Friday, May 12, 2006

Apples are good for everyone....

Especially if you live in a really big one! OK, so that was totally cheesy, but I couldn't wait to tell you that I am moving to NYC rather than Raleigh. More to come, but thought you would enjoy the update, especially since so many of you thought I'd completely lost it when I picked Raleigh.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Ain't Nuthin' Better than to be in Carolina....

This entry probably isn't going to wow anyone, but I wanted to let everyone know that I made it home safely and happily.

I am so happy to be home! Catching up with my Chapel Hill friends has been nothing short of spectacular, although since they've celebrated graduation for the last few months, this past weekend may not qualify as spectacular for them. For me, however, it was wonderful. Follies on Thursday entertained everyone for a few hours. Although, I was a complete jet lag loser and went to bed at 10:00. I heart my bed.

Friday night led to the "Everybody Loves Bacon" party, honoring DB and yours truly. The title comes from the bbq dinner and the last name of the honorary attendant. The party was wonderful, however, everyone was dragging a bit from the follies festivities.

Everyone's energy returned on Saturday with a little cooking expedition by me and my STs. SO good to see them! I made my first Tom Yum soup, ala Thai vacation. I'm still honing my spicing techniques. I could kill someone with the amount of chilis I put in Saturday's soup.

Here's my taxing schedule for the next few days (pre-Wrightsville vaca):

  • Find a place to live - half done since I am going to rent an apartment at this awesome complex in downtown Raleigh. Think 5th and Poplar, but not quite that nice.
  • Buy clothes for graduation and beach week - coming along bit by bit
  • Hire movers

How on earth will I survive? Kids, I highly recommend B school. It's a great gig if you can get it! Keeping it is the problem. Someone always wants their money back eventually.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Finishing a Marathon

April 25th, 2006

Of all the things that I expected to feel today, sadness was not one of them. I guess I thought I would be so excited to go home and to see everyone that I wouldn’t even mind my trip ending. In reality, I’m very sad about this phase of my life drawing to a close. It didn’t hit me until I walked through the gates to customs and approached the Hong Kong Resident’s line for the last time. I almost burst into tears in front of the customs guy. So sad. I managed to make it to the security gates before I teared up. I’m not really a crier, so this kind of shocked me.

I feel strange because I’m sad about leaving, but so excited for the summer. Hong Kong and my travels kept me so busy for the last semester that I never stopped to think about actually leaving school. The next month is going to be full of many goodbyes for me. Hopefully, they aren’t forever goodbyes, but inevitably, some of them will be. It’s just the way the world works.

I’ve thought a bit about what I would classify as the best part of my life so far. It’s not an easy question, and honestly, I don’t think it has an answer. While junior high school and senior high school brought me Stephanie and Amber, college brought me… well, that period certainly isn’t going to win, so I won’t even bother with that one. My time in Charlotte was certainly some of the most meaningful and memorable of my life. Business school opened my eyes to so many things that I can’t even describe the change in me. In college, my way of thinking changed. I can’t really describe it. In business school, more core changed. Not my….

Ok, I am the biggest sap that I know. I’m writing this in the Hong Kong airport and listening to Carolina in My Mind for something like the twelve thousandth time today and as soon as the opening chorus started, I totally teared up! Who is this sap?

I know that parts of this trip sucked, but it changed me forever. The end was nothing like the middle in that I found a home with friends and getting through the tough part in the middle taught me so much about what I can accomplish and who I really am. I wanted to back down so many times and something wouldn’t let me. I knew I would regret it, and as much as I wanted to take the easy route, I knew I didn’t belong on that path. I think that making a success out of the second term of my stay showed me that I am the only person setting any limitations on my life. I know, that sounds cheesy and entirely too philosophical, but it’s true and I promised to write the truth. Sometimes I feel a bit exposed when I write such things.

I’ve never run a marathon, but I would imagine that running across the finish line must feel a bit like how I feel today. I’m so proud of my accomplishment, I’ve enjoyed the journey, I’m happy to never relive the painful parts, and I’m sad to see it end. I don’t think either I or the marathon runner is sad to see the finish line, but more sad about the end of the journey to get to the finish, anxious about starting a new race, and concerned that the new race won’t quite live up to the current race. I look forward to meeting my new running partners, whoever they may be!

Monday, April 24, 2006

Every ending is Another Beginning?

April 24, 2006

I never did like that song very much. However, it is time to head home! I think the blog will likely end here, although it may pick up in some format while I am in Europe this summer. I’ll see you all soon enough and won’t have anything to share that you don’t already know. Besides, you’re going to be sick of seeing me for the next few months while I am unemployed and wandering around aimlessly, so I don’t think you’ll want to read my ramblings anymore.

I really can’t wait to see everyone! This has been an unbelievable journey, but it’s always good to go home.

P.S. I just finished my last MBA paper and exam today. I’m going to treat myself to dessert and coffee for now, but I will treat myself to a true celebration on Thursday and Friday night. EVERYBODY loves BACON!

A somber visit to the A Bomb Dome in Hiroshima

April 19th, 2006

I’m done with Japan. We woke up early to go to Hiroshima for the day only to get on the wrong train, which took double the planned time. We rushed through Hiroshima, which seems a rude thing to do given the gravity of the events that took place there. The A Bomb done was startling in that you could clearly see the destruction that took place there. The bomb blew up right over it, which allowed many of the walls to withstand the explosion. Everything inside of the walls was instantaneously destroyed. Temperatures rose to 4000 degrees Celsius as a result of the explosion. One of the testimonials included a story of a guy who picked up his Mother’s bones with a chopstick (as is a ritual in many Asian countries) only to have the chop sticks catch fire. That was a week after the explosion.

Even after rushing through Hiroshima, we sill weren’t able to make it back to Kyoto in time to see the Geisha show in Gion. I damn near cried over this. We did make it to the Hot Bath which was nice. I’m not sure I want to bathe with a bunch of older Chinese women again, but it was interesting as an experience. Basically, the hot bath consists of a bunch of different Jacuzzi options and a couple of cooler options. The atmosphere was far more sterile than I imagined.

We enjoyed Japanese Tapas for dinner, although they certainly don’t call them that. Dinner was excellent and the wine was greatly improved over the previous night. We went back to our hole in the wall, 6 seat, pub and met a crazy Hawaiian guy named Chris. He read us the poetry he wrote in the previous bar. I really liked one of his lines, though. It was about unsuspecting promises – I take it to mean that you expect certain things to happen, but you never know exactly what those things will be or how they will happen. In my case, reality exceeds anything I could have suspected independently.

The trip back to HK was uneventful, but it required two taxis, two trains, one airplane, one bus. I’m not sure when that level of complicated travel stopped intimidating me, but I ain’t scared!

Castles, Cherry Blossoms and Kobe Beef

April 18th, 2006

This might be one of my favorite days of the trip. Well, the first part anyway. We started the day with a train to Himeji which is home to Japan’s greatest castle. On the way we stopped for Tonkatsu which is friend pork. Gross. The castle, however, was beautiful and the cherry blossoms were in nearly full bloom. The pictures are incredible. On the way back to Kyoto, we stopped in Kobe for some Kobe beef. We then tried to go to a mountain top to watch the sunset, but they aren’t open at night during the week. Damn Lonely Planet let me down again. You would think a restaurant that serves Kobe beef could come up with a decent glass of red wine, but you would be mistaken. Think spoiled grape juice. Our final stop of the night was in Osaka – aka “Where the streets have no names.” After walking past the same point about 324 times, we stopped in some random place and then headed back on the train to Kyoto. All in all, we spent the majority of the afternoon lost, and little did I know, this would continue into the next day.

Deer bites hurt

April 17th, 2006

Today we headed to Nara, which was the capital of Japan at one point. The Nara park is full of deer who walk right up and beg for food. They were really adorable until one tried to take a chunk out of my rear end. Not happy about that one. The cherry blossoms, the park, and the temple were beautiful. At the top, we could look down on Nara, which was quite pretty. This is how I expected Japan to be. I also expected Geisha on every corner, so we took off for Gion in hopes of spotting one or two along the way.

We succeeded in that we spotted one on her way to an engagement and another on her way from a convenience store. We enjoyed suki-yaki for dinner, which is basically grilled food that is dipped in raw egg before being eaten. It was delicious! We ended the night with a drink at Hub, which is another Western bar. I want to get into the Japanese culture, but they don’t want me there, so I’m having some trouble. Kyoto is not a happening place on a Monday night.

I only wear bunny ears for a really good story

April 16th, 2006

This actually happened on the night of the 16th, but I feel Kyoto is a separate chapter in this story, so I’m moving it to the next day. I checked into my hostel, but IT was staying at a different hostel for the night. My hostel = decent. IT’s hostel = scary, borderline unacceptable. Whew… I lucked out on that one. Fortunately for him, he gets to move to my hostel for the second night. IT and I came up with a couple of goals for our time in Kyoto. The first was to go to a restaurant and have them bring us whatever they like to eat. We tackled this one on the first night at an izakaya (Japanese pub). The waitress took it easy on us with a bowl of udon with pork and bean curd. Our next stop was to the downtown district via the subway. I love public transportation. I prefer when the signs are in English, however.

Downtown Kyoto is interesting. It is much smaller than Tokyo and, I would come to find out later, much less friendly to westerners. Walking down one of the streets, I looked up to see a restaurant on the top floor of a building and decided we should stop in to check it out. As the elevator doors opened, we were greeted by two ladies dressed in bunny costumes. I’m not sure who was more confused, them or us. Well, they decided we could sit down and you know I’m always up for a good story, so how could I resist. IT convinced me that other women were in the bar, so I figured if they could do it, so could I. Well, we soon found out that the ladies who came into the bar were actually hostesses as well and were in normal clothes because they only wear the bunny costumes inside of the hostess club. So, we sit down at the bar and two or three of the ladies sit with us and ask us mundane questions like where we are from and if we’re lovers. I nearly burst out laughing. IT tells people that I completely balked at the idea and pushed him away, but I’m sure my response was far more polite and subtle. I did respond that no, we weren’t, but that he was cute… and single. They just giggled and I thanked God that the evil look IT shot me didn’t actually injure me. Post $58 whiskey (for IT, of course. I stuck with a beer), we left and I decided that was enough of an adventure for the first night. Akusa and Chica were very nice ladies and good sports about my being there.

Our first full day in Kyoto was quite busy and started with strolling around a few random temples. They weren’t terribly exciting. On the way to lunch IT decided he’d like to stop in for a hair cut. Two hours later, he emerged a freshly groomed man. Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on whose perspective, my Lonely Planet travel book entertained me and I mapped out the rest of our time in Kyoto. We spent the afternoon walking around much better temples and getting stuck in the rain. Funny thing is, I am actually stuck in the rain right now. Those darn April showers keep catching me off guard. Who am I kidding, I don’t own an umbrella!

I was pleasantly surprised to find a couple of very cute boys in the lobby of my hostel on the way back. Wouldn’t you know it - they were German! I temporarily decided to life my ban on flirting with German boys due to their adorability. Sometimes you just have to accept your affliction and hope that it does not always end poorly.

IT and I grabbed sushi for dinner and talked to the self-proclaimed sushi papa. He’s not fond of Americans, but he’ll take our money just the same. He didn’t say it, but he didn’t have to! After walking around Gion trying to get into several bars, we finally spotted an Irish pub. They couldn’t deny me from there, right? Well, thankfully they did not and we spent some time hanging out with the other Westerners. Our last stop of the night was back in downtown where we met more Westerners and a cutie from Seattle named Mark. Mark looks like Matthew McConaghy. Tall, curly haired boys are adorable. Thankfully, this one wasn’t German.

Thank you for the Escargot, Mr. Ninja

April 14th – 15th, 2006

Thankfully we slept in on the 14th. Even though the girls went back at the early hour of 3 am, we were still exhausted. NT and I opted for a lunch of soba noodles rather than eating at a Western Restaurant. Where ARE we people?!? Thankfully, NT is an adventurous eater and doesn’t feel the obligations that some others feel. We dropped by an arcade in the afternoon and took some funny photos. Dinner was really the interesting part of the day.

We went to Ninja Times, which is a theme restaurant where the waiter is a real-life Ninja. OK, so yes, it was completely cheesy, but it was a blast! The food was excellent. I especially enjoyed the Escargot (4) (my first time) and frog shaped cheesecake. I could have left the lobster tofu off (2), but I’m not sure anyone really enjoys tofu. We then headed back to the hotel to change and enjoy a trip to the vending machine bar in our lobby. We headed to Rappongi that night to experience the real Tokyo nightlife. It was expensive, but a lot of fun! We ended the night/ morning at some ridiculous hour after the sun came up. Fortunately, I ate a cheeseburger before going to bed. Oh, some guy told me I shouldn’t eat a cheeseburger because I was fat. I told him he was ugly, so I guess we both sucked. OK, so I didn’t think of that one until just now, but I really wish I said it. Instead, I just stared at him with an eat shit look and told him he was talking to the wrong person. He then tried to shake my hand, which I declined. I’m actually expecting to get yelled at for losing weight when I get home, so his insult didn’t quite hit home. After all, it’s not like he could see my belly, which I consider to be my trouble spot.

Our last day in Tokyo was spent shopping. I decided not to buy anything because I didn’t want to lug it with me to Kyoto on the train. I’m writing this later and can tell you that not buying my souvenirs in Tokyo was a mistake. IT and I headed to Kyoto by train while the rest of the gang headed back to HK where they had to take a Mandarin exam the next morning - another good reason why I’m glad I didn’t take Mandarin.

Big in Japan is not just a song

April 12 – 13th, 2006

Japan is cool. Hardly anyone speaks English and the road signs, if they exist, aren’t in English, but Japan is definitely unique. Let me back up, though, and tell you that I started my journey to Tokyo by packing at 2:30 AM. My initial plans of grabbing dinner and heading back just didn’t pan out. My clothing selection was, shall we say, interesting. However, at 5:15 AM, I un-joyfully jumped up and headed to the airport. Our first night in Tokyo moved pretty slowly. We were all exhausted, so after ordering dinner from a vending machine, walking around the Ginza shopping district, and paying $10 for a single beer, we called it a night. You’re probably wondering why one would order dinner from a vending machine with all of the restaurant options in Tokyo. I wondered the same thing. Japan (and Norweigan Texas (hereafter NT) is absolutely fascinated with vending machines. They are on every corner of the city and the fast food type restaurants even have you order through a vending machine and hand your ticket to a waitress. Imagine how excited NT was when he realized he could order beer from a vending machine.

Our second day picked up a bit, but let me tell you how difficult it can be to move with a crowd of 6 people. Exhausting. We started out at the famous Tsukji Fish Market, where we enjoyed a breakfast of the freshest sushi possible. The area is basically chaos and I think they aim to run over whiteys like me with their forklifts. Don’t worry, I’m quick on my feet when necessary. We then walked around a park and stopped for a traditional tea ceremony. I prefer Chinese tea and will never eat the sweet whatever that they serve with Japanese tea. It’s just gross. Beans are not supposed to be sweet, people! I don’t care what you put around it, I do not want beans for dessert. Ever.

We walked around a temple, which IT named the biggest red light district ever and then eenjoyed a lunch of traditional Shabu Shabu – excellent. We then ventured over to a park where we rode kiddie rides for a while. I really am regressing. My first proper meal in Japan was at an Italian restaurant. You can imagine I wasn’t very excited about this and I decided that I would eat alone before I ate another non-Japanese meal against my will. The night picked up though when we finally found Karoke Kan – the Karoke club from Lost in Translation. Karoke was fun. I still can’t sing. The boys then headed out for a night on the town. The short version of that is that Indian Texas (hereafter IT) thinks that his kiss convinced the girl he was flirting with that she would prefer to hit on her female friend.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Four days to go and my stuff is falling apart

The first casualty of my possessions is my cell phone. I can't seem to figure out where it was made, but the country obviously sends their crap products to Australia. You might not think this is such a terrible issue since all of you guys are in other countries, but believe me, it is my lifeline to my friends here and it is also my freaking ALARM CLOCK. I had to ask a classmate to wake me up this morning. Mind you, she hasn't done it yet, so she might have ignored me, but having to ask someone wake you up as an adult is silly. I just can't justify a new alarm clock or cell phone for four days of use.

The second casualty is my lap top power cord. I have to fidget with the damn thing for at least two minutes everytime I plug it in and it is making a strange hissing noise. The hissing noise stops when I put my finger over its orgination point. You think that might be a fire hazzard? Well, I can get a free one at school, so there's not a chance that I am buying one here. Dear God, PLEASE let it keep working until Monday afternoon. That is all I ask.

The third and fourth casualties are my brown and black boots. Truth be told, they were meant to die a long time ago and I really extended their agony for several months longer than necessary. I couldn't have been happier to throw the worn out old tatters away, so this one isn't really a complaint.

The fourth casualty is my hair dryer. It still works, mind you. Unfortunately, it only works for a short time until the hair stuck inside of it (that it continuously pulls out of my head) starts to burn which overheats it. Seriously, do you think 4 months is a long product life? I could probably make one that would last for a good 6 months on my own. Ok, maybe I'm exaggerating.

I almost forgot the worst tragedy of all - my SUNGLASSES! I took extremely good care of this pair of sunglasses so their explosion at a Temple in Kyoto is simply undeserved.

Well, my crumpled mess of broken products and tattered clothes will arrive on American soil on the 26th. Yippie!!!

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

MIA in Japan

So, I am not inviting my lap top on vacation with me to Japan either. One of my friends is taking his, so hopefully I can write on my multiple train rides. Probably won't be able to post things though.

On a totally random note - if anyone is looking for a good song about girls with green eyes, I highly recommend Green Eyes by Cold Play. I think Chris Martin wrote it just for yours truly. Ok, so maybe I justwish that he wrote it for me!

A funny sign for you: (I took this picture myself, so I promise it is real.)

Monday, April 10, 2006

Milestones are passing me by!

I am thrilled to tell you that I just finished the final presentation of my MBA career.

Color me happy!

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Bitter no more AND living with a COWBOY!

April 9, 2006

Fortunately, I don’t stay in a bad mood for very long. I spent most of yesterday hiding out in my room far away from anything that could annoy me and by 7:30, I was feeling much more civil. On the walk to the train, it occurred to me that I am actually only in Hong Kong for eight more days. If I thought about that earlier yesterday, I might have jumped for joy. After a little time to myself, though, my attitude improved so much that I actually felt sad about it. Don’t worry… there is no chance that I am staying any longer than planned. As proof, I booked my one-way ticket home today. I leave on April 25, and arrive in LAX on the 25th. As long as U.S. Airways plays along, I will arrive in Charlotte at 7 AM on the 26th. I can’t believe it!

Booking my return ticket caused me to reflect a bit on this experience. I’m sure I will reflect much more as the time gets closer. I think I’ll look at it from the perspective of what I would repeat and what I would avoid today. I foresee a lessons learned report coming along in the future, but I’d like to learn all of the lessons first.

Brilliant Decisions (if I do say so myself)

  • Coming to Hong Kong for exchange
  • Experiencing this craziness with two wonderful friends
  • Traveling to Australia, Thailand, Beijing, Fiji, Vietnam, Shanghai, and Japan (assuming the trip goes well, of course)
  • Dating my FGL
  • Staying in Hong Kong for an extended term
  • Building friendships with people from around the world. I can say I have friends in Spain, France, Germany, Switzerland, Pittsburgh, another TBD U.S. city, and Hong Kong
  • Forcing myself to stay and face my fears

Less than Brilliant Decisions (some of these I would repeat)

  • Living off campus with my STs. I would do this again because I loved every minute of it, although it did make my transition more difficult for the second term. I think I needed to go through that extra challenge.
  • Not opting for a longer exchange at the beginning of the process so that I could have rented my apartment in Chapel Hill out. Do you know how many cute outfits I could have purchased with $3200 USD? Oh well, how could I have known, right?
  • Not extending myself to the other exchange students earlier in the process. I didn’t know what I was missing, honestly.
  • Spending so much time with my FGL. I would have still dated him, but maybe on a more casual level. I guess I’m just not a casual dating kind of girl

What was I thinking?

  • My pity party on the way to and from Fiji. Let’s be honest, I threw it for two more days once I was back. Thankfully, I took a break from it for most of my time in Fiji. As a friend put it, I had white people problems. How could I possibly have fun living as a student in Hong Kong for an extra six weeks? I do see the silliness of it – I just didn’t see it at the time so much.
  • Rather than dating one boy in Hong Kong, I should have dated boys from as many countries as possible. This trip is about cultural exposure, right?
  • Not staying in better touch with my friends at home. I’ve tried to stay in touch via email, but I really feel like I have no clue what is going on in anyone’s lives. I promise not to be so self-centered when I get home.

Other updates:

  • There is a rumor that HS is canceling one of our stupid class projects. This means I just have to pass two tests and I’m free and clear!
  • Presumptuous German Boy from Friday night apologized for his behavior. At least I don’t have to remember him as such a jerk!
  • In an EXCELLENT turn of events, I am going to live with Cowboy for the first three weeks in June. Get ready for lunch and happy hour, kids. I will need entertaining!

Saturday, April 08, 2006

This is not an acceptable Friday night....

April 8, 2006

Let's talk about yesterday. The day started out wonderfully with me getting a haircut and highlights. I also snuck in a mani and pedi, which took a bit longer than expected. I was running late for the end of term party with the exchange students from other programs (mostly undergrads). I rushed home and made it only slightly late. Lucky for me, I was seated next to a very cute boy. The day seems to be going well. I could use a few hours of flirting. Oh, if only I knew what the rest of the night held:

First sign that something is amiss – The cute boy is German, which violates my no Germans rule. I overlooked this, however, because he was quite cute and about 6’8” tall.

Second sign – He was supposed to go with his friends, but instead decided to follow me and my friends to LKF. His friends would meet up with him later. This shouldn’t be such a bad thing, and could even be a good thing if he didn’t keep staring at me like he was going to rip my clothes off.

Third sign – He constantly stands between my friends and me and completely monopolizes my attention. I couldn’t even move without this guys hands all over me. I was definitely flirting with him, but he was over the top. Why I didn’t walk away at this point, I don’t know.

Fourth sign – Dancing at Lux – again, he is completely over the top with his affection and I’m really feeling uncomfortable at this point. Flirting with a cute boy is one thing, but feeling like I’m in high school fighting off some 16 year old guy is entirely something else. At this point, I’m distancing myself, but he’s not making it easy. I am entirely too old for this.

Final sign – He asks me to go home with him. I immediately decline and tell him that I enjoyed meeting him and I hope he enjoys the rest of his exchange. He then flips out and says, “its not like I was asking you to have sex or something. If you want to, then we can, but we don’t have to.” At this point, I freak out and decide it is time to go home. Either with my friends or without.

Fortunately, two of my guy friends decided to leave with me. I spend a lot of time with guys here, so while the earlier situation was creepy, I wasn’t worried about my safety at all. But, the night doesn’t end there. If only I was that lucky!

Long story short, I ended up sleeping on the couch in the public kitchen on my hall.

Right now, I just want everyone to leave me alone!

Anyone heard of an HONOR CODE?

April 8, 2006

Let me tell you what I heart. I heart honesty. I heart morals. I heart contributors.

Let me tell you what I do NOT heart. I do NOT heart cheaters. I do NOT heart plagerizers. I do NOT heart laziness. Finally, I do NOT heart complete stupidity.

Guys, I am at an absolute breaking point with one of my teams. I would love to call one of you to throw a tantrum over this, but it’s almost 11:00 your time, so I don’t think you would appreciate it. For that matter, it’s Friday night your time so you’re probably not even home.

I know that my school in Hong Kong is not the equivalent to my home school. Honestly, I didn’t come here for the kind of education I would get in a class. I can deal with that. I reached my breaking point today when I realized that the paper we just emailed to the professor included a large section that was directly plagiarized from a press release. I realized this because the writing differed dramatically from the rest of that person’s section. For giggles, I copied and pasted it into yahoo, which took me straight to the press release. I am NOT kidding. So, I’m not sure if I did the right thing, but I emailed the professor and asked him to wait for a new version from me because part of the paper was plagiarized. Part = 1 full page. I feel like a total goody-goody, but people get kicked out of school for such things! They may not have an honor code here, but give me a break! I am three classes away from graduating and I’m not risking it with something like this. I rewrote the paper and sent it. I hope that suffices. I’m learning some hard lessons here.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Goodbye China, Hello Japan

April 2, 2006

I started Sunday off like I would like to start every Sunday, or every day for that matter – at Starbucks. I know that many people think of Starbucks as the McDonald’s of coffee houses, but quite honestly, I heart it. You might already know that, though.

After breakfast, FG and I headed over to Yuyaan Bazaar to do a little shopping. I am collecting the booties that Chinese women were forced to wear as children to bind their feet. Normally you can find these at any antique shop in the area, but not today. Fortunately, one of the Texas guys is heading to Shanghai next weekend, so he is going to look again for me.

Remember how I said boys like trains? Well, FG was incredibly excited about taking the Malgev train from Shanghai to the airport. I’m pretty indifferent about such things, but it was really cool. The Malgev train was engineered by a bunch of Germans, but then the German government couldn’t afford to build the train. So they sold the rights to China. This train travels at a max speed of 431 km/hr. If my rough math is correct, that should be just under 270 miles and hour.

So, I said goodbye to Mainland China. I don’t know when I will see it again (since my Visa doesn’t allow me to go back without paying extra money). I’ve hit the things that I really wanted to see, so I think I can safely call my China explorations a success.

After a brief stop-over back in Hong Kong, I’m off to Japan next Wednesday. Thanks to careful class selection and the Easter Holiday, I get to spend a week in Japan. I’ll be in Tokyo for 3 nights with five other people, then two of us are heading to the Kyoto area to discover the real Japan for 3 nights. Then… it’s back to school to take two tests and attend one class.

Then folks, I begin my James Taylor impersonation. I played “Going to Carolina” maybe 10 times on my drive to Chapel Hill. I may well play it continuously for the week leading up to my departure. That is, if Apple does in fact deliver my new iPod.

Zhouzhuang, Gardens, and Friends from Beijing

April 1, 2006

I apologize for not always including the best photos. I have a rule against blogging about people who don't know that I'm blogging about them, or who aren't familiar with some portion of the people who may read the blog. So, if sometimes I seem to be leaving things out, I am doing it out of respect for the unknowing. Back to the blog...

I love finding cool stuff outside of a major city. I believe firmly that if you stick inside of a city the entire time, you miss so much of the area that you are visiting. The rest of the exchange students don’t arrive in Shanghai until later on Saturday afternoon, so (thanks to the best concierge ever at the Peace Hotel), FG and I took off for Zhouzhuang which is a water town. A water town is a town built around canals. I have a video to share if you’re interested. I should also mention why I keep bringing up the Peace Hotel. Remember my evil professor from Doing Business in Asia? Well, he used to drop Hotel names quite often. The must have told us about his “doings” at the Peace Hotel three or four times during our class. My STs might be the only ones who find that funny.

Back to Zhouzhuang. The ride out there was a bit touch and go since I my stomach doesn’t really like swerving buses. Once there though, the trip was wonderful. We walked through the town and the shops to where we loaded onto long boats and drifted through the canals of the city. I probably shouldn’t say drifted since the guy in the back was working really hard to make us drift. Some of the ladies sang as they crewed their boats. It was so nice. I wish we could have stopped to do a little shopping, but that wasn’t on the tour guide’s agenda. I miss Huong from Vietnam.

We enjoyed a traditional Chinese lunch of whole fish, peking duck, and… hold the presses…. Vegetables! Someone probably got fired for letting a vegetable hit a table in China. Surely! Lunch was interesting since we sat with a couple from Hong Kong, a couple from New Zealand, and a couple from Croatia. The New Zealand couple lives in Christchurch, so I told them that a dear friend of mine fell in love with a Christchurcher this summer. The Croatian ladies tell me that Croatia is quite a tourist spot for Americans. Isn’t that where the shaggy haired guy on ER died? See, you can put the girl out in the world, but sometimes you just can’t make her worldly.

After lunch we headed to some famous gardens. That was fun for about two minutes. Then, I came up with my quote. “It’s not that the Chinese are too fast, or even that they are too slow, but they are ALWAYS in my way.” I know, it’s probably not a very culturally aware thing to say. However, I speak only truth.

I am being a bit hard on the gardens. They were very pretty. It’s just kind of like a temple. Once you’ve seen it, there’s not much else to see - especially not if people keep stepping on your toes and walking directly in front of you. They were pretty, though.

On the way back, we got suckered into going to silk factory. Do you know how they make silk? Well, I’ll tell ya... the poor little silk worm works his butt off growing for 25 days. He builds up all of this protein inside of him and then he spits it out as a cocoon so that he can become a moth or something. The poor guy just wants to fly. Little does he know, that those people who keep feeding him are then going to stick his new home that he worked so hard to build into an oven and kill him. Then, they boil his house (with him still inside) and unravel all of his hard work. All of this so that we can have nice silk things. Don’t worry though, he doesn’t die in vain. Once they finish destroying his house, they pull him out of the last little section around him and throw him in a bowl. Then, they cook him in a soup for pregnant ladies. I promise I’m not kidding. Fear Factor has nothing on China.

Later on Saturday, the rest of the gang joined us. Until now, there were two of us, but we added 6 more this evening. Nothing too crazy to tell other than my classmates (who were in Beijing for the first couple of days) made up “The Twelve Days of Beijing” which is available in an earlier post. They really did see someone skinning and using a blowtorch to remove the hair from dead dogs. One of the girls could hardly eat for the rest of the night.

On yeah, we stopped for street meat at the end of the night. I fed six of us for $2 USD. In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I went back the next day.

Tea Party, anyone?

March 30, 2006

What a busy day! After breakfast in our rather crap hotel (I am quite spoiled sometimes), FG and I left for the Bund. A precious little homeless girl followed us around for a good five minutes, which was sad. Especially since her Mom followed a few steps behind. I guess that is better than letting her walk along alone, but it’s not better by a lot. Maybe they really don’t have alternatives though. I guess I haven’t really put much thought into what it would be like to be incredibly poor in a communist country – especially China.

I enjoyed the walk along The Bund. On one side you see lots of old buildings and history. On the opposite side of the river, you see the Batman scene with tons of huge modern buildings. I didn’t want to spend my entire time in Shanghai in the city, so we made plans to get out of the city for our second day there. As I mentioned, my hotel was a bit crap, so I decided to exercise a little trick that I picked up since I left the States. We’ll call it, “No, sir, I do not have a room at The Peace Hotel, but yes, I would very much like to use your concierge service to book my tour for tomorrow.” I’m pretty proud of myself for coming up with this one. The concierge makes a fee off of the tour, so he doesn’t mind doing it. I get to go on a tour that is recommended by a decent hotel. See? Win, Win for both parties.

After walking around the Bund (which is a historic area along the river), we decided to go through the tourist tunnel to Padong (aka Batmanville). No, Batman wasn’t filmed there, it’s just what comes to my mind. Well, the Tourist Tunnel is certainly aptly named. Think of Willy Wonka’s elevator, only this one travels horizontally and goes under a river. The path is filled with a big fancy light show. It’s cheesier than I can describe, but I still liked it. It’s just one of those things you have to do.

Sometimes traveling with boys means you get to do things that you might not ordinarily rank highly on your list of things to see and do. For me, that was going into the TV Tower. It’s the 3rd largest Tower in the World. FG really wanted to get tickets up to the top. I had already figured out that I would get the same view while having drinks at the Grand Hyatt next door, but boys like tall buildings and fast trains. The second will come up again later.

After a brief walk around the French Concession, which isn’t particularly interesting or French for that matter, FG and I headed to People’s Square which is the city center. This is where I think I was swindled, but I really enjoyed it, so I can’t really complain. FG and I were approached by three Chinese people who wanted to practice their English with us. That isn’t uncommon. They then invited us to join them for tea. We did join them and we had a very nice time. We took some fun photos, tried some interesting teas. It ended up being more expensive than I expected and I heard later that this is a bit of a con game. The people who bring you in get a cut of the purchase basically. Whatever. I enjoyed it and I prefer to remember it that way rather than taint it with a con.

After tea, it was time to head back to the less than Magnificent “Magnificent International.” My bed was comfy, but since I live on an extra long twin most nights, I’m really pretty easy to please when it comes to bedding at the moment.

But, I’m not off to bed yet. FG and I went for drinks at a place on one side of the River, then headed over to dinner at M on the Bund. Dinner was nice. I enjoyed a Bellini and a Tropical Champagne cocktail in honor of Kath. Kath, you would have complained about the Champagne cocktail, but the Bellini would have ranked highly. FG and I wrapped up with a drink at the Grand Hyatt which is one of the top things you’re supposed to do in Shanghai. It was nice, but does an extra three floors really matter when you’re 87 floors in the air and looking down on water?

Shanghai - Where is Clark Kent?

March 29, 2006

So, I’m back in China this weekend. Truth be told, I’m writing this a week later, but it’s been a busy week. Anyway, back to China. This time I’m in Shanghai. Shanghai is interesting. It looks a lot like Chicago in some ways, but then in other ways it looks like something out of a batman movie. I’m serious.

I traveled to Shanghai with one of my classmates. He’s a nice German boy, but not at all related to any Germans that might have previously appeared in this journal. We’ll call him the French German (FG).

Not much to tell on the first night other than we ended up at a German bar and listening to what might be the worst Asian cover band ever. What they lack in talent, they certainly make up for in enthusiasm. If only I had video taped their version of Love Shack! Here's a tidbit, although the quality is a bit crap.

Oh yeah, some woman basically sat in my lap. I'm not sure why, but I was very uncomfortable and I nearly had to knock her over with my knee to get her to move. Creepy.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

F-ing Ridiculous Classes!

April 6, 2006

I apologize in advance, but this is going to be another total rant on my classes. This one is on Decision Making with Computer, which in no way involves the use of a computer. In fact, that would be helpful and would assist me in my future career. Instead, I am staring at a board with something called the f-ing Simplex Method. It’s the most complex freaking process I’ve ever seen and since the professor thinks it’s simple, he’s talking to the rest of us like complete idiots. The functions don’t even relate to real-life situations, so I can’t imagine how I am supposed to use any of this in the future. I HATE it.

For those who know excel pretty well, we are learning how to run the algorithm that Excel runs in the Solver program. We are learning to do this on PAPER using the stupid Simplex method. It involves about 100 iterations of 8th grade algebra and a bunch of steps that make no sense, but you just do it. This is a complete waste of two things. First, my tuition dollars are entirely wasted on this as I don’t understand it now and I certainly won’t retain whatever I begin to understand. Second, even attempting to understand such calculations is a complete waste of time since I’m pretty damn sure that every computer in the world that can run excel is not going to shut down simultaneously. If that happens, I’ll have bigger issues to worry about that the f-ing Simplex method. If you read on the news about a silly American tossing her entire computer at a professor in Hong Kong from four rows away, then you know that I finally couldn’t take it anymore.

12 Days of Beijing - Live from Shanghai

This video was actually filmed in Shanghai, even though I say Beijing at the beginning. Too many cities and countries in a short period of time? Anyway, the video is of four of my classmates singing a song they made up about Beijing. It's absolutely hillarious and it somehow manages to combine the three dead dogs that were being prepped for humans to eat, soldiers, and the ridiculously nasty habit of people spitting on the street constantly. Even the women do it. Gross.

Anyway, the video is wonderful!

Monday, April 03, 2006

Asian countries are full of warnings

One of the most popular is to "Take Care of your Belongings" Well, duh! I don't typically buy things to trash them or leave them in strange places. Well, I now have to eat my own words. I'm sad to tell you that I not only washed my iPod shuffle, but I also dryed/ melted it. Jeez! Fortunately, I am cheap and bought the cheapest version possible. I ordered a new one, but it won't be here for a couple of days. How am I going to avoid conversations and stares on the train until then? I know it sounds anti-social, but try it... you'll be addicted too!

An update on Shanghai will follow, but not tonight....

Sunday, April 02, 2006

A few Videos - Vietnam and Thailand

If you want a good laugh, check this out. It is me dancing at the Vietnamese Dance Club. I have no clue what this guy is saying.

Thai Boxing with Meg and Kevin (Bangkok)

My hut in Phi Phi Island in Thailand. Just listen to the fear in my voice!

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Today's Song = It's a Beautiful Day

March 26th, 2006

I thought you might like to see the picture that I took from the back of Hong's motor bike.

Sometimes I am amazed at how quickly situations can turn around. One minute you feel like someone threw you on the ground and stomped on your head, and the next minute you feel like everything in the world is absolutely lovely and perfect. I really started feeling better about being in Hong Kong a little over a week ago, but going to Vietnam was a complete turning point for me – both in this trip and maybe on a larger scale. I never once felt lonely or even thought about the fact that I was traveling alone. I met so many wonderful people and allowed the day to take me wherever it desired. I guess everything happens for a reason and the reasons for my recent struggle is just now becoming clear.

The return flight was also wonderful. I sat next to an awesome American guy – who lives in Rocky Mount, NC. Can I just tell you how much I loved hearing the heart-warming southern drawl? I did. The flight was a bit delayed, so we spent about 3 hours chatting about everything from UNC (also his alma mater) to marriage to spontaneity. This guy was just nice. He wasn’t hitting on me, but genuinely enjoyed talking to me. As a matter of fact, he offered me a job writing a business plan for his furniture company. Oh, I forgot, he owns a furniture company, so we talked a lot about that since I used to deal with the furniture industry at my last job. I declined his offer as my priorities for the next few months are enjoying my last bit of freedom and well, that’s really my only priority. Money would, however, be a wonderful addition to my life as I’ve already spent my yet to be received tax refund. I did put him in touch with my entrepreneurship professor though, so that he could find another student to help him.

Not much else to report about on Sunday as I have to focus on schoolwork on Sunday – Wednesday so that I can travel on Thursday – Sunday. My classes are much more difficult this mod. I am supposed to coast along like my friends at home, but I don’t get that option. I’m not really complaining, though, because last mod was an insult to my intelligence. HS (The evil German Prof) seems to think that my life purpose is to prepare for his class and that his life purpose is to torture students like me while demeaning them at every possible opportunity. Unless he really pisses me off, he will not make this journal again. He doesn’t deserve the air time. He does remind me of my 7th and 8th grade English teacher. I couldn’t stand him either.

My leading role

March 25th, 2006

I want to preface this entire post by saying that one of my first thoughts this morning was that I’ve never been a celebrity and that it must be a cool experience. I don’t know where I come up with this stuff, but my head is full of such silly thoughts.

I arranged to tour the Mekong Delta through my hotel. I heart concierge. The tour group was small, with only three other people on the tour. Interestingly enough, one guy is Japanese, but lives in Hong Kong. The couple were South African and Chinese, but they lived in Shenzen in Mainland China, which is about 20 minutes from where I live. Small world.

Our first stop was at a coconut candy manufacturer. More accurately, four people make coconut candy in a hut by the river. The candy was delicious and the people were wonderful. We then moved on to the honey factory, where maybe 6 people work (also in a hut). They served us honey tea (excellent), which included added pollen. Glad I’m not allergic. The guide let us hold the bees, which I don’t plan to do again. Why tempt them? Next, we listened to a local band who sang, “If you’re Happy and you Know it,” in Vietnamese. We then headed back to the boat via a village canal. I think my favorite part was that they asked us to wear the traditional Vietnamese hat. So cute. I kind of wish I was allowed to row the boat, but they don’t let whitey do such things. We enjoyed a traditional Vietnamese lunch at our final stop and then headed back to Ho Chi Minh City. Oh yeah, a water buffalo lives outside of the restaurant. Hmmm.. seems and odd place to me.

Everything up to this point was super interesting and thoroughly entertaining, but I could never have imagined what was to happen next. I called my tour guide from the previous day because she invited me to go out to dinner that night. She is wonderful. She’s 30 years old, single, and the oldest of three kids. Sound like anyone you know? We immediately hit it off on our trip the day before, so I was thrilled to spend the evening with such a cool person. She picked me up on her motor bike and took me to her house to meet her family. I was prepared for this and really excited about it. What I didn’t know is that she lives with her Aunt and a bunch of other people who were absolutely thrilled to meet me. Her Aunt was so thrilled that she asked if I would like to join them for dinner rather than going out! How could I refuse a real home-cooked Vietnamese dinner? I don’t have any pictures of our dinner because I didn’t want to make this a tourist moment. These people treated me as a friend, not a visitor. They totally rolled out the red carpet by constantly serving me fresh fruit and tea. They even created a special avocado drink for me with avocado, milk, and sugar. It was wonderful. Dinner was also wonderful, but I didn’t dare to ask what I was eating. I think it was sausage, but I can’t be sure. Over the next three hours, Hong introduced me to her Aunt, her cousin, her Aunt’s boyfriend, her brother, and another girl who I didn’t catch how she fit into the family. Hong was the only person who spoke English at a conversational level, so you can imagine what we talked about when Hong left the room. Even without words, Ann (the Aunt) was clearly one of the kindest people I’ve ever met. I can’t really describe it, but she had the kindest eyes and the most cheerful smile.

After dinner, Ann and Hong wanted to take me to a dance club. I didn’t know what to expect, so I was a little apprehensive (not that I ever let them know that). As it turns out, the dance club is a huge room with rows of seats facing the dance floor. The dancers are all really talented (except for me, of course). The men walk over to the women and ask them to dance. They don’t have to know each other and its not necessarily a pick-up line. Many of the men are older. I couldn’t help but thinking of what they experienced during the war. Within seconds of the music starting, a nice gentleman approached me to dance. I really preferred to sit out for a bit, but I thought that would be rude, so I accepted his offer. I am not a good dancer. Especially not if I have to put my feet in particular places at particular times. Amber = uncoordinated (but you already know that).

Over the next three hours, I got my chance to experience celebrity status. The rules of politeness are that a guy should keep his partner on the dance floor for one dance at a time. He is welcome to ask her to dance again, but he shouldn’t monopolize his partner’s time. Every time that I sat down between songs, someone else was asking me to dance. I probably would have enjoyed this a bit more, but they all wanted to teach me the moves and not only can I not understand their English, I can only hear about 15% of what they are saying. You see my trouble.

After the formal dancing ends, the club turns into a disco. If I was a busy girl up to this point, I’m not sure what you would call me after this point. The most adorable Vietnamese men surrounded me on the dance floor. One was not adorable at all, but I’ll come back to that. When just dancing around didn’t seem interesting enough, they decided to pull me into the middle of the circle and hold a dance-off in my honor. I promise I am not lying! I couldn’t make up something this good. One by one, they walked to the middle of the circle to take their turn dancing with me. Picture me standing in the middle looking completely shocked and not knowing what to do. With the exception of a couple of touchy feely boys, most of the guys were wonderful. The primary exception from this was the guy who I will call Spaz. Spaz danced like his entire body was convulsing. Picture break dancing without laying on the ground. I swear he was on something. Ann and Hong are just taking all of this in, even when Spaz picked me up with both hands and started spinning me around. Ann finally stepped in when Spaz dragged me to the other side of the dance club to do God knows what. I’d venture that he intended to kidnap me, but I’d prefer to not think about such things. We left soon after that because the near kidnapping put a damper on my little stint as a celebrity. I do have a video that I will try to post at some point.

On the way home, Hong decided that I needed to eat since my flight was so early in the morning. She and Ann took me to a Pho stand right by my hotel before dropping me safely off at my hotel. 3:30 came very early the next morning.

Religion, War, and Friends

March 24th, 2006

So, I just had one of the best experiences of my life. I know, I say that a lot, but I’m actually just really fortunate that my life is so full of surprises. I’m not sure if you can tell from my post about Vietnam, but I was a little nervous about traveling there alone. Vietnam is, after all, famous for an incredibly destructive war in which many people died. I wasn’t sure how I would be received as an American and I decided I would pretend to be Canadian if necessary. No one picks on the Canuks (not sure how to spell that). I know, it’s not the most patriotic thing I could do, but I prioritize safety over patriotism any day of the week. I

’m thrilled to tell you that any apprehension that I held about going rapidly dissipated on my arrival in Vietnam.

First, as soon as I walked through customs, a hotel representative met me to cart me to the hotel. I stayed in a five star hotel (for safety purposes, of course). I think if I landed in Vietnam without experiencing Bangkok first, I may have f

elt a bit overwhelmed. The two places are very similar in that the people drive like maniacs and most of the drivers are really moped-ers. I think I just created that word, but I like it.

I slept in a bit late the next morning since I got in so late and because I needed to recuperate from my Tuesday night escapades. I wandered around the city a bit and rode on a cyclo, which is a bicycle driven by an older man. I felt bad for making him drive me around, so I paid a little extra and only made him go a short distance.

My attempt at our self portrait failed miserably. Next, things get really interesting. As it turns out, I can’t just take a cab. Since I am a tourist, a tour guide must accompany me when I’m in a car. Well, sign me up! For $35 USD, I enjoyed a private tour with my own driver. We checked out all of the fun stuff in the city – a market (sick of these), a pagoda (temple), Reunification Palace (where the North officially claimed Victory), the War History Museum, and a lacquer factory. All were very cool to see, but I must tell you about the War History museum. I’m going to take a diversion here to talk about the tragedy of the Vietnam war, so you may want to skip ahead if that’s not your cup of tea.

I am pretty ignorant about the Vietnam war, or most wars for that matter. I should probably find history more intriguing but quite honestly it bores me to tears. My Dad would be so ashamed. However, walking the streets of a city whose past obviously affects every aspect of its present day existence, made me quite curious. The pictures that I saw during my hour in the museum dramatically affected me. The photos were more graphic than anything I’ve ever witnessed (fortunately). The pictures depicted scenes a thousand times worse than anything that came to light in the Abu Ghraib prison torture scandal. I debated about whether to post one of the pictures. I decided to post it, but if you don't want to see it, don't look too closely.

The picture that sticks with me is an American Soldier carrying half of a Vietnamese soldier while looking at him and smiling. I’m not making a political statement here because I’ve never fought in a war and I am absolutely supportive of the people who risk their lives to keep my pansy-ass safe and free. All I will say is that I was moved by the picture and it made me realize how tragic war is – both for the person doing the killing who is reduced to celebrating another human’s death as well as for the person who died fighting for something he may or may not support. Either way, it’s sad and I pray that my brother (who is in the Army) never faces a situation like the one in the photo. Ok, that is enough of that discussion. Back to the fun.

I went to dinner at Cool Restaurant. I promise that is the name. The food was delicious, but much more expensive ($15) that the 50 cents that I paid for my Pho lunch. I then returned to my king sized bed to rest up for my trip to the Mekong Delta.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Law Question - Can I be held responsible for injury to a thief?

I'm going to give this one more shot, but if someone steals my yogurt out of the communal fridge again, its replacement will include a lot of laxatives. I cannot live without my yogurt and granola in the morning. I promise retaliation.

You probably don't care, but I thought you might like to revel in the fact that you only share a refrigerator with your family.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

More Missing Apostles

Not related to Hong Kong at all, but the Apostles in Australia are continuing to fall. There were 11 when I was there, and now there are only 8. Mindy updated me on this in Fiji.

Another random tidbit of info - you can actually play the radio through iTunes. Maybe everyone else already knew this, but I just discovered it. It's a God-send as my dorm room is now All Country, All the Time!

Good Morning, Vietnam!!!!

March 22nd

As it turns out, I’m actually quite popular with the expats in the area. Several of us went out for a while last night and I was being tossed around from one expat to another. If they were better dancers, I might have been a bit more flattered. As it was, my toes were crushed a few times and a shorter guy hit me in the head when he was trying to spin me. One guy seemed to be imitating Riverdance, but I don’t think he realized it. I felt like I was dancing with the Swedish Exchange students from last semester all over again!

I am going to Vietnam this weekend. I will be in Ho Chi Minh City this weekend. I’m not sure what I’m going to see, but I want to be able to say that I went to Vietnam, so I’m going. The rest of the exchange students are going to Cambodia, but I can’t miss my Thursday class, so I’m off on my own this weekend. Don’t worry though, I think Vietnam is pretty safe. I’m only really worried about thieves. I just don’t want them to get my passport so that I can’t get out of there! I’m a little concerned about the kids touching me too. My book says that they dare each other to touch whiteys. I can tell you already that I am not a fan of anything close to strangers coming in contact with my skin. Especially not if their goal is to steal things from me.

One last comment about Germans – I think they are the only Europeans that visit Hong Kong. The Brits may have ruled HK, but the Germans have certainly taken over. I think God is just having a good laugh at my expense.

Life is looking up!!!

March 20th

I am very happy to report that I am making fantastic improvements on my attitude about being in HK right now. First, I feel so much more comfortable with the other exchange students. Everyone is very nice and absolutely fascinating. They come from such different places, but we're all quite similar in some way. I especially get along with the Texas guys. I think our schools attract very similar students.

I’m also getting much more comfortable hanging out on my own. I'm not much fun to talk to, but I never have to get agreement on anything either. I honestly don't have much free time right now because school is so freaking busy. Don't they know I am graduating and should be coasting right now?

Things are much less strained between my FGL and me and I don’t see him as much as I thought I would. As it turns out, he is so busy with school that he spends all of his time studying and meeting with study groups. First years!!!