Saturday, March 29, 2008

Culture shock?...I'm not sure

When I came back from Katimavik, I returned after nine months. Everything had this weird vibe. Everything seemed slightly shifted to the left. Naturally, some things were gone, others were new, people were different. I stood in my living room and just looked at everything. An old life, the ghosts of dust on the wall. I cleaned up my old room, throwing out so much. It was momunmental for me. I wanted to leave most of my old life behind, and bring my new self forward. I eventually got a job, saw friends, and settled in, a different person.

I come home to parents who missed me, but no friends at the airport. Whatever, people have their lives, no biggy. But things didn't seem out of place this time. It was all familiar, but in a distant way. It seemed different then just returning after a long time. Maybe I'm wrong, this is only my second time returning after a long trip. But as my parents drove home, and I showed a few pictures and shared a few stories, limiting myself as I knew I had only a lifetime to share what I experienced, the things that passed on the road, and even through my mind, just seemed like a dream. It was all a fuzzy dream I was awake in. The friends I left, the places I'd been. Hell, the place I was! I wouldn't know about the friends part until later. It just seemed like the day after would be different.

Upon arrival, I unpacked things, ate a bit, sent off everyones contacts like I promised and hoped I would talk to one of my old friends online. I slept in the most comfy bed I have slept in for 6 months. The following morning came with a whole new set of chores to do, attached to my already hefty list. This included paper work, filing tax papers, replacing lost cards, opening mail, etc. However, I got a lot done. That lingering feeling of being in a still there. Maybe that's because I won't be here for long. I'm going on a bike trip across Canada. From what has resulted in my 6 month absence, I'm now doing it alone. And I'm scared.

Now what consists of "culture shock" is coming home to friends who abandoned me, parents who have little idea of my plans or the reasons for them, despite being told several times, and a town who may not notice when I leave next time. I have my own reasons for biking across Canada. Very few people understand why. I hope they will soon, and be supportive, and maybe inspired.

But the benefits of our efforts are not always obvious.

Do you know where that quote came from?

A little piece of paper...from a chinese fortune cookie...

The epic return

We arrived at the airport, some with our host families, some without. After getting our tickets, we hung out in the lobby for a bit with some of our counterparts who showed up to see us off and the few of our host families. It wasn't as teary as we thought, but they will be missed. We eagerly awaited our Jiaxing friends to come with their baggage. When they did, we quickly shared some stories, but had to board our plane. We were quite tired, them more so. Most of us were spread out on the plane, so it wasn't as energetic as it usually was. Most of us read or watched movies, some talked. I read Into The Wild, a book on a man who ditched his old life and family to take to the wilderness, eventually dieing in Alaska. It is somewhat reflective of my soon to be trip across Canada, except I'm not dieing in a frigid state. I did that, wrote in my journal, and played a bit of DS, and before you knew it, we were in Vancouver. We met Joey, a CWY facilitator, and we boarded the school bus to the YWCA where we were at last time. Vancouver was just gorgeous. Everything was so shiny and green! It was like a ahem, veil of smog was lifted from our eyes. We couldn't stop staring at the mountains, the buildings, the glistening water, the green grass! It was beautiful. We settled in the building and dealt with paper work, which included getting our last allowance. We were a bit surprised that our debriefing sessions were 9-5pm. Considering both groups had done their own debriefing, we thought this was a bit extensive. We were wrong. The debriefing was usually done by past supervisors, but now was being handled by CIL, Canada International Learning. However, the facilitator had much experience, from being in the program to working with CWY and also had great cultural knowledge. She understood the concept of culture shock very well. The two groups, Kelowna/Beijing and Northern Okanagan/Jiaxing shared their experiences and compared a bit. They were very similar on some parts, being apart of the same country, but I found had subtle differences. Nothing drastic. We both had good times and rough times. But we all matured and grew out of it. We went to the bar that night, just to relax and meet one of Jamies friends, and wouldn't you know, the world is always small. I ran into a shaggy haired friend of mine! We were both surprised. We went out for a beer the following night. Our three days in Vancouver followed that schedule: Wake up, debriefing, lunch, debriefing, rest or sleep (still suffering from jet lag) supper, bar. Mostly with our group. The debriefing sessions dealt with things from culture shock, how to deal with it, integration into a new life after CWY, and appreciating what we've learned. It was really helpful, and we all took it very serious. The facilitator did a very good job, and we have a booklet to fall back on after were done. I met some friends of mine for dinner the last night. I'm a people pleaser, and had to choose between dinner with them and my group. I hadn't seen them for more then 2 years, and I would still meet up with my friends after for beer, breakfast and lunch, so I went with the friends. But irony follows me around like a persistent cold. After dinner and catching up, I walked one friend to the bar, so I knew where they were and I could try to convince my CWY friends to go there and we could party together. I went to the hotel, expecting everyone to be getting ready to go out that night. No one. After extensive phoning, I found their location and walked there. It was the same bloody restaurant I just ate it! Well, sort of. It was the same restaurant, The Steamhouse, but in a different building not 30 feet away. Fuck. But I met up, and we had a good time. It was different that night at the Cambie though, with beers in our hands. We weren't our energetic selves. We weren't dancing or shouting or even talking all that much. I think we all had so much going on in our heads, that it was hard to live in the moment. Going back to our lives was just a day away. But everyone was there, and I'm glad for that.

Most of us went to breakfast at Cafe Des Arts, this lovely little cafe with great ranchero burritoes. Some of us went there every morning! We returned for our final debriefing. We met with Colin, the manager of our CWY program, and we discussed our experience, what we learned, ups and downs and how to make the program better. He decoded some things for us, and straightened a few bumps I guess. But not all. Then we met with Joey and did a final activity I suggested. I've mentioned before, that I wasn't interested in where I'd be in a year, but who I would be. I suggested an activity that allowed others to express who they thought you were. It's one thing to think of yourself, but it's another to hear from your friends. We had papers with our names on them, and people wrote final comments. Thank yous, reminders of good times, and good expressions. We weren't to read them until we were gone. We held our final circle check. Everyone said their last words, what the group was to them, and their utmost thoughts on the program. To be honest with myself, I had to be honest with them. I told them I felt like I was in a corner most of the program, occasionally stepping out from the shadows of my silent leadership. But despite that, I felt very close with them, and although I did not live with them or maybe even knew them as well as my Katimavik family, they still held the honors of being considered brothers and sisters to me after all we experienced. I don't know how I didn't cry. Some of the girls, however, weren't as introverted. One by one, we all left the hotel, taking taxis to the airport, sometimes in groups. I left in the middle, with Joss from Jiaxing. Heather, Sadie and Leah were left to hug me goodbye. I didn't feel like I did in Katimavik. I didn't feel like a monster for not crying. I didn't say anything. I didn't cry. As I got into the taxi, the only words that could escape were, "I'll see you guys..."

And even as tears start now, writing this, I remind myself, I will see them.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

The weather knows when people are leaving...

Aye, it rained on Friday, the day of our farewell party. Most of us were aghast and in awe to find everything had been wettened! It rained during the night, and there was evidence in the morning. It surprised most of us, but we were glad. I'm sure it would greenify everything, which would be a welcome change. We went to the office that morning and did some planning for the farewell party. It was a bit frustrating to find that there was a schedule already planned, which really could have helped earlier on in the week. But whatever. While we did that and sorted through photos to put onto a group CD, Maxime held meetings with the individual Canadians. These were to evaluate the program, what we learned through our personal experiences, rating the skills we were supposed to have and comparing them to what Maxime thought. It was an honest process. We felt similar on my subjects on my behalf. I had wished to have shown leadership in times, but he agreed it was hard to stand up when there were already many leaders. We met at the Kao Ya restaurant where we had lunch with Director Wang before Spring Festival. All our host families were there. Only the parents though, except mine because Li was out of the area for work reasons. Mavis, my host sister came in place. Our work leaders were there too. We were given gifts, one from Felix's Du Shushu, and from the government. We were given our plaques and certificates, prooving we had officially finished the program. Not like we need a piece of paper to say we went through all that! We did a few performances, including the worst rendition we've done of Hey Jude, a decent version of the Dr. skit, and many many toasts of gambe-ing, with our friend, baijiu. I myself, even without the baijiu, found I had a open attitude. I didn't feel like putting on a face. This included telling Gary things, with a bit of attitude, and even playing with deep fried scorpions. Seriously though! Don't cook those things if people aren't gonna eatthem! Or in this case, play with them. We finished the night fairly quickly, with hugs and goodbyes. Some of our counterparts would see us off at the airport while others had to work. I find it ironic that the ones who promised to see us off were actually the ones who really did work hard and had a tendency to be absent. The Canadians plan was to go partying now. Some went home, some dropped things off, but we all met up at Nanjie bar in our favorite area. We were so pumped and full of excitement (and booze) we were hopping and dancing right from the get-go. We settled in, and everyone went to do their own thing, picking up the opposite sex or chatting. I did all of the above, from rude beauties from Turkey to a computer program with a boss who apparently has a disease that makes you lie. Who knew. We were all over the place, but somehow managed to meet up with everyone from our group at other bars throughout the night. One friend was sick, so I watched over her most of the night. I didn't feel bad though. I can pick up girls any other time. I had a good run, didn't need to cram everything into one night. Our final stop was in front of our favorite Mexican bar, Luga's. With our supervisor full of mojito and burrito, he dawned his final knowledge on us. His inspiring words included his point of view from our program, struggles he had to go through, and just filled in a lot of the blanks that he couldn't have done during the program. He felt we all matured and was very proud of us. Thanks Maxime! He was even going to tell us about his secretive last days in Benign! But some people were missing, and he wanted to share with the entire group. Hopefully, we'll hear about them at the airport before we depart. The night ended with 7 Canadians crammed into a small two bedroom hotel room. I'm really going to miss those nights.

I didn't want to waste the following day too much though. I'm sure most of us had plans, but mine were supposed to include getting up early. But fuck it, it was a fun night. I left with Heather and Felix before noon. It was a big Devon day, one where I would spend it alone, walking long and hard, seeking answers or places to discover.
The places in this case included the Summer Palace and the Old Summer Palace ruins. I found the bus and took a long ride there. However, despite it even raining, the day was smoggy as hell. I decided to check out the Summer Palace anyway. I'm in China, might as well. I didn't stay long though. It was very pretty, the trees in bloom. The lake was covered in cloud though. I did like the gardens. I left the Summer Palace, after barely an hour, heading towards it's historical version. I stopped at Tsinghua University, the same one I went to with Lilly and Lynsday and friends one day. Part of my Devon Day was to find some geocaches in the northern side of Beijing. The university held one. But I couldn't find it. I didn't want to waste the whole day, so I moved on. I passed a pub called The Kro. The aroma of pizza was just too inviting, and I spoiled myself. Besides, I missed breakfast, had a quick street-food lunch and had been walking all afternoon. With 1/4 for leftovers, I continued on. I found the Old Summer Palace and explored. It was a very, very large park. I foudn the geocache there, which was a large European maze structure. It was fun to walk through, and then climbing up top and jumping over. I called it a day and walked for a long time back to the entrance. I took a bus to a subway station and went home. It had been an exhausting and long day, but I was happy to explore Beijing one last time. I settled in my tiny bed in the corner that night, reading old journal entries and cleaning up papers that cluttered the potted plant shelf. I fell asleep, readying myself for my last day in Beijing.

I was on my own again for most of my day here. I mainly needed to do some shopping. But that is never a simple thing here. I primarily had gifts to buy for family and friends back home. I have most of the things I need. I went from Panjiayuan in the morning to Tiannenmen Square in the afternoon. I had planned on seeing Mao's tomb. However, this is China. Nothing is simple. First, I got turned around. I had to deposit my bag, across the street, at a baggage check. After realizing the line I was in was likely for pick ups (unusually, I figured this out quickly) I went into the proper line. But like I said, this is China. I had to pay, and with my yuan running out quickly, I said screw it. Besides, the baggage claim closed at 12, it was 11, and I really, really did not want to argue with someone who didn't speak my language about getting my bag back, which I would absolutely need, because I was leaving the next day, and it wasn't my fault that their stupid process caused me to take over an hour to look at a dead Chinese leader. Yeah, I think it was best I let it go. I shopped at Hong Qiao, and returned to Panjiayuan, and then back up town again to pick up a cd with photos from it from Maxime. I was getting exhausted. I'm retiring here, at home, to finish my blog, charge my mp3 (12 hour flight remember!) and begin packing. So ends the exciting part of my journey to China. Sure, there are bits to wrap up, like the awkwardness of our last dinner we'll have, saying goodbye, etc. But not only has it yet to occur, I can imagine most of you can fill those portions in. If anything amazing happens, I'll fill you in on my post-CWY entries.

But I'm sure most of us go through this when travelling. How do you get ready to leave? And I think I can say from experience, 3 months is much harder then 3 days or even weeks. It's been a jumble for me. What should I buy before I leave, should I go see everyone I met, what gift should I get for my host family or counterpart, should we have a last dinner, should I waste my last bit of money while I'm here, what about those exhibits I really wanted to see? It's hard to find an answer for any, if not all of these questions. I think there's always going to be that ONE thing you didn't do, or say or see. Its a personal thing. You have to accept that your leaving, and you have to decided what holds priority. What are the important things you know you have to do or say or see. I remember feeling so bad at the end of Katimavik, because I wasn't crying like most of my friends. Granted, most of them were drunk. I felt like a monster, because I knew I'd miss them and the places I'd been. Only until after they left my sight did I begin to cry. I don't feel the same. I'm sure many of you can tell, I'm ready to leave. Beijing holds great stories for me, but it's time for me to leave, as I'm sure it is for all the Canadians. Some of us are spending time with our host families, some are shopping, others I'm sure may even be resting! There's just that empty and uncertain feeling that is very difficult to rid yourself of on your last day. And you can only be thankful there are 8 other Canadian brothers and sisters who feel the same way...

Thursday, March 20, 2008

"So, Chairman is Mao's first name?" - Stephane

I met Anne-Marie for a date on Sunday at the Book Worm in Sanlitun. We continued talking about China. She shared a lot of similar views, and even the few differences we fun to discuss. It was a shame I hadn't met her earlier and she was leaving soon. But that's where email comes in. If I ever go to Germany, I now have a contact.

We held our last CAD. It seemed a bit childish to go EEEH over going to the Beijing Zoo, but many of us hadn't gone in a long time. However, I think we expected too much. There were only two Chinese participants there. Participation level has been declining lately. I'm sorry to say, but that was the saddest zoo I've ever been to. We saw many animals walking around in circles or back and forth. I've been told that's a sign of them going crazy. The cages weren't always too small, but some just didn't seem that great. The animals didn't seem too happy. Not only that, like 4 exhibits were closed, including the bears, penguins, crocodiles, and hippos/rhinos. At least I got to see pandas! All 3 of them. Sorry to those I promised I'd bring you one home, they're a little harder to sneak out then I thought. Damn cages and all. Those bastards scratch hard too!

I had my food workshop the next day, the first part of debriefing. My intent was to compare the differences between breakfast, lunch and dinner in Canada and China. I had put a lot of effort into it. But the best laid plans go to crap! I was asked to shorten it to 11am so Jonathon could take us to a reserved room for Jamies birthday. I was already pressed for time, as circle check took up a large chunk. I tried. It went well at first, with Yuchan and I writing down information comparing the two countries. Yuchan was a bit unprepared for a question portion, and people were getting frustrated at the answering system, which made me flustered and jumpy. But it smoothed out. However, I still had to give up two activities I had planned, including a marshmallow fight. Everyone gave positive comments, but I was still a bit disappointed. I was a little bitter for the rest of the day, but wasn't mad at anyone. Sadie and Andy prepared a reverse culture shock workshop that afternoon. It was well needed for some people I think. A lot of the symptons of culture shock, and even reverse culture shock I had experienced before. I've warned people back home that I will be acting odd for a few days, so people should be expecting that. It set up some good remedies to dealing with it.

The next day, I had another workshop. This one was on reflection with our counterparts. I had everyone write a timeline, from the beginning of the program to the very day we left. They were to write good moments with their host families, counterparts and group, as well as bad times. They were to reflect on these and share with their counterparts and comparing experiences. Heather held a workshop that we would reflect on what we learned during our CWY experience, and what we would take home from it. I took it very seriously. We read letters that we wrote at the beginning of the China phase. I have a tendency to write something that makes me laugh when I read it afterward, such as at the end of my letter, "P.S. Go pick up as many fine women as you can, you stud you." Okay, okay, I lie. I didn't put, "you stud you" in there. I looked hard at what I learned and what I would remember when I came home.

Our last workshop was Felix and Anthony's on Chinese history. We read through some Chinese history, back to the Opium Wars. We've come aways to discuss sensitive subjects with our counterparts now, which include Mao, the Cultural Revolution and to a slight degree, Tibet. I'm quite happy our counterparts respect our desire to learn about these. Tomorrow is a our last CWY oriented portion of the program. Afterwards, its party party party! Except tomorrow. That's still totally Chinese, as we have very little idea whats going on, we're expected to cook god knows what dishes and do god knows what for entertainment. Damn. Shit, how many days left?

I love the bubbles! But they aren't melting!

I wasn't that motivated on my last day of work. To label books anyway. I did enough books to stack and make a pile in front of me so no one could see me, in the selfish effort to read my book, Oracle Bones. It was one of the books Maxime desired us to read so to be ready for our Chinese history workshop during debriefing. That, and just to read in general so to understand China. They've been really helpful and I suggest them to anyone desiring to understand China sans visiting. I had lunch with Yuchan and Lynsday and went shopping with them in the afternoon. Near Xizhemen, we shopped for clothes. They reminded me I needed a nice dress shirt for our farewell party, and I asked them to help me. They were helpful, but it still felt like a mistake. They insisted on this shirt, or that shirt, none of which felt like "me" I hate wearing clothes that I don't feel comfortable in. I stopped being someone else after high school, and to have someone insist on wearing a shirt that wasn't my style felt a bit like an insult. I know they didn't mean it and they were being helpful. I could have been a little more cooperative though. I sucked it up and bought a shirt. Now, I can look like every other Chinese poser in the clubs! I didn't stay in the mall long, and decided to spend the rest of the sunny afternoon visiting Beihai Park, another stop on my to-do list. I made a sarcastic remark to a girl about having to pay like 4 tickets to see everything at an attraction, which she knew about. We began talking and next thing you knew, 2 hours went by. We walked around the park, talking a lot about China. I gave Anne-Marie my number. Still got it. And I didn't have to wear a silly shirt!

I wore that shirt the next day to our final EAD, the Olympic EAD. Jamie and Jonathon did a good job and put on a good EAD. There was lots of information, from the history to the olympics to the political and environmental agendas attached. In the afternoon, we went to the Birds Nest stadium. Or tried to. It's still under construction for crying out loud! The park area anyway. We couldn't get close, so we took pictures from afar. We even saw the neighboring Water Cube in the distance! Alas, they would not remain in the distance out of reach. That night, we went partying, staying in a hotel. It was an alright night. Dinner at the same Russian restaurant, we stayed for a bit of a house party at Michelles, and then went out. From meeting cute 30 year old lawyers to almost getting run over by trucks in a random construction yard, it was a good night. It was quite the coincedence meeting up with our other half of the group who had stayed at Michelles at the same club late at night! But we all partied together until late. Yuchan had informed us earlier that she met a guy who designed the logo for the Water Cube, and he could give us a tour! Felix was going to the Summer Palace, which I also wanted to do, but I would never get another chance to go to the Water Cube. This was too perfect, especially considering we couldn't see it or the Birds Nest at the EAD that day. We went out the next morning, with only a minor case of a certain person getting lost in another subway station. We made it to the meeting point where her friend picked us up. The Water Cube is one of the large swimming gymnasiums for the Olympics. In fact, it's not even open to the public until AFTER the Olympics! We were very fortunate. We were toured around, seeing the pool and other areas of the stadium. It's unique because it's a new conceptual architural design, and is actually environmentally friendly! It's made of large special plastic bubbles that are inflated with air constantly. It was really cool, especially knowing we got a sneak peak of what many will not get to see it for a long time!

"The smoke from my imaginary guns made me cough" - Sadie

I found myself with a free afternoon one weekend, and decided to go to Mao's Tomb. I still haven't went, so it felt like a good time to check out it. I caught the bus and was pissed to find out that Tiannamen Square was blocked off. Apparently they knew I was coming. Actually, March was the month of two very important meetings I was told. So when the politicians come out, they block off the Square, which includes Mao's tomb. Rather then waste an afternoon, I decided to do something else I wanted to do for awhile. I went to the Military Musuem. Gary had shown interest in making a day trip there with the group as an activity, but I'm sorry to say my faith has been waivered in him. And I thought it would be too hard to plan, and therefore wouldn't happen, so I went anyway. I didn't have any ID (on account of a lost wallet) but the guard gave me a ticket! I think it was free anyway though, I'm not sure. It was a very large museum, and one of the most well put together ones I've seen here. There was a vast amount of Chinese history, from the dynasties, during the Great Leap Forward to present. I was glad to be alone, as those are often places I feel rushed by others who glance at things quickly and move on, so I could go at my own pace now, and enjoyed myself.

That week was my last week of work. I didn't feel as though I could justify 3 months of shitty volunteering into 3 short days, and I was right. Although the tasks they held for me did have validity, I wasn't too enthused. Sticking decimal labels onto the spines of books isn't that great. But I did it anyway, just listening to music the entire time. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaall by myself. Yuchan had family matters to deal with, Gary had things to do at his other workplace, and nobody knew where the hell Nancy was, who hadn't shown up once yet. Whoopee!

We had another CAD on Monday the following week. It was to a new neighborhood most of us had never been. We first stopped for lunch, where Andy and Jonathon joined us with some baijiu. It was a merry afternoon, and they were very sentimental about us leaving, wishing for us to remember that moment and try not to miss them when we were gone. I fail. I miss them already and I haven't even left yet! We walked (with a little stumble) to a tea house run by a friend of Jonathons. We drank some tea, chatted, and then watched a traditional tea ceremony. We walked through a hutong, exploring a bit until we arrived at a antique shop which turned out to be fucking expensive! 100 yuan for a tiny lock? Screw that! We explored a little more, checking out other shops with paintings, antiques and whatnot. We got seperated from everyone and went out own way, eventually going home.

It continued being a busy week. We were invited to play basketball with the Chongwenmen Government District Office. We all went to a school gym after work and warmed up a bit. It was the CWY guys against them. We put up a good fight, made some good sweat, but they beat us in the end. They were very sportsmen and took us all out to a kao ya (roast duck) dinner. They were very chatty and asked us questions about Canada, our Mandarin, and living here. They were a nice bunch of guys.

The next day, I left work early to go to Gary's workplace. It may have taken 3 months, but he finally planned a day for me to play games with kids. We went to an elementary school not far from his work place. I found it a bit frustrating, because I had to keep changing the plans I had made, because it would go from 2 hours to 1, and then I had to make it educational and teach them english or something, and then I had 2 groups instead of 1. But I improvised well. I taught the kids the numbers 1-10 in french, as I couldn't think of some new standardized english phrases they hadn't already heard a million times, and then I taught the next group the Canadian provinces. Forgive me, I forgot the territories. I played "steal the bacon" and the island game with them, both of which they loved. As a thank you after, Gary's supervisor gave me the last Olympic volunteer bracelets. Now I have all 5 olympic colors! Blue, red, green, yellow, black. A full set!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

The only thing that is best at its worse!

Shame on me, the usually disciplined blogger. However, I've been busy, as I'm sure these stories will tell you. Rather then throwing in two weeks or so of long, boring Canada World Youth adventures, I shall write them in small chunks. Chunk number one!

We had a CAD one day at the Natural History Museum. I found many of the exhibits were half finished, broken, or even innacurate. However, the museum had not actually been open yet, and we were granted special access. I laughed at seeing a display showing so few bears in BC, yet plenty in Quebec, along with cougars (heh, cougars). That afternoon, we went to the Temple Of Heaven to chill. We had extra time to spare, so many of us relaxed in the warm cloudless day; some read, others explored, or even slept. I found myself not particulary restless and hacky sacked. After, we had a small volunteer job to do. We helped clean the game room for kids of a building that I believe was a center for children. Details were very vague and little information was given to us. We cleaned the dusty area, from toys to fooseball tables to a small science lab. Had it been opened, and the place actually informed of volunteers in need, we may have ended up there. Zao gao.

Just when I thought there was nothing better to do in China. Boy, was I wrong. Going to the Great Wall a third time keeps things interesting. Especially this particular trip. Gary and I had just finished our Environment EAD, where we discussed the environmental problems and solutions of China. Some of those being desertification, the obvious air pollution, and sanitation. However, before I met our group at Maximes, I had a date. Yes, Devon Flynn works his magic around the world. It was Natalie, the Russian girl I, ahem, got to know. I met her at the subway station and ran into four of my friends before we made it to the coffee shop. We sat and talked, from living in Beijing, to travelling, work, food, etc. It was a short, but good date. I met up with the group after some frustrating confusion with train and subway/metro. Naturally, it was me who made the blunder, but I don't want to take all the blame. We boarded our sleeper train which we would be housed in until 3:30am. Some people chatted for awhile, others slept right away in our tiny yet cozy bunkbeds. We arrived at a train station debating whether to walk to the beach or take taxis. Advice: at 4am, walking should never be an option. Don't be cheap. This, however, is not a live and learn situation for which I am prone for. We coughed up the 15 yuan for a ride to the beach in two taxis. There, smack dab in the dark, in a far off province of China, at 4 in the morning, on a cold wintry beach, were 10 Canadians and 1 Chinese participant. But don't things like that make the best memories? We walked a bit, and then retired for the morning in the front of a cement building. We all chatted for awhile and then slept. Not all of us brought our sleeping bags or blankets, which would resort to some rather close sleeping. Spooning=heat. And it was pretty cold. Morning came, and we enjoyed our own packed lunches, waking up with some "Foreign Girl" wine, the butt of some jokes there. We revelled at the rising sun, a bit late as we thought we couldn't see it through the pollution, which apparently even haunts the eastern shores. However it soon rose, jaded in smog, with a tanker on the water and a fisherman on a tube, bouncing on the water. We carried on, eager to see the beginning of the Great Wall. The very beginning is called the Dragons Head; however, due to rising waters, it can no longer be seen. In fact, we never did find where the wall meets sea. We were side tracked, and it was too difficult. With some peddlars pushing post cards on us a town away, we showed interest in the location shown on the cards. We had a woman drive 8 of us to this wall, quite a ways away. It was located at the bridge of a damn, far away from anything. So secluded, miles from anything it seemed. We paid our tickets and found out the attraction was more then just a section of the Great Wall. It was actually a bird sanctuary and history exhibit in cave tunnels. Both were unfinished, as we were in the off tourist season. We did see a few pretty birds in a large netted area, and wandered through some cavernous halls, seeing the occasional exhibition room or bronze statue. We climbed the wall after. It was different then the rest, as it ran directly into the mountain side. Upon reach the top, it went nowhere. It just merely stopped. However, the journey up was amazing. It was an unrepaired section of the Great Wall, lending to its authenticity and making the danger factor multiply the adventure. Parts of the wall were missing, destroyed by history. Yet it was stable enough to go to the top. I contemplated the idea that it was an earnest thing to be enjoyed, not bought, climbing the Great Wall. It's not something you can buy a ticket, ride a gondola and say "I climbed the Great Wall!" Those people are phonies and should be shot! You have to sweat, in the heat and dust to experience it. Third times a charm! We returned to town, grabbed dinner and boarded another train. It was quite crowded, but we found salvation in the dining car, where we paid extra for seats and a small meal. We were exhausted, but some people mustered the energy to go party that night. I wasn't one of them.