America – The Return

“To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, draw closer, to find each other, and to feel. That is the purpose of life.”

This quote, which is the motto of “Life” magazine, is one of the best I’ve heard in a while. I recently watched ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’ for the first time–which is where I heard the quote–and loved it. It reminded me of why I decided to uproot myself and move to China over a year ago. I have a strong thirst for adventure that seems only to grow the more experiences I have.

I recently passed my anniversary of starting this blog and in doing so, I’ve gotten a fresh perspective of my life over the past year. The challenges faced, friends met, experiences had, and wisdom gained yet again have culminated to create the person I am today. And in doing so, I have, for the first clear time, discovered my purpose in life. I will be a world traveler.

As long as I can remember, I’ve been different from those around me. Growing up, I didn’t have many friends and I never quite knew why. But now I know myself much better and although I’m still socially awkward at times, I’ve learned to open up in a way that doesn’t make others uncomfortable. Still, I see things differently from most people I know and this allows me to have a unique perspective that I often share with others in their times of need. When I say I want to be a world traveler, what I mean is that I want to travel all over while helping people and making their lives a little better–a little happier.

Many argue over whether or not one person can change the world, but to me, that argument is meaningless as it doesn’t help anyone. So instead of trying to change the world, I will work to benefit the lives of individuals. Because that, I know I can do. For now, I’ll stay here at my school and teach children English, music, art, and gym so that they can grow up to be more successful in an increasingly interconnected world.

Now, I know it’s been a long time yet again since my last entry and as usual, I’ve been through so much. I finished my contract for my first year here and took 6 weeks off to heal my ankle, which I badly sprained doing parkour in the gym at my school, and to go back to America and visit my friends and family.

I first visited my brother and his family just outside Seattle and shortly after arriving, my new camera arrived from Amazon. This is something I’ve wanted for several years, but never bought. But now that I have it, I want to change the focus of this blog. Rather than writing long stories of things I’ve done out here, I will focus more on photography and let my pictures tell the tale. I took over 5000 pictures during the 5 weeks I spent in America and saved just over 600 of the best. Of those, I’ve picked the best ones to share with you all over the next two posts.

So, without further ado, here are the first pictures from my trip. I’ll share the rest from the other trips in subsequent posts.




My New Year’s Resolution

2014 New YearYou know, when I first came to China, everyday was a new journey for me. Things like going grocery shopping or getting to and from my school were adventures on their own. Every morning, I woke up with excitement of what the day would hold. What new challenges would I face? Who would I meet? What experiences would I share with my friends and family back home? I was so immersed in each moment of everyday that I forgot what it was like to live back in the States–a feeling that I maintain to this day.

As great as the excitement and adventure was, everything must come to an end. Every peak has its valleys and over time, the excitement has faded and the adventures have become routine. My daily Chinese lessons on Rosetta Stone have turned into biweekly lessons and my weekly blog posts have become almost monthly.

It seems to me that this is common with any new enterprise we undertake; whether it’s a new diet, exercise routine, or discipline. Eventually the excitement wears off; it’s no longer fun to tell our friends about the new changes we’ve made in our life. All that’s left is to persist each day, or not.

In the spirit of New Years, I’ve written this short post; not only to share some perspective with anyone open to receive it, but also for me to work on writing more often. I find that when I don’t express my thoughts through writing, my mood changes and I spend more time in my head and less time living in the moment. I don’t want to miss out on this incredible opportunity that I have out here and I really do enjoy sharing my experiences–even if it’s not quite as exciting as it was the first few months I was here.

I’ve decided to stay here in Hefei for a second year. My contract will expire at the beginning of March, when I’ll spend a month in the US. But once April hits, China round 2 will begin. So for my New Years resolution this year I’m going to recreate the excitement and adventure of living as an expat in China. Now that I’ve hit a valley in my journey, it’s time to charge back up the mountain path and see what lies ahead!

In my next post I will tell you all about Christmas here in China. And about my trip to Chengdu to visit my wonderful Chinese friend, Lin, who I actually met in the States! But until then, Happy New Year to each of you and cheers to 2014!

Better to Have Had and Lost…

This post is going to be a little different from the rest of my posts. I’m going to tell you about one important part of my life here in China that I haven’t mentioned before.

It all started on my friend, Zha Zha’s, birthday party back in mid September.

Everytime I go to my friend, Zha Zha’s climbing gym, I receive a warm welcome and usually a few new challenges or routes to climb. This time was different. Since it was Zha Zha’s birthday party, he invited his friends and family as well. So I met many people that I’d never seen before. But in particular, I met a beautiful young lady just 2 years older than me who spoke English very well and had a strong, but delightful personality; a combo which can be hard to find out here.

We were quite different in our upbringings–she being an only child growing up in china, and me coming from what many would call a gypsy family, always moving around in America. But we shared an instant connection I haven’t had with anyone before. That night, we talked a lot about life and I played her a few songs on the guitar before we both headed home. She definitely made a strong impression in me, because she was the first Chinese young lady that I’ve had romantic interest in.

Our first picture together, taken on the top of the only mountain near Hefei.

Our first picture together, taken on the top of the only mountain near Hefei.

It wasn’t long before we started going on dates; Almost always in the evening or at night since that was the only time we could get together. You see, I work Wednesday through Sunday and she worked Monday-Friday. Not only that, but her two days off were my busiest days and vice versa. So we would go out several nights a week. She took me to a small, hidden noodle restaurant that makes delicious noodles for less than $2 a bowl. I took her to some of my favorite spots in the city that I discovered while exploring months ago. We went on walks together, got soaking wet during a rainstorm, climbed a mountain and learned from each other all the time. She taught me Chinese, I taught her English. Things were great.

As time went on, we became closer and I met her friends and introduced her to mine. We sang karaoke together, I took her roller skating, and she taught me about Chinese cooking.

But before long, I realized that our relationship had an expiration date. She wanted to be in a long term relationship and that was something that I could not promise. After all, my travels in life are far from over and she has responsibilities to her family here.

One morning, I brought up my concerns and my plans of traveling and going back to America and as quick as our relationship began a few months before, it ended.

It’s been a while since that all happened and although I do miss her, I know that it was for the best. I feel terrible breaking someone’s heart, but I know I did the right thing by doing it sooner rather than later. 星星, if you’re reading this, I want you to know that I still think you’re a wonderful person and I truly wish you the best in everything you do in life. You’ll find someone who makes you happy and is there for you in the ways that I cannot. Remember, never give up.

In life, many people come and go; many paths cross ours as we go about our journeys, and it’s rare to meet someone who sees the world in the same way we do. To me, it is so important in these encounters to share with one another; whether we’re sharing stories, wisdom or even just moments of our lives. It’s by doing this that we better not only our own lives, but also the life of another. And in doing that, we make this world a little better.

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!

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.