New Photography Portfolio Page

Hey y’all… been back in Portland for over a month now and I’ve created a portfolio of some my/our best photos from our most recent trips and some earlier ones. You can visit it here.

While you’re at it, here is my band’s sound cloud page featuring the new hit “Two Farts in the Wind.” Enjoy.

Thanks for your support!!!

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The Long Road Home

Our Itinerary – China (Beijing) – Egypt – Turkey – Greece – Italy – England – Iceland – USA (via Denver, road tip through California to our home in Oregon)

I’ll be giving quick updates as to where we are and what we’ve done here…

The blogs EgyptTurkeyGreeceItalyEngland, and Iceland are all finished. It was one helluva ride but we aren’t done yet. The last leg of our trip begins in Colorado as we venture through Arizona and the Grand Canyon, into Vegas… Then we will pop over to California and travel up the coast, visiting family and friends along the way before we finally arrive in our hometown of Portland.

These blogs have been a blast and I want to thank everyone for reading! I hope to continue writing about future travels as well as some of the local travels in our home state of Oregon. Lauren and I have seen so much of the world but we haven’t gotten around to seeing Oregon’s backyard… so that is next on our agenda.

Again, thanks for reading everyone, it’s been a blast!

I’ve added a portfolio for some of my best and favorite photos taken on the road… Have a look!

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UPDATES AND CURRENT LOCATION:

October 6 – tomorrow morning we embark on the last leg of our trip. We’ve been getting our ducks in a row for Portland (jobs, apartment, etc.) and now we are ready to be home. Only a few more stops and we’ll be enjoying some of the best beer in the world. We simply cannot wait! See you all soon!

October 4 – Well it took 14 months, and 10 countries but we are finally back in the USA. Right now we are relaxing in Pagosa Springs, CO with Lauren’s mom before we embark on our long road trip back through the Grand Canyon, and up through California.

October 1 – We enjoyed our brief stay in England, visiting Dover, Canterbury and London with our dear friend Sylvia… We are now on the last night of our journey in Iceland. Looking forward to being back in the good ol’ US of A

September 26 –Well Italy came and went quickly. After Rome we visited Naples and nearby Pompeii… Afterwards we took a train up to Venice for a few days. Now we are relaxing in London… beautiful-expensive London.

September 20 – Greece came with mixed reviews. You can read about it here. Yesterday we landed in Rome and visited the Vatican and Sistine Chapel. Today we set out for the Coliseum and much more.

September 11 – Last night in Turkey. We fly into Athens tomorrow.

September 10 – We have arrived in Izmir after spending 2 nights in Selcuk, visiting Ephesus and enjoying a very pleasant city.

September 7 – 2 nights in Fethiye and now we’ve arrived in Pamukkale.

September 3 – After 3 nights in Cappadocia, we are enjoying some beach and relaxation in Patara, the Lycian area of Turkey.

August 27 – Currently we are in Istanbul, Turkey. After 4 days and 3 nights here, tomorrow we leave for Cappadocia via night bus.

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I Heart BJ (Part Duex)

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Today is our last day in all of China… it’s a somber day, as we say goodbye to some great, life-long friends. On the other hand, it is a relief to be leaving a country that comes with mixed reviews. The last few days have been adventurous to say the least…

I last left off with us returning home a couple days ago from Tienanmen Square. We next visited the Beijing food street and experienced some of the best food and tourism Beijing has to offer. I tried scorpion, which basically tasted like burnt nothing… the food on the whole was delicious, especially the lamb on a stick. The crowds were thick with foreigners and Chinese alike. I replaced my Mao hat that I lost weeks ago; that satisfied me greatly.

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part of the line

The next day we planned to go see the Great Wall of China. There are basically three locations where you can visit the wall: Badaling, Mutianyu, and Simatai. Badaling is the site most visited (and crowded)… we originally planned to see the wall twice; once at Badaling with the crowds, and once at Simatai where nobody goes because it’s far away and because it hasn’t been reconstructed. We took a subway to the bus station where you can pay a couple bucks for a ticket to the wall. We got there and the line was LITERALLY farther than the eye can see. It was one twist and turn after another… around a corner, down a hill, under an overpass and beyond. It was hilarious… they were cramming people onto these buses like rice in a sack… I’m talking standing room, sardines in a can. So yeah, we scrapped that idea and decided to go see the Summer Palace.

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The Summer Place (Imperial Garden) was absolutely stunning;  it far outweighed our expectations. It’s a bit of a hike with lots of places to rest and enjoy the view. The crowds were bearable and the weather was gorgeous… so in the end, the day worked out.

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the gauntlet

The next day we pre-booked a private driver to take us to Simatai and do the Jinshanling trek. We got in the van at 8 in the morning 100_5072but they pulled over quickly because they decided that they didn’t wanna go to the Hebei province, where Jinshanling is located. It didn’t make any sense because it’s like 10 km from Simatai, but they just refused to do it (also, they said Simatai was closed but the sites online said it just re-opened.) After about 45 minutes of arguing with them, we decided to pay less and have them drive us to Mutianyu instead (800 kuai for 6 people in a van)… It ended up working out far better than we could have imagined. After the 45 minute ride out there, we bought our ticket and started our ascent. We decided against the gondola ride, so we hiked for about 30 minutes up these insanely steep steps to reach the top of the Great Wall. Once we reached it, we all got our second wind. At first the plethora of tourists were nauseating, but every step thinned the herd little by little, until we reached the gauntlet. I would say this section turned at least half of the remaining crowd back. It was a difficult section, but we made it and took some great photos at the top.

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After another 20 minutes of hiking you essentially reach the ‘end.’ After that, they tell you to travel at100_5019 your own risk, but they don’t stop you. Slowly the upkeep got worse and worse until we reached the un-kept portion of the wall… We all loved this part because it was quite engaging to see the wall for what it actually is; no tourists, no reconstruction, no signs and plenty of overgrowth. We kept going for another 20 minutes until fatigue got the best of us. We rested, took in the view and the moment… Similar to my experience with the Inca Trail, in the end it was a euphoric; experience to be sitting atop a construction visible from space, that went on for another 4,000 km; all the way to the Gobi desert. One of the best experiences of my life…

The walk back down should have been awful, but it was actually amazing. By 2pm, most of the tourists were gone. Which meant we could take some great, isolated photos with nobody in the background ruining it. Seeing the wall with nobody on it was almost shocking… certainly inspiring. My recommendation (via Mutianyu) would be to go around 11am, take the gondola up (to save your energy) and hike as far as your body can take, until you reach the ruins and beyond. If we had it in us, we would have kept going… but that first leg of the wall took a lot out of us.

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I heart crowds

The next day we forced ourselves to go see the Forbidden City, even though we knew it would be underwhelming after the wall… Probably not the best order to see things, but the weather stuck a wrench in our plans a few days earlier. We also wanted to see Mao’s body but we got up too late. Not to late to see him (you can view him until 11am) but because there are a lot of people in China; and when the sun is out, these sites can only be described as an infestation. It’s very strange to me, because the Chinese come out in full force because the weather is nice, but they all bring an umbrella to block the sun… so picture 10,000 people (my rough estimate) and half of them have umbrellas resting at eye level. Nobody looks where they are walking, so it really tests your patience. In order to go to either Tienanmen’s Square or the Forbidden City you have to walk through an underpass (essential a choke point) and a security checkpoint. It’s so moronic that we almost didn’t go; not gonna miss that…

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After half an hour sweating our nuts off underground, we made it to Forbidden City (we skipped Tienanmen’s Square, because fuck it). I’ll make this quick… Forbidden City is pretty over-rated. The Summer Palace was far and away better. The crowds, the umbrellas, the heat, the price… I could go on. The Forbidden City cost more than the fucking Great Wall of China… how stupid is that? Plus, you have to pay extra to see some of the other sites inside. It doesn’t really feel so ‘forbidden’ when you experience it with half of China. I would suggest going in the late afternoon, when the crowds clear out a bit (this is a general rule you can follow in China).

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For our last dinner, we experienced Beijing (Peking) duck because “I have to.” It was pretty good… damn expensive but good. We enjoyed some beers, had some laughs about our year together and passed out pretty early.

So here we are, waiting to say goodbye to China, but more importantly our good friends. It has been an amazing year; disconcerting at times and down-right euphoric during others. It’s an experience I would encourage anyone to do at least once in their lifetime. The friends and memories mean more to me than anything else money can buy. China, I hate to see you go, but I love to watch you walk away (not really).

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…will miss you guys

Quick Reviews:

Lama Temple – Tibetan style… lots of Buddhas; the last one being the best, standing over 15 meters tall. 25 RMB – B-

Temple of Heaven – The temple itself is stunning but it’s very touristy; almost impossible to gt a shot without someone in it. Inside of it would have breathtaking if they let you in or at least lit the damn thing. All the other side stuff is pretty meh, 30 RMB –

Tienanmen Square – An interesting historical site that doesn’t offer much aesthetically. The crowds can be out of control. – B

Summer Palace – Surprisingly beautiful… exceeded our expectations. It offers a short moderate hike, some interesting architecture, great views and the crowds are reasonable. Also, right on the metro line. 30 RMB – 40 w/ the viewpoint – A-

Great Wall of China (Mutianyu) – Magnificent. The hike is fantastic, challenging and rewarding. The further you go, the less people you will find. The site offers the opportunity to see the wall in it’s reconstructed stage, as well as some untouched ruins if you go up far enough. I cannot recommend this portion of the wall enough. 58 RMB – A+

Forbidden City – Located next to Tienanmen Square; it shares the crowd. Pain in the ass to get into… doesn’t really fell ‘forbidden’ with so many people bumping elbows. I’m not sure I would even like it that much even without the crowds. You also have to pay extra to see some of the interior exhibits. Maybe seeing it after the Great Wall didn’t help… I just don’t get all the hype. Needs a new paint job as well. 60 RMB – D+

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Last Days in Guangzhou… First days in Beijing

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We finished our last days teaching in Guangzhou and now begin our lengthy trip back home… first stop, Beijing…

The last few days were tough as we said goodbye to our students, colleagues and friends. My class graduated and moved on to primaryIMG_1310 school. For Lauren, it was a little harder. Had we stayed, she would have kept her class. For me, my class was graduating no matter what, so it wasn’t quite as sad to see them go. For awhile, we had contemplated staying here but for a variety of reasons we just felt like one year was about the right amount of time given how old we are, what we missed back home and some of the drawbacks of staying… It was a tough decision but we felt like we made the right one.

IMG_1156First we had to say goodbye to our kids… we had a party and relaxed on the day after graduation. Nicole (my Chinese teacher) cried, as did a number of my students. I got a little dust in my eye at the very end but I was proud of how far the kids had come. It was sad, but like I said, it was the right time.

Things weren’t so easy for Lauren. Her kids were staying for two more years, and she would have been their teacher had she stayed. She cried… Then we said goodbye to the staff and some of the other teachers, collected our last paycheck, had a farewell party, then packed our giant bags for Beijing.

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Six of us were going in total : Lauren, Brandon, Johnny, Vicky, Gavin and myself. We took the bullet train from Guangzhou South Railway Station… the trip lasted about 8 hours and cost 880 Kuai (roughly $145 USD). The trip was fast but the service was AWFUL. We were all supposed to sit together but they messed up our seating so we had to play musical chairs at every stop just to make sure we were all on the same car. The three closest bathrooms to our car stopped working half way because they were “out of water”… They didn’t give us any complimentary water for it and the prices and selection of food and drinks were dreadful. Throughout the last week or so, Lauren and I have been using the expression “not gonna miss that” with constant frequency, and this train ride was no exception.

We finally arrived in Beijing, hired a van to take us to our hotel and dumped our heads on a pillow. I caught a cold on the train ride up and Lauren was still trying to shake her food poisoning from the last day or so… I ripped my shorts as I got off the train… so, things were off to a rough start more or less. Oh and the pollution… DELICIOUS! It rivals our trip to Xi’An from back in December.

The first full day we had, we went and saw Lama Temple (Yonghe Temple) and the Temple of Heaven. Lama Temple was basically just a collection of Buddahs in a Tibetan style temple/monastery… nice if that is your sorta thing… The last of the Buddahs was quite large and impressive… 25 kuai was a reasonable entrance price.

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The Temple of Heaven was nice… Constructed from 1406-1420… so it’s… you know, old and pretty and stuff. The inside of it looks amazing but they don’t let you go inside or even light it up… so it’s pretty hard to admire the intricate interior achievements. The crowds are as thick as the pollution and the surrounding sites around the temple itself reach absolute meh… There is the Circular Mound Alter, where you can wait in line for 20 minutes to stand on a round slate called the Heart of Heaven, where the emperor prayed for good weather or something… It’s just an elevated circle on the ground… The Imperial Vault of Heaven has an echo wall that doesn’t echo and more long lines… Still, I think everyone enjoyed both sites.

 

TOH

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That night we ate some delicious back ally food… the food here is like 10 times better than that of the Guangdong province… also, the people are much taller and friendlier. The builders are also much shorter and the streets are more narrow than in Guangzhou. Overall, (aside from the pollution) I like the layout of Beijing more than Guangzhou… Also, the subway system is very detailed and easy to navigate.

Today we went to Tienanmen Square but it was raining extremely hard; that didn’t stop us from going, briefly. We bought some ponchos and braved the weather for these amazing photos…

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We had planned to see the Forbidden City and Mao’s tomb but we decided to come back on a better day. Tomorrow our plan is the go see the Great Wall, weather permitting…

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A Full Set of Teeth (finally) and My Last Day Teaching PE

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First for anyone interested, I added a new page: travel tips. It’s pretty self-explanatory…

After 11 months of being toothless in China, I finally get to have 32 teeth again like the rest of the world (well, most of the rest of the world). It has been quite the process; 1 tooth extraction, 2 surgeries, over 15 appointments, lots of tears and countless hours of commute.

I must say, it feels strange having a tooth again… I find myself running my tongue over my new and smooth lateral incisor (had to look that one up). Most of my friends here in China haven’t really seen me with a full set of teeth; maybe now they can tone down their jokes… For me, I’m just glad it’s finally over. I can smile in pictures again! My dentist however, cannot…

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My dentist, the giver of tears

Quick Recap:

Got to China and soon after my tooth was… well, gross. I had a root canal done years ago and it failed on me. The tooth was infected and essentially split in two; it had to be extracted. After it was pulled I had to wait for 2 months for the wound to heal. Afterwards, I had my first surgery which was an oral implant. Basically, the bone (my skull) that they need to screw the fake tooth into is too far away, so they implant a bone extention*. That surgery was one of the most painful procedures I had ever endured; even worse than getting the tooth itself pulled.

*note: for some people, they can skip this step if their skull is the right shape in proximity to your teeth. Avoiding the first surgery and saving yourself well over $1000 on the total cost.

After waiting for that to heal for about 5 months, I went back in for the second surgery. This one wasn’t as painful but hardly enjoyable. Then the stitches had to be removed; these stitches might as well have been yarn, they were so thick.  Then the wound needed to heal again for about 3 weeks. Next they took a mold of my teeth and… voila, a full set of teeth!

The price for all of the procedures and appointments was a little less than $3000 USD… Hardly cheap, but much cheaper than having work done it the states. For example, an x-ray here costs $6 and an MRI costs about $45.

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before…

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moments after second surgery

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and after…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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IMG_0996Last Friday was my last day working at CLS (Canadian Language School) where I teach PE. I really enjoyed the enormous diversity of the children. I had kids from Syria to Italy, from India to Lebanon.  They were brats at times, but who could resist those faces? I’ll miss em… I IMG_0998wanna say the kids were sad to see me go, but I’m pretty sure they will have forgotten me by the week’s end – having sucked me dry of my daily prizes… We had good times but I’m extremely happy to have my afternoons back. The weather is ungodly hot and managing a class of 30 kids by yourself, in the heat of the day without any air-conditioning is exhausting. It was a good run and it helped with our trip home, but the time was at an end. Lauren and I will continue working at CIEO until the end of July, when we head back…

Cheers

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ok I lied, this is me…

 

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Shangchuan Island via Guanghai – A Pavement Oasis

 

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Shangchuan Island is the largest coastal island in the Guangdong province… We went there and man… it was weird.

The island itself isn’t particularly close to Guangzhou. We took a 3 hour bus ride from the bus station at Tianhe Coach Terminal (line 3 on the metro) to the city of Guanghai. From there it’s another 45 minute bus ride to the dock and an hour boat ride to the island.

We arrived late in the afternoon, so we missed the last ferry/boat to the island. We decided to hire a private car to drive us closer to the dock, so that we could just wake up and go the next morning and have the whole day there. Eventually we found a town five or so minutes from the dock and booked the first hotel we could find. The town was shocked to see foreigners. A guy with perfect English came up to us and asked us what in the hell we were doing there… We told him about going to Shangchuan and he informed us there are two island. One is a resort type island (that we would go to) and the other one is meant for fishing. He was a nice fellow… We eventually ate, drank too much baijiu (or at least I did) and went to bed.  Nothing too exciting…

 

The next morning we woke up early and headed for the dock. The boat was first come first serve; which is always an experience in IMG_0439China since they don’t really believe in lines… We got there a little before 11am and made an IMG_0542inquire as to what we should do and where to go. We were driven to this strange little beach ‘town’ – not quite a town but not really a resort either. I don’t really know what to call it but you pay 60 RMB (10 USD) to get in… It seemed awfully steep but we had come all this way… The place was just your classic China – clashing beauty with dilapidation. The town managed to look both modern and post-apocalyptic… shabby, sun-stained buildings next to brand new statues and well-maintained forestry. We started to wonder what exactly our 60 RMB was getting us… The food was average and overpriced. We asked about finding a room and the prices were pretty outrageous. Anywhere from 600-900 RMB for a night in a room that is pure crap… There were 5 of us and we wanted to cram into a room with 2 beds but they would only let 2 people stay in one room. Chinese regulations or some shit… After shopping around we found a place for slightly cheaper and exhaustion made us settle on it. All hotel rooms in this part of China look the exact same…

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We headed down to the beach for a swim. In China, nobody knows how to swim and they are deathly afraid of the water. You knowIMG_0592 IMG_0594how beaches are… well… everywhere else in the world? You can go where you want, swim where you want and do what you want (within reason). Well, not in China. They have a swimming area that is probably half the size of a football field. I started to walk in and the lifeguard demanded that I/we wear a life jacket. The best part about it: at the deepest, the water was only waist high. They expect everyone to wear these giant, orange life jackets (that weren’t free) in water that you can’t even swim in… You would have to be incredibly skilled to drown in something like this. We argued and eventually just went in… The 5 of us sat down and relaxed in water that was 2 feet deep. I started to venture out further, where the water is waist high but the referee cited me with a red card and demanded I come back to ‘shallow water’. This was just CLASSIC CHINA. They take a stunning beach (and it was truly stunning) and let the fun police ruin and regulate it. The day was beautiful so we decided to go for a walk, away from the designated swimming area. They told us not to because that area was ‘for fishing’ – despite the fact that not one person was fishing.

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during the day, no Asians in sight

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We went and looked at the Nine-Dragon cave… an odd little park with loads of statues that make no sense… just creepy. There is a 10 minute hike to the top where you can find a pathetic penis statue (there is a joke in there somewhere). We snapped our photos then looked at the statues in the cave. Strange… that’s all I can say.

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seriously… what the fuck?

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huehuehuehuehuehue

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Shang Tsung – the latter years

 

 

Next we walked out to an island that basically looked deserted… Sat down in the waist high water and relaxed. From a distance, we saw a boat coming our way from the swimming area – they had spotted us! 10 minutes later they were throwing their red flag at us again; telling us we couldn’t swim there because of jellyfish. So we hiked to the top of the island on a concrete path, overgrown by vegetation. At the top was a nice view and a statue. We made our way back to the beach and on the walk back, we noticed there were tons of jellyfish washed up on the shore; so maybe there was some truth to what the lifeguard was saying… We got back, had a beer and passed out from our sunburns.

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Around 6 PM is when the Chinese come out from their dwellings and visit the beach. They are scared of the sun and afraid of darkening their skin. Once the sun has set, the beach becomes littered with Chinese that look like walking, orange buoys. Every one of them is wearing a life vest, even when they aren’t in the water. It was actually amazing for us because the beach was deserted during the beautiful part of the day and infested when we didn’t need it anymore. Once the sun completely sets, search lights (YES SEARCH LIGHTS) scan up and down the beach to make sure nobody is having any fun or enjoying the view of the stars (something that is hard to find in Guangdong). Going to the beach in China is truly an experience – something every foreigner must try at least once.

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the beach at dusk

The next day we went to the “Province Nature Protect Area”… that sounds like a nice park or biosphere or maybe even an animal sanctuary of some kind… but no. It’s a concrete path to a random monkey IMG_0755zoo in the middle of some sort of forest. It was anything but a IMG_0700sanctuary… more like a carnival. The adult monkeys do tricks while the younger monkeys relax and look cute. It felt wrong being there because I’m not so sure they were treating these monkeys all that well. Not terrible, and nothing worse than a carnival but still… We were greeted by 5 monkeys trained to do a flag show. Many of the monkeys are free to walk around and do what they want; that part I enjoyed. They had the alpha male in cage – probably too aggressive. Then a man with a loud whip made a monkey do some pretty impressive tricks… He caught knives, rode a bike and dunked a basketball. It was entertaining but I felt pretty bad for these monkeys – but caged, wild animals in general are always a little disheartening for me.

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After the monkey shows… wait, sorry – Province Nature Protect Area, we saw the Lechuan Buddha. This ancient relic constructed in 1993 was both big AND gold. Have a walk inside the Buddha and see some more queer statues… incredible. The best part about this site were the view points. This island itself is gorgeous and if you can get away from the tourism it is quite enjoyable. We snapped some more photos and relaxed under some shade. Afterwards we headed back to the dock and set sail for home.

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All in all, I’m glad we went. China is such a peculiar country, and this trip demonstrates the ways in which it is both compelling and underwhelming. Shangchaun Island is breathtaking… It’s just a shame that China doesn’t know what to do with it.

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China Update – Mostly Just for Friends and Family

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I just posted to our blog, about our trip to Indonesia… click here to check it out! (it’s also at the top right of this page)

We haven’t done much traveling in China lately… Before Indonesia we went back to Zhuhai for Lauren’s birthday… We basically did the same things as last time… go-karts with a hangover, beer and street BBQ. Dan even got a massage from the same beggar as last time. Good times!

IMG_3967We also did some laser-tag again for Tom’s birthday… lots of birthdays in April for foreigners. Brandon took us to a rock concertIMG_4053 downtown (he seems to go to one every week)… It was much better than I thought it would be and the venue had great acoustics. There were a few Guangzhou Evergrande soccer games in there as well. Other than that, things about been pretty mellow. We had this field trip where we went and planted a tree in this random, dump of a park in the middle of nowhere… It was a nice thought but I can almost guarantee that they pull those trees out afterwards and let some other school come back in and replant them just to save money/space. Maybe not… but maybe the moon landing was fake? I have my theories…

School has had its ups and downs; the main problem is they don’t really know how to treat foreigners – what we like and don’t like.100_4524 They tend to treat us like their Chinese staff and it just doesn’t work. Stanley, our foreign teacher manager had to IMG_4032go back to France for some hush-hush reason they won’t tell us about… he was basically kicked out of the country and we all have our theories, but I guess we will never know.  It’s all very strange…

The biggest news – Lauren and I have decided we will not be staying for another year. Our contracts are up at the beginning of July but we are going to stay until August because I want to be there for my kids to graduate and we want to be with our new friends here in China for just a little longer. Afterwards, we will head up to Beijing to see the Great Wall for a few days, then fly from there to Istanbul because it’s much cheaper than flying from Guangzhou. After we do Turkey for 2-3 weeks we plan on seeing some or all of the following countries: Greece, Croatia, Czech Republic, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Iceland and England. We have some nice connections in some of those countries, which will make it both more enjoyable and affordable.

Lastly, in less than 2 week I should be having the second operation for my tooth implant. I can’t wait to have this over with. I’m tired of looking like Cletus the slack-jawed yokel, and I’m even more tired of wearing this temporary tooth. It is time!

We should be back in Oregon sometime in October; just in time for rain and clogged storm drains! Hope to see you all then for some delicious, Portland IPAs.

Cheers!

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silky-smooth clothing

 

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A Quick Stop in Macau

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You gotta see Macau right? Might as well… I mean, the Bond movie was filmed there… gambling, debauchery, bright lights, big events and beautiful people. What’s not to love?

We took a train from Guangzhou to Zhuhai for 70 RMB (8 USD). It was nice, relaxing, short and affordable. From Zhuhai they make you wander through a one-way maze until you arrive at customs. There are about 20 lines that are 100 people deep (on a Saturday afternoon) and only two of the lines are not for Chinese nationals. We filled out our departure card and got in line. The frustrating part about the foreigners line is half of the line are Chinese nationals anyways, who just don’t give a shit. Half of us lined up in one, half in the other… I kept switching back and forth to which ever was moving faster (this made a number of people angry – mostly sour-faced Chinese nationals); it reminded me of that scene in Office Space.

45 minutes later and we were out of mainland China and into Macau… one more short line then we headed to the free shuttle bus area. Each of the big name hotels had their own free bus so we hopped on the Venetian one because we wanted to see if we could buy tickets there for the UFC fight. Their website for buying the tickets online was glitchy and we couldn’t get it to work, even with the help of our Chinese friend so this was the only other option.

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I had to do a double take on the painted clouds

The Venetian is HUGE… that is no over-statement. Much of it is very attractive with an array of stores, shops and food vendors eager to take your money. We went to the ticket counter to see if there were tickets still available for the fight and they said yes… We asked for the cheap ones and they said the only ones left were around 4800 RMB (about 750 USD). Why the hell would you ask us what tickets we want if there was only one available section left? They said everything else was sold out, which of course was a bunch of bullshit since we would later attend the event from scalped tickets and a solid quarter of the arena, and most of the cheap seats, were empty.

We walked around before we settled down at an Irish bar to rethink the plan. It seemed like the fight would be a no-go and we didn’t have an hotel room in Macau, so we would need to get through immigration before it closed at midnight. Even if we found tickets, the fight was set to last until around 1 in the morning and that would leave us with nowhere to go until immigration opened up again at 7am… It didn’t feel worth it to me, but we had come all this way to see the event so I guess… when in Rome.

Brandon was working the scalpers as the event was drawing near; they kept going lower and lower on their price the closer it got. In my estimation, they worked for the casino and they were trying to get foreigners to purchase the aforementioned expensive seats as they scalp the rest off right before the event. The cheapest seats sold for 280 RMB but Brandon managed to find six tickets that were much closer… We actually got them cheaper than the original price. Ours were 800 RMB originally and we got them for 500 a piece. It could have been worse. The only shitty thing was we couldn’t all sit together. Tom had gone home since he didn’t feel well and was under the assumption that we wouldn’t see the fight… So Brandon and Ga(r)vin sat together, Dan and Johnny, and me with my hot date.

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the view

100_4388Here is a recap of the event… The main bout was John Hathaway vs Don Hyun Kim. Brandon was the expert on UFC, I don’t really watch it all the much be he said the card wasn’t the greatest and that’s why he knew it couldn’t possibly be sold out.

It was a lot of fun. Our seats weren’t obscured by anything which is always nice. The first two fights were pretty boring but the last four were great, including an amazing knock out in the third round of the main event. The crowd was pretty quite and you could easily here the crunch of Kim’s elbow hitting (what appeared to be) Hathaway’s temple; he was out for a solid 2-3 minutes. Don Hyun Kim seemed to dominate it from start to finish and his Korean fanbase was loud and known during the fight. Warren Sapp was at the fight (GO BUCS) and a number of UFC fighters were sitting in the crowd, which made Brandon giddy with delight as he got to meet “Big Country” and he saw a few other fights who’s names escape me at the moment.

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it was true love

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fuckin wankers

The fight miraculously ended early so we were able to hop back on the shuttle bus back for immigration in time (before midnight) to stay in Zhuhai, as opposed to sleeping on the floor in some backdoor conference room in the Venetian… which I assure you, we would have attempted. We made it through immigration and Brandon, having been here over ten times, knew of a bunch of cheap hotels we could stay at. Sure enough he was right. We paid, grabbed some beer and found a street BBQ. Ga(r)vin passed out ripe and early but the rest of us drank too much cheap beer and baijiu. There are a bunch of pan-handlers looking for a few RMB. One of them gave Dan the best and most awkward massage I have ever witnessed. The other one woke up Ga(r)vin and took back a huge shot of baijiu, then took a tip. There were a few people with guitars, some with flowers… all in all, probably 15 different beggars came our way but we didn’t mind. It made the night more interesting. The hookers were out in plenty as well… We passed out around 4am.

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great pic of me

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she was excited

The next morning we did a little shopping and found a Starbucks. Dan left because he had to work but the rest of us did the Go-Karts. It was quite the thrill! Johnny was basically new to driving; looking scared and lost out there… crashing his kart numerous time. Brandon was a beast and Ga(r)vin was quite good as well. Lauren and I were ok, we finally go the hang of it, the drifting, toward the end. The best part came at the very end when we parked the cars in a row and waited for Johnny… we watched as came around the corner to fast and out of control as he crashed his car into our nice neat line, with his car ending up perpendicular. It was an amazing event to witness… Well worth 40 RMB.

Before we left we did a little shopping; bought some pirated movies and some jerky (beef, pork, fish). It was actually very good but much different than what you would get back in the States.

We didn’t get to gamble but the stakes were too rich for my blood anyways. We didn’t get to see Macau’s version of the strip because the Venetian is very far away from the rest of the casinos. Maybe we go back but I doubt it. China is too big… so much to see. Macau as a whole is a pretty big shithole minus the casinos. I don’t think there is much worth seeing unless you are going there for an event or to do some high stakes gambling. Man, I wish I was rich…

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Xi’An – Modern Smog Meets an Ancient Past

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We managed to slip away from work for five days and headed north for Xi’An; China’s ancient capital and home to a whole list of dynasties that kinda sound the same but not really. We arrived mid-afternoon and bought a bus ticket from the airport to the city IMG_3548center for 26 yuan. The first thing we saw were these billowing cauldrons of smog… the perfect city for these two farts in the wind. The bus drops you off fairly close to the Bell Tower. Xi’An is terribly cold this time of year so we wanted to find our hotel as soon as possible. Exhausted,  we finally found it after a 25 minute walk. I booked the wrong days but hotels.com let us switch the days hassle free, which was nice.  The room was warm and quaint… The shower was excellent (never underestimate the value of a good fucking shower). We had a grill-it-yourself Yakiniku dinner and quickly realized that the food in Xi’An puts Guangzhou to shame.

100_3932The next morning we visited the City Wall; entering by the south gate. Once on top it was obvious that we were under-dressed and that the walls were doing an excellent job of keeping the wind at bay within the city. On top, my nuts began to shrivel and freeze… The wall is 12 meters tall and very well kept; built during the Tang Dynasty (618-907), it is one of the most complete walls to have survived China’s various regimes/wars/misc other… This time of year it is slightly cheaper (50 yuan) and much less crowded. You can rent bikes but we walked it ourselves. It’s about 8.6 miles (14 kilometers) around… We made it about half way (to the north wall) before we called it quits and walked back through the city, using the Bell Tower as a land mark to get home. The City Wall is a must see and I would actually recommend renting bikes… We just didn’t know if we would have to return them to the same spot you rent them (which was on the east wall), in which case it wasn’t really worth it to us – plus the idea of having the wind in our face… Also, in the winter they close many of the entrances… I’m pretty sure you cannot enter by the east wall. The south is the most used entrance and we were a stones throw from it which was nice.

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On our way back we debated visiting the Bell Tower but it seemed like more of the same (plus it was something like 35 yuan to go up… meh) so we snapped a few pictures in front of it  and called it a day. A lady tried to convince us to take a guided tour to the Terra Cotta Warriors (TCW) the next day for 330 yuan but luckily Lauren talked me out of it. You can easily take a bus to the major bus station (they call it the railway station) and from there pay eight yuan for a one-way ticket to the Terra Cotta Warriors.

Here is the wiki link for everything you need to know about it beforehand:

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outside the bell tower

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site 2

The nice thing about our hotel (Ibis) is it was located right next to a bus stop. From Hotel Ibis you can take the 41, 25 or 30 to the railway station. Once you are there you can easily find buses marked “Terra Cotta Warriors” near the east side of the station that leave every 10 minutes. The next day we did exactly this. The 41 bus costs two yuan and the TCW bus was eight yuan… You can also take Tourism Bus 5 but it’s all the same and impossible to miss. The ride was a little over an hour… During the slow season the admission price  is 120 yuan for the TCW (150 during the high season). I’m pretty sure the entire population of China is waiting outside in the form of tour guides trying to sell you on their redundancies; telling you everything you can read on the signs yourself. We fought off their molestation, followed the signs and found the entrance (which is somehow slightly hidden and nowhere near the ticket office). We went from worst to best, saving site 1 for the grand finale (there are 3 sites and a museum). The museum was interesting but for some reason they put replicas behind glass… most of it was authentic but we found ourselves fighting for picture positioning only to find out an “ancient” horse and carriage/chariot was just a replica made to look old.

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site 3

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site 1

Site 3 was nice… I liked that most of it wasn’t reconstructed… they just excavated it and left it as is; which gave it a nice authentic feel. Site 2 was much smaller and many of the statues were upright and ready for viewing; which I also like but it was nice to see it both ways. Site 1 was of course the best. The stadium that contained it was huge. It’s one of those things where a picture will never do it justice. There must of been thousands of individually crafted warriors (there are over 8,000 in total) and horses; each one uniquely original and assigned a military ranking. They are still unearthing the site and expanding it. I don’t know what else to say about it really… Well worth the trip and admission.

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even Bill couldn’t keep the Asians out of his photo…

100_4123Afterwards we skipped the Huaqing Hotspring because meh… hot springs… meh… We took the eight yuan bus back and then bus 100_410741 back to our hotel… The Forest of the Stone Steles Museum was only a few blocks from there so we walked. Admission was 50 yuan and it was very nice; lots to see. It’s basically a collection of ancient, carved rocks made into various animals, tombs and Chinese tablets. There was also a large collection of calligraphy art as well as a Buddhist exhibit with a ton of Buddhas. For me personally, I’ve seen enough Buddhas for one lifetime. I enjoyed the museum a lot but it had been a long day so we headed back.

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a sky ladder

I had grand plans of relaxing the next day… maybe catching a bus to Big Goose Pagoda then heading out for New Years. DSCF8158Unfortunately Lauren had an appetite for destruction and wanted to go see Mount Hua. We got what felt like a good deal for a “tour”; 330 yuan each… I begrudgingly accepted. The next morning they picked us up about 45 minutes earlier than they said they would, only to stick us on a bus that didn’t leave for about half an hour… in Asia the term for this is “hurry up and wait”. They told us that we would be at the mountain and ready to climb by 11am but instead we got there half an hour late and then had to wait for the tour group to eat lunch. Despite the fact that we were less than 5 minutes from Mount Hua’s parking lot and that we didn’t even go up as a group we had to stick around and listen to the group slurp down their noodles for almost an hour; time that we would lose from our mountain adventure. It’s a good thing there were two friendly, bi-lingual girls sitting next to us because we would have had no clue what was going on. Basically we took the bus from the restaurant, to the Mount Hua parking lot. Then we were to take another bus to the gondola, which we would ride to the top… then we could do what we wanted with no guide and a Chinese map but we had to be back on the gondola by 4:50pm to catch the bus to the parking lot, to catch a shuttle to the original restaurant we went to, to catch our bus back home. Seem over-complicated? Well it was… What’s even funnier is we weren’t even a part of the group; apparently there were different routes and gondolas you could take that nobody ever told us about… The guide went another route… So basically we paid for someone to buy us our tickets and give us a ride with a set of complicated directions in Chinese.

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the gondola ride

100_4176Ok, now that I’ve ranted about the worst part, let me tell you what I liked about Mount Hua. First of all, it’s gorgeous. The weather was great and aside form the thick layer of cancerous smog in the distance there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. The gondola ride up was fun and it had a great view. We hiked to North Peak, which took about 10 minutes. The view was majestic. There are some fun things to see along the way; some shops, stray cats, sky ladders and rocks given dumb names. Then we made our way toward the other four peaks that we didn’t have enough time to see. Some of the steps and areas are actually somewhat dangerous, narrow and steep, but it was fun all the same. It took us a100_4172 couple hours to reach Central Peak which had another exceptional view. By this point we (well mostly DSCF8175me) were fucking exhausted. I was still fighting a cold and the weather was freezing. The steps were insanely steep at times… we kept on going and found ourselves near East Peak… The thing is, you see one or two peaks and you’ve kinda seen them all. We found a nice viewing area to the east and attached our love locket – I professed my undying love for Lauren, wrote her a song on the spot and sacrificed a goat in her honor. A cat we had fed earlier followed us up and we gave him some love… Apparently there are a bunch of mountain cats up here… Oh also (side note) you can rent rooms on the mountain itself which would have been fun and it would have allowed us to see everything. Anyways… I have the knees of an 80-year old man and we were running out of time so we had to descend… We didn’t get to do the Plank Road. It would have been nice to see the highest peak (East Peak) but we didn’t have the time or the energy. Poor Lauren had to listen to my bitching the whole time – it was LITERALLY the exact opposite of what I wanted to do. The walk down killed my knees but we managed to follow the directions and got dropped off at our hotel around 8pm. We went out for New Years dinner and fell asleep shortly after midnight.

100_4185The next day was our last day; our plane was set to leave around 8pm. We wanted to see Big Goose Pagoda before we left so we DSCF8236hopped on bus 30… There was a stop somewhat near the pagoda but we didn’t get out because we figured the bus would eventually find its way closer to it. We were wrong. After 25 minutes on the bus heading the wrong direction we got off and hopped on a different bus 30 heading back toward to pagoda. Eventually it gets you there but a word to the wise: if you see the pagoda and are on bus 30 coming from the inner city, get off the bus and just walk for 10 minutes; save yourself some time.

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the view from the top of Big Goose Pagoda

It’s 50 yuan to get into the walls of the pagoda and then they get you again; another 20 to go into the pagoda itself. Big Goose is pretty lame, I would skip it. There isn’t much to see inside. Nothing is old; the stairs and walls are basically new. It’s seven stories tall so it makes for a nice view point of the city. That’s about it. It’s big and old but it’s been worked on so many times it doesn’t have that same charm that the wall or the Terra Cotta Warriors has. Within the walls there are a number of Buddhas to see but nothing too spectacular. For 70 yuan I say skip it unless you love pagodas or have some time to kill.

100_4093 bwXi’An as city has a lot to love. The bus transit system is fantastic. There is also a subway and a high speed 100_3978train. The food is excellent and well priced. Like any place, some people are friendly and some are phlegm-gargling cock-knockers. The people who worked at our hotel were very helpful in telling us how to get to places. Xi’An offers countless tourist destinations and events. Having said all of that, it’s a great place to visit but I wouldn’t want to live there. The pollution is unbearable; it’s like someone is farting in your mouth every breath you take. It’s been a full 24 hours since I’ve been there and I still can taste the smog in my lungs and smell it on some of my clothes. From Mount Hua you could literally see just how disgusting it was. I fear for my lungs.

 

 

Here are a few websites we found useful. Some of the prices aren’t up to date but helpful nonetheless:

Top 10 Things to do in Xi’An

CNN – 7 Best Things to do in Xi’An

Trip Advisor – Activities in Xi’An

Some quick ratings

Ibis Hotel – Great location with friendly staff. 5 minute walk to the south entrance of the City Wall. 15 minute walk to the Forest of the Stone Steles Museum. Right on bus lines 30, 41, 25 giving you easy access to Big Goose Pagoda and the railway station. Rooms were warm and the shower/bathroom was excellent. Had to deal with construction near us and the room didn’t get wifi on the 6th floor. A-

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Hans

Hans Golden Restaurant – Food was below average. It’s a buffet where they keep bringing you meat. The buffet is crap, the meat is slightly above crap. The beer is pretty good and the price isn’t worth it (130 yuan for two people)… the beer was very big which helped. C-

Terra Cotta Warriors – the best thing I’ve seen in China. Easy to get to and reasonably cheap for what it is (120 yuan). A+

Mount Hua – if you were to go without a tour group (unlike us) it would be much better. We didn’t get to see half of it, including the highest peak and the Plank Road. Only do this if you are reasonably fit. The views are nice and you can lodge there as well. B+

Xi’An City Wall – A must see… A well preserved relic of an ancient world. Looks beautiful at night as well. A

Bell Tower – you can basically see the same building(s) on the wall itself. I say pass unless you wanna spend 30 yuan for more of the same. Give it a quick look from the outside. C

Big Goose Pagoda – big letdown. It doesn’t have an ancient feel to it… It’s just big. Nice view though. C-

Forest of the Stone Steles Museum – Carved, ancient rocks… calligraphy art. Beautiful Buddhas… reasonably priced (50 yuan). I enjoyed it. B+ 

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Teeth Be All Crazy and Stuff… Plus Martyr’s Park and Things

Howdy y’all! This slack-jawed yokel finally got back on track for his Chinese tooth expedition! It started about 3 weeks ago… well actually it started 3 months ago when I went through the joy of having my tooth pulled because of a failed root canal done years ago. After shopping around; comparing price and quality I decided to use the Guangzhou School of Stomatology (http://www.zdkqyy.com/) near Martyr’s Park. I trusted the quality; the building was clean and sanitary; the dentist on staff seemed very knowledgeable and friendly (plus I was tired of shopping around and wanted to get this shit done with.) The week before I had half of a root canal done at Clifford Hospital. I would have done the implant there but it was too expensive (closer to $3,000 USD). So, I had to get that finished and have the dental surgery done as well. I met with the dentist who said he could schedule me for surgery that day but not until 4:30 PM and not before I had a series of X-rays and an MRI done before lunch (in China, they tend to take lunch breaks anywhere from 1-2 hours and shut everything down.) Once lunch was over I went through the logistical process of scheduling, explaining and having the root canal done. They didn’t use any anesthetics for this… It didn’t hurt but it felt awfully strange. They really are reluctant to reduce or eliminate pain here; it seems to be a cultural thing because Eve (my Chinese boss/co-worker who graciously went with me to eliminate the language barrier) explained to me that her mother would tell her as child that pain was a good thing and that illness (or anything) would heal faster the more pain you felt. As you can imagine, this was very comforting with surgery forthcoming… After the root canal I waited nervously for the surgery. Lauren showed up for moral support… what a sweetheart.

I’ll explain what it is they did/will do. First off, my bone line is too high so they have to do a bone augmentation to extend my bone to a close enough distance where the tooth implant can reach it and be secure. Sometimes they use bone from your body (your chin or hip typically) or they can use bone from an animal… In my case, they would use an artificial or synthetic material that will be screwed into my skull through my gums, where the tooth was. After the material heals and my bone grows into it, they can proceed with the actual tooth implant. This is basically a three part process and because I have to have the synthetic graft, it makes it about twice as expensive as it would be without it; around $2,200 USD.

Back to the surgery… My heart was racing; I’ve never had surgery before and based on the pain I felt from the tooth extraction I was cautiously optimistic that this wouldn’t hurt as much… Nope. They brought me into the room and tried to calm my nerves… I tried to oblige them but let’s face it, I felt like I was in some organ harvesting backroom by that point. They iodined by whole face and mouth then gave me a series of about 6-8 shots (hard to tell as I stopped feeling them)… The last shot looked like the width of a pencil as I saw and felt it go in… I think I would rather have had an enema by that point. My eyes were watering but I felt pretty numb so I was hopeful that this was the extent of the pain… The first incision he made I could somewhat feel… It didn’t really hurt but I felt it… My heart started to race but luckily that was about all I felt. I don’t know what the surgery looked like and I can’t decide if I would re-watch it if I had the chance… I think not. I could feel the vibrations of power tool as it drilled into my skill. Still no pain which was nice… until the stitches. I didn’t feel it at first but the last 3 hit the same spot in my mouth that I felt initially… except by this point the anesthetics weren’t doing anything. I swear, I can still feel that giant-sized needle going in and out. I guess with all of that pain I was certain to heal much faster right?

Then it was over… the dentist was very nice and in his broken English he congratulated me that the surgery was successful. Lauren and Eve laughed at how swollen my lips were and we took a taxi home. The next weekend I returned for a checkup… Everything was healing nicely. I couldn’t wear my denture (fake tooth) and for 2 weeks I could only eat soft food… I was expecting to have the stitches taken out but that would have to be the next week. I returned again (this was yesterday morning) and had the stitches taken out… So now I will wait 4-5 months for my bone to attach to the artificial bone and heal. I can understand why people hate the dentist. Now I get to wear my fake tooth and eat what I want again… A welcome change.

Here is a link that help explains everything involved in a tooth implant if anyone is interested:

 

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Afterward I decided to check out Martyr’s Park. It was absolutely beautiful! There were all sorts of people there, young and old; hundreds of people practicing t’ai chi or playing games… Everyone seemed so peaceful with their family and loved ones. It was both invigorating and relaxing for me. The park was huge; filled by ponds with paddle boats, large stone statues, perfectly cut trees and shrubbery, thousands of stairs, several short trails and well kept gardens where you are required to be silent. You couldn’t ask for better weather; it felt like a warm Spring day back home…

 

 

 

 

 

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when you see it…

100_3899School has been pretty hectic for Lauren and me lately but still a lot of fun. We took a field trip to a park with our kids on a nice day… Last month we had an open class where the parents of the students came and watched us teach a class. Everyone stresses about it but in the end it was a piece of cake. Some of the parents have told me they really enjoy my teaching style; that’s always nice to hear. Lauren’s open class went well too. She was nervous when we came here about her abilities as a teacher but now she is much more comfortable in her abilities and it shows. For December we are having a Christmas play where the kids sing a song and then do a short skit. My kids are doing “Let it Snow”… I’m playing guitar with them singing and they think I’m the coolest things since Ultra Man… Should be fun.

 

 

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Hunter, graceful and frightened

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