Thursday, May 27, 2010

What is it? Part One

I have decided to try and document some of the interesting things that I see and find out if anyone else can tell me what it is. Much like the question of whether a pine cone is a flower or not I will post a picture of something and pose the question "What is it?"
A few weeks ago Amanda and I were surprised to see that a hole was being dug outside of our apartment building. As it evolved the hole got deeper and it eventually turned into a cement hole in the ground. As it took shape a giant metal contraption was placed in the hole with a couple hydraulic rams to lift it out. We were confused about what it was until we saw one in action somewhere else. The picture below is the thing in its below ground phase.

Good luck!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Getting Bike Parts in Rural China

Yesterday we returned home to Jiuzhaigou from a long span abroad (like 9 days or something) whereby we spent most of it in Chengdu save for a couple of days in Qongching.
Qongching is about a twelve hour drive from the park which is at least 11 near misses. Driving in China is often measured in near misses as they are so often connected to the distance one drives. Generally a near miss is defined as nearly being involved in some type of accident. Most of which are completely preventable since it is always someone else's fault. A couple of examples of near miss scenarios are: driving down the highway and finding that the road is blocked on a blind corner by three tractor trailers requiring one to apply emergency braking techniques; cars stopping randomly in the middle of the road requiring one to apply emergency braking techniques; chickens, sheep (goats), horses, cows, cats, people running across the road at exactly the wrong moment, requiring one to apply emergency braking techniques. The general rule for near miss calculations is 1 near miss for every 100 km of multi-lane highway driving and 1 near miss for every 50 km of rural highway driving. Of course near misses increase with speed so that for every 10 km/hr over 100 km/hr near misses will go up by 1 on multi-lane highways and 5 on rural highways. Thus at 200 km/hr one should expect to have one near miss per 10 km on divided highways and one near miss per 1 km on a rural highway.
This should not be confused with near misses in an urban setting where the ratio of near misses to distance traveled goes up dramatically. In this setting near misses can be experienced from both the standpoint of the pedestrian (whether on a bike or on foot) or the car. Consequences are much greater for the pedestrian however and should be noted lest you insist on walking and/or riding your bike in the street or sidewalk without a helmet. By bike one should expect a near miss every block of a chinese industrialized city and on foot one should expect a near miss every ten blocks. The only problem with this is that the Chinese industrialized city block is as of yet undefined.
You may be asking yourself what this has to do with getting bike parts in rural china, and the answer of course is nothing. There is no real correlation here except that when parts are sent to rural areas in china it should be expected that the box which they have been sent in be mostly flattened and heavily taped to keep it together. This is of course an energy saving measure as more boxes can be crammed into a china post truck if they have been flattened, thus making it possible to carry more mail in less trips.
I know this because we recently received to packages from the States one of which was a partially flattened box containing some much needed single-speed bike parts and tools, and the other a mere 7 weeks after being put into the mail a birthday package for Amanda. The former package however was only two days behind its scheduled guaranteed delivery date a mere three weeks from the time it was sent. Interesting how the USPS gives 7-10 days as the delivery period and then tacks on an extra 11 days to cover their assets. My theory on this matter is that they guarantee the package to leave the country within 7-10 days and who knows when it will find its final destination. Of course given that they were within two days of the expected perhaps there is some merit to their coin toss of a delivery prediction.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


People have been asking about pictures and so I wanted to give you some links to them. We are uploading "things you see on the highway" and wedding photos to in the "jpg" folder. If that doesn't exist anymore it means we've gotten around to fixing it and it will involve "Chongqing" in the corrected title. Another folder or two in the same webpage will have photos from Vietnam. Photos from the bike races, Aaron and Nicole's visit, mountain biking in JNP area, and orphanage landscaping are in a variety of folders at Please check them out!

Wait a couple hours after I post this (6:17 am EDT) to look at the photos because the photos are still uploading.

Thursday morning update: The photos are finally updated. The jpg folder is now 2010-05 Chongqing and the Vietnam ones are 2010-03 Ho Chi Minh City aka Saigon and 2010-03 Hanoi.

Jiuzhaigou Ecotourism

An article just came out about the ecotourism project at Jiuzhaigou. Josh volunteers with this program.

I promise, photos of the wedding will be coming soon. Hopefully they'll get uploaded tonight. the internet at home works a lot better.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Attending a western style Han wedding in Tibetan clothes

Hello from Chengdu!

Josh and I are getting ready to head back to Jiuzhaigou tomorrow and are steeling ourselves for the long drive in two ways. I am using the computer and Josh is buying DVDs.

We spent the week here in Chengdu buying things we've been dreaming of for 6 weeks in Jiuzhaigou - iphones, a potato masher, cheese... the essentials really. The potato masher is because emulsifier sticks (aka hand held blenders) are too expensive and I want to make zblended soup.

Last weekend we attended a wedding in Chongqing with our good friends, Ke Zhu and Zhuo Ma. They had originally suggested that we drive to Chengdu together then decided that it was better to buy a car in chongqing and wanted Josh to help. Finally they told us that they were going to attend a wedding and we should go with them. We mentioned that we didn't really have appropriate wedding-attending clothes (turns out that some people were in jeans so we would have been ok). They decided that we were their family now, so we'd wear Tibetan clothes too.

We left Jiuzhaigou early Friday morning with Josh driving, me riding shot gun, and Ke Zhu and the lama in the backseat. we don't know the Lama's name. He's very nice though. It took about 12 hrs to get to Chongqing. Uck. Josh drove about 75% of the way. I drove the other 25%. Ke Zhu and the Lama slept. They both have licenses but were impressed with our driving skills (we've been driving a lot longer).

The first night in Chongqing was a Chinese style dinner with lots of drinking and toasting. The next day we had the morning off after a night in a nasty hotel (where we stayed all 3 nights) and spent the afternoon looking at used cars. then dinner was hotpot at a beautiful outdoor restaurant. The setting made up for the food, a little.

Sunday was the wedding. Zhuo Ma came over early to dress us. See picture above.

We then got to the hotel where the wedding was to be held around 9:30 (Le Meridian). There were 8 of us total (for 2 invitations to the wedding) - Zhuo Ma, Ke Zhu, Lama, Zhuo Ma's cousin, and cousin's daughter (Little Zhuo Ma), and our Chongqing host. And the two of us, of course. Ke Zhu, Lama, Zhuo Ma, Josh, and I were in Tibetan clothes. No one was there so we sat around downstairs for a long time, then upstairs. Zhuo Ma was asked by the groom's parents to help out at the welcoming table, but the bride's parents had someone else do it. We got to stand by the front door of the hotel and welcome the bridal party though. They came in a Lincoln Towncar Limo. Wow. Bride was a in a white wedding dress. Groom was dressed appropriately for someone who had studied in Italy - tight suit pants and long toed shoes. The groomsmen were all western friends of the bride. The bridesmaids had on rented white bridesmaid dresses. We think they were one-size-fits-all because the dress was way too short on one especially tall young woman and they all had fabric pinned in the back.

The wedding started around noon while we all sat at tables with the cold dishes already on them. Maybe 240 people were there. According to the western guys, the soundtrack was typical western style wedding soundtrack - pirates of the caribean and celine dion. The bride stood in a fake cabin and faked playing a violin. The groom faked looking for flowers to make her bouquet. The groom took the flowers to the bride. They stood and welcomed everyone at the front of the stage. they played pre-recorded vows. A friend performed something which looked like a western marriage ceremony with a priest. They did a Chinese-style thanking parents in red chairs thing. Then they walked off the stage, a scantily clad pop star sang, and we got to eat.

The whole thing was interesting for us on so many levels. The interpretations of what mattered and why for western ceremonies was my favorite, I think. It was a little like trying to follow a formula without really understanding what it was.

When we finally left it was cab shift switching time and the foreigners and Tibetans in Tibetan clothes combined with cab shift change made it nearly impossible to get a cab. We don't really know what the problem was, but we know that we were certainly unusual. There aren't a lot of Tibetans in Chongqing and one man (on a bus) even looked at me with total disgust and asked the Lama why on earth we would be dressed like this. Lots of people tried to take pictures of us, often without asking. We'd previously been dressed in Tibetan clothes, but that was to attend a monastary festival in Jiuzhaigou and so mostly it was Tibetans there. They thought we were interesting, but they approved,g enerally. A few Han tourists were there as well, but they didn't seem to think it was so weird. Maybe because Jiuzhaigou is a Tibetan area.

Upcoming post: Things you see on drives in China

Pictures for this post will be added later or a link to picasa added. Right now the internet is failing me and I can't get enough bandwidth to upload them.


Thursday, May 13, 2010


Here is how you can send us mail. We have English versions, but we don't know if they work. You could put both our names on it as well, obviously.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Shaji Thorns you are the bain of my existence!!!

The current question around the household is "how many patches are allowable on a tube before it is to many?" The current number on my front tire in five as can be seen in the following pictures:

Upon removing the tube from the tire after our last ride, which was fast and fun, I found a small puncture (Lower photo, second from bottom patch). I obviously repaired the hole with one of the small patches that they sell locally and checked the tire for any sign of thorns that could still be hitching a free ride. Satisfied that there were no thorns in the tire I remounted the tire and tube and pumped it up.
The next day I was disheartened to find that my tire was once again flat. Today I decided to re-tackle the task of fixing the flat with the intent of finding the likely thorn that was the culprit of the puncture. I marked where the valve was on the tire so that I could use that as a reference point to further search for the thorn based on where the hole in the tube was. This seemed to work pretty well since my tube seemed to have a small hole next to one of the other patches. I peeled the old patch off in order to cover the two holes with one patch and patched the tube. Next I compared where the hole was against the orientation of the valve on the tire.
After running my fingers along the area trying to find a prickly bit which would locate the thorn I was without luck. I then began to search more thoroughly the outside of the tire which resulted in me finding a very small sliver of thorn that had broken off. Obviously this was the culprit and I made sure to remove all traces of it from existence, both on the tire and on earth.
It has now been about twenty minutes and I dare not go and check to see if the tire still has air.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Our life in Jiuzhaigou

Hi everyone! This is Amanda. Josh is watching Big Bang Theory.

I thought that although it's maybe a bit mundane, I would tell you about what it's like living in a Chinese apartment in a tourist spot in rural Sichuan. I don't have a video camera, so I can't create a repeat performance of my parents' famous insomnia curing movie of our Strawberry Hill house in the late 80s.

We live in a 3 bedroom flat. Josh and I were assigned one room and when we moved in we had 1 roommate, a lovely Chinese undergraduate. She's here for some kind of internship. Then about 10 days after we arrived, when we had guests staying in the spare room, another girl moved in. She is a PhD student in CS from Wuhan. She and her 4 classmates and teacher (they live downstairs with Kieran, the Irish guy) are setting up a new computer system. They are here for one of the following: 2 months, 5 months, a long time, 2-3 months, or some number of months. I heard all within a single conversation.

Our flat has a big living room with dirty Chinese arm chairs and a couch. They are mostly leopard print. Big windows. A broken water dispenser. 2 mountain bikes (those are ours) and 2 extra and empty shoe racks (those belong to the American professors who are coming back in June and needed them in the hotel). Oh yeah, and a TV sans remote. Or any cables with which to connect a computer to it for movies. Aaron brought one, but it wasn't quite right. We have some weird shaped shelves between the living room and what we call the dining room. The dining room is empty except for the bags belonging to the American professors for when they come back. Josh wants to build us a table. At the entry way we have a shoe storage place and a sign where I used the wrong character for remove shoes and it says "please slippers" instead of "please remove shoes". I didn't know they were different words and my dictionary didn't tell me. Also the PhD student's room is off the entry way and overlooks the sun room. And the Asian style bathroom (no hot water and no shower) which has our laundry machine (more on that later). Through the dining room one way is the western bathroom (hot water, sit toilet not bolted to floor which leaks, shower and shower curtain that no one except us uses (the curtain that is), and a sink). To the parking lot side is our undergrad roommate's room. To the river side is our room. It has 1 bed (2.3x2 m size), 2 fake closets (metals frames with cloth over them which we bought), 1 end table, 1 electric blanket (YEAH!), and 1 tupperware box for use as the other end table. It's cozy.

The best part of the house, in our opinions, is the sun room and kitchen. The sun room runs basically from our room along the entire length of the apartment to the kitchen. We are on the 2nd floor and it faces west over the river, so we get good sunlight, which helps with warmth. We put the spare tv stand out here, along with our wireless router and some Tibetan cushions on the floor. It is a small enough space that the space heater works. We also have a table (card table like, except that in this case you flip the top over to get a mahjong table) and 4 stools. We have cupboards at the end of the room which mostly have our stuff in them. The fridge and water dispenser are also in the sun room. The kitchen is big by Chinese standards. Unfortunately the sink is a 2 tap sink and the hot water is not hot water on demand, so we can't really adjust the temperature. At least we have 24 hr hot water and our own heater. We have a 1 burner ceramic heater, an oversized toaster oven, a griddle that heats from both sides like a waffle maker, and a rice cooker. We paid to have extra shelves put in so we have some decent storage space. Our food is all in a rat proof cabinet where Josh repaired the rat proof screen. The previous stuff hadn't kept the rats out. The top part is where the rats came in and that section is off limits to anything except rat poison. So far our rat removal plans are basically working.

The water dispenser is interesting. We asked when we first got here what number to call to get water. We were given a number and I called. The conversation went something like this:

Amanda: Please deliver water
Other end of the phone (OEP): What's your address
A: Park administration apartments, Entry 1, apartment 2-2.
OEP: You're in Chengdu. I don't deliver there.
A: No, I'm in Jiuzhaigou
OEP: Ok, I can take it to the bridge
A: I'm over the bridge
OEP: I'm in Chengdu
A: No, you're in Jiuzhaigou
OEP: I don't deliver to Jiuzhaigou
A: Where are you
OEP: Jiuzhaigou

I hung up. I called our handler (Wang Yan). She called the water guy and called me back. He was in the county town and would deliver our water to the visitor center the next day. The next day Josh dutifully went to get the water and discovered it wasn't there. He went to find Wang Yan (it was Sunday, but the park staff work 7 days a week. we refuse and only work 5). Wang Yan asked around and discovered that actually what you do for water is go to office 201 during work hours and pick up a jug. We get about 1 jug per week now. It's free.

Internet was another nightmare. It was one of the many times we have been very happy to have a car. The internet is in the township town (about 10 minutes away) and it took 3 trips, at least 5 phone calls, passports, a letter from the park, and a year advance payment to get signed up for it. Then another 10 days and a long visit by a technician and some angry phone calls to get it set up. I had to upgrade the firmware to get our router to cooperate with our VPN, but everything is working well now. Except with the PhD student is home and downloading too much stuff. We got internet for less than half price and pay under $10/month. The discount was for working for the park.

We get our vegetables from veggie trucks. They come at lunch time to our apartment complex and a bunch hang out all morning in the village closest to us (about a 10 min walk away). The village trucks have better selection and I prefer to shop there. Fruit is easier to get since tourists like to buy it. Most grocery stores sell some fruit and snacks. We have found 2 which sell things that we can actually use. We end up having to drive to the county town about once every 2 weeks to get staples. It's a 40 min drive. We have a 25 kg bag of flour that was the result of a staples shopping trip when we couldn't find a grocery store for residents rather than tourists (this was up on the plateau after we dropped Aaron and Nicole off at the airport). We found a wholesaler though and got a gigantic bag of flour. I've been cooking a lot recently, in part because the thing stares at me all day. I have to admit to a huge wish list for shopping in Chengdu next week when we go down to get the car inspected.

We have so far failed at making fritatta, sourdough bread, sourdough pancakes, french toast from Tibetan flat bread, and yogurt. We have successfully made: sourdough starter, sourdough pancakes, sourdough carrot cake, sourdough bread, yogurt, granola, curry, pizza, cream cheese frosting, ratatouille, rice pudding, french toast from Song Pan bread (Muslim bread from the plateau). Cooking is quite the adventure here, but it's generally turned out ok. It's relatively expensive to eat out, so we eat at home more than I ever have before in China.

Laundry is always an adventure. Of course there is no dryer. But, in both our flat here and back in Chengdu we have regressed to my laundry nightmares from Harbin. In Chengdu I had a real, fully automatic washing machine. Here and in Chengdu this time we have the awful 2 part things which either agitate or spin. At least it's in the bathroom this time and is permanently attached to the water supply. In Chengdu the drain is permanently in the floor. Here we need to direct it down the toilet. Basically you put in soap, fill up the water, add clothes (about 1/2 of what you think you can put in, less if there are pants involved), agitate for 15 min, drain, fill, agitate, drain, fill, agitate, drain, spin in 3 parts. then repeat for the rest of the week's laundry. We then have to hang it in the sun room from a pole across the ceiling. I tend to stand on chairs to do this. Josh uses the stick we have for just that purpose. Things dry quickly and sheets dry the day we wash them if we wash them in the morning. Our roommates do laundry by hand.

Washing dishes is also an adventure. We have the dreaded 2-tap sink with hot water too hot to actually use straight. After a few weeks of washing dishes and being annoyed by the inability to easily use the hot, we decided to go with the 3-sink method used in restaurants (1 sink for soapy water, 1 hot rinse, 1 cold bleach bath). We use 1 sink and 2 wash tubs spread out on the counter with the drying rack in between. It actually works really really well. Thank goodness for restaurant training.

Ok. I have definitely gone on for too long and am getting ready to go to bed anyway.

Some posts to look forward to:
Two Laowais in Tibetan clothes attend the monastery festival
Hiking in Long Kang - maybe there are golden monkeys!
Introducing our friends, Zhuo Ma and Ke Zhu, their restaurant, and their homestay
The wild 2 year old, Lop Song