A Taste of Hong Kong


My sister, Danica, and I at the Chi Lin Nunnery with the Nan Lian Gardens golden pagoda behind us

As many of you know, I spent the first 4 months in China without knowing a single other foreigner. Since I was surrounded only by Chinese people in a culture so different from my own, I got pretty lonely at times. I come from a family of 9 so I’ve never really faced a shortage of people to connect and talk with. This was one of the greatest difficulties of my time in China. That’s why I was so excited to see my younger sister, Danica, in Hong Kong.

Let me preface this story by mentioning that I got a really bad fever and sore throat the day before leaving for Hong Kong and I nearly cancelled the trip because I could hardly walk. Earlier that day I made a get well tea that I invented myself. Here’s the recipe:

Take about two pounds of ginger root and grate it. Put it in a pan and fill it with water until it covers the ginger. Bring it to a boil and then strain the juice out. Then add about 1/5 cup honey and 1 tbsp of ground cayenne pepper. If you’re feeling extra crazy you can also add the juice from a few lemons. What you will have is Josh’s Extreme Immune Boosting Dragon Breath Tea (patent pending).

Before I went to bed I drank a large cup of this tea along with a bunch of water, hoping it would do the trick. When I woke up the next morning, I felt much better, but I was definitely still under the weather. Nevertheless, I gathered everything I needed for the trip and headed out.

I don’t want to bore you by consistently talking about how bad I felt throughout the trip, so I’ll just say now that I was sick the entire time and it really limited what we were able to do. So that said, I did what I could to keep my spirits up and we still had a good time exploring and experiencing a little of what Hong Kong has to offer.

After arriving at the Hong Kong airport and going through customs, Danica and I took a bus to our hostel in Kowloon. Upon arriving, we unpacked our things and I started

Enjoying my pizza

Enjoying my pizza

charging the batteries to my camera, which, unfortunately, had no power during the first two days. I then got some much needed rest before dinner time when we’d try to find a place to get good pizza. And I really can’t understate just how much I’ve missed pizza in my time here in China.

After finding the address to the California Pizza Kitchen in Kowloon, we optimistically headed out. A short cab ride later and we had arrived. Although it was a bit pricey, my bbq chicken pizza with avocado was well worth it.

The next day we decided to explore Hong Kong and take a ferry to Lamma Island. On our way, we had Subway sandwiches for the first time since I left America–kinda crazy how they taste exactly the same no matter where in the world you are. Anyway, a simple ferry ride later and we had arrived on Lamma Island.

The main form of transportation on the island are bicycles, and there are no cars other than small delivery vehicles. The quiet atmosphere, low rise buildings and overgrown foliage give the place a peaceful vibe.

This mix of culture and simple living gives the small town a personality that reminded me of cities like Santa Cruz in California. There isn’t an abundance of things to do on Lamma Island, so we just explored around, finding a beach just in time to watch the sunset before heading back to the pier.

Two ferries later and we were back in Kowloon. We walked to Tsim Sha Tsui Clock Tower to watch the Hong Kong light show that happens every night at 8. Hundreds of people were gathered around to watch the skyline light up across the harbor and it was quite a site.

Afterwards, we found a walking street full of vendors selling all kinds of items to tourists and Danica and I both bought several oil paintings. I spent around 100 USD on the 5 paintings. All of which are incredibly detailed.

The next morning in our hostel, we met a young Israeli lady named Mor, who also happens to teach English in China. The 3 of us explored together, first to the Chi Lin Nunnery, and then to the Tian Tan Buddha statue. My batteries were finally ready to go in my camera, so I was grateful to be able to capture both of these beautiful places.

To get up to the Chi Lin Nunnery, you must pass through the winding paths of Nan Lian Garden, which has immaculately manicured greenery and water features everywhere you look. The whole complex has a tranquil atmosphere which contrasts with the urban jungle of the surrounding city.

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The first courtyard of the nunnery has a lotus garden that leads to the Hall of the Celestial Kings, which contain various statues of Buddha and his disciples. The temple dates back to the 1930s, but incredibly enough, it was rebuilt in 1998 entirely out of wood in a style from the Tang Dynasty–without using a single nail. I highly recommend visiting this Buddhist nunnery to anyone visiting Hong Kong.

After spending a few hours at the nunnery, we made our way to the subway station so we could make it to the sitting Buddha statue all the way over on Lantau Island.

The Tian Tan Buddha was the largest sitting Buddha statue in the world when it was completed in 1993. It’s 112 ft. tall including the lotus he’s sitting on and weighs 250 metric tons. It takes a while to get to it from Hong Kong, but it’s well worth the subway rides, cable car, and 268 steps to arrive at the base of the statue.

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I thoroughly enjoyed being up in the mountains again since we have none near Hefei and my lungs thanked me for filling them with fresh air. The views around the statue are incredible and our trip to Hong Kong would have been incomplete without visiting the Tian Tan Buddha.

This concludes part 2 of my 3-part series of adventures this year. The last one just may eclipse the first two with the amount of wild adventure that I experienced during Chinese New Year. It’s a bit late, but I promise I’ll have it up within a week. All those photos take quite a while to upload through my VPN.

Until then, cheers and thanks for reading!



Giant Pandas and an Old Friend

Posing for pictures with my Oral English students and my co-teacher.

Posing for pictures with my Oral English students and my co-teacher during our Christmas party.

Well first let me start by saying it’s great to be back. I’ve had several adventures during my hiatus and I’m excited to share them with you. But it’s far too much for a single entry so I’ve decided to write three posts in quick succession. In this one, I’ll fulfill my long overdue promise and tell you about my Christmas and New Years experience–even though the holiday spirit has all but faded away for now. In my second entry, I’ll tell you about my amazing trip to Hong Kong with my younger sister. And in my last one I’ll tell you all about the explosion of culture and fireworks that is Chinese New Year. You play your cards right and I might even share a video or two.

So Christmas isn’t nearly as big out here as it is in the states, of course, but there definitely is spirit in the air. Businesses are adorned with decorations and the lobby at my school was transformed into a winter wonderland. We had a Christmas party to celebrate the occasion where we sang Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and the beautiful ladies sang Silent Night. The children decorated cupcakes and made stockings for themselves and I performed a poi light show in a Santa suit. We concluded with a feast of spaghetti for everyone that we got from Pizza Hut. (Yes, Pizza Hut sells spaghetti out here; they also put ketchup on their pizzas–no, I don’t understand why either).

Never thought I'd be dressed as Santa so young, but that's China.

Never thought I’d be dressed as Santa so young, but hey, that’s China.

On Christmas, I met up with several other foreigners at our Canadian friend, Matt’s, apartment for a Christmas dinner complete with a turkey, mashed sweet potatoes, real artisan bread with cream cheese and of course, wine. We mostly just talked and played card games, but I also brought my guitar to serenade everyone with the few Christmas songs I can play. As the night went on, this turned into everyone bellowing the wrong lyrics to ‘The 12 Days of Christmas’ until the neighbors knocked on the door and everyone headed out to the bar. I decided to call it a night, however, and packed my guitar back home. It was a great Christmas and one I won’t soon forget.

Before I tell you about my New Years adventure, I need to jump back in time to the Summer of 2011. I had just gotten accepted to a month-long internship/stewardship project called Earth Corps in the Sangre de Christo mountain range in Southern Colorado. There were 10 of us students who were accepted into the highly intensive trail restoration project above 12,000 ft.

My fellow Earth Corps companions hiding from the wind at the top of Blanca peak just over 14,300 ft.

My fellow Earth Corps companions hiding from the wind at the top of Blanca peak just over 14,300 ft.

Now I could go on for a long time about this adventure, but the point is that one of the students that I met was a wonderful young Chinese lady named Lin who was one of the reasons I decided to come to China in the first place. I’m still friends with most of my fellow Earth Corps companions, but we are rarely able to see each other. Every once in a while, however, our paths cross again.

When Lin said she’d be coming back to China to visit her family for New Years, I decided to take some time off and fly to her hometown of Chengdu in the Sichuan province of Southwestern China.

Chengdu is, by Chinese standards, a pretty small city with only 14 million people including the surrounding area. It’s big by American standards, but not when compared to Beijing or Shanghai. They are known very well for their pandas and spicy food.

The first restaurant that Lin took me to. So much food, so little time.

The first restaurant that Lin took me to. So much food, so little time.

While I was there, I got a full taste of the incredible Chinese hospitality. Lin and her family took me to several restaurants where I had at least 30 different Chinese dishes that I’d never had before. And believe me, Chengdu and the Sichuan province are known for their spicy food for a reason. I wish I had pictures of the many dishes, but unfortunately I lost my cell phone when I went to Thailand and my current phone doesn’t have a camera. Nevertheless, it was a great time.

I was only in Chengdu for about 3 days so I was very happy that we were able to take a trip to the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, which is the world’s leading facility for breeding pandas. They have just under 120 pandas in captivity and have won several international awards for the excellent work they do there.

I had never seen a panda in person since there are only 4 zoos in America that have them, but they are definitely one of my favorite animals. Although wild pandas spend the majority of their time foraging, the pandas in captivity looked as though they spend most of their time sleeping and eating. They seem to be able to sleep in any position including hanging out on tree branches and It’s estimated that adult giant pandas eat around 40kg (88 lbs) of bamboo shoots everyday!

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We were also able to see some baby pandas, but there were no cameras allowed in the nursery because they disturb the newborns. They looked like little fluff balls rolling around wrestling with each other. The whole trip to the facility was incredible and I’ll never forget it.

The next day was New Years Eve and after another day of exploring the city, we met up with Lin’s parents as well as her good friend, Cong Sheng, and his mom for yet another delicious dinner. He is a filmmaker and teaches at the university there so after dinner he took us all to his brand new art studio that he shares with a couple tattoo artists and  painters. We had a good time and didn’t get too crazy, which was nice because I had to catch a 7:30 flight back to Hefei the next morning.

Giant painting inside the studio. You can see Lin at the bottom to get a sense of the scale.

Giant painting inside the studio. You can see Lin at the bottom to get a sense of the scale.

Lin’s parents were gracious enough to wake up at 5:30 with me and give me a ride to the airport along with a gift bag full of various high quality cured meat for me to take back home. The whole time I was in Chengdu, I didn’t spend any money at all. It just goes to show that Chinese people are some of the most hospitable people I’ve ever met.

Today is my 1 year anniversary of coming to China and to celebrate the occasion, I’ll be going to open mic night at a friend’s bar to perform a few songs on my guitar as well as possibly doing a light show. It’s hard to imagine that it’s been a year already and in many ways, it’s just been a blur. But I’m so grateful that I’ve kept this blog as well as my journal so that I won’t forget the important parts.

I want to thank everyone who has been living this journey with me by reading my stories and give a big cheers to another year of adventures and excitement!

Till next time,


My Grand Thailand Adventure!

Sunset on Pattaya  Beach

Sunset on Pattaya Beach

So I know in my last post I said I’d write more regularly now that I have a computer again and I haven’t, but I have 2 very good reasons for that. But that will have to wait until my next post. My Thailand adventure needs to be told first!

After 8 months of teaching in China, a vacation was definitely due; and since I needed to renew my visa, the timing was perfect.

It all started Monday the 21st when I headed to the airport in Hefei, teeming with excitement to finally visit a country that I’ve had my sights on for several years now. I won’t bore you with the details of getting to Bangkok, but a cancelled flight, a missed flight, lots of airport food, free hotel room and 30 hours later, I finally made it to my hostel–at 10:30 Tuesday night.

The next day my plans to renew my visa were cancelled because it was Chulalongkorn Memorial Day; a holiday celebrating King Chulalongkorn, who prevented Western civilizations from ruling parts of what is now Thailand. Although most businesses were still open, government buildings as well as the Chinese Embassy were closed in commemoration.

So instead I headed out with my new Australian friend, Andrew, to visit some famous tourist attractions. After getting somewhat lost, we had a tuk tuk driver offer to give us a ride. (Tuk tuks are the infamous 3 wheeled taxis all over Bangkok) After we pointed to where we wanted to go on our map, (like tourists begging to be scammed) He offered to give us a ride for 500 baht. We talked him down to 250 (about $8), which made us think we were getting a deal, but as we found out from our metered taxi on the way back, it should have been about 50 baht.

Since that first encounter, we’ve all been much smarter about getting around the city. We’ve used each kind of mass transit several times, including skytrain, subway, ferry, and canal boats. All of which are extremely cheap to ride, usually less than a dollar.

Not long after arriving an Bangkok, I met a guy named Ollie who, as it turns out, works for the same company I do, teaching in China, and he’s in Bangkok renewing his visa as well. Which is great, so we were able to split taxi rides and endure the nightmare of renewing our visas together. Doing so required 3 trips to the Embassy and 5 days to complete by the way. But even with all the difficulties, Bangkok has been one awesome experience after another.

Over my time in Thailand, I had a Thai massage, which was the most painful thing I’ve endured since I left America, I visited several amazing temples–including Thailand’s most famous, Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn), I shopped at many markets, including the world famous Jatujak market, which is the largest weekend market in the world with over 15,000 stalls selling goods, and I made great friends — even for a few days — before going separate ways.

That’s the interesting thing about traveling abroad, there are some great people that you meet for short periods of time and then never see again. I met a Canadian flight attendant who is my age and would love to continue her job for the rest of her life. I met a German who just turned 20 and has saved up enough money to visit over 25 countries on 5 continents while filming a documentary. I’ve had long conversations with a Chinese man while he destroyed me at chess almost every game. I’ve made friends with people from all over the world and we’ll probably never see each other again. That’s okay though, because we’ve learned from one another, gained worldly views, and shared our stories.

After a busy week in Bangkok and finally getting my visa, I hopped on a bus to the extremely touristy town of Pattaya for the finale of my Thailand adventure–skydiving! But not long after getting off the bus, I realized that I had lost my phone and didn’t have a hotel for the night–or a skydive booked for the next day. It’s like I always say, it’s not an adventure until something goes wrong! But with a can-do attitude and some exploration, I found a nice hotel and made plans to be picked up the next day (Wednesday) for my big dive.

I chose Thai Sky Adventures because of their reputation and it certainly preceded them. My tandem instructor was from California and had done over 10,000 jumps. Surprisingly, I didn’t get nervous or afraid the whole ride up. Maybe there was no room with all the excitement building up inside me. And with one little push, we plunged through the air for a ride that I’ll never forget. Needless to say, I will be doing this again and probably taking a course to go solo in the future.

What better way to finish a day of skydiving, than to go swimming in the ocean and walking along the beach? At this point, I had one more full day (Thursday) to plan before I head back to Bangkok and ultimately to China. As I pondered the possibilities, I passed a booking agency for scuba diving. How could I resist?

The next morning, I took a short walk to Pattaya beach road so I could catch a baht bus to the pier. After getting all my scuba gear, I boarded our boat that would take us to and from the dive sites. There were only a few other divers on the boat, which was a nice surprise, given the size–some might have even considered it a yaht.

We were soon leaving the docks for the ride to Koh Rin island; where we’d be diving for the day. On the boat, I became acquainted with about 10 people from various backgrounds and countries. Again, it’s always a good experience, meeting people from around the world. After about an hour and 40 minutes, we arrived at the first dive spot.

I’ve wanted to scuba dive as long as I can remember, even though I have had some fear in the back of my mind about being so far underwater. But as soon as we took that plunge into the sea, the fears evaporated and were replaced by wonder and fascination about this surging world just beneath the surface. Words can’t adequately describe the sights down there, so I’ll let my pictures do the talking.

After the first dive, we were treated with a buffet of delicious food prepared by our on board cook and wife of the captain, Tutka. We had about an hour to rest and let our food settle before our second dive, but I spent most of the time jumping from the 3rd story of the boat. It’s difficult to find places in Hefei to swim in deep water (Most Chinese people can’t swim, so the pools are usually chest deep in the deep end.) so I really was in need of some good swimming.

Everyone who had been diving at this dive spot before told me that our second dive would be much better and they weren’t exaggerating. The reef extended as far as I can see along the ridge and the entire thing was teeming with life. I will say that I got this ominous feeling every time I looked out into the depths where the ridge dropped off into a deep blue. We saw a moray eel swimming out that direction and I had just been told that they like to latch on to the bottoms of sharks, so that added to the excitement of the experience. Although, we only saw one little bamboo shark the whole day. And a barracuda.

Shortly after our second dive, we made way back to Pattaya. When we arrived, I went back to the Adventure Divers store so I could get the pictures from the underwater camera I’d been using for the day. I ended up having several beers with the owner and two other divers, and although I don’t remember their names, we had some good discussions about life, travelling, and the world. Not a bad way to spend Halloween, right?

But little did I know that the day was far from over for me. You see, I was under the impression that my flight back to China was at 11pm the following night. What I found out from double checking my itinerary though, was that the airline changed the time to the following day at 4:30am.

After rushing to pack everything in my hotel and taking a motor taxi to the bus station, I barely caught the last bus of the night back to Bangkok and the airport. Now, I really can’t overstate just how much fun it isn’t to spend Halloween night in an airport and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone.

Once I arrived in China, I had a 13 hour layover in Shenzhen. And since I didn’t have a phone, I found a small shop with free wifi where I could arrange to get picked up that night. I finally got home at 11:30 that night and fell into a coma once I hit my bed.

Thus ended my Grand Thailand Adventure. I had many unforgettable memories and ticked several experiences off my bucket list. I apologize for this post being so late, since I arrived in China over a week ago, but uploading all those pictures using my VPN was an adventure in it’s own right. For those who have made it all the way to the end of what is my longest post to date, I thank you and hope you enjoyed it!

Till next time, cheers!


A Touch of History, A Touch of Fame

The incredible sights of Huangshan.

The incredible sights of Huangshan.

Last May I wrote a post about my computer breaking and the inevitable difficulties that shortly followed. Well now I’m happy to say my new computer has arrived at last and among its many functions comes an incredible new ability for me to  write when I’m at home as opposed to only when I’m at work! Plus I have a new VPN that seems to be actually working after my last one decided it had had enough.  My goal now is to share my stories on a more regular basis and avoid weeks of silence like what’s been happening over these past few months.  But enough of that, let’s get into the adventures!

Since you all last heard from me , I’ve taken my first road trip since arriving in China; to Huangshan and it was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. We also took a trip to Huangshan City and explored an ancient street that was built around the time Columbus sailed to America. In addition, I was also on a Chinese game show called 男生女生向前冲 (Nansheng Nusheng Xiang Qian Chong!) –twice! But we’ll get to that.

Earlier this month I cancelled my usual Monday/Tuesday plans of rock climbing, drinking with foreign friends and recovering from drinking with foreign friends because I was invited to take a trip with several of my coworkers. The plan was to meet up with our former Chinese teacher who moved back to her hometown, Huangshan; a city full of lush history and awe-inspiring mountains outside of it. So I woke up at 5:30 Monday morning full of excitement knowing that adventure was on the horizon and after getting everything packed and ready, I set out to meet up with 8 friends at the bus station. As we left the station, we were full of excitement  and greatly looking forward to the clean air and beautiful scenery that awaited. Even my somewhat severe cough and congestion was dwarfed by my anticipation to experience some wilderness. Keep in mind that I had been living in a city with nearly 8 million people for over 6 months and the naturalist in me has been begging for an escape.

Serenity in the mountains.

Serenity in the mountains.

After a few hours of pictures, sleep and a surprising amount of mystery snacks thanks to my Chinese friends, we arrived in a small village where we changed to a different bus that would take us into the mountains to our lodge. Now, I’ve never had much problem with claustrophobia, but when you take a bus with 19 seats and pack 27 people into it and then race down winding mountain roads while blaring your horn at anyone in your path, you make even your most resilient passengers get white knuckles as they cling for survival. That said, I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t enjoy the ride.

After an hour or so, we made it to our stop, which was a rest area with–you guessed it–an amazing view all around. We still had a trek ahead of us before we reached our final destination for the day, but it was incredible. I won’t soon forget the moment when we first came upon the bamboo thickets–something that I’ve wanted to see as long as I can remember–and then finally arrived in a small valley with a reservoir in the middle, green all around and peaks in the distance on all sides.

When taking a trip, the right people can make all the difference. I have some great friends.

When taking a trip, the right people can make all the difference. I have some great friends.

After dropping of our packs in our rooms and meeting up with Anna, the aforementioned teacher, we headed out to hike some trails. Along our exploration, we passed one amazing natural feature after another and ended up hopping from rock to rock up a riverbed that distinctly reminded of the rivers in Northern California. When we reached the end of the first trail, I decided to stay behind as everyone else turned back so I could have some much needed peace from all the stimuli of the world; even if it was for only 10 minutes.

After I jogged through the rain forest to catch up with the group, we moved on to another trail that took us through some small caves and up to a shelter that overlooked the valley below. We stopped here for some rest and pictures before continuing on down and circling back to where we started.

At peace in the Forest

By this time, it was dark outside and the sounds of birds and cicadas had been replaced by bats and crickets. We decided it was time for dinner and went to the only restaurant in the area, which was delicious, and then back to our rooms for some card games before going to bed.

The next day we woke up early to catch the tuna can-cramped bus once again to take us to Huangshan city.

As we entered the city, I sat in awe as I took in all the history that this very old place displayed in it’s architecture and character. After dropping off our belongings in the hotel and eating at a local restaurant that served dishes famous of this area, we headed to the famous Tunxi Old Street to experience a blast from the past and open a window to another time in the history of our world.

Tunxi Old Street holds a fascinating glimpse into history.

Tunxi Old Street holds a fascinating glimpse into history.

Among the plentiful souvenir and knickknack shops, We visited a small medicine shop that is over 100 years old and still selling the same ancient remedies, as well as a shop that sells rare and extremely expensive statues from China’s history and a few stores that specialize solely in brushes, paper, and ink for writing scrolls; all this on a street that is so well known for it’s history that it has been used as a backdrop for numerous Chinese films over the years.

Although I only spent 2 days in Huangshan and the surrounding area, it was a much needed escape and one I will remember for years to come. But that’s not the most memorable adventure I’m going to tell you about. And the next one comes with a video as well.

A couple months ago, the owner of our center asked me if I’d be interested in being on a Chinese TV show and do an obstacle course based here in Hefei. Of course, I was all for the idea. The main problem was that the wait list to appear is over 10,000 people and is always growing. I had all but given up on the idea until I mentioned it to my good friend, Zhazha and he said his friend is a camera man there and he’ll see what I can do.

A few days later, I got a call from someone speaking very fast Chinese and the only thing I understood was the name of the TV show, so I gave her Zhazha’s number so she could call him instead. Shortly afterwords, Zhazha texted me and said that I would be on the show the following day. (Welcome to my life in China).

The next morning I woke up at 5 so I could shower, eat breakfast and make it to Zhazha’s home by 6 so that we could make it to the TV station by 7. After arriving and filling out the required forms, we were all led inside to change into our “sporty” clothes and then walked through the obstacle course and given all the safety precautions. Unfortunately for me, Zhazha was my translator and his English isn’t very good. Fortunately for me, there happened to be 5 Egyptian guys there as well with their own translators, so I just stuck close to them.

Finally, we were all led into a small waiting room behind the stage where we stayed until our turns. All of the ladies went first and I was 3rd last of the 35 men, so by the time I went, it had been about 7 hours since I had eaten and I was famished. But duty called and I drank a bunch of water and charged out to greet it.

As many of you may know, I’ve intentionally put myself outside of my comfort zone repeatedly since arriving here in an effort to get the most out of my experience, but none of that really prepared me for this. That said, I did have a great time. I’ve watched TV shows with obstacle courses many times throughout my life and when someone falls, it’s easy to think that we could have done better, but I can honestly say that this was much harder in person than it looks on TV.

You can see my go at the course right here. It should skip to where I started, but if not, feel free to jump to 32:45. In case you’re wondering, at the beginning, they are saying that I look like Orlando Bloom. And at the end, he asked me if I wanted to say anything to my parents and I said 我爱你 (I love you) and 我爱中国 (I love China). Also, the shirt I wore is the one I teach in–can’t go wrong with representing one’s school! Of the 35 men who competed that day, 4 of us finished and I found out later that I was the first foreigner to ever complete the obstacle course so it’s pretty cool making history in such a big country. Plus I won a reverse osmosis water filter worth about $400 so that’s pretty awesome as well.

A few days later they asked me to return for the semi finals and I did. This time it was a timed competition and they gave us matching uniforms and had us do a super-stylish choreographed dance at the beginning. I was also interviewed in Chinese before I went this time. But my confidence was literally my downfall and I ended up taking a spill about 1/3 of the way through. That said, I’m still ecstatic for the opportunity and experience I had. That video has not been broadcasted yet, but I’ll put a link to it in my next post.

Well it’s hard to think that my next story will top this one, and in some ways, it won’t. But I have some big plans for October and many more experiences to share! Until then, cheers and thanks for reading!

The Halfway Point

The reason I named this blog Open to Experience is because that is how I approach nearly every new opportunity that comes my way. This attitude has opened many doors for me so far, and many more are on their way. I recently passed my 6 month mark here in China and while the first half of my adventure has yielded many great experiences, I’m confident the second half will prove to be even better; in fact, it has already begun.

In my last post I wrote about my experience teaching kids to rock climb and how great it was. Well since then I’ve taught 4 more classes and climbed on my own many more times. I even slept attempted to sleep under the bouldering wall one night, but the bugs had a different plan for me. In addition to my recent climbing adventures, I also played a big roll in our school’s 1 year anniversary with 5 performances and a cheerful attitude. Let’s start with the climbing school.

9d5796ee-c6e1-4307-8df6-c65d0da15d54wallpaperFirst let me say that it is awesome being able to climb outdoors instead of a smoke-filled pub that hates playing good music. It’s hard to beat the clean fresh air you get after a good rainstorm. Also, listening to a combination of Zhazha’s Chinese music and my own library is a refreshing change. 915b4ff3-8b2e-4d13-af69-87337f944902wallpaperTeaching the kids has been such a rewarding experience. They are older than the kids I teach at my school, so I can practice more Chinese with them and  our collective love for rock climbing overcomes the language barrier, creating a community feel where everyone is free to be themselves.

bf0bf1e2-5aac-457f-9a70-15f7a18d70a8wallpaperBeyond teaching the classes at the wall, we also have climbing parties where Zhazha invites his climbing friends from the University and around the city. It’s great because I get to climb routes that are actually difficult and meet new friends who are in my age range. Always a good time.

IMAG1872-1The first night we climbed here, we didn’t stop until midnight so we slept on the crash pads under the bouldering wall you see above. As it turns out, we seriously underestimated the amount of mosquitoes and by the time we gave up around 3 o’clock, I counted 29 bites on my arms and legs. So then Zhazha decided to get his magical Chinese herb bug repellant and we slept bug-free for the rest of the night. That was until about 5:30 when the adjacent track and field filled up with elderly people having their morning walks and playing classical Chinese music. (You kids and your confounded rock n’ roll!) I decided it was time to throw in the towel and head home to my cozy apartment and rock hard bed. Always an adventure in China!


A few of our awesome Romp n’ Roll kids. George’s Mohawk is so awesome.

Which brings me to our school’s anniversary party. This was our biggest event since I started here 6 months ago. I’m not sure exactly how many people we had in our little center, but I counted over 100 at one point. We had numerous performances, activities, giveaways and lots of cake!


We had the kids decorate and assemble an awesome top hat for Rompy

As for my role, I did a performance with my poi; performed “Take me Home Country Roads” by John Denver with Lear, one of the Chinese teachers; I performed “Jingle Bells” with 4 of my older kids, 3 of whom sang while another drummed and I played guitar; and helped both of my older English classes with their fashion shows. It was all good fun and another China experience I won’t soon forget.


Our various performances included a love song, Jingle Bells, Take Me Home Country Roads, and a light show.

Well my 6 month mark here in China has come and gone and what a ride it’s been! As always, I’m excited to see what the future holds. In my next post I’ll tell you all about my trip to Huangshan, the beautiful yellow mountains, as well as my experience being on a Chinese game show! Until then, cheers and thanks for reading!

Exchanging Culture

It really amazes me when I consider all of the opportunities that have been presented to me out here. Just over the past weeks since my last post I have taught two rock climbing classes to kids ages 6-8, I was a judge at a children’s modelling competition and two nights ago I hosted my first dinner party for my coworkers. The list goes on and I have several other exciting plans in the works, but I’ll share them as they come.

7e6be5f8jw1e7bt6u040bj20mr0dlacjNow, those of you who have been following my story since the beginning know that for the first several months here, the only climbing I did was at a small bouldering wall at nearby pub–aside from one trip down to the university 2 months ago. But that’s not the case anymore now that my friend Zha Zha has his own climbing wall much closer to my apartment. We have a deal that I can climb there for free as long as I help him teach the kids–not a bad deal if I do say so myself. We played a game where one kid and I would start on opposite sides of the wall and traverse until we met each other. Then we would play rock, paper, scissors (or paper, scissors, stone as its called here) and the loser had to climb around the outside of the winner and continue to the other side. It was a blast and I can’t wait to do it again!

So last week I was asked to be a judge for the 2013 New Silk Road China International Children’s Model Competition (a mouthful, I know). I’ve made a rule for myself out here to never turn down an opportunity, no matter how intimidating it may be. And this is a nationally televised competition and I judged during the finals for Anhui province. Among the judges were a few professional models and bigwigs in the fashion industry, and an American with no experience doing anything like this. Ever.ed493e5d-a02f-4787-b7b5-0b656ae8306bwallpaper

3920e354-f273-468b-8004-1589dc03c359wallpaperI couldn’t understand most of what was being said by the announcers, but it was still a really cool experience. To be honest, I wasn’t overly fond of a few of the outfits that reminded me of that TV show in America, Toddlers in Tiaras, but it wasn’t as bad. I really enjoyed the talent portion though. It was like watching those YouTube videos of talented Asian kids. But much more awesome of course.

5418bc64-bdc1-4bde-afe3-5cbad0a5822bwallpaperAlthough I was given absolutely no 2b8ad18e-cc8e-4513-a44d-9311508f0139wallpaperinstruction as to what I should be doing, I made it through and even gave a short speech praising the kids for their creativity, cleverness, and talents. It was a great experience that I won’t forget. It’s not everyday you get an opportunity to be on TV in another country!

— — —

IMG_0573So of all the foods that I can’t find out here, I would have to say I miss Mexican food the most. Oh what I would give for a great taco or burrito out here. But two nights ago I finally made some nachos. I had to go to 3 different stores to get all the makings for them and it cost me a small fortune. All they were missing were some avocados. My Chinese friends and I loved them though, so it was well worth it. I also made what is probably the best spaghetti I’ve ever made and an ingenious almond appetizer that included soaking and peeling them then roasting them with salt, Italian herbs and olive oil. Combine that with some good ‘ol dark beer and Go Fish and you’ve got yourself a recipe for one crazy night!

After all I’ve been through out here and how I’ve grown, I’ve been thinking a lot about what I really want to do with my life. What great contribution can I make to this world? What legacy can I build? I do my best to spread happiness everywhere I go because it brings me happiness as well. But lately, I’ve had a feeling building up that I have a strong purpose in life and as cliche as that may be, I hope to find it. Whatever it may be, I know the future holds great potential and I’m filled with excitement each day as it unravels before me.


The Next Chapter


A beautiful clear day along Nanfei River

“Wake up! If you knew for certain you had a terminal illness–if you had little time left to live–you would waste precious little of it! Well, I’m telling you…you do have a terminal illness: It’s called birth. You don’t have more than a few years left. No one does! So be happy now, without reason–or you will never be at all.”

What a nice fishing area.

What a nice fishing area.

This quote is one of many similar quotes that have helped me in more ways than I can express. But I’ll get to that later. First, let’s talk about things here in Hefei, China.

Nearly 3 weeks have passed since my last post and once again, my experience has been peppered with new experiences and adventures. I’ve tested the limits of my new ebike batteries (about 45 miles), I’ve tried new foods, started martial arts training, made new friends, both Chinese and foreign, and thrived all the while. Rather than going into detail of everything like I usually do, I’ll have to do quite a bit of summarizing on this one.

About 2 weeks ago, I finally found the main community of foreigners here in Hefei. I got an invitation to go to the Hefei Expat Bar that’s run by Aussie Mike, who is somewhat of a legend among expats here. Upon arriving at the bar, I was greeted by several new foreigners from all over the globe and ended up meeting 20-30 of them that night. The theme for the party was Canada Day and we celebrated by drinking whiskey shots with maple syrup, which was pretty awful. After a few hours we all migrated to a different bar called Stone and Wood because it has air conditioning and no angry, bottle-throwing neighbors to upset.

This bar was much better and it’s where I met my new Chinese friends. They came by to tell me that their friend thinks I’m handsome, but she was too shy and ran out the door when they told me. Ahh Chinese women. Anyway, I drank with them for a while and they invited me to their art studio where they do oil paintings. I eagerly agreed since I used to paint quite a bit in America and I would love to give oil paint a try. After a long night of celebrating, I finally made it back to my apartment as the sun started to rise.

I don’t need to go into too much detail about the next day, but I will say that I was more tired than I’ve been since I first arrived in China and that the summer heat here makes it much worse. Also mixing alcohol is never a good idea.

Let’s skip ahead to earlier this week. I spent Monday morning at a mixed martial arts gym with a Bulgarian guy that I met at Stone and Wood named Elizar. Ironically, he specializes in Chinese Kong Fu, but we mainly focused on boxing, sparring, and knife defense. It was the first self-defense lesson I’ve ever had and I’ll be going back there every Monday from now on.

On Monday night I went back to Knight Bar to climb again and made friends with several Chinese rock climbers so that was a nice experience. I climbed my heart out and at the time of writing this on Wednesday, I’m still sore all over from both experiences. But I really can’t complain; after all, that’s how we know we’re doing it right!

So I wrote about my friends’ art studio and I did go there last week, but I didn’t have enough time to do any painting. I went there again yesterday, but I brought my guitar this time and once again didn’t paint anything. I did have a hell of a time though. I rode my ebike all the way there, which was about a 30 min. ride, and tried new Chinese food. As it turns out, chicken feet, which are highly popular here, are exactly as good as I expected. Which is not at all.

One of Rui's paintings.

One of Rui’s paintings.

Another great painting. I'm not sure who made this one

A great painting. I’m not sure who made this one

I still can't believe how real this one looks. well done Wong Shan

I still can’t believe how real this one looks. well done Wong Shan

I was extremely impressed with the art that was scattered throughout the studio; ranging from beautiful landscapes to lifelike stills to dreamscapes. Most of the artists I met studied it in college and it really showed in their work.

The quote at the top of this post is from my favorite author, Dan Millman, and it has helped shape my life perspective. When I first read it, I thought of many similar quotes; “We only have one life to live.” or “Life’s short, live it to the fullest.” But like those clichés, I read this one only to think to myself “Good point, heard it before.” Later, after pondering it further, I realized the truth within the words. It reminded me of what nearly every child is told as they grow up, “You can do whatever you want in your life.”

While this is a great idea to spread and it gives us a warm feeling inside, I’ve found that it isn’t particularly effective unless it is followed by real-world application. For instance, it wasn’t until let go of the social constraints of what I’m “supposed to do” that I realized I really can do anything with my life. It wasn’t until I had a flight itinerary to Beijing that I truly believed that I could travel the world.

I’m trying to find the best way to articulate what I mean without writing a novel, so here it goes. In order for us to fully realize our freedom and potential in this world, we must test it. So take chances! Ray Bradbury had it right when he said, “You’ve got to jump off cliffs and build your wings on the way down.”

Now, I don’t want to seem like I’m putting myself on a pedestal, as that is not my goal. Also my balance isn’t that great. There are countless others who have done much more than I have in my life and I know very well that I’m still quite young and I have much to learn. But I don’t think we need to constantly compare ourselves to others. I prefer to see who I’ve been in the past and how far I’ve come. This helps give me a better perspective of who I am, as well as who I wish to become.

I apologize that my posts have become more and more infrequent, but as our center gains more members, I teach more classes and have less time to write. This is great though, because it shows me that I’m doing well as a teacher and it means we will need a second foreign teacher in the coming months. That said, I finally ordered a new computer and when it comes, I’ll focus on writing more often. On a side note, if you’d like to see more pictures from my recent adventures, you can see them here.

As usual, thanks for reading,