Monday, January 07, 2008
"China Does Not Release Official Statistics of Its Executions."
Get the BBC on the phone. I want that on a bumper sticker.

According to the BBC, China is considering increasing the number of death penalties carried out by way of lethal injection, as opposed to by other methods. Previously, their weapon of choice was execution by shooting. Allegedly, some felt this caused too much pain and suffering. Personally, I would be worried about marksmanship.

Even without transparency on the part of the Chinese, Amnesty International (and a few other media sources) guesstimate that China executes more people than the rest of the world. Combined.

Look, China. I know you're playing up that whole "fear of the unknown" thing, and quite nicely I might add. But how about throwing out something warm and cuddly once in a while, huh?
posted by Rachel @ 4:50 AM  
Monday, October 22, 2007
Red Herring (Actually, more like a silver grouper, but who's counting?)
Saturday night was the Rugby World Cup and, even though I didn't plan on actually watching the match that started at 3 o'clock in the morning, I still went out in the evening to hang out with some British friends who would be watching it (and wound up sorely disappointed - sorry guys!). In all the pre-game chaos and beer, I somehow managed to accidentally leave my cell phone in the restroom (well, you probably figured out for yourself that it was accidental, though Chris has a few OTHER theories). I was e-biking to pick it up and, under the Wudaokou subway overpass, I suddenly came across a fish. A whole, dead, full-on fish just taking an eternal nap in the middle of the street.

I don't remember seeing any fish markets in the area. Could it have fallen off a truck? How do you lose a whole fish? And who is going to be the one to clean it up? Is this China's version of roadkill? Or on-the-road-already-dead-kill?

I have so many questions.
posted by Rachel @ 11:03 AM  
Monday, October 15, 2007
W hat are you C razy?
Can you spot the differences between these two photos?

It's difficult, I know.

I tend to think of "WC" as a rather tame, neutral acronym for those unhygienic pits, those malodorous trenches, those squeel-inducing squatting stations littered about all over town. But apparently, these two tiny little letters have caused a rather significant squabble at...the DMV?
Some Beijing motorists are flushed with anger over new license plate numbers that contain the letter combination "WC," saying it gives them "unpleasant images." (Reuters)
Okay, look. I know that the big, fancy executives who earn enough bread to own their big, fancy automobiles are a high-maintenence class, but seriously? That would be the equivalent of every driver in the Western world with the letters F and U on their license plates demanding immediate, large-scale restitution.

Personally, I would be proud to have FU on my license plate. Shows people I mean business. While we're at it, why don't we put the state bird on there. Which state? The state of Rachel. Which bird? Well, I think you can guess. And it ain't no cockatoo.
posted by Rachel @ 3:30 PM  
Thursday, October 11, 2007
Religion is the Opiate of the Masses. And the Opium Wars Ended in 1856.
Benjamin Franklin once said, "In this world nothing is certain but death and taxes." He forgot the ominpresent Chinese government. According to my favorite news source in the whole wide world, the New York Times:
China's State Administration of Religious Affairs announced Order No. 5, a law covering "management measures for the reincarnation of living Buddhas in Tibetan Buddhism."

What does that mean exactly?
Translation: Buddhist monks are not allowed to return from the dead unless they get permission from the Chinese government.

Although you would think they'd already be aware of that. Death doesn't free you from the bonds of your national heritage. And it just so happens that China's national heritage involves a bit of a tight leash and some major Big Brother action.

Personally, I think it's smart. Don't want to have too many of those good monks coming back in their next life as government officials. With all that patience, attentiveness, and work ethic - they could really screw some stuff up.
posted by Rachel @ 5:24 PM  
Rub-A-Dub-Dub, I've Got A Tub
The latest exciting news: I'm moving into a new apartment in a Western style building and it has - get this - A BATHTUB!

Bathtubs, much like dryers, soft mattresses, and effective traffic cops, are an elusive rarety in China. I can hardly put into words the pure joy of being in possession of a truly Western bathroom (as opposed to what I've been using - a shower head pointed over a drain in the floor with no shower rod, curtain, or discernible boundaries whatsoever).

It really is the little things, folks.
posted by Rachel @ 5:18 PM  
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
RoboCop, Sort Of
I was on my way to work this morning when I saw something interesting: a traffic cop holding a video camera. He seemed to be trying to capture the license plates of cars running the red light.

It's a nice idea. But they DO have traffic cameras in Beijing. I've seen them.

Doesn't this seem like a step backward? I mean, Frederico Fellini this guy is not. What if he misses someone? Or what if the shot's not clear? Does he get a bad review in Variety? Two thumbs down from Ebut and Wo-puh?

I think they need a plan B.
posted by Rachel @ 11:50 AM  
Give A Hoot, Don't Pollute
I bet you thought this was going to be yet another rant about the environment. Well, you'd be wrong. Mostly, anyway.

It is a pollution of a sort - the cultural kind. For you fans of foreign Americanization, McDonald's and Starbucks were just baby steps.

Now, years later, we have a medium-sized leap: Hooters has moved into town. Yes, you heard right. Hooters. In China. It may seem like an oxymoron to some, but then again, there it is.

I'll grant you, their wings recipe is hard to beat. However, the Beijing Hooters seems to be lacking in, well, actual “hooters.” It seems most Chinese think the name Hooters is some sort of reference to owls. I guess subtle, witty, double-entendre English-language humor just isn’t their bag.

The giant orange Hooters monstrosity has found a home for itself on the second floor of a small strip center, with a prime location smack dab between the Worker's Stadium and Sanlitun Bar Street – two extremely popular western nightspot locations - so they will probably draw in pretty good business.

At least one upside? Finally, men in China can stop lying to their wives and girlfriends: for once, it really WILL just be the food...
posted by Rachel @ 11:39 AM  
Thursday, September 20, 2007
Guide For The Harried (Chinese) Man
I read the following in an article citing problems with crime in areas of Britain with high immigrant populations:
"Cambridgeshire Police has produced a guide to behaving in Britain that is available in 15 languages. It warns immigrants not to touch or fondle people without their permission; not to urinate or spit in public; and that people may find it intimidating to be stared at."

Where is this guide and is it printed in Chinese?
posted by Rachel @ 11:26 AM  
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
I Would Make A Terrible Boyfriend.
Seemingly, I am stating the obvious.

Actually, I came to the realization today that I completely neglected my anniversary. That's right: this past weekend (Sunday the 9th, to be precise) marked one year for this little site of mine!

Congratulations, ME!

You don't have to send presents. Donations will suffice.
posted by Rachel @ 3:38 PM  
His Parents Must Have Seriously Wanted Him Beaten On The Playground
I came across a gentleman while doing research at work with the unfortunate luck of being named

Dr. NIMROD Baranovitch.

Hey, part of the joy of youth is brainstorming creatively cruel nicknames for your peers. Where's the challenge?
posted by Rachel @ 3:19 PM  
Friday, September 07, 2007
NEW HEALTH BREAKTHROUGH: Air-Conditioning Leads to Back Pain
You may be asking yourself:
Air-Conditioning? Back Pain? What does one have to do with the other? They're not related!

Well, you'd be wrong. According to my newest acquaintance - a (mostly) blind Chinese "an moi" masseur - they ARE related. And if he said it, then it MUST be true.

While getting a company-sponsored massage to work out the kinks and muscle tightness from my bicycle accident a couple days ago (What does YOUR company do for YOU?), the masseur said just that. He found a knot in one back muscle just inside my right scapula and apparently deduced from this that I have a love for air conditioning (oh, do I ever...).

"The Chinese understand balance and know how to engineer natural ventilation of their homes," he began. "Often, foreigners don't get this. They use air conditioning to control the temperature of the home. That's what causes this difficult type of muscle knot."

Really? If anything, I would've guessed it would be the horribly contorted way I sleep, the stiff office chair I sit in nine hours a day, getting thrown from my bike just a few short days before, or cycling an hour and a half every day through stressful Beijing traffic. But air conditioning? He definitely got me on that one. I would never have guessed.

He also kept telling me how strong my muscles were and repeatedly asked me if I was a swimmer. Which I will choose to take as a compliment. Despite the fact that, in reality, it probably translates as, "you're husky for a girl and built larger than most men I've encountered."

Which, all things considered, is probably true. I don't know if that says more about me or Chinese men. I'll let you decide.
posted by Rachel @ 12:23 PM  
Wednesday, September 05, 2007
Greatest Headline in the History of Journalism:

You can't just stick "-y" on the end of a word and magically turn it into a properly-used adjective. But good try People's Daily...
posted by Rachel @ 5:09 PM  
No Use Crying Over Spilt Soy Milk
Why was my soy milk spilt, you ask? Because I got into a little bike accident this morning. It was bound to happen sooner or later, and if you would've asked me where it was going to happen, I could've told you it would be the third ring road. Don't worry Mom, I 'm FINE.

The thing I didn't expect, though, was that it wouldn't be my fault. Over the past few months, I've been wavering between being a "polite, law-abiding" bicyclist or going "Chinese-style," for lack of a better descriptive term. Well, most times I now go kung-fu bicycling to work, which can be pretty aggressive, so I would've expected that my first official Beijing bicycle accident would be the fault of yours truly. (I say first "official" accident, because unofficially I was bumped by a car a few months ago, but both the other car and I were barely moving at the time and no words were exchanged. Just a few choice hand gestures. You know what I'm talking about. And apparently in China they mean EXACTLY the same thing that they do in America.)

So I was riding along my merry way on the third ring road, only about 5 minutes from the office, when out of nowhere, one of these three-wheeler, fully enclosed golf cart-type vehicles cuts directly in front of me, forcing me to swerve into the front portion of a parked minibus and throwing me off the bike onto the pavement. Of course, passersby gathered around. There was general concern for my and my bike's well-being. The guy who had cut me off got out of the car and pointed at a taxicab that was speeding away. "It was that guy. That guy cut me off." I had seen the cab cut him off in my peripheral vision, which forced the guy to cut into me. Only by the time I saw it happening, there was nothing I could do about it.

Apparently, the cabbie had already dropped off the woman he was driving and she kept the receipt which had the cab and license number on it. She gave it to the guy who had been forced into me. He had a few choice words for that cab driver, and now he was going to make sure that cab driver heard them. That cabbie is SO screwed.

Hitting someone (especially a foreigner?) = NOT GOOD.

But, all in all, the damage was minimal- a bloody toe, a few scrapes, and a bruised knee. All in all, it could've been a hell of a lot worse. I'm just glad I didn't slam into the parked minivan, but instead aimed ahead of it. I'm also exceedingly glad I chose to wear jeans today instead of the shorts I was going to; my legs would've been scraped up to hell. My bike didn't fare too badly either: one of the handlebar grips shifted a little (I manually shifted it back) and the screw that attaches the basket and headlight to the bike came loose, which I can have fixed this evening. So far no major problems, although the ride home this evening will be the true test of that. And once again: Mom, I'm FINE.

How's that for a little adrenaline kick on the way to work? Certainly got me rolling...
Oh, and the soy milk only spilled a little...still some left for lunch!
posted by Rachel @ 12:05 PM  
Friday, August 31, 2007
Arrivederci Roma and the "Homecoming" (a.k.a. the "Beijing Fiasco")
All roads lead to Rome. When in Rome, do as the Romans do. Veni, vidi, vici.

Nothing compared to the real thing. And hell yeah, I conquered.

I arrived in Rome mid-morning on the 2nd of August, and walked the ten minutes from the train station to my hostel, which at first appeared to be nothing more than a Laundromat/Internet shop. This laundry center/computer lab was actually just the “office” of the hostel. They handed me the key, led me to the (world’s most annoying) elevator, and brought me up to the top floor of the next building over. The hostel consisted of an apartment of four bedrooms with four beds in each (and no bunk beds either!) and one shared bathroom for all. Each room was equipped with only two oscillating fans to try and temper the oppressive heat of a Roman summer. Now I know why they wore togas. The “management” gifted me with a bottle of wine (which was put to good use, I promise you) and I settled into the room.

I made a plan for the afternoon and went to wait for the elevator. The apartment to the right of ours had a nameplate on the door that read, “E. Morricone.” I wandered off in my head, wondering if it was indeed THE Ennio Morricone who lived there. If he did, why would he announce it on his door? Gee, this elevator was taking an inordinately long time to arrive…and then I realized why. It was stuck on another floor. In order for this elevator to move, the outside AND inside doors had to be completely closed. A group of inept twenty-somethings living on the second floor never seemed to be able to close the doors properly. I gave up, took the stairs down, and opened the front door. There I was: in Rome!

I totally got Publius beat. In one day, and ON FOOT, I conquered the Roman Forum, the Coliseum, the Fontana di Trevi, the Pantheon, the Piazza Navona (where I had the world’s most picturesque lunch – and the best gnocchi I’ve had, EVER), the Castel St. Angelo, and the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore. Actually, three-quarters of a day, if you discount that morning’s travel time. AND I even had time for a haircut. I found a great salon in Piazza del Popolo that is run by a few Italian guys from California. I didn’t really need my hair cut since I had just recently gotten it done in Beijing, but I had to undo the mess made by the Chinese stylist who had hacked his way through it before my trip.

“You should give Chinese stylists a chance,” they said. Well, I did. And I’m pretty sure I looked like a cross between Diana Ross and Don King. THAT would make one ugly-looking child. The Italians fixed it up beautifully (though it is resultantly a bit shorter than I’d like, but thank goodness hair grows…unless you’re Rudy Giuliani) and I headed back to the hostel. I hopped on the underground from Popolo back to Stazione Termini (the train station) which was the closest stop to my hostel. As I was walking back, I suddenly did a double take. I stared and squinted a little. Walking forward hesitantly, I wanted to be sure my eyes were not deceiving me. They were not. It was Jess!

Jess was a good friend of mine from college that I hadn’t seen in over a year. And here, coincidentally, we had found each other on the streets of Rome. What were the odds?
(I’m not looking for actual numbers here. Geeks - put away your calculators!)

Jess had been living in a convent in Florence studying Italian. Rome was the first of several European cities she would be visiting now that her summer study program was over. Joined by her friend Tess, we went food shopping and made plans to meet up later that evening. The plans fell through and we didn’t get to meet up again since they were leaving the next morning. But it was fantastic if for no other reason than that it makes for a great anecdote.

Not going out was okay by me anyway since I had to get up SUPER early to do the Musei Vaticani the next morning. I was not about to sit out in the stifling summer heat for two and half hours because I was lazy and got there late and an early start wouldn’t kill me. I woke up around seven. My roommates, who originally said they would accompany me no matter the wake-up time lay fast asleep and so - as with the majority of my trip - I set off solo seeking adventure and a hearty dose of Papal infallibility. I got there fairly early, but found myself in the tour group line instead of the individual line. I had lost about ten minutes, but I was still pretty close to the front entrance. I had brought my iPod, a book, and a breakfast of rice cakes and apricot jam. Oh, and HUGE bottles of water. Those who had neglected this tiny thing had to pay 5 euro for a tiny little bottle of Italian-brand water. I had been there, done that, and not wasted money on the t-shirt.

I was leaning against the walls of the Vatican waiting on line when the guy standing in front of me tapped me on the shoulder. I looked up and took the iPod buds out of my ears.

“[In a Spanish accent] Watch those people behind you, they’re trying to cut.”
“Excuse me?”
“See those women over there? They just got here and they are trying to cut the line.”
Behind us and just to the right of the line, three women were standing, looking like they were ready to play some line-cutting double-dutch.
“Has anyone told them?”
The girl he was with walked over to them and told them to go to the back of the line. They pretended not to speak English, even though we had clearly heard English coming from them just minutes before. So she switched into both Spanish and Italian, and the women got huffy.
“What are you going to do about it?” they spat.
Slighted, the girl came back to her boyfriend.
“Just tell the people behind you. Hopefully no one will let them in.”

I told the two girls behind me who, it turned out, were very nice girls from Indiana who were just as livid about the situation. The line was now around the block for probably about 100 meters. All these people waiting in the hot sun, and these two women thought they were Paris and Nicky Hilton at the velvet Ropes of Hyde. But thankfully, these women were fully dressed and under-garmented and being thoroughly ostracized by everyone we told about the cut-attempt. The girls from Indiana decided to take a picture of the women to show to the guards. The women did eventually cut in about ten or fifteen people behind us and the guards of course did nothing, but the situation was funny and it killed some time.

I spent the whole morning checking out the Vatican and the Basilica, and had a picnic lunch on the Spanish Steps. The whole experience was breathtaking, and cannot truly be described in words - you just have to go yourself.

Oh, and the Swiss Guard? Like elves taking a Mediterranean vacation from Santa’s Workshop. I know it’s a big honor and all, but:

Seriously? And that one on the left looks a bit mischievous. Maybe he’s got something on the Pope? Even the lollipop guild didn’t have quite so many colors. I love the preservation of “European tradition” - makes for truly memorable photo ops.

I spent the day, eventually retiring back to the hostel to pack and get a good night of sleep before the trek back to China. Rome was my last stop before returning to Beijing and I had a long day of flying ahead of me.

I asked one of the people at the hostel’s front desk about trains to the airport. She said that one left every half-hour on the hour and half-hour. Great. This would be easy. No stress…I knew exactly when I needed to be ready and when I needed to leave. My flight wasn’t until almost noon. I would take the ten A.M. train, arrive at the airport around ten-thirty and be there in plenty of time for my flight. I woke up the next morning bright and early. I got myself together, made sure I had all my things packed properly, attended to some last minute correspondence, and walked myself over to the train station, arriving about seven minutes before the train was to leave.

Of course the airport train line was the furthest one from the entrance, but I had plenty of time. I checked out the board to check out which number I needed to go to and it said the train was departing at 9:53. Two minutes ago. But that can’t be! I asked one of the conductors on the platform and, unfortunately for me, it WAS to be.

The next train didn’t leave until 10:23, putting me a little tighter than I would’ve liked. Had I known I would have been in this scenario, I would’ve gotten my airline boarding passes before I left to ensure I wouldn’t miss the cut-off for check-in (like I did in London that first week). Agitated and feeling rushed (exactly what I DIDN’T want), I got on the train and willed it with my mind to move faster. I found out that day that I indeed do NOT have telekinetic powers. Sitting on the train, I read the newspaper over another girls’ shoulder. It read something to the extent of: “Heathrow loses a hell of a lot of baggage, especially if you’re flying British Airways, and people aren’t really big fans of that.” I was flying through Heathrow. On British Airways. With the luck I was having today, that would surely be me.

At just before eleven, I arrived huffing and puffing - wanting to make sure I was checked in before the “forty-minutes prior” check-in window closed. I did make it, but there was a hitch. There always is. At least for me. Thanks, Murphy.

Going in and out of Heathrow, you’re only allowed ONE carry-on. This I already knew. So in the past, I had just carried on my computer in my hands (since you had to take it out of your carry-on to go through security anyway) and I would take that plus my gigantic monster of a purse on the plane. I had done it that way from Beijing to London and London to Amsterdam. But in Rome, they weren’t having it. I had a choice between carrying the things I needed from my purse and bringing my computer or packing my laptop and bringing my purse on intact. Since my passport, wallet, Bose headset, iPod, and all the other etc. were of much greater immediate need, I decided to pack in my laptop and hope for the best. If I didn’t hurry this up, I would miss my connecting flight in London going back to Beijing. I calmed myself down, took an easy flight from Rome to London and figured, “when I get to London and I have to recheck my bags through customs or what have you, I’ll just take out the laptop and give it another try. With the layover, I can always just buy a bigger backpack/suitcase to take on the plane.”

I got through the extra security check after getting off the plane. I walked up to the transfers and connections counter. Handing over my passport, I asked for my ticket for the connecting flight to Beijing.
“Luggage tags please.”
“Oh, okay. Here.”
“Thank you.”
The airline rep input the luggage tag numbers and handed them back to me.
“You’ll be able to pick your luggage up in Beijing.”
“It’s connecting through?”
“And you’re sure they’ll make the connection and get through to Beijing?”
Not wanting to be the pest who pisses off the airline personnel who are “just trying to do their job,” I decided to leave it at that. I was not going to get to see my luggage in London. No computer.

“And you’re sure they’ll make the connection and get through to Beijing?” Those final words…

By the time I got through all this and switched to the international terminal, I had only 45 minutes left of my originally three-hour layover. I grabbed a bite to eat and then boarded the flight, which proved to be uneventful. I tried to make myself sleep, but despite prodding with comfortable blankets and wine, my body was not having it. But soon, I’d be back in MY apartment. After five long weeks.

We touch down in Beijing. I, of course, end up on the world’s slowest customs line because some lady was having immigration issues. Finally, I get through to the conveyor belt to grab my bags. I wait. And I wait. And I wait. And I wait some more. You know what’s coming.

The bags stopped coming off the belt and I didn’t see either of mine yet. But I wasn’t the only one, which was somewhat reassuring. Maybe one load of bags is just taking longer? Then I heard one of the airport workers on his radio: Mei le? Mei le?

My stomach dropped and I just KNEW. I walked over to him and told him my bags had still not arrived from the London flight.
“Just a moment…There are no more bags. Come to the baggage office and we will figure this out.”
I noticed there were other passengers looking around at each other, confused and anxious. I walked over to them and explained the situation. Despite exhaustion and frustration, my mad Chinese translation skills hadn’t skipped a beat. Thank goodness for small miracles.

I went to the office, produced my tickets, passport, and luggage tags and filled out some paperwork. The women in this office had already been yelled at enough. Yet another angry shouting match wasn’t going to do anything. Besides, it was Heathrow’s fault. I thanked the woman in Chinese, which relieved her, and I headed out to grab a cab.

I was worried about my laptop and my bags but, more than anything else, I was tired. I got in the cab line and told the line captain where I was going. He pointed out a cab and I went over, got in, and gave him my address.

“Tai jin le!” (It’s too close!)
“Shen me ya?! Tai jin le ma? Wo zenme yinggai hui jia? Zoulu ne?” (What?! It’s too close? How should I get home then? Walk?)
“Tai jin le!”

Tired and fed up, I got out - slamming the door behind me – got in the next cab in line, and gave him the address. He was just getting ready to start the meter when the taxi line captain came over and asked me why I hadn’t used the other taxi.

[translation:] “The other guy told me where I live is too close. He doesn’t want to take me, so I’ll just go with someone else!”
“No, no - you need to go with him. He will take you. I assure you he will take you”

He opened the door for me and I got out with my one giant purse and nothing else. Great. Now I had to sit and listen to this stupid cab driver guy be miserable for half an hour. I got into his taxi and we drove off. Without even a pause for breath, the guy starts yelling at me.

[translation:] “I have to wait in this line all day to get a fare and you tell the line captain you only want to go to Dongzhimen? I am only allowed to come once a day unless the fare is only to Wangjing (which is really close to the airport). Then, I’m allowed to come back again and wait on line again for another airport fare. You should have told him you were going to Wangjing!” From the way I’m writing it, it sounds like he was being fairly even tempered, but he was sneering at me the whole time. It’s all in the delivery.

Now let me ask two questions: 1) Am I supposed to lie to the taxi line captain about where I’m going? Isn’t this system in place for a reason? The Beijing government is always talking about treatment of foreigners when the Olympics come. Is this the image they’re going to present? What difference does it make that it’s still 2007 and not yet 2008? And, 2) How is it my responsibility to do this on his behalf? If he chooses to wait on line all day at the airport for fares and wants to come back again to get two major scores instead of just doing it once and then getting back out on the street and hustling like every other cab driver, what is that my concern? Especially after sitting through a fourteen hour plane flight and then not getting back my luggage. So, I ignored him. I noticed that he messed with the meter to make it charge me more per mile, but I was so tired that I let him get away with it. I yelled at him a bit before I got out of the cab for overcharging me, to at least let him know that I was aware he was a crooked jerk of a cab driver, slammed the door and got out. Beijing, you have some work to do.

But I was back.

I got in the elevator, a little worried. I hadn’t been home in a while and for sure there would be bills to catch up on. The gas and the internet, I had been told by my boss, could be paid upon my return. The internet they might turn off, but as soon as you paid, it would start up again. The gas, they wouldn’t - but since it works on a meter, you would just have to pay the extra months’ worth all at once. Fine. But when I got back to my door, there were no notices, no fliers, NOTHING. Good. Or so it would seem.

All the things that needed to be done, I would do the next day since it was Sunday anyway. I opened the outside iron security door, opened the small lock on the inside door, pushed and…nothing.

The door wouldn’t budge. You’ve GOT to be kidding me. To give you a bit of background, when I first moved in, there was a “top lock,” sort of like a bolt, that was broken. I had never used it, nor had I been given a key for it. Apparently, in my absence, the landlord had chosen to fix it. And he didn’t leave me a note or a key.

I called my leasing agent. No answer. I called someone from his office. They called the landlord’s assistant who then called me. This took an hour. It was definitely the most un-fun, draining game of phone tag I’d ever played. Finally, I got him to come over. He said, “so you lost your key inside.”

“NO! For the millionth time, SOMEONE changed the lock while I was away on vacation and I’ve never been given a key!”

The assistant tried his keys and realized that he also didn’t have the key needed to get in. (By this time another whole hour had passed.) Finally TRULY understanding my anger and frustration, he called the locksmith. It took the locksmith an hour and five “Kuai yidianr! (Hurry up!)” phone calls from the assistant to get to my building.

Picking the lock didn’t work. He had to break it. Finally, we got into the apartment, and I saw that someone (to this day, I still don’t know who…I assume the landlord) had reattached and fixed the broken bolt lock and repainted the aqua green door frame so that it was pristine, but could barely be budged. The thing was practically painted shut. The assistant and the locksmith put on two whole new locks (so officially I am the ONLY person able to get into my apartment) and, using a scissor and a knife, shaved off the freshly painted layer of green from the door’s edge so that I could actually close the thing.

In China, aesthetics often trump pragmatism. This was a perfect example. Yes, the door was mean, green, and perfectly clean. But it wouldn’t open or close because it had five layers of paint on it. Good going, guys…

I had to pay the locksmith 120 yuan, but it was worth it just to get back in my apartment and to get them out of it so I could sleep. And of course, whoever it was that changed the lock while I was gone was never held accountable. That always seems to be the way my life works in China: the person who causes me difficulty never has to take responsibility or own up to it and I end up losing cash.

To end this story on a bittersweet high note, eventually - after three days of hounding them on the phone and making such a nuisance of myself that I could not be ignored - the Beijing airport baggage people got me my luggage back, one piece at a time. My computer was still inside and completely intact, although my camera fell as a casualty of war somewhere along the way. I suppose it could’ve been worse. Although now that I’ve reread my whole post, I’m not sure it could have. What luck I have. (Or have not.)

P.S. Wikipedia is down again. And apparently, so is Blogger. Gotta love living here!
posted by Rachel @ 4:33 PM  
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
Wikipedia is Wiki-Working!
Wednesday night is Quiz Night in Beijing and, as such, I decided to take a couple minutes out of my busy work day to brush up on the news and whatever topic is the focus of the week to get myself trivia-ready. The theme for tonight's match will be "The Simpsons" and though I've watched my share just like everyone else, I figured it might be helpful to brush up just a little more.

I put in the Google search terms "Simpsons characters," figuring at least a rundown of the characters in the show would refresh my memory, and - lo and behold - the perfect search result: "List of characters in The Simpsons."

Fantastic! But wait. It's from Wikipedia, the "free" encyclopedia. Normally "free" is not in quotes, but here in China it tends to be. Wikipedia, like the BBC website and Blogger blogs, is inaccessible within China's borders. Period.

Until now! I clicked on the link, figuring I could always highlight the web address and stick it in a proxy server when, suddenly, there it appeared in all its glory! The Wikipedia entry, in its entirety, without even using the cache feature!

So, at least for a short while (until the Wikipedia amenders once again start adding "inappropriate content"), we have Wikipedia lift-off! Thank you "Chinese-government-equivalent-of-standards-&-practices" for making my day!
posted by Rachel @ 4:21 PM  
Monday, August 27, 2007
This Boot Was Made For Walking
Figuring that my family is about 98.5% of my readership, I've decided to skip the cruise portion of my trip since my family was there and just summarize it as such: I hadn't seen my family in about seven months and I really missed seeing them, but no one should be crammed in tight quarters on a boat nearly twenty-four hours a day with their relatives - or anyone else for that matter. Now I know why pirates always seem so angry. Suffice it to say, it was a lovely trip and a much-needed respite from sharing hostel rooms with strangers and eating roadside shawarma two to three times a day.

Now onto the final leg of my trip: Italy. After my family headed for home, I spent a day in Venice, managing to catch a tour at the Murano glass factory and walk every single street/canal-side pathway from the train station to San Marco, and all the way back. Probably should've brought hiking boots as I literally wore my feet off. I gave myself the evening off and the next morning, I hopped a train to Florence. I arrived at Stazione Santa Maria Novella and - without getting lost for more than fifteen or twenty minutes in the staggering Florence heat (which seemed so romantic in Under the Tuscan Sun...) - I made it to my hostel.

The reviews about this hostel, Ostello Gallo D'Oro, were fabulous. All I had been hearing from previous visitors was Massimo this, and Sylvia that. Well, I arrived and though it wasn't Massimo or Sylvia at the front desk, I was greeted with warmth, espresso, and no immediate request for payment. This was a welcome change from five weeks of forking over room fee after room fee before I could even put my bags down. Feeding my caffeine addiction with delicious Italian espresso didn't hurt either. At the front desk, I met Leann, an Australian traveler who - as it turned out - had been staying at the exact same hostel in Venice that I had at exactly the same time I had and who had taken the exact same train from Venice to Florence that I had that very morning. And yet, we never met. This was the first of two major Italian coincidences. There is just something about that giant boot...maybe my love of shoes gives me good boot-country karma.

Later that day, (the just as amazing as advertised) Sylvia made reservations for me at the Accademia and Ufizi Galleries and helped me arrange a night at the opera in the Giardani Boboli. She told me I could take a bus from the train station if I didn't want to walk the whole way and I thought that sounded like a good idea, seeing as my feet were worn down to stubs from a full day of sightseeing on foot. I bought a bus ticket at one of the "Tabacchi" (tobacco) shops, which seems to be THE place to buy public transport in Europe, and jumped on a bus at Stazione SMN to go to Boboli. Sylvia said I would see the gate to Boboli when I arrived so I figured I could wing it.

Bad idea.

I looked at the bus stop signs as we passed and noticed there were fewer and fewer people on the bus. Not having seen the Boboli Gardens yet and knowing that it shouldn't have been that long a trip, I decided to get off the bus. I didn't recognize the stop name, and had not a clue as to where I was. I still had to buy tickets for the opera and the show started in only a couple of hours. I stopped a woman walking by to ask her where I was on my map. She looked for a bit, tracing the road with her finger. I was off the map. Oh, lord.

There were buses going back toward the city, but I was going to miss buying tickets and the opera since the buses this far out of the city center came so seldomly. So I walked. And walked. And walked. I started passing the bus stops I had seen on my way out. Finally, my feet were ready to give up. I mean, I had taken a bus so I WOULDN'T have to walk. There was another girl waiting next to the bus stop sign, so I figured maybe the next bus was going to come soon. Just to figure out where I was, I asked her - in my most broken Italian - how long it was to Giardani Boboli. Though most of what I said was probably some gibberish-y mix of what little three days worth of Italian I had picked up so far, the remnants of my high school Spanish, and even a little English, but when I said "Giardani Boboli" she said (in Italian, of course): "Oh, Giardani Boboli! Just a little bit that way."

I thanked her and decided I would keep walking. I saw signs for it and finally, just five minutes later, there it was: trees, a gigantic arched entrance, and no other significant markings. No wonder I missed it.

After forty-five minutes of trudging, I had made it. The falafel sandwich I had thrown in my bag for the road was smelling pretty darn good right then, and lord knows I earned it. I bought my tickets, sat down at one of the outdoor picnic tables, and dug in. When people started making their way into the outdoor ampitheater's stadium-style bleachers, I followed behind and situated myself for Rigoletto, a tragic tale about a court jester whose jokes and taunts come back to haunt him. Though the acoustics probably would've been better in an indoor theater, it was a moving production and even more rewarding for having hiked miles to get there. I had been so worried they would run out of tickets. But not only were there plenty of extra to go around, it didn't even matter much which level of ticket you bought; After the first act, everyone moved down from the upper rows to fill in the vacant spots anyway.

The show let out just before midnight and, though I was a little wary of returning alone in the middle of the dark night, I did have a map to guide me back. Besides, it was doubtful that I had enough money on me for cab fare. So back I walked. Crossing over the river on the Ponte Vecchio, I caught a glimpse of the full moon reflecting over the water. I distinctly recall inhaling deeply, exhaling, and thinking aloud, "you just don't get this kind of beautiful stillness in Beijing, do you?"

No, my dear girl. You sure don't.

That evening I had chosen to wear an Italia football (soccer for the Americans and Aussies) zip-up I had bought in a fit of wind in Venice. I was glad I had brought it because in the windy Giardani Boboli's outdoor theater it was quite cold - despite its being mid-summer. However, during my walk back, I was serenaded with team Italia's fight song more than a few times by drunken twenty- and thirty-somethings hanging out on the street in the wee hours of the morning. I grinned at the inebriated chorus of football fans with my lips tight, ducked my head down, and kept walking. Perhaps just a little faster than before. I finally got back to the hostel around 1 AM and fell into the soundest sleep I'd had my entire trip.

Next: Rome, Heathrow, and my most frustrating fiasco to date (a.k.a just another day in Beijing). Tune in to see what goes down.
posted by Rachel @ 1:53 PM  
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
"Once the rockets go up, who cares where they come down? That's not my department," says Werner von Braun.
So I found myself on this very crowded, very HOT overnight train to Munich and - due to the heat and rumbling of the train - I was awake all night, minus about twenty minutes of zzz's I managed to fit in just before wake-up call. I drained my computer battery watching License to Wed (not the highest quality cinema, but it killed some time) and then took to staring at the scenery out the window to a soundtrack of snoring, tossing, and the occasional rap on the door by transportation authorities seeking passports and tickets. I actually felt sort of bad for my (all-Korean) counterparts as they had obviously only recently arrived in Europe and were still feeling the drain of the 6-7 hour time difference (which I had managed to knock off quite easily by partying all night at my hostel in London). I mean, there was a bar and karaoke IN THE HOSTEL! Do you know a better way to beat jet lag...?

The train arrived in Muenchen (Munich) at around 6-something in the morning. Working on what little German I had picked up, I asked directions to Senefelderstrasse (Seinfeld Street!) and five minutes later easily stumbled upon Wombat's - by and large the awesomest hostel I had been to yet. And NO, "awesomest" is generally NOT actual English. But for the moment, I say it is and it's my blog. I have spoken.

I check into the hostel. The room is not ready this early, but I'm fading and quick. Getting to Munich "bright and chipper" was great because I wouldn't miss any tours and I could fully milk my two whole days in Bavaria for what they were worth, but I was walk-sleeping (the inverse of sleep-walking) my way around with exhaustion. Luckily, there was "the Wintergarten." (You like the German spelling?) Below are Ray and Souma demonstrating how to properly "use" the Wintergarten.

Nestled in between the hostel's internet hot-spot and gigantic bar stood this beautiful, glass-ceilinged meditation lounge with (real!) trees, beanbag chairs, sleeping mats, couches, and - the coup de grace - industrial-strength air conditioning.

Under the guise of reading, I nodded off on the long leather couch and was only two hours later awoken by the sound of clinking glass, as one of the maintenance guys collected the beer bottles and pint glasses left from the night before. And thank goodness - or else I would've missed the tour (and the whole point of my early morning).

Then I meet...Ozzy.
Ozzy is a Wombat-ian, a kickass tour guide, and the self-proclaimed "only black native Bavarian. I mean, just look around. Seriously."

After a brief introduction to Munich's history and a series of questions posed to see how much the audience already knows about German history (by the way, the answer to 60% of his questions was "beer"), we headed off and started our tour with a quick grocery stop for water and supplies. As we were reassembling, I noticed that one of the guys in the group had an angry-looking yellow-jacket printed on the back of his shirt. Noting this to be unusual - and knowing the origin of the mascot since my big brother went to Georgia Tech - I figured the odds were pretty good that these guys went to Georgia Tech, too. As such, they were probably from the States and with a quality university degree, would also prove to be reasonably well-educated minds for primed for good conversation. As my Aussie friend Leanne would say, "They weren't those Paris Hilton-y, gossiping Americans I keep running into."

Me too, Leanne. Me too.

So I chatted one of them up and, pretty soon, I had traveling companions. Aaron, Ray, Souma, J.B. and Greg were a year or so shy of graduation and were on a trip away from their study abroad campus in France. We - me, the guys and super-vegan Kelly, another single traveler I had met at the hostel - got to know each other during the tour, having a mid-tour alcohol-fuelled lunch and a post-tour beer (or ten) at two of Munich's largest biergartens.

What is lunch at a biergarten? Pretzels, veggie-cheese spread, and onions with a pint of beer. Compare the size of the pretzel to the size of the pint and the plate. Not even photoshopped...and oh-s0-delicious.
The crew "at work," a.k.a. beer at lunchtime. We returned to the hostel, weary, and changed to go out, grab some dinner, and hit some clubs. We were in the bar waiting for the group to assemble, when we were approached by this (I think) German guy who told us it was his bachelor party and that, for some reason or by some custom, he had to sell a whole bunch of things. The items included dirty magazines, tampons, lingerie, and action figures (don't know how that LAST one got in there...). At one point, the very drunk "bachelor" wanted Greg to try on a woman's thong. Greg put it on over his shorts for a laugh, but this was not exactly what the guy had in my mind. The guy takes the thong back, peels off his pants, and puts the thong on over his underwear, wandering around the bar, strangely proud.

Laughs all around. NOW, we were ready to go. (Above are Greg and Ray cracking up at the "pink-thonged bachelor.")

We had a fairly uneventful dinner (with a waiter who clearly didn't like us - yay, America!) and then went to the "club street," basically a sketchy, large alley with about fifteen clubs all lined up, one after the other. When heads began to collide, we split up. Aaron, J.B., Kelly, and I went one way - to the America bar (which was nowhere near as lame as it sounds, thank goodness), while the others figured out where they wanted to go. We went dancing for about an hour and a half before calling it quits. We would be getting up early the next day to visit Dachau and the Deutsches Museum and were already exhausted from the day. So back we went.

The next day we went to Dachau, which was amazing to see, but less informative than I would have liked. However, the highlight of my time in Munich - the Deutsches Museum - was absolutely historic. It’s basically the world's most fabulous and comprehensive science museum. We saw the V2 rocket, and were disappointed to find barely a mention of Dr. Werner von Braun - immortalized by musical satirist Tom Lehrer in his comedic ditty "Werner von Braun" (which I highly recommend giving a listen to if you don't know it). The Techies were singing it and surprised when I jumped right on in with them. I may not be a nerdy engineer, but I know classic comedy when I hear it.

After touring through the museum for about three and a half hours, we visited the giftshop, where merchandise plastered with Albert Einstein and E = mc-squared abounded, but not a glimpse of Werner von Braun was to be found. Avowing that we would create a company solely to the creation of "Werner von Braun" t-shirts and memorabilia, we set off in search of evening activities.

We passed a movie poster of Harry Potter and, worn out from the night before, decided a movie night would be nice. We went back to the hostel where the front desk pointed out two English-language theaters where the new Harry Potter would be playing. We followed the instructions, planning on catching an 8-ish showing, and found the theater. We went inside and asked if Harry Potter was playing here in English. "No, you want the NEXT theater down. Just keep walking." And so we did. Finally we got to the next theater with about 20 minutes before the showing.

"They're showing Harry Potter in English here, right?"
"No. This one is in German. It's the next theater down."

Okay. So we keep walking. The front desk had told us it would be near the Deutsches Museum and we saw the movie posters for Harry Potter just beside the museum entrance. Exasperated, we had finally arrived. Or had we?

"This theater is only German. There is another theater if you continue walking along the river."

Oy vey. So we keep walking and finally we reach yet ANOTHER theater, and this time, the movie posters are in English. A good sign. We ask, and YES! it is the English-language cinema – one out of four in a five block radius. Those Munich-ers must really like their movies.

We returned to the hostel after our fantastic cinematic adventures and I bid my new friends adieu, as I would be leaving early the next morning and they the next afternoon.
From Munich I was on to Vienna, which I can sum up in the conclusion to this entry:

Churches, shopping, old buildings, more churches, statues, creepy grocery store attendants who like to try to get "friendly" with their foreign female patrons after seriously overcharging them in a "push-button error" that forces said patron to wait around for twenty minutes while the manager (who actually knows what she's doing) comes back to fix it, AND more churches.

The grocery guy charged me 850 Euro instead of 8.50. Nice move, slick. And get your disgusting, pervy hands away from me. What is it about being American that screams, "do whatever you want, I'm SUPER friendly"? I had to sit around and wait while some woman - I sincerely hope not his wife, because that would make me exceedingly sad - came back and cancelled the transaction.

Geez, you go to the same grocery store twice because it's the only one open after 7 and THIS is the repayment you get...Despite that, Vienna was quiet and relaxing, just what I needed before my sea-bound, inescapable (short of a woman-overboard situation, that is) family reunion. Which actually turned out to be a lot of fun. Tune in next time.

P.S. For those of you who were asking for pictures, I hope this week was better.
posted by Rachel @ 1:07 PM  
Friday, August 10, 2007
Fishing For Trouble
From China's highly reputed food industry to your neighborhood supermarket.
You're welcome.

posted by Rachel @ 4:28 PM  
Thursday, August 09, 2007
Mass Transit, 'Black-Riding', and Czech Roulette (With Diagrams)
Last we left our heroine, she was headed toward Prague. There she was to meet up with the fabulously awesome Nina and take in Prague for everything it was worth. Prague was a welcome change after the illness that plagued me in Berlin - while my first day in Berlin was fantastic, the second was spent indoors with cold medicine (which had German instructions, so I hope I didn't overdose too terribly), baby juice with extra vitamins, fresh fruits and veggies, and my computer (acting in the capacity of a television/DVD player). I did venture out of doors once (to get food, I think) but - much like America's love-hate relationship with Chinese manufactured goods - the on-again/off-again nature of the rainy weather really got me down. And yes, my toothpaste is fine, thank you. (The Chinese don't taint their OWN people, after all...)

Praha (Prague) was amazing. Nina lived in beautiful Mala Strana - the "touristy" part of town if ever there was one - though the personal highlight for me was having my own room after sharing rooms in hostels for weeks. That, and all the Babybel cheese (good call, Nina!). I wandered by day while Nina worked, and by night we wandered the streets looking for trouble. Actually, we went in search of really good Czech food. And boy, did we find it. On the evening of my first full day in Prague, Nina and I met up first with some of her students for drinks, followed by other students for a (rather tame) bachelorette party, and finally with a fellow teacher, Darryl. We went out for drinks and regaled each other with stories - and then we went...
That's right. I went all the way to Prague to salsa. Makes perfect sense...

The next day, I was going to meet up with Nina for lunch. First, let me preface this by explaining that in most countries in Europe (particularly the ones I had just come from like the Netherlands and Germany), you buy a public transport ticket, validate it, and get on the transport of choice (bus, tram, subway, train, etc.) and - throughout this process - it's entirely likely that no one will ever check to ensure you have a valid pass. Call it "the European Mass Transit Honor System."

Well, I was running late to meet Nina and there was no place to buy passes for mass transit at the tram stop, only at the convenience store down the street. So I decided to tram it without one. I got to the subway - still running late, of course - and I figured, my luck being what it was, why not keep the rush going and try it again. Darryl and Nina had been telling me all about their "black riding" experiences the night before and they had only each been caught once or twice in all their time in Prague. They also mentioned that these guys have little or no authority and that most Czech people, when caught, just ignore them or run away. Fantastic!

So, back to the story. If only someone had told me that the place I had to transfer always has guards waiting to stop you (sort of like a checkpoint) during the daytime. So I get off the first train and go to transfer to the second one, and there I see them. There were probably about six of them.

I'm the red circle and the black "X"s are the guards checking tickets. Now, I had reached the point where you see the circle above and I had a major decision to make: should I turn back or keep going? I slowed down a bit and realized that they had seen me and that turning back was definitely not an option. So I had to suck it up and take it like a man, er, woman.

Looking busy and hassled in my best performance yet (so VERY Oscar-worthy), I waited for the gentleman in front of me to set up a block as he was stopped by the guard all the way to the left (I feel incredibly like Bob Costas at the moment), I pick-and-rolled past the left-most guard along the railing, slid my way down the stairs, and jumped onto a train that was just pulling up to the platform. See diagram below.

I didn't much care whether the train was going the correct direction or not; I couldn't risk being stopped while waiting on the platform if it wasn't. Once on the train, I took a quick seat and blended in with the other passengers. If there had been a guard on the train, I might've been caught. I was wearing shorts that day - OBVIOUS TOURIST. But as it turned out, I WAS on the correct train and two stops later - with not a guard in sight - I stepped off the train, glided across the platform and exited the station with my eyes peeled for Nina. Oh, the skills I possess. Maybe I should go into espionage...

I told Nina the whole story and she laughed, mentioning that she should've warned me that they would be waiting there. We toasted my moment of stealth and triumph over a plate of chicken vindaloo (which nearly burned the roof of my mouth off, but OH was it tasty), after which we walked back to the subway. I bought a ticket this time, don't worry. I wasn't about to go through THAT again. And upon arriving at the transfer station, that same guy I slipped past the first time eyed me and stopped Nina and me both. I reached into my pocket and my ticket was GONE!

Just kidding. I proudly displayed my freshly purchased ticket and walked right on by, smug and satisfied. So there.

That evening, Darryl came over and we rehashed the whole story to a similar reaction and we chilled out at Nina's place until I had to catch my train at 8-something. There was a tram that went directly to the station. I jumped on and bid Nina and Darryl adieu. Or however you say it in Czech. When I got off, I only saw a park, so I began to wander a bit looking for the train station. When I finally asked someone, they pointed out a train station behind me. However, this was not the correct one and a guard outside motioned that I would have to go through the park I had just walked ten minutes away from to the other side to reach my train. And I had only
twelve minutes to do it.

I rushed across the street - baggage and all - and bounded across the park, reaching the front entrance of the station with about three minutes to go. Mine was the third train down the corridor. I got to the platform about a minute and a half before the train was set to leave. The engines were already pumping. I found my compartment, opened my couchette (this would be a sleeper train between Prague and Munich), stowed my baggage and stretched out to rest.

Settled into my hot, cramped compartment (which I shared with four Korean girls and one snoring Korean guy) day faded to
night as I made my way back to Germany. In the next installment, Munich and beyond.

posted by Rachel @ 3:12 PM  
Tuesday, July 10, 2007
The Rain, Coffeeshops, the Infamous Hagen, and the Hamburger Hamburger
Internet access has been a bit sparse until now, but I'm pretty sure that - at least for the time being - I'm back in business. I'm currently in Berlin with quite a lot of catching up to do, so let's start at the very best place: the beginning.

We last left our heroine in Amsterdam. No drug jokes, please. After a day of wandering aimlessly and trusting my gut to take me a-wanderin' around the city, I decided to relax an afternoon away sitting in a nearby cafe, indulging in a late lunch and coffee and watching the street performer doing silly things with fire in the square outside. The performer finished up his act just as I was finishing off my rather decadent salade chevre (if there is one thing the Dutch know, it is their fine, fine cuisine) and kaffee (yes, I'm picking up a bit of German along the way too) as I raised my hand to call for the check. Just behind me was a gentleman who had, all this time, been sitting rather quietly. He was old, a bit dishevelled - though not in a scary or intimidating sort of way - and missing most of his teeth, which he later and rather matter-of-factly informed me he had decided not to put in that day.

His name was Peter. He looked to be in about his mid-seventies, which I gauged by way of his stories about World War II. He was German but moved to Amsterdam when the war became serious. Of course, we all know that World War II eventually found its way into Holland. But Peter was still sad and even bitter. He mentioned many times that he could not believe the Dutch would let the Nazis in - which of course was not their choice, but that was his phrasing of it. He was angry over his Jewish business partner who survived the war, but with scars; angry over his house right across from the zoo that was destroyed and burned; angry for his mother who died amongst the inhumanity. In a city of tolerance - one of the things you notice quite easily about Amsterdam - he was against organized religion, having been assaulted by a priest in the parish where he acted as altar boy. Though we often joke about such a cliche, we often forget it is based in a harsh and gritty reality.

I mostly listened, which anyone who knows me will tell you is a miracle, though with a story like his it was not all that hard. We sat as the busboys and waiters hovered. We were taking up two tables and we were both done ordering, but we didn't yield. And after about an hour and a half of conversation, we parted ways. Later, I saw his old house across from the zoo. Though restored, you could still see remnants of what was previously there. Though Peter lives on the other side of town now anyway.

I headed back to the hostel, where I met two of my roomies, Thomas and John. From Norway, they were making their way through Amsterdam one coffeeshop at a time. If you don't know what an Amsterdam coffeeshop is, look it up. And, by the way, on a separate type of coffee shop note, there are NO Starbuckses in Amsterdam. Though I do like to indulge in Starbucks on occasion and they do make a pretty good panini-on-the-go, it was nice for once to drink REAL ESPRESSO. Which will of course be topped only upon my arrival in Italy later this month.

My final day in Amsterdam, I met up with my university chum, Chris, and his sister, Laura. We did the full-fledged walking tour together, which was really fun and nothing if not comprehensive. One of the great things they have now in Europe is called NewEurope Tours. They're free - the guides work only off of tips and they're quite enthusiastic and well-versed. So far, they have them in London, Amsterdam, Berlin, Munich, and Paris. They also have paid tours, though those usually cover a smaller area but in more detail. At the end of a long walking day, we unwound for dinner and I prepared myself to up and out to Germany.

The next morning, I arose early to meet my morning train to Cologne (Koln). It was a rather uneventful trip, but a very unseasonably rainy and cold one. I thought the weather would calm down upon arriving on the Continent though, alas, it was not to be. I followed the directions from the train station to the subway stop at Neumarkt, followed by a tram to Rudolfplatz. I got off the tram and looked around seeing no Engelbertstrasse in sight. Nor were the rest of the directions I was given any clearer. Even after calling the hostel, I could not seem to find the place. After wandering about in the most dismal weather you can imagine, I finally stumbled across Wall Street English. I was familiar with the company because my friend Candy works for them in Beijing.

I would also like to point out at this juncture that in every city I have been to thus far, I have encountered a Wall Street English and a Bang & Olufsen - don't ask me why or how. It's by that same logic that, in every city I travel to, I always land in Chinatown talking to some old Chinese lady in Mandarin about my strange expat life in Laiwu.

Anyway, I told them where I was staying and they didn't even need the address. Turns out I'm not the first non German-speaking foreigner to be unable to locate this place. They need better directions, because the ones they gave me were just wrong. But I did find the place. And though the room was empty upon my arrival, upon my return at the end of a day of Doms and German brew, I met my lovely roommates who I will kindly refer to as the Professor and his son (sorry, no Mary Ann here). They were both professors, in fact, and - outside of those Americans I intentionally met up with - they were the first Americans I had met amidst my travels. We spent the evening chatting about our trips and plans and giving and getting travel advice (in my case, only getting). The senior professor had even taught at the University of Florida (go Gators!) and they seemed excited to have an English-speaking roommate. As it turned out, though very sweet, the lady in the bunk bed underneath me was Austrian, spoke no English, and was a bit crazy. She also kicked in her sleep.

Next, it was off to the beautiful harbor town of Hamburg. Though I had originally planned to take a mid-morning train, I took an earlier one instead. I wanted the extra time in Hamburg, as I would only be spending two days there. As we will later see, this proved to be a not-so-wise decision.

I settled in on the train and got to work on my memoirs. Memoirs? A little early you say? It's NEVER too early. Just kidding. Or am I? Anyway, a couple of stations down the line, I was joined in the seat next to me by a German teacher named Dorothea. She saw me typing in English and she immediately jumped into a rather fluent strain of English, as we did brief introductions and exchanged pleasantries. About a half hour later, we pulled into the now infamous (at least in my story) Hagen Hauptbahnhof. I heard announcements in German, which there usually were, though there were no announcements in English, as there also usually were. I saw a couple of "polizei" go by, though that was hardly strange, and went back to my typing. After about seven minutes, I realized we hadn't moved. For a station as relatively small as the one in Hagen, this was rather odd. When I looked up again, there were police, emergency workers, and firemen all suited up. I turned to Dorothea and asked what was going on. She sighed and said, "oh yes, they've stopped making announcements in English, haven't they?"

As I nodded, she continued, "I think there is someone underneath the train. People often commit suicide this way."

I though about this for a moment. People often commit suicide this way? What kind of a comment is that? But she explained further that they did not know the cause or what exactly had happened - just that someone had ended up beneath the train and they had not yet determined what the people on the train should do.

By this time, the police had cordoned off the area with police tape and some people - those whose destinations were easily reachable on other trains or relatively nearby - had already begun to disembark. Finally, an announcement came on which Dorothea proceeded to translate. We would all have to take a train to Dortmund, another nearby train hub, and from there we would have to join another train to Hamburg. Anyone whose destinations were beyond there would have to take yet another train. Luckily, Hamburg was my last stop, though Dorothea would have to continue on even further. She was kind enough to wait for me and guide me. I must admit, amidst all of my independent travels, it was nice to have someone guiding ME around for a while. Like a puppy, I followed where she led, afraid to get lost in the German jumble of a creek without an English-speaking paddle. English-speaking paddle? Yeah. I'm sticking with it.

Though we had to stand the whole three-and-a-half hour journey (which is exactly why I made reservations in the first place...sigh), I did finally make it to Hamburg, with a brief but grateful goodbye to Dorothea.

Once in Hamburg, travel was easy. I didn't know how to go, but figured I'd give the traveler information area a try before ringing up the hostel itself. I had no directional information about the hostel, knowing only that it was on a street called Lubecker Strasse. And it turns out, that is indeed the name of a subway stop on the main line from the train station, heading northward. I figured, what the heck, right? The day couldn't get much more difficult. The worst part had to have passed. And wouldn't you know it, as I came out of the subway exit at Lubecker Strasse, there it was. Too easy, you say? Yeah, I thought so too.

I get inside, and they tell me they only accept cash. Which is fine. I just need an ATM. And as I'm heading out the door, they also throw in that there is a 50 Euro key deposit. What? Is the key made of diamond-encrusted platinum? So I go, and since I left my umbrella behind, it of course begins to rain. Hard. It's cold and I'm tired, having been on a train that ran over someone and all, and though the guy at the front desk says the ATM is only 40 or 50 meters away, it is most definitely not. Upon reaching the ATM vestibule in the rain, I find the door is locked. Because it's a Saturday afternoon and only in China are the banks open on a Saturday afternoon. Sort of makes me miss Beijing. SORT OF.

I try both banks on both sides of the road. Nothing. I go back and tell the guy at the hostel. He insists that even an American debit card should work to open the vestibule. So I go back and try it again. This time I bring my umbrella. Except it's not raining anymore. I get there and it doesn't work. But this time, there's someone inside who lets me in. And the ATM seems okay with my card - it's apparently only the door that's cranky. So I go back, check in, and it turns out the "dormitory-style" rooms are all full so I'm going to have to settle for a single room all to myself. How sad. Though I was supposed to change into the dormitory-style room the second day, it apparently was not worth moving my single, wheel-able suitcase down the hall and so I got the single both nights. It was an EXTREMELY welcome change after sharing rooms for the previous week and a half.

The first day I was recovering and too tired to do anything as a result of, what would turn out to be, my current rhinovirus (why do I always get sick on my vacations?), but the second day turned out to be a LOT more fun. Letting my internal compass be my guide (well, I didn't really have a choice seeing as I had neither a good Hamburg guidebook nor internet access in my hostel) I managed to find the Rathaus, the harbor, and the entire downtown section of Hamburg. I strolled around on a beautiful Sunday morning in which (GASP!) the sun actually came out. Everything was closed as it was Sunday, but I did get to go inside the Rathaus (the city hall) and the (world's most beautiful) city park, also partaking in the outdoor market and food and drink festival going on next door.

As it turns out, there was also some sort of motorcycle gathering going on and all day, throughout my activities, I would constantly hear the roar of engines. Some of the bikes were quite cool, especially these mini ones that looked like Tonka bikes. There were even a few mini racecars driving around.

That evening, I dined the way dining was meant to be done in Hamburg. Eating hamburgers. Though usually touted as American fare, the hamburger does come from Hamburg, and they do a pretty damn good job of it. McDonald's? You should be ashamed! I'm not even sure fast food burger should be allowed in this fair city!

I left early the next morning to head on to Berlin. Upon arriving at my hostel on Pariser Strasse, I settled in taking in all of the touring materials (and free internet!) that the hostel had to offer. I decided not to waste time and jumped in on a city tour that afternoon with Annabel, the world's biggest Berlin Wall buff. We saw the spot of Hitler's bunker and suicide spot (currently a truly ugly carpark/dog poo grounds and a sewer pipe respectively - a fitting end if ever I saw one) as well as the remains of the Berlin Wall, the location of Checkpoint Charlie (currently the world's funniest-looking tourist trap), and Schinkel's architecture and columns, amongst the rest. Boy, did that Schinkel love his columns...well, I guess that one's only funny if you know Annabel.

On this tour, I also met Emma from Scotland, who will be meeting me again at the end of the month when our paths cross once again in Florence. Unfortunately, this second day in Berlin has been not as much fun as the first. The cold, biting rain of this morning is only now just calming down and I am, as I mentioned before, living out the old 50s flick, Attack of the Rhinovirus! Aaaaaah! So I'm bulking up on vitamins (which I must surely be deficient in by now through my travels), drinking fortified baby juice (apparently much healthier and less sugary than the adult version), and eating lots and lots of fruit, in hopes I will quickly recover.

Silver lining? At least it gave me time to write. I know I've missed it!
posted by Rachel @ 9:14 PM  
Wednesday, July 04, 2007
London Calling
I know it's been a while. For those of you who have been waiting with bated breath for my next post, you may exhale now. I've just come from three days in England. Did I have a nice time? In between the rain, perhaps. Actually despite rain, traffic, and, you know, TERRORIST ATTACKS, it was a pretty nice time. On my first day there they had many of the roads blocked off - some for security, some for a charity race that was going on. Bringing me to one of the funniest things I came across. Toward the final leg of the rainy, rainy race guess what came out of the loudspeakers as a morale boost to the exhausted runners? "Do You Hear the People Sing?" from Les Miserables. In the United States we use MC Hammer and 50 Cent to get pumped up. Not in England. How very prim and proper of them. When I heard a subway street musician playing "Castle on a Cloud" later that same evening, I thought I must be cracking up.

In one day I did a self-imposed, (almost) neverending, 7 and a half hour walking tour through every imaginable touristy district in London. I witnessed race-fueled fisticuffs in Soho (London's Red Light District of sorts) and had to filter through Bobbies three rows thick in front of 10 Downing Street. At Buckingham Palace, royal guards were placed side-by-side with automatic gun-wielding police officers. Cars on nearly every block were being secured and towed and the tube was milling with police in fluorescent yellow vests. Quite an interesting time to be visiting. But I did the tube and buses and walked on foot - all without incident. Which I will treat as a testament to London's awesome law enforcement and leave it at that. Though I should note, if the government is reading this, I was walking by St. James' Palace near where the princes' apartments are and found it someone disconcerting that I saw nary a guard in sight. I'm not here to tell you how to do your job. Just a note.

Other highlights include taking in Don Giovanni at the Royal Opera House and landing on the recieving end of catcalls by male prostitutes. Good times were had by all. Wishing you were here!

Note: I am currently in Amsterdam. Having seen tulips, Rembrandts, and more wooden shoes than you can shake a stick at, I already consider this trip a success. However, I should note that my official policy is to write about (not take pictures of) my experiences. This philosophy goes something along the lines of: pictures should be of people, not of THINGS. So I will not drone on and on over pictures of fields of flowers, windmills, and Vermeers (the equivalent of shoving pictures of your baby in a stranger's face and asking about how cute she is). Instead, I'll try to give you a sense of the experience. For now, I will merely document the obvious. You'll get a better overview when I have more time to reflect. Until then, over and out.
posted by Rachel @ 7:43 PM  
Thursday, June 28, 2007
Spar Wars: The Saga Continues
Why is it that I feel I am constantly in a grudge match with my landlord and the property management company? Though I have not yet regaled you, the reader, with tales of sitting for hours in the heat waiting for company representatives and people forcing me to pay fees that I shouldn’t have to pay, just know that this battle has been going on since the beginning of time. Or at least since the day I moved in. Well, it has taken an interesting turn. Well, not so much interesting as frustrating to the maximum. But close enough. Let’s go back, shall we?

After the “pickpocket fiasco” of last week, things were finally getting back to normal. I was back in the mindset of trip preparation, with new credit cards and rail tickets having arrived at my office early in the week. I had even started planning my packing. Then Monday night, I was laying in bed ready to fall asleep, when I suddenly heard a click. I jumped up in bed and pivoted my head around, but there was nothing. I mean not a sound - no air conditioner or anything. I got up and looked around, pulling the switch for the light. No electricity whatsoever. I looked outside to brightly lit windows and caught the glint of light streaming in from the hallway through my front door. My electricity was out. Mine, and only mine. I went into the hallway and there it was - the meter at zero. And then I got mad.

Let me go back yet a bit further and explain the scenario that led to this situation in the first place. Over the last several months, I have been bothering my building’s management company (and through them, the landlord) for three things: 1) the key to my mailbox (which I still have not yet received and don’t count on ever getting), 2) a new residence permit (which took a lot of hammering and a bit of manipulation on my part, but I got it - else I would have no Chinese visa), and 3) the electricity card for my apartment. The way electric works in China goes something like this: every apartment has an electricity card. You read the meter using the card to see how much money there is left for your electric. When it runs low, you go to the bank and recharge it. Seems simple, right? And it is, provided you have the card in your possession. Most people do. But no matter how much I nagged them, the property managers and the landlords refused to yield the card to me.

Do you know what their reasoning was? They didn’t want me to lose it. And implied in the way they said this was the fact that foreigners are irresponsible with their property. Though I took them a bit by surprise in accurately surmising the “subtext” of their statement and acting in an accordingly offended manner, they still refused to give in. I called the property managers about two weeks ago, perhaps less, asking about the levels on the electricity card. He said there was still plenty of money left. And I believed him. Which was stupid because - in all likelihood - he would have said anything to keep from getting off his lazy rear end and recharging my card. Now, before you take offense to this and tell me I’m stereotyping or making mass generalizations, know that every time I went to the company to run an errand or pay rent, half of the employees at the office were playing computer games and the other half were taking naps.

Now, back to the present situation. I have no electricity. There’s NO money on the card and here’s the kicker that’s going to make this whole thing more difficult - after hanging out at a friend’s place the night before, I accidentally left my cell phone behind, meaning I had no way to call the company the next day. Not only did I not have a phone, but the numbers for the company and the representatives I normally deal with were all in my phone. I had a general “company number” - but it is more like the number for a corporate headquarters and I could not manage to get through to the people I normally deal with. And so, I was without electricity: no air conditioner, no refrigerator, no charger for my bicycle battery, no computer - nothing.

I went over to the property management company’s office first thing in the morning (figuring that was the only way around the “no phone” situation), arriving around 8:15. I rang the doorbell and no one responded. So I sat and waited. I thought I heard noises so I rang the doorbell again. Still nothing. More waiting. By now it was around 8:40 and I was definitely not getting to work on time. But without a cell phone, I couldn’t even call to let anyone know. Just then I heard voices and they were DEFINITELY coming from inside the office. I rang the doorbell again. A half-dressed Chinese kid (well, at least he LOOKED like a kid) cracked open the door and looked very surprised to see anyone standing on the other side of it, let alone me. He closed the door and went back in. Then nothing. He knew I was there. I knew he knew I was there.

I rang the doorbell again and FINALLY someone came to the door and actually spoke with me. I explained the situation, at which time the snot-nosed pain in the ass who always keeps me waiting and makes me jump through a hundred hoops (only the majority of which are legal) every time I need a residence permit for my visa poked his head through the door. I explained the situation again and also the issue of my not having a cell phone. After much back-and-forth, he informed me that he would wait for me in the downstairs outside my building at noon and that I should meet him there, at which time he would bring me the electricity card.

So, I ride on my merry way to work, fill my boss in on the situation and break off at around 11:30 - enough time to grab a quick bite and head back to the apartment. I get there at a couple minutes after twelve. And I wait. It’s 12:30. More waiting. 12:40. Then I wait some more (are you sensing a pattern here?). I’ll give him until 1:00. He’s nowhere in sight. And without a cell phone, I couldn’t track him down even if I wanted to - which at this point I almost don’t, I’m so angry. I decide, rather than going back to the office which is across town, I will go back over to their company’s offices and see who I can’t give a piece of my mind to.

Upon arriving there, I get nothing more than blank stares and the occasional “I don’t know.” Finally, amongst the two people smoking and chatting and the four on the computer playing hearts/solitaire/insert random pointless computer game here, someone managed to get someone I had spoken with on the phone. He explained that the landlord would not give up the card and that he would come by when I was home that evening (at which time I could call him, since I would be picking my phone up on my way home from work). He offered no explanation for his not showing up earlier and only changed the subject each time I brought it up. I’ve pretty much given up on trying to figure out why things happen the way they do here. I go where the tide takes me. And if it’s a rip tide, so be it.

I went back to work, finished up my day, picked up my phone at my friend’s apartment and then headed home. Once there, I called the property people who said they were en route and would be arriving soon. The “snot-nosed one” (as he shall be called from here on out) arrived while I was waiting for takeout in the restaurant downstairs. He came over and pulled me aside in a “I don’t want other people to hear what I have to say to you because it’s not completely on the up-and-up or it’s just THAT bad” kind of way. He said that the landlord would not give him the card and that for some reason, I was supposed to pay 2000 kuai for electricity.

Now, this was clearly wrong. It’s about 5 mao (the Chinese equivalent of 50 cents) for one unit of electricity. I could barely use 1000, let alone 4000 units of electricity in the short time left on my lease. To give you an idea, most people use about 200-300 units per month. So I kicked up a fuss telling him that I didn’t understand and that he wasn’t being clear because this made no sense. All he kept repeating was that he was telling me what the landlord had told him and repeatedly asking me if I believed what he was telling me. And with each “do you believe me?” he uttered, I trusted him less and less. He then said that we should go up to the apartment to discuss it. Fine.

We went upstairs and he went through the same drill. I yelled at him, telling him I didn’t have that kind of money period, let alone having that much on my person - and that much to pay for ELECTRICITY no less (which is normally quite cheap). I told him I would call a friend of mine who is Chinese to help clarify and sort out the situation. I called my boss Emily and apologized for being bothersome, but continued that something really important had come up and I needed help.

This in and of itself was a turning point indeed because I’m not big on the whole “asking other people for help” thing. It’s outside my nature. BUT I know when I’m stuck and I’m certainly not arrogant enough to think I could’ve gotten out of this mess without some outside assistance. Emily started talking to the guy. It got heated pretty fast. I’m pretty sure amongst the comments were veiled threats to report the guy to his supervisor, report their company to the legal authorities, and expose their company’s tactics to the media for taking advantage of a poor little foreigner like me. With that, the guy started backtracking - confirmation that I was right to not take him at his word. 2000 kuai? I am NOT that gullible.

With my cell phone back in my possession, I gave Emily the phone number of the guy that leased me the place. He seemed a bit more managerial than the snot-nosed peon who’d been pissing me off for the last day and a half. Emily got each of them to call back the landlord and figure out a proper solution to the situation. It turns out it was actually 2000 UNITS (a more reasonable 1000 kuai - still pricey, but I could handle it) and the landlord would issue me a receipt stating that I would be reimbursed for whatever energy was left on the meter upon completion of my lease.

As he was leaving, the imbecile still in my apartment said he would call my boss tomorrow to confirm an appointment time for the landlord to come refill the meter. At the last moment he threw in that he would call Emily instead of me because I never seem to understand what he’s saying. And the beast reemerged. He had already admitted, “Wo shuo cuo le (I made a mistake/spoke incorrectly),” an admission difficult enough to obtain in the first place in a country whose culture is based on pride and “saving face.” With that in my back pocket, it was not all that large a leap for me to insult him into a corner, telling him the only reason I said “Wo bu mingbai (I don’t understand/I’m not clear)” was because he told me completely the wrong thing and how could he possibly expect me to understand if he’s going to say things that make no sense? I continued lambasting him, saying that my Chinese was obviously good enough to understand him NOW - when he’s not saying things that aren’t right - and I obviously know how to speak well enough to tell him so, so he daren’t tell me that MY Chinese isn’t good enough. AND I’m sticking it to you in a language I started learning only three years ago. So there.

It was awesome. And finally, only an hour-and-a-half after this whole episode began, I was able to kick the peon out and enjoy my solitary, air condition-less, extremely dark, but rather peaceful apartment. Well, peaceful minus the sound of industrial-sized brakes screeching to a halt at the bus stop down the street.

I slept through the night and jumped on my bike to head to work the next day. Without electricity however, my bike was barely charged and only got me about 92% of the way. I must say, having an electric bicycle is fantastic as it gets me across town without leaving me drenched in sweat and feeling generally more disgusting than everyday life in Beijing normally entails. But what they don’t tell you is that if the battery is not working, the bike is actually 10 times harder to pedal than even a normal bicycle. Mine stopped mid-intersection. I got to work, but it was as though I was towing a car behind me the whole rest of the way. Make that a big rig. Luckily, I had the foresight to bring my charger with me to work. And once I arrived (only mildly drenched in sweat), I was able to fill up the battery for the long haul home.

The meeting with the landlord and the property people was set for 3pm. Yes, that’s right. I had to make an APPOINTMENT for me to give someone money and have them slide a card into a slot above my door. Anyway, I figured I would have to head back to my apartment around 2:15 or so to meet them. But after returning from lunch and looking out the office window to a pitch black, stormy-looking sky, my boss Emily and I nodded in agreement that it would be best if I went home straight away, hopefully beating the rain there.

Of course, this was not to be. As soon as I started cycling, the drizzling began, and within less than 30 seconds, it was a full-fledged downpour. Due to the heavy winds, the raindrops felt like pellets stinging my arms. I clung to the handlebars and ducked my head low. Then came the lightning and thunder, which no amount of clinging or ducking would let me avoid.

Oh, geez. What have I gotten myself into? I thought. Maybe I should just turn around. But I was already soaked and about ten minutes along an approximately forty minute journey, so I figured I would trudge on and if the gods were smiling, I would make it home in one piece. Since I wanted to be as safe and aware as possible, I chose to not put my iPod on. This allowed my mind to wander. I starting thinking about the current state of things and the conclusions they were headed to. Especially after the wallet and passport debacle and now the electricity, it was like there was all this tension and frustration that had built up. And now, the rain and the lightning had come to physically and metaphorically diffuse it all.

This made me chuckle to myself. How lofty was I! Symbolism and all that whatnot...glad to know AP English was good for SOMETHING. The chuckle brought out a smile. When life hands you lemons, right? Besides, at this point, what’s the difference between “really soaked” and “really really soaked”? At one point, I attacked a giant puddle, not realizing it was deep enough to be a reservoir, and the water rose to my knees. Luckily the battery on my bike is waterproof. Any normal motorbike would’ve shorted out.

But splashing through puddles and running around in the rain made me feel a whole lot better. And since I was thoroughly drenched anyway, it was better than being like all the other Chinese who were also soaked, but huddling in from the rain and staring confusedly at the smiling foreigner sloshing through the water and singing Otis Redding. “I can see clearly now, the rain is gone…”

Jumping ahead, at 3:15 - in dry clothes and lounging around my apartment - I called the representatives at the property management company to see if they were going to make it. They were. They arrived with the landlord at 3:30 and, after several minutes of exchange and fumbling, I once again had power. And that was all it took.

So to recap. This week we’ve been pickpocketed. We’ve scoured the police stations of Beijing. Shelled out for new passports and visas. Planned trips. Lost electricity. Found electricity. And engaged in the equivalent of a four-year-old jumping through mud puddles in her rain boots. I suppose if they asked me, I could write a book.

Now if only Rosemary were here to sing it.
posted by Rachel @ 2:35 PM  
Friday, June 22, 2007
Rachel's Travels: Like Gulliver's, Only Better.
I've been checking the readouts on my viewership and I have to say that I'm quite impressed with the diversity of my blog's audience. I was convinced it was confined to family and friends and the occasional stray who had lost his or her way in the woods. As it turns out, people from over sixty countries visit me - some even more than once.

And with that in mind, I would like to publish a rough sketch of my travel plans, as I am headed on a five week summer vacation in Europe starting next Saturday. If you are or will be in any of these places and want to meet the face behind the blog, leave a comment on the site or in my guestbook and I'll be sure to get back to you!

The Route:

London, UK
Amsterdam, Netherlands
Cologne, Germany
Hamburg, Germany
Berlin, Germany
Prague, Czech Republic
Munich, Germany
Vienna, Austria
Venice, Italy
Florence, Italy
Rome, Italy
London, UK --> Return to Beijing

I will also be in Turkey, Greece, and Croatia in the midst of everything, but my travels at that point will be pretty inflexible, so I figured best not to list them. And for those who have asked, I will definitely be reporting from the road. Have a wonderful summer!
posted by Rachel @ 11:48 AM  
THE WILD WILD EAST: Everything you never knew you didn't know about life on the other side.
In China, the people are represented by two separate, yet equally important groups. The Chinese, who call this land "home," and the expats who migrate here. My name is Rachel. I am an expat. These are my stories.
What You May Have Missed
A Brief Disclaimer:
This is a satirical site intended for the entertainment of an online audience. None of the features on this site are real (except in my own distorted view of reality), nor are they intended to harm the subjects mentioned. This site uses fictional names in all its stories, except in cases when public figures are being satirized or when I choose to use this site as a platform for someone's public humiliation (usually my own). Any other use of real names is accidental and coincidental (or purposeful, but with good reason).

Despite the trivial nature of my random daily (sometimes weekly) musings, I hope you enjoy your stay at my site. If there is anything you need, don't hesitate to ring up the concierge, because I just travel in style like that. Have a pleasant stay and I hope that you will come see us again soon!

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