So it's been forever since I last updated my blog. I think I should start doing this more often, though the problem is that now I don't have a whole lot going on in my life. I work at Autoliv, sleep, and have good weekends (most of the time).

Ah, except for the fact that I did go down to Texas a few weeks ago to visit Robbie.

And now we're engaged!

The story is quite interesting, or so I've been told. It all started a few weeks before the trip. I finally, after months of searching (well, more like month, but still) found the perfect ring! So I bought it and had it sent in for work (I had the diamond replaced with a black diamond – Robbie was rather adamant she didn't want a classic diamond in her ring, and I thought this would work quite well in its place, I also had a peridot and a garnet, our birthstones, replace two of the small diamonds in the interlocking wedding band, and had the ring sized to Robbie's finger. One of these days I'll add photos). They finished it about a week before my trip, which made me extremely excited.

In Texas I kept the ring hidden as best I could – it spent most of the trip, from Friday morning through Sunday afternoon, in my pocket. There were some very close calls, like when I was showing it to her grandmother, and later when I showed it to her sister, but she didn't catch on that I actually had a ring with me. She actually had a bet going with her friend Dani for forty dollars that I wouldn't bring a ring with me this trip. Haha!

I wanted to talk with both her mother and father before I actually gave her the ring. I feel that was wise, and it went very well. I actually love her family quite a bit, and am happy to be joining them. I had the opportunity to talk with her father on Sunday afternoon, after which I orchestrated the proposal.

Robbie and I have a rather amazing relationship of teasing back and forth, which is terribly fun in many ways. I used this in our favor when proposing to her. The act all started by my making a reference that I wanted to see her jewelry, so she brought out her jewelry bag (this wasn't an overly unusual request as I like shiny things). We proceeded to organize her bag, and I had her wear two of the rings she keeps therein.

When we had her jewelry organized we went into the kitchen, where her mother was doing something at the table and her sister was attending to her nine month old daughter. Robbie started playing with her niece and I started playing with her rings (again, not unusual. She had grown rather used to this by this point. I'd been conditioning her for this for quite some time). I decided that it was as good a time as any, so I pulled the ring out of my pocket while her back was to me and I had her hand. I showed it to her mother and winked, then slipped the ring on her left ring finger off her and and replaced it with the engagement ring. At this point she was fussing because she wanted to let her niece play with the ring she had been wearing, so she was wondering why I was detaining her hand. She pulled it out from behind her back only to discover that she was no longer wearing the ring she thought she was.

"What is this?" she demanded, a rather startled expression on her face.

"That, love, is a black diamond," I replied matter-of-factly.

"No, what is this?" she repeated.

"An engagement ring," I responded. Without another word she turned and stalked to the other end of the kitchen and looked around, a flustered expression on her face. Spotting the bananas hanging on a stick she pried one from the cluster and threw it at me, then disappeared out of the kitchen. Then she returned to the dining room and sat on the table, making her best effort to act cool and composed, failing epicly.

"I suppose I should do this properly," I said, then dropped to one knee. "Robbie Delight Evans, will you marry me?"

"No! Hell no!" she ejaculated, a stubborn expression on her face.

"Robbie Delight, did you just swear?" her mother inquired.

"No," she said meekly. "Okay, maybe."

"Is that a maybe yes?" I asked, starting to get nervous (I was expecting a response like this, as Robbie is the kind of girl she is, and she loves to make my life difficult whenever she has the opportunity).

"No, it's a maybe," she replied, then continued "Okay, but only because you're humiliating yourself."

"Robbie, don't wreck this for him," her mother added teasingly.

"Okay, but only because I'm being forced," she said, then she broke into the answer I hoped for. "Yes, yes, I'll marry you."

After said exchange we went into her backyard where her sister insisted we take photos. She was rather ecstatic, as was I, and we had quite a marvelous evening discussing what had happened.

All in all it turned out quite nicely, I feel. It has a definite flavour of the two of us in it, which I feel adds to the event in many ways. I for one am excited to see where things develop from here.

~Steven Collins

Posted in Brigham City Utah - USA | Comments Off

元宵节 (Lantern Festival)

Linhai, Zhejiang, China | 中国浙江省临海市

华灯 Lantern
Huádēng 语音: [lan-tern]或者[ˈˈlæntərn]
Chinese Lantern 灯笼
Today's word of the day, again for reasons that are probably obvious, is "华灯."  今天的词汇词是“lantern”因为元宵节看了很多好看的华灯

The writeup for this update is still being written. Check back tomorrow.


Posted in Linhai Zhejiang - China | 3 Comments

青岛 (Qingdao)

Linhai, Zhejiang, China | 中国浙江省临海市

旅行 To Travel
Lǚxíng 语音: [ˈtra-vəl]或者[ˈtrævəl]
To Travel/Travel 旅行
Today's word of the day, for reasons that are probably obvious, is "旅行."  今天的词汇词是“to travel”因为我春节去了青岛

It's been a long time since I last wrote. Thank you very much Tatyana for reminding me – you were the one who got me started with this whole blog thing in the first place, and I told you I'd do better than I have… Sorry about that :P To all those of you who still check back for updates, I also apologize. I'll try to do better. I've been postponing because I've been a bit busy, but really that's just an excuse. I've had plenty of time to craft some updates for the blog. I'll try to keep at least one update per week (two if possible) from now until I return to America, and perhaps I'll keep it up even then. You'll notice some changes to the format of the blog. I decided I'd update the appearance and style a bit, and I'll be writing a bit in Chinese as well for my Chinese friends.

I'll fill you in on what's happened up until now later. Because right now I want to tell you about my recent trip to Qingdao, a city with two major tourist attractions: the sea and the Qingdao Beer made there (Germans occupied the city for a very long time, so it's gotta have its beer).

I went to Shandong Province because my friend Elina (my first Chinese teacher here – I met her at Nancy's Bar) invited me to come spend Chinese New Year at her home. I figured it'd be a great way to see some more of China, so I accepted her invitation.

Getting there was an adventure in itself. I departed Linhai on the 1st of February at about 12:30 for Shanghai. It's a four hour or so train ride, but it was reasonably comfortable and the time passed quickly. Four hours on a train is really nothing compared to 14 on an airplane. I stayed at a hostel (the Blue Mountain EXPO Youth Hostel) that was very close to the Metro line I'd need to take the next morning, because I had to leave very early. I originally planned to go see some of that section of Shanghai, but ended up staying in the bar to do some homework (well, and some people decided to watch Megamind on the projector, and I hadn't seen it before, so…) When I returned to my room I met an awesome couple from the UK and talked with them for about an hour. They were fascinating! They graduated several years ago and decided they wanted to spend a year traveling, so they've been saving their money to allow them to. They're planning to hit as much of East Asia as they can on this trip. You meet the most interesting people when you travel in hostels!

The next morning I left very early for Qingdao (my train left at 07:30). Joy bought me a first class ticket (which only costs a few dollars more than a regular ticket) for that leg of the trip, so it was quite comfortable, though very long (the trip to Qingdao takes ten hours by train), and relatively expensive (about 400 RMB, or $60) – cheaper than an airplane, though.

The second of February was Chinese New Year, so when I arrived Elina picked me up and we went to her home in Jimo, an hour from Qingdao. When we got there I helped her make some dumplings and watched her make some food (I asked if I could, because I love studying how to make food here), set of a ton of firecrackers with her husband, and we ate food and watched the Chinese New Year Party on TV. Honestly that program is like nothing I've seen before – it's a massive party with some of the most spectacular performances you could imagine, and it lasts for five hours! I'm definitely going to have to find and watch it online next year ('cause I'll be in America for Chinese New Year).

An interesting custom in China: Some of the New Year Dumplings are made with 1 Jiao coins in them. If you eat a dumpling with a coin it's supposed to mean good fortune for you in the coming year. I ate three of these dumplings :)

The next day was a rest day – everyone needs to recover, because everyone goes to bed very late, and a lot of people drink a ton of baijiu (rice alcohol with incredible potency) and get completely hammered. I actually tasted a little baijiu before I realized what I was drinking – it looks almost exactly like water. Let's just say I don't like the taste of alcohol at all.

Anyhow, we got up late, and Elina's husband took me to Elina's workplace where used one of the computers to get online for a bit. I couldn't log into BYU-I's website, so I just browsed taobao (an awesome site which somewhat resembles Amazon.com) and talked with friends on QQ. We had lunch at the hotel employee cafeteria, which was really quite good. I was surprised – I'm used to cafeteria food here being mediocre. After which we returned to her office, I talked with friends some more, and she took a nap at her desk (she was just there to be on-station). We had dinner back at her home that night, and that was pretty much the day.

The third day we went to Mount Mashan in the morning, which was fun! We climbed the mountain to a temple at the top where Elina prayed, then we went back down. It was very, very pretty – the scenery reminded me a bit of home, actually. We had lunch back at her apartment.

Ah, Elina and her husband have an extremely cute three-year-old daughter named Ronron (I don't know exactly how to write it). After she got comfortable around me she dragged me all over the place to play with her, which was way fun. Little kids are awesome! She really liked giving me sunflower seeds, for some reason, which I thought was kind of fun.

The evening of the third day I got to meet some family friends who live upstairs – they're her husband's best friend and his wife and four-year-old son. Elina's husband is a soldier who has been living in Qingdao for about seven years. He and his friend were both moved to Qingdao at the same time, and have lived near each other ever since. It was awesome to watch the families interact!

On the final day in Jimo we spent the morning resting and relaxing again, then I said by to Elina's husband and went with her, Ronron, and her older brother to Qingdao. They found me an inexpensive business hotel room (we tried a really cheap Chinese traveler's hotel first, but they can't house foreigners) and then we went to dinner at a ramen place, then said goodbye. That night I went to see May 4th Square (where I sent a flying lantern into the air after a very persistent saleswoman persuaded me to buy it for 5 RMB) and a few other areas near where I was living and then got lost on my way back to my hotel (I do that a lot in China…) I finally found my way back and rested, preparing to go see Qingdao the next day.

I actually spent the next morning planning, which was nice – it allowed me to fully use the day, even though I didn't follow my plans perfectly. I figured out a few places I really wanted to see, then went and hammered them all out. I started back at May 4th Square, after stopping at a Pizza Hut for lunch (I wanted to eat more authentic food, but I couldn't find a restaurant at the section of town I was in – I should have waited, because I found the food bus shortly after eating there). From May 4th Square I went to Music Square, then walked along the boardwalk until I got to Little Qingdao (quite a distance, actually – it took about two or three hours). I saw the lighthouse at Little Qingdao, then went to the aquarium, the Qingdao Underwater World.

The Underwater World was discounted 40 RMB from its regular price (100 RMB this time of year) because one of the attractions there was closed, so I decided it'd definitely be worth seeing. I'm certainly glad I chose to! They had an awesome jellyfish exhibit, a great underwater life museum, and an awesome aqua tunnel (you stood on a conveyer which went under a huge aquarium). At the exit they had a really good seafood store, so I bought a bunch of seafood to bring back and share with my friends, largely because Trudy had jokingly asked me to.

I walked from the aquarium for a long ways, trying to find a night market I'd heard about. I ended up getting hopelessly lost and had to have a taxi take me there. The night market in Qingdao is huge, even bigger than Hangzhou, though there are fewer goods of questionable origin being sold in Qingdao…

I returned to the hotel around 19:00 or so, completely worn out (I'd walked in excess of 20 kilometers). I decided to go to bed early, which was a good idea because I had to get to the train station to go back to Shanghai the next morning.

The trip back was another adventure, because I couldn't buy a ticket for the whole way. I had to buy a ticket that would only take me 1/3 the way and upgrade it on the train. What this meant was that I didn't have a seat about seven hours of the ride. Normally you can find empty seats, but because it was Chinese New Year the train was oversold. So I stood for about seven hours. Surprisingly I was less tired when I arrived in Shanghai as a result… Crazy how that works, isn't it?

I went out and had some extremely spicy noodles (I love hot food) for dinner, then spent the night at a hostel in Shanghai. The next morning I took another train to Linhai, arriving around noon. The rest of the day was awesome, but it's a story for another time – this entry's already practically a novel.

Anyhow, thus was my trip to Qingdao. If you have any questions, requests, or comments, please feel free to add them!

~Steven Collins










Posted in Linhai Zhejiang - China | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Back in China again!

Wushanyi International Youth Hostel – Hangzhou, Zhejiang, China

And we have words of the day again! Today's word is "Dào," which can mean "to arrive" among other things. I thought it was fitting as I have now arrived in China. It's good to be back here!
Dào I'm in Hangzhou right now, which is pretty much my favorite city in the world. I think it's an incredibly beautiful place, and I have a number of friends here. I plan to go to dinner with one of them tonight.

As to the story of my arrival, life is good. On my first flight, from SLC to SFO (Salt Lake to San Francisco) I sat next to a very interesting elderly man who lives in Hawaii. He used to own a restaurant chain and has had a very interesting life. We talked the whole flight, which was nice.

We arrived in San Francisco without incident, ahead of schedule (which I was thankful for). I had a full hour and fifteen minutes to catch my connecting flight to Shanghai, which I made without incident.

SFO to PVG (Shanghai Pudong Airport) is a rather long flight, but not the longest I've ever flown. It takes approximately 12 hours. I traded my seat with a gentleman who wanted to sit with his wife and got a window seat near the wing. United Airlines 747s' coach sections are built like this:


I was in seat K. A professional magician named Gary from 'Vegas had seat H and a Chinese girl from Hangzhou named 朱玥 (Her English name is Echo) who's been studying in New York sat in seat J. This flight was interesting in that we all talked for an hour before mutually deciding to sleep. It's rare to find seat-mates who want to talk with you on more than just a casual level. I ended up talking with Echo for something like seven or eight hours of the trip and we both talked with Gary for about two (he slept most of the flight). It's always good to make good friends – Echo and I talked for a while on QQ this morning (I'll explain QQ later).

The food was typical airline fare – okay but not excellent. It was enough to satisfy.

My original plan was to take the Maglev from the airport to the subway, then the subway to the Shanghai Hongqiao railroad station, then the train to Hangzhou, and finally a taxi to my hostel. Thankfully Echo and her parents offered me a ride. Her father is a customs agent in Hangzhou, so I got a ride in a government van! 

At the hostel I met my friend Nita and made a few new friends, which is why I love hostels so much, then I went to bed, exhausted from the day's travel. 

Today should be good – I plan to do some exploring and this evening I'll go to dinner with 丁静静 (Kaylee Ding), my best friend – I used to work with her when I was in China last time, but she no longer works for Yotrio.

Anyhow, one of my friends wants to talk, so I'm going to go. Peace out!

小麦 (Steven Collins)

Posted in Hangzhou Zhejiang - China | 4 Comments

I’m back, and with a formatted story, too!

After a long break in which I forgot to maintain this blog I'm finally back. I've realized it's worthless to keep a blog and not use it. I'm cheating for my first entry – you get a paper I wrote for my English class to describe my first adventure this trip in China. Enjoy it, and keep your eyes peeled for more to come soon!


True story from China. I wrote this for my English class.

What was it that possessed me to take the train? Why did I honestly think I could manage it alone? Will I even survive this? Heh. If I do manage to survive this it will be the coolest story ever, and no one will believe it! My thoughts were moving at a million miles an hour. I’d been an overconfident idiot, and like most overconfident idiots had fallen in way over my head. I was on the back of a small motorcycle with a stranger I couldn’t even effectively communicate with, my two suitcases in tow: one strapped to the back and the smaller one being suspended on the handlebars. We must have looked utterly ridiculous. The chilling wind of the early spring night cut through my hands and legs, but I couldn’t feel it anymore – they’d long since become numb.

I had no idea at all where we were. I was completely at the mercy of this stranger I’d been clinging to for the last hour, and I was hoping and praying that he at least knew where we were going. To make matters worse, my cell phone hadn’t worked since leaving the train station!

Back in the States I’d told my father and Joy that I would be able to take the train, no problem! I’d taken it once before, and figured I’d be able to do it again. I had forgotten however that my father had been with me that time and we’d been traveling the other direction. I sat in my seat on the train, my eyelids sagging in the warm, lulling atmosphere. I heard my stop announced, so I shook the sleep from my eyes and got my luggage ready to disembark, but I had forgotten the chief rule of rail travel: Always be at the exit before the train stops! I struggled to the door just in time to watch it close with a hiss inches from my face, as though mocking me. I shrunk back in disbelief, not knowing how to react. The next forty-five minutes were a blur as I sat in shock and despair on my luggage next to the evil door which had so heartlessly denied my exit.

I got off at the next stop. The canned intercom voice said we were in Wenling. Where in the universe was Wenling? The station was crowded, everyone in a hurry to reach the exit: I had arrived on the last train. The tan concrete walls felt cold, almost like a prison. I managed to call my contacts at Yotrio, the company I’d come to China to work for, and explained my situation. They told me to stay put and wait for the driver they’d sent, and to not let anyone walk off with my stuff or con me into leaving. I followed the orders like a soldier, dutifully bucking offers from friendly people for a ride or help finding a hotel (at least, that’s what I think they were offering. I barely understood anything that was happening). I refused to agree to anything I couldn’t understand, knowing how much the Chinese like to rip off foreigners. I’d already been ripped off twice earlier that day in Shanghai, and didn’t want a repeat experience.

After about an hour and a half my phone rang. “The driver we sent for you went to Taizhou instead of Wenling, Steven. He’s three hours away from you now. You’ll need to find a taxi,” Selina said, and explained what I’d need to tell the driver.

I wish I’d known this a half-hour ago! I thought, remembering the sight of the last taxi languidly pulling away from the station like a specter into the night. I looked around frantically. The only transportation I could find was a nice local man I’d been struggling to talk with for the past few minutes. He had a motorcycle, an actual gas powered little red motorcycle. I gave him the phone and Selina explained to him what to do. I got on the bike without even thinking to negotiate the price, an unforgivable mistake in China. That thought didn’t even register as we pulled away from the darkened train station to vanish into the night’s icy embrace.

How do I get out of this mess? My thoughts returned to the present. My mind was as numb as my frozen body; fatigue had cut my capacity to reason into ribbons, a mere shadow of my once functional brain. When was it that I’d last slept? Forty hours ago? Forty-five? I couldn’t remember anymore, it was all such a blur. I just want to sleep…

I looked up to see a road sign indicating that we needed to turn. My driver pulled over to the side of the road and motioned that we were getting off.

I dismounted and looked at him, my mind only dully comprehending our surroundings. My driver said something unintelligible to get my attention, then gestured at the sign. “Linhai… one hundred dollars” he said in heavily accented and badly broken English.

What choice do I have? It’s better than being lost, I guess. I meekly agreed to the price, relieved that at least we were heading in the right direction. He smiled broadly and we climbed back on the bike. Wait a minute – isn’t one hundred dollars almost one month’s pay for most people here?! Ah well, it’s too late to do anything about it.

An hour later I saw the comforting lights of downtown Linhai. It looked wonderful, like the gates of heaven themselves opening to receive me! My heart started to race, and I was almost crying with relief, so happy to know where I was. We pulled up to the Juntai Hotel and dismounted, then untied my heavy bags from the bike.

There was nobody around – it was about 1:00 AM by this time. I withdrew my wallet and pulled out the hundred dollars I’d promised to give him earlier, so happy to be safely at my destination that I didn’t even care about how badly I’d been ripped off. He took it immediately, then a gleam came to his eye and he looked back at me. “Bu go” he said (not enough, in Chinese), and held out his hand. I stared in disbelief. I’d just given this man a month’s salary and he was asking for more?! My wallet was nearly empty, and I’d just given him all my American currency. I pulled out my phone to call my Chinese friends and try to figure out what to do, but the worthless thing still wasn’t working. My mind scrambled for a solution, and finally I sputtered “Wo… wo meiyou qian!” (I don’t have any money) in my pidgin Chinese.

He wasn’t going to have it. He indicated that he wanted five hundred yuan: about seventy dollars in American currency. I didn’t have that much, and even if I had I didn’t think the motorcycle ride was worth that much money! I could barely even justify the hundred dollars I’d given him! We argued for about thirty minutes, and he somehow managed to wring most of the money out of me. He was still arguing for more when a police officer meandered over.

A remarkable change instantly came over the man and he let go of my suitcases, shook my hand, said goodbye to the officer and me with a smile and rode away. I later learned that the man had committed extortion: a fair rate was less than one-third the amount I gave him.

Perplexed by his actions but extremely grateful to be alive and free I checked into the hotel and somehow staggered to my room. I closed the door, and then almost immediately the malfunctioning lump of plastic I’d been carrying around all day rang. Joy, the woman responsible for my welfare in China, had finally managed to get through! She was crying. My heart sank. She calmed down very quickly when she realized I was safe, and we made plans to meet the next day so she could show me around the city.

A feeling of sweet relief coursed through my body as I went to bed, thankful to be safe and almost giddy with happiness. I’d had a brush with utter ruin and had come away from it mostly unscathed, and felt almost totally at peace for the first time that day as I lay in bed, though I was still a little uneasy about how much I’d spent. Just before finally drifting off I comforted myself with the thought Well, it was only money after all. I can always make more.

~S. A. Collins

Posted in Rexburg Idaho - USA | 4 Comments

Chinese Movies are quite fun, I’ve decided!

Double Dove Apartment, 临海市,浙江省,中国

电影 Your Chinese word for today is "Movie." I've been watching a ton of Chinese movies lately, which has been very interesting. I decided that if I was here I'd be able to learn the language much better if I did my best to completely immerse myself, cutting myself off from even Western entertainment.
Diànyǐng I personally find Chinese movies very interesting – I've been able to learn a ton from watching them, and they definitely help with my language comprehension skills. I've decided to summarize the movies I've watched so far in this post.

Hero (2002) 英雄 – 5/5

Hero is a Jet Li movie about a man without a name who is a prefect of a small province in China. I really enjoyed this movie – it has a great way to present a story from multiple perspectives. You actually get to see the story three times – each from a different perspective and each time showing you different aspects of the whole story. At the end, it's all wrapped up very interestingly, and with a great moral.

I would honestly advise this movie to anyone. The martial arts are very good, the special effects are amazing, and the acting is excellent. I give it 5 out of 5. 

Little Big Soldier (2010) 大兵小将 – 5/5

This is another excellent movie. It also takes place in ancient China. It's a Jackie Chan movie – he's actually been working on the plot for this movie for about twenty years, so he definitely took the time to do it right. It shows. The acting is superb and the story's extremely good. 

Basically the plot is about two different soldiers – one a conscript who doesn't want to be a soldier and the other a commanding general. The conscript captures the general after a battle and the story is about their interactions. I give this one as well 5 out of 5

The Promise (2005) 无极 – 2/5

I'll be honest with you – out of all the Chinese movies I've seen this has been my least favorite. My copy was rather bad – it would stop and start sporadically and I'd have to skip past the sections that wouldn't work through the first half of the DVD. I was still able to watch the vast majority of the movie, though.

The acting wasn't very good, the special effects were rather awful, and the plot was full of holes. It had several scenes it really didn't need that almost ruined the movie for me. This is the only Chinese movie I have seen that I really wouldn't recommend…

Royal Tattoo (2009) 皇家刺青 – 5/5

I absolutely loved this movie. It's the closest thing I've found to a Chinese "Monty Python's Holy Grail." I was laughing throughout the whole movie – it's so ridiculous it's absolutely hilarious. 

Basically it's a plot about a man who's been sent to fulfill a mission. He has tattooed all over his body plans and maps to help him accomplish his mission. Yes, on the cover is a picture of his butt. The tattoo on it is a message for a man he had to rescue. That played rather hilariously into the whole movie, actually – it was very well done. 

As I said, I really enjoyed this movie and highly recommend it. It gets a 5 out of 5!

Seven Swords (2005) 七剑 – 4/5

Seven Swords is another movie in an old setting. It's an adaptation of a famous novel, actually. It's supposedly part one of a trilogy – the other two movies haven't been created yet.

I quite enjoyed this film as well. It was overacted, and the martial arts were over-the-top and the story was somewhat cheesy, but it was definitely enjoyable overall. If they ever finish the next two movies I will definitely watch them – as I said, I enjoyed it. I give it a 4 out of 5. 

Three Kingdoms: Resurrection of the Dragon (2008) 三國之見龍卸甲 – 4.5/5

To be honest, this was the first Chinese movie I saw on this trip – I saw it on the plane flight here. I didn't know what it was called at the time and ended up buying it quite by accident at the local DVD store.

I really enjoyed this movie. It takes place during "The Romance of the Three Kingdoms," which is one of the four great Chinese classics, and is a small portion of the story of one of the kingdoms – the Kingdom of Liu. The story follows one of the Liu soldiers – Zhao Zilong, through his life. The martial arts are absolutely spectacular, the cinematography is great, and the acting is quite good. I'd definitely recommend this movie – I liked it enough to watch it twice!

So much has happened since I started writing this update that I barely know where to begin. It's taken me literally a week to get this update online because the computer ate it about five times… That was, needless to say, rather frustrating. Basically since I wrote this update I've been to Hangzhou, Hong Kong, back to Hangzhou, and am now back in Linhai. My father's here with me, too. I'll give you a brief synopsis of the trip to get back here:

On Thursday I left the factory on the 4:30 bus for my home, which ended up getting caught in some terrible traffic and got me home just in time to make it to the long distance bus stop. What a way to start a trip, I know… It gets better. So I get to Hangzhou and it's dark and foggy so I can't tell where I am. I naturally assumed (never do that, it's really dangerous…) I was at the Hangzhou South bus station, because that's where I've always gone before. Was I? No – this particular bus went to the Hangzhou station (Hangzhou has four bus stations.) I couldn't tell because it was dark and foggy. Anyhow, I decided I wanted to walk/run to my hostel, because from the Hangzhou South station it's less than one mile. Needless to say, I got very lost. Turns out the Hangzhou station's something like 15-20 miles away from West Lake… Yeah… I ran/walked for a little more than an hour then finally caught a cab (which wasn't easy – it was another Chinese holiday so cabs were scarce…)

Once I got the cab I was able to make it to my hostel – the Wushanyi International Youth Hostel – I'd recommend it to anyone and everyone – without any problems. It was kind of fun, actually – I was able to see my friend Nita (she works at the hostel) and we talked for something like an hour before we both had to go to bed. It's always really good to see old friends. I had the usual assortment of roommates – this time I had one from China, three from Russia and one who came in late so I couldn't ask her nationality.

I woke up early and checked out, then they called a taxi for me. I was lucky and got Hangzhou's fastest cabbie – I'm not kidding, either. This guy was something else! We were blazing past all the other cars on the freeway and the small streets. He was a very good driver – if he hadn't been we would have died how fast he was driving. He managed to get me to the airport with about an hour to spare, which was awesome. I hate being almost late for a plane…

The flight was uneventful (which is always a good thing with air travel) and I managed to find Dad without any problems. Hong Kong was awesome! We did some exploring around our hotel (which took us some time to find) and went up Victoria's Peak (which was awesome, though it was foggy and we couldn't see much of the view. It was still very impressive.) We also took a harbour cruise that evening, which was spectacular! Hong Kong is an amazing place, indeed! I really wish my camera could take night pictures!

The next day we packed up and prepared to head out, then went to the airport and did some exploring. The Hong Kong airport is rather amazing, actually – it's like the ultimate shopping mall. The technology available in Hong Kong is amazing! I found computers I literally cannot get in America! The crazy thing is that the prices were even comparable with American pricing! You very seldom find that in Asia – technology usually is more expensive here (believe it or not, it's true.)

That afternoon and evening in Hangzhou we did some exploring. I showed my father where my hostel is and then we explored the streets and shopping areas. Hangzhou has the most amazing night market ever! We found all sorts of very interesting things there, and I was able to get a nice new wallet and some good polo shirts and pens for very little money. Oh, Hangzhou also has some amazing swords! I'd love to buy one – the ones I'm looking at though aren't very cheap at all… I don't buy cheap swords…

This morning my father and I got packed up and left our things with the front counter of our hotel. Then we met one of my friends in Hangzhou – Chris. She used to work at the factory, but stopped working there about a month or two ago. She wanted to show us around when she heard we'd be in Hangzhou. She brought two of her friends along, too, which was fun. Their names are Coco and Sunny. All three of the girls speak excellent English. Anyhow, we went to a really beautiful garden, which was amazing. It was interesting to see the number of brides who were getting wedding photos there. As it was a holiday, the garden was crammed full of people, which was interesting – it's amazing to see how many people actually live here in China… Zhejiang province alone has about 200 million people – about 2/3 of the population of the USA. It's just mind blowing!

After our exploration of the garden Dad and I decided to treat our new Chinese friends to lunch at the hotel my Dad usually stays at – the Hangzhou Hyatt. They have an absolutely fantastic buffet for lunch there, which the girls really seemed to enjoy. It was a good lunch, and we were able to have a really good conversation as well.

Our friends helped us catch a cab to the Hangzhou South Railway station (which is different from the Hangzhou South bus station, and in a completely different place) so we didn't miss our train, which was awesome of them. It was great to be able to spend time with them – I have to say it's wonderful to have friends in the majority of the cities I will go to in Eastern China now. 

Our return trip via train was also uneventful, though we had to race to board the train, and I was lugging the demon suitcase from hell that my father brought with him – it's full of fabric samples and other things for the factory, and is ungodly heavy… It also broke while we were in Hong Kong – the wheels broke loose, so when you drag it they don't help at all… It's also a terrible design for a suitcase – it doesn't have straps to hold it where you need them. It's pretty much just very bad. I am going to relish sending it to its shallow grave. It's high time it died – it's pretty much there already.

In any case, it's rather late right now (like 23:54…) and I really do need to be getting to bed. Tomorrow is a national holiday – "Tomb Sweeping Day," so no work tomorrow. I'll let you know how it goes!

~S. A. Collins

Posted in Linhai Zhejiang - China | 4 Comments

My, my has this week been insane…

Double Dove Apartment; 临海,浙江,中国

包装 包装 means "packing" – I decided to teach you this word today for obvious reasons – see the rest of my post ;)
Bāozhuāng I actually enjoy packing – it's a great workout! I actually really enjoy going to work for the same reason I loved Pizza Hut so much – at work I get to spend time with my friends, even if I don't see them much while there.

I'd been intending to post the photos I've promised by today, my friends, but life has made that impossible… Because of the current labor shortages in China (believe it or now, even a country of 1.4 billion people can have labor shortages) the sales department staff of the factory I'm working at all had to go help pack chairs for shipment today. Normally they get Sunday off. I couldn't very well let my friends go work on a day they normally have off while I take the time off because I'm a laowai and I can, now could I? I joined them. I actually enjoy packing, for the most part – it's a good work out, which is why I'm rather exhausted right now.

In any case, this week has been rather insane. It's another reason you haven't had any more updates – more of the American team is in town, and I'm swamped with projects, which means I have very little downtime. I could find some if I looked, but I've been lazy  I know I keep promising to update more regularly and keep failing just as much as I promise – something's got to give – I'll do my best!

Anyhow, there have been several changes of plan in rapid succession the past little while – first I was going to go home on 8 April, then the plan shifted to me staying here until September. Then it shifted again to returning in April, the back to September, then back finally to April yet again. On top of that, plans have shifted on my return trip – I was going to go to Tokyo, then I wasn't, then I was, now I'm not… Life's insane like that. Basically my mind has short circuited and I had to do a lot of running to sort it out (which wasn't very wise because I jacked up my ankle in Shanghai… At least it doesn't hurt too badly right now :) )

To avoid undue confusion acquired from the above paragraph, my plans are to go home in April and study as hard as I can for the Spring, Summer, and Fall semesters, then to return to China in December and stay for several months. I'll be far more valuable to the company with additional training back home. Things have worked themselves out to allow me to do it, too, which makes life really nice and relatively easy to go through at this point.

Sorry – you're pretty much getting my unfiltered thoughts right now – my mind's shot, as I've been packing chairs for a good six or seven hours… I'm rather tired. Anyhow, I hope the insanity's not too much to handle.

I had promised my friend Terence shortly after I arrived here that I'd cook him spaghetti if I could find the ingredients. Since then I've been looking around, and I finally found everything this week (with some substitutions). It's my mom's recipe, which is some of my favorite food. It actually costs a lot more to make it in China than it does in America, because many of the ingredients are imported food and thus are extremely expensive (case in point: one can of cream-of-mushroom soup costs about $5 here…). It turned out really quite well, in my opinion – I hope my Chinese friends enjoy it! (I made it several days in advance because the sauce is better that way). I'll let you know how it goes, and I'll post photos as well. I'm working on getting them processed right now.

Ooh! I've been applying the cooking lessons Trudy gave me and have come up with some passable authentic Chinese food! I don't know any recipes – I just have to use my judgement and mix ingredients in whatever way I think is best – but what I've cooked thus far has at least been edible, and almost delicious! With some additional practice I think I'll get there. I intend to bring some of my cookware home with me, and I'm going to purchase a wok and a rice cooker when I get home and eat a lot of Chinese food – I like it much more than American food, for the most part.

Ah, something else – I tried chicken feet today. They were really tasty, actually – I was extremely surprised. They're a ton of work to eat, though – they're absolutely full of bones. My friends and I went out to lunch at a Shechuan place near the factory which has extremely good food. I quite enjoyed it.

I'll wrap up this update for now – as I've said, my mind's rather fried. I'll do my best to write an update tomorrow, as well. Please hold me to it!

~S. A. Collins

Posted in Linhai Zhejiang - China | 3 Comments

Another trip away from Linhai…

Mingtown Youth Hostel, Shanghai (上海),上海,中国

I’m finally getting around to updating again… Sorry, I know it’s been forever and a day. I’ve been extremely busy this week, which is why it’s taken me so long. Just two days ago, in fact, I stayed at work until 8:30 PM – I had to finish uploading a file, plus then I ended up going to help pack some of the furniture. It was quite good, actually. I ended up running home after it all! That was insane – let me tell you, a run in a dress shirt, cargo pants, and combat boots while wearing a coat and a hat and wearing a 25 pound backpack is rather crazy… I was, needless to say, wiped out by the time I got home.

I digress… In any case, life has been good. See the photo gallery that will follow this update (the internet here sucks, so I'll upload it when I get home) if you have any questions. That actually contains the photos of Sunday, which was amazing! I’ll paint you a verbal picture here: On Sunday morning my friend Trudy came over, then we went to the Century Mart to purchase some food. She and I then spent the next hour or so cooking it while we waited for the others to arrive (we, Terence and Elva, and Anthony were all going to hang out). Anthony decided to sleep in, but we were joined by Terence and Elva for lunch, which was very good. Trudy thinks she’s a terrible cook. Even Terence said she cooks well. Hah! It’s indeed true that one’s harshest critic is his or her own self.

Anyhow, I again digress. After lunch Tony finally came up, and we (meaning Trudy, really) made him a plate of fried rice. Then we all (sans Tony – he decided to go clean his room and have us all over for dinner) went to the Linhai wall, which was awesome! Going there with Chinese friends is very interesting – they knew all sorts of things and places I wouldn’t have been able to find otherwise. We got some excellent photos – see above for examples.

After our trip to the wall we returned home and went to Tony’s apartment, then all of us together went to the Century Mart to purchase some food for the hot pot dinner (which is where you have a pot of boiling soup in the middle of the table and you take whatever ingredients you want to eat and add them to the soup, cooking them therein). Dinner was quite good, actually!

We helped Tony clean up, then everybody went home. At that point, I returned to my apartment and partook of the sacrament, which felt very good (as it always does… One doesn’t realize how much they miss the ordinances of the Gospel until they are deprived of them… I have been studying the Doctrine and Covenants every day, though, which has been very interesting indeed, and has really helped me maintain my spirituality.)

The rest of the week has been a blur of work and going home to study and sleep… It’s been rather crazy, all told. I really do need to maintain this blog so I can always remember what I do… I know that on Thursday evening I went to Nancy’s with Bob, Tony, and Fred, which was pretty decent.

Oh, an announcement for you all – I’m extending the length of my stay here in China. I will be returning home in early April for a week to ten days, after which I will be returning to China until September (until fall semester.) While I’m here, I’ll be adding thirteen credit hours worth of schoolwork to my schedule, which will be pretty crazy… After this semester, being just a full-time student and part-time employee will seem very, very easy…

Right now I’m at the Mingtown People’s Square Youth Hostel in Shanghai. I ended up coming here this weekend because my father wanted me to come to Shanghai. It’s been quite fun, actually – I currently have four roommates (and perhaps will be getting one more):

Simon – a young lady from Denmark. She’s studying clothing design in southern China right now. I actually had breakfast with her this morning at the local Starbuck’s, which was interesting (I had hot chocolate, which is remarkably difficult to find here…). We ended up staying there for a while – she wanted to read a novel she had and I wanted to study the scriptures (how crazy is that? I studied the Doctrine and Covenants for about an hour at the local Starbuck’s! For your information, it was Section 4, not Section 89, which would have been totally ironic…)

Vicky & David – A young couple from England. David has a very thick accent, which makes him a wee bit difficult to understand completely. He’s a good guy, though. I went running with him this morning. He and Vicky have been dating for about six years or so. They wanted to travel before they buy a house, because they figure once they have a mortgage month long trips will be out of the question.

朱光姸 (Zhūguāngyán)/Carmen – A young woman from near Shanghai. She’s just graduated college, and is going for her master’s. She will be studying in France, so she is currently studying French very hard. I went with her this afternoon to a nearby shopping district where with her help I was able to buy a hat for my father. She arrived today, taking the place of Christine and Scherezade, two young women from Canada (Scherezade was originally from India), who left today.

Last night Simon, Vicky, David, and I went along with some of their friends to a very good Indian restaurant in downtown Shanghai. It was very interesting, actually, and the food was pretty good. I’ll be uploading some of the photos from that night to my blog as well. There’s a ton of beer in the photos because the place offered unlimited drinks along with the buffet… I partook of sprite, and Laura, one of Vicky and David’s friends, drank Coke. We were the exception, as everybody else drank beer. Also there were Nicole – one of Simon’s friends, Jess, who’s lived here for six months teaching English, Hailey, Grace, Jasper,  Anisha, Rob, Elena, Karin, and a few people whose names I didn’t catch. That group was composed of more foreigners than I’ve seen in my entire trip here…

Well, that’s it for this update. I’m going to process the images and get all this online, then I’ll be heading out to do some more exploring and get something to eat. My ankle’s doing much better now.

~S. A. Collins

Posted in Shanghai Shanghai - China | 5 Comments

Holy crap this week’s been busy…

Double Dove Apartment, 临海,浙江,中国

繁忙 Today's word of the day is "busy." Man it's been a busy week! I honestly haven't had the time to update this blog at all, which I'd never expected… I'm going to have to see if I can eke a little more time out of my mornings from now on…
Fánmáng I had forgotten how truly wonderful it feels to be busy… I'm going to have to see if I can keep this up!

Okay, let's get to the details. It's Sunday, but I still don't have a whole lot of time – my friends are coming over today for lunch, then we were originally planning to go to the wall. It's raining, though, so we shall see…

On Tuesday my song went much better than I could have anticipated (though I was extremely nervous… When I finished I could not feel my hands, and they wouldn't stop shaking for an hour…) I sang a rendition of the traditional Scottish song "Auld Lang Syne" in a Scottish accent, which was fun! I know it's traditionally for New Year's, but I figured this would work as well (it's really hard to find a good birthday song to sing that isn't silly…)

The birthday party was incredible! Daniel really goes all out on things. I did learn that the first birthday is considered the most important to the Chinese, and it was his son's first birthday. The party was held at a new seafood restaurant across the river. The food and the ambiance were both incredible (the snake was especially good, though I was the only one at the "laowai table" who ate it… I had about five pieces)! I really don't want to imagine how much it must have cost, though…

Wednesday after work I went to dinner with my friend Jackie. He took me to a nice Chinese restaurant near the university and we had a great conversation in mixed English and Chinese (though mainly in English). Afterward we returned to his store (he runs a USB device store on campus) and continued our conversation until it was time for me to catch the last bus home. He actually gave me a USB hub, which was awesome! He wouldn't let me pay him for it, though… It's incredibly difficult for me to spend my money when I'm with my friends here…

Thursday after work I went with Tony (the Belgian intern) and Bob (an American team member who's here for two months) to Nancy's. We had a really good conversation that sparked a lot of thought on my part, and met an awesome man from Israel, of all places. It's crazy who you meet when you open your mouth and look around out here.

Friday at work I had several meetings I attended with Bob. I learned a ton from doing that – I've been taking a ton of notes! Sarah (one of the office managers) got me a planner, and I've been really filling it out. I have had to to keep up with things! It feels good to have that element of missionary life back :) After work Daniel invited Tony, Bob, and I, along with some Chinese team members, to the seafood restaurant again. After dinner I ended up walking home – Daniel's car had one too few seats, and I felt like doing some exploring anyway. I discovered a fun market store that's pretty close to my apartment and several other fun things.

Saturday I spent about ten hours in meetings. We started the day with a meeting with a customer (which took six of those hours), then ended up having several other meetings after that! I had no idea how exhausting it is to work at the administrative level! There are so many decisions to be made about all sorts of things it's a wonder there's time for it all! I'll say I learned a ton, though – I got about four completely full pages worth of notes yesterday!

After work I decided to once again go to Nancy's with Bob and Tony (I missed the bus due to the last meeting, so I was riding home with them and just decided to go to the restaurant as well.) Fritz (a German buyer for a company, I think) was there, and it was good to see him again. Speaking of Germans, I also saw Bernard (one of the German designers – I met him back in December) at the factory yesterday. It's always cool to see people you know again! Anyhow, I decided to run/walk home (it's hard to run on a full stomach). I took an alternate route and ended up passing the mighty entrance to the wall and, being myself, decided to run up it then come back down and continue home. There are several hundred very steep stairs there… It was not the brightest move I've ever had… I managed to make it about 3/4 up the wall before my body literally made me stop running. I was able to not stop moving, thankfully, and made it the rest of the way up and back down without a problem. I really want to be able to run that without getting too beat up by it!

On the way home I ended up running into (not literally) four middle-school girls who were excited to have the chance to talk with a laowai. They ended up walking the rest of the way home with me, and we had a pretty decent conversation almost entirely in Chinese! I was excited to find I was able to do that! It was still extremely basic, and quite difficult to communicate, but progress is being made! Now I have even more people to talk with on QQ (the Chinese messenger program) Speaking of, one of Trudy's friends from Hangzhou added me on QQ and we had a decent conversation, as well! I have a ton of friends now who want to practice their English with me. It's been quite interesting!

I've got to go – Trudy's coming over in a bit and we will be making lunch for ourselves, Tony, Terence, and Elva. As I said, we were originally planning on going to the wall after that, but it's raining, so we shall see. I'll update again later!

~S. A. Collins

Posted in Linhai Zhejiang - China | 3 Comments

Wait, What’s This?! Egad! It’s a DAILY DOUBLE!!!

That's right, folks – you get a double entry today. Why? Because I neglected to mention in my last entry that today happens to be "International Women's Day," which is a national holiday in China and something like fifty other countries. Take the chance to let the women in your lives know you appreciate them!

I'll do that here:

Firstly, Mom: Thank you very much for everything you do, most recently for allowing me to undertake this crazy adventure of mine. I have grown a ton here, and discovered who I am in regular society as a result. I won't disappoint you!

Secondly, both of my Grandmothers deserve thanks, as well – without either of you I wouldn't be who I am today!

My cousin in Cali deserves special mention here, as well – she's been my best friend since we were knee high to a grasshopper, and has stood by me through some really tough times. Thank you very much, milady!

My sisters will also go here – they've taught me much more than they could ever realize, and have put up with a lot of crap I've given them (or thrown at them…) over the years.

I want to thank my friend Zekintha for her support, as well. She has been there for me whenever I've needed someone to talk to, and has helped me more than she can see. You're a godsend, my friend!

Also my friend Tatyana – you know you were the inspiration to this whole blog idea, don't you. This project wouldn't exist if you weren't in my life. Thank you very much for all your support and encouragement!

Victoria, as well, goes in here – I need to thank you for being such a good sounding board, especially when I need sense knocked back into me.

Still on the American side we have Chelsie, my friends from the BC14th ward, my friends from Pizza Hut, and my friends from Washington – The women I need to thank are far too many for this small blog entry to be able to encompass, so thank you all!

For the 中文 side I can offer face-to-face thanks for the most part, but I still feel they deserve mention here – Thanks be to all the girls in the office, especially Joy and Selena for getting me to Linhai alive, Josie for being a great 中文 teacher, Chris for her support, Elva for her help in getting me oriented, and Trudy for being such a wonderful friend.

Thanks also to 珊好 for encouraging me to continue to learn, and to Elina for being my first 中文 teacher here in Linhai and for working so hard!

Again, the list is too long to mention, but to all of you, I offer my thanks, and my deepest respect, HAPPY INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S DAY!!!

Posted in Linhai Zhejiang - China | 2 Comments