On the first evening of the Shanghai Boat Show, one of the yacht clubs had a fancy party for its members. And because they happen to be one of our boat dealers, we got an invite to attend. The party was a lot of fun, and was catered by an Italian chef (yes!). We sat with some Italian wine distributors and had a good time chatting about expat life in Shanghai.
The highlight of the night (pun intended) was a "bartender" who specialized in lighting bottles of alcohol on fire and juggling them. It was an impressive performance, but not for the reason you might think. Yes, he was good--but not good enough. He dropped flaming bottles of liquor not once but *three separate times* throughout his performance. The impressive part wasn't so much the juggling, but the fact that he didn't light any of the guests on fire. Win!
Here are a few more exciting pictures from my time here.
Riding the high speed train from Nanjing to Shanghai:
The health code rating at our hotel in Shanghai:
I like to consider myself as a person who has taken the "road less traveled." I have made it my mission to explore places far away from home, to understand cultures once foreign to me, to communicate with people in languages that are not my native tongue. This is especially true in my new job, where I will be helping to pave the way for American outdoor leisure companies to expand to China (and in the process, teach Chinese people how to enjoy the great outdoors while preserving the environment).
But rarely do I get the chance to literally blaze my own trail, spastically waving a piece of dead bamboo in front of me to destroy any spider webs in my path. So thank you, Big Mountain, for giving me such an opportunity.
Libo is a place of dazzling beauty, surrounded by mountainous "karst" formations that make even those who are only mildly enthusiastic about hiking (cough cough, me) feel the need to climb something. The national park has already been somewhat developed, so much of my trip was spent looking at (and participating in) the various activities offered (rowing a boat, touring a cave, taking a leisurely stroll through a swamp) and working with architects to brainstorm ways to make these activities more enticing to tourists.
One of the more popular locations in the park is the Waterfall Forest, which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. Though rather slippery and unkempt in some spots, there was indeed a path to follow on the hike:
Little did we know, however, that the Waterfall Forest was a mere warm-up to the main event: the Feral Pig Bamboo Forest. (Feral pig is their translation of "Wild Boar," which has a slightly better ring to it.) Big Mountain showed off his knowledge of his namesake and took us quite a ways off any sort of beaten path in an attempt to show us the entrance to a cave where he wants to offer ziplining. We never made it to the cave, but we did see a lot of bamboo. Luckily, the feral pigs were nowhere to be found.
It's not quite clear from the pictures how much we were forced to use our hands as well as our feet on this hike. My chief concern was that one of us would twist an ankle and have to be somehow carried out (the hike went from the parking lot down a series of mossy old stairs, through the bamboo forest, into a riverbed, up a steep slope of mud, and to another riverbed, this one with water in it, which is where we chose to turn back.).
Big Mountain, who is a world-renown photographer in his spare time (no joke, he works for National Geographic), taking a picture of some mushrooms:
Tim lends Tai a hand crossing the second riverbed (which was larger than it looks like in this picture, and also where we decided to turn back):
Stop to smell the roses? Please, this is China. Stop to use your cell phone is more like it. Hey, at least there was service! Not bad!
Now that it's all said and done, and all of our ankles made it out of the forest intact, I can safely say that this hike was one of the best parts of my trip to Libo.
I have so much to report about my trip in China thus far--I had hoped to keep up better with writing these posts, but busy days, late nights, and questionable internet connections have made it a difficult task to accomplish.
So where better to begin than the most exciting parts?
Adventure #1: Driving Conditions in Libo. There are waterfalls covering roads, roads that are more pothole than pavement, one-way roads up steep mountain paths, large trucks barreling towards you on said one-way steep mountain paths, and maniacal drivers who somehow manage to get you where you need to be without so much as a scratch on the car.
Two things are clear in this next picture: There is definitely a car coming at us from the other direction (far left), and Eric is not pleased with the situation. What's not as clear is how steep the drop-off is, or how difficult it will be for us to reverse out of the "situation."
We try the "wait it out" strategy, but it doesn't get us anywhere. (Obviously.) Here, we've already reversed about 300 meters through tricky terrain and are about to be able to turn around.
The driver of the offending vehicle leans out to see what's holding us up.
As there is literally no other option, we are forced to bow out of this game of chicken and head back down the mountain the way we came.
Adventure #2: Extreme Wilderness Hike is coming soon!
The internet connection here is pretty shoddy, so for those of you waiting for pictures of Libo, I'm posting these right away! I'll go back and fill in with the details later.
On the drive from Guiyang to Libo:
Last night, Sarah, Gary, Candy and I joined two of the hotel's investment managers for a private Chinese-style banquet dinner. The meal was nine courses; never in my life have I been presented with so many foods I had never tasted before in one sitting. My apologies for not taking pictures--I didn't want to make myself even more conspicuous at a business dinner by acting like a tourist as well as looking like one. Now, I will sound like a tourist as I try to describe to you the bizarre and occasionally tasty dishes I sampled.
The dinner started with some kind of a salty, cinnamon-y meat-broth with questionable floaty black things. Course two was a plate of cold appetizers, including some delicious pickled radishes with sweet sauce, some extremely spicy cucumbers (I nearly caused a scene), and a meat that redefines the term "cold cuts." I tried my best to at least taste everything that was set down in front of me, but I left the cold meat chunks alone. I know from my last trip here that those are on the "No thank you" list.
The third course was a very nice steak. Steak in China is slightly different, being that it is typically about equal parts meat and fat, and covered with a sweet and spicy Asian sauce that I really enjoy. Keeping with the meat trend, the fourth course was some animal's (I'm guessing a pig's) part (I'm guessing an organ of some sort). It didn't taste bad per se, but the texture was a bit alarming. Two bites in, I decided it was too much for me.
I was thrilled by the fifth course, which was a little bowl of fish in salty soy broth. It had the skin and fins still attached, but my chopstick skills were good enough to detach said skin and fins and consume the flaky bites just fine. The waitress brought out the head on a plate and tried to offer it to me. I politely declined. I tried fish gills in Kenya, and I am 110% sure I do not like them or any part of the fish's head.
Post fish-head, we were served two vegetable courses. The first was a combination of potatoes (white and purple), carrots, and cucumbers in a gelatinous white sauce. The second was a green vegetable I had never seen before (like a cross between bok choy and broccolini) in broth.
Course #8 was hands-down my favorite. Side by side on the plate were a dumpling and a strange looking orange ball shaped like a pumpkin. The dumpling was half steamed, half fried (those are the best kind!) and filled with pork, water chestnuts, and herbs. The orange 'thing' remains somewhat of a mystery. I know it was made from glutinous rice flour, which I think lends one of the most interesting textures to dessert that I've ever come across. It was flavored with peach, and on the inside was some sort of a nut (a walnut perhaps?). It was fun to try to eat it with chopsticks because it was extremely sticky (it stuck to the plate, the chopsticks, and our mouths), but the rest of the group had trouble too so I didn't feel awkward.
The last course was a martini glass filled with slices of orange, apple, and dragon fruit. Needless to say I liked this course as well. After dinner, we were served a delicate tea that tasted of pine and lemon--in a good way.
Today's excitement began with me finding a bug the size of my hand on the wall outside my balcony. The picture doesn't do it justice, but it was HUGE! And it was making the loudest sound I have ever heard a bug make. I thought it was a bird at first.
I had a nice morning to myself, including a leisurely breakfast, a Jillian Michaels yoga DVD in the room, a long shower, and a few skype dates. This afternoon, I had lunch with Candy and Gary before our meeting about the American boathouse they want to design for the resort.
Candy and me at lunch:
After the business meeting, Gary drove me up to the top of the mountain so that I could see the hotel's namesake, Nine Dragon Lake. What I saw was stunning. Apparently, the lake is the lowest it has ever been, but it will fill back up again by the end of the rainy season. As is typical in China, there was an almost incomprehensible amount of construction happening in the area. Several other resort developers in the area are building hotels, villas, and other structures to attract tourists. I can't help but imagine that they will ultimately be successful; this place is truly gorgeous.
Nine Dragon Lake:
A view of the Princess Hotel and surrounding area:
It is 6:15 pm, and I am forcing myself to write this post right now so that I do not go to sleep instead. Power through the jet lag, my mind is telling me. The rest of me is looking longingly at the king-sized bed across the room.
How fancy is that?! This room is about six times larger than the one in Hong Kong, and with our special discount it's about a $20 upgrade per night. Yes, please.
After we checked in, Sarah, Gary, Gary's wife 'Candy' and I had lunch at the hotel. We started off with some bone marrow soup. Before you get all grossed out, let me just tell you that it was delicious! I would definitely eat it again. I'm serious.
I never know what I'm doing with Chinese menus, so I usually just let whomever I'm with take the lead or copy whatever they order. Today, that was a good choice:
Sarah ordered braised pork over rice with pickled radish, a Chinese tea egg, and steamed bok choy. So did I.
After lunch, Candy and I took a walk around the grounds. The resort is bizarrely European, complete with a bar that brews its own German beer and even a church.
Here are some pictures I took on my tour:
The outdoor pool:
Villas along the river:
I'm definitely hoping there will be time for a unique Chinese spa treatment . . .
Ear picking?! I think I'll stick with a foot massage, thank you.
Ni hao, my friends!
Greetings from my room on the eighteenth floor of the Charterhouse Causeway Bay Hotel in Hong Kong. What a day(s?) it has been! The flight over was, as fifteen hour flights go, relatively painless. The middle seat of my row was empty, so I was able to stretch out a bit while still remaining extremely uncomfortable. I made friends with and received licorice and Reeses pieces from the two IT guys sitting in my area. It was both of their first times to Asia so I gave some advice and in turn listened to a lot of chatter about H6410 computer systems (or something, don't quote me). I watched most of the newest Mission Impossible (highly recommend it) and slept all in all probably a good eight hours. Yes, I know I am a champion.
Getting through customs, finding my bag, exchanging currency, taking the train to downtown HK and then a taxi to my hotel went extremely smoothly. No complaints, other than that I felt like a zombie and was only able to half-appreciate the incredibly lush island landscape of Hong Kong. Once I was able to get to my room and shower, things began to look up. The hotel was nice, and my room was both comfortable and hilariously tiny. My suitcase took up the only remaining floor space not being used by the bed. I was only here for one night though, so nbd!
I met Sarah Xu, CEO of the largest outdoor sporting goods retail store in China, in the lobby and we went out for a delicious Chinese dinner. Ready to be jealous? Here's what we had: jasmine tea, whole fried shrimp (yes the heads were still on, and yes I managed to get them off using chopsticks...I've got some pretty serious skills), roasted duck with dipping sauce, steamed baby bok choi with garlic, and shrimp and fish fried rice. If you can't tell, Hong Kong is known for seafood. The meal was unbelievable--the perfect re-introduction into China. I love this place!
After dinner, Sarah and I walked around the downtown bar district and had a glass of Sangria at a Spanish bar. There were Chinese minstrels playing Spanish guitar and singing "Hotel California" ... Oh, the irony. After drinks, I headed back to my Polly Pocket room now, ready to collapse into a bed perfectly sized for a Chinese person and wake up well-rested for a full day of travel and business!
Last week, my life reached a tipping point. I knew that finding the right job in St. Louis would be tough, but as a Fulbright scholar fluent in two foreign languages with a degree from Vanderbilt, I didn't realize that I might actually be un-marketable in my hometown.
But it's more than that. I could, of course, have found a job in St. Louis; in fact, I actually turned down a few offers months ago. The "problem" is that I want something cutting-edge, something exciting--I want to be a powerful contributor in whatever it is I am a part of, and I won't find that sitting at a customer service desk or making logistical inquiries by phone for a huge corporation, even if the clients are Chinese.
The bottom line is that I need to be in China. It may have taken a friendly, objective third party to finally convince me of that, but once I committed to the idea, there was no turning back. I made a phone call, received an offer for a plane ticket and chance to 'try out the job' before accepting, and found myself headed to China literally three days later. Good thing I have a valid visa!
It feels so good to finally be following my heart. I know that this is where I need to be, and I'm thrilled to see where the rest of this trip takes me.
Stay tuned--lots of pictures to come!