Sunday, October 30, 2011

A few thoughts

To everyone who actually reads this: I'm sorry for failing to update you on my whole life. Although I watched an episode of House a little while ago in which someone blogged about literally everything, and it pretty much ruined her life, so maybe I'll hold off on full disclosure. :)

Update #1: I think I got the job with the Beijing law firm! I don't know if I've even told you about the Beijing law firm, so here goes. Seth went to a medical conference a while ago, and he met a patent lawyer there and got his card. I emailed him my resume, and he basically offered me an internship in his reply and set up a meeting, which he then bombed because he had to get back to Beijing on business and couldn't stay in Nanjing to meet with me. However, we finally met this last Tuesday, and he offered me the job, whenever I want to start. I accepted, so he should get back to me with a contract this week and I'll work there from February to the end of May.

Update #2: I'm not going to take the job with President Yu's company. He's the branch president here, and his company, Fullshare Group, makes over a billion dollars a year and works in five or six different industries. I interviewed there a couple weeks ago, and then he had me and another flagship student come to a client meeting on Tuesday and then to dinner (I went to meet with the lawyer after dinner). It would be cool to work for him, but I think I'll have a better experience at the law office.

Update #3: It's still barely fall here, despite people wearing coats and sweaters everywhere. It's rained some over the last week, but it hasn't gotten colder than about 60 degrees, and I still wear shorts most days. All the Chinese people bundle up heavily, though - it makes you wonder what they do to stay warm when winter really hits.

Update #4: I saw an albino for the first time today. It was a baby on a guy's shoulder, and at first I thought it was a white guy out with his child for a walk, but then I realized the man was Chinese. I passed them, and the blond haired, white child had Chinese facial features! Crazy. I wonder what the social implications of that are for the kid growing up.

Update #5: Over the weekend, we went as a group to tour a town called Changshu, in eastern Jiangsu province. We left at 7:30 on Saturday morning (well, 8-something by the time the people who slept in arrived), and it took a little over three hours to get there by bus. Changshu is one of the places with the fastest-growing economy and largest amount of international investment in the country, and it has all kinds of heavy industry and technology research. We visited a commune neighborhood, a water treatment facility, and a sweater factory.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Office Rat

That's me the title is describing, because I've been in the Flagship office from 9 am to now (3:15 pm!), minus half an hour for lunch.  That being the case, I have accomplished two and a half hours of tutoring and a whole lot of catching up on schoolwork and emails, and I feel on top of the world, or at least on top of my mountainous to-do list.  The internet here is slower than in the States, and it cuts out all the time, which makes it take twice as long to get things done.  Speaking of internet, my neighbors changed their internet password again; it's a never-ending saga.

I enjoy living here a lot!  When I first got here, I thought I wouldn't want to live in China again after a year here, but now I think I could be very happy living and working here "for a time; yea, and perhaps until the day I die." (props for the reference!)  Okay, until the day I die is a bit of an exaggeration, but for a time, certainly.

I got a part-time job offer yesterday.  My roommate went to check out an SAT tutoring school a few days ago, and told them about me, and I went and interviewed with them yesterday.  I'll teach 10-12 hours a week, and they're going to pay me 300 kuai an hour as a base salary!  That's nearly $50 an hour, so I'll make a good $1000 every other week while I'm going to school and working minimal hours.  And I think I'll enjoy it a lot - I like teaching and helping people understand things, and part of it is editing papers, which I also like.  No downside - I think it will even help me be more responsible with the rest of my time; having too few things scheduled is generally a bad thing for me.

This has been an office rat special announcement.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Giraffes? Giraffes!

If you don't know the meaning of the above title, I am sorry.

Life since the trip has been interesting.  I'm behind on some of my schoolwork, and I think it's because I'm still in vacation mode.  Also, I'm decreasingly motivated to do well on assignments that ostensibly have nothing to do with graduation, acceptance to law school, or my future life.  I need to change my attitude, though; I'm here to improve my Chinese, and no matter how boring or unnecessary the assignments seem, they will help with that goal.

On the other hand, I'm enjoying life a lot more than I was a few weeks ago.  The weather here is beautiful, with the temperature in the high 70s every day and usually sunny with a light breeze.  We went to the Sun Yat-Sen tomb/memorial and the Ming Dynasty tombs on Saturday (every few weeks, Chen Laoshi takes us out to one of the historical sites around Nanjing).  It was fantastic!  Unlike some other historical sites, the natural setting was gorgeous - groves of plum trees on the mountainside, fields of grass (actual grass! a rare find in China), and breathtaking views from the top.  Sun Yat-Sen was the first president of China, and though he only lasted in the post for a few months before being deposed, his egalitarian ideas and foresight permanently influenced China's political ideology and development as a nation.  The Ming tombs were also cool - they're 600 years old, and remarkably well preserved.  The actual tombs are 50 meters into the hillside, but there's an enormous wall in front with a restored hall on top.  I'll definitely be going back in a couple weeks when the leaves change colors.

There are always little things that strike me as odd.  For example, over the holiday and back in Nanjing, I see flower displays on sidewalks and at memorials everywhere.  However, the flowers are always in their individual little pots instead of being planted in flowerbeds as would be usual in the States.  It's interesting to think about the thought process behind such things.  Obviously it's probably more convenient to just dispense with the pots after the flowers are past their prime, but I don't know which is more expensive, and to my eye flowerbeds would look a little nicer, although the pot arrangements have grown on me since I first saw them.

We've been spending more time with the China Horizons girls (here teaching English) - we play frisbee and volleyball with them, we had a YSA game night at the church on Saturday, and yesterday after church we had a big french toast party at their apartment.  They're all really friendly, but I don't think I'm interested in any kind of relationship right now; they're also all pretty young, maybe 19 or 20.  Although maybe I shouldn't be picky in that regard - I'm only 23, after all.  It's just that I've always kind of thought that I would marry someone who had served a mission and was about my age or even a little older.

Life without a phone for a week has also been interesting.  I'm actually kind of enjoying the irresponsibility of no one being able to contact me.  I've managed to run into people when they're going out to do things, but other than that I've been AWOL.

That's about it for now...

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Sichuan Trip, Day Seven

Day 7: Today we came back to Nanjing.  The day started early: we got up at 5, checked out, and took two cabs to the airport.  Of course, Josef got a picture of himself doing a handstand in the Sheraton lobby before we left!

At the airport, the ticket counter gave Seth a little bit of a hard time, but ultimately they let him buy a ticket with his passport copy.  The security check was another story, though.  Once again, Seth was the last in line, and they took his ID and made us wait.  At first, they said there was no way he could get on the plane, but finally, after going back and forth to different managers for half an hour, they told him to go to the police station, make a new ID, and use that to get on the plane.  The final miracle of the trip!

I slept the whole plane ride, and we took a shuttle bus back to Zhonghuamen station.  I lost my cell phone on the bus, but only realized it as I left on the subway.  Now it's gone forever, and I'm looking at iPhone 4s on Ebay.  Oh well - these things happen.  And thus ends the chronicle of our trip west!

Sichuan Trip, Day Six

Day 6: Today was a little up in the air, but it turned out well.  We didn't end up finding anywhere to go white water rafting, sadly (we tried online, asked the concierge, called the travel bureau, and apparently most of the places are closed for the season.  Boo.), but we found some things to do around Chongqing.  In the morning, we took a bus to the Three Gorges shopping district and then headed to old town Chongqing.  It was a cool little village with narrow cobblestone streets and stores selling all kinds of little products and traditional snacks.  We bought a pineapple roti, some taffy things, ice cream, and squid on sticks (well, actually I was the only one who ate the squid).  There was one guy selling dog teeth out of rotting dog heads on the side of the road, and several places had old communist propaganda posters.

From there, we went to a memorial site for the November 27, 1949 massacre of Chongqing, which none of us had heard of before.  Apparently a few days before the liberation of Chongqing, the nationalist army killed a few hundred political prisoners, who were afterwards labeled martyrs for the communist cause, and a whole memorial complex was built in their honor.  It included a huge plaza and museum, and then up the mountain a ways was the prison where they were kept.  It's so interesting viewing history from another perspective - it truly depends on who's writing it.

Following that, we head back to the city center and spent a while looking for a hotpot place, it being our last night in Chongqing.  After walking for a while and a couple metro stops, we wound up at a place back on a small side street.  Josef didn't want hotpot, but the rest of us ate there.  It was pretty good, although they didn't have the sesame paste sauce I like dipping my hotpot in.  We had a big bowl of chicken broth and a smaller one inside it with spicy broth.  Joel and Nicole opted not to eat the spicy stuff, while Seth and I ate everything.

Afterwards, we started heading back, and I played badminton on the street with a couple of people while everyone else bought treats.  Josef and Nicole went downtown to go shopping/look around, and Seth, Joel and I went back to the Sheraton.  After we left the last subway stop, we took a cable car across the Yangtze.  It was one of the highlights of the day - we could see downtown, and the whole river was lit up with gold and purple lights.  The Sheraton was even more impressive from the cable car - we hadn't realized that it was right on the waterfront before, and it's in a very tall skyscraper with a huge tv screen on one half of it.  After that, we walked back along the river to the hotel.

Sichuan Trip, Day Five

Day 5: We spent most of the day heading to the giant panda reserve park and back before making our way to Chongqing.  After stopping at a fruit stand for breakfast, we took a couple buses to the park.  I had my first experience eating sugar cane along the way; it was less sweet than I thought it would be, but definitely worth the three kuai I spent on it.  The second bus to the park was a small wooden one, crammed with people.  We forced our way on, though, and I stood in a corner, leaning against the driver's seat with room on the floor for only one foot.

The park was a good experience.  It sits on a beautiful piece of property, with a large lake and well-maintained flower beds and bamboo groves.  We went to the research station, the veterinary hospital, and the panda kitchen and learned about how the pandas are bred in captivity and what they eat.  The enclosures for the pandas were fairly large, and we watched as the handlers gave them bamboo to eat.  They sit back on their haunches and grab the branches with amazing dexterity, looking for all the world like a guy on a recliner reaching for the chips.  Apparently they eat different parts of the bamboo during different seasons; when we were there they stripped the leaves off and ate those.

Next, we went to the nursery and saw the infant pandas.  They were really cute!  After that, on our way around the park to where the red panda enclosures were, we stopped to ask a lady sweeping the path which way we should go.  She pointed us in the right direction and then told us to follow her.  We followed her through a restricted employee area and then took a dirt path through the bamboo directly to the red pandas!  People have been so nice to us on this trip.  The red pandas were smaller than I expected, more like foxes than bears.

After the park, we went to the main train station to buy tickets to Chongqing.  It was the most crowded I've seen any place, completely different from a few days before when we left for Emei.  We got in line only to find out that there were no seats on any train until the next night! At this point, we were completely fed up with our plans going awry, but we looked for another way to Chongqing.  A private bus driver offered us tickets for 120 each, but we ended up sending Joel to the bus station to ask about tickets.  Meanwhile, we got dinner, not having eaten all day long, and then headed over to catch our bus.  It didn't leave until 7:20, and we got to Chongqing after 11, taking a taxi to the Sheraton.

The Sheraton is incredible!  It really serves as an example of Chinese opulence - nearly everything is gilded, and the furniture is very ornate.  The lobby is huge, and the hotel takes up a whole skyscraper. There we two good-sized double beds in the room, so the guys took the beds and Nicole gets the floor (with our extra pillows and comforters, of course).

Sichuan Trip, Day Four

Day 4: Today was a long, long day, but it will probably have been the highlight of the trip!  It started shortly after 6 am, when the monks beating drums and ringing bells woke me up.  It was fairly cold, and we dressed quickly and headed to breakfast.  Breakfast was in a big cafeteria, and consisted of rice gruel, mantous (basically soft bland rolls), and a side dish of spicy cabbage, green beans and tofu.  Not the best, but it gave us enough calories to get going.

We hiked for several hours yesterday, but the hike proper started today, with seemingly endless staircases going on and on and on!  I think a regular hike would have been a little easier mentally than some of the staircases, because in real life you expect staircases to end after a certain interval, but these kept going.  Other than that, though, the hike was very enjoyable, with breathtaking views every once in a while.

Just before lunch, we came upon monkeys for the first time.  One came loping along the trail, then another and another, and they walked by us looking for food.  None of us had any visible, thankfully, but a giro and her boyfriend right behind us were carrying a shopping bag on a pole with some food in it, and the monkeys went for it with a vengeance!  They weren't hurt, thankfully, and it was entertaining to watch the monkeys go to town on the bag.

Shortly after we stopped for lunch, we came to the boundary between the subtropical and deciduous/evergreen forests, and the mist enveloped us.  The steps were coated with condensation, which made for slick patches on occasion.  It was really cool climbing through a cloud; it was also at this point that we saw a few maples with orange leaves, the first real evidence of fall!  Joel had gone way ahead after lunch, and Seth and I finally caught up to him when the mist broke and we saw the sky for the first time.  We rounded a corner and came upon an incredible view - looking out at a sea of clouds beneath us with a few other peaks of Emei Shan visible above the cloud cover, the sky brilliantly blue above us.

We hiked for another hour at least, and then came to a parking lot and e tourist center beyond that.  There's a road that goes up nearly to the top of Emei, and people take buses up and hike the few kilometers to the top.  So, despite the trail being sparsely populated nearly the whole way up, at this point we encountered throngs of thousands of people and stores selling stuffed monkeys and other touristy things all along the trail.  We muscled our way through the masses and to the top, which took another couple hours.

The views from the top were breathtaking.  There's a tall golden Buddha statue with several faces and a few temples on the top, but the best part was feeling literally on top of the world!  In every direction, all we saw were clouds and a few lower peaks sticking out.  After taking a lot of pictures, we went to head back down, but Joel wasn't with us, and all of our phones were dead.  We spent a fruitless 20 minutes searching for him, and finally someone told Jason that they had seen him down the trail a little ways.  I went down and found him heading back up.  At this point, it was shortly after 5; we started down in search of a restaurant, but didn't find anything but snack places.  Jason headed back up to camp on the mountain top for the night, and we kept heading down.

At the parking lot/bus station, we found that the ticket office was closed. A van driver offered to take us for ¥300, which sounded unreasonable until we realized that bus tickets would have been ¥50 each anyway.  I haggled him down to ¥275, and off we went.  This guy was a professional.  He didn't slack his pace in the mists, despite low visibility, and he passed every single car and bus we came across on the windy, two-lane mountain road, even around corners, honking as he went!

As we approached the hotel, we asked him if he knew the best way to get to Chengdu.  The regular buses had stopped running, but he asked some people near our hotel, and a woman said she would sell us tickets for a bus to Chengdu, but it was leaving immediately.  Josef and Seth ran to get our things at the Teddy Bear Hotel, and Joel and I followed the lady to the bus.  Nicole stayed in the van to pay the driver.  At the bus, we loaded our things in and bought tickets, but there was no sign of Nicole.  Joel went to find her, and we spent an anxious couple minutes waiting for them.  He came back without her, but she appeared from the other direction with the van driver.  It turns out she didn't have the correct change, so the driver drove her down the street, she saw us, and they stopped and we gave her some change to pay the driver.  Then we all piled on the bus, and now we're our way to Chengdu.  Again with the tender mercies - if we hadn't hired this driver, we definitely would not have made this bus to Chengdu, because it left just a couple minutes after we got to the hotel, and the driver knew who to ask about buses!

Now we're sitting in a hostel room in Chengdu; we got to Chengdu around 11, and we spent an hour walking around looking for a place to stay.  Finding a place to stay last minute as a foreigner in China is hard!  We ended up coming to a hostel, after which we ordered McDonalds (they deliver in China).  First Big Mac I've ever had.  It was okay, I guess.  Nicole is sleeping on the twin bed and Joel and I are sleeping on the double bed, after Seth and Josef gracefully insisted on sleeping on the floor.  Bedtime!

Sichuan Trip, Day Three

Day 3: Once in Chengdu, we got breakfast and looked for the bus station.  Chengdu was cool and a bit gloomy early in the morning, but we found our way (by another bus and more walking) to the bus station for Emei, where we also found Jason!  Jason Loose is another flagship student, who came to Chengdu on the train and is hiking Emei Shan this week as well.  The station was ridiculously crowded, but we managed to get tickets, and now we've been on the bus for about 45 minutes.  The last 24 hours have been among the longest in my life, but nothing can hold back the fab five for long, and now we're the scintillating six!

The bus lasted a couple hours, and we found ourselves in Emei, the town at the base of Emei Shan.  It was green and bright and felt like a cheerful place.  We took two buses to the base of the mountain, getting lunch in between.  Lunch was at a place on a plaza outside; it had really good noodles and fried rice.  Once at the mountain, we found the Teddy Bear Hotel, where we rented a room for an hour to shower and change.  Showering felt so good, as did taking off my shoes for the first time in over a day!  We left some stuff there and consolidated bags - Joel and Josef were sharing a bag, Seth and I were sharing, and Nicole and Jason brought their own.  And at 2 pm, we finally started up the mountain.

We came to a monastery first, but it ended up being a little off the main path. After wandering for a bit, we finally came to the main gate at 4 pm, to officially start our 52-kilometer hike.  Nicole doesn't have a student ID here, but she got through on her BYU ID with the help of the lady behind the counter.  Emei Shan is a verdant, wet mountain with streams and moss-covered stones everywhere, and there are thousands upon thousands of steps along the trail.

After a little while of hiking, we started playing 20 questions, and I got distracted and we took a wrong turn.  Not entirely my fault, but I was in the lead, and we ended up taking a road down the mountain a ways before I realized we probably weren't on the trail.  Detour #2 for the day! By this point, we pretty much gave up hope of reaching the peak before Wednesday.  However, mostly undaunted, we continued with our hike (and 20 questions - Nicole nearly stumped us with 'bullets', and I went a long time before anyone guessed that I was thinking of 'supply and demand').  It started getting dark, but we pressed on to the nearest monastery.  We had to go through a monkey area to get there, but we didn't see any, and after hiking in the dark for a couple hours, we made it to a monastery.  We ran into a group of deaf Chinese tourists there that we had first seen at dinner on the trail (there are lots of little shops and restaurants every few kilometers), and we all ended up sleeping in the same big room on mats on the floor.  One of the deaf guys came over and Josef and I had a conversation with him on a pad of paper.

Staying in the monastery was really cool.  The bathrooms were filthy - dirt/mud tracked all over the floors and squat toilets that were just a hole in the floor - but we survived.  At least I think we did.

Sichuan Trip, Day Two

Day 2: After taking the shuttle bus, we wandered for a bit before finding the central bus station.  It was so crowded!  I think it felt more crowded than Shanghai or Beijing stations usually are.  There was a sign that said "Mail the child" - we think it meant send your child somewhere on the train, but we're still not sure.  Chongqing is a really hilly city; we went down into a metro station and the exit went out onto a huge staircase down to the riverbank.  A cute puppy took a liking to Nicole and followed us halfway down.  We're now on the bus to Dazu; Josef spilled water on his pants and it looks like he wet himself! :) On a less humorous note, the lady in between Josef and Nicole just threw up, a little in her plastic bag and mostly on the floor.  Ick.

There have been multiple incidents now - our bus is the Golden Dragon, Golden Dragon flu, perhaps?

We finally made it to Dazu around 2 pm and grabbed some lunch before heading up the mountain.  It was really good - why is food in Nanjing so bland?  After that, we headed to the bus station only to discover that all the buses up to the rock carvings were done for the day.  Some tuk tuk drivers offered to take us there in seven or eight minutes for ten kuai each, but we got a second opinion from some taxi drivers, who said it was a twenty minute drive.  We ended up taking a taxi for ¥60, even though the driver was scared of the police noticing he had five passengers.  As we drove up, the police had set up a road block, so Joel and Josef ducked down and pretended not to exist.

Once there, we bought tickets and saw the rock carvings.  They were originally going to be ¥130, but we got student discount tickets for ¥60.  Score!  The carvings themselves were amazing - they dated from the 12th and 13th centuries and were remarkably well preserved.  There were hundreds of Buddhas and demons and animals carved into niches in the rock, some weighing thousands of kilograms.  We saw evidence of laying on of hands and the divine symbolism of three and twelve - pretty cool!  After we finished, Josef bought a couple swords from a vendor at the entrance.  Don't ask me what he's going to do with them.  We took a small bus down the mountain; it had 19 seats, but we ended up squeezing 42 people on!  Careening down the mountainside with so many people in a small bus was fantastic.

We got back to Dazu around 6:30.  We made our way to the bus station via taxi, except for Seth, who ran ahead, but the station was closed for the day.  Not a single night bus to take us out of Dazu.  By this point we were pretty tired, and we didn't want to spend the night there, so we looked around.  A taxi driver offered to take us to Chengdu for 1000 kuai.  Then a girl in fuzzy pink pajamas came up to us and asked us if we needed a place to stay.  We said no, we needed a ride to Chengdu, and she said she knew a place that we coud hire a private car to take us.  Josef, Nicole and I followed her, and we sent Joel back to the bus station to wait for Seth, who was nowhere to be seen and not answering his phone.

We walked a ways and the girl's friend joined us.  We followed them for another ten minutes or so through winding back streets until we came to the place, but it was closed.  She made a phone call, and soon there were several guys around offering to take us in their vans (one was a bread truck heading to Chengdu anyway).  The cheapest they would go was ¥1600, though, because they ran on natural gas, which is more expensive than gasoline.  No dice.  So we made our weary way back to the bus station.

Meanwhile, Joel had found Seth, who had gotten lost and went to the other bus station in town first, and they had looked for a place to stay the night.  Apart from a couple brothels, each of the eight or nine places they inquired at wouldn't let us stay.  One place said they had space, then ten seconds later said they were full.  We met up, and the two girls tried to help us find somewhere to stay.  We walked to a hotel, which seemed nice, but they wouldn't let five of us stay there and ultimately wouldn't give us a room because of the hassle.  At that point, Seth and Josef were set on sleeping in the park.

We went to dinner with the girls, who were determined not to leave us until we were taken care of.  They offered to call friends or realtors they knew and find us a place for the night, but we declined and planned an escape by taxi so we could be homeless uninterrupted.  At dinner, though, a crowd gathered around us, having heard of our difficulties, and one guy told us about a bus his friend ran that left for Chengdu at midnight.  Tickets were only ¥80, so we bought five and hoped it wasn't a scam.  While we waited for the bus, the girls took us to karaoke and insisted on paying for it - they were insistently nice to us.  We were probably the most interesting thing to happen to them all month, so maybe it was worth it for them, but either way it was really nice of them.

The bus was a little old and sketch, but overall not too bad.  It left at midnight and got to Chengdu at 5 in the morning, then they let us sleep until 6:30 before kicking us off.  None of us got much sleep, there not really being a comfortable position to sleep in on the bus, but at least we made it to Chengdu!  Tender mercies for sure.

Sichuan Trip, Day One

Here's a synopsis of my travels last week, divided into convenient bite-sized pieces. Enjoy!

I'm on the plane to Chongqing right now.  It left the Nanjing airport at 9:40 pm, so we met at the Gulou metro station at 7:15 pm and took the metro to Zhonghuamen Station.  The airport shuttle wasn't running anymore, so the five of us took a taxi to the airport for 120 kuai.  Not bad considering my shuttle ticket was about 25 kuai coming in from the airport before.  Josef played dumb by speaking only English and acting like he didnt understand the driver (who started flapping his arms trying to imitate a plane and Josef yelled bird, which the guy responded with a big nodding grin) and tried to get a discount, but the driver wouldn't have it and told him we could come with him or hire two cabs for at least 200 kuai.  Oh well.

The fab five: me (do I really need an introduction? Come on!)

Josef Kujanpaa: tall, blonde, half Finnish but all American, speaks Russian and Finnish (and Chinese, of course), came on the study abroad four years ago with my sister Hannah, chill guy who's down for most anything as long as it's fun.

Joel Christensen: less tall and less blonde, his family lived in Beijing for a while but are currently on assignment in Washington, DC.  Has a sharp, sarcastic sense of humor that's usually aimed at someone around him, but he's a nice guy on the inside.

Seth Vogel: Joel's cousin, taller with lightish brown hair, studying neuroscience and aiming to be a doctor.  Softer on the edges than Joel, but still with a bit of a dry wit, very good at Boggle, one of the more diligent/studious guys in Flagship.

Nicole Galbraith: the only non-flagship student on the excursion, she's from North Carolina and is here with the China Horizons program teaching English for a semester, maybe 5'5" or 5'4" and blonde, friendly and obviously adventurous to come to Sichuan with four guys she doesn't really know.

There you have it!  So we got to the airport around 8:15, checked in and got through security within 15 minutes.  Not shabby, not shabby at all.  At least until Seth, being the last one, tried to get through security.  He only had a copy of his passport with him, because his passport is still at the immigration bureau until they give him his temporary residence permit.  He checked in fine, but they didn't let him through security.  The rest of us stood there dumbfounded for a minute, had a little pity party for Seth and then walked to the gate, our parade rained out.

At the gate, Joel went to buy a Coke only to discover that it was 38 kuai.  For a can!  When it should have been 2, maybe 3.  Can you say ripoff?  He ended up getting a bottle of Sprite for 8 kuai instead, and I bought a 10 kuai juice.  I brought out Boggle, and after a few rounds we were starting to reconcile ourselves to the loss of Seth, when Seth walked up out of nowhere!  He went to another security line, and they let him through, no problem.  That's one nice thing about China: spotty/uneven enforcement of rules.  There's no way he would have gotten by in the States. They did however tell him that he might not be able to get on the flight coming back from Chongqing...

Josef sat in an aisle seat at the front when he got on the plane because it had more leg room and didn't have anyone sitting there.  He loves playing the dumb American!  It didn't work, though, because a flight attendant came up and claimed his seat, so Josef got moved to the exit row.

Our flight gets in at 1:10 am - whether we sleep in the airport or at the airport hotel is yet to be determined.

Update: we found benches to sleep on, and it was the best night of airport sleep I've ever had.  We're now on the bus to the city center, after everyone else got KFC soft serve ice cream for breakfast.  Day 1 and done!