Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Banquets, Banquets, Banquets!

At the end of the last year we never managed to have the traditional end of the year banquet so this semester Ken has been bugging Baker, the communist party person in charge of the English department, to get us a banquet. Banquets are more than just a social function for having fun with colleagues and friends they are all about hierarchy and jobs. Baker as essentially the highest ranking person at most of our banquets is in charge of doing most of the toasting. He moved from Baijou to beer pretty fast and we were all giving him shit about it but with the number of toasts he raised I think he'd have passed out on the table had he been drinking liquor the whole time. His assistant who wants to move up to his job some day was also making the rounds toasting everyone he could. It's basically a sign of importance to toast people all around the table. It's hard to know what Baker's position is relative to the non-part head of the English department since as she is a women she doesn't participate in most of the whole toasting culture. At the banquet when all the Chinese teachers started smoking I went up to my room at got a big cigar I had left over from the US and brought it back down. All the Chinese people were pretty interested in it especially two Japanese teachers who happened to be at the banquet.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Lobster Fest Changzhou

All through my year at the hotel I'd seen posters for a big festival that seemed to be out in the parking lot. I always assumed that it was something they had done for the opening of the hotel not some repeating thing. The one day I noticed that they had begun to set up about 60 tables out in what was usually the parking lot right in front of the hotel. I didn't even know about it until it was already underway but it seems that at some point every year they have a big lobster, or more accurately cray fish, festival. They set up for some huge number of people and then serve what I believe are all you can eat cray fish. Besides all the food they set up a huge stage where there were all sorts of activities. I saw what looked like a beer drinking contest and they had acrobats and marshal art demonstrators. They also had the guy in the video below, assuming I can ever upload it, who is playing the hell out of some traditional Chinese instrument. I couldn't get a great view from the lobby of the hotel so I cirlced around to a wall behind all the action which actually was already packed with other looky loos who were all really interested to see some American there as well.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Mall of China

Before I came home I needed to go shopping for some presents to bring to people. There are a lot of stores around the main mall but they're pretty much exclusively clothing stores and they can be a little pricey. There is also in a different area of downtown Changzhou a mall called Lu Qiao. Lu Qiao is a mall in the Asian sense which is completely different from anything we have in America. The whole place, which is the size of a regular mall in America across five different floors, is filled to the brim with individual stalls selling all manor of things. It's sort of like an outdoor market which you see in some places but the whole thing is under one gigantic roof. The stalls aren't always separated by walls like in a real store some are just divided by sheets thrown up all over the place. The mall sells about anything you can find in China. The whole first floor is only cloths and me and Carrie spent a lot of time walking around buying people t-shirts with funny badly written English on them. The next floor was all luggage for some reason. The floor above that was all shoes where I was able to find some of the squeaky shoes that I've seen children wearing which sound like a dog toy with each step.

The floor above that was jewelry. On the top floor was anything that didn't belong on one of the previous floors including all sorts of traditional style masks and combs and what not. Me and Carrie spent a lot of time wandering around buying lots of different stuff. In Lu Qiao everything has to be negotiated for and my lack of Chinese puts me at a huge disadvantage which is why I was so grateful that Carrie came along. By far the most effective negotiating position was to walk away. Basically no matter what the person said in about 20 seconds we would look disinterested and start to wander over to another booth, that'd be when the price would mysteriously be cut by half. Without Carrie there to conduct most of the negotiations there's no telling how much I would have paid. The oddest thing in the whole place was a dress which was a nice normal dress except for the work FUCK written across it in large black block letters. I took a picture of it and couldn't contain my laughing. In retrospect I wish I would have told them what it meat to see what there reaction would be. There's no way that they would have knowingly put a shirt like that on display for everyone to see. I hope it's still there.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Prisoner of the State

I recently finished reading the book "Prisoner of the State" by Zhao Ziyang. Zhao was one of the most important premiers of China during the early days of opening up after Mao's death and from '87-'89 he was General Secretary of the Communist Party, which is the top job today held by Hu Jintao, but at the time he was still second to Deng Xiaoping, the paramount leader until his death. Zhao spent most of his career in Beijing as the top lieutenant of Deng Xiaoping in charge of economic reforms, which basically meant transforming China from a planned economy to a capitalist one. He was General Secretary when the June 4th Tienanmen Square protests began and it was his unwillingness to send in the army after the students which lead to him being forced out of the party and spending the rest of his life under house arrest. During his time under house arrest he secretly made tapes of his thoughts on the days leading up to the Tienanmen Square Massacre, his time trying to run the economy of China, and the future of China. I would highly recommend he book to anyone with any interest in China. The inner workings of the party are so opaque and the history of China so rarely told accurately that this book is of immense importance.

There were a few things that he talked about that I thought were really interesting. First there is some interesting stuff about why capitalism is better than communism, which he actually provides with some really simple examples. He talks about how under the old system farmers were all forced to grow basic food stuffs, but when he liberalized it somewhat some farmers could turn to growing cash crops which grew better in there area. The value of the cash crops was such that they could be sold for much more basic foods then the farmers would ever have been able to grow. He also paints himself as having been even more than Deng Xiaoping the person pushing for the early move towards capitalism. People in China just have no sense of who he was since he's been essentially erased from the history books. Next he talks about something which I had been saying also for a while. He notes that while some people saw the growing problem of corruption as a problem with capitalism it was really a problem with the dictatorial nature of the government. If the government perceives any complaints as anti-government than people can never point out corruption. Zhao ran into a lot of problems with the fact that people had no way to tell anyone interested in stopping corruption who was corrupt.

Finally near the end of the book Zhao talks about how he believes that the only way for China to continue forward both with economy and politics is to adopt a more western style of government including a real multiparty democracy. He writes here near the end of the book, "I once believed that people were the masters if their own affairs not in the parliamentary democracies of the developed nations in the West, but only in the Soviet and socialist nations' systems with a people's congress, making the latter system more advanced and a better-realized form of democracy. This, in fact, is not the case. The democratic systems of out socialist nations are all just superficial; they are not systems in which the people are in charge, but rather are ruled by a few or even a single person." It may not be anything earth shattering to say the communist countries aren't really for the people but it's not every day that a former General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party says it. The last really interesting thing is the black and white picture I have in this post. The figure in the center with the bullhorn is Zhao here appearing in Tienanmen Square, after he was essentially forced out of power and only hours before the tanks would come rolling in, pleading with the students to leave. He said that while it was too late for him and too late for the protest that they were young and should still leave while they could. Standing just to the right of him and looking directly into the camera is Wen Jiabao the current Primer of China who worked under Zhao at the time. What is really clear from the book is that the legacy of that fateful day changed forever the course of Chinese history.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Chinese High School

Now I never really liked English corner that much. I just don't know what to say when everyone is all grouped up around me and looking at me. But one of the few interesting topics that comes up from time to time is what high school was like for Chinese students. I always see the college here as so restrictive with so many mandatory activities and a set bedtime but compared to what they all go through in high school I see why they think it is so liberal. Not every year of their education is as bad as the last few but by the time they get closer to taking the college entrance test, which is basically the only thing that determines what college they go to, high school is basically a 24/7 thing. The stories differ a little from person to person but the basic times and outline is pretty consistent. They usually wake up some time between 5-6 am, i.e. just when the sun is coming up, to start their first classes. The first class period or two actually takes place before breakfast. Sometimes this is a real class sometimes it's essentially a study period. After that is breakfast which is about 30 minutes long at most. Then the morning classes begin which are a series of classes held in the same room with the same group of students where the teachers just rotate.

These also aren't the worlds most engaging classes as they are almost all just lectures where the students take endless notes. After morning classes there is lunch time. Lunch time lasts about two hours but most of that time is spent napping since they barely got any sleep last night. After nap time are the afternoon classes which go until about five or six at night following the same format as the morning classes. Next is dinner time. Some students who live close to the school, a lot live in the school dorms, go home for their meals but it means they have less time for napping. After lunch are evening classes. These either go to about eight and then the students have a bunch of homework, or they go until ten or eleven in which case there was some time during the day to do homework. When they get back to the dorms they have between half an hour and an hour to get ready for bed. Then it's lights off. Not only are they made to go to bed but people walk around and make sure they're sleeping and not talking. So basically during the last two years or so of high school every single hour that's not spent in school is spent eating or sleeping. They also have either only one day off a week or none at all. Some high schools actually only give about one day off a month. When I first heard all this my reaction was that I'd never have made it. I think it would be better to take up a life of crime. What are they going to do after all execute you, at least that doesn't take 16 hours a day every day.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Gone Fishin'

All around the back of the campus are some little canals that are there mostly for show. Changzhou used to be on the grand canal, the one from Hangzhou to Beijing, but that's long past. Out of the back of the campus is a new large canal that seems to be used for actual industrial traffic but the little canals around the city and the campus are just for looks. It seems weird to say they're there for looks since they all look like shit, or more aptly sewage. They are always brown or really dark green and while they do move slowly they also don't exactly smell spring fresh. That is of course why I decided to go fishing in one of them. I often think that the only thing I really do for the students here is to challenge their perceptions, and since no one would ever think of fishing in the canal that's why I did it. I had expressed this idea to Dave and he relayed it to an old Chinese guy he had befriended. The old guy knew where a fishing store was and I went over there with him and Dave. They had a pretty big selection of fishing poles and I bought a pretty basic collapsible one which along with line, hooks, weights, worms, and a really small chair came to about $17. The hooks and weights were oddly designed so that instead of casting it you just lowered it into the water and waited for some fish. I'd seen Chinese people doing this but it just didn't appeal to me.

When I got home I took off the hook and weight system they had put on and just attached a basic hook and some weight. Now for one thing I don't know much about fishing, and for another I don't know anything about tying knots so that I'm not sure the thing I came up with would ever have been able to catch a fish. Of course that wasn't much of a problem since there is no way there were any fish living in the water I was fishing in. It's not just the pollution, fish can live in some pretty murky water it's that I don't think the canal I was in actually connected to much of anything besides some pipes. But the point wasn't to catch fish it was just to fish, so one sunny afternoon Dave and I headed out to the canal to try our luck. Just as I was hoping there were a lot of odd looks and some concerned questions from the people passing us by. Catch and release must not be a Chinese thing since people were all relived when I told them I wasn't planning on eating anything I caught. The person who spent the most time watching us was a worker or gardener who was taking a break. He was wearing the perfect fishing hat but I wasn't quite sure how to ask to borrow it. Eventually I realized though the biggest flaw in my plan, I don't like fishing. I got bored pretty quick and after there weren't many students left I gave up, though I did catch a nice piece of some weed. Now the fishing pole sit mounted on my wall since there's never going to be a fish there.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Front Row

I judged another speech competition before I left for Korea and while this one was basically the same as the other ones I had judged, terrified students reading canned speeches, there are two things I want to share. The first is this photo which shows all six of the judges, or at least in my case my name card. I was sitting in the front row next to a guy who used to be the dean of some department but essentially retired, or was forced out depending on who you ask, but still retains a lot of his pay and status, and the only full professor in the English department. In the back row was Steve with two other teachers. It's just still odd that I have more status as some foreigner with no experience then Steve who's been a teacher for a long time and is, you know, a professional. The former Dean also seemed to have little interest in actually listening to anything that was being said and instead just wrote little notes to me asking me where I was from and what not. With all you hear about Chinese modernization foreigners are still a rare commodity. Also this time I took a video of the competition so you dear reader could get some idea of what judging it is like.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Please Don't Kiss Me

Well that's finally the end of the Korea posting but I still have a lot more catching up to do. There's been my time at home, my trip to New Orleans, and my trip to Beijing and Chengdu, and my most recent trip to Qingdao, plus of course starting the new semester. But first I had a number of topics left over from the end of last semester that I wanted to get to so the next couple of posts will be from that before any of the stuff about going home. The picture on the left is some calligraphy drawn by one of my tutors. On the last day of tutoring with Winter and Olivia, two of my former students they got me a really nice calligraphy set and showed me a little how to use it. I was thankfully aware that they would probably get me a present, despite the fact that they were tutoring me for free, so I got them some DVDs and some tea. Chinese calligraphy is actually much more complicated then I thought it would be. Besides the obvious difficulty of making all the strokes in exactly the right way, I couldn't even write the character for 1 which is simply one horizontal line correctly, there are actually as many as six different ways to write each character. There are faster and slower methods which actually make the characters look completely different and require a totally different technique.

Besides all that sometimes for calligraphy people use the traditional characters, which are very different from the modern ones, and there are of course many different ways to write each one of those. This isn't something that only a few people do either all the students learn when they are young to do some calligraphy and if you asked any class who is best and second best at it they would probably be able to name the person with little difficulty. Me and Ken were in a debate with another westerner recently about if the characters were beautiful and important or just archaic. Actually learning about all the types of calligraphy lowered my opinion of learning characters since I just feel that the amount of time and effort that the younger Chinese students have to put into learning all these different characters would be better spent on something else. The more time and effort you put into language the less time and effort are left for math or science. It was though really nice of my tutors to show me all of this and they wrote me a traditional Chinese saying along the lines of "wherever you go you'll have friends here," though the actual direct translation doesn't make much sense. I also asked them to try to write something for my blog, an attempt at translating the name into Chinese. The best they came up with was the phrase, "please don't kiss me" which is something that people put on the back of cars and means essentially don't bump me with your car. It certainly makes for an interesting translation of my blog.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Korea Day 9 - I Want the Pig Flu

After me and Ken got back form our respective trips to and near the DMZ we wanted to head over to this big tower that looks down over Seoul. To get there we took a taxi to a cable car that brought us up and down. I like cable cars fine but I can't help thinking every time I see one that this is just another missed opportunity for a zip line. At the top of the cable car before the tower there were some weird art displays including these wire outlines of people that were suspended well above the ground like superman flying by and then illuminated by lights. The tower itself had a nice panoramic view of Seoul which was made all the nicer by the neon lights of a clear night. Seoul is a huge city much bigger than it looks from the ground since it is more spread out than most cities of its size. I could see avenues and neighborhoods running in all directions and even a few of the other cities which make up the greater Seoul area. It's still pretty amazing to me that a city as big as Seoul can be a clean or have so little congestion. We hung around there for quite some time as the tower was a nice place to sit and there were all these fun little signs saying how far it was to various points, which I guess is a tired mechanic but I still like it.

The next morning before the flight we had some time so we headed over to what one map said was a really big fish market. It took some finding but when we found it it certainly did not disappoint. To call it a fish market is actually somewhat wrong since so many of the best things there were crabs, shrimp, monstrous squid and octopus and all manor of things that live in the sea. I've never seen any octopus as big as some of the ones that people were tossing around. The place also seemed to stretch on for a mile with just store after store. It was I think divided into some sections but it certainly wasn't too clear to someone just wandering in. I wonder exactly how many normal people just go there on a day to day basis since with the volume they have on display they must have to sell a ton before it all goes bad. we walked around for a while and I'm not sure all the people who were working really appreciated having us there but it was just too interesting not to go. After that we still had a lot of time before the plane so instead of taking a bus out to the airport we took a series of subways which got us there pretty fast. You couldn't see to much but I respect any airport which you can take the subway to.

The airport itself had been voted best airport in the world or so the endless parade of banners kept telling us. Actually I like the Shanghai airport better since the Seoul airport seems to intent on selling you stuff that it's actually hard to find where you're supposed to check in. After we checked in though they had this cool little place where we could make free handicrafts. We were given a little box with pieces to a dollhouse sized desk and some glue and paint. I didn't take too much care with mine but Ken was all about his, though he left it on the plane by accident. The girl who was telling us what to do actually took part of mine apart and redid it because I was apparently gluing the table together in a non-proscribed way.After making our little tables and going to the flight we had one more surprise ahead as when we landed in Shanghai due to the pig flu scare they had people in moon suits go through the plane and check everyone's temperature. It actually took a really long time since if they wern't sure about someone they had more tests to run. A few people got pulled aside and I really wanted to be one of them. I heard about how nice the places they were putting people up were and I had nothing to do for about two weeks before I was going back to the US so I had no problem with getting put up in a nice Shanghai hotel by the government. Alas it wasn't to be and my damn lack of a fever just had me sent back to Changzhou on the train.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Korea Day 8 - North Korea

Both me and Ken had to get up early the next morning for our DMZ tours. The DMZ is just outside of Seoul so most of the tours just start in Seoul. Some of the tours went just to the stuff outside of the actual DMZ, but still related to the war or North Korea, some went just to the DMZ and some did both. I wanted one of the tours that did both while Ken just wanted to go to the DMZ. Unfortunately Ken's tour got canceled and after talking with some seriously unhelpful tour operators he basically found out that he could now only go on one of the tours that didn't go to the DMZ. Figuring it was better than nothing he signed up for one of those. My tour picked me up at the hotel. I was actually outside early but they also showed up early and we got going. After meeting up with the full group in downtown Seoul we headed off toward the DMZ. The first stop was at a place called unification park. Both North and South Korea talk a lot and genuinely seem to want reunification but they just have different ideas of how that would play out. The park isn't actually all the close to the border, being outside the DMZ, but it is one of the closer points that normal Korean people can go to. Besides some tacky stuff like little kid amusement park rides there were also a few monuments depicting different parts of North Korea and a bridge where people put up different messages and what not about unification.

Though no one really travel between the Koreas any more right after the war ended a number of families were split apart, a legacy which remains to this day. There is also a train bridge that I don't believe actually goes anywhere but is one of the many things they seem to build on the theory that one day it will be useful. The most interesting thing was a big pool shaped like the Korean peninsula, which had a fountain that wasn't on while I was there. Next we went to a place up on a hill that overlooked the DMZ. There were those big tourist telescopes that allowed you to look down over the DMZ and even into North Korea. In the DMZ you could see two model villages where apparently the farmers had to be guarded by soldiers while they planted crops. The North Korean one is apparently empty just housing a huge sound system so that they can broadcast propaganda messages at the other village. Both villages have gigantic flag poles with the North Korean one being a little bigger as apparently the South Koreans figured that they had better stuff to do at some point. The area is actually noted for its lack of development due to the high tension. The whole DMZ has become something of a sanctuary for rare and endangered birds since so few people live or go into it.

I could also see down into the Kaesong Industrial Park a industrial area where South Korean companies could use North Korean labor. The park was actually having trouble just as I got to Korea and the North Korean government was demanding higher wages, the wages were paid directly to the North Korean government who supposedly gave them to the workers. The park was actually a lot bigger than I thought as I saw some rail and a bunch of machinery suited for heavy industry. The whole thing was basically the brain child of the founder of Hyundai who was originally from North Korea, though before the war. According to legend he stole a cow from his family's village and used the money to start the company. Years later besides starting the Industrial Park he also donated 1001 cows back to North Korea as a form of food aid/publicity stunt. While you could look over into North Korea you weren't allowed to take any pictures over the side. They had a designated picture taking zone from which I could see exactly nothing worth taking a picture of. Next we headed to the famous third tunnel. After the war despite high tension on the DMZ North Korea tried several times to build tunnels under the DMZ for god only know what purpose.

Of these tunnels the most recent or third tunnel is probably the most famous as it actually made it all the way across the DMZ before they stopped it. Apparently they only even knew about it thanks to a defecting engineer. The South Korean built an intercepting tunnel and stopped the North Koreans sending them back. In a despite and just plain odd attempt to hide what they had been doing the North Koreans painted the entire tunnel black and claimed they had been looking for coal. The South Korean eventually sealed off the tunnel where it went across the border but widened the entrance they had built and turned it into a tourist attraction. The sight became so popular that at one point North Korea demanded some of the money for it reasoning that they had built the tunnel after all, they were let's say rebuffed. The entrance to the tunnel was a long sloping walk way that was steep enough and long enough that it was like walking up a 30 story building. It never looked like that much while I was in it but going up was extremely tiring. Since it was deep enough underground it was close to the earth's core temperature which is pretty cool. They made us wear hard hats which was a good thing as I bumped my head into the ceiling pretty hard a couple of times.

In the tunnel I was actually able to get within 100 meters of the boarder, the point at which the South Koreans had begun to put up walls and what not. Despite it being cold and wet underneath it was incredibly cool and you could actually see the paint and coal dust they had brought in to disguise the tunnel. After I came out of the tunnel I went through a little museum that described the history of the area. The last stop before the lunch was at a railway station that was built just outside the DMZ with the idea that someday it would be the jumping off point for when normal traffic started between North and South Korea. There was even an odd painting of a train heroically going between the Koreas. The whole thing looked like a big working train station but there was only one train a day from Seoul and that was only for tourists. After that we went to this place for lunch which was included in the price of the trip. After lunch our group joined up with a few other groups. I was apparently the last one on the bus after I went to the bathroom even though I was still 15 minutes early.

We drove off into the DMZ stopping at several points while a soldier got on the bus to take a quick look at our passports. We passed several what looked like tunnels expect they were basically just huge concrete blocks suspended above the road. The idea we were told was that if there was ever a war these would be dynamited blocking the road so that it would slow down the North Korean advance toward Seoul. We drove past roads marked with little signs to warn people that just off both sides of the road were mine fields. We came to an American base, one of the few in the DMZ since years ago they realized that while the North Koreans would launch suicide missions against American bases they more or less left the South Korean soldiers alone. In the base we watched a short history of the area and had to sign a liability waver which must be one of the few that includes a waver for "enemy activity." While the DMZ is pretty quite now that wasn't always the case. The main area we were going to was the central area and meeting point. At one time it had actually been a neutral area so North Koreans could go to the south side in that area and vise versa. But apparently while the UN forces built security check points on there side the North Koreans just built them all over the place.

At one point there was a UN check point that was basically surrounded by North Korean ones. a tree had also blocked the view of the place so it was really cut off. An attempt had been made to cut down the tree which the North Koreans vigorously protested. When they attempted to cut down the tree a second time a North Korean soldier grabbed the axe and killed to US soldiers with it. This lead to a raising of the US's nuclear alert status and a near war and apparently even resulted in the leader of North Korea issuing an apology. The next day a team including 64 Taekwondo masters came in to cut down the tree. Years later there was a small gun fight in the DMZ after a Russian tourist defected across the line. After signing the waivers we got back on the bus and drove to the main DMZ area. We entered a big building and then were told not to take pictures and to walk in a straight line as we walked to a little blue house situated on top of the border. In the house was a conference table whose middle matched the border exactly. There were also a couple of South Korean soldiers standing perfectly still. We were allowed about 10 minutes to walk around and take pictures. Even though the house was located on the border we were free to walk around in it so I was technically in North Korea for about 5 minutes.

While I was inside taking pictures outside there were some actual North Korea soldiers milling around. At first I wasn't sure what exactly they were doing as they walked up to the border but it soon became clear that they were making a Christmas card, if of course North Korea had Christmas. Three of the soldiers stood at the border while another, with what looked like a ten year old camera, took a few pictures before they all left. The whole thing just seemed so bizarre. One of the most tense and dangerous borders in the world and we are all taking pictures of one another. The South Korean soldiers stood totally motionless in modified Taekwondo stances wearing glasses so they didn't make too much eye contact with the North Koreans. The North Koreans for their part seemed pretty at ease, but I suppose since they're always the ones starting shit if they aren't starting anything what's to be worried about. After milling about on top of the border we all marched single file back into the main building. Apparently some one took a picture while they were outside and they stopped and made them delete it. Actually the oddest thing they told us was that they didn't allow people in really scruffy cloths since they were worried that the North Koreans would take their picture and use it as propaganda saying look they can't afford to cloth their people. Me I hope that with my crazy beard I am now on a poster somewhere in North Korea.

We then went outside on a little raised platform next to the building where we could look down over where we just were. They let us hang out here and take more pictures for around 15 minutes. Most of the North Koreans had gone inside so I mostly just took pictures of the buildings and the extremely tense South Korean soldiers. We got back on the bus after that and they drove us around and showed us a few more interesting things in the DMZ including the place where the axe indicant happened and a place where you could see the little stone markers that were the border stretching across the countryside. The last place we went was a gift shop on an America base where they sold little things like DMZ shot glasses and golf balls. When we finally left the DMZ they gave us the release forms back to keep. The whole thing was really interesting but quite odd as it was talked up so much as to danger but then just seemed sort of silly in many ways.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Korea Day 7 - Orange Juice is Bad for your Qi

The next day we got up and went over to the bus station. We had realized before that we would have extra time on this day so we planned a stop in a city just sort of randomly picked out of the book. The bus station was pretty easy to navigate, you'd be surprised in how many countries tapping you finger down on a desk means that you want the soonest ticket. When we got to the city my stomach wasn't feeling so good as a result of the incredibly spicy food we had eaten the night before. We went into a pharmacy and after a bunch of pantomiming, it's also interesting how important a keen skill in charades is to traveling, I got some sort of medicine. One thing was a pill which I clearly understood I was supposed to take two of the other thing was some sort of powder which I was unclear if I was supposed to take with water or not. We walked down a while and Ken needed to stop into a bank to get some more money. The bank actually had a cool collection of foreign currency. It's remarkable how many countries call there money a dollar and how many have a picture of the Queen of England on them. I think the coolest money was from Hong Kong as it was really colorful and had the name of a corporation on it, something to do with the weird way the city has always been run.

As we were leaving the bank, in what I'm quit sure was the same way we came in, we discovered that the entrance we had come in was now covered by a big gate. After looking around for a minute I noticed a side door leading to what looked like a closet that had a door to the street. The door was locked but being on the inside I could unlock it and we exited that way. I don't know whatever happened but if the bank managed to get itself robbed on account of an unlocked door it was their own fault. We had picked the town since it was known as some sort of traditional medicine hot spot and was supposed to have some big traditional medicine market. The market was pretty disappointing since it was just a bunch of stores not really an outdoor market. The best thing though was a big museum of traditional medicine and the crazy things it said. I've never really had much respect for traditional medicine and living in China has only made it worse with some of the nonsense the students spout off. If something really is good for you, like tea, then regular old science can prove that and not just rely on what someones grandma said. The museum had all sorts of wired display about the elements (earth, fire water, not sodium and beryllium) and nonsense about Qi but the best part was a computer which was supposed to find what sort of person you were and what things were good for you. Me and Ken both did it and despite entering very different things got the same result which included a list of things you should and should not eat. On my list was, I believe, oranges so know I know that orange juice doesn't agree with my Qi.

Later on we went to eat at a McDonalds, conveniently located next to a Outback Steakhouse were I tried some Korean version of a big mac which tasted like it had been dipped in soy sauce and I tried mixing the powdered stuff with water and drinking it. When mixed with water it sort of looked like mud and didn't taste much better. By that point even Ken was feeling a little sick from all the spicy food. We got on the train which took us back to Seoul where we even stayed at the same hotel we had been in before. On our way into Seoul we noticed two odd things. First was a sign for a pizza place who's slogan read "Love for Women." Now I'm not advertising expert but that seems like a pretty odd slogan. Is the pizza somehow better for women? Is the company run by women? Or do they just have no idea what they're doing. The other odd thing was a vending machine which seemed to only sell study books. Now that's how you build a hard working society by having even the vending machines telling you to study more.