Visiting Friends

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I am sorry I have not added much tot he blog lately. It is winter time here. So, I have gone into hibernation mode mostly. But, now that I am on my seven week winter break, things are changing. I am now on a week long trip to visit old friends in my old stomping grounds of Jiangsu Province. I am still on that trip. But, I felt I needed to make my notes now before I forget some things. I have not taken many pictures yet. This trip is about reconnecting with people and having some great times with them.

I left Shangrao on the new high speed train line that opened in January. Going 300 km per hour made the trip fast and comfortable. I can not tell you how much I love the high speed rail system here in China. I would rather use the trains than flying. Sure, a plane can get you there a bit faster. But, there is just something about seeing the changing countryside as you travel through China. For instance, as I traveled further north, I saw snow on the ground and then into a snow shower. I went from a land with mountains and rivers to a land of flatlands and agricultural fields. And, on a train, you can get up and walk around a bit to stretch your legs.

So, I arrived in the Xuzhou train station. I had to take a city bus from the train station to hotel. With these new train stations being built, many times they are being build many miles from city and town centers to help the growth of rural areas. Xuzhou is not different. I could have taken a taxi, but they would have charged me much money, as far from my hotel that I was. So, I took the local bus. It took a little longer. But, it only cost me around 30 cents USD to travel there. And, it was a comfortable ride. I got to my hotel. I usually stay in the Green Tree Inns here in China. I have a VIP discount card. And, they always accept foreigners. Some hotel in China can not due to their lack of license or certifications. You see, here in China, anyone staying in a hotel much present ID. For foreigners, it is usually our passports. They take a copy of the passports and submit them to the local police stations within 24 hours. That is the law. So, some hotel choose not to do this. Or, they do not have the proper registrations from the government. I have been turned away from many hotels because I am a foreigner. For me, when it first happened, it made me very aware of what it must have been like for a black person in America being turned away from various things. I can tell you, it makes you feel worthless, substandard, and inferior.

After I got settled into my room, I went to meet my friend for dinner. I had to get a taxi to the school he was at. It was not far. But too far to walk. And, I was not sure of the way there. Since I was near the train and bus station, I figured that it would be no problem finding a taxi. I went to the taxi stand, but no one wanted to lose a big fare fro a small fare that was me. It would only cost me about $1.00 USD to go where I was going. One taxi driver helped flag me a city cab on the street. I was already annoyed at this point because the taxi drivers refused to take me where I needed to go. It is their freakin’ job after all. Why do they get to choose what fare they get or not? I am very irked at this point. I get into the cab that was hailed for me. I show the driver the Chinese address of the school. He says to me “30 RMB”. That is $5.00 USD. It should on cost me about 7 RMB to go where I needed to go. He was trying to scam me. This put me over the edge. Thankfully I was in the front seat. I put his meter down to activate it and told him no on the 30 RMB and to use the meter like he should LEGALLY do. He flipped the meter off and insisted on 30 RMB. Again, I refused and turned his meter back on. He then tried to refuse me a ride. I do not speak Chinese, but I knew he was wanting me to exit is cab. I refused and began arguing with him in English. I just held my ground, sat there, and kept the meter on. He finally realized he lost the battle, grumbled some, and them drove me to the school. Amazing the things I have to put up with sometimes. But, I am learning many things here in China. For example, although taxi drivers should drive you on meters, many try to set verbal prices. If you do not know where you are going and how much it would normally cost, you can get screwed. So, when the taxi driver took me from my apartment in Shangroa to the train station, I know that by meter is costs about 12 RMB. They usually get 20 RMB from passengers going there in a verbal agreement. So, I accept this increase. They do it to Chinese people and to foreigners. It is agreeable. But, the one taxi driver was trying to stiff me at 30 RMB for that ride. When I began to refuse him and pull my luggage from the cab, he quickly accepted the standard 20 RMB.

I meet my friend Mr. Zhang at the school. I know him from a summer camp I did two years ago. We became good friends. He is now the headmaster of two training schools for our company in the Xuzhou region. We did the usual small talk about family and our time together. He invited two of his teachers to the dinner to. We have a nice dinner and good conversation. I know he is a busy man. I had told him that he did not have to have dinner with me before I arrived. But, being a good Chinese host, I also know that there is very little chance of him saying no to having dinner. So, you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t type scenarios. Because we are good friends. I hope it was not too much of an inconvenience for him.

The next morning, I checked out of my hotel room. I was able to leave my large suitcase there since I knew I was returning in about five days. This saved me from having to carry the bag all over the place during my travels. I just had the necessary essentials in my backpack for the trip now. Makes it easier on me. I get to the bus station and get my ticket. No problems there. I get on the bus. As I am sitting there, something told me something was not right. It is that gut feeling you get sometimes that something is wrong. I call it a warning from God. But, you can call it whatever you want. Well, I asked the person sitting next to me if this bus was to Xinpu. I showed him my ticket. I am glad I did. I was on the wrong bus. I was suppose to be on the bus parked next to the one I was on. I am very glad I trust my God instincts. I have no idea where that bus was going. But, it was not in the direction I needed to go.

I made my way to Xinpu, I needed to get a taxi from the bus station tot he hotel . I seldom trust the taxi drivers in front of stations. So, I usually walk a block or two from the station and try to hail a cab myself. This taxi driver I got, reminded me of why I love Ganyu and Xinpu so much. People are just more honest here than other places in China. He charged me what was on the meter. He refused to keep the change I offered to him. I am now very happy to be back in my second hometown. I check into my hotel with no problems. I meet up with my Chinese brother Jack. He is such a great friend. We watched a movie together on TV. Caught up on personal news. And then we had a nice dinner. The dinner was a whole chicken in a soup with veggies and tofu. When I say whole chicken, I am talking about everything except the feathers. The head, feet, and other unsavory parts. But, it actually tasted quite good. After dinner, Jack and I went to a local bar for a drink. We ran into a friend from Holland there. His name is Fritz. He was there with his wife and son. Fritz and his wife were just married two days prior to me seeing them. But, they had been together for 8 years. It was a good visit with them. Fritz is very outspoken and funny. Well, he thinks he is funny most of the time. But, he is a good man. After a few beers, Jack and I went to the hotel room to watch a movie. Since he lives over 30 minutes by ebike from the hotel and it was very cold that night, he stayed the night in the hotel with me. The next day, he headed home while I continued visiting my other friends.

I had scheduled a lunch with my summer camp kids. I taught them at the first summer camp I had in China. Through all this time, we have stayed connected. I would have lunch with them every few months when I lived in Ganyu. And, we would send updates about our lives throughout the year. This might be the last time I get to see them. They are about to graduate from high school this year. They will then go to Australia to being their college work. So, it was good that we got to spend time together and enjoy each other’s company. They have all grown up into great young men and women. Yes, they are typical teenagers with all the teen issues. But, they know what their futures should be and are working towards those goals. Some want to work in psychology, others want to study business management, some want to be photographers, and all want to find success in life. Their picture is the one I posted on the blog here. We are more than teacher/student. We are family. And, we love each other as a family does. That is so very special to me.

After the lunch, I just went back to my hotel to relax. All the traveling took its toll on me. I did splurge on myself for dinner. I had McDonalds, a Blizzard from Dairy Queen, and a hot chocolate from Starbucks. I know this does not seem special to people in America. But, when you do not have these staple things available to you all the time, these luxuries become very special and necessary. It reminds you of where you come from. It reminds you of things you have left behind. And, it really does become a special treat to yourself when you get to do them.

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The next morning, I get on a bus to Ganyu. I have been looking forward to this part of the trip very much. I get to visit with my best friend and his fiancée. I get to the bus station and I decide I would walk to the hotel. It was a nice day. And, I wanted to see the town that introduced me to the love of China. As I was walking, J drove up to me on his scooter. What a surprise!. He took me to the hotel and I checked in. I decided to stay at a different hotel than the Green Tree Hotel because this hotel is closer to where I wanted to be. It is very nice. J and I met for lunch with his fiancée, Ms. Li. She is three months pregnant now. Their wedding will be in March. Sadly, J’s boss called him before the food arrived and he had to go back to work. Ms. Li, who speaks very little English, and I made small talk. We ate our lunch and parted ways. I would see them again in the evening for dinner.

I was trying to call another friend from Ganyu. She is a teacher at the training school. She is from South Africa. And, she is precious. But, I had the wrong phone number for her. So, I went to her school to try to find her. I got her new number, but she was not answering. So, I went back to my hotel for a break. Natalie, my friend finally contacts me. She was napping. We made arrangements to meet the next day. So, I just relaxed in my hotel for the afternoon.

At 6:00, I met J. Ms. Li was spending the evening with her friends. So, it was just J and I. There is a restaurant I love to go to here in Ganyu. They serve the best beef ribs. We had a wonderful meal together and talked about many different things. After dinner, we went to the local pool hall to play some billiards. Just like old times. I miss my friend J very much. After billiards, we part way for the evening. We will get together for dinner the next day. And, Natalie and I will have lunch and a movie (Hobbit 3).

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Natalie and I had a nice lunch with some other friends. It was good to just relax and talk about many topics. It is so good to visit all of my friends. Natalie is not happy with her school. I have spoken in the past about Aston schools. It is a training school and they are known for not hiring the best teachers, or even legal teachers. Most do not have a college degree. So, the school will design degree so they can get visas. So, Natalie is going to try to find another job in a nearby town as a kindergarten teacher. She and I go to see the movie. The Hobbit 3 is not as good as the others. Sure, it has all the visual effects that you expect. But, the story of the movie is kind of bland. It is a shame that there will be no more future movies from this series. I hate when they end a series of movies with the last one being so poor. They should end the series with the best production they can do. It was fun though to spend time with Natalie.

Unfortunately, J had a business dinner he had to go to. So, I will not be able to see him again before I leave. I am sad about this. But, in China, when the boss says you have to do something, you have to do it. The following morning, I get a private taxi with Natalie to go back to Xinpu. She and I will spend most of the day together. She has an interview with the kindergarten in the morning, so, I will keep myself busy.

Natalie’s interview went well I think. She really likes the school and is excited about the opportunity. Natalie and I go out to my friend Jack’s home in a small town to see him. We have a great visit. I think it was fun for Natalie too. She seldom gets to travel, so experiencing this kind of Chinese life is a bit different. She got to see Jack’s mother making some homemade food to sell throughout the town. We look over the house that Jack has decorated. And, we just enjoy the more simple life that small towns offer. After our visit, we head back into Xinpu. We part company and say goodbye to one another. I go to the bus station to try to buy a bus ticket for the following morning to go back to Xuzhou to get my train. But, the bus station does not service Xuzhou from there. So, I will have to go to the other bus station to depart Xinpu in the morning.

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In the evening, I decide to have a nice dinner by myself. There is a new mall in Xinpu that has some nice restaurants. One of them is a Mexican restaurant. So, I decide to try it. The menu is in English and Chinese. One of the dishes catches my eye. Scalloped Asshole. Hmmm. I am sure this is a Chinglish error on their part. I have fun with the wait staff and manager explaining what an asshole is and how it does not belong on any menu. I have some tacos and chips. It was actually quite good. After dinner I go to the hotel to relax.

The last leg of my journey is to Xuzhou for one night, so I can get a train to my winter camp. I get to Xuzhou, check into my hotel, and then I walk across the street to the train station to get my train ticket. I am very glad I did. I was thinking I was leaving the following night. But, my reservation was for that evening. Whew!!!! I would have been in a world of hurt. So, I go back to the hotel to spend a few hours there. They only charge me for a half day. I just putz around the hotel room for a while before my train.

That evening, I board my train. A college student that speak some English decides to talk with me. It is a good way to spend some time waiting for the train. Curious people come and ask the student who I am and what am I doing. I am the center of attention. I get onto the train and find that I have the top bunk of the sleeping berth. The top bunk is three high and about 12-12 feet off the ground. So, I climb the ladder after securing my belongings and fall asleep for my 13 hour train trip to Xian to begin my next Chinese adventure.

At this point, I will end this entry. Look for my new entry soon.

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