Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Gan Bei! (Bound feet and bai jiu)

Okay, so I can't really even begin to describe the first 4 days of China. I have done such mindblowing things already, I don't even think I can do them justice.

Our time here didn't really start until Day 2 because by the time we got to Kunming we had all been travelling for over 35 hours and we were ready to drop. We will be staying, at least until we move into our two-week homestay, in an international student hostel/dorm on the Yunnan Normal University campus. It just so happens that students from the Duke/Wesleyan/WashU Chinese program are also staying there, which means that not only are the lovely Diana Shum and I staying on the same campus in the same building, but we are living on the same floor! Very exciting. The hostel is modest by American standards, but it has two beds (which feel like sleeping on tables, the Chinese style), a bathroom with a Western toilet (such luxury!), and a TV, so we're doing very well for China, even some of the places we've been since. My roommate is named Tania-- she goes to Hampshire and we seem to have a lot in common, but she actually arrived a day late due to airline snafus.

We began Day 2 (the fullest day of my life, I think) with a Chinese breakfast, which is an odd mix of sweet (muffins, rolls) and salty (meat soup, chicken, etc.) Then we got into our group van and drove down to Tonghai, a small city about 3 hours south of Kunming. The SIT program has special connections in Tonghai, but it is very much not a tourist destination. We stayed in Tonghai 3 days and I did not see a single Westerner. When we walked in the streets we were stared at, and an old woman pointed at me, smiling toothlessly and crowing "lao wai!" which is a not-so-nice word for foreigner. Tonghai was not the "countryside" I was expecting but it was a priceless chance to get to see Chinese life as it really is, mostly unmarred by the evils of the tourism industry.

We had some free time in Tonghai, and I bought myself a used cellphone, charger, extra battery, and all the minutes I will ever need for Y300, about $35. I'm dorkily excited about answering my phone "Wei?" which is the Chinese way. Ashley, a tripmate who is almost fluent and has spent a great deal of time working on her thesis in Tibet and Xinjiang (two remote areas) helped me to get a great deal and made friends with the saleswoman in the process. I can't believe how much my Chinese speaking and listening has improved already. Only 4 days. Listening to Ashley bargain and negotiate was very much an educational experience.

Before our dinner we drove to a small village outside Tonghai, where a group of women with bound feet still live. Tonghai is so remote that the Revolution didn't arrive there until much later than in most parts of China, and so the practice of binding feet (considered to be a great trait in females) wasn't abolished until later either. This means there are still some women alive in Tonghai whose feet have been bound. We went to their village and saw them dance, with slow movements akin to pool gymnastics, and then they asked us to dance with them, which was pretty incredible. And it says something about our group that, although we were laughing (and so was the crowd that came to watch us), none of us felt the need to pretend to be "too cool for this." Watching these women, with their twisted, tiny feet, was incredibly powerful. I didn't think I would ever see something like that.

But the day went on, adding to "things I thought I would never see/do." Next on the list was the dinner with Chinese officials. It is custom for Chinese officials to toast their guests with "bai jiu" or rice wine, an incredibly strong liquor. They stand up and yell "Gan bei!" (like "cheers!") and you have to drink with them. You can say "I don't want it!" or "I'm allergic" but they won't listen, and they consider it an insult for you to flat out refuse. Ashley had 14 full shots of Bai Jiu the first night, and was taking shots over the officials' shoulders (sort of a "group hug" drinking position) before the night was out. It was a big bonding experience for all of us, though, since we were watching the officials and our tripmates become sillier and sillier. Even one of our teachers, Chen Laoshi, was drunk. The officials started singing Chinese drinking songs and the night just got crazier from there...

The second floor of our hotel played host to "KTV" which is what Chinese people call karaoke. We decided it would be fun to try some after the officials left.In KTV you get your own room and it's like a private karaoke party. A lot of us were in the room drinking Chinese beer and singing bad American pop (Michael Jackson, Backstreet Boys) when Chris, a southern deadhead from South Carolina, came back with a Chinese friend he made in the bathroom. After awhile, the friend when and got more friends, and all of a sudden the room was a dance party, complete with a strobe light and sterio. I never knew how party rooms could end up trashed until now... those Chinese kids were crazy, dancing on the tables, breaking glasses. We were all overtired and jetlagged and basically in shock. We couldn't believe it was actually happening.

It's pretty late and Kailey, one of my tripmates, wants to go back to campus because we're still jetlagged. But coming in my next entry: my trip to see 800-year old Buddhist temples on mountains, my 15 minutes playing the er hu (Chinese violin), Tania and I draw a crowd, the group performs for Mongolian minorities.

Gan bei!

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Hong Kong Ho!

I'm currently in the Hong Kong airport with 7 of my trip-mates (a couple went exploring the airport.) We're using the free Wi-Fi, and I'm taking advantage of a fee cyber cafe (everyone brought a computer but me.... uh oh, I hope I won't regret this decision.) At least in Hong Kong it seems that Blogger is available for my use. Cedric told me that it might be censored in mainland PRC (That stands for People's Republic of China), but that remains to be seen. The airport itself is crazily spotless and very humid, with enormous rainforest-covered mountains starting just outside the runway. Everyone speaks English so far, but that's going to change mighty soon. I remarked to trip-mate Mike that we must look very strange wandering around the airport in a pack and he replied "and we're only going to look stranger." The longer this trip goes, the more foreign we will seem to the people we visit.

The flight from LA was obscenely long, I've been travelling for almost 30 hours now and we have a 3.5 hour layover before we make the final leg to Kunming. I managed to sleep about 8 hours on the flight, but it was almost 16 hours so that didn't help with cabin fever very much. Watched some "House," a couple segments of "The Departed" and a crazy long extra-cheesy movie about rival Mahjongg masters that made me want to learn. I think that's a new goal. I'm feeling a strange mixture of excitement and nervousness right now, but that's good, that I'm feeling anything. I guess it's awfully hard to deny when you're already in the midst of things.

I just can't really process that I'm here and will be there (in Kunming, I mean) soon. I've been talking about this trip for so long that I don't really understand how to be on it (which reminds me of the column I wrote for the Argus... I should post that sometime soon.)

My trip mates seem cool so far, although of course it's tough to tell so soon. But we've all been looking out for each other as we wander around the airport for this looooong layover. And we're sort of in that "new place" freshman year of college mindset where everyone wants to make friends. I hope it lasts.

Things I forgot that I Probably Should Have Brought:
-Shower shoes
-My computer?

I'm sure the list will lengthen.

I will try to write soon. Hopefully I'll be able to get to Blogger in Kunming. Otherwise, my current plan of action is to e-mail entries to my mother so she can get to the blog and post.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Because I'm going to China tomorrow....

...Ireland pictures!

Dublin Castle, right in the heart of Dublin. Pretty cool.

A typical Dublin street, part cosmopolitan Europe, part old-world Anglo

Inside Trinity gates.

Emily's ridiculous Georgian front hall

Tesco's Busty Cake. No further description required.

Pictures of hijinks at the Stag's Head (site of wonderful Irish music, amorous Frenchmen, and our new friend, Allison)

Okay, labels are becoming a pain, so I'm just going to post pictures unless it gets easier.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The last 48 hours, in more ways than one

Here I present to you: a description of my last few days in Ireland. Afterwards will come pictures of Ireland aplenty. All the while I am frantically packing. I leave on my flight for LA at 11:30 Friday morning. My itinerary looks like this: Boston --> San Francisco --> LA --> Hong Kong --> Kunming. It is going to be a LONG trip.

So: after staying up way, way late with Ollie talking about all manner of interesting things and looking at an old book all about little towns in Ireland, I curled up with the dogs in their bedroom (yes, the dogs have a bedroom) and slept well. In the morning, I had a simple breakfast and then Brenda and I went to Graignamaugh, which sounds kind of like Grandma when you say it but not quite. The drive to Graignamaugh was just as magical as the town itself, more of the Irish Countryside You Thought Didn't Actually Exist, with incredibly green, rolling hills, shetland ponies, dilapidated barns, old farmhouses whose roofs are no covered in ivy and leaves from the trees growing in/through/around them. In Graignamaugh, Brenda took me to a very old Abbey which has been reconstructed as it was in 1000something AD. It was almost completely empty and had beautiful glass windows and a diorama of what the full abbey complex (which is no longer standing) would have looked like. Afterwards we took a walk along the Barrow, which is another little river, like the Nore in Inistioge, that divides up the countryside. We saw all sorts of painted barges on the river, from Travellers (that's the word these days for gypsies) who come through.

I had to catch the bus back to Dublin in time to see "Shirley Valentine," the play Emily set designed for, so Brenda drove me back into Thomastown, but not before Ollie had written down a list of typically Irish snacks that I should buy for the trip. I settled on Mariettas, a sweet, sort of vanilla-flavored biscuit. The ride back was quite wonderful, we went through a few towns we had skipped on the way down including a charming small city call Naas, but I actually fell asleep for most of it. Not before I spotted the partial rainbow as the clouds parted, though. No pot of gold that I could see-- alas.

Managed to meet up with Katrina and Emmalee and we again traipsed the city looking for a suitable restaurant, before deciding on fast food kebabs at a chain called Abrakebabra (harhar.) We were part of a ten-person audience at "Shirley Valentine," which was a one woman play, all monologue, but quite good and the set was excellent. Emily found out later that night that the play was selected to go to a national drama festival in North Ireland during St. Patrick's weekend-- very exciting. Post-play, we trooped over to Temple Bar again to discover Half Moon, a late night crepery with OBSCENELY delicious crepes. Colm, Emily's Irish kinda-boyfriend, came with us, and there we discovered another random cultural difference. Picture the scene:

Emily: [picks at her crepe, which has marshmallows and nutella in it] Why is the inside pink, do you think?
Colm: Well obviously. Marshmallows only come in pink and white, do the math.
Us: [staring at him] Noooo... marshmallows only come in white.

Turns out that in Ireland you can only buy marshmallows in mixed bags of pink and white. Another random cultural difference (also, Irish paperclips are gold.)

My final day in Ireland was the most touristy, mostly because it suddenly dawned on me that I was leaving the next day and I lost the tourist shame that kept me from taking too many pictures (how could I not take pictures of Brenda and Ollie? Honestly.) Emily and I had a leisurely breakfast and then she got me into the Book of Kells exhibit at Trinity for free. The Book of Kells is said to be one of the most richly decorated ancient books in the world (It was made in approx. 800 AD). There was a really interesting exhibit about how the ancient books were made-- binding, calligraphy, grinding the inks, etc-- and the book itself was really gorgeous. We also stopped by the Long Room at Trinity Library, which is basically this heart-stoppingly enormous hall filled to the brim with a copy of basically every book published in Ireland since the mid 1600s. The ceiling is enormously high, two stories, and every wall is filled with books. It was definitely a sight to see, but they sadly didn't allow photography. Emmalee and I waited for Emily while she went and did an errand, watching a Trinity a capella group perform on the steps of the Examination Hall, and then we went off to Bewley's Oriental Cafe, where we had fancy coffee drinks and scones and were generally touristy and caffeinated.

Next stop: St. Stephen's Green, an enormous landscaped park in the heart of Dublin. It was quite a lovely day, sunny and everything, and we had fun watching the ducks and admiring the greenery. Emily split off from us then, and Emmalee and I spent the rest of the day exploring North and then Medieval Dublin. Walking around North Dublin (the "sketchy side" of Dublin) was interesting because it was, indeed a little more dilapidated, but mostly just very different in atmosphere from the rest of the city. I think it gets a bad rap, though. It was still charming. Emmalee and I got special student tickets to go up the Chimney, a converted industrial chimney with an observation deck on the top. It felt like the excellent way to round out my trip-- the 360 degree view of the entire city felt like a perfect sum-up of the whole thing. Add to that that we had probably the best half an hour of light all day, and you have a magical trip-ending experience for E3.50. We had seen a really old-looking church from the top of the Chimney, and so Emmalee and I went to explore to find it. It didn't have a name, but the plaque outside told us that it was established in 988 AD. As we wandered across the Liffey into real Medeival Dublin, that number started to seem like the norm. Old Cathedrals, the oldest Pub in Ireland (established 1098 AD), a chunk of the original city walls. It was wonderful to think about these structures withstanding the forces of time as the city grew, morphed, changed around them. Another excellent way to finish my trip.

For dinner, we met Katrina at a Nepalese retaurant I'd read about in my book, which was quite delicious, followed by gellato at a hip store down the street in Temple Bar. The night was very relaxed, we bought jewelry, met up with Emily and Colm at the Palace Pub, where I tried Bailey's Irish Cream (it only seemed right), and decided ultimately not to go out dancing because it was late, Katrina wasn't feeling well, and the place we wanted to go cost more than we had thought. It was a fantastic last night, however, drinking in the city as much as possible, trying to remember the ambiance, the lights on the old buildings, the accents drifting from people around me. Enough to satisfy me and get me through the long trip home.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Yes, "Dear"-- Days 2 and 3

I'm back in the states now, but I don't want to forget to write about all the wonderful things I did after my first day in Ireland. I'll write it all down, slowly but surely. There will be a picture post coming soon, as well.

Irish Extravaganza, Day 2
Come to find out, my travel alarm clock fails at its major duty (namely waking me up.) Katrina and Emmalee showed up at 11 am, and I was so dead asleep that I didn't recognize them for a full 45 seconds. We eventually navigated to Pearse Station, where we purchased E7.20 day passes to aid in our adventurousness. Unfortunately, the DART line south all the way to Bray and Greystones in County Wicklow was out of order, so we could only ride down to Dalkey, the furthest south portion of Dublin (just two more locations to put on my "wish I could have gone to" list, which also includes Galway, the Ring of Kerry, and... yeah, just most of the West coast). Luckily, Dalkey was quite charming, with little windy roads and a couple "castles" (old fortified houses) plopped down in the middle. We explored quite a bit, had some coffee, and found our way down past a working Abbey to the Irish Sea. The sun proceded to come out for the first time (What? I have a shadow?) After our adventure to Dalkey, we returned to Dun Laoghaire, another stop on the DART, where there is a 2 km-long wharf out into the bay. We took our time taking pictures of the boats, the waterfront, the lighthouses. It was quite lovely in the setting sun. For dinner, our Adventure Policy (stop wherever we want and see what happens) went a little awry, as we ended up in an Industrial Park. So we went back to Dublin City Proper, to the super-chic Temple Bar area. There, our waiter made fun of Katrina for getting a hamburger.

Irish Extravaganza, Day 3.
Emily woke me before her Monday class with the idea that I would shower and meet her for breakfast near Trinity before heading to the bus station. She told her roommate I was coming up and left. However, by the time I was ready to go upstairs, I had encountered two problems:

1) When the girls living in the basement, where I slept, left, they locked the door. Thus, I learned important Lesson #2-- Irish doors lock from the inside.
2) When I used Emily's cell phone, which she had left with me, to call her roommate, the roommate had left as well, and locked the door to her room (with the shower and all my clothes in it) behind her.

I considered the situation and concluded that I was trapped in an Irish basement (a good basis for the sequel to "Trapped in the Closet"? I think so.) After freaking out for 15 minutes, I discovered a side door which was mercifully unlocked and planned to meet Emily in my pajamas and explain the situation. Luckily, she came home early, so I was able to shower quickly, dress, and even get to the bus station on the other side of the Liffey (the river that runs through Dublin) in time to catch the bus to Thomastown.

I purchased my ticket and resolved to look out the window during the 2.5 hour ride, but encountered culture difference again. In the states, the best place for window-looking is the right side of the bus. Not so, of course, in Ireland. I felt quite silly once I realized my mistake. Luckily, once we got out into the country the roads were narrow enough that it didn't matter. I spent the ride feeling totally enchanted-- the view of verdant fields, sheep, little sleepy towns with ruined castles or abbeys in them, white churches against the hills. As we passed through Carlow, two boys in school uniforms motioned to the busdriver to honk his horn. He did, and the excitement on their faces made me smile, too. A village called Castledermot, left me sorely tempted to get off and just wander along its winding alleys. Every corner looked like a postcard. Another force attempting to convince me off track: the guy sitting in front of me on the bus. He introduced himself to me as Ben and proceded to attempt to convince me, in a strange Irish/Spanish accent, to forget my friends in Thomastown and to go on to Waterford with him, which he assured me is "very quiet and beautiful, not dear like Dublin" (Lesson 2.5: "Dear" is Irish slang for "expensive.") I managed to rebuff his advances, but he did tell me when we stopped at Thomastown (Lesson 3: Unlike in the States, Irish public busdrivers do not announce stop names as the bus pulls in, meaning that if you've never been to a place before you're a little screwed.)

Given this fact, when Brenda (the woman I was to stay with) didn't immediately meet me as I got off the bus, the first thing I did was to make sure I was actually in Thomastown. Some of the small downtown's signs indicated that I was, and so I was set to do a little bit of problem solving. I reminded myself that I was not, in fact, stranded in the middle of the Irish countryside (albeit in a very charming town in the middle of said countryside) and went into a bank to ask for help. The woman promptly called Brenda, and Ollie (Brenda's son, who is 27) came to pick me up. He drove me about 7 km back to Capagh, a tiny enclave outside a still-tiny (population in the hundreds) village called Inistioge (pronounced Inis-TEEG). We zipped through increasingly narrow and windy roads, the Rone river silver in the valley below, before turning down a lane so stereotypically charming that I actually thought, "You're fucking kidding me." Brenda lives in a little wooden cottage in the back of the house she lived in most of her life but which she recently sold. There is a vegetable garden, a fantastic bird feeder filled with strangely colored birds (blue and yellow finches, pink robins), and a stream running through the yard. It was so picturesque I could barely breathe. For the moment, Brenda shares the house with Ollie (who is back home after breaking up with a longtime girlfriend) and three dogs-- Fiann, Jessie, and Sasha (but I think it has a more complicated Gaelic spelling.) The dogs were unendingly adorable. Jessie gives hugs (she gets up on your lap and puts her arms around your waist), and they've all figured out how to open the door from both sides, and come and go as they please. Brenda took me up to Woodstock, an old noble estate that the family in power in the area recently donated to the Inistioge villagers. They've started to manicure the place as it would have been a long time ago, although all the structures are ruins that were burnt out in "The Troubles" (what Irish people call the past history of civil unrest). She knew incredible amounts about botany, and was able to point out any number of species of trees as we passed. It was a very pretty walk, but really I could have just driven around all afternoon. That Irish countryside had its hooks in me. I was just hungry for the view.

Ollie made us dinner in the house's little kitchen, and we commenced a night of talking. About so much-- politics, culture, differences between Ireland and the US, funny stories, serious stories. I had assumed that because Ollie sort of drifts around and doesn't do a whole lot that he wasn't particularly sharp (which is admittedly elitist of me), but he had just as large a knowledge base as his mother, and our discussions lasted through visits to two pubs in tiny Inistioge center. The pubs were even more of "what pubs should be" than even the Stag's Head, mostly because they were in the middle of the Irish Countryside. All the locals knew each other, the bartender greeted Brenda and knew what to make her. An old, drunk Irishman came up and put his arm around me and slurred at me in Gaelic. The only part I caught was "Milanna," which Brenda told me means "pet" or "sweetheart" in Traveller tongue. The man is an Inistioge councilman who, in Brenda's words, "gets paid to start drinking at 11 AM, and a right good job he does." We drove home at breakneck pace from the pubs, narrowly avoiding the police lorry (issues of drunk driving run rampant,) and proceeded to stay up until almost 3 AM continuing our discussion of the realities of Ireland, politics. I explained the SATs and a testing society to Ollie, and he explained Ireland's system, in turn. He and Brenda told me, repeatedly, that I was "very well-informed for an American." I chose to take this as a compliment.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

A 30 hour day

I made it to the airport, miraculously (I'm typing from a strange pay-as-you-go internet station, I used up all my small Euro change.) Got up at 5 AM GMT which isn't morning or even late at night EST. I'm going to be awake for more than 24 hours before the day is through, and I only slept about 2 hours last night. I'm proud of myself for getting here, though, I trekked through sleeping Dublin to the AirCoach stop, only having to ask for directions once, I thought I managed to lose my iPod headphones (but didn't), and I successfully e-checked in, although I will have to recheck in (?) in Paris. I have about E5 left to buy coffee in Charles De Gaulle.
Home again, home again, jiggity jig.

P.S. European keyboards are very strange! I didn't think there was anything different until I went to type symbols and found them all in different places (to make room for the dollar and Euro sign, presumably.) Odd!

Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Right Way to Drink a Guinness

Lesson #1 of my Ireland trip: If you ever go to Ireland, be aware-- the Irish are watching how you drink your Guinness, and they are judging you for it.

Day 1 of my Irish Extravaganza was one of the longest days of my life, both literally (it kind of stretched on for 48 hours) and figuratively. My mother put me in the security line at Logan Airport around 3:00 PM EST on Friday and my histamines promptly revved to life, for no reason I could understand. Benadryl didn't seem to help, and I spent all of the flight to New York and much of the flight to Dublin sneezing uncontrollably. After a couple of hours my nose was raw and red, and even after I stopped sneezing it continued to run, so I had the good fortune of entering Ireland continually wiping my red, raw nose and looking much like a cocaine addict. Other than allergies, my flight went swimmingly. Waiting to board in JFK I chatted with an Irish woman waiting to go home and see family, my first encounter with the famous Irish friendliness. The over-sea flight was nowhere near full, so I had my own two-seat row and was able to stretch out a little and get a few hours of sleep.

I'm not sure why, but I had somehow expected that it would be at least a little bit light when we arrived in Dublin. However, we arrived around 6:30 AM GMT (half an hour early after leaving 45 minutes late...huh?) and it was finally beginning to get light as I emerged from customs an hour and a half later. There I encountered my first bout of culture shock. I had agreed to call Emily to let her know I would be catching the train to the Trinity gates, but I had no idea how many of the digits from the number I dialed in the states would apply in country. It took me a full four tries staring down the public phone before she sleepily answered, and then I set out to find the AirCoach, another confusing feat.

I met Emily in front of the Trinity University gates, and we walked the fifteen minutes to her flat, which is in the famous area of Merrion Square. It's quite remarkable that Emily's program placed her in this area, which is all Georgian townhouses, very posh (pictures will follow once I am stateside.) We ate some (homemade!) banana bread and got me coffee and then set out into the Dublin morning, wandering around the city for what turned out to be almost 4 hours. I barely noticed-- I was too busy the accents, the mix of more modern and older architecture, local and internatioanl flavors, just all the difference around me. We walked around Trinity, down Grafton Street (a pedestrian shopping district,) and up to Dublin Castle, then stopped for a brunch-like meal at The Queen of Tarts, a positively adorable coffee shop across from the castle where everything was red. At one point I was telling Emily about the bevy of drug issues that seem to crop up in Belmont and the chatter in the cafe got quiet as I uttered the words "underage prostitution and cocaine ring." The couple sitting next to us and who had been shooting us curious looks dissolved into laughter. It was awkwardly hilarious.

At about this time my body gave out for the first time (it had been 36 hours since I got any decent sleep), and so we went back to the house until Emmalee came into the city from Dublin City University, where she and Katrina are studying, about 4 km away. We got a lunch/dinner type meal and went on a quest to Tesco, a grocery store, where many Brits and Janie had gone before me. Although I had just intended to get snacks and breakfast food, we ended up doing a full investigative mission, as I've always heard you can learn a lot about a place from its grocery stores. What we found was: the Busty Cake (picture forthcoming). Yes, a cake shaped like breasts. I'm not sure what this product's availabity in family supermarkets says about modern Irish society.

We met up with Emily and Katrina and spent our night in the city-- first at a lovely Italian restaurant, then Stag's Head Pub, where there happened to be live traditional Irish music. The Pub was everything you could ever want a pub to be. Dimly lit with shiny wood finishing and a map from before the USSR broke up. Busy, bustling, crowded. Getting to the bar required a great deal of physical force and elbows, but we managed to get drinks and, after a bit of good luck, a table right next to the performers. The live music was just wonderful and rollicking, featuring an Irish flute, a strange drum whose name unfortunately escapes me, and Irish guitar. The group performed covers (Bob Dylan, Paul Simon) and more traditional pieces, a Mummer's dance and a lot of old folk songs that involved drinking, lost women, and love for Old Eire. As time went on, and the crowd got drunker and drunker, the bar started to fill with people singing along. Once we past the 11:30 mark, some started to dance, too-- traditional step dancing, which was wonderful to watch and looks like a lot of fun.

Spirits were especially high because of a very important rugby match between Ireland and France that was to go on the next day. An especially vocal bunch of drunk Frenchmen in French colors took a liking to Emmalee, insisting that she dance with them and asking her to sit on their laps. While we looked on, amused, an Irish woman who looked like she couldn't have been much older than us, maybe 26, introduced herself. We talked to her, her boyfriend, and his friends for the rest of the night. It was she who taught me the Guinness lesson. When a particularly intoxicated girl was starting to act disorderly, we were speculating as to her nationality, and Allison claimed that she could not be Irish because Irish people don't let Guinness "go stale"-- when it loses its head and instead gets sort of soap bubble foam on the top. Lesson# 1: completed.

We stayed at the Stag's Head for more than three hours, but I, for one, was completely content. Surrounded by the sweet music, happily singing drunks, and free flowing talk (an Irish man found out Emily was from Maryland and couldn't stop talking about Chesapeake Bay), we learned the choruses to knee-slapping songs, nursed our drinks (I am partial to Bulmer's hard cider, I have discovered) and soaked in the strength of pub camraderie. I felt completely high on all the difference. That's really the only way to describe the soaring feeling in my chest, just purely thrilled at being allowed to experience this slice of life. I couldn't help thinking as I looked around at the packed pub-- why would I want to spend money on anything but this feeling? This is why I travel.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

In Which I Reach the Emerald Isle in One Piece

After a long flight during which, due to unfortunate circumstances (largely the allergy attack from hell), I was unable to sleep more than two hours, I reached Ireland. I had a wonderfully fantastically exhausting day that started with wandering around Dublin for 4.5 hours and ended bonding with drunken Irish people singing enthusiastically to traditional music in a Pub.

Emmalee, Katrina, and I are off for a DART (Dublin Area Rapid Transit) adventure tomorrow using all-day passes for E8.20, so I need to go to bed, because it's late (contrary to the time stamp on this entry, it's actually in the 3:30 AM vicinity) and I still only got about 4 hours of sleep in the past 36 or whatever hours. A long, exhaustive entry will come soon and once I get home, so will pictures.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Getting Ready to Get Ready

My first ever real post in this brand spanking new blog. But it feels good, because it means that I'm actually acknowledging the fact that I'm leaving. Soon. I spent so many of the past weeks pretending to myself that working for a boring pharmaceutical company was all there was, but in the past week or so I've woken up and started preparing, mentally and physically. I got my visa in the mail, got three Ireland guides out of the library (I was standing in front of the shelf agonizing over which one to get and then remembered, "Oh! It's a library! They're free!" I won't bring all of them, probably just two.) We bought me an uber-suitcase-- seriously, this is every suitcase you could ever want combined into one-- at Macy's for 50% off. And I leave for Ireland in 54 hours. Once I'm on the plane-- then I'm REALLY going to have to come to grips with all of this.

Also, I've been looking through my pictures from the last time I went to China in the past few days. I rediscovered this picture, which I took in Lijiang. The women are Naxi. I will be doing a Naxi homestay sometime in April.

Sunday, February 4, 2007