Cool Stuff To Check Out From J and B

Friday, July 16, 2010

Recipe Page!

See above the posts for our new page: Recipes. Here we will keep a running tab of our favorite foods. Try them out...we swear by them!

July 7th, 2010 Wrapping up China - Brett

July 7th, 2010 from Indonesia...

China seems a world away.

We arrived on this island about an hour ago. The little wooden (not very sea-worthy) boat grinds onto the sand and we jump out into the surf trying to keep our packs dry. We wander up the beach for about ten minutes (almost half way acrossj the island) where we find a simple cottage right on the beach. Ahhhh... we can finally relax and catch up on our reading and writing. Yes, China seems very far away. Click here to see where we are...,+Indonesia&sll=40.033372,-105.238741&sspn=0.004321,0.013711&ie=UTF8&hq=&hnear=Gili+Meno&ll=-8.437055,116.026611&spn=1.05956,3.735352&t=h&z=9
But China will leave a lasting impression. The people, the ideas, the history, and the new, emerging culture are so vast and so foreign to our western brains. They say that western businessmen arrive in China with a plan to educate and modernize and show the east how it is done. And without even realizing what is happening they are the ones who become changed. I now understand that. No matter how open I thought I was; no matter how much I proclaimed that I came to China to learn; no matter how willing I was to throw my pre-conceptions to the wind – I am walking away not only with new ideas, but I am walking away a different person. It reminds me of my first philosophy class in college. Something in your brain changes and you begin to see the world with different eyes.

Yangshuo, China

Our last post was from Guilin, China, a small city (700,000-ish) in southeast China. We had missed our contact (Mayte) by a day, so we decided to head down to Yangshuo, a small town most easily accessed by floating down the Li River on a small, bamboo raft.  As the river walls grew steeper and the gumdrop-shaped mountains rose up on both sides, we felt like we were entering another world. And indeed we were. This was the first place in China that felt like home. After a few days we felt like locals, and after a week we didn't want to leave.

Upon arrival, we signed up with the local English college to teach classes in exchange for room and board and how perfect that turned out to be. We felt like we were getting paid to do exactly what we came here to do! By day we explored the surrounding countryside full of sublime views, awesome rock climbing, and delicious food. At 5:30 every evening we would meet our students (who had been in class all day) for an hour of dinner and chatting (with lots of laughing and telling stories) and then we would do two hours of “English Corner” - essentially more chatting, laughing, and telling stories! After class was officially over we would sit around and drink (free) beers with our favorite students and the other teachers and swap stories of travels, the great crags that we climbed that day, the cheapest place to get steamed buns (four huge, soft, warm, cinamon-bun looking things filled with anything from peanut butter to meat to tangy vegetables cost $0.28, total, and easily keep me full for a day of rock climbing), or how gross our dorm room was (picture three-dimensional mold on everything).

But what we most enjoyed was getting to know our students. In typical Chinese fashion, this both was and was not a representative cross section of the up-and-coming China. Most of our students came from rural towns, left their homes to find work in the big city, and had been struggling to find their way in large factories or export companies. This is typical China. What was not typical is that every single one of our students had the guts to quit their jobs and come to Yangshuo for three to six months to study for 14 hours a day to learn English with the hopes of finding a new job and a better life. From a society that encourages conformity and safety – these folks were different.

And it gave us the opening we were looking for. This greater risk tolerance provided us the opportunity ask questions and engage on topics that were not so openly talked about. We explored more about the one child policy. We got into passionate discussions about Confucian thought versus socialism. We talked about censorship and government control. We asked openly about Tibet and Xing Jiang province. We pressed them about China's role in taking care of the environment. And, just like China, the answers covered the entire spectrum from the conservative to the downright revolutionary. And we loved every minute of it.

But we still hadn't quite settled in. Every night after the discussions, after the late night beers, and after the temperature had dropped to a refreshingly cool 90 degrees, we would head back to our dank, smelly, mouldering dorm room, duck under the stairwell for a quick cold-water rinse, and lie on top of our sleep sheets sweating the night away listening to the drunk old men make jokes and the toothless old ladies cackle outside our window until 4 or 5 in the morning. And after three days we had enough. In Guilin a young man who knew a lot about tea and seemed to have friends in any other business we were interested in (bamboo rafts, art, DVDs, and, as it turns out, guest houses in Yangshuo) gave us a business card for “Tripper's Carpe Diem”. Turns out Tripper is a Belgian who loves good conversation, runs the best guest house I've ever been in, and imports Duvel and Leffe to share with his very appreciative customers. Tripper's place is a good 25 minute walk from Yangshuo to the neighboring village of Shi Baun Qiao (population 146) and worth every star-lit step. Every night as you stroll along the gently flowing Li river with the full moon creating ghostly reflections of the mountains on the calm water, the frogs get louder and any remaining stress from the day just melts away. Tripper is always there waiting with a cold beer and a couple hours of good conversation. For four wonderful days this was home and we were very sad to leave...

As we rolled out of town we reminisced about days spent climbing in the rain (in a huge, gaping cave providing shelter from the monsoons), the antics of our fellow teachers - Sam and Adam who were climbing their way across Asia and then biking across Mongolia; Vel and Galena crooning out Russian rock songs on the little stage at 98 bar (run by an Aussie ex-pat); innocent little Catherine who wasn't really sure what to make of it all; and our oh-so-french friend Celeste. We re-watched the movies we took from the back of Tripper's borrowed motorcycle winding our way through endless backroads, Jenny at the helm as we sped through rice paddies, banked corners by vertigo-inducing overlooks, and puttered slowly through little villages waving to little girls by the side of the road. Photo 932 We looked at the recipes of egg-dumplings that we learned to cook in a tiny rural courtyard outside of town. We cringed as we recalled the hearts, livers, bladders, and stomachs of pigs, cows, chickens, and dogs layed out on tiled blocks, blood pooling on the floor where bare-foot women shopped for their daily needs. And we smiled thinking of the enjoyable nights spent on Tripper's patio talking about his fight against corruption and the meaning of life in China. Yes, Yangshuo was a special place.

July 4th, 2010 China... A Look Back - Jenny

China was not originally on our itinerary. But that great mysterious country continued to beckon. It is becoming, after all, the next world power. Or is it? As it is with countries, there are the people, and there is the leadership. China is in a crisis of identity, having lost much of it's culture with Mao, but seemingly “Western” with the great surge in economy. But if the leadership has anything to say, China will not just be another Westernized country. Same same but different.

The People
There is a fracture in the Great Wall where a blinding light is shining through. This fracture is widening with ideas of human rights, an open future, and a free economy. These are ideas straight from my English student's mouths. With a westernization of China, they felt that China could finally catch up with other countries, be open to new ideas and thoughts, and could learn from others. Their thirst for new ideas was palpable. Brett and I did powerpoint presentations on “Primal Quest Adventure Racing” and “Women in the United States”, respectively. They were glued. They asked questions (which, for them was school they are taught to be recipients of information only). After the “women” lecture at dinner, a large group of Chinese women called me over giggling with excitement to sit at their table. They eat up Western ideas. In the classroom and on the street, the Chinese stare in awe at us. As one Chinese man (who lives in California) said to us on a train ride, “I think the Chinese sometimes treat foreigners better than each other.”
Most of the Chinese we met had also chosen an English name. Was this a shedding of their Chinese identity, or just easier for Westerners to remember? Maybe a little of both. But they could choose whoever they wanted to be. We met Clark, Grace, Apple, Sky, Alan, Candy, Tiger, Delilah, Livia, Shirley. Sky made a lasting impression. He chose his name because he felt the sky had no limits. He was part Han Chinese and part Mongolian. He spoke excellent English. He grew up poor and his father died early. He worked and put himself through university since the family could not afford it. What was most noteable was his conviction. He was contemplative and soft-spoken, but not shy. He often shared his progressive thoughts which challenged the other students, whether it was about gender roles, self-sufficiency, or economy.

Then there was “Chan”,we will call him. We met Chan at a rooftop party in Guilin. He was a thirty-something professional, intelligent, inquisitive, and drunk. We talked about Ghandi and Mother Theresa, whose courage he said “made him cry” when he first read about them. Chan opened up to us in a way we did not expect. What he expressed, through tears, was what we had suspected but hadn't yet witnessed. He said he cried when he heard about Tienan'man Square. He said he is a member of the communist party but only out of fear. He said he feels that he cannot leave China because he doesn't make much money. He doesn't talk to his wife and children about this because he must protect and care for them. And I think he felt trapped between wanting to stand up and fight for freedoms and human rights, and the fear of losing his job, being put in prison, or just “disappearing”.

And there was Ruthie in Yangshuo. She is a thirty-something woman who fell in love with rock-climbing. She opened a climbing business with sponsorship, guides, and equipment against the wishes of her family and of societal expectations of women. Where most young women we met were giggly and demure, Ruthie was strong, assertive and confident.

But the people also know that there are negative consequences of Westernization. When I asked my Zhouyue English class, they were quick to acknowledge the pollution, higher divorce rate, children doing more drugs, loss of tradition, greed, and an increasing affinity for Western holidays over Chinese holidays (they increasingly are celebrating Christmas, Halloween and Valentine's Day!)

The Leadership
So where are Hu Jintao (the President) and Wen Jibao (the “people's” Prime Minister) currently leading the country? And, what is communist about an open economy? Since Deng Xiao Ping opened the economy in the reform era starting in 1978, the country as been an autocracy with capitalism. And wants to remain this way. The leadership is testing thousands of experimental ideas all over the country to help create the new China. In essence, what China has done is set an example that capitalism does not neccesarily have to exist in a democratic society. Other countries are taking note, and beginning to emulate. China's goal is to become a great influence in the world, using it's own tactics. To name a few:

SOFT POWER: Gaining influence through media and especially news programs, education, pop culture, and cultural promotion. In essence, an information blitz.

YELLOW RIVER CAPITALISM: A marriage between competition and cooperation. It is the Chinese alternative market which can be used to finance social welfare under a dictatorship. The government intervenes to improve economic dynamism while providing health and education.

WALLED WORLD: Internationally, China is investing like mad in other countries unconditionally, meaning with no regard to human rights issues. This includes Zambia, Maritius, Tanzania, Burma, North Korea, and even Darfur. They are also providing training in counter-insurgency, access to bugging and surveillance equipment, and financial support to these countries.

CENSORSHIP: What China frowns upon the most is grassroots organizing, free speech, and talk of personal freedoms. We have felt it minimally with the limited use of certain internet sites. But on a larger scale, if there was free speech, elections, personal freedoms, what would happen with Falun Gong, Dali Lama and Tibet, the Uigurs in Xinjiang province, and the Korean provinces? Would they all rise up, demand independence, and break from the republic?

On the other hand, it does appear that leadership is trying to improve China. They are beginning to clean up healthcare with a goal of 100% health care coverage for China's 1.2 billion people by 2020...maybe with a dictatorship instead of a two party system of in-fighting this can be accomplished!

The Chinese “green” projects and production of green technology exceeds that of the U.S. More Chinese are learning English, and going into foreign trade occupations. The economy is booming.

Only time will tell. But after meeting so many kind, gentle, amazing Chinese with bright futures and potential, I wish, for the sake of Sky, Chan and his family, Ruby, Clark, Tiger, Bai Jing, Tom the cardiologist, Wang Yan, Ruthie, and everyone else that we met, that China succeeds. And succeeds as a friend and partner of the U.S., and not as a force with which to be reckoned.

July 12th, 2010 Health Care in China - Jenny

Health Care in China

When you see a procession of dead pigs floating down the river, don't eat the pork! While we were in Yangshuo, cholera broke out in the pig population.
  • Infant mortality 25/1000 live births (U.S. is 6/1000)
  • Health care as a percentage of GDP: 5.5%
  • 2.4 hospital beds per 1000 persons
  • 2005 brought about the 5-year “New Rural Cooperative Medical Care System” to give access to the large rural population. 80% of local care is covered, 60% of county care, and 30% of modern large-institution care is covered.
  • Hu Jintao's “blueprint for healthcare” asserts that Universal Health Care will exist in China by 2020.
  • China is beginning to move away from using organs from executed prisoners for transplantation. Currently, 65% of donations are from prisoners. 92% of donors in general are from DCD, 6.5% from living donors, and a mere 0.8% from brain-dead donors.
  • Hepatitis B is endemic, in approximately 10% of the population
  • Other diseases are TB, and an increase in HIV, tobacco-related, and dietary-related diseases. Tobacco is a government monopoly. The average Chinese person now consumes 2,900 kcal a day.
  • China executes more people than in any other country. Some protesters are placed in psychiatric inpatient units, drugged and treated despite lack of diagnosis of mental illness.
  • Huge increases in pneumoconiosis and silicosis (from coal and mineral/metal dust), lead poisoning of children, and milk tainted with melamine are examples of poor regulation of industry and the human toll.
True story: Rural China is NOT where you want to be if you end up with a febrile illness. We met a Kiwi named Dee at Tripper's in Yangshuo who was traveling alone. She had come down with a high fever and abdominal cramping. She went to the local “hospital” where they immediately put her on a 24-hour drip of antibiotics. Once her insurance approved the care, the hospital wanted to keep her for 1-2 more weeks. She said the place was filthy, including but not limited to the mold on her pillow case. She finally got transport to another hospital in Guilin, but with no diagnosis and a respiratory infection to boot, most likely nosocomial. Dee did start feeling better and headed back to New Zealand to recover fully. Quite a scary experience.

July 12th, 2010 Last Impressions: China - Jenny

Favorite moments between Guilin and Yangshuo China:

1. Jenny driving a little 125cc motorcycle up undulating gravel hills around Yangshuo with Brett on the back, bent knees sticking way out to the sides, learning to use the BACK brake when cows pass. Girls don't drive motorcycles around here...they drive scooters.

2. Hiking the “Dragon Backbone” rice fields for two days from Ping'an to Dazhi with our new friend, Mayte, a confident Mexican gal who walks IN the busy streets, is not afraid to drink the water, and who spent an entire weekend caring for us, cooking us breakfast, planning our rice field adventure, and getting us safely back to the train station. We were lucky on our hike. The weather was cool, the paddies were still young water-filled reflections, the sky was filled with multicolored dragonflies, and we ended it with a local cuisine of homemade rice liquor, rice-stuffed bamboo and sauteed water spinach.
3.Meeting Tripper and Jenny. Their hospitality and especially their genuine interest in us made us love Yangshuo that much more. Brett and Tripper both share a love of fine beer, a tall lean build, and hand and shoe size (yes, they compared!) Best wishes on the business and with baby #2. Hope to see you again in the future.

4. The students of Zhouyue English School. The opportunity to exchange ideas and feelings; to break down barriers. And winning my award for the best “evaluator” by the students!

The Five Senses:

Sights: Beautiful, verdant, but much trash everywhere. Only two other Americans spotted during our first three weeks.
Sounds: “Hello! American!”, horns honking incessantly, excavating and hammering, cell phones
Smells: Used the addage “breath through your mouth” a lot
Tastes: Salty
Touch: Eyes were itching constantly from the pollution, the entire month

Sunday, July 11, 2010

"Pimp My IP" only goes so far.

We are back! A few more posts wrapping up China to follow. What a heady experience. We are loving the blog comments, and reading them all. Keep 'em coming! You will be getting a lot more updates from us as well, and pix too!

Love from Gili Trawangan (near Bali).