; this feeling, at least, is temporary. But, we know we will see the person again. Our love, though, -- the beautiful part -- comes out in our tears. Lao lao really loves Lily, mama and baba love her to death, as do I. We all shared tears with one another; it was very beautiful.

As I have said before, this was one reason I went through with my decision. I needed to know how much I would miss my family and friends. I feel that I had become too comfortable, seeing my friends freely, and not giving enough effort to see my family in Texas. I apologize Aunt Sandy and Peggy, Uncle Tommy, Liz, Tim and Cindy -- I realize how important you all are in my life now. One thing China has made me realize is that family is very important. My missing you all has reminded me of how beautiful my relationship is with you all.

And, not just with my family, I needed to know how much I love Lily. I do not believe it is premature to say, but I feel already that my love for her is true. I will wait for her -- take everyone's advice that "if it is meant to be, it will be." I will continue to work hard at learning Chinese, so I can one day talk to she and her family in Chinese. I will also continue to see her parents every week, and help them out with their new apartment. This will all be very exciting, I will continue to grow in my Chinese and in my relationship with Lily's parents. I will also be able to see the new apartment before the end of the year!

Hang in there Lily tuzi, I will be strong for you, and I will keep your family's heart happy until you come back home! We will grow together, and we will cheer you on for your last semester! Once you have accomplished it, we will cross our fingers for you finding a great new job ^_^

Well, time to go to bed soon, baba mama and I will be going to my university tomorrow. I will finally be able to find out my teaching schedule for next week, and I will possibly also be able to see the campus where I will be teaching. Classes start next Monday, I'm nervous, but I believe I will do well!



PS Sorry for my lack of promptness in responding to emails, I will work hard at responding much sooner!

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Hong Kong Departure, Other Reflections

I'm waiting downstairs of the Mirador Mansion, sitting next to a Hong Kong-nese woman who is reading the daily paper. We're both in front of her stand, where she is selling a variety of shirts and garments for the many passersby. Again, reminded that I'm in Hong Kong as I see a sleuth of different people, ranging from Malaysian, to Indian, to European, and to Chinese.

I have the same feeling I once possessed the day I left Japan. Although I'm ready to head back to China and begin a new life which has been put on hold, I can't help but feel sad that I'm leaving another part of the world which had been my temporary home.
Well, such is life. As Marc said, change is good. In all honesty, I have sort of been on “the run,” without a permanent home for quite some time. I went from living on campus, to living with Grandpa and Liz (my last "real" home) to having two different apartments in Austin. It has been both good and bad; I can enjoy temporarily living in a place, and when things get bad, I know it won't be for long.

But, the last time I moved out (this past month), I realized that we all need a permanent home. It's rough having to move things out every year; especially being American, we have so much junk. Lily and I realized how many boxes of papers and old mementos we had, which we only look at the day we move out.

The person I do miss the most is my mom though. I thought about her in Hong Kong, and could have sworn I heard her call me at one point on the train. I joked with Lily about that saying adults tell children when a person passes away; that, this person has "gone on vacation" for a long time. I wonder if my mom has been on vacation for several years in Hong Kong. On the other hand, I want to believe that she is always with me in spirit... I believe this.

Fast forward a day later, I'm back in Tianjin now. Once again, I'm in my nice little cocoon, where I have "parents" who drive me around, take me out to places with great food, and are always at my every step. Just now, I said, "wo yao ke kou ke le" ( "I would like coca cola") and baba wanted to put his computer game on hold to go out and by me soda.

I don't know what to say to this kind of treatment. I'd like to write it off as a "cultural" thing, but I really should look more into it and try to understand my relationship with Lily's parents. What I mean is, do they want me to understand that they have accepted me and that, some day, I can repay the favor to them?

I know for sure that my relationship with them will not end after Lily leaves. I've already told myself that I will at least try to visit them once a week. This will be good, not only for learning how to use public tranportation in Tianjin, but also good for my practicing Chinese (the language and culture).I've discussed with Lily her parent's treatment on several occasions, especially when she begins to feel guilt herself. Her guilt lies in being one of the few Chinese who has the opportunity to study in another country, especially the U.S. Moreover, her parents have sacrificed many things for Lily's opportunity to come true. At the time, I did not realize it, being the spoiled American I am; having spent several days in China with Lily's parents, it is all starting to make sense.

See the similarities?
No, really, it goes deeper than that, I'm figuring out each day.

I'm beginning to understand more of Lily beyond this aspect. I forget sometimes that she's Chinese, that she's "just another American." Though this may be true to an extent - Lily does many "American" things - Lily is still Chinese at heart. She has a lot of her parent's compassion and good heartedness in her.

Back to Hong Kong and the rest of my experiences so far, I'm trying not to forget Anthropology and what it has taught me. I take for granted sometimes that I'm in another country, where people think and act differently from America. I feel that my sensitivity towards these differences is lacking at times, and I am reminding myself that I need to be more open-minded.

For example, Chinese people love to eat all sorts of food, things of which I'm not used to eating. One thing in particular is cow's stomach – what they translate as "beef viscous." You can find it in many Hong Kong butcheries, as well as pig intestine.

Here's a fishery shop on one street in Hong Kong:
I think not only do I need to improve upon my cultural sensitivity, but I also need to put forth effort towards my patience. I find myself impatient at times with people and situations, and I lose sight of the way things are. For example, I had zero tolerance towards the crowdedness in Hong Kong, as well as the way in which business is done; specifically, solicitation.

I continually bring this up as much as I have pollution in China. I just couldn't get over the persistence and evasion of private space by the guys waiting at the corner of the streets in Kowloon. These guys almost reach the point of harassment and they'll follow you so far as the next street over.

However, these guys are human beings who are struggling and trying to make it in this world. What I'm getting at is, my decision to go through with moving to and teaching in China was motivated by the reward of gratitude for what I have in America.

Like that saying, "you never know what you have until it's gone." Well, this is true, but you can reverse its implication; "you know what you have when it's gone from others." I think both hold true so far in my China experience. I miss my country and China has made me very proud to say that I'm "American" (something which, for some time, I have taken for granted).


Thursday, August 23, 2007

Hong Kong: Asia's Crossroads

If I were to tell you that Hong Kong is part of China, you would find it hard to believe me; well, it has only once again been part of China since 1997. I can’t really put my finger down on any one ethnicity or language to sum up what is Hong Kong.

Since being here, I’ve seen a wide range of people and languages. They say that the official languages are English and Cantonese, but that’s only half the truth; actually, it really should be only credited with Cantonese, less than ¾th the people actually speak English fluently.

Back to Hong Kong’s enigma: Hong Kong is located at the center of the Asian world. You have China to the north, Malaysia and Indonesia to the south, Southeast Asia to the west, and the great Pacific Ocean to the east. This is perfect for trade and industry, where supply and labor is found all around, and Hong Kong’s harbors are the gateway to the U.S. and the rest of the world. You can really see this in the demographics too, with people looking less Chinese and beginning to look more Malaysian and a hybrid of many ethnicities. This one's for you Charlie:

On the surface though, you will be crammed by people and bombarded with Hello Kitty and solicitors. Solicitation – people trying to sell you stuff on the streets – is rampant in Hong Kong. Today, taking our usual route, Lily and I counted up to 20 people trying to hand us pamphlets and sell us crap. I’m guessing I really do stand out like a sore thumb; I mean, they swarm me like flies in the middle of a large crowd of people.

Yeah, these guys:

Hello Kitty might as well run for prime minister, I’m sure she’d win by a landslide. You can find Hello Kitty and her cute little friends everywhere, from the subway, to McDonald’s, to business women scrambling about to their day jobs.

But it’s only half the story. Hong Kong is also the home place of Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan; man, those guys kick ass. Hong Kong breeds movie stars and has a New York style to it. Lily and I walked the Soho district, where one could find a hotel room for HK $2500 (more than US $300) a night. This area also has a lot of hills; it could brandish its own “Hollywood” sign. Maybe, “Leewood” (corny joke, I know).

Hong Kong also has a very beautiful bay area. The first night Lily and I spent in HK, we watched the laser light show that is supposedly world-renowned. From Kowloon (which is one side of the bay), you can watch fireworks set off in Victoria Harbor, as well as a plethora of lights from across the bay. These lights shape the skyscrapers on the other side (Central district) and are put in sync with music that is heard all around. Lily described it as seeing transformers in action; I describe it as a wacky anime scene. Just kidding, it’s real nice; though, you could take it as advertisement, because all the buildings in Central are labeled with huge companies (I’m talking Toshiba, Philips, Samsung, and the like).

If you want to get away from the hustle and bustle, you can hop onto a ferry and head over to Lantau Island. It is here that you see more of a village life, where small towns are surrounded by lush forest and hills. Today, Lily and I took this trip in search of the Buddha statue that is a “must see” in Hong Kong. After taking the ferry and setting foot on Lantau Island, Lily said that she felt she were in another place. I agree with her, it wasn’t quite the same as Kowloon.

From the pier, we took a bus that crisscrossed inland and along the coastline. Everywhere, you could see overgrown trees and bushes. This day, you were also submerged by fog; it really felt as if we were heading towards a sacred place. Not to mention the lakes and the harbor found everywhere around, I felt closer to nature once again.

We finally made it to the temple and the Buddha statue.

It’s interesting, as I told Lily, that there should be a statue erected for the Buddha. Likewise, there are many temples and mythologies that surround the Buddha. It seems that people are always interested in constructing their own beliefs surrounding a historical figure. I simply remember the Buddha wanting to be a humble person offering a philosophy to help people end their suffering. However, history and the Asian world have made him God.

Some other great places Lily and I saw in Hong Kong were the Peak, where you can see the entire city and harbor; Huang Da Xian temple, where Buddhism, Confucianism and Daoism are combined for worship; Lan Gui Fang, a bar district similar to Austin’s 6th street.

Hong Kong overall has been very fun; expensive, but fun. Still, there is something within China that is beckoning me. So far in my travels, I’ve come to realize that it’s the people who make the memories and the life experience. Cities begin to look the same, but personalities are never duplicable. I’m ready to meet new and interesting people, as well as strengthen my relationship with Lily’s family. I can’t express enough gratitude for having met them, they are truly amazing people.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Beijing Happenings

Wow, it has been a really long time since I last blogged, apologies. I have been busy as usual, living a new life, seeing new places, experiencing new things, I have so much to tell.

I should start by thanking you all for reading my blog and posting comments, I read them all and it makes me feel appreciated. Haha, Charlie, you always interest me, I'm not sure why you've always shown interest in my blogs (even the one I did for school), but the love is much appreciated.

Since my last blog, I've done pretty much the same in Tianjin. I've spent time with Lily's family, ate endless amounts of delicious food, and I've been slowly learning more Chinese. At this point, I'm able to hold about a 3 minute conversation with Lily's parents.

Lily and I also spent a couple of days in Beijing, where we stayed with "da yi" (eldest aunt) and "da baba" (eldest uncle). They were very hospitable and nice (what else would you expect from Chinese people?), and treated us out to dinner one night.

It is very typical for apartment complexes in China to have a green area with benches around. It is also common for bathrooms to have both the toilet and the showerhead in the same room. I'm sure you're wondering where all the water goes after one takes a shower: down the drain which is usually in the center of the room; I have to admit, this isn't found in every apartment, but it seems to be the rule.

About the dinner, it was very delicious. I tried true Peking (Beijing) roasted duck for the first time (I had roasted duck once already in Tianjin); it was really yummy. Typically, you place the duck meat inside a small thin flour wrap (much like a flour tortilla), along with a special sauce, onion slices, and slices of cucumber.

That said, Lily took me out to the historical area of Beijing, where you can see Tianamen Square, which is across from the Forbidden City and surrounded by "The Great Hall of The People" and a memorial hall for Mao Zedong.

It's always an interesting experience, walking on this Earth where so much history has occurred. Not only the millions who stood in front of Mao Zedong those days when he was above the gate, announcing the new republic and the beginning of a new day for China's people, but even the kings and queens who roamed the Forbidden City bring chills down one's back.

Interesting story about this, Lily told me that Mao never actually walked fully through the Forbidden City, only enough to the extent that he could give his speeches above the gate.

Rumor has it that Mao visited a fortune teller before he became chairman, and this fortune teller warned Mao that he could never enter the Forbidden City. This being that Mao wasn't of royal birth, that he was just a commoner who would one day be a leader. As a result, the kings would haunt Mao if he were to enter the Forbidden City. Too bad for Mao’s superstitions, he really missed out a very amazing palace:

The Forbidden City wasn’t quite what I expected, but areas of it still amazed me. Although I said that areas of historical importance bring chills, I think it is still hard to imagine how these places really were back in the day. My complaint about the Forbidden City is that it is occupied by too many people. This is a real difference from what the place used to be; an area reserved only to the king, his queens and his servants.

However, the garden near the north gate was very beautiful. Located in the center of the park is a very famous (what Lily referred to as) “wedding” tree.

We’ll see what the day brings me one day.

You can also find intricate architecture in the garden and throughout the palatial complex. I was especially impressed by the stone fencing surrounding the temple rooms located atop.

Beijing overall had a lot of historical places to offer, but I’ve already developed a love for the city of Tianjin. Agreeing with Nessa’s comment, Beijing has a lot to improve in the way of its pollution before the Olympics. I remember seeing it on television as well, and now I was able to see it in person. I just can’t imagine how it could be, but you really feel like you’re in a city at the center of a volcano, where smoke is surrounding you all over. It’s not so bad after a while, but it’s a long way from the good ol’ days.

Through Lily, I found out from the taxi cab driver that, back when he was young, the sky was really really blue. Man, that made ME “blue.” I’m thinking that environmentalists could create a “Beijing project” in which they would send a group of people to Beijing for about a week. During this week, they could show what the group’s city “could” be if they allow their environment to go to ruin.

Really though, I should give Beijing (and China for that matter) more credit. For China, this is the start of something amazing and exciting. China’s going through industrialization, and I’m merely a spit in the wind. I think had I been in America 100 years ago, it would be very much the same. I’m rooting for China, its people are wonderful and deserve better quality of life.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

All That Matters is Family

I've almost been in China for a week now, time really is flying by. I thought about it, and the first semester of teaching I'm sure will come to an end before I know it. This whole process is going to be very hard on my relationship with Lily, but at the same time, it will be a good test to our endurance. At the same time, learning Chinese and spending more time with Lily's parents will make our relationship very rewarding in the future; I can't wait for the day when I can have a nice conversation with Lily's parents.

I can't even imagine how things will be once Lily leaves, I've relied on her so much for everything; not to mention, she's my love. She, along with her parents, have done so much for me here in China. I have been lost in translation thus far, and it, along with being gone from Lily, will be a test to my patience. However, I have more motivation now to learn the language. I will get through the frustration and difficulty so that I can learn more about China from its people.

Lily's grandfather has so much to offer in the way of stories and Chinese history, I feel very humble in front of him. He was telling me today that he was once a teacher, and he told me about his family; he even offered me a picture of him. From what Lily has told me, he was very much a part of China's "Cultural Revolution." During this time, many teachers were arrested (among them Lily's grandfather), and much of China's society underwent turmoil; it was a generation in which many children did not even go to school. Here's "lao ye" (grandfather in Chinese):

James Gu, Lily's grandfathers' American name, reminds me in some ways of my grandpa; both are adorable, sweet, and love to eat! Who couldn't blame James though, his wife (Lily's grandmother) is an awesome cook! In fact, James was joking around the other day, saying that he's enjoyed "lao lao's" cooking for almost 60 years; wow, what a long time for one marriage.

Lao lao (grandmother in Chinese) has just as much fire in her as Liz. Both have a fun sense of humor, and both are very supportive of family. Lao lao has already taken me in as a grandson, stuffing me with delicious food each time I go over to her place.

She made us all dumplings the other day, which have no comparison to restaurant dumplings. Today, she made us several dishes for lunch; I really do feel like a little emperor in China!

I'd like to talk more about Chinese food, but that in itself is another blog all together (probably the next blog).

Not only have I enjoyed my time with Lily's grandparents, but I have become close with their neighbor, my "ge mener" (which means "bro" in Chinese). This guy really melts my heart, he's a hardworking vendor outside their apartment. Each time I pass by, he and I always shake hands and smile. More than once has he offered me free soda and water; mind you, he has to walk to the store and by everything he sells. Yesterday, I tried offering him 10 yuan for what he gave me, and he refused. I can't measure my appreciation for his unselfish heart, I hope he lives a great life.
Despite the language barrier, Brian's right in saying that body language goes a really long way. It's funny, Lily is always amazed when I can understand their conversation despite my not knowing Chinese. However, it is hard when Lily's dad is always smiling.

Nick Meng, Lily's dad, is one of the most unselfish people I've met in my life. Along with Lily's mom, he has accepted me as his second child. Like me, he enjoys a nice glass of beer, chilling out, and he is always thinking. He has also taken an interest in my well being, as well as my hobbies. Somehow, he already knows about my back problem, and has consistently offered me a variety of remedies; yesterday, he took us all out for a body massage.

He's also a great father.

Today, we drove all over town to acquire paperwork so that Lily can go with me to Hong Kong this Saturday. It's very frustrating, despite Hong Kong now being a part of China, Chinese people are still required to obtain paperwork so they can enter Hong Kong. In America, it's the equivalent of needing a visa to travel to Hawaii or Alaska.

The interesting aspect of this experience was that a travel agent actually drove with us to the police department where Lily could acquire her documents. This would be really bizarre in America, if a person at a travel agency were to go with you to a consulate office to help you process your paperwork; I mean, she actually got in the car and went with us to another side of town.

It was funny, the whole time Lily's mom offered this girl food and drink. Like her father, Lily's mom is a very sweet and unselfish person. She's a small cute lady who has the energy of 10 men. She likes to laugh and tease Lily and me all the time.

She, like Lily's dad, has also made an effort to speak English since I've been here; I can see in her myself attempting to speak another language. She's a lot like my mom in that she always feels the need to be doing something. Both women are hardworking and do whatever they can to help their children.
In any case, I think everything is being to work out. On Saturday, Lily and I will be leaving for Hong Kong, where we will be staying for about a week. Hopefully, I should be able to have my work visa processed and I'll be all set to teach in September.

Like I've said, time is really flying by, and I'm soon approaching the start of a new school year. It will be strange not being a student myself, but I think I'm ready for the next step. I hope that my life will continue to be filled with the wonderful people I've met. I can say that, although we all go through our ups and downs, we feel like nothing works out, in the end, when looking back, we can say "life really is beautiful." I can never say it enough, but I'm so grateful for all the people I've met, the experiences I've had, and the great moments that are all so precious to me.
See you next time in Beijing (tomorrow)!


Saturday, August 11, 2007

China, First Impressions

Hi everyone,

Apologies for the lack of updates to this blog, I have been in my third day already in China. So much to explain and tell, I will do my best to have my thoughts and commentary semi-organized.

It's interesting how rumors turn out to be both false and true, and you can never quite tell what is and what isn't until you have experienced it for yourself. I believe part of my decision to live in China was to demystify all the rumors I had heard and to see for myself what China is and what it is not.

Of course, I have to be careful in the commentary I make on this country, because I have only partially experienced China; Tianjin is but one of many cities in China, and it also undergoes continual change.

Putting aside my Anthropological tendencies, I have really enjoyed my stay thus far in China. Words can't express how wonderful and embracing Lily's family has been towards me. Not that I have forgotten my family back home, but I can say that I now have a family in China as well. From the very beginning, once I set foot outside customs in the airport, I was met with warm hospitality and smiles.

The first person I saw of Lily's family was her mom, who had been near the railing; she noticed me right away. I soon was able to finally see for my eyes Lily's dad, as well as Lily once again. It was great being able to hug and see Lily. She cried quite a bit, and it tore me up inside; that's when I knew what I had put myself through. Alma had told me several times, "There will be moments when you ask yourself, 'Why in the world did I choose this?'" I'll admit, I have pondered that quite often since being here.

It's not just the hurt I can foresee for both Lily and me, but it's also the displacement. Tianjin has brought to me mixed reactions. I am trying to keep an open mind to this whole experience, and I am making an effort in any way that I can to express my thoughts with sensitivity, but I have found a few things depressing so far. Among these things are the language barrier, the infrastructure of Tianjin and the pollution. If I could have asked for better preparation upon going to China, I would have wished for my friends to emphasize the pollution problem.

To the credit of my friends, I was given fair warning, but sometimes seeing it for yourself is the only way. I don't want to paint a dismal picture, but Tianjin has a long way to go to improve its environment. For example, in the few days that I have been here, I have only seen several moments of clear sky in which you can see blue. The rest of the time, it has been mostly grey here, with very little sunshine. You can actually see smog covering many buildings and visibility here is very narrow; you can't really see for many miles. It's almost as if the city has contiual fog over it, yet it's a result of pollution. Other complaints might be trash that can be seen on the streets and some of the atrocious odors you might experience from time to time as you walk along the streets.

Getting all of the negative criticism out of the way, China has been very beautiful. As Lily put it, people here may not have much, but their happiness sure goes a long way. I have yet to see any sadness amongst Lily's family and friends. Sure, I may have seen them on their good days, but I feel that people here have stronger connections with each other. China is such a large country, and many people have to rely on their social networking to get by; this is the practical side for Chinese people being strongly connected.

What I find is, day by day, I'm starting to see past the environmental problems, and beginning to really take to Lily's family and the other Chinese people I have met. I can't really emphasize how happy the moments have been here with Lily's parents and grandparents. For example, as I was standing in the open shower of Lily's grandparents' home, I thought to myself, "Wow, I'm really happy to be here." This was when I could hear Lily, her mother, her grandparents, and her cousins laughing and giggling; they all seemed to be so happy.

I would do the 10+ hour plane ride again just to be able to meet Lily's family. They all make me want to be more compassionate and unselfish. I've also told Lily that, part of this decision involved my wanting to better appreciate what I have. In other words, seeing what is China, and missing what is America has really made me come to love my country. I already miss the Austin environment, the music and the movies, as well as the food. However, I believe Americans could really learn a lot from Chinese warmth and compassion.

Well, these are my initial impressions and I will continue to add to and mold my understanding/view of China. I will also try to add pictures as soon as I can find a converter for my camera battery charger.

I miss you all and I will continue to update and keep in contact with you. By the way, thank you all so far the comments you have all left me. I have been able to read them, and I am really happy that you all have taken an interest in my experience. I hope to provide more interesting insight into China's lifestyle and my experiences here.


Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Goodbye Tokyo, Hello Beijing

It's 4:28 am right now, I'm going to stay awake for this one; too anxious about seeing Lily, her family, and making it on time for my flight! In any case, it's good time to blog. Not to mention, there are still heaps of people here in the lobby area, so I don't feel so lonely. I'm actually a bit surprised, because some of the people here look to be under 13.

Japan is quickly coming to close, and I have to say, it has been quite an experience. Japan is a beautiful country, with beautiful people, delicious food, and many wonderful things to do. I have to say, the relationship has been love-hate. I had been anticipating China greatly, in effect, neglecting the time I had in Japan. Now, I'm a bit sad to see the place go. Marc insists that I will be back soon, and not to fret -- maybe?

It was a very nice final night in Japan. Marc and I attended a baseball game at Tokyo Dome, where we saw the Osaka Tigers pound the Tokyo Giants. In the 5 inning, the Tigers made 6 straight runs, and the place ignited! Here in Japan, seeing a baseball game is like witnessing European soccer or American football -- it's a big pasttime.

The game is very much like what you'd see in American baseball, except there's a larger fanbase. People constantly cheer and are more engrossed in the game, especially if they're team is winning, and they even sometimes like to sing along to Petshop Boys; interesting that they would play Petshop Boys at a baseball game.

Something of interest, Japanese baseball also has "beer girls." These gals will go up and down the aisles with a min-keg attached to their backs. Here's one: *Camera Snap* Konnichewa!

Although the game took place in Tokyo, and we had been in Tokyo our entire visit, our hearts belonged to Osaka this game. Still, my heart will always belong with Japan, a country that has treated me quite well. From the water-squirting toilets,

To the squatter,
To the adorable old people,

To the delicious food,

To the city skyline,

To the friends I made,

I'll miss you Tokyo.

However, today is a new day. It's several hours before I get on the plane to the center of Earth, China. I'm excited, but I am also nervous. I will be meeting Lily's parents for the first time, I can only hope that any expectations are met. I love Lily so much, I know I won't be able to hold back when I see her...

Well! I've got to stand up straight, brush off the shoulders, and head down the tunnel. It'll be a good experience, I believe.



Monday, August 6, 2007

Touching moments, lifelong memories

Although my hostel has been a place where people come and go -- it seems like I have a new roommate each day! -- I have already forged memories that will last a lifetime. Of course, you all know about the Cali krew (what a cool group of guys), but I don't think I've mentioned a few others.

One noteable person was a guy from Argentina. His name is Carlos and he is both a Biology teacher and a kendo player. If you aren't familiar with the sport, kendo involves the use of sticks and body shots, where the neck area will gain you more points. Of course, the player with the most points wins. It's an interesting adaptation from the days of the samurai, though I never got too excited about the sport.

Back to Carlos, he in someway reminded me of the main character in the movie "L'Auberge Espanole." Then again, he offered something more. Mind you, his English was very limited, and I have to brag here, we spoke mostly in Spanish; though greatly limited, I was glad to see that I could still hold a conversation. Carlos told me about his sister and brother, the difference between Argentinian rice and Japanese rice, and an Argentinian tea called "matte." Not to make any effort to write out a romantic novel, Carlos spoke about the times in which he would enjoy matte with his "novia" (girlfriend) under cherry blossoms near a river in Argentina; I think near a city called "Corrientes."

I also met a very nice German guy who really put me in my tracks when it came to traveling. At age 26, he has already been to Australia, New Zealand, China, Brazil, Egypt, most of Europe, and now Japan. Wow. Tuzi, you and I have some catching up to do on traveling!

In between these people, I have met more Aussies than ever before in my life, Japanese people of all sizes and shapes and even Mexicans. Viva Mexico and Texas!

Among the Japanese, I will always remember the encounters I had at Sensoji temple. It really has become a sacred place to me -- I've already made offerings for Valdo, Lily, Marc, Alma and Tony, Brian and Eileen, Tim and Cindy, and more. Really, don't think I'm giving my entire money away, anything below 10 yen (such as 1 and 5 yen) is useles in Japan.

That's the inside of the temple. Here is where Marc and I meet up each day after he finishes working:

It is a place where you can see a lot of beauty, both in the children, and in the family interaction.

Of the many children, two of them made quite an impression on me. I'm not trying to be overdramatic or a sap about this, but it really moves me when I remember it. One of the girls was about half my height, had glasses and was very sweet to me. She, through her parent's encouragement, approached me as I waited for Marcus. She spoke several phrases of English, asking me "What is your name?" and "Where are you from?" Following her was her younger sister, a little girl of maybe 3. She asked some of the questions, with my responding in what little I could in Japanese.

I can say that already my decision to experience Japan and China has been very rewarding. I hope that I can offer these people something very special, just as you all have offered me back home. Thank you Brian and Eileen, Liz, Valdo, Tony and Alma, Cindy and Tim, Vinnie, Jason, Charlie, Doug, Josh, Kellie, Alicia and Steve, my baby Lily, Aaron, Steven and Anthony, Derek and Andrew, Sofi and Ray, and everyone else who has been so good to me in my life.

I love you all,