A Travellerspoint blog

July 2010

Foshan Footwork

"The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page" - St. Augustine

Rain fell lazily, washing away the feeble sunshine and any expectation of a dry Foshan outing. Huddled beneath our shared umbrella, Jake and I dodged haphazard puddles and the weaving paths of poncho-clad scooter drivers. We'd set out to find a local bookstore, but had succeeded only in finding ourselves drenched.

As we passed what appeared to be a massage parlor, I mentioned how one of my former instructors had raved about his Foshan foot massage experience. Though having offered this tid-bit casually, I suddenly felt a prick of worry at the curious gleam which flickered across Jake's face.

For reasons unknown, I have always possessed an aversion to feet. Perhaps, during the springtime of my youth, I was accosted by a brigade of trolls sporting hairy, wart-riddled feet, who then zapped my memory in a MIB fashion. I really can't say.

Feigning deafness at Jake's suggestion of midday foot therapy, I charged onward through the rain, a sudden devotee to finding the allusive bookstore. Unfortunately for my foot phobia, Jake can be as persuasive as Morpheus nudging Neo down the rabbit hole.

Needless to say, I abandoned Mission Bookstore and found myself outside the massage joint. Eyeing the curious one-room establishment, I stood inside the open doorway uncertainly, watching as Jake setted into a cushiony chair. Glancing down at my wet, flip-flopped feet, I figured the mud bath they'd already received was revitalizing enough for one day.

But resistance was futile. As one of the Chinese workers ushered me to a seat next to Jake, I realized doom was upon me.

"This'll be interesting," I thought, as an older gentleman carried out two buckets filled with steaming, tea-hued water.

We soaked our feet in the unknown brew as two of the workers began kneading our backs, necks and arms. Instrumental music flowed from speakers throughout the room, and I slowly felt my discomfort drip away with each pull on my muscles.

"This isn't so bad," I thought. "No feet."

The workers skillfully employeed their hands, knuckles, and elbows to ease out our kinks. Toward the end of the massage, one of the workers even used his knees to pop Jake's back.

Relaxed and feeling quite cozy, I didn't object as the worker motioned for me to turn around so he could begin work on my feet. Using some sort of oil-water mixture followed by coconut-scented lotion, the worker kneaded from the tip of my toes to my calves. At one point, as he drew his knuckle down the length of each foot, I was convinced he was slicing them open with a hidden blade of some kind. He repeated the process several times on the bottom of both feet, causing me to bite my lip and silently chant, "What doesn't kill you only makes you stronger..."

The massage drew to a close as he carefully dabbed my feet and legs dry with a yellow towel. "Okay!" he said, rising from his stool. I swung my feet off the ottoman, reluctant to slide them back into my dirty flip-flops.

Feet tingling, Jake and I gathered our belongings before going to pay. "Duo shao qian?" Jake asked, reaching for his wallet. "Er shi kuai," the man responded. Jake handed over the money, and we expressed our thanks before heading back out into the rain.

We'd just spent a total of $3, for two 30-minute massages. Who knew foot phobia could be conquered for so cheap?

Posted by rovingduo 05:19 Archived in China Tagged living_abroad Comments (3)

Drink[able]

One of many memorable moments we'd like to share. By: Becky

rain

It was our first full day in Foshan, and we had set out on our first mission: locate the supermarket. The roasting 95-degree air hit us as we stepped from our air conditioned sanctuary. Another humid day in southern China.

Though I'd engaged in nothng more strenuous than the 10-floor elevator ride, my skin was already sheathed in sweat by the time we passed the neighborhood security office. One of the guards, wearing a friendly smile and a blue uniform, patted the bench on which he sat. Jake and I exchanged a curious glance, shrugged, and accepted the invitation.

The guard immediately dashed inside the office and returned with two glasses and a pot of boiling water. He carefully poured the steaming water into both cups and then along the rim of each, cleaning them to satisfaction. Just when I thought he was prepping a batch of tea, the guard filled each cup and handed them over. Surprised, yet touched by his offer of hot water on such a sweltering July day, I accepted mine gratefully. In China, tap water is not drinkable - it must be boiled before it can be consumed. With this knowledge, Jake and I understood the message behind the guard's gesture: this water is good, clean and drinkable. Despite the stifling heat, the drink was oddly refreshing.

My own cup resembled a skinny shot glass, sans handle, and so the scorching water turned the clear glass unbearably hot. Holding it gingerly by its rim, I placed it to the side, hoping the slight breeze would help it cool. Meanwhile, the security guard attempted conversation with Jake. Rattling on in fluent Chinese, he continued in spite of the growing looks of confusion we gave him. Eventually, we asked if there was a supermarket nearby. He attempted, unsuccessfully, to relay its location, and the humurous sight attracted interest from numerous spectators.

One man in particular, pushing his dozing baby along in its stroller, joined in on the fun. After a lot of gesturing, pointing, shrugging, and head scratching, our game of charades was nearing forfeit. When all seemed lost, the young stroller-pushing man successfully communicated the store's location, to the cheers of all around. Having managed to sip half my drink, waiting for it to cool further, the guard hurried to re-fill it...to the brim.

After a few more minutes spent chatting and tentatively testing my scorching drink, Jake and I waved goodbye to our new friends. We successfully navigated the Foshan streets and arrived, unscathed, at the allusive supermarket.

Now, weeks later, we visit the same supermarket regularly. And everytime we do, we pass by the security office, waving to our friend as we go.

Mission complete.

IMG_0536

IMG_0536


Our apartment complex (Foshan). For more photos, see our gallery on right-hand side of page.

Posted by rovingduo 09:01 Archived in China Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

Our Outrageous Adventure to Zhuhai

The story of Becky and I going to Zhuhai ...there's never a dull moment!

overcast

Its July 22nd, a bleak Thursday of gray clouds and enough rain to tease our hopes of a cooler than usual day here in Southern China.

We woke up as usual: sweaty with the fresh morning heat. Pulling ourselves out of bed, we got ready for our daytrip to Zhuhai. Our days, in China, however, always seem to start or at least end with something interesting happening. This day, as we later found out, happened to both start and end very interestingly. Becky had put on her Sunday best, black dress pants and black shirt, and as soon as she pulled a fresh, unopened Nai Cha (milk tea) out of the fridge, she spilled it on herself. Luckily, it cleaned off fairly easily and we headed out our apartment door minutes later, unaware of the day ahead of us.

Becky and I set out by bus to meet our Chinese contact, Amy, who has been helping us and taking us around town since we arrived. Today we were heading to Zhuhai, a city two hours to the south, to see the school we will be teaching at. Thankfully, we were not going to take a bus there, because our particular experience with buses is not that great, and furthermore the bus we took this morning was more crowded than a mcdonald's bag sitting on an ant-hill. So needless to say, we were happy to get off the bus and meet Amy at her house nearby. She was waiting outside for us, and told us we were riding to Zhuhai with someone that lived down the street. So we walked down and waited for her friend to come out. It turns out that her friend is one of the directors at the school we are teaching at. She had just got back from Australia the day before, and now was driving down to Zhuhai for her workweek.

The drive out of Foshan was fraught with peril. No kidding. Sipping a milk-box, talking and texting with her cellphone, as well as being polite enough to turn and face us, while still driving, to say something, our driver and fellow co-worker from the school almost crashed into many different cars or people. It was frightening enough to the point where I pointed at her cellphone after she had (finally) put it down and simply said, "no." She obviously understood because she then said sorry many times. Becky and I both nervously chuckled with her and Amy while we talked about how crazy traffic is in China.

We arrived in Zhuhai a while, and many close-calls, later. Zhuhai is beautiful. Surrounded by mountains, broken only by tall skyscrapers, the city looked like a resort, with hotels of all kinds everywhere, and some very fine looking restaurants all over.

After twenty minutes of driving across Zhuhai, we made it to the school. Very modern, although still under construction(that wa kind of a shock), and very nice, the school was impressive to say the least. We were led throughout the building, looking at classrooms and such, and found that the entire complex was of high quality.

We then went to lunch at one of those fine eateries I mentioned earlier. A swiveling glass disk soon held almost a dozen different dishes, most with a pleasant yet somewhat challengning spice. There was spicy beef and pork, literally floating in a spicy sauce filled bowl. There were several other spicy meats and things, and then there was huge bowl (about 2 feet in diameter) of a spicy soup filled with fish.

I eagerly grabbed some of the fish as soon as I could, placed it into my little bowl. I deftly picked up a piece with my chopsticks and swallowed it whole chewing very little, as I was very hungry. Now, a certain note should be made at this point: in America, Im used to anyfish I eat (mainly store-bought tilapia) being boneless... I'm sure you can see where this is going. I swallowed a big portio of that first bite of fish, only to feel a nice sharp prick in the middle of my throat. I swallowed again by reflex, and the swallow revealed that something was stabbed into my throat, something very small, but stuck in my throar nonetheless. Thankfully it wa not blocking off any airways or anything, but a small sensation of panic tried to force its way into my mind. I coughed several times, trying to dislodge the bone. Amy led me to the bahroom, where I coughed and hacked numerous times. Finally, with one fial great cough, I spat up the bone, fully an inch long. I went back to our table and showed off my little trophy to everyone there. We laughed about it for a while, my laughter being a release of the stress of having a one inch bone stabbed into my throat.

After we finished lunch, we went to see the apartment where Becky and I will live while in Zhuhai. It also was nt finished, but the potential is great. It is a large apartment, with 4 bedrooms, three of which will most likely remain vacant since Becky and I are the only foreign teachers that have so far been dispatched to this particular school. The room we liked best was one that had a walkout balcony, with a view of mountains and skyscrapers. We can't wait!

Well, after we got done looking at our apartment, we left for the bus station where Amy, Becky, and I would take a bus back to Foshan. And thats the end of our day ... NOT!

So just when we though thatwe'd have a nice leisurely ride home to Foshan, and then a relaxing and full evening to ourselves at our apartment ... the bus breaks down on the highway. Becky and I, as the bus driver pulled over onto the shoulder, just looked at one another; this wasn't the first time this had happened. It happened two years ago in Taiwan, where we had to wait over three hours to finally continue our journey home. The other chinese people in the bus around us seemed angry. Becky and I laughed at the situation, because it was nostalgic and unsurprising; Our life together has always been interesting, with all the bumps and stops on the way just part of the flavoring of our life together. But we still wanted to go home. Everytime the bus driver came back from working on the engine to try the key, we would both lean forward in anticipation of that singular sound: an engine starting up. But, no matter how many times he tried, the engine did not start. An hour and a half into our wait, another bus arrived and we all squeezed into it (it was full of its own passengers already) and finally made it back to Foshan, just as the sun began to set at 7:30pm.

Now, Becky is reading [/i]Lightning[i] and I'm writing this blog, cooling off in our AC and sipping water from our fridge. Adventure complete, for now.

Posted by rovingduo 05:08 Archived in China Tagged living_abroad Comments (3)

Shaken and Stirred

An overview of our first week in Foshan. By: Becky

The Drive

It seemed I had met my end.

Amidst blaring horns, zipping scooters, and homicidal trucks, my heart found residence in my throat. Though the drive was a simple one from the airport to my Foshan apartment, we seemed destined for a more southbound location – the white hatchback a silver platter and its passengers the main course, battered and basted, for Lucifer himself.

The Chinese drivers were vicious, ruthless, of a “take no prisoners” attitude, but my own cut through as smoothly as fresh butter kissed by a blazing knife. Traffic converged into a narrowing tunnel, yet we shot through, mere centimeters to spare.

Sloppy appeals were thrown heavenward as we lurched around bends, straddling the line blindly. I clung to my seat and prayed our karma stores were well-stocked.

Perhaps I was the next Bond girl, on the lam from gun-toting, maniacal villains, cruising toward a reckless, yet flawlessly choreographed, escape in our hatchback-turned-Aston-Martin. Any minute now the director would scream “Cut!”

Indeed, I was both shaken and stirred.

Or perhaps I was the hostage of some high-profile abduction, police choppers soaring overhead, and a harebrained kidnapper hunched over the steering wheel.

I glanced at Jake, seated to my left, sure to find him gagged and bound. But, no, he was merely wide-eyed and green-hued. A fellow terrified passenger out for a little jaunt to Foshan.

As you may notice, no photos accompany this blog to chronicle the above harrowing experience. But, when one is strapped into the roller coaster of doom, clinging by one’s toenails, one does not think about immortalizing the experience onto film.

Settling In

We survived that theme park ride of death, thanks to the ninja-quick reflexes of our driver, and have been safe in Foshan for a week since. Due to previous abroad experiences, culture shock has been minimal and jetlag tolerable. We have been supplied with a 2-bedroom apartment at the heart of Foshan, where traffic surges like hot blood through black-top inlaid arteries.

Our apartment is quite cozy, despite one sneaky lizard and bugs the size of my big toe. We’ve strategically placed bug poison around our apartment, several miniature land mines waiting to be tripped. But I often fear being accosted, under cover of night, and hauled away by widowers of those slain in battle.

Chinese food is absolutely delicious, and thus my gluttony thrives in this place. Better yet, it’s incredibly cheap. Jake and I can eat a meal of delectable beef noodle for under $2USD; by comparison, that’d buy only two greasy cheeseburgers off the dollar menu at McDonalds.

Freelancing

Our stay in Foshan is only temporary. By the end of July, we’ll move farther south to the coastal city of Zhuhai. When the school semester starts in August, we’ll be teaching English to children as young as kindergarten age.

For now, however, we tutor English 5 days a week. Remember Amy? (see The Long Road to China, chapter 12). Her daughter, Alice, is one of our students, along with a girl named Cathy. Each morning, at about 8 am, we take a city bus to her house on the outskirts of Foshan. The 30-minute bus ride is often done standing, crammed between strangers, and ends with me drenched in not only my own sweat, but that of everyone in a 5-foot radius.

Our 2-hour long sessions generally involve activities, games, and general conversational practice. Sometimes, however, getting the girls to talk is much like prying a pearl from the greedy grasp of a reluctant oyster. This is where the challenge lies, and is an exercise of our creativity, tenacity, and patience.

The girls are a joy to be around, and both possess good foundations in English. In China, children are required to learn English, and I am constantly impressed by how well most of them can speak it. As a monolinguist, I often feel quite dull by comparison.

All in all, tutoring is quite enjoyable. Plus, Amy is a fabulous cook (see mention of gluttony above). Each day, after tutoring, she feeds us a variety of home-cooked Chinese dishes. Needless to say, whether we find ourselves in one of the local restaurants or at Amy’s table, our bellies are always pleased.

Exploration

Throughout our first week, we have measured much of Foshan by our feet. It is a bustling city, filled with the rush of traffic, floods of varying smells, and a language I have yet to understand. Crossing the busy streets is a hilarity, straight out of a slapstick comedy. Once one has gathered the courage to face such a task, one must then traverse the streaming maze of scooters, buses, trucks, bicyclists, and fellow walkers. Not an easy feat. Our solution? Find a local and bond to him like sticky rice to a chopstick.

Since the nearly fatal drive detailed previously, we have become quite accustomed to the traffic here. There’s a certain flow which, once found, will lead you safely through the current. But, you sure won't find either of us behind the wheel.

Living room area of Foshan apartment

Living room area of Foshan apartment

Different view of living room

Different view of living room

Kitchen

Kitchen

See our photo gallery for more pics (right-hand side of page).

Posted by rovingduo 09:47 Archived in China Comments (9)

The Long Road to China

Before we begin present day blogs, we'd like to share the story of how we came to China - misadventures and mishaps included. By: Becky

95 °F

Chapter 1: May(hem)

It was the beginning of May – a month brimming with new beginnings: an impending graduation, procrastinated wedding plans, and a looming 22nd birthday.

As an accomplished procrastinator, I was scraping together the remnants of my final semester at MSSU. Sleepless nights spent frantically hacking out 10-page essays and downing pots of oolong tea were the norm. To-do lists were tacked like cheap wallpaper all about our apartment. In the midst of the mental mayhem, I even misplaced my planner – the holy tome which served as home to any stranded thoughts met with “no vacancy” at the door of my over-stuffed mind.

As if the wedding planning, graduation prepping, and what-am-I-going-to-do-after-college worrying weren’t entertaining enough, Jake and I were gripped by the sudden desire to live in China for a year.

It was my Communication Issues instructor who planted the idea, but my own travelling itch served as the fertilizer. He told me about an opportunity to teach English in China…all expenses paid.

Chapter 2: Roving Duo

For vagabonds like Jake and me, such as opportunity is much like dangling a plump rabbit within reach of a starving viper. Though, in our case, no furry critter need suffer.

As a child, I used to stare at maps and globes, envisioning places so far from my grasp. Within the past few years, however, those faraway dreams have begun to blend with reality. Last year, we returned from a semester spent in Taiwan. That experience proved travelling to be more feasible than I’d ever thought. Seeing the world is often something people hope to do; for us, it is what we intend to do.

Though eye-opening and irreplaceable, our Taiwan trip was tossed together like a bistro’s house salad. We swore never to jump into a trip so spontaneously ever again. We wisely agreed to carefully, slowly plan our next trip over a reasonable span of time. Because of this, I hesitated to tell Jake about the opportunity. We already had a trip to Japan in the works, and a jaunt to China was everything our newfound intentions were not.

But, anyone with even a shadow of the adventurer’s spirit knows such a thing can’t be silenced.
So, of course I told him.

Chapter 3: Up in Arms

After celebrating the early retirement of our previous no-more-spontaneous-abroad-trips policy, we made contact with Mr. Chen.

Owner of the company Ameri-Can, Chen places English teachers in Chinese schools. After a brief e-mail correspondence, we met with him at MSSU, along with 3 other college students.

Now, one must understand we assumed Chen need a limited number of teachers, making the other 3 students our supposed enemies. So, we prepped for battle and entered the meeting in full regalia. Resumes and cover letters were tweaked to perfection, and outfits were selected with all the care of a painter mixing his hues.

We arrived early, to scope out the battlefield. The other students trickled in, followed by a grinning Chinese man donned in spectacles and suspenders. Straight-backed in my chair, trying to appear like the most capable English teacher, the meeting commenced.

Chen brought along a veteran of the field, Linda, who had taught in Qingdao, China for years. The better part of the meeting was spent with her offering up experience and personal advice. A strained tension clung to the air, its claws digging into my confidence. We all took turns asking questions, doing our best not to sound like the ignorant Americans we likely were.

Finally, after the tension had brewed into a goopy soup, Jake asked, “So, are we all hired?” Chen smiled and said, “Of course!” as though there had never been any question of it. Suddenly, we were all the best of friends. Jake and I slipped our armor quietly to the floor, packed away the artillery, and wished our new friends luck in their capacities as English teachers.

The first hurdle was cleared.

Chapter 4: Shucking attachments like sweet corn

China preparations began and correspondence with Chen continued. Jake and I met with him the very next day, set on covering details of our departure.

The mood of the meeting was considerably more relaxed than the first, since we were no longer prepping for WWIII. As the discussion breached the topic of our departure, a potential problem wedged itself snuggly between gears which had otherwise been spinning smoothly. The volley of negotiations which ensued played out like a world-class fencing match. Chen, with lightening quick thrusts, and Jake crouched low, en garde. When asked when we needed to be in China, Chen quipped, “The day before yesterday,” before letting forth an uncontained chuckle. I smiled, old chums with his wit by that point, before informing Chen of the upcoming graduation, wedding, and honeymoon. “Could we leave around June 15th ?” Jake asked, saber set to parry. Slipping his glasses up the bridge of his nose and leaning forward with hands clasped atop the table, Chen said, “How about June 7th?” His attack slapped us like a saber across the face.

Jake and I exchanged an alarmed look, my own surprise mirrored by the furrow of his eyebrows. We hadn’t expected such an early date. Leaving in early June would give us about 3 weeks to shuck all attachments, pack, and be ready for China – a feat much like being pushed from a moon-bound shuttle and being told to fly.

“That’s really cutting it close,” Jake said. “I mean, after we get back from our honeymoon, we wouldn’t have time to prepare.”

“China could be your honeymoon,” Chen exclaimed, negotiating cozily from his chair. Laughing nervously, saber at our throats, Jake and I exchanged a glance of pure understanding.

“Actually, June 4th would be even better,” Chen said.

The match came to a close, and Chen was left with our forfeit and any hope we had had of post-graduation-wedding R and R.

Touché.

Chapter 5: Gowned in Mud

Like a carnival juggler twirling fire through the air, I did my best not to get burned. Our apartment was ransacked, residence of chaos itself. And I settled into the eye of the storm, fashioning end-of-semester papers like the miller’s daughter spinning golden thread in Rumpelstiltskin’s sweatshop.

Gowned and tasseled, I became a Missouri Southern alumna May 22nd, 2010. For the first time since entering kindergarten, I was no longer enrolled in any sort of educational institution. I breathed deeply, enjoyed the thrill of accomplishment, and then slinked back into the storm’s eye. I had a wedding to attend to.

The next morning dawned sore and bleary-eyed, after a night spent gluing endless flowers to an infinite number of centerpieces.

My family and I crammed dresses, decorations and frozen food into cars, slamming doors shut before unwanted avalanches could ensue. Then began my date with the Green Warden.

Time for a brief aside. You see, months previous to the events being recounted here, Jake and I borrowed an old van from my parents. Affectionately dubbed the Green Warden, ol’ Green was the first mode of vehicle transportation we’d had in years. Before that, Joplin was measured by our feet. After chugging along merrily for several months, our green friend began spewing smoke – after one particularly painful coughing fit, we rendered him undriveable…and we became walkers again.

Not long after, we came across a reasonably priced Ford Explorer and purchased him, gaining yet another green comrade. After a brief courtship, the Explorer died suddenly on the interstate: cause of death unknown. And we became walkers yet again.

With a honeymoon imminent and no way of getting to it, we needed to fix one of our green allies. Luckily, we had the assistance of a mechanically-inclined neighbor: John. Though unable to resurrect the Explorer, the Green Warden was back in commission. Our relationship was rekindled.

Fast forward to 7 days before the wedding. The day was drenched by continuous rainfall. Warden and I had visited my family for the weekend. After a round of good-bye hugs, I packed the Warden, shifted into reverse, tapped the gas – and went nowhere.

Here’s a helping of Becky’s finest advice, on the house: don’t park in the grass if the forecast calls for rain, and your vehicle is sans rear-wheel drive.

Warden’s engine churned, and his tires spewed, but we only dug a pre-mature grave in the mud. I called in familial reinforcements, and we spent an hour trying to free the green beast. We pushed this way, that way, packed the ground with straw, wooden boards, and anything else to gain traction. But, all we gained was another foot deeper in mud. An hour, and we were drenched, muddied, and as crazy-eyed as the Lost cast post-plane crash. And the Warden was as immovable as a beached whale.

A week passed, with hopes of the Warden’s muddy grave drying. After fruitless attempts at towing him, the day of the wedding arrived and our efforts were laced with anxiety.

Déjà vu hit without remorse, and I found myself sweaty and decked in mud. Clawing, shoveling mud as the clock gobbled minutes like a greedy mouse with cheese, and still the earth clung to my trapped friend.

Realized mud might clash with my wedding attire, I retreated to the bathroom, leaving my father with the reins of the rescue mission.

I emerged from a hurried shower to find our neighbor attaching his tractor to the Warden’s bum. Though the mud proved a stubborn prison, Warden finally broke free to the cheers of everyone present.

Moral of this aside: never take for granted the aid of helpful neighbors.

Chapter 6: Casting Off

Despite (or perhaps because of) the struggles which led to it, the wedding was beautiful. Without the tireless, selfless aid of my stepmother, the event likely would have taken place in a ramshackle courthouse. Instead, we were married outside, in front of loved ones, by our friend Jerry Myers. Our wedding vows expressed our love, friendship, and lifelong partnership. That day I not only married my soul mate, but my best friend.

The wedding was Asian inspired and reflected our fascination with the culture on many levels. Red cherry blossom branches set in rice-filled vases adorned every table. Zodiac scrolls and chopsticks accompanied each place setting, and a buffet of Chinese food awaited rumbling bellies.

The cake, a red velvet and cream cheese affair, featured a black and red cherry blossom branch snaking up the front of the top two tiers. The base was formed by rows of cupcakes topped with delicate blossoms. The groom’s cake was a perfectly formed yin yang, an obvious throw-back to Asian culture.

Cheeks sore from grinning, eyes glazed from a tirade of camera flashes, we spent our first married moments laughing and chatting with loved ones. It is an oddly surreal feeling to attend a gathering celebrating your love. Such an occasion is much like standing at the bow of a docked ship, waiting to push off into the unknown – the precipice of adventure.

Chapter 7: Invasion

With the Green Warden as our vessel, we set sail for our honeymoon. Destination: Wyndam Resort at Fairfield Bay. The 4-hour journey was fraught with curvy, swervy, winding roads, and an ambush from a surprise enemy.

The sun had retired for the night, and we were carefully scouting the darkness for our final turn off. Flashlight in hand, the better to read road signs with, Jake dropped the beam to the van’s floor and let out a sound of alarm. With darkness as their shield, pirate ants had climbed aboard. Droves of them feasted greedily on discarded McDonald’s cuisine. Remember the straw used to free the Green beast in Chapter 5? It seems it housed a nest of ants who ninja’d their way aboard the S.S. Warden.

Exhausted, road-weary, and ant-covered, we finally arrived at our 2-story condo. Our stay at the resort was just the recipe for relaxation we craved. Carefree days brimmed with Jacuzzi sessions, Fairfield Bay exploration, and catching up with the cast of Lost.

There wasn’t a to-do list in sight.

But, perhaps we were merely blind.

Chapter 8: Consolidation

With June 4th looming and endless preparations waiting at home, our honeymoon was sliced in half. Though we had until June 1st to move out, our landlady insisted on inspecting the apartment 3 days early. We tumbled from our road-faring vessel, legs stiff, backs sore, and dove sponges-first into a cleaning frenzy.

The toilet, tub, sink, stove, oven and floor tiles were scrubbed to such perfection they could have hosted Thanksgiving feast. I emerged from the glistening bathroom, fresh from a 409 bath, loopy and giggling uncontrollably. Everything was stored in boxes, adopted by the dumpster, or shoved into suitcases.

We collapsed near dawn, like twin marionettes forsaken by their master, and woke to greet our landlady.
The long-anticipated inspection took all of 5 minutes.

Chapter 9: Vagabonds

If the absence of a home makes one “homeless,” then Jake and I became such after the events of Chapter 8.

Bags packed, goodbyes said, and excitement building, we intended to stay with my parents until June 4th. Ol’ Green chugged his way to Rogers, Arkansas, and we set up camp in their spare bedroom. Little did they know we would become as permanent as the warm cream splashed across the walls.

Just before June 4th hit, we received an e-mail from Chen. Negotiations with the Chinese school had gotten rocky, and our original departure date was scratched.

Having become quite flexible in our old age, we took the news stoically and optimistically. More time to prepare, look for teaching materials, and visit family. No biggie.

We hopped from house to house, like bunnies on pogo sticks, and stayed with various family members. Days were spent murdering time until a new departure date was set. We lived from our suitcases, slept on floors, and had more free time than the universe has stars. It’s amazing how one longs to be productive, when faced with a never-ending stasis.

Another date was set, bags were re-packed, goodbyes were re-said, and excitement was rebuilt … as was disappointment. Again, negotiations hit a brick wall, and we remained the homeless vagabonds, Green Warden our vessel.

With the tail of June in sight, our exasperations hit their peak, while our optimism reservoirs went dry. Our frustrations were relayed to Chen, and another date was decided on. After taking the news with a large grain of salt, we re-enacted the previous we’re-going-to-china efforts. With a battle tank and full battalion guarding our optimism, we weren’t surprised when the date was cancelled yet again.

“We are now looking at the end of July or beginning of August,” Chen said via e-mail.

We had reached our shattering point. Having quit our jobs, shortened our honeymoon, hurried from our apartment, and cut all financial obligations in order to leave by June 4th, our patience was battered, bruised, and blistered. The idea of another month in limbo was not one we could swallow easily. Such a pill would need to be downed with a drink stronger than mere water.

Traitorous thoughts marched through our minds, such as scrapping the entire trip altogether. But, after all we had sacrificed and suffered, paired with our desire to live in China, we refused to give up. Following a not-so-minor breakdown, a frustrated phone call to Chen, and long talks to hash things out, we let go of our frustrations and prepared (mentally and emotionally) for another month in the U.S. We relaxed, spent a couple nights camping, and returned to find several e-mails and voice mails from Mr. Chen.

The negotiations had succeeded. The contract was signed. Within 24 hours, we would leave for China.

Chapter 10: The Long Road to….where?

So, we landed in Korea, and that was that.

The End

Chapter 11: Okay, Serioulsy

Just kidding. This tale isn’t titled, “The Long Road to Korea,” after all.

Below is the itinerary for our trip.

July 10, 2010, 08:40, departed XNA for Chicago
July 10, 2010, 12:35, departed Chicago for Seoul, Korea
July 12, 2010, 09:40, departed Seoul for Guangzhou, China

Departing the 13 hour transcontinental flight from Chicago, we entered into a 17 hour layover at the Seoul Airport. A brief scouting of the airport showed we weren’t the only passengers stranded for the night. People curled up for a few winks of sleep anywhere they could lay their heads: benches, chairs, random floor space.

Eager to be mobile, after 13 hours of being crammed like chips in a Pringles can, Jake and I ventured through the airport. The place had everything imaginable: massage parlors, showers, restaurants, nurseries, shops, and snack bars. After sampling over-priced coffee and fresh from much-needed showers, we settled down in our own little nest. Though neither of us had slept since before our first flight, we managed only an hour or two of restless slumber.

Morning hit, and we basked in yet another round of showers, gluttonous in the luxury to do so. We boarded our flight, waved goodbye to Korea, and hit the sky.

Chapter 12: Finally

Our flight landed at about noon China time, and the humidity-drenched air hit us hard. We plucked our bags from the luggage carousel and lugged them through customs. According to Chen, his associate would be holding a placard with our names on it. After a few minutes of confused searching, pushing through herds of milling people, we spotted our quarry. Donned in a bright yellow shirt over zebra print leggings, she stood out as clearly as a foreigner in a Taiwanese night market. This was Amy, our deliverance into China.

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