Wednesday, April 17th @ 10:17pm (Hohhot, China)
My trip is fast approaching its close (no wait, it’s totally not, but it certainly feels like that), and I have to say that these last couple days have been going by more quickly, probably because the days have been filled with more sightseeing and less personal aimless wandering. I reckon I feel pretty good about it – and now wish I had taken more money out of the bank today, after realizing that 800 yuan I pulled equated to a mere $130 – and that the fee was only $2.00! Not to mention that I am back to where I started, more or less, in terms of money I have for just chilling around China. This being the case because of the fact that I paid 440 yuan for a Mongolian Grasslands tour this afternoon… it’s going to be one full day and one night for tomorrow evening. Come back by noon on the next day. Yayyyyyy!?
Who am I who I am I who am I. I felt like this entire trip – or most of it – up until today, things had been feeling just slightly off. I would follow my intuition to this or that place and find it to be wrong… and be searching for examples of what I could be learning from this or that situation when my intuition was wrong, and always coming up short. Or doing things while wondering if I was doing the right thing, rather than actually knowing. I took this to mean that I was rather out of touch with myself – and that my decisions were poor, and that I didn’t know how to tell what was real and what was illusion in those times. So it goes. I suppose it began, firstly, with not staying in the Forbidden City to explore it more by myself after I left and instead going with the tour guide lady to meet her friend, who then drove me to a temple where I was supposed to get an I-Ching related reading. But upon arriving, I learned that that place was a Buddhist place – not a Taoist place – and accidentally, in my confusion and lack of grasp on religious terms in Chinese – purchased a 100 yuan trinket that I would have never actually bought in real life. From there, I went off by myself, broke and unable to pay the taxi driver, as I’d already mentioned. It felt wrong – though right now, as I am looking at this ebony charm I bought and hate the aesthetic of – feels like it may not necessarily have been wrong ultimately. But nonetheless, there was that chasing feeling all throughout my journey from that point on – and maybe before that, even – where I was just wondering what I was supposed to be learning from this or that situation, because it felt so wrong. Right now the only reason the ebony charm seems useful is because being in that space with the thousand Buddhas and sending my wishes to Buddhas really felt similar to when I went to the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. Maybe it’s because at both places people come from afar to basically store up their deepest desires and wishes into one place and one inanimate object. Whatever it is, the energy is actually palpable. And maybe I wasn’t actually supposed to be there but ended up there and now I am finding something new because I am looking – but what I am wanting to do after being there and feeling that energy, is basically pick an object and meditate with it or whatever is necessary to charge it… as an experiment, really, but particularly because I read about a similar thing regarding the charging of objects in my magick book. I may even start tonight, finishing this.
Anyway, whatever the meaning of “should” is doesn’t really matter in this situation, maybe. What matters definitely is my perspective upon it, and how shifting that or even feeling like one is in touch with whatever is important. I should follow that the next time I felt that I was following intuition but then it also felt wrong while I was happening was the next day, when I was walking around Beijing and saw a sign for some kinda soothsayer dude with Taoist symbols, and his sign listed an array of services. A couple of those services were 算命 – literally, the counting of lives – as well as 八卦 – which is something related to yin-yang cosmology and something the I-Ching falls under. I didn’t know what 八卦 was, and went in to ask about the I-Ching despite the fact that the dude seemed very much like a hack. The reason I went in is because I saw 算命 on the sign and figured that I should go and check it out because I just learned the prior day – after going “wrongly” to the temple – that that meant fortune-telling. So I wanted that, and felt that the fact that I had learned about it the previous day was basically evidence that I should go and see the guy… again, despite the fact that he didn’t seem particularly like a real thing, what with his robe garb and his long beard as though he was making himself to be a caricature of a soothsayer. After going in, he basically sat me down and rattled off a bunch of shit at me while reading my palms – a bunch of shit that didn’t strike me as all that accurate from what I did understand, although there was a lot I didn’t understand. So he spent five minutes rattling this shit off and then, without even a transition or asking me if I had any questions, said he needed to collect money from me… and I was so surprised because the transition was so sudden that I kind of incredulously asked him if he was asking for money, and he said yes. I asked how much, and he said 330 yuan, and I said I didn’t have that much, and that I wasn’t going to pay because if I had known how much he was going to charge, I wouldn’t have done it. Frankly, I wouldn’t have done it for any amount if I had known it was that. When I said that I wouldn’t have paid, he said basically, “Then nevermind,” and dismissed me. The sad part is that I did cost him a bit of business – because some couple had been waiting for me to finish when he was talking to me – but well, I dunno, I don’t feel that bad because he seemed like kind of a dick. He said to the lady, “This little kid doesn’t have money,” as I was leaving, and I felt bad because I thought maybe I should give something, but then thought about it some more and decided I didn’t give a shit, and walked away. As I was walking away, I was just wracking my brain, thinking about what it was that I should be learning from this situation. The things I came up with were all negative – that people are con artists, that I shouldn’t be learning about the I-Ching at this point, that I was supposed to avoid all of these things, that the China that I was looking for didn’t really have those things anymore. And again, this whole time, the feeling was nagging me that I was missing something, that I was following the wrong boat and on the wrong path, and that I needed to right it. At the time, though, this sentiment was formed but something that seemed pretty silly, so I pushed it back in my brain. Whatever, I thought… which is the case with a lot of thoughts I have these days, since I have so many and feel rather lazy about writing them down sometimes. Lots of thoughts about my South Korea trip have been springing to mind lately, for example, though I have forgotten about a lot of them just because I didn’t write them down again. That trip was actually one I didn’t really write up at all – which is a shame, really – though I have a lot of leftover notes. Wonder if I will be able to piece them together if I look at them again…
Anyway, today, in Datong, as I was headed to the train and bus station, I thought about what I should be doing, which direction I should be taking to be on the “right” path. What is the right path, really? And if I didn’t learn anything (one could wrangle a learning experience out of anything, really, but none of those possible points of knowledge seemed valuable to me, or constructive) from those two negative experiences with my search of the I-Ching, what did that mean? Did it mean I was on the wrong path? A big part of me thought so. That I was maybe supposed to be somewhere else at those moments.
I didn’t want to keep feeling that feeling of being out of sync with what I was supposed to be doing, so it began with something really simple, I think… like a really miniature meditation but hardly even that… just with the idea that I needed to be in touch with what the self really wanted. And I took my time this morning, going to the bank, eating a bowl of dao xiao mian, etc. before heading to the train station because I happened to catch and see the bus from leaving near the dao xiao mian restaurant to the train station. Initially, I had wanted to take the bus – not realizing the bus and the train are right next to each other – but decided that since the bus was headed to the train station, that I would just take it. When I arrived, I happen to see a tiny stand which said “bus tickets” and went there to inquire about going to Hohhot. They pointed to an area near a hotel, where the busses supposedly were. On my way there, though, I thought about going to the train station’s ticket booth to see when the next one was, but remembered seeing a note about the next one after 9:00am (it was about 45-minutes past that) was at 2:30pm or so, and decided to instead peek at the giant billboard while passing by to go to the bus, rather than walking to the ticket booth, which was my initial thought. Okay, so I peeked at the billboard as I was walking to the bus, and it turned out I was right about the time; the next one was at 2:30pm. The bus that I was supposed to take, when I arrived, was just about to leave, though I had time to chill for a second and pee at a nearby internet café (full of dudes, to be sure) for 1 yuan. We left soon thereafter – and I think if I had waited in line at the ticket booth, I probably wouldn’t have made it.
The bus was awesome: nobody really was on it; it was a direct bus to Hohhot; they actually stopped for a bathroom break; we got stuck with traffic (small accident) while a sandstorm was going, which allowed for some tight ass videos. And all the while, I thought – I feel like this is the right move because everything went so smoothly all this way… and it felt like I had made the right decision.
When I got into Hohhot, I basically bought a snack or two (flavored Pockys are really not that delicious, I gotta say; I got an almond one and a black milk tea one and the almond one was mostly tossed out and the black tea one was pretty good but only for one stick every ten minutes or something… in succession, they are totally tasteless, pure sugar taste) and then headed onto the local bus to get to the hostel. The directions they’d posted on the internet were pretty bloody horrible, and I had quite the tough time getting there. Finally, I stopped into a store to ask a lady about the directions; she had no idea, but another girl was there buying snacks (it was a bulk snack store) and offered to take me. Turns out she has just moved to the area from Harbin a month ago, and that she is quite lonely and bored these days because her boyfriend, a taxi driver, is currently out of town on a long-distance driving trip for some officials in town. So… she had just gotten off work and rather than going home and being bored, decided to stock up in the name of snack binging (I am imagining, anyway) and was in that store purchasing things when I stopped by. She helped me find the place – and I mentioned I wanted to go to a Mongolian tea shop, so she took me to one, where we had some epic Mongolian milk tea, which is totally crazy. It came in a pot and was super oily and savory – like a really rich breakfast meal or something – which came with dried hunks of meat, grains, and this sweet you tiao-like thing that you soaked into it. It was crazy! We actually got some beef-stuffed pancakes, too, but that was totally unnecessary considering the craziness of the Mongolian tea. ANYWAY. It was a fucking interesting experience, and her first time experiencing it, too.
It was a good time; I learned a lot of interesting things from her, including that there are four major Buddhist caves like the Yungang Caves in China (one of the other ones is in Duanghun, where mom really wants to go, and another is Longmen Caves, which I really wanna go to). She also talked about Tibetans and how they chop up their dead bodies and then either feed them to the fish or leave them out for birds to pick clean, and that because of that, they don’t eat fish or birds. I didn’t know that. Other topics of conversation were a lot of money-related things… the conclusion for her being that it didn’t matter where you live, the amount of money that you make is about equal to the amount of money that you spend… but that ultimately it only matters when you go abroad… other things included the new scare regarding the bird flu thing going on here (up to 77 infected now in Beijing and Shanghai-ish? WTF!) and how it’s terrifying, and how when SARS was going on, her entire school was sealed up from outsiders… and how she is really different from most Chinese girls because she’s 29 and still not married and is perfectly happy about that and feels like people are a bit more free when they don’t get married right away. She also said that she used to play “tai qiu” – which all along I had thought was ping-pong but tonight learned was POOL – and that she had made a pretty lucrative living doing it, basically just being a hire for people who were pretty good at playing pool and needed to have a counterpart. It’s crazy that that’s a job! But basically, she decided that she didn’t want to do that anymore, because in conservative Chinese society, if you are a girl who is good at playing pool, you are seen as a “bad girl”, and that that is no good. She said she had lived in Beijing and Shanghai for a while, and that she really liked the Eastern side of the country – rather than the West and the North, where she is now and where her family is and she grew up – because people in the East have more contact with Westerners and are therefore less conservative and just generally more open. So all that was very interesting. She said if I come to Harbin she’ll take me around and introduce me to things, and that I have to go there in winter because that’s when it is the most special – whereas you can see spring flowers everywhere, pretty much. I’d agree, and I have always wanted to see the ice sculpting in Harbin in the winter, so who knows… maybe that can be part of the China trip I hope to take early next year with Troy… ANYWAY. Lots of interesting conversation, though it was mostly her talking – she was quite eloquent – and me listening. But that’s not so much different from usual, and there was plenty of back-and-forth exchange. She talked a LOT about how lonely she was here with no friends, about how she couldn’t travel by herself, about how she wished she had studied harder at English so she can get a better job, about how she is poor and wanting to save money but it is harder as she is growing older and no longer playing pool. She had previously made something like 10,000 yuan a month – which was a ton and led to a super rich and exciting life – but now makes like half of that, or less, working retail, selling men’s clothes. Lots of cultural info… and it was good conversation. And she kept referring to us as “good friends” and wants to stay in touch so I can help her with English and she can help me with Chinese – and in a sense, I would like to do this because it seems rare that a Chinese gal would be so liberal in the sociological sense, and she is quite nice, and I imagine someone helping her have confidence with English could go a long way. In the other sense, it seems like a time commitment to something I dunno if I have. She says the major thing she learned from me today, though, was to save money and live a simpler and lower-cost life, so that she can use it to travel to the places she wants to go to most – which she named as Yunnan, Tibet, and somewhere else I forget.
But onto my actual point about writing this whole post, and proceeding this information about her and my experience with her about all that jazz with the I-Ching and about personal paths and being in tune with it. I didn’t quite realize until I sat down on my bed just an hour ago… but the words she had said during dinner kinda echoed in my brain. What she had said was that the experience of us meeting had a lot of 原, meaning luck, because she usually – if her boyfriend were around – would have just gone home and not done anything. But since her boyfriend is out of town and she didn’t want to go straight home, she had gone to the store to make a small purchase. It’s true. Had I been five minutes later, literally, she would have been done purchasing her goods and out of the store. Similarly, had I had taken the train – or remembered to buy my train ticket to Beijing while I was still at the train station (rather than needing to go back later) – I wouldn’t have met her, most likely. She made a big deal of the coincidence, and at the time, because the experience was interesting to me but didn’t feel like a life-changing experience, seemed sure, lucky, but… for what, I don’t really know. But now that I think about it… indeed, it was a bit of luck and coincidence that this meeting happened… and what does it mean, I guess? What, indeed. Will she have significance in my life even one month from now? One year from now? Or vice versa? I have truly no idea.
Either way. it would be easy to say this meeting was fated because it felt like a positive and very easy interaction. Was it fated? I dunno. But what I do know, again, was the feeling. And it was a conscious mental shift, which began NOTABLY – I remember even thinking, will I know this to be a correct decision? – from the time I was at the train station. (Granted, it’s probably something like Amazing Race, ultimately, where I can make one decision “correctly”, and then it is reset the next time I have a place I have to be.) And of course, who knows if there is such a thing as “right” anyway… so then it is that we have only feeling to work with, and I guess that’s all that matters. I guess ultimately, it’s a matter of checking in with myself to determine if I feel like a decision is really right, and if so, if it’s accurate. It’s good to slow down and do that, though, particularly when I’m feeling inundated and unsure.
Anyway. I have a lot of thoughts lately, and I’m confused about some of them. I rather dislike it.
Facebook posts for the day:
Had a weird sense all throughout the past weekend that I wasn’t quite in the right place at the right time, and that I was a little bit out of sync with what I should’ve been doing (not with regards to being in China, but with the smaller choices I was making). Again and again, occurences and interactions proved to be kind of strange and “off”, aimless moves out of which few positive lessons were to be learned. Today, on my way to the bus/train station, I checked in with myself, to make a note of that discrepancy, by weighing ACTUAL intuition against initial instinct (which can sometimes feel like intuition). Made a decision to take a bus instead of a train, and from there, the whole day began to feel weirdly smooth and right. It’s kinda hard to judge that stuff in the aftermath so the feeling you’re having at the moment matters, I think… but coincidence and corroboration are even nicer. Beyond the initial flow, I was so busy I kinda forgot about the idea of things feeling “right” — but I just thought of it a little bit ago, when replaying words from the girl I met this evening. She was extremely tickled about our meeting, considering it fated and full of 原 (luck), as five minutes in any direction would have rendered it unlikely. And that I would meet her, someone who would say those things, after such a big deal decision-making conversation with myself, is even more interesting.
I think everyone gets the feeling of being “off” or “on” on certain days… do you ever wonder what that means? That maybe it’s not just an abstract feeling that pops up for no reason — but that it’s a lesson to be learned, an active cause for correction?
Plans to go to the desert: thwarted! I did get close, though, being stuck in a sandstorm while in a bus on the way to Hohhot. Sand storms rule, BTW, provided you’re not actually in them. Anyway, since the hostel I’m at is not offering a trip to the desert tomorrow I am going to go to some Mongolian grasslands instead… Part of the tour involves staying with a traditional Mongolian family in a yurt and riding horses… but also… COLLECTING COW DUNG AND LIGHTING IT ON FIRE FOR COOKING DINNER! YEAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!
Also met this nice and very lonely new-to-this-city local girl from Harbin. We went to a restaurant and had a Mongolian version of milk tea — which firstly, is savory and really oily and delicious, and secondly, pretty much is a MEAL, with grains, beef, sweet fried bread, etc. in it. It came in a giant pot; twas strange and delicious. But I’m scared of eating Mongolian fare tomorrow. Meat central, for sure. Big hunks-style, too. :
Tuesday, April 16th,2013 @ 9:26pm (Datong, China)
I am suuuuuper tired, but it is only 9:30pm-ish and I’m not quite allowed to go to bed so early (since my room is packed with Chinese gals that probably won’t be going to bed for quite a while). Might as well write a journal entry then, I guess. It seems kinda fun?? to be able to be in a city and feel like I have adequately explored it – despite being here only a day – and then just being able to relaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaax and surf the internet all night or whatever. Simple pleasures, I say! Simple pleasures!
Tomorrow morning, I gotta get up early-ish to take care of some business. This business includes non-business to begin with: talking to Troy on the phone at 8:00am. It’s been a few days since we’ve been able to talk on the phone, unfortunately, due to poor internet and traveling to places where I am not so much able to call. Following that is some business and more non-business – business being exchanging some money at China Post… which is hopefully a possibility here because it was not a possibility at multiple banks that I tried going to today (and I certainly don’t know really what I am going to do about that if it turns out that that doesn’t work… look for a place in Hohhot, I guess, or try to take money out of the ATM using my card, which is totally a bitch… and also probably kinda bad considering the amount of funds I have in my bank post payment of credit card bills which is already set on automagic payment)… blarhblarhblarh. Following that is eating some fucking MORE dao xiao mian, since I fucking loooove that shit and I found a really tasty place fairly nearby today. I am actually going to add it to Wikitravel – which I wouldn’t have thought of doing before, but Wikitravel has been a major help to me on this trip, and I wanna help it out since travel out about this parts isn’t all that great or up-to-date in any manuals or anything. Civic duty! Maybe in general I will just start adding stuff to it, since I type that shit up to people anyways. Amelia from high school recently weirdly emailed me to ask for tips about Ecuador and Peru, and I wrote her up a whole buncha shit – which is likely more shit than she really expected or wanted, frankly… but the spirit of the Wiki is good, I think, and it’s good to preserve and support that. (Maybe I only think that because I’m working for a wiki these days.)
Currently listening to the new James Blake album. Erik just wrote his review of it, and he loves it. I think it’s alright. It has some truly great moments, but the track with RZA is just so, so, so bad and does not belong in the middle of the record at all. I wonder about that – if you invite a person like RZA to be on a track, you probably can’t just not use his track, can you? That’s probably considered horribly rude. Also… man, senor Blake sounds a lot like Antony on “I Am Sold”, haha. Which is fine, I guess, but it’s just funny.
Anyway, I just posted a thing on Facebook detailing the current fashion landscape here, which I will regurgitate as the following:
Been meaning to redo my wardrobe in Asia, and I can’t wait to come back dressing like a total FOB. FYI, the fashion (as it will no doubt soon be in the States if it hasn’t hit it already) currently consists of: shit tons of neon, shiny things, floral prints, mesh and sheers, jackets that people like Victoria Lagrande of Beach House would wear (but neon) as well as weird almost-Westerny¬ meshy shirts with buttons and pockets (but generally neon and some even with floral mesh). More high-grade fashion shops (there are SO many WTF) have things with super amazing cuts and sometimes pastels. Found a new company that is fucking amazinggggggggg¬ggg, but it’s like $100 minimum for anything http://¬www.jnby.com/ — but since they don’t have stores outside of China, I miggggggghhhhhh¬hhhhhhht have to splurge. Anyway, please let me know if you are in request of a fashion item. You’ll have to pay me back, though.
(PS – Camels and deserts soon!!!!!!!!!! And getting really used to / sometimes preferring squat toilets, which feels kinda weird!)
I bought a couple pieces of clothing today, in that line. There’s one I probably shouldn’t have bought, I realized after putting it on, as it is more ruched and girly than I thought it would be (I was expecting it to be more loose, flowy, more like a gold-sparkly mesh chain mail that didn’t quite fit rather than a… you know… girly cut thing)… and a yellow mesh thing that is of the type of loose cut that I wanted, with a skinny black tank top underneath. Really good combo. Got both for 65 yuan, which is only a 5 yuan difference from the original. Thought about getting this cute little vest jacket that is longer in the front – and maybe shoulda – but it was 55 yuan and the material isn’t that great and I am pretty sure will fall apart soon. But it is totally the cut of thing I want, so that is frustrating, in a sense. I guess I’ll be annoyed with myself if I don’t see something like it again, since I was pretty much looking for something like it today all day and finally saw it for an affordable price. Blargh!!!!!! I’m assuming Taiwanese fashion will be just as hip these days – if not moreso – so… yeah. Blargh, I just wish I could afford a piece of clothing from JNBY, godammit. Their shit was so drool-worthy and tight, and I probably could have looked at it for quite a long time (I probably should have tried something on – but I’ll be back in Beijing and maybe I can do it later) but felt weird because there were workers everywhere and all that jazz. I did get a consolation prize of a spring catalog booklet?
Anyway, yesterday when I arrived in Datong from Beijing via the train (the fucking rowdy and most uncomfortable train, I should note), I was getting a taxi to the youth hostel when I saw a white lady talking to a taxi driver. I asked her if she needed help, and it turned out we were going to the same youth hostel, so I kinda just whatever, saved her from directional frustration – to the dismay of my taxi driver and the other one (they said we didn’t know each other, so why were we taking the same taxi?). But we got here and then hung out on the street for dinner and people watched, and this lady was obsessed with the fact that people were staring at her. Yes, indeed, they were in fact staring at her, but the non-stop way in which she kept talking about it was notably annoying. The first day, though, I was kinda whatevers about it, because whatever. The second day, though, today, we had arranged to go together to a tour of the Yungang Grottoes and the Hanging Monastery near Datong. I was planning to spend two days and three nights in Datong to be able to visit both of those separately via public transportation (thank jeebus I don’t need to do that anymore) – but since this lady was doing this tour and she only had one day in this place, she said she would get the tour (which was hired by the car rather than by the person) and pay for it, and I could tag along. So tag along I did, and pay for it she did. I probably shoulda thanked her a bit more but I was dropped off at the side of the street and feeling kinda over hanging out with her – and kinda just left in a hurry… especially since they were soon thereafter bringing her to the train station and I had to walk a ways to the hostel because of all the construction. ANYWAY. (That was the reason she and I both had a hard time getting to the hostel yesterday, too, and why the taxi drivers said that it would cost more than 10 yuan, the usual price… the construction!)
Side note – good to know that I have enough money in my bank account to take out cash moneys if I need it, so that’s kewl… I can take out $280 without getting weird. Hopefully I don’t need to take out that much, though… I would imagine I would only need to take out a little bit because I can easily change money once I get back to Beijing. I guess it all depends how much my tour and shit ends up costing in Hohhot… the room will be 60 yuan a night… and I currently have about 240 and get another 100 back from the hostel tomorrow, so I’ll have 340 before I buy bus ticket for Hohhot. So that’s not bad… whew!
Moving on. I have a new bra, by the way. Threw away my super old ratty yellow one that hardly fit, and man, do I feel better! Feels like my boobies are way more well-supported, and for a mere $6.50! Woo!
(Having a hard time moving on.)
Went to the Hanging Monastery first in the day after a quick stop by the bank for ze lady to take out some money. The monastery was cool, though quite small and carved into a cliffside. Cool idea and all, but man, is this area ugly. Whatever made people settle down here, I’ll have no idea. Same with the area around the Yungang Grottoes – just hideous, really… and it was a big difference driving around here after just spending so many hours driving around Peru and Ecuador, which are just beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, endlessly beautiful!
Oh wait, it actually turns out that I have like $750 to take out of the bank if I actually needed. So that’s great! “Rolling in wieners”, as the Magisterial song went.
Anyway, the Hanging Monastery was quite cool in that there was very little going on but it was packed with well-preserved and colorfully painted little Buddha worship rooms. We were also lucky enough to not have many tourists at all. Score. It was like an hour-and-a-half drive there and the same on the return; we didn’t stop to eat and had a lunch of crackers we’d bought yesterday, which is kinda funny. Luckily, I had the foresight to buy those things, or we woulda had to settle on the expensive vendors at the Monastery (expensive, I presume, anyway), with fewer choices, too. The Grottoes were closer in to the city – just a mere 17km from there or something – and fucking astounding.
So yeah, the day was cool, but I found I had quite little to say to the lady, and kinda got annoyed by her. Not in any sort of “get out of my face!” kinda way, but more in a, “Thank jorbus I’m not traveling with you!” – because she just kept making all these comments that you wouldn’t expect a lady who has been living in Asia for 19 years to make. She kept comparing everything to the United States or being surprised there were trash cans or surprised when things were nice, and this, and that, and obsessed with the fact that people were curious about her… and it was just tiring… more in the way that I didn’t know what to say, kinda thing… she wasn’t really negative about stuff, but still, a lot of the stuff she would say would just leave me not knowing what to say because I didn’t agree at all or find those things to be curious (like the aforementioned examples of trash cans or China spending money on creating nice cultural things) – so I wouldn’t really respond to those things… and then it would be a weird void. As those things go, really. So yeah, perfectly nice to hang out with her, but by the day’s end, I’d rather had had enough of it. I did feel kinda bad for her, though… she recently quite her job @ JP Morgan and is now traveling for months (she lives in Singapore)… and she has traveled really extensively and lived in many parts of the world, but she was at one point musing how her life would be had she stayed in the United States – since she only intended to go to Asia for a year or two originally – and said, “Maybe I’d be married,” and that struck me as kinda sad in some way… and she’s fifty at this point, and living in Singapore as a white lady… and I’m just not entirely sure that that is what she wants, even though she says she’s not thinking of leaving Asia anytime soon. I wonder what the appeal is… I mean, Asia is awesome, for sure, but I wonder if she wants that more than she wants marriage, if that’s a thing that she brought up in that way…
I think it was good that I accompanied her for these couple days… she’s about to go on some intense western China adventures! That’ll be quite lucky for her! She definitely showed me a few places – and a few United Mileage Plus Awards tricks I hadn’t considered regarding inter-China travel – that I will hope to go to next time. What one can do with 25,000 miles is one round-trip inter-China flight with a stopover, and this includes flights to more remote regions up north near Russia and Kyrgyzstan. Shit, dog. I’d do that. One of the flights I looked up was Beijing to Chengdu to Urumqi – and from there one can see all types of Chinese-Islamic communities and take a 24-hour train ride to Kashgar, which seems amazing. Unfortunately, there are no free plane rides to Kashgar, but you know. Can’t have it all. At least with this in mind, if Troy and I come back next year, I’ll basically have enough mileage for both of us to use this trick and maybe visit a large swathe of China using some central places as hubs. That sounds so fucking tight, yo.
Just edited that article on Wikitavel with a bunch of anal clean-up things (I think I may finish cleaning up a bit more before going to bed) and the following NOM entry:
East Wheat (东方削面), (Walk west a couple shops from the intersection of Yúnzhōng Lù (云中路) and Yíngzé Jiē (迎泽街)). 6:50am – Late. A cafeteria-line place that offers cheap and tasty soup noodle variations on the Shanxi specialty of 刀削面 (dāoxiāomiàn – knife-cut noodles). Vegetarian noodle option available, as well as plenty of side dishes.” ¥6-8 for a bowl of soup noodles; ¥6-8 for side dishes; ¥14-18 for set menus.
Time for bed, I reckon. Ciao, bella.
April 15th @ 8:30am (Beijing, China)
Currently @ the Beijing railroad station. Quite a thing in and of itself, what with the um, screamingI have yet to ride the train here and have no idea as to its quality or lack thereof — will certainly be interesting to see… and also will be interesting to see how long I can hold my pee while them haps is going on, just so I don’t have to, like, leave my junk unattended on the train or whatever. Just got some soft caramels from Cadbury, some hawthorne flakes, and some squid jerky (only it was not the best and I’m not 100% sure it is squid). Breakfast was a veggie bun and a bowl (small) of pidan congee from Yoshinoya. It is/was impossible to find not fast-food breakfast near the train station, seems like, other than @ fast food places. I’d been holding out for Korean but it didn’t open until 9:30, so I passed, and now I’m way early but that’s alright. Kinda wish I’d bought that Osaka-flavored bun from the bakery w/ bonito flakes. Oh well, though. Should buy some bonito when I go home. Makes stuff quite tasty…
Anyway, forgot to write about the douchey American who was around that last night Andrew was around. He’s a guy from Boston who sometimes hangs around the hostel — comfortable, I guess, and definitely made multiple fairly whack ass comments about women, starting w/ mentioning he lied some sort of term his British friends used which basically referred to women as bitches (though using another word). He also kinda said he admired Putin for saying, “I liked it,” in response to some girls protesting and flashing their titties @ him (not a great protest move, probably?) and said something that made it sound like multiple partners when one is married is awesome (though he is soon to be). He also argued with me about K-pop being a thing, saying Americans will never get down with faggy dudes like that, and I said K-pop was huge and cited examples — “huge” being the wrong word, Andrew said (and was probably right about) — and dude basically said, “Well one day, you may actually see a white guy with an Asian guy,” but way more douchey-laughy than that… and though that point may be true-ish, I just don’t think you are allowed, white guy who moved to China to date a Chinese girl. Agh! Hate it. Blah, anyway.
For quite a while now — extending back to in the States, been eating @ least a sweet thing a day. SHould probably stop, but it’s hard. Just like sugar too much. But i do have hereditary diabetes to worry about. Will be getting a physical in Taiwan — along with a tube shoved down my throat… kinda scary. We shalt see what it yields. I wonder if I Am still deficient in Vitamin D or whatever. Mmm… haw flakes so tasty… my basic pattern has been to gorge on brakfast lately and mostly void lunch. It usually works out for me… oh man, jasmine soft-serve yesterday wa the BEST thing. that and the sauteed tang yuan were just the most delicious. Bitter plus sweet ++; the jasmine soft-serve might even be better than matcha soft-serve in that regard, though I do love hojicha and that soft-serve may be the winnigest of them all… meow.
Troy wants to work together on practicing as an audio-visual duo when we go home. Mostly that seems like a good idea though I wonder kinda how I will be able to find the time for it. Anyway, imma walk around for a sec. Need a bready product mayyyybbe. Also there’s a guy straight shaving right next to me with an electric shaver. (Still at the train station.)
April 14th @ 23:12 (Beijing, China)
Morning forever transport adventure to abandoned amusement park. Mediocre abandonment. Shopping and tons of walking to follow, with only about a hundred yuan. Walked from YongHeGong to hostel (I know Beijing like a pro!) and got my palm read by a dude who asked for 360 yuan afterwards, even though he didn’t really say shit. I said I wasn’t paying cause nobody told me the price, and I didn’t have money, and he was kinda a douche anyway. Felt a little bad but left without giving anything because he said, “Suan le,” when I said I wouldn’t have paid, had I known the price. Bought shoes, ate amazing jasmine soft-serve, and drooled over unaffordable clothes by a company called JNBY. So jealous and want it! Good clothes like that make me question my existence, lol.
Current plan: Early train to Datong, followed by three nights in that city, one day for Hanging Monastery, and one day for YunGang Grottoes (I may find I can do both in one day? Unlikely, though). Then early train to Hohhot — or maybe I can take an overnight one — then overnight there with an afternoon exploring randoid things. Maybe take a tour the next day or maybe not? One night in Hohhot, one overnight train to Beijing on Friday night to get there early Saturday. Then looking at map to figure out the best way to navigate two whole days in Beijing. Priority activities are: antiques market, 798 arts district, Snapline show Saturday night, interviewing Nova Heart (Sunday night being the only option), visiting Forbidden City again. A lesser priority is visiting MaLianDao tea street. Leave early afternoon on Monday to go to Taiwan. Snap. So busy!
April 14th @ Noon (Outside of Beijing, China)
Currently standing in ChangPing, waiting for the #870 bus to arrive. 3 stops to ChenZhuang, where Wonderland amusement park shall await for my explorative pleasure (hopefully).
Noe it’s probably @ least an hour later, if not more. Just finished exploring the abandoned amusement park and now waiting for the return bus, trying to decide if I should go home now to get more funds (as I’m an idiot and apparently learned nothing from yesterday.)
Saturday, April 13th @ 23:41pm (Beijing, China)
Alright sure is nice to have my cell phone charged yayyyy! Currently at YuGongYiShan which is a sweet ass venue in Beijing that is rather foundational for the local music scene — at least, that is the vibe that I get from reading reviews and things on the Internet. So it goes. It had your usual kinda ngy bar kinda vibes that has maybe become the international indie standard. The guy was definitely interesting, definitely nobly unwilling to state anything definitive about the future of the Chinese music scene of unwanting to compare it to other countries and such. Nice enough to give an interview though quite of a type that is not super volunteering of info unless asked. Which is not so big of a deal, really.
Relatedly, I feel like I have discovered that you can ask Americans about their opinions about this or that — food, for example — and they are always willing to say their favorite this or that, whereas people in other countries — like notably, China or Ecuador or Peru or whatever — are just not quite willing to do that. Their answers are instead that everyone has different tastes. So it goes…
Anyway, the current horrendous state of Internet in China truly makes me wish that I had done more email sending for this Chinese music scene article prior to entering China, ha, because it is near impossible to use Wifi from our hostel right now — and that naturally is unawesome. For such intents and purposes. So much to do so little time — but I guess maybe that is what the week in Taiwan will be for moreso than the week in China. I am going to Datong next and was planning to go to Pingyao after, but now I am wondering if I should just go to Hohhot for a couple days and come back to Beijing rather than doing all that Southern travel and coming back. That would mean Monday night in Datong and Tuesday and Wednesday in Datong, followed by Thursday and Friday in Hohhot (plus an overnight train to Beijing?) Hohhot seems the reasonable place at this point, distance-wise, and as far as I can tell, also seems a really interesting blend of Mongolian and Chinese culture (it is in Inner Mongolia, after all) with, weirdly, undertones of Hinduism. Surprised to see that when I read about some of its sites today. I have to look up its safety level, of course, but I feel pretty alright about it right now, and I am thinking that I may have underestimated the amount of time I actually have to roam freely in China. I just thought that a week would allow for more time but not really, I guess, with the diversity of sites I wanna see. I mean really, I would still like to go to Pingyao but I need to see just how far that is and determine if it is worthwhile. I guess I feel rather a bit silly for not going to Xi’an because the reality is that I just don’t have all that much time and I gotta work with what I got. My interests are majorly off the beaten path anywy, and that is just the freaking way it is. Unfortunately maybe that I am a cute girl — but then again, maybe not. I feel that I am rather disarming by nature and rarely get into any sort of trouble… maybe it has just been luck so far but I think the radar is pretty okay as far as trouble-sniffing goes.
That being said, as far as not trouble-sniffing-driven confusion, I may very well suck. Today at the forbidden city I decided to get a 200 yuan tour and do not feel at all regretful about it, even though the lady talked my ear off (很好，我覺得他愛我相一個媽一様的） 因為他很喜歡我。哇我還不知道我可以用拼音來寫漢子在我的電話上。開玩笑我以後都給自己寫中文了！更我自己練習因為我反正是最喜歡寫中文的！太好了。
我剛才在說什麼？那個女的太喜歡我了，都多給我時間，多解釋了東西。但是他講得不停我真的聽了有一點痛苦也都沒有什麼時間zishi的看所以我打算是要回去在自己從來在看一次。但是到了最後一後我人gao錯了；我把自己在那兒給忘記了一點。到了最後我想他是導遊該知道那裡有一經的地方。但是我講不太出來我是要什麼；所以他以為我可以到個地方叫老龍頭找到那個。我很難想得起來我該流在故宮理還是跟她介紹的shiji走所以我沒gao清楚就跟著她走了。還要fu40kuai ：（ 候來呢，我bei帶到一個bai菩薩的地方也昏迷了，完全不知道我該不該作什麼，見了一個對我沒用的師父，不小心買了一個一白kuai的什麼我現在還不知道。真丟臉，真本！後來在介紹那個miao的人告訴我弄錯了；他們是fuojiao，我在找討教。糟糕，真本。後來回到車上，實際告訴我我賣得該買一雙，不該買一個，又zhaogao了。後來，我該Fu他錢的時候又發現買那個什麼wanyer的東西的時候完全把錢用光了；本來該給他40只有18，哈哈。他說算了，問我有沒有錢坐地鐵還環我前了。候來（真的本個不停）我在街上買了一個炸螃蟹給了一個女的五十，忘了拿三十五回來。本死了。走了一大傳（吃個不停得）就發現我忘了錢，走回去解釋了一下那站的新的女子馬上就環給我了，什麼問題都沒問。我想我臉一定很zhaoji的所以他馬上就相信了。好，我今天寫中文就jiangzhi，改回英文了。
The venue is filling up quickly, smelling of smoke. I need to get new shoes, am always wearing flip-flops these days since the other shoes are killing my feet. Not the best, honestly. I should note that andrew and I both left some bags at our fancy hotel in Beijing (god I miss having a shower and personal toilet) and it certainly makes traveling a bit new relaxed. I wanted to talk about some of the interesting aspects of the tour though I am tired of typing. Here goes. At one stop there was some nice philosophical line which was basically a fairly Taoist saying (though I don’t know if it was actually meant to be taoist though i will say that a brief peek at the English placard noted a mention of the book of changes) about taking the middle road in life. It was written by one of the emperors and had been left behind, though restored. In fact, a world-famous artist was at the forbidden city this particular Fay, hiding out in a back storeroom. He was invited there to perform an honorable public duty in helping rewrite an restore the old scripts in the castle which have faded through the centuries. So fucking interesting. Unfortunately, they kept asking me to buy pieces — five hundred for the smallest one, they would say — and I honestly had to feel like a dick being like, “sorry world famous artist but I cannot afford your ninety dollar relative cheapo.” I be an american hobo for sure, sorry bro. Moving on. The lady mentioned one story who had a thousand concubines and had a particular one he fell in love with by this small pond thing — so he gave her this fancy bracelet to show he loved her… But then proceeded to instantly forget about it. So for the next eight years, lady friend tried to get his attention and did so by putting the bracelet on a visible part of her wrist. And indeed eight years after their initial meeting he finally noticed her again and brought her to this tiny-footed room, which is the room where he brought concubines for four-hour sessions (not much longer, supposedly for the interests of his health). A eunuch would be outside the door to tell him when that allotted time was up — and no doubt the eunuch was not particularly liked in this regard. The door behind which all this went down was in a main hallway but really hardly at all noticeable, just an offshoot to the side from a bigger bedroom. Godammit, as I am typing this it is again blatantly obvious that I really need to go there again. There is just so much I am curious about, and a good chance that when I am through with the place it will be on the top of my favorites list, along with Angkor way and ephesus. So yeah, that needs to happen. What else. Giant marble carving hauled from 400km away, moved with people pushing from behind and horses pulling from the front, killing thousands of those transporting human idiots along the way. What else. The youngest emperor lived to fill the role for only 29 days; the youngest (maybe the same guy) died at 18 and the oldest and second oldest at their mid-80s and mid-60s. Shown about to start and people are scrambling the front, so I guess I will write more on the later. Have to say that I am quite pleased to have ha this time to write — and oh yeah, fuck dudes, I got Troy the most awesome tapestry ever and the question is do I keep it myself or not? Does he get precedence over myself in this situation when really it speaks to me so so so much? I think it will be difficult for me to part with that in such a way so I am thinking I am gonna just keep that one. It is okay to have something for myself sometimes, right? I think the answer is yes. I will maybe bring him back a bowl.
Real quick note before I go to bed. On the car ride over, it was a fun and really talkative old guy who told me all businesses have like soothsayers or something on hand as did emperors and leaders of china, even to this day. He said though that Mao was not allowed to ever enter the forbidden city because he had slipped on it’s steps; the soothsayer told him he was not allowed because he was not heaven-sent like emperors were and that he was a tool or something (forget that part). Mao listened because he was a superstitious guy, even though he didn’t want others to be. (methinks my taxi driver was not super fond of mao). The second story was about four numbers, something like 3759, which in the end was his year of death and number of years he had ruled. Third story I forget. The end. Good night.
Friday, April 12th @ 21:29 (Beijing, China)
Currently waiting in line at the Godspeed You! Black Emperor show — may as well write a little bit because the wait is eternal. It is almost nine and the doors hypothetically opened at eight. Good thing I came fairly late. Surrounded by plenty of bitching people, expats, mostly. Who really cares about waiting for a half hour.
Anyway, might as well take the time, like I said. Andrew and I went around Beijing today, and it was certainly nice to have a friend and to get to know him better. Feel like it has been a while since I have gotten to know someone new in a real and not just superficial way, which is nice. Obviously I don’t fully know his story, but there are peeks of good stuff, funny flamboyant stuff like his love of dead animal shit, that he has his diving license, that he loves super mainstream pop music (he was playing Beyonce and weird reggaeton stuff at our ICANN booth), adn so on and so forth. Also that I guess he was the kid at the tiny private high school he went to that was known for being the druggie — that ladies who wanted to get high would go to. Guess he had a really intense neon green car with a pot leaf on it, lol. It is likely most people have quite fascinating compulsions once you get to know them more.
Anyway, I am a bit regretful and idiotic; I totally had a plus one but failed to realize it, and probably should honestly have assumed / known that Graham from Constellation would set that up — my furious mistake
Feels weird to be here and about to embark on some more thorough writing about the local music industry, what with involving myself with some well-known humans locally and such. I guess it is cool, interesting, kind of intimidating though far less in practice than in anticipation. So it goes, I guess, with just jumping into things. Been thinking about my past two years of exposure, change of self, what it all means.
(Side note about Andrew includes his childhood neuroses which involved things like being so paranoid about germs that he would wash his hands until they bled… but at one point, I guess he just decided he had had enough of whatever fears or limitations and just got over the shit. Thank god for him, really, as it now seems he is fairly enjoying of the off-the-cuff life, completely unplanned for the most part. And that is a good change, I think.)
Anyway, we talked a bit about personal spiritual beliefs — and he has none and maybe never had any which is at least a little interesting because he majored in religion. I mentioned mine, though, which are hard to explain even for me, probably because I don’t believe I have figured out my thoughts just yet. But the things I did say were the following: that I believe in higher selves, which our human selves can come into contact with through things like meditation and intuition, though I said I wasn’t sure what I think about how much control we have over the missions we are to have in life. I also said that I believe in past lives — which I do, of course, but I hadn’t expected to say that over so many other things. I mentioned to him later on in passing that the positive synchronicities brought me to these, though I didn’t really elaborate too much further. Blah blah blah. My legs are exhausted from so much walking and standing today, exacerbated, I am sure, by my complete lack of exercise for the past week and the five pounds I have gained. What up, yoooooooooooo.
Almost 9:30 now, fuck, and I totally could have brought Andrew cause I have a plus one I had no idea I had. Dammit. Totally a thirty dollar ticket or something, too. Ah well. Cool, I guess, that I am making these music connections here (though side note: I am an idiot for changing into warmer clothes when I was already hot all day — and now I am a sweat monster) and I wonder if these will ever turn into a situation where Swahili plus Asian tour and such will be possibilities? Mer! Feel like life is so much on the cusp of something huge though there are an exorbitant amount of question marks and tons and tons to force myself to do right and to learn to do well. Aaaaaaah! Is all I can say. I am both confident in my ability and terrified and excited of being forced to express it in a way that is visible to and judged by others.
Thursday, April 11th @ 9:45pm (Beijing, China)
Just went for a really long walk around the city… the first time really walking around the city at all since coming. There was a work dinner available but I didn’t want to eat another peking duck, so I skipped out; and, in any case, I don’t think I was originally invited and felt strange about going anyway. Plus I completely didn’t feel like eating because of so much snacking — diets of carbs, sugars, and fats all week — but still, I ended up in the conference center gorging myself because that’s where Andrew had said we would meet… and then after I decided I didn’t want to go, still went back to gorge again. I am just the worst with binge eating… it’s always been the case. I used to kill cartons of ice cream, and things, and whole bags of Tim’s Cascade Chips… and I don’t do that anymore, but I sure do still snack a lot… and I always thought that probably my metabolism is not all that great, but then now, or these days, I’m thinking it probably isn’t so bad, and that I just eat wayyyyyyyyyyyyy more than a girl my body size should eat. I mean, I should probably stop doing that — because being fat makes me sad, and having no self control makes me sad, and having digestive problems makes me sad. And I know all these things go hand-in-hand — and the solution is so obvious, and so implicit — and yet I just keep fucking it up. I also don’t think it helps that Troy is very much the same in this regard, as far as immediate gratification of food goes. Especially since he stopped being vegan, since there are no longer any rules or whatever. So, the combo really just seems kind of dangerous to me…
Anyway, walking around was nice, but it gave me a lot to think about. And prior to it, I had done a meditation with digestion as well as examining my own flaws in mind. I feel that I am quick to notice other people’s flaws but not quick enough to notice my own (even though in saying that sentence, I am noticing one)! I also feel like people give me too much credit sometimes – that I point out a foible of mine and others insist that it doesn’t exist, or I’m not being unfair, or I’m not being unselfish, or so on or whatever, when I myself feel quite differently. Frankly, I don’t know what that means, why people think so highly of me when often I am undeserving of it. I think that certainly holds me back from placing blame on myself more often… and this needs to be fixed. Beginning with taking responsibility for my own habits – eating like a fiend, for starters – and recognizing that immediate gratification is satisfying but not in the long-term. Regarding my current foibles, I also thought a lot about how I still do shut myself off from other things while being in a relationship… less than before, but still do… and how here, at this conference, I am not very good at being particularly social… but then again, I feel that that is just me… I’m not good at or interested in kissing ass on a business level, and can’t do the social activity every night thing. I guess at some point – like when I went to Japan with Lingo, Miko, and Tony (who is engaged now, by the way… can’t believe he and I ever called each other “soul sis” and “soul bro”) – I was capable of handling that, but even then, I got quite cranky and jealous, though maybe that was unrelated. In any case. I feel like I am like half-invested in being present in the conference situation because I just don’t know if this is all a life move I care about. I am much more interested in the art and creative side of things, and as for the rest, I’m just not sure. Lots of question marks there, kinda unsettling in a way – but the bottom line is that I’m just not fucking interested in schmoozing.
The other major thing I thought about while on my walk was the idea of moving in together. That in itself is a commentary on both our relationship and our future as well as my relationship to my friends. Right now, I think there are two major question marks in my brain, firing off in different directions. I don’t have any doubt that I do want to live with him – but the wonder is whether now is the right time. I feel that things could be going quite serious, could actually be the thing, and if so, might I want to spend some more time with friends as a final hoorah before that is never a possibility again? The contrasting thought, however, is as simple as the fact that I know that I have a lot of business trips coming up and he might begin touring a lot, and that will change things… and before those kinds of things begin happening with more frequency, do I want to savor every moment we have together as much as possible, and perhaps even solidify it more in that way, just to make that extra step of commitment? The second thought comes to mind especially when I realize that here, on this 24-day trip, I am only a mere one week in — NOT EVEN!!!!!!!!!!! and already missing him like crazy, and feel so far away, and feel so confused, really, that we are talking everyday and things feel fine and I am not worried – yet the time creeps by so slowly, as though it were when we were broken up. The time slows down when we’re not together, speeds up when we are – and I wonder what either of those mean…
The other major question mark is our degree of attachment. Will living together finally grant us the freedom to have more of our own personal lives, to save a little bit of time in living together so that we no longer feel the need to completely do the same things all of the time? So we can have separate lives while we are together? Or will we end up in this even crazier degree of attachment than what we already have – which is definitely absolutely ridiculous – and hence shut off even more of the world around us? I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know. Is it okay to be this close and be so invested with someone? I honestly do not know. I feel like it is quite possible the first option will be more likely… but, then again, I can absolutely see the second one happening, as well. These are concerns I want to bring up; think I will the next time it makes sense. But as of right now, as of this moment, post-walking around, with the degree to which I presently miss him, it feels like it would be right to create a space together – even if my qualms about the fucking inconvenience of his current place remain.
Well, after all of this self-reflection, I want to talk a little bit about my feelings about Beijing so far. There’s a lot going on, and seemingly a lot of super cool shit. At the top of the list, really, are the hutongs, which are totally amazing. A lot of them have been chopped down to make way for high-rises, which is absolutely a shame, but walking down just random alleys today – which were full of traffic and people and shops and restaurants – was just fascinating. A little bit sketchy-feeling, but I think that was mostly paranoia set in from my mom rather than actual feeling of paranoia. Plus I don’t really think that people can tell I’m a tourist anyway, so really…
A few people from the conference last night were talking about how they almost got scammed by people who were at the Forbidden City asking them if they wanted to follow them to look at some good art, but then brought them into some empty-ish building. I guess those are high-pressure sales situations where people are placed into a room and kinda feel like they can’t get out unless they buy things at exorbitant prices – and there were numerous tales of people getting ripped off here. Andrew said he got scammed in Thailand and bought a ton of sapphires, which seems ridiculous in and of itself. Weird stuff. Anyway, I really want to envision being able to come here with Troy early next year – I think it’s really important – so we’ll see if it happens.
Lastly, one thing I came upon today in my city travels – and which I wanna bring and Ray to in the morning – was a street selling tons of goods and street food, which included scorpions on sticks as well as cicadas and silkworms on sticks. Oh, and fucking seahorses and STARFISH. STARFISH? What the fuck. Anyway, got some good pics of that shit, which is naturally awesome.
Conference is over, though. I’m hoping to slim down a bit before getting to Taiwan, which is guaranteed to be just filled with tons of food again… and then hopefully actually being a skinny person by the time I get back to the States (or at least the same size as when I came, Jesus). I definitely have gained five pounds since being here – but that happened just in the past two days. Not even joking.