good buddy

“Nothing makes the earth seem so spacious as to have friends at a distance; they make the latitudes and longitudes.”

 ~Henry David Thoreau

And nothing makes the world seem so cozy as to be visited by friends from afar.

I’m sure Thoreau just forgot to add that last bit.

This fall I have enjoyed the new sensation of having friends visiting me. How delicious it has been!

First, a friend from Pennsic War decided to work at the Maryland Renaissance Festival, and we have had the delightful opportunity of spending out weekends together.  How wonderful it is to discover a new kindred spirit!  Whether sharing ciders and laughs, or cheesecake and knitting projects, or weekends have been a hoot!

Then, a friend who has been working in China had work that brought him to Pittsburgh, PA.  And compared to China a five hour road trip didn’t seem too far to travel for a good friend.  So a visit to Pittsburgh was made! And I have to admit I was impressed with that ol’ city.  I expected smoke stacks and coal mounds, and even sought them out for a photo shoot with the new Rainbow Rampage collection, but it was a tough search down by the river’s edge to find the grit and grime.  Downtown Pittsburgh was clean and trendy and full of art and life.  The tourist center even has a sweet little book detailing all the outdoor art installations throughout the city.  If I only had had time to explore more of them!

I did find the time to stay an extra day and attend the Mumford and Sons concert at the First Niagara Pavilion.  Which was so awesome! They were great.  And the adventure that took us from the Lawn to the third row was awesome too!

Mumford and Sons August 29, 2013
Mumford and Sons August 29, 2013

Then Sandra, my Swiss friend with whom I have shared many a travel adventure, came to Boston with her new beau; and I just had to head north again for a visit. It was one of my first road trips with Shelly, my big white van, and I was excited to test out the comfort-ability of the bed in the back.  It was great!

On the way up I stopped off in Delaware for a few hours to visit with a friend from my Drexel days, and we caught up with each other over glasses of white wine and dainty cheese plates.  Oh Wilmington how I underestimated you!

That night I stopped to sleep at a rest stop in Connecticut.

Lets pause for a moment and talk about rest stops, and deciding which ones to stop at.  Not all rest stops are created equal. As a solo traveler it is important to trust your gut and look for clues.  I was let in on this little tip at a Denny’s when I shared a midnight meal and a counter with a group of truckers on the I-10 West of Dallas.  Straight from the lips of professionals, I took their advice to heart.  I like to remember the three S’s:

1. Shakes

2. Semi’s 

3. Shadows 

Shakes, as in restaurants like 24-hour diners and fast food chains, create traffic and energy at a rest stop.  It may seem bright and noisy, but it is much better to stop over at a place busy with people and frequented by patrol cars.

Semi’s, as in tractor trailers, are usually a good sign that a rest stop is well used and on the beaten path.  If the stop is split between car parking and trucker parking…park with the trucks.  I like to tuck Shelly in between two monstrous truckers and find myself gently lulled to sleep by the deep growling idle of a monstrous diesel engine.

Shadows aren’t necessarily your friend. But the light sources that create them are.  If you are just plum exhausted and can’t bear the thought of traveling a single mile more in search of a bright glowing island of coffee and gasoline than pull into that dodgy looking blue sign rest stop off the highway. If you must park, at least park under the light.  Though it was the consensus of my trucker angels that if you have to choose between pulling over under the light on an exit ramp and pulling into a dark and shadowy abandoned rest stop, choose the exit ramp!

In all of my cross country adventures I have to say that Pilot and Love’s are pretty great truck stops. They have 24 hour restaurants and mini-marts, gas pumps, lots of lights, lots of trucks, and lots of parking.  You can always see them from the highway well before their exit because they have monstrous electric signs with the current gas prices printed in green and red which is a great beacon of hope when groggy highway fatigued eyes are searching for answers. And in the morning when you wake up in the front seat with your legs over the steering wheel and your feet stuck in the dash the cashier won’t look at you funny when you brush your teeth in their bathroom and pour yourself a 24 oz cup of steaming hot, incredibly bland, amazingly rejeuvinating coffee before hitting the road again.  Ah the life of a modern gypsy.

But I digress. Boston.  And then Houston, with another old friend and another new adventure.  Perhaps those stories should be saved for another day.  Each deserves its very own post I think, complete with catchy title and a photo that hints at stories yet to be told.

Over and Out,
Aeri

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thanks for the tea!

This weekend was such a great weekend. I did soooo much!

Friday we went to Shanghai to visit a company, Bellinger, a trip that one of the Belgian students set up. We were only there for a few hours though and then we spent the rest of the day in Shanghai together. We went to a fake market which was quite an experience. So much stuff and people everywhere trying to get you to go into their shop. I bought a pair of Ray Ban sunglasses for 35 RMB, but I’ve already lost one of the Ray Ban labels on the side. I got a watch too because it was really cute, but let’s just say it ticks to its own drum… I’m going to turn the face into a button on a new bag I’m going to make though so it isn’t a total loss. Some people have good luck at the fakes market but not I apparently. After the market we wandered around People’s Square, went to a museum on the infrastructure developments of Shangahi, and then met up with the rest of the group (we had slowly separated throughout the day). We had an hour or so to kill before catching the train back to Hangzhou so we went up to the top of the Radisson building. It has a flying saucer looking penthouse with a bar, so we went and got a drink and watched the sun set over the city. It was a really cool experience. Then we took the train home.

Saturday was Barclay’s rugby match, which was fun to watch and drink at the sidelines. Rugby is such a tough sport! That evening we went to a cookout party with both teams and had burgers and potato salad. Ahh western food.

Sunday I went to lunch at a new Chinese friend’s house. She came to Lu’s evening language class to help teach us. She is an investment banker and a classmate of Lu’s. She invited us to go on a picnic to a park with her on Sunday, and myself Brian and Chun Li went to visit. We arrived around 11:00 and her mom fed us a huge homecooked meal. The food was delicious and there was so much! It started with fruit and nuts and tea while the meal finished. Then we had vegetable dishes, fish (like a whole fish), meat, nuts, gosh probably at least 10 different dishes. After lunch we went walking in the ecology park. It was really sad because they are building all these private houses in the park for investment so the whole thing is torn up and a construction sight. Holly, the girl, was so surprised because it was not like that at all when she was there before. She was really sad, rightly so because what was left was really pretty.

Monday was the best of all though I think. It was a special honoring the dead holiday here so we didn’t have class. Adam and I went to the hills in the south of the city to go hiking because it was such nice weather, 70 and sunny. It would have been a nice day anyway but it became an epic wonderful day because without realizing it we went to the tea fields where they grow the special Hangzhou green tea and dragon well tea that they are famous for. The plants are all in bloom and it is harvesting season. There were little asian ladies with the stereotypical straw hats all over the fields picking. And fields is a loose term, they just plant tea bushes everywhere they can, on the sides of hills, super steep, and among trees, everywhere. It is beautiful!! At the top of the mountain is the village where the tea pickers live and take the tea. They dry it right there and people serve you tea from their houses and try to get you to buy their specific strains of tea from their fields. We met the cutest little lady who calls herself Auntie and proudly showed us pictures of Chairman Mao visiting HER house for tea. She was born and raised in the village and owns tea plants on a hill. They sell 150 kilograms of tea a year!

The whole day was just so peaceful and relaxing and such total immersion. Like THIS is what you think of when you think of china, not smelly streets, dirty clothes, angry cabbies, or any of that stuff that sticks around cities. And it is only a 20 minute cab ride away! Amazing how different the two experiences are!

Definitely one of my best experiences, and it makes me so glad we went out and adventured instead of studying for the economics test we had today. I didn’t do the best I could have but I got this amazing experience in exchange. I can relearn managerial economics any day…right?

today i took the bus!

Today I took the bus all by myself. Usually, for me to take the bus I first take the route with a Chinese student so I can learn what bus number to take and what the exit point looks like. Because everything is in a jumble of Chinese characters and colorful bus routes on the sign. Essentially illegible.

But today I wanted cheese. And to get cheese you have to go to Carrefour, which is all the way down and around West Lake. It is like a 20 rmb cab ride. I had time and was feeling adventurous so I went to the bus stop and checked out the map. Essentially I stood around and decided “bus 25” looked pretty good so I got on, and figured if it started to get too far off course I’d just hop off. For 2 rmb a ride (like 30 cents) it wasn’t a major investment.

But bus 25 was the winner! It got me within a few blocks of the store!

So now I am home with cheese and bread and the satisfaction of getting myself around this city all by myself. I can’t believe that I’ve lived here for three months and I am finally able to do things without asking for help every step of the way. Well a little help. I wrote down the address (in Chinese characters!!) and asked a guard along the way (in Chinese!!) if it was near by. He understood me AND my written address and pointed me in the right direction.

I feel like I’ve leveled up in a crazy video game.

Take that China!

venice of the east

Wow! When I said I was ready to work they really listened. It has been crazy busy this month with projects and presentations. And I’ve been working a lot on my book which I think fulfilled my itch to write stuff that wasn’t business papers. Sorry for abandoning you blog. Oh and also, China thwarted my hacking attempts so I just figured out how to get back to my blog.

So what has been going on? The weather has been nice so I’ve been outside a lot. Spring in China is BEAUTIFUL! Their trees have lovely little delicate flowers that smell amazing and come in great colors. And Chela got here on the 13th. We did a weekend in Shanghai, and then she came down to Hangzhou with me. I’ve been showing her around, we went to West Lake and saw the big Pagoda at the south end. We took a photo shoot with her Moccasins, thanks to Adam’s great photographic eye. One weekend we went to Haining which is a huge leather market, so she could try to source new suppliers for her company. Sadly, it wasn’t any cheaper here so it wasn’t very fruitful but at least we know it isn’t an option. The next day we went to Suzhou which is suppose to be the “Venice of the East”. Venice don’t worry, there is no competition. They had some really pretty gardens but the city itself wasn’t that noteworthy.

Now she is visiting Beijing for the weekend so she could get to the Great Wall. I couldn’t go with her because I have a lot of work to catch up on.

There is exactly one month till I go home now. I can’t believe how quickly the time has passed. It always happens that way doesn’t it?

my life has been filled with dance

It has been a little while since my last post. I have gotten busy here! Amazing what a social life you can find in any place. So lets see what have I done…

1. Made lots of friends

We found a Reggae bar around the corner from our place and it is where all the foreigners hang out. There is a live band most nights and i’ve made friends with them too. it is fun to hang out with new people, play pool, chat, dance, whatever. I wonder why it is so easy to form connections here. Is it because there are so fewer people that we make concessions on personality and embrace all new friends? or is it because we all have similar outlooks on life and these outlooks have caused us to embark on similar journeys that lead us to the same place so it is easier to find compatible people once all the other personalities are weeded out. or maybe we have just become numb to communities in our homelands and we must try to be friendlier to strangers doing the same things we are. anyway

other fun things that have happened:

Yesterday was the best day I’ve had in a while. It was 65 degrees out so Adam and I skipped class (shhh) and went for a walk. We found a gazeebo where there was music playing and people dancing. We barely had time to register what was going on before a 70+ yr old man grabs my had and starts dancing with me. We danced for seriously 15 minutes it was so fun and he was a really good leader. Again- people being friendly to strangers for no reason other than they were in the same place at the same time.

after the dance we continued our walk, stopped at a tea house, enojyed west lake, and ended up at a restaurant for dinner. I had to run before our meal was finished though because I was meeting Elise, Lu, Jared, and Siva for an orchestra show at the concert hall. The orchestra was wonderful. They played chinese modern classical music for the first half and then some western pieces (classic and modern) in the second half. They were great but the best part was at the end for an encore. The conductor came out and played a simple well known piece and conducted the audience as well! We started clapping when he said and stopped when he gestured for us to stop. I really enjoyed the simple happiness the audience had for listening to the music. They weren’t pompous and hoity-toity about being at the orchestra like they are in the states some times.

When the show got out we missed the last bus back into town. It started raining and there were no cabs. Elise and I started doing the waltz in the rain in the middle of the road because it was warm and there were no cars. It was so fun, sining Disney songs and dancing with imaginary princes haha. Eventually Lu saved the day by asking the staff bus if we could hitch a ride back into the city center so we could get a cab home from there. They let us on!

This morning is the first day of our vacation. I am here until the 13th when I go to Shanghai for a few days. From the 16th to the 20th I’ll be visiting Amy in South Korea. It will be great to see her again. Stories soon…

blind massage!

Today Elise, Sandra and I went out for “Blind Massages” which are exactly what they sound like- a massage given by a blind person. They are supposed to be really good since it is assumed blind people have a heightened sense of touch.

The parlor didn’t do jutsice to the massage.

It was a big room with 5 beds with a masseuse at each bed. It smelled like Chinese food and there was TV playing softly in the background. But the massage was AWESOME! So I guess that out weights the aesthetics.

We also had our first round table discussion in China on Thursday. It was about the role of business in the 21st century, corporate responsibility and the like. We had a really good discussion and came up with some summary statements:

1. Money should be a means to greater ends and not a end in itself.

2. The cost formula used to evaluate costs is outdated and should be updated to include the hidden and external costs born by innocent bystanders that we can now easily evaluate. This updated cost structure will make it more aparent for businesses that behaving in responsible ways will improve their real bottom line.

3. Companies should empower their consumers and enable them to make responsible choices. ie- environmental, human rights

4. Business schools should teach classes on social entrepreneurship and corporate responsibility so that students are aware of the options.

We also debated the original motivation of businesses: monetary gain for the entrepreneur or progress and improvement for their community. This creates two perspectives for business opportunities: money or value. The actions to get to these conclusions may be the same no matter which perspective one perform from.

It was a great discussion, though I would have liked to have someone opposed to corporate responsibility come out to discuss too so that we could have had some counter arguments! Perhaps it is a good sign though that the proactive members are those in favor of societal change…

karaoke!

This weekend I did many new things.

On saturday we went on a hike through a Bamboo Forest up a hill to a temple. It was beautiful and beautiful weather this weekend. We also had a disney movie sing along on the trail.

On sunday I went for a walk by myself, found some nice trails nearby and met a nice Chinese girl at another temple. She took me to a pagoda and showed me other things and enjoyed practicing her english. We traded emails because she wants to hang out often and learn better english so she can get a better job. She’s really nice and it could be a fun way to learn about the city and make a friend.

On monday because class was cancled I went to karaoke (in the afternoon!) with some Chinese and American students. We had a blast and the place is really nice. For 30 yuan each you get unlimited karaoke in a private room and unlimited buffet food. Then I tried to take a cab from the karaoke place to the Chinese Silk Musuem to meet up with other people but none of the cabs would drive me there! I have no idea why…

Now it is home work time because I must remind myself i am here to study! haha

you have the right to speak freely and the responsibility to speak correctly

Some new things I have done so far:

New Foods-

Blue corn breakfast bread is soft and slightly sweet and delicious but my favorite breakfast food is this little ball, i guess made of rice flour, covered with sesame seeds and filled with a sweat red bean past. They are delicious!

I also like all the spicy foods.

And this cool yogurt drink that tasts kind of like vanilla yogurt but is just a plain sour milk yogurt (not soured, just sour opposed to sweet)

New Sights-

A bunch of us joined a gym close by and I have been to a Chinese spin class (very hard!) and a Chinese yoga class (not as hard, but very stretchy). I plan on going to a lot. Between the healthy foods- I hope healthy. I don’t know if all the veggies outweigh the oil they are cooked in!- and the gym access I hope to be a very healthy Erica by the time summer rolls around.

Today we are going hiking in the hills around West Lake to look at temples and a “bamboo lined pathway” that sounds beautiful. This weekend it is supposed to be sunny and in the 50’s. That is my kind of winter!

New Classes-

We got our new consulting project assignments yesterday and I am REALLY excited about my project. It is for an import/export company and we have to research what would be good to import from and export to Taiwan. That will be SUCH good experience and is really interesting too!!

Thats all the newness to report so far I think. I am sorry I haven’t posted any pictures. China won’t let me upload them. :(

OH!! Also,

Today in our Asian Business Environment class we got into a really good class discussion about capitalism, democracy, and communism (both as a government and economic system).  I was really impressed with some of the comments of my fellow students- especially two. One asked us what westerners actually mean when they speak of “democracy”. What values and characteristics of it do we actually value and imply when we say that democracy is better than socialism or communism. And more importantly- what characteristics have we noticed lacking in China that were available in America or France.  It is important for us to think about what our words mean, and to observe problems before arguing them rather than assuming they exist. This was shortly followed by another comment (also by a Chinese student) that though we have the freedom to speak what we want, we must also take responsibility for what we say and we must strive to speak the truth.

My response to this debate was to pose a question on their value of the freedom to listen. I do not like to see individuals believing the things that they believe because they have been told to do so. Propaganda, or only supplying half the truth, can be worse than supplying no information at all.  It happened to my parent’s generation during the cold war, and it is happening to the Chinese students this generation. For example, there is no reason to need an internet proxy IP address to access websites and gather information on line. I understand that all media is biased and slanted, but at least in some countries the option is there to seek out other perspectives if the individual chooses to do so. This freedom to listen of course links back to our responsibility to speak correctly and truthfully. I think that in censored nations the governments are not respecting their responsibility.

What do you think?

i found a chicken toe in my dinner

China is cold. It is cold outside and most buildings do not have central heating so it is cold inside too. We wear our coats at dinner. There is heat in the classroom but if you sit by the door it doesn’t make much difference. I’m going to start bringing a blanket to class I think.

For the internet alone I now love American efficiency. Only the hard work of our Chinese classmates and the administrators, and their efforts to try to make us comfortable keep me from being angry at the poor planning of this whole program.  That and the reminder that by the end of France we had worked out most of the kinks. Though I am stressed now I know peace comes to the patient. And if all else fails I can always go out for a $10 massage. I had my first massage last night, and at 68 RMB for an hour it is definitely going to be a weekly occurrence.

This semester is going to be much harder than the last one was. We have class morning and afternoon, in addition to our project and homework assignments. I feel we will learn a lot though and really buckle down to the work. They are just trying to show us how Chinese students study.

The food is good but it will be rough of four months straight Chinese food. They cook a lot with pig oil so everything is greasy and heavy. And veggies are much harder to find than I thought they would be. And fresh fruit. But what I have had is delicious.  Even the dish with the chicken toe. Up until that point it was lovely, but there is something about fishing around for breast meat and coming up with a claw that kills your appetite. Not to say I won’t try chicken feet- I just need the proper preparation time!

One class I am very interested in is the Family Business class. I am glad we are touching on that side of entrepreneurship as well- a reminder that entrepreneurs and small businesses are a respectable job and necessary part of society and economy. It isn’t all about the massive corporation!

hern hao!

So my journey to China and its first few days were VERY eventful. It all started at BWI at 7:00 am after passing through security in 20 minutes when I was warned it would take 4 hours. Oof, long wait already- at least they had free WiFi for the holidays…

Sitting waiting for my commuter flight to Newark, where I would catch my flight to Beijing, I met two business men who were going to the same place. So, when we found out that our commuter flight was so delayed that we would miss our flight to Beijing we worked together to solve our crisis. The airline ended up driving us to Dulles airport to catch a flight to Beijing, through Tokyo, there. We barely made it in time, after rushing through security at a run. They were already boarding the plane, but we some how still found time for a free drink in the first class lounge (its good to have friends in high places hehe).

They were really cool guys, one from Annapolis. Actually, he goes to karaoke at Ebb Tide a lot. I told him to look out for you Dad! His name is Chris Rizzo…know him? They waited for me when we disembarked from the plane in Tokyo. They tried to take me into the first class lounge there too but they weren’t allowed so I wandered the airport waiting for the next flight. I got sushi (had to!) and took a nap. Our flight was almost canceled because Beijing got a ton of snow that day. More than they’ve gotten since the 1950’s! The flight was delayed while we waited on the plane but eventually the Beijing air control tower decided to let us fly in. We arrived at midnight and I passed through customs and got my bag. I went to the taxi waiting line and it was HUGE. It took me two hours to get a cab, but there was a nice Indonesian boy infront of me that prevented me from being scammed by an unofficial cab driver that wanted to charge me 400 RMB to get to the hostel (it only cost 100). Finally I got a certified cab and he drove me through the most snowy streets I’ve ever been on (they don’t have snow plows!). At 4 am I was finally checked in and asleep in the hostel. 12 hours later than scheduled.

The hostel was nice though, and I booked a private room so it had its own bathroom (with a western toilet!). I woke up at 11:00 am and though I was still tired I decided to get up so I could get adjusted to the time. The first day I went to the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square, and the Temple of Heaven. The palace (forbidden city) was beautiful, with big courtyards and great decorated buildings. It was all covered in snow, and it was FREEZING that day. I really liked the temple of heaven because the whole thing is considered the temple- the gardens and the little temples on the grounds. The cypress trees and juniper trees are very old- some over 800 years and they are considered cultural relics now.  It was really peaceful to walk among the trees, but it was cold and the sun was setting so I left. I hailed a cab to take me back to the hostel rather than wait because I was so cold.

Then I napped and read and waited for Adam to arrive. He was delayed too, and didn’t arrive until midnight. We caught up and had a beer and then went to bed.

The next morning we went to the Great Wall. We took a tour for the equivalent of $40 that included breakfast and lunch and transportation. They Great Wall was…Great! It was all snowy and arctic and crisp and it was a clear sunny day with no clouds. We walked to the wall rather than take the cable car (a 20 minute snow hike) and spent some time on the wall and some time in a pagoda looking out over the mountains. When I get overwhelmed with the foreign-ness of China I want to remember that moment. When we got back into Beijing we got off the bus before it took us to the hostel because it was taking too long.

We went to see the Olympic Stadium and grounds and then took the subway to Wangfu shopping district, which is apparently very famous. We had a really delicious dinner at a Korean Bar-B-Q restaurant. There is a grill in the center of the table and you cook your own meat and then put it in lettuce with kimchi (spicy cabbage) and other toppings and wrap it all up and enjoy. It is one of my new favorites. I am going to make Amy take me again when I visit her in February.

That was about it in my Beijing tour. We took a flight to Hangzhou the next morning. Some Chinese students volunteered to meet us at the airport and they were there waiting with a bus for us to arrive. They took us back to our dorms and showed us around campus and taught us where to eat. I’ve been getting settled in ever since. I went for a run this morning and it was strange to be the only westerner in a city full of people. It was nice to see so many people out among the trees near campus doing yoga and ti chi and other morning stretches, even in the cold. I think I will join them…

Oh and a note on the dorms- they are wonderful! The college totally redid our floor preparing for us, they put laminate on the floor (the others have concrete), installed western toilets, and new beds with big poofy pillows and thick heavy comforters. The rest of the building is freezing and unheated, but our rooms have a decent heater. The Chinese students have been so helpful and patient. I hope we can show them equal hospitality in America.