A Tour Through Baguio 

Baguio, Phillipines is a 5-7 (or 8, 9…. traffic!!!!) hour bus ride from Manila up into the mountains. At first the trip starts out very flat as you crawl, inch by inch, through the sprawling suburbs of Manila. As the trip continues, things get more scenic and green. It isn’t until the last hour or so that the climb begins. The road winds up and up while the bus takes corners at high speeds that make anyone’s heart jump. Fortunately, all the wheels stayed on the pavement. When we got closer to Baguio it was pitch black except for a patch of lights in the distance. Once we were in Baguio, the shops and houses got more tightly packed. Charles and I stepped off the bus and felt so relieved. It was actually cool.  17C to be exact. (One of the negatives of living in Guangzhou is the unbearable heat and humidity.) For the first time in months our bodies didn’t automatically begin sweating profusely. 

The motivation to head to Baguio was to see family. We were excited to catch up with familiar faces as well as get a more local feel for the Phillipines. The hills in the city reminded us a lot of San Francisco. I don’t know how jeepneys and cars navigate around the narrow streets. 

For the three days we were there, we tried the local cuisine and visited some of the popular sights. This included the alleged “haunted house” on Prayer Mountain. This house was built in the early 20th century to house those in the Dominican order. The building was eventually abandoned and now is a historical site to explore. 

We also went to Miner’s View Park. This park has fantastic views of the green pines and mountains that give Baguio its nickname (City of Pines). Miner’s View Park is certainly a tourist spot so there were lots of vendors selling Filipino sweets, like peanut brittle, as well as souvenirs and trinkets. But the view was well worth it. 

 The best part of this portion of the trip was getting to sit, eat and talk with locals. Every night we either went to a family friend’s house to eat, or people brought food for us.  Rice? Okay. Adobo? Yes, please! We really enjoyed the friendliness of all the people. In Boracay, we thought it was because people were trying to get you to buy things. Yet, once we got to know the local people we were so grateful for their kindness.

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Take Me To The Beach! 

The first six weeks of school are done. There have been many ups and downs and a holiday was definitely in order. Living in Guangzhou there are quite a number of travel options.  Taiwan, Vietnam, Cambodia, Singapore…etc, are about 3 flying hours or less away.  Lucky for us there wasn’t that much difficulty choosing a vacation spot as we knew that some of our family was going to be in the Philippines. So we booked a flight to Manila and planned our adventure from there. The first stop was Boracay!

I have been to several tropical beaches, but Boracay was what you mentally picture a tropical beach to be. Gorgeous cliffs, towering palm trees, white sand, and turquoise waters. I couldn’t stop snapping pictures of the scenery. We choose to stay in a hotel (Microtel on Diniwid Beach) off the main strip and we couldn’t have been happier. Our hotel lobby lead right to the beach where you could enjoy the hot sun with a fruity cocktail. 

The first day we wandered around the famous White Beach. We did quite a bit of snacking and drinking along the way. The calm waves and gentle wind made for an excellent stroll. As nice as Station 1 was, Station 2 is quite the opposite. Here you have a very condensed area filled with shopping, restaurants, and bars. Everywhere you turn and sit someone is trying to sell you something. On one hand it got quite annoying turning down the 10th man selling peanuts out of a bucket yet on the other it made for excellent people watching.

On the second day, we took an excursion to Ariel’s Point. We sailed on one of the famous wooden pontoon boats out to a secluded cliff side area. There we could cliff jump, snorkel, and kayak. The cliff jumping was very fun.  Charles is more adventurous than I, so he jumped from the 15 meter diving board with little problem. I, on the other hand, was trying to cover immense panic jumping from the 5 meter board. 

While we were relaxing with some cocktails, we noticed the trees shaking. Upon closer inspection we realized we were surrounded by a gang of monkeys. They must have smelled the fried plantains that we were munching on. The plaintains were too good to share so we just ignored the evil monkey stares. Eventually, the monkeys got sick of the cold shoulder and retreated back into the trees. By 4:00 it was time to go. We packed up and headed back to the Boracay. 

On our last day in Boracay, we just vegged out. We went to Spider House for some snacks and mango fruit shakes. Spider House is positioned right on the edge of a cliff and the restaurant looks over the crystal clear water. It made for an ideal background during our lunch of Calamari and Chicken Adobo. Back at our hotel, we alternated laying in the shade of the palm trees and swimming in the ocean. It was so nice to just be still for awhile. 

All and all we had an amazing time in Boracay. I could have stayed one more day, but there were more adventures to be had. 

Our First Trip In China

 

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We finally have our Residence Permits for China! Finally, we can travel and explore. I was doing some research on trips in Guangdong (the province we live in) and I stumbled upon the Danxiashan Global Geopark. This park is also known as Redstone Park, named after the reddish appearance of the rock formations. The whole trip was about 3.5 hours from our house. We took a high speed train from Guangzhou South Railway Station.  We then rode a bus from Shaoguan to Danxia town. The bus dropped us right outside of the park and very close to hotels, restaurants, and shops. 

We took about two half days to explore the park. The scenery was gorgeous. Probably one of the reasons it was named a UNESCO World Culture Site. On Saturday, we hiked the lower portion of the park called Yangyuanshan. It was quite the workout. There were tons of stairs and sites to explore. The views made it all worth it. We also took a boat tour on the Jinjiang River. The tour was in Chinese so we didn’t understand anything that was going on, but it great to be on the water. The boat trip took us along the river and to this little island where there was beautiful view of the mountains and a tea farm.

On Sunday, we took the cableway up to the Elder Peak Tourist Area. The scenery was again quite lovely. We walked a short loop to see the Sun Viewing Pavilion, Double Happiness Platform, Conch Rock, and the Red Steps.  The Sun Viewing Pavilion gave a great panorama of the unusual rock formations in the area. Our group wanted to sleep in a little so we skipped the sunrise. But I have heard great things about it. Further along the way we discovered amazing red rock caves and temples. It was pretty stunning to see how erosion has worn down the rock to make it almost look like cloth folds or ripples in the water.

Overall, we logged about 11 miles of hiking for the weekend. We did not make it to the entire park, but we left feeling like we saw quite a lot. This park would most certainly be worth another visit, but maybe in cooler temperatures.

Arrival

 

“Please put all tray tables and seats in their upright and locked position. We are preparing for landing.”
I’m blasted by pure white light as I opened my window. Inside my body was asking how it could possibly be daytime.

My eyes adjusted. I saw that we were beginning to emerge through a thick layer of clouds. As we descended below the clouds, I saw nothing but a brown haze making the land below look like a distant blur. “Gross! Maybe I can see better from the flight view cameras,” I thought. I turned the screen in front of me to the outside camera view to see what we were flying over. It was like looking at a blurry Tetris game of concrete roofs. I now started to realize how big and sprawling my new home would be.

Six months earlier, when I accepted the teaching position in Guangzhou, China, I was told that the school is not in the middle of the city. The principal was very clear that it is about a 45 minute drive from the city center. Nonetheless, it was an offer we couldn’t refuse.

The next few months were spent trying to find out more about where we would live. The one correct thing I learned was that researching about China in English and on western sites like Google provides little to no information. All I could find was incomplete maps and YouTube videos posted by westerners. The HR department told us the name of our apartment complex yet, it was something that didn’t exist in any search engine or map that I could find.

The looming question of what our living quarters would be like was still a complete mystery as we touched down on the tarmac.

As the plane slowed and began to taxi many of the passengers stood up and started filling the aisles. The flight attendants announced, “Please stay in your seats and buckle your seat belts!” in both Chinese and English. The passengers ignored the direction and continue getting their carry on luggage. The flight attendants stopped trying to control the chaos, and looked at Whitney and me with a shrugging expression that read,”China”.

After gathering the six large bags we had checked, we passed through customs and security and found S, one of the people who would help us settle into our new home. We walked out of the airport. We are in China! I could feel sweat drip down my back and legs while we waited for our driver. Three minutes later a small sedan pulled up.  Our stuff is never going to fit in there with us. I look at Whitney who was clearly thinking the same thing. It gets worse as the driver opens the trunk and we saw that it was already half full with boxes of fruit.

Against all odds the driver managed to fit our many large bags and us into the car. We may have had some suitcases on top of us, but we fit. With luggage digging into my legs and butterflies in my chest, we began the drive to our mysterious new home.

A series of unanswerable questions swarmed in my head. How far is it to our apartment? What is it like? Is it like these buildings we are driving by? Is there anything around it? Why have we been driving for so long? Will this become a familiar area that we are going through? How will we get food and water? How will we get money?

While these questions amass in my head, I took in the surroundings of the area we would be living. We went down a big street filled with helmet-free motorbikers and lined with random open shops selling everything from auto parts to food. We cut down a small back road lined by small farms, worn down houses, and abandoned half complete buildings. Later, we turned into a highway filled with trucks and nothing but trees to the side. I saw some random high rises in the distance, and thought, I hope that’s were we get to live. I’ve always wanted to reside in the top of a high rise.

About 45 minutes into our drive to what would be our home for the next two years, we got closer to these buildings, turned towards them and went through a gate with security guards dressed in white. I crossed my fingers as we drove by modern houses and sure enough, we turned into a parking lot below the high rises.

Finally, the car parked and we got out to meet the rest of the HR department who had been helping us with the move. They introduce themselves and helped us with our many bags. I could’t help but notice the smirks on their faces as they looked at how much stuff we have brought. This was the first hint at how different life would be here.

We had so much luggage that we needed two elevators, so Whitney gots into one and I got into the other with the HR team. I’m now desperate to find out what floor we would be on. One of the HR team hit a button and the number 20 lit up. “Your apartment is on the 20th floor,” she said. I’m beyond excited as I imagine the views we would have.

Moments later, the elevator doors opened and we took a few steps to the door of our new apartment. It was a silver gate with red decorative banners and gold Chinese characters attached to the sides. The doors are opened and we saw a large, pristine tile floor, dinner table, and a large couch in front of us. The table was covered with food and water. Great! We won’t starve! Beyond the couch was a sliding glass door to a large balcony. As we walked in we look to the left to see a hallway with four doorways. Wow, three bedrooms and two bathrooms?! Looking out the windows and off the balcony, we saw the other high rises in this massive complex surrounded by green mountains and a lake in the distance. Beautiful!

I stood on the balcony for a few minutes enjoying the view and pondering what was next. For now, I was excited. My questions for today were answered, but little do I know that everyday ahead of me would be filled with questions. Some answered, and some left unknown.

-Charles

Challenges In China

We have been in China for about two months and we are quickly learning some of the challenges of living here. Let’s start with the myths we heard.

  1. “The internet is going to be so fast!” WRONG! Not only is it very slow, but access to things such as Google, Facebook, Youtube, Netflix…etc. (basically all the things we use on the internet) all need a VPN. This makes loading things so much slower. While it should take 20 minutes to watch an episode of “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” it often takes up to 45 minutes because it freezes so often.  #firstworldproblems
  2. “Your students will be so well behaved.” Wrong again! While they do have a high value on education and teachers, many families believe the teacher is the one who should instruct the children as to how to behave. How are we suppose to do that given the culture and language barriers? Often we yell “stop” at children and they look at us and keep running.

The greatest challenge of all has to be the language barrier. Yes, in the city you can find people who know the basics of English and have pictures. But as we have learned you cannot count on the basics. Here’s an example: We go into a restaurant and sit down. I ask for a menu using hand gestures. The lady points to what I thought was a decorative place mat. No pictures. Just Chinese. We made attempts to use Google Translate, but it wasn’t working. Things like “pumpkin hair soup” were popping up on the screen. The lady continued to hover over our table making comments in Chinese. I can only assume she was trying to figure out what we wanted to eat. Eventually we realized we weren’t going to eat. There was no way we would be able to order without ending up with something like “Phoenix claws” (chicken feet). This wasn’t working. So we stood up and left.  About 15 minutes later we found a Burger King. No one spoke English, but at least their were pictures.

The honeymoon phase of moving to a new place is over. Yeah there are really annoying things that have been happening, but over time we will adjust. You begins to figure out what to expect and roll with it. We will continue to learn and grow, and we are hoping our vocabulary will too.