Saturday, August 27, 2011

First impressions

It's been a few days, but I'm finally posting.  Feel free to skim if you don't want to read the epic novel this will probably turn out to be.  I'm on Jonathan's computer, because he has a VPN (virtual private network?) that lets him access the internet as if he's in the United States or about 20 other countries.  It turns out Blogger is blocked by the Chinese firewall.

So, to pick up the story where I left off.  I got off the plane and took a bus to the main train/bus station.  From there, I took a taxi to the intersection close to Chandler's apartment.  It was raining lightly, and there were five or six guys just hanging out by the crosswalk.  They found me a cab, and my belongings and I trundled off.  Once I got to the intersection, it was 10:30 or so, and I had no idea where to go.  I walked up the street and found a hotel, so I stood outside and borrowed a guy's phone to call Chandler.  He didn't answer, so the guy and his friend (who were quite definitely drunk) invited me inside to stay with them and have a few drinks.  They were really friendly and jovially insistent, but I decided it would be wiser to spend the night with Chandler.  The guy whose phone I borrowed told the bellhop to take my luggage, so I left my luggage there and went in search of Chandler's apartment.  I found him on the street looking for me, so we went back to get my luggage.  On the way back to his apartment, one wheel on my big suitcase fell off, but we managed to get to his place.

I spent the night on the bed in his other room - it doesn't have a mattress yet, so it's basically wooden slats covered with a sheet.  Needless to say, I didn't sleep very well.  However, I was grateful to escape the well-intentioned hospitality of the friendly drunks!

The next couple days are a blur.  I went to the flagship office first thing in the morning and checked in, and then I started looking at apartments.  That day I saw four or five.  The last one was decent, so I told them I would sign the next day.  That night, though, I came over to Jonathan's apartment and saw how nice it was.  It's a bit small, but higher quality than the other one I looked at, and he lives 50 yards from the flagship office, whereas mine was a fifteen minute walk away.  I spent the night at Jonathan's place, and the next morning, I called the one realtor and said I wasn't interested anymore, and Jonathan introduced me to his realtor.

She's incredible!  First off, she's really direct and energetic, which makes her seem more American than Chinese, and she's really competent.  Half the time she would spontaneously burst into a sprint - across the road, up a flight of stairs - and we would have to run to catch up.  Jonathan came with me to look at houses that day.  We saw some that I liked, but most people aren't willing to rent for just five months, which is a hassle.  That evening she took us and some other flagship students out to dinner, and then right after dinner we ran to see more apartments until 9:30 at night.  She let me borrow her daughter's bike, and we rode all over looking at places.  We didn't end up finding one, though.

Yesterday, she didn't have anything for me to look at until evening, so Josef (who had just arrived) and I went out looking for realtors.  We found a few, and the first place we saw was really good.  An old man manages the apartment, and the rent is only ¥2300 a month (about $360 for a two-bedroom apartment, not bad when I have to pay for the whole apartment - our tutors live for free and tutor us in return).  It's kind of a loft - diagonal wood ceilings and two spacious bedrooms and a nice living area.  And he was willing to rent it out for five months!  So I signed yesterday.

Now I'm going to go over and sweep and mop and dust and clean probably until late tonight.  I also have to go to the police station and check in - every time you move in China, you have to go to the police station right away and let them know where you've moved to - and buy food for tomorrow.  I've eaten out every single meal here, so it's weird to think that tomorrow's the Sabbath and I'll have to eat in.  We'll probably do a Sunday dinner calendar or something.  I'm excited to go to church here - I love branches, because they make me feel like my calling matters a lot more than when I'm in a ward of 200 BYU students.

It's hard to be detailed in such a long overview.  I like Nanjing a lot.  It's a fairly large city with a smaller feel to it.  People here are really friendly.  Nearly all the people I've met - policemen, cab drivers, realtors, students - go out of their way to be helpful and welcoming.  There are trees lining all the streets.  The weather has been cooler than usual and rainy, maybe in the 80's or so.  It's at least 90% humidity, though, so you still sweat all day long and it doesn't cool off much at night.  I'm happy to finally have a place - I spent one night on Chandler's other bed, two nights on his couch, and one night on Jonathan's couch.  Better than paying for a hotel for four nights, but it will be nice to sleep on my bed tonight.

There's so much more I could say, but I'll leave it at that for now.  I don't have internet in my apartment yet, so it may be a while before I post again.

Plane ride to China

After a few short days home in KL, I'm on a plane to Guangzhou and then to Nanjing.  I have mixed emotions, as per usual during big life transitions.  I won't see my family for a while, but at least I've been able to spend more time with them this summer than I have the last few years.  My friends are all scattering to different places, but the other Flagship students are all good guys, so it shouldn't be bad in that respect.  Mostly, I don't know what to expect.  Nothing can completely prepare you for living in another country long-term.
I rescind my earlier statement about Asian airlines being more reasonable with luggage fees.  This morning at the airport, China Southern's agent only allowed me the equivalent of one bag in weight, and I basically had to buy another ticket to Nanjing for my second bag.  My mom came in with me, and she very generously paid for it after trying to make them see sense, but it still made me sick with frustration - what can you do?  Mailing a heavy piece of luggage would have cost a lot also.  没办法。
Some mornings I wake up and look in the mirror and like the way I look; other mornings I want to be on one of those makeover shows.  I said as much to my mom yesterday, and she took me to get a haircut and mani-pedi!  It was my first time getting either a manicure or a pedicure.  It felt nice, but I don't think I need them very often.  Mostly I enjoyed the feeling of relaxing and having other people do things for me - having been at college for a while and doing everything for myself, that feeling of abandonment is a luxury.
Now I'm on the plane to Nanjing.  Like I did in Shanghai on my way here, I had to collect my luggage in Guangzhou and put it through security again.  I brought too much stuff to China; I guess I'll be leaving some of it here.  I arrive in Nanjing at 8:40 pm and I'm staying with another Flagship student, Chandler, until I find an apartment tomorrow or Thursday.  The phone that I brought from Malaysia that I know will work here is dead, and my iPhone won't be able to work here until and unless I can get it unlocked, so I'm not quite sure how I'm going to contact him.  I guess I'll try to find his apartment and borrow someone's phone to call him if I get lost.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

"I Love Our Family!"

Ten points if anyone knows what movie the title is from!

Seriously, though, I love my family. I don't think there's another family I know in which I could decide to leave for Bangkok in the morning and be here in the afternoon, without either of my parents worrying about it or thinking it strange. I got in yesterday evening, and then today was spent touring Bangkok with my cousins Eve and Annie and Eve's friend Hudson, who served his mission in Thailand.

I haven't been back since we lived here 20-odd years ago. All the memories I have are vague wisps of geese, our yard, our maids (we had Thai maids who looked after Hannah and me), and our house. And they all seem flooded with sunshine somehow. That same sunshine accompanied us today - it rains in the afternoon and evening here regularly, but days are hot and bright. We began the day with breakfast in the hotel lobby. Without a room, it would have cost around US$30, and it would be worth every dollar! It's basically a smorgasbord of everything you could ever want for breakfast with a few Asian foods thrown in for good measure. I had croissants, pate, smoked salmon, dim sum, Brie on a baguette, fresh mangos and pineapple, fresh squeezed pineapple juice, and ten other things I forget.

Our hotel - the Sheraton Grande in downtown Bangkok - is conveniently attached to a sky train station. Bangkok has both an underground and a skyway, and there's a walkway to the train stop right outside the hotel. We caught a train to central Bangkok, then transferred to another line and got off at the Chao Praya river. From there, we caught a river taxi north to the Grand Palace. Built in 1782, it's the only structure of its kind in Southeast Asia that isn't a ruin, because Thailand was never conquered by outside invaders except for Japan, who treated Thailand as a satellite state rather than enemy territory. What impressed me was how ornate and beautiful everything was. Inside the Pavilion of the Emerald Buddha (really made of jade), every square inch was covered with intricate paintings and carvings of the Buddha's life and teachings.

As in India and at the Vatican, tourists need to be dressed appropriately to enter the Grand Palace and other monuments. I was wearing jeans, but I got to wait for 25 minutes for Eve, Annie, and Hudson to wait in line so they could borrow sarongs and pants. They looked much more Thai in their new clothes, though!

From there, we walked to the reclining Buddha temple, or the Wat Poh. On the way, someone tried to tell us it was closed until later and that we should take his friend's tuk tuk to see some other sights before we came back! But we pressed on. It's nice having someone in your group who speaks Thai. The reclining Buddha was much, much larger than the Emerald Buddha - probably at least 30 meters long and 10 meters high, lying down and resting his head on one hand. I think it was made of wood, but lacquered or painted gold.

Our last sight was the Wat Arun, or temple of the dawn. It's a very steep temple, like Angkor Wat, so we climbed up and got a spectacular view of the surrounding area. Annie wouldn't climb up the last staircase, but the rest of us went up to the top. There were railings, thankfully. I don't mind heights, but the floors on this temple sloped slightly down as they went out, so you felt like you were going to fall off.

After that we got some food. I got spicy noodle soup; I don't know what possessed me to do so, as I was already sweating, and that only made it worse. Annie chose wisely - she only got a huge frozen strawberry ice syrupy concoction to eat. Then we came back here, went swimming, and now we're sitting in the room. The other three are about to leave for the bus station, where they'll be taking the night bus to Chiang Rai. I don't envy them that! My dad and I fly back to KL tomorrow afternoon, so I might see some more things tomorrow morning. So far, Bangkok is great, and slower/less crowded than I expected a city of 10 million to be.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Bangkok, Anyone?

So I've been in KL all of two days and I'm off to Bangkok for a couple days this afternoon.  That's how easy it is to get around Southeast Asia!  My dad is in Bangkok for business meetings, so I already have a hotel to stay in, and flights are pretty cheap.  I'll be back on Thursday.

I'm so sore!!!  My mom does the 4-hour-body workout three times a week, and we did it together yesterday.  She could do an Iron Man, no problem.  Then I did a hard 30 minutes on the elliptical this morning.  Between yesterday and today, I can hardly raise my arms above my head!  "It hurts so good!"

My camera is charged now, so I'll commence with picture-taking, maybe in Bangkok.  See you on the other side.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Flight to Asia, Part 3

Well, now I'm in the Shanghai airport and in a bit of a daze.  I'm too tired to sleep, and there's no space to lie down anyway, so I'll write a quick update.  The plane from LA got on the ground around 6:40, and then it took ten minutes to taxi, with my next flight scheulded to leave at 7:15.  An agent met me at the gate, along with some people going to Hong Kong, and she expedited our transfer.  We had to go through security again, which I found strange since we'd already been through security in Los Angeles, but I guess new country = new regulations.  I ran to the gate, out of breath, only to find that this flight too had been delayed.  They said 8 pm, but it's 8:25 now and no sign of the plane.  Another flight from this gate to Hiroshima was cancelled a few minutes ago, and a flight supposed to leave for Osaka at 6:15 hasn't left yet.  Hmm...I don't mind waiting another hour or two, as long as they don't cancel my flight.  Fingers crossed...

8:40 - Flight delayed further, no departure time yet.  Sigh.

My flight didn't end up leaving until after 10 pm, and I arrived in Kuala Lumpur at 3:15 am, where my wonderful mother picked me up from the airport.  Got home at 4:15 and slept until 9, then went to church.

Flight to Asia, Part 2

Been on the airplane to Shanghai for 3 hours of 14.  Ick.  It’s a China Eastern flight, so from the moment I got in line to check in, I’ve been in China.  Maximum 5% of the passengers aren’t Chinese.  The flight attendants keep trying to speak to me in English, but I respond in Chinese.  I’m sitting next to Joshua, a 29-year-old art and design professor at Zhejiang University.  He’s returning from Oregon where he was in charge of a summer semester abroad.  Right now he’s sleeping, as I should be.  But I had this thought and wanted to write it down: I love travel, especially on planes, because everyone is equal.  Yes, there are people sitting in first class, but on a given flight I could sit next to almost anyone.  For the most part, people don’t have phone service or wireless Internet or access to their bank accounts, and so they all do the same things – read, sleep, talk, and watch movies.  When we get off the plane, we’re businessmen and students and homemakers with busy lives, but while traveling we’re all just people.  If there are delays or rough weather, they happen to everyone, and we all complain to our neighbors and wonder out loud when we’re going to arrive.  I wish society could be more like a plane ride – fewer divisions, more unity, more common goals and empathy for others.

Flight to Asia, Part 1

This won’t get posted for a while, but I thought I would write something while I’m waiting.  I’m finally done with Provo!  Just in time, too.  I conducted the hymn for devotional last week, and when President Samuelson introduced Ruth and me, he said my hometown was Provo, UT!  What?!  I know my address is listed as Provo, but I thought my hometown said Kuala Lumpur or Severna Park.  Anyway, when even Cecil thinks you’re from Provo, it’s time to get out.  I’m not officially graduated, but I took my last finals Wednesday and Thursday and I only have to apply for graduation sometime while I’m in China.  I have no idea if I’ll be back to walk for graduation, but right now I don’t really care.  It’s just a ceremony, and all the important people in my life came to my senior recital anyway, which I felt was the apex of my undergraduate degree.

Right now I’m sitting in the Los Angeles International Airport; I left Provo at 6:15 am after less than 4 hours of sleep and many hours of cleaning and packing before that.  I’m grateful for the people who came to say goodbye; I’ve always been of the opinion that good friends are better than many friends, and I have been blessed with good friends.  Jonathan and Beth drove me to the airport (well, I’m actually the one who drove, since Beth was sleeping in the back and Jonathan had gotten less than an hour of sleep after cleaning and moving out all night), and my flight here was uneventful.

I have way too much stuff!  I’m going to have to leave some in Kuala Lumpur, because my big suitcase weighs 66 lbs and the smaller one 46 lbs.  I have a brick of a carry-on duffel bag and a fairly heavy backpack.  On top of that, Southwest doesn’t check through to other airlines, so I had to pick up my luggage here and then check it in on China Eastern to Shanghai and Kuala Lumpur.  It’s not easy to pack for a year – I culled things at least three separate times, and finally it all fit.  Jonathan graciously took what didn’t make the cut, including an umbrella, a shoehorn, a shoulder bag, and some Red River cereal, of all things.  I had to pay a $50 overweight fee on Southwest and $25 on China Eastern.  I’ve found that airlines overseas are much more lenient with heavy luggage – Southwest made me pay $0.086 a mile, or 31 times more for the distance than China Eastern’s $0.0028!

So I’m sitting at the gate, and my flight has been delayed.  It was supposed to leave for Shanghai at 12:30, and now it will begin boarding at 2:00.  Apparently there’s been inclement weather in Shanghai.  I was to have had a four-hour layover in Shanghai, so I’ll still catch my connecting flight, barring some other obstacle.  I get in to Kuala Lumpur at 1 in the morning, after a long two days.  More later.