Letters Home

This is a compendium of all the emails I wrote home from China during the course of my travels…most of which were then forwarded to a large number of friends, family, and other folks from my hometown.

Subject: ni hao
Date: Sat, 23 Jun 2001 05:47:18 -0400
From: “Philip Magistro”

Hello!
Just wanted to write and let you know that I made it here safe and sound. Haven’t slept all that much in the last two days, and it’s kinda wearing on me. We flew in over the north pole….directly north from detroit and over the arctic sea then across siberia and into china. It was really fantastic…still pretty long. We’re being put up in a hotel on Bei-Da campus…it is pretty much the nicest place around…definitely good enough for me. Have some plans to go out to dinner and then gonna crash. I’m picking up a tiny bit of chinese….really need to work on that though. Anyhow, I’m gonna get going….I’ll be in touch!

Phil

Subject: wo yao shuo zhongwen
Date: Sun, 24 Jun 2001 08:39:23 -0400
From: “Philip Magistro”

Hello!

How’s it going? Must be nice…eating pizza and spaghetti and hamburgers and having forks and knives and spoons and things like that. Being able to drink the water, speak the language. :) It is very very different over here….Europe and America are pretty much the same. The Western World, it’s all the same. This place is different. Everything…the food, the language….I’mnot having trouble adjusting at all but it sure is eye-opening.
I’m loving the language. It’s really tough…I learn a new phrase every hour or so…but have to keep a little notebook of useful stuff in my pocket to keep it all straight. I’ve also picked up a handful of characters, maybe ten in all. Just the basics…the biggest problem is that when I tell people that I do not understand what they are saying (or even that I don’t speak chinese at all) they just keep talking. It gets pretty pointless: Something in chinese, I don’t understand, chinese, I don’t understand….etc etc. So eventually I apologize and walk away. Oh well…I’m trying.
The food is good and really inexpensive. I’m eating things that I never thought I’d ever eat: sea cucumber, lotus root, ham hocks, and a handful of dishes that I don’t know what they contained and I can’t really compare to anything else I know. It’s all chopsticks…but they work fine for me. I’ve hesitated here and there regarding the cleanliness of this stuff, but I figure, I’m here and I have to eat, so may as well dig in.
I bought myself a bicycle today. :) I paid nine bucks for a bike with a lock, and now can participate in the preferred means of transportation. I haven’t really explored much with it yet…I’m sticking with the bikeless remainder of the group at this point and learning how to get around the immediate area. You should see this campus…it is HUGE. Gardens everywhere, fantastic chinese architecture, a massive rock climbing tower, pools and lakes, bikes crowding every corner. It’s pretty cool.
Anyhow, that’s about all I have to say…talk to you later!!

Phil

Subject: wo ai zhong guo
Date: Wednesday, June 27, 2001 3:19 AM
From: “Philip Magistro”

Hey!

Send my emails to everyone…..I probably won’t be able to personally respond to everyone but I can do my best. (Not that the 80cents per hour internet cafe is going to break me, but my fingers get tired :) ). So anyhow, as the subject line says, I love china. This country is fantastic…you walk in to a restaurant with a group and they guide you right to a room all set and ready, then take your order and let you be….service is great, the food is strange and amazing, and the bill is ridiculously small. Honestly, I haven’t paid more than $4 yet for a meal….even lavish banquets with more dishes than I can even sample. And it’s such strange fare…lotus roots, eggplant, sea cucumber, as well as some more normal stuff…sweet and sour chicken, rice, broccoli. I can hold my own in chinese in a restaurant, as well as with the street vendors. I’ve learned a few phrases that illicit laughter from the locals: bie doughle!! (don’t play games with me!) and kai wangxiao…tai guile! (you’re kidding me….too expensive!). I love the language…it is so much fun.
Let’s see..what else is fun. Well, this is kinda funny too. One of the chinese girls here taught me to sing the national song…it translates to “without the communist party there is no new china”….the locals get a big kick out of that. (Don’t worry…it’s not offensive or even controversial…but for a westerner to even know the tune is pretty funny.)
We toured the Hutong yesterday…little winding roads by rickshaw. It’s the old city, with walled off courtyards and four families to a compound. Nice places….though the one we toured was subsidized by the tourist agency.
What else…this place is crazy! There is no law really….traffic is nuts. (Picture five lanes of cars in a three lane road, red and green lights not even noticed. We had a lecture today on the chinese political system. It was fascinating, the different viewpoints on things. Take this for example. The lecturer had a friend who tried to start a company in the USA…the friend came back to china and said that his biggest impression in USA was the lack of liberty! Here was the logic: in China, you can get whatever you want by greasing the right palms, whereas in the USA everything is legalistic and restrictive. Something to think about at least. (I don’t know that democracy would work here…at least not until rule by law is established.)
I think that’s about enough….any longer and I’ll have to break a really really big bill (about $10 US) to pay for my time on the computer :)

Talk to you later! Iho zai shuo ba!
Phil

Subject: would you do me a favor?
Date: Sun, 1 Jul 2001 01:24:37 -0400
From: “Philip Magistro”

Hey!
Would you do me a favor? I have to write a couple of papers while I am here and would like to save them..could you hold onto the attached file? Read it if you like¡£I don¡¯t think it is very good but I¡¯d rather be out learning Chinese and walking around Beijing than sitting in an internet caf¨¦ for 7kwai/hour typing a paper :) Thanks!

Talk to you later!!!
Phil

Subject: Re: Hi Phil
Date: Wed, 4 Jul 2001 04:51:54 -0400
From: “Philip Magistro”

Hello!

Happy Fourth of July!!! I spent the morning cruising around Tian an men Square….it wasn’t even the fourth in the USA at that point though. Nothing really exciting this time though. The weather here has cleared up unbelievably though; today we can actually see sky. And mountains on the horizon! Until today it was difficult to see to the end of a city block. If I come back here to study, I am not sure that I would want to study in Beijing. Granted, it is a fantastic city (and I’ve heard it clears up in the winter) but it is pretty dirty. No worse than some other cities though, I guess.
So I guess last time I wrote was just after seeing Tian an men last week…I’m trying to think of what I’ve done since… We’re back into the week, so it’s classes and lectures in the morning (I kinda cut class this morning to head downtown….it wasn’t a bad thing really especially considering how much more work I do with respect to the language than anyone else here) then afternoons free or trips to various areas of the city. We saw a kindergarten the other day and we’ve visited some of the various political organizations here (there is a lot of bureaucracy here). Lots of tea, long speeches in Chinese, and not a lot of content. Q/A sessions are always interesting though…we fire off questions regarding Taiwan and corruption and all kinds of touchy stuff. The absolute difference in opinion between the Chinese people and the US media/people is pretty striking. (They view Taiwan’s “separation” as we would view Florida leaving the Union.) We saw a troupe of Chinese acrobats a night or two ago…they were amazing. They have the most unbelievable balance and flexibility….it was almost painful to watch. I’ll show you pictures when I get back.
I’m getting pretty good with the language…I met a friend of a friend here and she is tutoring me in Chinese outside of the group lessons. That is pretty good….she taught me a bit about writing characters and is going to help me with tenses and pronounciation today.
I know you’re dying for this….I’ve worked out some plans for the last two weeks over here. It’s tough; there are a whole lot of really interesting areas of the country that I would like to visit. However, to try to hit everything in 2 weeks isn’t going to happen. I want to spend at least a month in Yunnan province alone. So I’m gonna skip a lot of stuff, then hopefully travel those areas a little more extensively in the future. Here’s the plan: I’ll fly to Chongqing after the program ends, then take the river trip to Yichang. Next stop Guilin, the Yangshuo (1.5 hrs apart by bus), then train to Xiamen (SHA-men)…it is an island city between China and Taiwan. Supposed to be a spoiler…if you go there it spoils the rest of the country for you. After that I’ll fly back to Beijing and stay a day or two before flying home. Tickets should be no problem….buying airline tickets on the same day as the flight is possible (though buying a few days in advance is better). Only two flights, also….Beijing-Chongqing and Xiamen-Beijing. The rest will be trains or buses. So that’s the plan at this point. I don’t know if I will be traveling with anyone, especially after the Yangtze River cruise. I think I would rather not though…I prefer to travel alone. And it doesn’t make much difference for getting around; I end up doing most of the language work myself anyhow when we lack a fluent speaker.
That’s about everything I have to report…I’m gonna go take advantage of the weather!

Talk to you later!
Phil

Subject: News from Beijing
Date: Sat, 7 Jul 2001 09:13:49 -0400
From: “Philip Magistro”

Hello!!!
I think this email won’t be quite as long as the last one….nothing really exciting has been going on over here. We’re two thirds done and just settling into a routine. Classes, lectures, visiting cultural sights, and then I’m working with my tutor-friend learning a whole lot of the language. The people here are very complimentary regarding my Chinese…it seems excessive at times. But anyhow, I am learning a whole lot….I can almost carry out a rudimentary conversation…and I can haggle and introduce myself as well as ask some basic questions. Also talk about the past, present, and future, but I don’t really know enough verbs to discuss anything.
We visited the Forbidden City yesterday. It was exactly as I expected….the architecture was amazing but there is no variety. It seems rather sad to me….a place that was so sacred that no man save the Emperor himself could wander at will is now open to hordes of camera-toting tourists. The mystery is gone….I think it is a more impressive feeling to stand outside the walls than to stand within. I was going to climb Jing Shan, the hill behind the Palace, at take some pictures of the city, but I ran into Charlene (one of our teachers). She invited me to go to the Communist Youth League to pick up an award her class won, so I went along. There wasn’t much to see there, but talking one-on-one with the students here is really interesting.
What else is going on….oh yeah. My bike seems to have been stolen. My fault…I forgot to lock it last night. No big loss; it was a $9 bike and to tell you the truth, it will be more of a hassle to whoever stole it than it is worth. I might rent myself another…..I don’t think it’s very economical to buy one for a week but it is really nice to have a bike to get around. Oh well.
I’m free tommorrow and Tuesday….so one of the two I am going to spend at Simatai, one of the unrestored sections of the Great Wall. I really feel like we have done all the major sights in Beijing….but we’re not going to stay long enough to really settle into the city. I think this next week is going to be a bit slow. Time is going pretty fast though.
I think that’s about all I have to report….talk to you later!!

Phil

P.S. Still haven’t eaten western food….I’m holding out until Yangshuo (you have to eat western there…it’s the best in China). Also, do you want me to bring some movies back? I can get just about anything here, DVDs for a dollar or two.

Subject: my second paper
Date: Sun, 8 Jul 2001 02:33:24 -0400
From: “Philip Magistro”

I hope this isn’t too idealistic. They think very differently here.

Subject: ~{Dc:C~}
Date: Sunday, July 08, 2001 12:29 AM
From: “Philip Magistro”

Hello again,
I really don’t have much to talk about today…I’m here writing my second paper, this time on human rights. I wasn’t about to waste a trip down here and not send some email. We went to a ‘village’ yesterday…it was more of a modern farm co-op that produces the food for beijing. It was interesting…nothing amazing though. The day wasn’t too great….I think culture shock is starting to set in on a few people in the group and it’s causing some tension. Anyhow, I had a bunch of plans for the afternoon but they pretty much all fell through, so I went and got a haircut. Not just a haircut…they do a good job here. They wash your hair and give you a 45 minute head, face, neck, shoulders, arms, hands, and back massage then cut your hair. $5. I think I’m going to start flying to China for haircuts….forget the five barbers. We went out to a bookstore last night….apparently Lu Shun (the most prominent Chinese writer) immortalized the place in an essay he wrote; now it is pretty famous. They do classical Chinese music on Saturday nights…..it was a really good show. Haoting…beautiful for listening. If your book club is feeling ambitious, check out Lao She. He is the most famous Chinese writer in America…or was in the 50s I guess. The Yellow Storm. It’s quite an epic, but supposed to be a fantastic book. Also wrote a play called The Tea House. I might read them when I get back.
Okay….enough of this. I have to write a paper.

Phil
or if you prefer: ~{Bs;[=\~} (Mai Hui Jie)
People here remember that better than Phil.

Subject: Re:
Date: Tue, 10 Jul 2001 10:29:02 -0400
From: “Philip Magistro”

Hey,
How’s it going? Things in china are same as ever…no big problems over here. The olympic decision is on Friday…that’s the next big news. It’s gonna be one kickin’ party if they get it, otherwise I’ll be cursing america to save my skin for the next couple of weeks.
Mom wanted to know about my sleeping arrangements? I haven’t a clue. I don’t even know if I’ll be going to those cities for sure…let alone where I’ll be staying. This country is crazy…I have no idea what’s gonna happen…so don’t even worry about it. I’ll let you know how it went when I get home….I might not be able to get to a computer for a week or so after the program.
So anyhow, we visited a hospital yesterday…a traditional chinese hospital. You wouldn’t believe this place….everything is herbal or otherwise traditional. I took a lot of pictures…you’ll get a kick out of it. The basement has a pharmacy of sorts….rows and rows of drawers each with a different herb. They mix up these crazy combinations of herbs which are taken as a tea…boil twice and then drink. One of the guys with us has been in china for a while and said “it’s crazy….it’s witchcraft but it works.” They use some REALLY strange stuff….scorpions and human placenta and every herb you could imagine. Craziness. We also visited the acupunture wing and saw the doctor make a pincushion out of one of the patients. Nonchalantly just stuck a handful of pins in the guy….two in his head, arms, hands, legs, feet….then wiggle them around like nothing. So they sat us down in a room and stuck a few of us as well…disposable needles of course. So yeah, I got a needle stuck in the back of my head. That has to have been the strangest feeling I have ever had. Dad, you would have passed out in this place in a second. Anyhow, I’m alive and no worse for the experience.
Today we were free for the day, so I put together a trip to Simatai Great Wall…not the restored tourist section, but the unrestored wall. (It is a tourist section, but not very busy due to the extreme elevation and poor condition of the wall. Anyhow, it was absolutely amazing….we took cabs out to the place, two hours out of beijing. Driving through the countryside was quite an experience. The wall itself is perched up on some really high mountain ridges…I have a whole lot of pictures. And the ride home was great….our cab driver was hysterical. Did I explain beijing traffic yet? There are no laws….it’s like a crowd of people pushing and shoving there way, but all in cars. Seriously…a three lane road will have five or six lanes of traffic and no passing zones do not exist. It’s a perpetual game of chicken with oncoming traffic. So our driver was awesome…very much a beijinger. They talk funny here….really gutteral and tossing an R on almost everything. “gomir YO der diar!” That means take it easy, or relax man! They get a kick out of that. So we taught him some english, and he blabbered on in beijing dialect. We caught bits and pieces, but none of us are chinese speakers so it was kinda difficult.
How’s this: Taking a taxi for a total of 9 hours (To the wall, then they waited for us there, then back), about 250 km….$50. Split four ways. That gives you an idea of what prices are like here.
That’s all up to now…tommorrow I’m headed to the embassy and working on meeting up with Bill, a friend of mine from Pitt. He just got into Beijing yesterday from Mongolia….sent me an email with his room number but no phone #. Does me a whole lot of good…..maybe I can find the hotel.
I’m dead tired….that hike today destroyed me….I got a lot of sun also. So I’m gonna get going (also gotta get back and take a shower before they turn the hot water off for the night). Talk to you later!

Phil

Subject: Re: Acupunctured!
Date: Wednesday, July 11, 2001 11:29 AM
From: “Philip Magistro”

Hello!
The embassy was alright…they did a really good job of confirming what we all already know. China is different, and US policy doesn’t really make a lot of sense to the locals. Case in point, Falun Gong. The chinese viewpoint: They are crazy and should be illegal. The government has the responsibility to protect the chinese people from the evil cult. US view: Who cares what they think? So long as they do not commit a crime they should be allowed to say whatever they want. The two views are opposite and neither side is going to move. I think the watchword with respect to US-China policy is waiting. No drastic moves, just be as neutral as possible without letting US goals go by the wayside.
That’s all I’ve been up to…went to the silk alley and picked up a few things. The touristy places like that aren’t the best place to shop…prices are high because stupid lao wei are willing to pay them. If you are persistant though you can usually get them down to a half or third of asking price. Even so, still too expensive. But oh well. I spent less than ten dollars. This place is cheap.
Tommorrow I have a lecture on media reform and a visit to CCTV. Friday is factory reform and a visit to a factory. Also the olympic decision….what does everyone think? I personally hope Beijing gets the olympics. If they do, it is purely political. There is no question that Paris would be more able…and economically speaking the olympics is usually not profitable. However, I think the cultural exchange and the international awareness it would bring to this city would do some long term good. Not to mention that they might actually clean the place up a bit.
Saturday night I think I’m gonna go to Xi’an. I’m fine tuning my schedule…don’t really know what I want to do. My roommate here will be traveling with me for the first five days, then I’m on my own.
That’s about all for now…talk to you later!

Phil

Subject: Lazy days
Date: Thursday, July 12, 2001 6:17 AM
From: “Philip Magistro”

Hello again.
Things are slow in Beijing lately. Today, at least. We had class and a lecture on media in china this morning and were supposed to visit CCTV, the major television network in China, but it didn’t happen. They are too busy preparing to cover the olympic decision tommorrow and don’t want a bunch of lao wai running around the place. So I’ve had the day free…been workingon getting tickets together for the next few weeks without much success. My roommate is planning to travel with me. He is on a very very limited budget, so I’m a little bit concerned. Especially considering that there are apparently no train tickets available this weekend in Beijing. :) I’ll fly instead but I don’t think he can afford it. I’m sure everything will work out, though.
Tommorrow is our last official day as Bei-Da students, kinda amazing how quickly the time has gone. Although, I feel pretty accustomed to being here. It is going to be really strange to come home to bike-less roads and food that isn’t bite sized. I remember when I got into Chicago last summer on my way home, I wanted to talk to everyone there because they spoke English. It’s gonna be worse this time….because native English speakers are few and far between in most of China. Beijing hasn’t been bad, but nowhere near like Europe.
I’m gonna get going…a friend of mine from Pitt is in town (he came in through Russia and Mongolia) but he’s headed back to the states tommorrow, so I’m gonna try to get in touch with him and get together after my chinese lesson tonight. Everyone wish Beijing luck with the Olympic bid…it’s gonna be a huge party here if they get it but if they don’t, I might hole up in the embassy for a while :) Just kidding….but seriously the amount of pro-olympic propaganda here is fantastic…I think it will hurt thenational pride pretty deeply if they are not chosen.

That’s all for now. Talk to you later!
Phil

Subject: Re: FW: Fw: Reasons why English is so hard to learn
Date: Sat, 14 Jul 2001 04:24:15 -0400
From: “Philip Magistro”

Right,
I’ll grant that English can be quirky. But try Chinese. Tell you the truth, this language should be easy to learn….seeing as how it is comprised of about fifteen words in all! I hear something and think I know what it is, then get the answer “no..same word, same pronunciation, same tone, different character.” Examples: zhu, fourth tone. Means shut as in zhu kou (shut mouth, or shut up). Also means live, as in wo zhu zai mei gua (I live in america). Same word, same pronunciation, same tone, different character. Yuan as well…money, person, member, garden, not all the same tone but it’s the same word! At least in English we either spell different things differently or say them differently, or both! Everything is tone and context here. I tried to order eggplant a few days ago in a restaurant…I asked for qie zi, fourth and no tone. The server (fu wu yuan, another yuan word) had no idea what I was talking about….kept telling me they didn’t have it. So I pointed to the table next to us where a fellow was eating it and she said “ah! qie zi (second tone, no tone)”. This example works better in person. Xiao fourth tone can be small or laugh, and I haven’t even mentioned ma! Ma, 1st tone = mother or wipe depending on character, 2nd tone = hemp or that the last thing you said was a question, 3rd tone = horse, 4th tone = curse (as in “Don’t curse me!”) You get the picture.

Phil

Subject: third paper
Date: Sat, 14 Jul 2001 06:20:09 -0400
From: “Philip Magistro”

hey,
I don’t know if you got this yet; the internet is being screwy. it’s kinda pro-enviroment…come to china and you’ll see why. sorry I’m not saying much…I didn’t sleep all that much last night and it’s catching up with me. if the paper evidences that, don’t worry. Professor Tang will understand; he was sleeping on the floor across the room. I’ll call sooner or later and tell you more.

Phil

Subject: Woohoo!!!
Date: Saturday, July 14, 2001 4:38 AM
From: “Philip Magistro”

Hey,
I should be able to find internet access…at least, my book lists places, but I definitely won’t be online as frequently as I am in Beijing. I can get down here almost every day….next week I’ll be spending two full days on a boat. No access there. I got my ticket, flying out of Beijing tommorrow morning and headed for Xi’an. The first two stops are pretty fast-paced…two days in Xi’an then a day in Chongqing before getting on the boat through the three gorges. After that, I’ll have more than a week for the last two stops on my plan. Should be alright. I’ll keep you updated as well as I can.
BEIJING GOT THE OLYMPICS!!! It was pretty exciting…there were more fireworks going off around here than I’ve seen in a long time. It made up for the fourth of july, that’s for sure. We had a big party at Professor Tang’s apartment last night…it ended up going until about 10am today. I was all messed up yesterday during the day, nauseated and getting cold sweats, but things got better after I ate a bit. I brought my own bottle to the party and stuck to it alone: Pepto-bismol. :) I’m feeling really good today…if a little tired.
Feeling well enough to stomach some more bizarre chinese food. I went out to lunch with my tutor-friend, a fellow here with our group, and his tutor…they are both native beijingers and good friends. We went to a restaurant that serves food shanghai style…I must be better, keeping that stuff down. Honestly, it was pretty tasty but I had a real problem putting pieces of eel in my mouth. I’ll go into more detail later…I don’t know what everything was but it is usually better that way.
I am really sad to leave Beijing. I’m really comfortable here….I’ve got friends in the city and know my way around pretty well. It will be good to come back here for a day or two before flying home. I’m really serious about coming back here next year. If I do, you must come visit me. I don’t think you can understand this country, no matter how many pictures you see or books and emails you read…unless you come here. It’s one heck of a crazy place.
Anyhow, I’ve got a paper to write…I’ll talk to you later!

Phil

Subject: Re: Daddy and I made a great find for you!
Date: Tuesday, July 17, 2001 11:35 AM
From: “Philip Magistro”

Hey,
Those dishes sound pretty cool…maybe too valuable for a college apartment? I’ll check them out when I get home. I tried to email from Xi’an, but it didn’t work. the shift key is sticking, so i’m gonna forgo using capitals…anyhow, xi’an was pretty cool….we flew from beijing and got there in the morning and headed straight for the terracotta warriors. they were pretty impressive, but nothing next to the great wall. we stayed at a very western-friendly hotel; it was almost a culture shock. people spoke english and had english menus…i really didn’t know what to do with myself. anyhow, walked around xi’an yesterday morning and saw the sights, then took the train to chongqing. it was a 28 hour train ride, which was a little trying (esp w/o a/c) but we made it without problems. we’ve got a room at a plush hotel….this city is all about skyscrapers and neon. really quirky…no bicycles (because of the mountains) and very quiet. also, the language here is very different….my chinese is bad to begin with but here it is pretty much worthless. I have a really strange feeling here…I think it is because I understand so little of what is going on. We met some painters from Xi’an just an hour ago and talked for a while….they speak mandarin and english so we got along just fine. They were very friendly…apparently we were the first foreigners ever to visit their little gallery. I am tempted to pick up a painting of guilin, but I really don’t have to means to transport it. I think I’ll just buy a cheap print in beijing before coming home. had sichuanese hotpot for dinner….it’s a pot recessed into the middle of the table and full of boiling broth. you order a bunch of add-ins and cook them, then fish them out and enjoy. pretty neat….one of the better meals i’ve had since leaving beijing. Anyhow, we’ll be taking the boat out of here tommorrow then spending two nights/two days on the river before going our separate ways. I won’t be in touch for a while…probably three days. Anyhow, talk to you later!!

Phil

Subject: Re: Camping Trip
Date: Sat, 21 Jul 2001 23:46:12 -0400
From: “Philip Magistro”

Hey there!

Sorry I haven’t been in touch in a while….the last few days I haven’t been able to get to a computer. I was just looking at the People’s Daily online…I think you should go check it out: http://english.peopledaily.com.cn/ Especially check out the pictures..Mom wanted to see a bit about the Beijing Olympic bid…they’ve got pages and pages of pictures. The editorials are also pretty interesting.
So should I change my return flight to UAE instead of USA?? I’d be into moving to Abu Dahbi….the UAE is one of the richest places on earth. The government has so much oil money it doesn’t know what to do. I’d say go for it…but the culture shock there would be pretty intense.
The river cruise did go well. John and I got into Chongqing a few days ago…I emailed you that night I think. The next day we hung out with a Chinese med student and her brother for the entire day…she showed us around the city and her university. Pretty interesting, I liked that city. Reminded me of pittsburgh on a lot of steroids. Anyhow, we left that night on the Zhonghua, our boat. It turned out to be a really nice boat….even the 3rd class rooms had western toilets and showers. 6 beds per room, so John and I roomed with a chinese family….and it was probably the highlight of this trip thus far. When we first boarded, we walked up to the room and the youngest daughter in the family was sitting on one of the bunks. When she saw us, her expression went to complete surprise; it was the best foreigner reaction I’ve gotten yet. Anyhow, we lived with them, pretty much were adopted by them, for the duration of the cruise, which was beautiful….zhen shi tai mei le. Too beautiful for words. We also met a handful of foreigners and became good friends over a few meals. A couple from Chile (who sincerely invited us to come down and visit), an older couple from Italy, and a Japanese fellow. John speaks Japanese, I speak spanish, the man from Chile (actually an american ex-pat) speaks spanish and italian, and we all spoke english….so the mix of languages was befuddling. Anyhow, I’ll tell you more about that trip when I get back and get my pictures developed.
We got into Yichang at about 10:30pm and headed for Wuhan via overcrowded minibus. It was a royally miserable 4 hour ride, from midnight to 4am….sweaty and hot and disgusting with an obnoxious chinese fellow falling asleep on my shoulder every fifteen minutes. We got into wuhan in the wee hours of the morning and took up residence in the lobby of a nice hotel by the train station. The desk attendant came over, I thought to ask us to leave, but rather we ended up talking for two hours and get got us pretty much oriented. So at about 7am we took a bus to the airport. John’s flight left for Beijing at 11am, but the flight I booked to Guilin (the only one available) left at 6pm so I killed a lot of time at the airport….sleeping, writing in my journal and writing postcards, and sleeping. That place was too expensive…they wanted 25kwai/hour for internet access! (I’m paying 6 right now.) Anyhow, last night I arrived in Guilin and grabbed a bus to yangshuo with two Dutch folks I met at the airport. On the bus ride I met the most sincere chinese person I have encountered since leaving beijing…he runs the local Hard Rock Cafe (a rip-off on the original….the actual place can’t charge their prices in this city) and has connections all over the city. He explained a lot of things to me; I think I can get around pretty well without getting ripped off now. Anyhow, I slept in this morning for the first time since coming to China and am now catching up on correspondence. The scenery here is amazing…..really unbelievable. I’m gonna stay here for a few days, then head to a coastal city in Fujian province to see the sunrise on the Pacific, then head back to beijing and fly home. That’s about everything…I’m gonna go get lunch. Talk to you later!!!

Phil

Subject: News from Yangshuo
Date: Tue, 24 Jul 2001 09:12:59 -0400
From: “Philip Magistro”

Hey,
I’m going to make this pretty short, because hotmail isn’t working very well and I am really hungry. This town has the best western food in all of china, but I’m sticking mostly to local fare. Good rice noodles. Western food in china just doesn’t meet my expectations……I am looking forward to cereal and milk when I get back!
Anyhow, I met a handful of students here, and have been hanging out with them for the past day or two…really fun crowd. We’ve been learning chinese/english, biking around outside town, swimming in the Li river….a lot of fun. This is probably the most beautiful place in the world…the mountains are amazing…I can’t even describe it. We ate lunch yesterday with a local family in a village a few kilometers out of town…old Qing dynasty buildings. They cooked lunch for us and we talked for a while…a really neat experience. I might do some rock climing tommorrow….the rock here is awesome. Limestone everywhere….literally everywhere. Five minutes walk…it’s great. What else…I think that’s about it. I’m going to Xiamen on thursday, then back to beijing saturday and home sunday. I’ll keep in touch…byebye!

Phil

Subject: Nimen hao from Xiamen
Date: Thursday, July 26, 2001 7:51 AM
From: “Philip Magistro”

Hey there,
I haven’t had reliable internet access in a few days…so tonight I’m catching up. I’m in Xiamen, which is in Fujian Province between China and Taiwan. It is a beautiful city….I’m staying in a nice (read expensive) place on the island Gulangyu off the west side of the city. I haven’t really had the chance to explore…just got in today. Yangshuo was fantastic….I think I was the only foreigner to spend time with the locals there. Everyone else gets into their own little groups and runs around with other foreigners….they are missing out. I had a blast, swimming in the Li river, wandering the countryside on bikes, eating chinese pudding and more watermelon that I have eaten in the USA in the past few years combined. You saw pictures of the place…the mountains are fantastic. All good hard limestone, great for climbing. There is one climbing outfit in town; just started about three months ago. Anyhow, they said that if I am interested and able, I could work for them pretty much anytime. Free room and board, lead climbing trips mostly every afternoon with mornings and evenings and the a day here and there free. I think it would be a good deal. Possibilities…I’m sure though that I will go back there next summer.
Anyhow, I don’t really have much else to say…got my ticket to beijing and planning to call Prof. Tang tommorrow…I’ll probably not send another email from China so I’ll call you in a day or two. Byebye!

Phil

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