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Kaifeng, China – Part 3

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Finally getting back to blogging. Again.

One morning at breakfast in the campus cafeteria, while in Kaifeng, Jackie turned to me, kind of out of nowhere, and said, “Kristina.”  I gave him my full attention.  And he continued, “You know…when I first started in my position here, there was a teacher named Christina.” (I’m just assuming it wasn’t another Kristina with a Kay.)  “I think that’s a sign,” he said. “You should come back here to teach.”  We talked about it off and on during our time in China.  And to be honest, hardly a day goes past even now that I don’t think about it.  There are basically two things standing in my way at this point.  The mother.  And the fur family – you can’t really explain to cats & dogs (and a bird) that you’re going away for a year but that you’ll be back.  The mother has basically said she’s going to try to talk me out of it.  But it’s something I have to decide for myself and part of me thinks I just need to get away – far away – for a while.  I’ve lived in the same place my whole life, with the exception of my first year of college.  I need a change.  And if I’m going to do this – teach abroad – this is probably my last chance to do it – before I dive back into some sort of career in the U.S.

Anyway.  So to continue on with Kaifeng.

One of the days, we met up with a couple of the other (Chinese) English teachers on campus and they gave our dear guide Jackie a much needed break.  We spent the afternoon at an English “forum” – that’s what it was called when it was described to us but I’m not sure I’d call it a forum.  More like…. umm… a bunch of Chinese students coming to hang out with the Americans and practice their English?  It was really informal but a lot of fun.  We all sat around this big table and split off into small groups with 3-5 Chinese students to each American.  I ended up with a group of about 4 Chinese girls. We talked about so many random things.  Movies, music, school – specifically, the process for applying to graduate schools in the US as it’s something a few of the girls were planning to do – travel, and a million other things.

English Forum with two of the Chinese students

English Forum with two of the Chinese students

We had dinner with the English teachers and then, I’m not sure if it was planned this way intentionally or if it was just a happy coincidence but the university was having an English contest while we were there and we were able to attend one portion of it that evening.  I believe it was the Vice President of the university who, when he was giving his little introduction before the contest, mentioned that we were in the audience.  It was sweet.  I have no idea what he said, since it was all in Chinese, but I was sitting next to one of the English teachers and she told me that he was talking about us.

So at that point in the contest, which was kind of a big deal on campus, the contestants had already been through several stages and those we were seeing, were the best of the best.  Each contestant prepared a 3 minute speech.  Then they were given a random prompt and had to talk about it – a picture, comic, or short video clip (in Chinese) – for 2 minutes.  And finally, one of the judges, J.P., a Canadian guy who was living in the same place we were staying, asked them questions related to their two different speeches.

Throughout the contest, they had this screen up at the front of the auditorium that was streaming comments that the audience members made on Weibo – the Chinese answer to Twitter (which is blocked).  Most people were wishing their friends luck.  So when a message popped up talking about the “American boy,” it got our attention.  Turned out a girl in the audience had a crush on Dom.  It was the cutest thing.  Went on throughout the course of the contest.  Hilarious.  After the contest, the girl found Dom and they took a picture together but being the silly American boy that he is, he didn’t exchange contact information with her.  How cute of a story would that have been if they’d somehow ended up together?  She moving to the US or him to China?  Married?  All because she Weibo-ed about him at a university English contest. Hah.  Anyway.

One of the contestants came up to our group after the contest was over to introduce himself.  His English name is Patrick.  He was definitely one of the best.  He’d asked if we could talk before we left Kaifeng but we never were able to get together.  But we have kept in touch since then, through WeChat – another Chinese answer to the apps that have been blocked in their country.

The next day we went to a museum.  Most of which is now a blur in my head.  But I remember enjoying it at the time for what that’s worth.  That evening was a lot of fun though – we went to a “show with pretty lights” – that’s what I wrote in my journal that night anyway.  Hah. At this point in the trip, I’d been feeling pretty crappy for several days.  Mostly allergies, I think.  But that night, Zach gave me an…..interesting combination of medication – this will help with the sneezing, this with the congestion, this with…. Anyway…whatever he gave me resulted in a rather “high” Kristina.  But I was feeling better the next day so his concoction must have done the trick.

Back to the “light show.”  It was outside, at night, and was really unlike anything I’d ever experienced before.  The Chinese students who went with us knew the story they were depicting – a famous story in China.  But even for us, without knowing what was going on the entire time, it was simply fun to watch.

"the light show"

"the light show"

"the light show"

"the light show"

"the light show"

"the light show"

I’ll try to figure out where exactly this was (I still have the program) stashed away.

The next day, we went to a couple of embroidery…factories?  Basically a room full of women creating these magnificent works.

Jackie watching the intricate work

Jackie watching the women work

Hard at work

Women hard at work

Example of the final outcome

An example of the final outcome – hard to believe that’s all done with needle and thread

We were told they go through a course to learn how to do it…But I can’t imagine I’d ever have the patience or skill.

That afternoon we had a bit of free time.  After I took a short nap, we all went down to this cafe on campus.  And honestly, when I think of going back to Kaifeng, this is one of the places I can imagine myself hanging out.  It was just a little shop that served coffee as well as beer – nothing all that exciting.  But it felt like a place I’d be comfortable spending my afternoons or evenings.

Zach & Liz

Zach & Liz

By the way, you might notice something interesting hanging on the wall… An image on the front cover of a magazine from Sept. 11, 2001.  I wasn’t quite sure what this meant.  If they were showing that they cared? Or perhaps something not as nice.  I was told that there’s a lot of propaganda in schools about the U.S. and not all of it is kind, or true for that matter.  When I asked Jackie what he thought about it, he was just as confused as we were.

Fish bowl

Fish bowl

Kittens!

Kittens!

Just inside the door, there was a fish bowl and a box of kittens & their mother just kind of hanging out.  As you might imagine, I loved it.

After a while of just relaxing in the little shop with our beverages (I had an Americano and it was heavenly – as I mentioned in an earlier post, (good) coffee is not as readily available in China as it is in the U.S.) and the free Wifi, Dom & Dao went off to explore a bit.  They returned quickly though to tell us they’d found the bar J.P (the Canadian English teacher) had mentioned to us.  And we decided to check it out even though it was the middle of the afternoon and likely to be empty.

The Bar

The Bar

Well, as we discovered, it was not empty.  There were quite a few Chinese students who eagerly crowded around us after a few awkward moments of confused stares at the white people – and they were not shy about telling us they were skipping class to have a drink (or 20).  We stayed there for a couple of hours and had a couple of beers – very weak by our standards – and played drinking games with a group of about 10 Chinese students.  It was completely unexpected but a ton of fun.

After that, we made our way back to meet up with Dr. O and Jackie for dinner, which was then followed by some shopping with the girls from our first day in Kaifeng – a perfect way to bookend our stay in the lovely little city.

And that’s it for Kaifeng.  In my next post, which hopefully will follow within the next couple of days, I’ll write about Xi’an.

Until then —

Kaifeng, China – Part 2

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One of the things I wrote about in my journal around this time was the state of the plumbing in China.  From what I was told, due to the rapidly (exponentially) growing population, the plumbing/sewers just can’t handle toilet paper.  As a result, you don’t put your used toilet paper in the toilet and flush it away, like we’re used to doing in the west.  No, you put it in a trash can along with everyone else’s used toilet paper.  I was going to write that it took some getting-used-to but I don’t think I ever got used to it.  The other thing that I never got used to was the style of toilets.  Some places have “normal” toilets, especially in areas where there are a lot of tourists, but many places still have what we referred to as “squatty potties.”  If you’ve never experienced this wonder, let me just say – it takes some practice.  It’s essentially a porcelain hole in the ground.  You squat over it.  And do your business.  And then put your used toilet paper in the trash can.  Oh.  And something else – public bathrooms generally do not provide toilet paper.  Thankfully, we knew this before we left, so we all went prepared with either roles of toilet paper or little packs of tissues, which we carried with us everywhere we went.  Yeah, I never thought going to the toilet would be such an adventure.  But hey – it was all part of the experience.

In Kaifeng, while our hotel was pretty nice, we ran into a few minor issues.  Dr. O’s door/lock wouldn’t stop beeping for some unknown reason.  It went on for hours, I think.  Or it felt like it did, anyway.  The guys’ (Dom & Zach) room was powerless when we first got there.  Couldn’t figure that one out either.  The other girls’ (Liz and Dao) bathroom flooded whenever they tried to take a shower.  And then we lost cold water – all of us – due to some work on the pipes, we eventually learned.  The problem there was that we couldn’t flush the toilet.  So we developed this system where we’d empty the trashcan, fill it up with hot water from the shower, and dump it into the back of the toilet.  What made this all more challenging was that, since we were in Jackie’s town, he was staying at home, of course, instead of in the hotel with us.  Which meant that, when we tried to talk to the staff, it involved a translation application on one of the girl’s phones and a lot of miming.  Had we been in a more touristy area, the staff probably would’ve known more English.  But I think everyone was able to maintain a good attitude about it all.  It was an adventure and we all just laughed it off for the most part.

Moving on.

We went to the Yellow River one day.  The next day, perhaps, but who knows at this point… The river is really wide.  I’ve never seen the Mississippi or anything like that so it was quite an experience for me.  It almost looked like a lake.  We went out on a boat, which was fun, although I’d be lying if I said I didn’t wonder if the driver was going to dump us all in the water a couple of times with the way he sped around.  There was an island in the middle of the river – that’s how big it is – and we got off the boat and walked around for a while.  Zach, Dom, Dao & I were ahead of Jackie and Liz when he called out to us, saying that we shouldn’t go any further – that we might not like what we found.  When we pressed, he told us that around 200 bodies are found in the Yellow River every year.  At first I thought it was just Jackie being Jackie but then I did some research and, well, read for yourself

Later that day, we drove across the (a?) floating bridge.  Like, as in, it’s just floating on the water and people drive, walk, ride across it.

Floating Bridge

Floating Bridge

Floating Bridge

Floating Bridge

Jackie hesitated when we were initially talking about going to the bridge because it is quite dangerous.  There really wasn’t any concept of lanes on the bridge.  People had stopped in the middle, their cars or their carts just sitting there, and everyone else just sort of had to make their way around them.  All the while, you could tell you were on something that was just floating there.  It was an experience.

That brings me to another random thought about China, in general.  The driving.  Is. Crazy.  The first few days, I think most of us were actually quite nervous whenever we were in the bus.  But it’s just the norm for the Chinese.  Think about New York or Chicago on its worst day and then multiply it by about 10,000.  In China, drivers just sort of…go.  Horns are used much more often than they are here in the U.S.  And they’re used differently.  In the U.S., if you honk your horn, it’s usually because some idiot has cut you off or done something stupid.  Well, in China, everyone drives like that so it’s kind of the other way around – you honk your horn to make sure others know you are there or that you are coming through.  Driving through a red light? Just honk your horn.  Cutting someone off?  Honk your horn.  Squeezing through an impossibly narrow passage and unsure of what’s on the other side?  Honk your horn.  It was…intense.  People on motorcycles or mopeds use their horns frequently to make sure cars know they’re there.  People on bicycles – well, they’ve just gotta watch out.  Same with pedestrians.  In the U.S., the pedestrian has, in theory, the right of way.  In China, it’s kind of – every man for himself.  If you’re walking, you watch where you’re walking but, at the same time, cars aren’t going to stop for you, so at some point, you just have to go, even if a car is 2 feet away from you and has to slam on the brakes.

So back to Kaifeng.  We went to the coolest restaurant.  I’m not sure if it was actually in Kaifeng or just in a neighboring city.  But apparently the restaurant had been a farm and when the family had trouble making ends meet, they turned it into a restaurant, but maintained the farm, and simply used that food for the restaurant.  Kind of brilliant, if you think about it.  One of the coolest parts about it was the way they seated people.  Or rather, the way people seated themselves.  When you walk onto the farm, you can choose to go inside, where I assume there was more traditional restaurant seating, or you could sit in one of these little huts that was scattered around.

One of the huts

One of the huts

While we were waiting for our food, we just all kind of wandered around.  There were fruit trees and vegetable gardens…

Fruit Tree

Fruit tree

There were also areas for creatures.  As a vegan, I felt super conflicted about that.  Part of me could recognize that what these people were doing was, as I mentioned, a pretty brilliant thing – taking a hard situation (failing farm, as far as making a living) and turning it into something that works (a restaurant on a farm that had likely been in the family for generations).

Fish and other water creatures

Fish and other water creatures

I loved seeing all of the chickens wandering around – they had a ton of room and were just kinda doing their own thing…But in the back of my head, I was thinking about the fact that they were being raised as food and one of those little ladies was going to end up on our table in just a short amount of time – I wouldn’t be eating her, obviously, but the other members of my group would be.

Chickens

Chickens

It might have been the same day…or it might have been the next day?  Anyway, we went to Zhengshou to this place that sort of reminded me of Mount Rushmore (not that I’ve been there).  Except instead of presidents, it was the Chinese “legendary” first emperors Yandi and Huangdi.

Yandi & Huangdi

Yandi & Huangdi

 

We climbed to the top.  It was stupid hot.  And a few people were struggling with varying degrees of  fears-of-heights.  But it was a fun afternoon.

Okay.  So I think I’m going to break here.  In my next post, I’ll try to wrap up with Kaifeng.  I told you it was my favorite city.

Until then–

Kaifeng, China – Part 1

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I mentioned in my last post that Kaifeng was my favorite city.  It’s not as big & exciting as Shanghai or Beijing.  It doesn’t even have all of the history you find in Xi’an.  But Kaifeng will always hold a special place in my heart for a few reasons, which I’ll get to soon, and there is a decent chance I might go back there next year to teach English.

So our first day in Kaifeng, after we arrived on the train, we went to one of the campuses.  As I believe I mentioned before, Jackie works at Henan University, which is in Kaifeng.  The University has two campuses in the city – “the old campus” and “the new campus.”  We were staying at a hotel on the new campus.  But our first stop in the city was the old campus which was really beautiful.  Jackie teaches English and some of his students met us there that day.  We split up into groups and the students gave us tours of the campus.  One of the girls that I met that day, Bella (her English name, obviously), is one of the people I’ve kept in touch with.  A really sweet girl.

With some of the girls on the old campus in Kaifeng (I'm in the back, towering over all of them; Bella is the one wearing the long skirt)

With some of the girls on the old campus in Kaifeng (I’m in the back, towering over all of them; Bella is the one wearing the long skirt)

We walked around for a couple of hours.  Walked through some of the buildings.  I should’ve taken more pictures.  It is such a beautiful campus.  We eventually made our way towards the Iron Pagoda park.  I don’t remember all of the history attached to the Iron Pagoda but I do know it’s nearly 1000 years old.  Yeah.  1000.  It has survived earthquakes, floods, and who knows what else.  Really quite amazing.

The Iron Pagoda. And yes, it is leaning.

The Iron Pagoda. And yes, it is leaning.

This was the beginning of another ongoing joke.  We saw so many pagodas on the trip that it became a thing we’d say – “Pagoda, Pagoda.”  Like “Tomato, tomato” (which, we used interchangeably, by the way, but without the different pronunciations – to-may-to, to-may-to).   “Pagoda, Pagoda” took on a couple of meanings.  One way we’d use “Pagoda, Pagoda” was to refer to or comment on things, which honestly were really amazing, or beautiful, or interesting for whatever reason, were kind of starting to seem almost ‘normal’ to us – since we were seeing so much in such a relatively short amount of time.  So we’d say “Pagoda, Pagoda” in a sort of “meh” way – not as a way to dismiss it but kind of in a way that reflected the sheer amount of new experiences.  Like, with the pagodas – we saw so many of them and they were so impressive, full of history, and beautiful but at some point, it just of becomes “pagoda, pagoda.”  That probably makes no sense.  Inside joke, I guess.

The girls & I

The girls & I

After our campus tour, we met up with Jackie and went to lunch at this great little noodle place.  We referred to it as “Jackie’s noodle place” because when he was asking us where we wanted to eat, he mentioned this place as one of his favorite restaurants in the area, where he frequently goes for lunch.  And I understand why – the food was so good.  A couple of different types of tofu still stick out in my memory as being favorites from the entire trip.  As a vegan, I was a little bit worried about how difficult it’d be to find food in China.  I decided before I left that I was going to tell people I was vegan & what that meant and then simply trust that they’d tell me what was or wasn’t vegan.  That said, I’d be surprised if some of the stuff I ate didn’t have an animal base or some type of byproduct in it.  I’m normally very careful about what I consume but I didn’t want to make it a thing and risk offending or being rude in a country where I was a guest.

Jackie's noodle place

Jackie’s noodle place

After lunch, we met up with a different group of Jackie’s students and toured a couple of parks in the area.  The day kind of blurs together in my memory, and even in my journal, when I was writing the next day about everything, I couldn’t remember everything.  It was a beautiful day but very hot.  And by the end of the day, we’d done so much walking around and seen so many different things that I couldn’t remember what was what or where.

....just so...China.  The sun umbrella, the hanging lanterns.. everything.

….just so…China. The parasol, the hanging lanterns.. everything.

One thing I do remember about the day though… We kind of felt like celebrities throughout the trip.  For different reasons in different cities.  In Kaifeng, where there aren’t as many foreigners – or, at least, not as many non-Asians – people would stare at us.  Dr. O, a dark skinned African-American man (actually originally from a country in Africa), frequently had people staring at him, practically in awe.  That day, it was my turn, though.  We were standing just inside one of the parks and this old, Chinese gentleman came up to me and started speaking to me.  In Chinese, of course.  And I, of course, couldn’t understand a word he was saying.  So, I got the attention of one of the Chinese students and asked her to translate for me.  He wanted to take a picture with me.  I obliged.  I so wish I’d asked one of the girls to take a picture of us with my camera.  It still makes me laugh.  The man had to be in his late 70s at least.

Past & Present

Past & Present

One of the other things I remember noticing  around this time for probably the first time on the trip (but certainly not the last), was the contrast between the past and the present.  In the U.S., we just don’t have as much history.  In China, it’s everywhere.  In the picture above, you see the traditional style of buildings in the front but in the background, across the water, you can see the city with all of the modern buildings.  You might also notice a KTV van in the picture.  There was some sort of attempt to set a world record going on that day at the park.  Not sure whatever came of that.  I should check into it….

Group photo at the end of the day

Group photo at the end of the day

I think it was that evening that we had dinner with Director Ma – Jackie’s boss – and the Director’s daughter, who will be studying at our school in the not so distant future.  (I say I think it was that evening, by the way, because the further we got into the trip, the less chronological my journaling became – I’d start to write and then get distracted or interrupted.  I’d make little lists of things I wanted to write about eventually but the timeline is a little bit unclear both in my journal and in my memory.)  It was one of the more formal evenings we had.  We didn’t see Director Ma again until we were leaving the campus a few days later and he came to say goodbye to us.  A very kind and generous gentleman.

Okay, well this post is getting rather long so I’ll stop here and finish up Kaifeng in another post.

Until next time —

Meditation

Shanghai, China – Part 1

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So this is ridiculously delayed. I. Know.

Class.  Independent Study. Blah. Blah. Blah.

But – better late than never, right?

 

I’ve decided to describe the trip in a sort of narrative form, breaking it up by cities, for the most part, I think.

Let me start by introducing the members of the group.  Our group consisted of six students and one professor.  “Dr. O” is an accounting professor at our school but before the trip, only one of the students in our group had been in his class – Liz.  Liz is an undergraduate student, majoring in Accounting.  Zach is a recent graduate with a degree in Finance.  Dao & Dom are undergraduate students in the engineering school – chemical and mechanical, respectively.  Jane & I were the only graduate students – both working on MBAs; Jane’s concentration is Management and mine is Marketing.  Of the students, other than Jane & I, who had a couple of classes together in past semesters, we all met for the first time as planning for the trip began several months ago.

The group - in the bus, leaving the airport when we arrived in China

The group – in the bus, leaving the airport when we arrived in China: LtoR Jane, Zach, Liz, Dao (hiding behind the seat) and Dom (the only one who actually realized I was taking a picture

Our first stop in China was Shanghai.  We left Cleveland at 7:30 am Friday, May 16 (Cleveland time) & arrived around 1:30pm Saturday, May 17 (China time).  There’s a 12 hour time difference which made everything… interesting.  I think we all started to think in China time pretty much as soon as we boarded the plane.  Some of us had more luck than others in adjusting to the change.

During our stay in China, we had an 8th member in our group – Jackie.  Jackie works at Henan University & was our guide.  He was incredibly knowledgeable about all-things-China and more than patient with our ceaseless stream of questions.

Dom, Jackie, and Dr. O relaxing for a moment while visiting the garden

Dom, Jackie, and Dr. O relaxing for a moment while visiting a garden in Shanghai

While in Shanghai, we were also joined by Ben, a graduate of our school who now teaches English in China.

Zach (playing with the GoPro), Ben, and Dom (again)

Zach (playing with the GoPro), Ben, and Dom (again)…and half of Jackie

Each city that we visited, in both China and South Korea, was connected to a school with which our school has some sort of connection.  As such, we often stayed on campus in a university hotel.  This was the case in Shanghai.

Our first night in Shanghai was pretty low key.  After dinner, some of us retired to our rooms while a few members of the group decided to go out and explore a bit.

The next morning, I woke up stupid early (and continued to do so for about a week, as I tried to adjust to the timezone).  Even so, my excitement carried me through the day with plenty of energy.  As you may know, some of the large cities in China are facing issues with smog right now, due to a lack of air pollution regulations.  In Shanghai, we were actually rather lucky, apparently, that it was rainy, as that helped with the air quality.

Rainy Shanghai

Rainy Shanghai

Rainy Shanghai

Rainy Shanghai

Our first stop was Yuyuan – a traditional Chinese private garden.  Beautiful.  Older than the United States.  For lunch we went to this restaurant, where they apparently lost our reservations – as a result, we were seated in a room that seemed to be decorated for a wedding… That led to an ongoing joke about Dao & Dom getting married.  Which lead to Dom’s nickname – Sugar Bear (Dao was jokingly calling him random pet names and when she said Sugar Bear, I decided I liked that, too, and so it stuck).

Nanjing Road Selfie

Nanjing Road Selfie. Notice the bags under my eyes? Oh, jetlag…

We also went to Nanjing Road, a popular shopping destination in Shanghai, and “The Bund,” a waterfront area in Shanghai.  Nanjing Road was so beyond crowded.  I can’t even begin to describe the number of people.

Nanjing Road. This doesn't do the number of people justice.

Nanjing Road. This really doesn’t do the number of people justice, though.

 

Zach, Dom & I

Zach, Dom & I

We passed a Starbucks and I *had* to get coffee.  Jackie had told us the night before that the only type of coffee in China was – “Bad.”  I knew that Starbucks coffee would be Starbucks coffee though so I decided to get my “fix” while I could.

Starbucks in Shanghai looks pretty much the same as Starbucks anywhere else.

Starbucks in Shanghai looks pretty much the same as Starbucks anywhere else.

McDonald’s, like Starbucks, is everywhere, and so we stopped in to experience that as well.  I didn’t get anything but some of the others got ice cream (flavors we don’t have in the U.S.) and frozen drinks (also, not things offered at U.S. locations).  While I can’t speak to the rest of the Chinese McDonald’s, I can say that the one we went to in Shanghai was SUPER nice.  There were two floors.  And multiple counters from which to order – each counter, offering different menus (one with the more traditional sorts of McDonald’s offerings, one with drinks…).  It was interesting.

On the bus, on the way back to the university, I wrote the following in my journal:

Endless waves of people

Smog

Crazy drivers

Horns honking

Buildings on top of buildings

Wealth

Poverty

Roof-top gardens

Bok choy

Noodles

Happy

Tired

It may not make much sense but perhaps it at least gives you an idea as to how I was feeling – slightly overwhelmed by all of the newness but, at the same time, so completely happy to be in China.

Somewhere along the way, we met up with Dr. O’s nephew and his nephew’s friend, who are both living in Shanghai right now.  They, along with Ben’s girlfriend, who is Chinese, joined us for dinner back on campus.

After dinner, the drinking started.  Well, technically it started before dinner when Dr. O offered to buy us all a drink from this tiny little store located on the first floor of our hotel.  But it continued after dinner.  We played cards, had a few beers, and also had our first taste of Soju (a Korean alcohol that I’d actually had a few times before with Korean friends in the U.S. (it was new for the others though) – a drink we’d become very familiar with once we got to South Korea).

Dom downing Soju like a pro.

Dom downing Soju like a pro

Zach & the remains of our evening - empty alcohol bottles and coins from a game we were playing

Zach & the remains of our evening – empty alcohol bottles and coins from a game we were playing

I ended my journal entry that day with:  “Good day. Good night. Need to sleep.”  And I think I’ll end this post here, as it’s getting quite long.  But I’ll continue with Shanghai in another post, soon.

Until then —