Sunday, April 8, 2012

A Shamrock Shake

 There is something different about running a marathon for someone else.  Your focus is different, and instead of listening to the patting of your shoes on the pavement, or the in and out of your own breath, you're listening to the breath of another.  Suddenly the race is not so long or hard for you, and you are paying attention to how difficult it is for those beside you.
 On March 18, 2012, I ran the Shamrock Marathon in Virginia Beach.  It is a great race, and I set out for Virginia Beach with my friend Wayne on Saturday to check into our hotel and join the Team in Training festivities.  We are both Team in Training coaches, but we are also running an ultra marathon together on April 21, so we thought this would be a good way to train for it and assure ourselves that 31 miles can't be so much longer than 26.2.  We decided to run with some of the Team in Training members who had raised thousands of dollars for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, instead of going for speed.
We checked into the Red Roof Inn 12 miles outside of the Beach, because all the hotels at Virginia Beach were over 100 dollars a night, and required a two night stay.  Wayne and I were having none of that, and we both reserved rooms at the Red Roof Inn for around $50 for the night.  Now, we were expecting some pretty questionable digs.  The ratings and comments online made reference to someone being murdered in this inn, cockroaches, and general filth in the bathroom and bedroom, but when we got there, the staff was polite and conscientious, we were checked in quickly and efficiently, and our rooms were pretty decent.
   Now, there was one questionable stain in my bathtub, and I certainly didn't sit on or blacklight my comforter (some things are better left unknown and undiscovered) but my bed was comfortable and the room was warm.  Perfect for me!
  We had dinner with Team in Training that night and gorged ourselves on pasta and breadsticks.  At any point in your running career, if you find yourself eating a ton before a race that you think you won't find strenuous, stop.  You won't feel good the next day, and you won't be able to justify the calories.  I definitely didn't take my own advice, and continued eating bread sticks like I was watching a slow motion train crash.  But I'm not the worst offender.  I once watched in abject horror and hilarity as my roommate consumed an entire loaf of garlic bread the night before her very first 5k.  That's 3.1 miles.  Literally 2,000 calories for 3.1 miles.  I should have stopped her, but I just sat there open mouthed as she continued to eat slice after buttery, garlicky slice.  And she didn't even offer me any...
  ANYwho, Wayne and I headed back to our luxurious Red Roof Inn rooms at around 9pm, and I drifted off to sleep immediately.  One benefit of being a J.D./M.B.A. student is that when the opportunity arises, i can sleep anytime, anywhere, in any position.  This was one such occasion, the night before a marathon, that I was only too happy to go to sleep super early.  My bed was SUPER comfortable, and I therefore suggest to you that you consider staying at this Red Roof Inn.  The service was great and the beds were comfortable, and Virginia Beach was close enough.
  The next morning, Wayne and I met at my car at 6am to begin our dreaded parking search.  Virginia Beach has a terrible parking set up, and on a busy weekend it is next to impossible to find a place to leave your car. We found a spot about a mile away from the start line, which was not ideal, but it was ten dollars for the whole day, and I didn't want to risk looking for parking closer.  As we walked to the Holiday Inn, where our running buddies were in their hotel rooms getting ready, I wolfed down a couple energy bars and a bottle of gatorade with only a little bit of nervous energy.
  We ended up running with a group of girls who were hoping for a five hour time.  As we kept trudging along, three of them dropped off to stay with one girl who was having digestive programs.  That left Wayne, me, and Dana, a two time Leukemia survivor.  Dana is a tough broad, with a filthy sailor mouth, and it was blissfully distracting to hear her yelling the F-word near the end of the race because her legs were hurting so badly.  She pushed really hard, and Wayne and I reined ourselves in to keep up the 11 minute mile pace the whole race.  By the end, she was stopping and going a lot, running about 200 yards and then stopping short to walk again.
  What she learned the hard way, is that sometimes that late in the race, you are hurting no matter what, and it is better to just put one foot in front of the other to finish instead of stopping and going.  That can be really hard on your body.  I know it was REALLY hard on us!  At one point, around mile 23, Dana's shoelace came untied.  She looked at us helplessly and I bent down to tie it for her.  Even though I wasn't super tired, and even though I was having a good time, there is something about kneeling to the ground after 23 miles that makes it near impossible to stand back up again.  I managed though, and also managed to gulp down a half of a cup of Guiness that some frat boy at the sidelines at mile 25 handed me.  Wayne looked at me in shock and slight disappointment, while Dana moved to the side expecting the Guiness to make a reappearance, but the cold, dark beer was the most refreshing thing I could have had after miles of heat and sun and that yucky new thicker Gatorade and papery water.  It was just what I needed when Dana decided she wanted to sprint in the last .3 miles out of nowhere, and just what I needed to wander deliriously through the finish line walkway and collected all my free schwag.
  It was a great race, and I had an awesome time running with friends.  Most importantly, I hope it means that Wayne and I are ready for our Ultra marathon in t-minus 2 weeks.  Yikes!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Asian Pacific American Law Student Association in Philadelphia

A little known fact is that I am the Secretary of APALSA, the Asian Law School Club that is both national and a chapter of the University of Richmond School of Law. Why am I Secretary, much less, a member? Because I speak some Chinese. That is the only reason - that and I am fondly referred to by my more Asian counterparts in the club as an "Asian Wannabe."
Due to a lack of actual Asian participants, I found myself on a train to Philadelphia with the Vice President
of the club, Rosanne, and a member David, who are, assuredly, both Asian, and they
were both tall enough to hide me if the National APALSA Conference we were attending at University of Pennsylvania Law School decided to kick me out as an imposter.
We were lucky to have the law school fund our trip out to Philly, and we stayed in the Sheraton University City Hotel, where the conference was also being held.

The hotel, while very nice and quite similar to many other Sheratons
I've stayed in, was also pretty bland. There were not many memorable aspects about it, but we were required to stay there as participants in the conference.

Upon arriving in Philadelphia, we checked in to the hotel and headed out to Chinatown to get some grub. Philadelphia's Chinatown is the fourth largest in the U.S., and there are plenty of authentic restaurants to choose from. We ate at the Nan Zhou Hand Drawn Noodle House, which was suggested to me by my Lonely Planet USA guidebook as a great place for noodles. I ordered the spicy peanut noodles, and we gorged ourselves on enough carbohydrates to get through the afternoon.
After wandering around Chinatown for a while, where David found his very own cocktail bar and Rosanne and I got our pictures taken under the gate, we headed over to the Philadelphia Museum of Art to check out their Van Gogh Exhibit.
The museum is also home to another famous attraction - the Rocky steps. In the movie Rocky, where Rocky Balboa is training for a fight, and trains on a long flight of steps in an epic workout sequence, the steps leading up to the Philadelphia Museum of Art are featured in all their glory. I went on a few amazing runs around the city, and during
one of them I ran up and down the Rocky Steps ten times. I was feeling pretty athletic until I looked over and saw a couple going down the steps on their hands and feet in push-up stance. I felt an intense, competitive urge to copy them, but was afraid my wimpy biceps were not up for the challenge.

Anywho - at the bottom of the steps there is a statue of Rocky Balboa, a.k.a. Sylvester Stallone in sweats. David and Rosanne ran up the steps for their own glory before we went into the museum.

The museum is actually a really beautiful museum to visit, and one of the best in the country. The Van Gogh exhibit was diverse, but followed a very distinct theme, and a specific period in Van Gogh's life. A lot of the audio tape tour is pulled from letters that Van Gogh wrote to his brother over the course of his life. I was impressed with their great relationship until I found out that Van Gogh wrote his brother Theo nearly 900 letters, and Theo wrote him around 60 in response. Clearly the dude was nuts, and a little bit of a desperado too. But apart from the Van Gogh exhibit, the museum offered an excellent Renaissance section, and some really great American 19th century artwork. David was entranced by the modern work, while I preferred the older paintings. We each picked our favorite artwork by Van Gogh in the exhibit, and mine was Almond Branches in Bloom San Remy.

When we finished looking around, we discovered that the museum
holds a dance party and wine bar reception in the lobby on the weekends from 5pm, called Art After 5. Visitors can drink wine, awkwardly dance in the lobby, or do the sophisticated thing and take a tour that covers a certain period of Art or a theme the Museum is trying to cover. I thought it was a great idea, and they do a really great job of putting on the reception. When we left the Museum, we could see a very beautiful downtown Philly at night.

After our time at the Museum, we concluded that margaritas and Mexican food was in order. We headed out to find El Rey in the Center City. It was packed, but the happy hour had cheap appetizers, and we ate soft tacos and had some of their great margaritas. I wouldn't necessarily recommend the place though, as it's pretty packed all the time, and aside from going there to drink, is not a really atmospheric restaurant.

After we ate our weight in chips and dip and tacos, we headed back to the hotel where I bedded down for the night and David and Rosanne went out to explore the city night life. I had an early morning (see Rocky Run above) and we had a conference to go to in the morning, so I decided to forgo the crammed Friday Night bars and clubs.

Saturday was packed with presentations and panels on being an Asian Attorney and/or Judge. I thought it was incredibly interesting, and many of the speakers were able to present their personal experiences in ways that were applicable to many Asian law students, and in some
cases even me and the other white law student from UPenn. My favorite presentation was a panel of female Asian judges. The women discussed their experiences both as women and as Asians trying to build a legal career from the ground up. Their stories were moving and inspirational, and we couldn't have hoped for more charismatic speakers.

One of the judges presented again later about her life and her growth as an Asian woman in the military JAG corps. We had the chance to meet her and shake her hand after our dinner.

This next portion of the blog should be subtitled "We thought it would be bigger." It turns out, all the great tourist attractions in Philly can be seen in two days. On Sunday, we set out to catch as many great things as we could. First we went to see the "LOVE" sculpture downtown. For some reason, we thought it was going to be person size, but it is really quite small, and a little underwhelming. In fact, it's not even one of a kind - there is one close to Independence Hall and one on the UPenn campus. We still had our picture taken under it anyways, but I was personally a little disappointed by its lack of impressiveness. I would say that it is only something to check out if you are heading down to Independence Hall on foot, as it is on the way.

After the underwhelming "LOVE" sign, we headed out to Independence Hall, where we saw the Liberty Bell. I already knew that it was not as big as one would expect, but it was still funny to hear visitors exclaim "That's it?" in wonder and
disappointment at its small size. It is certainly worth seeing, as it is an important part of our nation's history, but seeing it in person can make a visitor think that they could have just crazy glued that crack shut and let it keep on ringing. Apparently not...

While we were there, we also walked around the grounds of Independence Hall and the park there, as it really is a pretty place, tucked behind the financial and government districts of the city. We saw some horse and buggy opportunities but decided to pass. I couldn't resist taking a picture of one horse doing his best Wells Fargo impression though.

After we finish our historic walk around Independence Hall (we didn't go inside), we headed out to the Italian Market. Vendors sell vegetables, fruits, and odds and ends in this market that is worth walking through, even if you're not in the market for Mickey Mouse umbrellas or children's socks to go with your tomatoes. We found an amazing cheese shop on the street where they sold fresh pasta and a wide variety of artisan cheeses. The shop was called Claudio's Specialty Foods, and not only do they have great service, they also have great, wonderful cheeses. They make their own fresh
mozzarella daily, and you are allowed to taste test the cheeses, as many as you like, before you buy some.

We tried a lot of cheese. A LOT OF CHEESE. It was so good, and we could not leave without buying some aged goat cheese and Swiss cheese. We picked harder cheeses that could make it home in room temperature on the train. I may have to order from them again soon.

The last stop we made was Lush, a soap and hand lotion store that is incredibly posh and based in Paris. This was Rosanne's shopping request,
and, I have to admit, the store was pretty cool. Any place with a chocolate face mask and attendants who are willing to give you a hand "facial" is good in my book. They are pretty expensive, but it was nice to buy some pretty, and fairly inexpensive soaps, to bring home.

Overall, the trip to Philly was really fun, and I had a blast in a short period of time. It is a great place to take a weekend trip, but I wouldn't suggest it as a week-long trip. While we missed some attractions that may draw other tourists, I came away feeling like I had seen everything Philly had to offer me, including an APALSA conference, cheese, soap, a little liberty bell, a little love, and a little Van Gogh.

Roanoke Rapids and Running Out of Things to Do

In January, my old roommates and I planned a reunion in Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina. Those who have ventured into this sleepy town are usually just passing through, but we committed to a whole weekend here.

Literally the only thing worth seeing from a tourist standpoint is the Canal Trail and Museum, which follows an old and defunct canal for 15 miles through the woods. It is very interesting to hear about how the Canal used to be a trade route and a source of hydroelectric power, but now very little if any water runs through the route. The locks and dams are all gone or destroyed, and the area is pretty empty. It was a beautiful place to walk though,
and we enjoyed the time out there.

Other than that, unfortunately the town is dying. There is a paper mill that keeps a small percentage of the townspeople employed, but the houses, big and small, stand empty from foreclosures, and the shops on the main road have changed into second hand furniture and clothing stores.

We tried to look for a place to go out for dinner, or even a coffee shop to hang out in, but all the interesting and unique restaurants have shuttered. I think, what the town needs is a coffee shop that specializes in cheap breakfast sandwiches and cheap coffee in the mornings for workers going to work at the paper mill. But even though the cost of renting on the main stretch, or even buying, is cheap, no one has stepped up to try to awaken the town's economy.

Unfortunately, I have to suggest that travelers avoid Roanoke Rapids until further notice, but I hope things turn around soon for the people of RoRap!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Turkey in Turks and Caicos

For Thanksgiving 2011, my family decided to buck tradition and head to Turks and Caicos for the long weekend. We all met in Miami Airport, my parents and brother looking like suave, well-dressed professional people as I approached them in the vaguely named and forgettable airport restaurant where they were waiting for me. I, on the other hand, carried my belongs and clothes rolled into tight sausage rolls, jammed one on top of the other into a backpacker's pack, and was wearing unflattering Bermuda shorts and two messy French braids carelessly tossed between me and the top of my backpack. I could see my parents and brother felt concern for my disheveled appearance as they all gave me the pursed-lip once over upon my arrival. Luckily I was not wearing my Vibram Fivefingers, otherwise my parents' consternation would be particularly pronounced.

They seemed to let it go though and we boarded our plane to Turks and Caicos. My brother and I sat together, as at 21 and 23, we can now be trusted to sit together and not try to slap each other silly. My parents sat in the other side and we four took up the bulkhead seats on the flight. I happen to be the smallest member of an unusually tall family, and when we travel together for the sake of my 6'5" brother and 6'4" father and 5'10" mother, we usually travel in the bulkhead seats or the emergency exit row seats for the extra leg room. I on the other hand, have become used to travelling in very small, some might say offensively small spaces (see Qingdao trip post), and I am often comfortable with the middle row seats as much as I am with the aisle or window.

We arrived at the airport and went through customs, and my parents and brother collected their checked baggage (I came with carry-ons for our trip). We took a minibus to the hotel, and our driver informed us that the hotels over seven floors high in Turks and Caicos were all built illegally, and that the landowners who built those tall hotels were now being pursued for crimes against the Turks and Caicos people. Because Turks and Caicos is a very low lying set of islands, building such tall hotels and resorts keeps people who live inland, mostly locals, from seeing the ocean. This is why hotel builders can not build above seven floors for hotels in the country.

Our hotel was amazing. We had a full kitchen and a balcony, and we were only a short walk away from a pool, and more importantly, the beach.
After changing into swim suits we headed out for some late afternoon sunshine before dinner. The water was turquoise blue, and the ocean seemed very calm. The nice thing about visiting this country during Thanksgiving is that it is just at the end of tourist season, and we never had trouble finding beach chairs, towels, or a place to jump in the water without worrying about surfers, boogie boarders, or my favorite, jet skiers.

We had dinner at the hotel, and my brother and i were brave and tried fried conch fritters. Conch is actually pronounced "Conk" and while you may scoff at having to pronounce those big shells that you hold up to your ear to hear the ocean as anything other than what you've been calling it, people really do mock you if you do not say it
properly in countries where these large crustaceans are found. So work on changing your habits! My first experience with conch was more fried batter than anything else, so I couldn't really say that I had had a true conch experience.

The next day I got up to run around the island, my brother and my mom worked out at the smelly gym at our hotel, and my dad went golfing, which he did three times over the course of our trip. He actually set some kind of course record, making it through 18 holes, three times in a row, in only a couple hours.
Apparently, though I didn't see it myself, the golf course at Turks and Caicos is nothing to write home about. This makes golfing here about the same as many of the other activities that can be done here - unnecessary. People come for the sun and the beach, and water sports. Things like golfing, running, eating healthy, and rock climbing are not quite as memorable. My run quickly became interesting as I ran past the island's only casino and then abruptly came to a dead end. Turks and Caicos has mostly ground shrubs for vegetation, and from those shrubs emerged a pack of feral dogs. While I love

puppies like nobody's business, these were not dogs I could pet. And since there were eight of them, I slowly backtracked and started making my way back to the hotel. Dogs in Turks and Caicos are really their own breed, called potcakes. My brother an
d I saw some of the puppies available for adoption in animal shelters near our hotel, and immediately wanted one of our very own. They are a very cute and friendly breed, and many U.S. tourists end up taking the puppies home with them after falling in love with them in the animal shelters and pet shops nearby. The dogs have overrun the island, so islanders try to adopt out as many new puppies as possible to control the dog population.

One of our most exciting adventures was a day of snorkeling. It was a family affair, and we set out on a boat to swim over the barrier reef that surrounds the country. The captains of the boat started the ball rolling by serving rum punch. Here the punch is

more rum than punch, but it is SO delicious. I had a couple cups of it before I dove into the water, but a good number of the people on our boat really started their day with a bang, slurping down four cups of it or more. They must have had a much more thrilling snorkeling experience than I did. The boat stopped over the reef, we were given goggles, fins, and an inflatable life jacket should we need it. I couldn't imagine needing it, though, because the water is very salty and mineral rich. Because of this, you find yourself unusually buoyant in the water. I found that I was perfectly comfortable about a foot deep in the water - the perfect depth for snorkeling. My brother, dad, and I naturally dove in, recklessly diving down to see what lies beneath, while my mom stayed above and took pictures. We finally got her to jump in too after extolling the fish and the beautiful colors of the reef. I was hoping I would get to see a sea turtle, my favorite animal, but no such luck for me. I loved seeing the fish though, and snorkeling was a great way to spend the afternoon.

Our next stop was in shallower waters, where we were told we needed to hunt for a conch. We were given one conch per family, and my brother and I decided to compete for the best conch. I totally won our competition, but when the captain saw my conch shell, he said it was too small and threw it back. What a bummer! But he let us choose one of the bigger ones another family had found as a replacement.

We then docked on Iguana Island, where a number of endangered iguanas live and are
protected from poachers and from being eaten. One of our captains took that time to "murder" the conchs, punching holes in the shells with a hammer and then pulling out the slimy pink and black and grey colored creature that lives inside of the shell. It kind of looks like a sinus infection, but that is just my opinion.

Each Conch has a reproductive organ, and it is considered an aphrodisiac among many different cultures. The organ, when separated from the conch, is a clear almost plastic looking tube and it looks fairly tame, but it is the thought that the clear tube came from the
inside of the sinus infection animal that turns many people off, literally and figuratively. I am always game for a challenge though, and held out my hand to try one of the conchs' reproductive organs. The captain raised his eyebrow and handed me the organ, and I ate it. Slurped it right down. It, like every thing else, tasted like chicken. I was the only female among a bunch of middle aged males to try the "aphrodisiac". I wonder why they were so interested in it....

We later explored the beach,
my brother proving to be adept at finding iguanas, and returned to the boat for some conch salad, which consisted of raw conch flesh chopped up into small strips, and mixed in with salsa. It was...interesting, but nothing to write home about. Of course I washed it down with some more of that rum punch. My parents abstained from the salad and the reproductive organs, claiming they didn't eat raw fish or they were just grossed out. They were pretty grossed out by me too, but I'm not sure I can shock them with my menu choices at this point in our relationship.

The rest of the trip was filled with golf playing, and suntanning, and I pretended to study for my law school exams in the sunshine. We actually still had Thanksgiving dinner on Thanksgiving, as the hotel provided a beautiful spread complete with turkey, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, gravy, sweet potatoes, and pumpkin pie.

The last great thing I had the chance to do was go para-sailing with my mom. She was terrified, and is generally afraid of heights, so it was nice to get to calm her down and convince her to do something daring on the trip. We got on a speed boat with a bossy captain and his first mate, and a couple other families. The water was really choppy that day, so it took a lot of arm strength to haul ourselves up on the boat from the water. My brother tagged along to take pictures and hang out in the sun.
My mom and I were strapped into the harness after my mom got a detailed pep talk from the captain about not grabbing the carabiner that keeps her attached to the para sail, and we were ready to go. We went up 600 feet, high enough to see both the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, and the sliver of islands that make up Turks and Caicos. It was so beautiful. We had a blast, and i think my mom had a better time than I did.

Unfortunately, the little boy who went after us with his dad did not have such a good time. They were only up in the air a few minutes when the boy signaled to come down. They looked pretty miserable as the captain was reeling them in, and when he gave them a thorough dunking in the ocean, I couldn't understand why. Then the boy was unharnessed first, came on to the boat, and informed us that his father had thrown up ALL over him while they were up in the air. The dad was obviously embarrassed and still very sick, but I really felt bad for the kid. I mean, really, you are up in the air, with air beneath you and above you and all around you, and you choose to turn to your child to throw up? It was not THAT windy. He definitely could have turned the other way. All I can say is that my mom, bless her soul, did not throw up on me, and that that Dad is definitely not going to live that incident down.

Monday, May 25, 2009


No I'm not talking about the dance and football game. I'm home!!!! Many of you may already have figured this out. I am also writing this blog entry on my 21st birthday, so compared to most of my friends, obviously my birthday has been pretty tame. Unless I start slurring my typing, and saying things like CCCCCCCCCHHIIIINNNNNNNNNEEEEEEESSSSSSEee...issss...funnnn. Then you know something has gone horribly wrong.

My last weekend in Beijing was a hectic one. My friend Molly had a birthday, we had a program end of semester dinner, and I had to return to the Silk Market yet again to buy some more souvenirs to take home. But I did manage to take some really cool pictures of my campus, which had by that point blossomed into a really beautiful place. I was very sad to leave it.

That night we all got dressed up and attended our last program dinner, at which several of our Chinese classes sang Chinese songs, and our program director, who is a very successful, well respected businessman in America, stood up and sang "Puff the Magic Dragon" for all of our listening pleasure. Ahh China.

Then it was a night of excitement at Pyro's, a pizza place and bar that my friends and I frequent. The bar owner, Rich, threw Molly a very pink birthday party, and we all spent our last night hanging out, dancing, and eating a ton of food. I convinced one of our program advisors, Joyce, to get up on the bar with me, which had been a semester long goal of all the students. It was a great night to end the semester on.

So now, after a twenty-four hour journey home on Northwest and through Tokyo and Minnesota, I am finally at home, eating cookies, brownies, ice cream and of course, birthday cake. It has been a great semester, and I really appreciate your interest in my trip. I've had a great time, and I hope to see all of you soon!

Sunday, May 24, 2009


Our very last stop on our two week end of semester trip was Yangshuo, which is a place I would go on vacation several more times if I had the chance. The landscape was mesmerizing and the town was quaint and seemed very familiar. There are many Europeans and Australians who vacation in Yangshuo, but Americans don't seem to know about it. Yangshuo used to be just a simple village well known in the area for its market, but because the karst mountains and peaceful rivers are some of the best in China, Chinese and foreign tourists named the area the best for hiking, rock climbing, caving, swimming, and rafting.

The morning of our first day there, we followed our tour guide through the streets and a couple back alleyways to find a shed full of bicycles for us to ride. We all got on and started riding through Yangshuo, and out into the countryside. The mountains were breathtaking, and the weather was warm. We rode towards the Yulong River, where bamboo rafts and rowers were awaiting us.

Molly and I got on a raft together and our friendly punter, the man shown above, started us down the river. The water was very peaceful and pretty clear (especially for China). I thought it looked safe enough to swim in. Because the water is generally polluted in China, and Chinese people, for the most part, cannot swim, my advisors from the program looked at me like I was crazy when I asked if it was alright if I swam. But my punter just smiled and said he'd take us to a deep part of the river where I could jump in.
Among my friends, I am usually the first to do anything crazy or potentially life threatening, so when everyone heard a splash coming from Molly and my raft, they knew I was jumping into the river. They watched me swim around for a while by myself, saw that I had not yet contracted any rashes, hemorrhagic fevers, or the bubonic plague, and then my friends Gill, Cara, Georgette, and Aaron all jumped in as well. The rest of the morning was spent soaking wet in the raft and swimming in the water, with our advisors looking on in consternation. It was probably the most peaceful thing we did on the trip.
For letting me swim, I bought the punter a beer from one of the floating bars that are located at certain points along the river. After the rafting trip was over, the tour guide our program had hired offered to take us to the Water Cave. There are various caves in Yangshuo where you can go explore, swim in underground lakes, and get really, really muddy. We decided to go!

The cave was really beautiful, and we entered on a small boat through an underground lake. The water was freezing, and we were expecting to have to traverse our way through the whole cave, so we went in in just bathing suits. All the Chinese tourists in the cave were fully clothed, and we felt pretty silly. But as we walked through the cave and finally arrived at a HUGE mudbath, we were excited again. We all got in and covered ourselves in mud, throwing it at each other and sliding down a mudslide.
After playing in the mud for a while, we jumped in a freezing cold underwater pool to clean ourselves off, and continued on our journey through the cave. This cave also had hotsprings, and we all soaked in the warm water for an hour before getting back out of the cave. Once we were out again and putting shorts over our swimsuits, we were confronted with vendors selling homemade sandals and some cows that looked like they had had a mudbath of their own!
We rode our bikes back to Yangshuo and once we returned them, we wandered around the town, looking in shops and drinking tea. It was so hot and sunny, but the atmosphere in Yangshuo is very different from the rest of China. It is so relaxed and easy going. I didn't feel as hassled as I do in bigger cities like Wuhan, Beijing, Guilin, and Hohhot
That night, I wanted to do something really interesting, and I got eleven people to come with me. I wanted to watch cormorrants fish for a fisherman, and so the twelve of us set out with a tour guide, got on a boat, and caught up to a fisherman anchored on the Li River, fishing with cormorrants. Cormorrants are birds that fishermen use to catch smaller fish. They tie a cord around the bird's neck so that the bird cannot swallow the fish, and usually loosen it and let the bird eat every seventh fish. It was really interesting to watch, and the birds were amazing. After watching them fish for a while, the fisherman in his raft and our boat pulled ashore and he got to show off his birds to us. He even let us hold them!
On our last day in Yangshuo, I went out to climb a karst mountain in the center of the city. I got about 200 metres up the trail, when two Chinese people came out and told me I couldn't go any further. When I asked them why they told me that somebody had died on the mountain that morning and there were people up on the mountain trying to take care of the body. Apparently climbers will get drunk in town and try to climb the nearby mountains with no equipment. It regularly ends badly. Totally weirded out, I walked back down and instead enjoyed the view of the Li River and the mountains until it was time to fly back to Beijing.


Our next stop was Longsheng, which is really a mountain region in the Guangxi province about 90 km north of Guilin. When we flew into Guilin from Chengdu, we had to spend one night in Guilin. We ended up staying in this snazzy looking hotel in the center of the city, but once we moved into our rooms we realized it was only an upscale hotel to sleezy businessmen and their young asian girlfriends and prostitutes. I won't go into details on the products available for complementary use and purchase in the hotel rooms - this is a PG rated blog : ), but needless to say, as soon as the boys found the hotel contraband available in the hotel bathrooms, they were running up and down the halls with them, and they stocked up on dirty joke fodder for the rest of the trip.

The next morning us girls endured the boys' dirty jokes on a three hour bus ride north through green karst mountains, on bumpy back roads and winding curves until finally our bus came to an abrupt stop. We were then instructed to sit with our luggage in our laps on a smaller bus with a crazy bus driver. Thus began a harrowing journey through steep cliffs and sharp curves for another thirty minutes. And finally, with our rolling suitcases and backpacks, we were told that we needed to hike thirty minutes through the mountains to the hotel.

I was in my glory! All I had was a backpack so I was ready to hike at a moment's notice, but many of the people in our group had heavy rolling suitcases (mostly girls who packed too much and boys who decided to purchase lifesize terracotta statues in Xi'an.) The air was humid and it is rainy season in the Guangxi province, so the stone steps through the mountains were slippery. Longji, the part of Longsheng that we were staying in, is famous for its painstakingly carved rice terraces. The terraces are carved to look just like a contour map, and the Zhuang people, famous for their colorful clothing, have spent centuries keeping the rice terraces and developing an extensive all natural irrigation system through the terraces.

The Yangtze River Adventure Team were reunited again, and Cara, Jay, Richie and I took the lead in hiking blindly up the mountains to look for our hotel. Wet and sweaty (and probably smelly), everyone survived the hike through Zhuang-built wooden houses and hotels to the very top of the mountain, where our beautiful wooden hotel was conveniently located. The view was amazing, and even though we were all soaked from the humid air and the hike, we were given boiling water (Chinese people believe that warm liquid is better for your health even in hot weather) and encouraged to explore.
We set out to explore the rest of the mountaintop and admire the rice terraces, and we spent the rest of the afternoon climbing over narrow dirt paths, crossing log bridges, and looking out over the mountains.
We got to the top, and found a hotel with a large cement patio in front and steep steps leading down to the rice terraces. Cara and I decided we would pay homage to my Grandpa and pretend like we were hanging off of the patio. We weren't very good at the trick.

As the sky got darker, we saw a farmer working on his rice patties, and I decided that I wanted to meet him. Jay, Georgette and I walked over to where he was washing his feet in a stream, and I held out my hand to shake his. I asked him in Mandarin whether I could take a picture with him, and he didn't understand because he only speaks Cantonese. Even though he didn't understand me, he took off his hat and handed it to me to try on. Jay handed the farmer his own hat, and we all got some pictures with him.
The next day, we were encouraged to wander off and explore the neighboring villages in the mountains. I headed out by myself in the morning, hoping I would get to talk to some people. I got my wish, after wandering through the rice terraces and down into a valley, I came across a Zhuang woman weaving a pink scarf outside her home. I asked if I could sit and watch her for a while, and she immediately got me a stool and started chatting with me. She and I both spoke a little Mandarin, so I was able to ask her a little bit about the scarf she was making, and she was able to exclaim over and over how she thought I should be wearing more clothes in the rainy weather. Then she offered to let me try to work her loom, and showed me how to thread the material. I did about ten rows on the scarf, and then she finished it for me. I bought it from her for about $1.50, and she gave me a little embroidered pouch as a gift. My favorite moment was when I asked her if I could take a picture of her, and she got so excited. She asked me to wait a moment while she took off her overcoat to show me her beautifully embroidered clothes.
I met one more woman when she called to me from the second floor of her house and told me to come up and sit with her for a while. By that time it had started raining pretty hard, and I was wearing shorts and a tank top. She was like a fussy mother over me by the time I reached out to shake her hand. She slapped my shoulders and told me I was soaking wet, and she ran downstairs out of sight for a while. I sat down on a stool and she came running back upstairs with tissues and started wiping my arms and legs off, dabbing my face and patting my cheeks with these tissues, as if that would make me dry again. Then she demanded to know whether or not I was hungry, and without waiting for an answer, ran back downstairs and up again with a cucumber. So I sat there, chatting with her, and munching on a whole cucumber while she showed me the waistband she was working on. She was such a funny lady, and I couldn't figure out how to tell her I wasn't cold and I had planned on getting wet, so every time she told me I needed more clothes for the rain, I just told her I was "crazy, a crazy American."

Later I met up with the rest of the group and we explored the villages, walking into shops selling scarves and clothes, and drinking soda and eating noodles on mountainside restaurants.
Later that night, the hotel we were staying in, and in which we were the only guests, set up a dance party for us in the lobby. We were goofing off outside on the porch when two Zhuang women showed up in their colorful garb. They wanted to learn how to dance! They were so happy to be there, just watching us and trying to copy whatever we did.

Our time in Longsheng was very relaxing and the rice terraces were amazing. Despite the long hike through pouring rain back down the mountain in the morning, we all had a great time and loved the beautiful views and the friendly people.