Friday, April 29, 2011

The group

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Almost there...

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Rock climbing

Meredith and I went rock climbing today at one of the nearby karsts. It was raining but the rocks above stuck out so we were covered, thus the rain was not a problem. The weather actually made the scenery even more spectacular when you looked out from the top of the route. We had a guide, Hua, and one other climber with us, Martin, both spoke English conversationally which made the afternoon even more fun. After climbing we went back to the shop where Hua made us some local tea. The tea was pleasant but I was skeptical when I first saw it. It wasn't just tea leaves but also tea sticks and branches that were flavoring the water. If I have the chance I will have it again for sure.

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Thursday, April 28, 2011

We decided to change things up a bit...

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Hi from Yangshuo

Hi all,

Meredith and I left Duyun on Tuesday, where we were visiting Tim and Debbie Vinzani. We took a bus to the capital of the province then caught a sleeper bus 10 hours to the city of Guilin. We arrived at 6 am and made the 6:30 bus to the vacation/backpacker city/climbing capital of Yangshuo. The landscape is characterized by the omnipresent karsts (rock mountains/hills). We spent wednesday cycling along the Li river and today cycling and swimming in the Yulong river. It had been nothing but pleasant-the weather is warm, the scenery is jaw-dropping and the people are friendly. We will definitely do some rock climbing before we leave because Yangshuo is home to some of the best climbing in Asia (so we have heard). We'll post more pictures when we have a chance but here are a few for now.

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Saturday, April 23, 2011

Happy Easter

Happy Easter to everyone,

Meredith and I just got back from Easter Mass and are about to head over to a gathering with some of the other expat teachers and families here in the city (including childrent, there are 22 foreigners here).  Sometimes its hard to believe we are in China when we are surrounded by so many other expats; it catches you off guard when you walk home from a movie night with popcorn and brownies and see all the Uigher (a Chinese ethnic minority) street food stalls and the chaos that is characteristic of even minor Chinese cities.  
There were about 40 people at the service and it was interesting to see that of those 40 there were only 7 males (including myself).  Although the language barrier can be a problem the parish is warm and welcoming each time we return.  We even received Easter, or as they call it Resurrection Day, eggs at church last night.  Here is a pic of the church (built in the 18th or 19th centuries I believe) and another of Meredith with her Easter egg.

-Nathan and Meredith 

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Photos from the weekend

Huangguoshu and Guiyang

This weekend Meredith and I set out on our own to see Huangguoshu, a park or area that has amazing waterfalls, gorges and beautiful rock formations.  Its main attraction is the huge waterfall that is something like 70m across and 80m high. 

Day 1: To get to the waterfall we had to take a bus first to the city of Anshun, about 3 hours from Duyun.  Debbie helped us with the bus tickets in Duyun so that part of the journey was pretty easy.  We got into Anshun at about 3 pm and decided not to continue on another hour to Huangguoshu because we wanted to have more time to see the place.  We found a guest house not far from the bus station.  This is the first time that I have had to use my very limited Chinese language skills.  After this weekend I understand that limited doesn't begin to describe how inept I am.   We argued at the front desk of the hostel because I felt I was being overcharged $14, a considerable amount when the room is less than $20.  When I say arguing by that I mean I kept repeating "1 night, 120 kuai" in Chinese after which the staff would say something.  After about 5 min we figured out that the extra some was a key deposit.  Problem solved, now on to finding dinner.  We headed towards the river because there was good street food around there and after having some (sub-par) milk tea we decided that we would stop at one of the many noodle shops to have a bowl (typically about$1).  We walk in to one that is full but not crowded (a good sign we thought) and (because I don't know how to say any food in Chinese) we pointed to the bowl of what everyone else was having.  Now when our bowl of noodles came out we noticed the bowl was garnished with certain herbs and greens—most noticeably mint.  We had only heard of mint being served with one type of meat---dog.  When I looked more closely at the chalk board menu I realized that I did indeed know 1 or 2 of the characters.  At first I thought our bill would jump to $25 but then realized that that amount was by the pound, however, my first suspicion of the mint was confirmed.  We were eating dog.  This was most definitely a first for us, but I wouldn't say a last.  It was a very tasty meal, especially considering that it was still only about $2 for the two of us. 

Day 2:

It was an early morning so that we could get to the falls before the crowds of Chinese tourists show up.  The falls and rock formations are pretty spectacular and Meredith and I first chuckled when there were signs proclaiming that it is the only great waterfall that you can see from 6 different points.  We thought that if you've seen it from one angle then you've seen it from every angle but that is not the case.  We really enjoyed being right next to the falls and especially enjoyed going "behind the curtain" in the cave that runs through the rock behind it.  We were  thankful for the rain jackets we bought for the trek because we were able to keep our bags dry when we went behind the falls no matter how goofy we looked with the hood on and the sleeves tied around our wastes.   After the falls we wanted to go to another area of the park, a few minutes walk from the falls.  We start down the road and are frequently passed by buses and taxis, all accompanied by unabashed stares but that's normal for here—we are always quiet the spectacle wherever we are.  Now a taxi (the first empty one we have seen) pulls over next to us and offers a ride.  He said for about $15 he would take us to all of the different areas then back to the bus station.  (I gather this info mainly through finger pointing and maps, not too much from my Chinese skills).  We didn't have time to do the entire park so we told him but he wouldn't drop the price.  I finally told him (in broken Chinese) we don't have a lot of money and we can just walk.  At this he chuckles and drops his price by half and we're off.  Now the only thing of our taxi small talk that I understand is "this walk is really really far", 8km later I realize he must think we are crazy.  This couple (everyone always assumes Meredith and I are dating…) tells him that they have no time but would spend and hour or more walking to the park instead of a $7 cab ride; we didn't realize it was so far.  He waits for us at the park and takes us back to the bus station so we can make it to Guiyang in time to find a hotel. 

At the bus station (parking lot) I ask how much and once again the driver quotes me a ludicrous price.  I tell him this is entirely too expensive but he doesn't budge.  We tell him we will find another bus but he says its all the same price so I say to him then we will go through a different town (Anshun, where we started from that morning) but he looks at me like we are crazy.  As we are walking away he drops the price by 75% so Meredith and happily hop on the bus and we are off.  (Author's note: this is what I believed happened at the time, this is not factual) When I go to pay I only had pretty big bills so I hand over more than enough.  He gives me that look, like what is wrong with this guy?  He hands me one of the big bills back and some change.  That's when it hits me, with the regional accents (making my rough Chinese even rougher) I couldn't really understand his numbers and thus we had spent 10 minutes arguing over what amounted to less than $2 for both tickets and he didn't drop the price by 75% but by maybe 5% and then after all that I hand him almost triple what he asked for! 

We arrived in Guiyang at about 5:00pm at a huge bus park (this one is much more than just a parking lot) and are unable to get our bearings.   Meredith and I are standing at the street corner looking pretty helpless when 3 Chinese girls approach and ask if we need help (I guess we looked that hopeless) and then explain we can take either a $5 taxi or a 15 cent bus to the city center.  We choose the bus and the girls escort us all the way to the local bus area and show us which one to get on and where to get off.  These girls were such a help, without them we might never have made it from the bus park.   We first try to find a guest house but the only one we could find doesn't have any rooms.  We didn't look very far after that because we had business to take care of: finding Dairy Queen.  We knew it was somewhere in the city center but finding it was difficult.  We say a small group with DQ cups and charged at the from across the sidewalk, not wanting to miss this opportunity.  The girl gives us these directions "go left" but then realizes the rest would be too difficult.  She then tries a map, but decides against it and writes us a card.  I am pretty sure the card says "help these crazy people find DQ" whatever it said it worked because we could stop someone and try to ask where DQ was, if it didn't work we would give them the paper.  We found DQ hidden in some coffee square underneath a business building  but were almost fooled by its impersonator—DU is the first thing you see when you walk it, the colors are the same, logo similar and it sells something similar to a Blizzard. After DQ we headed to the bus station to try to catch a late bus.  We couldn't find the bus station and must have been looking especially lost because yet another young Chinese girl stops us and offers to help.   She tells us we have to go well out of the city to the bus station but she can tell the cabby where to take us.   We end up at the bus station at 9pm missing the last bus by quite a while.  Without an idea as to where to sleep we allow a girl working for a guest house at the bus station to walk us to a nearby guest house.  I thought it was crazy that she had to walk us there but then again I didn't expect the guest house to be in a back building in a 5-6 building apartment complex on the 4th floor that is made up of other family apartments (save this unnamed guest house).  We were shocked when we walked in and the beds were huge and looked clean and there was a computer in the room!  We thanked her for her help and collapsed in to bed.  It was a long day but well worth it and made much more memorable by all the misunderstandings.  (a note about the bus station: this enormous bus station on the outskirts of the city opened 4 months ago and combined the 3 inner city long distance bus stations that were mentioned in our book.  Of course we only found this out upon our safe return to Duyun.)

Working Hard

The Farm

Hi everyone,


I know we have been in China for almost 3 weeks and I haven't really said to much about what we came here to do--- help on the farm.  So here is a little bit about the farm.


The farm is run by 3E Development, and organization whose goal is to help the people of Giuizhou (the province that Duyun is in) make an independent living.  3E stands for Education and Economic development of Ethnic minority regions.  Thus the farm serves both purposes giving the people of Guizhou help economically as well as helping many afford schooling for their children.  The organization also provides education in farming and healthcare.  For more info about this great organization please visit   Meredith and I are staying with Tim and Debbie Vinzani, the founders of the organization, after Rep. Shannon Erickson put us in touch last fall. 

We arrived in early April, right before the corn planting season.  3E plants about 40 acres of corn each year as feed for the cattle during the winter. Now 40 acres may not sound like much but when it is done the same way the native Americans and pilgrims probably did it for the first harvest it is a ton!  A quick walkthrough of the process after the field has been plowed (by a water buffalo of course).  Make a hole with a hoe, add fertilizer, add manure, add seed, cover hole.  Now each one of those tasks involves lugging either equipment or supplies with as you perform you task each step. I've got a few photos of Meredith working hard alongside some of the local help.  As you will see, there is no way around it for the seeds, its either back breaking or doing a million squats—both unpleasant.  Now after describing this you will think we hate the time up on the foggy mountain but in fact it's fun.  We are always working with local friends.  I say local because they are either natives of Guizhou or SC (there are 2 Clemson grads teaching English in Duyun that help out as well).  Nights are pretty early since you have to turn on a generator for electricity—we normally just go to bed at 8.  The water situation isn't much better.  There is spring on the property but the pipe doesn't go all the way to the house so we fill buckets to bring to the house while bathrooms use rain water.   Breakfast is frequently toast or eggs while lunch is Chinese style hot pot.   Debbie is an amazing cook whether its western or Chinese,  I believe I already said that but it's worth repeating.  Hot pot is served, as the name suggests, hot.  As in the wok is still on a burner in the middle of the table.  Its usually chicken and veggies at the farm with a bowl of white rice in front of you.  You pick what you want from the hot pot (with chopsticks of course) dip it in a sauce in front of you and put it in your bowl.  My chopstick skills improved quickly with much encouragement from my stomach . 

We have not been able to work on the farm as much as we had hoped (and as much as Tim and Debbie would have liked, of that I am sure) because we had a cold snap and it became too cold for the corn to germinate (and thus to plant).  We head to the farm tomorrow for a few days before returning for Easter weekend and then Meredith and I plan to do some traveling around southwest China before we depart in early May.  

Saturday, April 9, 2011

A day hike

Meredith and I spent our Saturday running a few errands and exploring the surroundings area a few minutes walk from Duyun.  While picking up some DVDs for the evening the day before we noticed some pagodas on the hills/mountains surrounding the city.  The following day (this morning) we set out to to find them.  After getting a bit turned around, finding an outdoor public gym (common in China), and crossing the river a few times (we later learned there are 2 rivers) we were able to find our way out of the city.  We picked a street that headed up, seeing that was the general direction of the pagoda (above) and continued on our way.  The street quickly turned from a street into more of a road and headed into a forest.  We were eager to walk in the forest rather than on the busy street so we continued on.  After another 20 minutes of walking we find the lake that was mentioned on a sign a little earlier.  Now, the standards for a lake in Asia are much different than in the US.  We have come across a number of "lakes" in Nepal and now China that would hardly qualify as a pond in the states (okay, thats a bit harsh, definitely a pond but not much of a lake).  The lake did have a dam though, which I suppose boosts its credibility a little bit.  At the far end of the lake we saw a boat and headed to investigate.  Near the boat we found a path and continued on up the hill to the ridge where we found stone steps, lots of stone steps.  We continued along the ridge and up to a number of false summits before finding the pagoda overlooking the city.  It was a good view of the city on a fairly bright day (for Guizhou standards).  If you look at the pictures posted you will notice all sorts of construction going (no new housing development can be built unless each building is 30 floors!).  The city is undergoing tremendous growth with almost all of the buildings in the picture built since 1997.  Most of the old city has been demolished and wooden homes have been replaced with concrete apartment buildings.  After resting from our hour and a half ascent we headed down from the other side of the pagoda.  We were back in town in an astonishing 20 min; we may not have taken the most direct route to get to the top, but we did get the most scenic.  As we were exiting to the main road we say a sign proclaiming the enterance to Qing Yun Lake and Duyun National Forest--I guess we missed it earlier.
I have uploaded a number of photos from the trek, nepal, and our day hike today on a website.  Click the link to view them if you like.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


Hi everyone,

I know it has been a while---we landed in China last thursday---but I have a few minutes so I can finally do a quick update.  Meredith and I are staying with Tim and Debbie Vinzani in Duyun, China.  Duyun has a population of about 500,000 while where we landed, Guiyang, has a population of 2-3 million! 3, We are in the Guizhou province in southern China.  While we are here Meredith and I go up to the farm that is a few minutes outside of town (and another 2,000ft in elevation) to help with the corn planting.  Tim and Debbie are aid workers in China and are doing wonderful things for the area through their cattle farm.  For much of the week we are on the farm while we spend the weekends in Duyun.  We will hopefully use our weekends to get around and see some of southern china and will be planning those mini-adventures in the next few days.

We are loving the food here, although I can't say that will surprise anyone.  We have enjoyed a few meals out and  have been the beneficiaries of quiet a few delicious meals from Mrs. V.  (both Chinese and western).  We are able to get many (most) western products here so I have enjoyed waffles with syrup, Oreos, peanut butter and quite a few other comfort foods.  We are doing well and loving getting to know the V's and a few other ex-pats

corn field that needs to be planted (by hand)

me earning my Clemson degree

fields on the way to the farm

Meredith eating lunch (spicy thai soup, yum!) with Tim and Debbie's children Mark and Rianna