May 2013

There are hundreds of books about China in my office at the university. Some are fiction, most are nonfiction. With such a large selection, it has been difficult to choose what to read. In the beginning I stuck with travel memoirs, my genre of choice when traveling. However, the longer I stayed in China, the more I became interested in specific aspects of the culture and history – mostly having to do with the environment and the treatment of women. I have been wanting to write some reviews about these books for awhile in case any of you are interested in learning more about China, its issues, and its people.

ImageFirst up is When a Billion Chinese Jump by Jonathan Watts. This book is  dense and will take awhile to get through, but it is also fascinating. Watts had been working as an environmental reporter in Beijing for several years when he decided to explore different parts of China to see what was really going on in terms of environmental degradation. What he found is shocking – at least for those who have never been to China.

Watts not only talks about the toll on the land, water, and animals, but he also talks about the human toll. He talks about the get-rich-quick schemes that exist throughout China that allow a handful of people to become rich, while thousands of others end up in cancer villages or, even more shameful because it is so preventable, AIDS villages. He also describes the cash grabs and the obsession with status symbols that are far too common in China today. You will also read about what happens to our plastic bottles and our leftover electronics, not to mention where they come from. After having lived in China for a short time, I was not surprised to read about the corruption and the laissez-faire attitude of the Chinese government. The obsession with GDP and the lack of regard for their citizens is appalling at best. The thing to remember though, and Watts makes this clear throughout the book, is that what is happening in China today does not only effect China. It effects the entire world. If you are concerned about the environment and the future of our planet, I would highly recommend this book.

Note: I have read several reviews about this book on Amazon and many people have written that the author has too much of a doomsday approach and exaggerates the severity of the issue. I have lived in China for only 1.5 years, but I have traveled through much of the country and have seen first-hand just how bad the pollution and environmental problems are in some areas. Watts is very even-handed in his approach to writing about the issues facing China today, and I especially appreciate that he does not let the West off scot-free. He makes sure to point out how the West has a huge hand in what is happening in China (and other developing countries) today because we have cleaned up our own countries only by exporting our pollution to where our citizens will not see it.

At the Post Office, originally uploaded by bexadler.

Today I went to the post office to ship the last of my winter clothes and excessive shoe supply to Switzerland. It went much better than my first trip to the post office a few weeks ago, when I went with my friend Lacey. She speaks decent Chinese, but it still took us a good 30-45 minutes to send one box. First, we had to buy a box and then have all of the things we wanted to send inspected by the postal worker. Then fill out a bunch of forms, etc., etc. It was difficult with the language barrier. I was especially annoyed when the dude pictured above walked in with his addressed rice sack, secured shut with a piece of string, and was able to send it. Meanwhile, we had to go through this hullabaloo of unpacking all of our things and putting it in an official post office box that cost 14 yuan. Anyway, we were successful in the end, as we always are, despite the struggle. It is for this reason, however, that I have been dreading going back to ship the last of my things.

I finally got up the courage to go today, though. And it was easy as pie! What?! I know. The secret of this easy and successful trip to the post office was that the only clerk on duty was a man who speaks English. The gods were obviously shining down on me today. I went in there wearing a tank top and shorts because I tend to sweat bullets when I have to try to speak Chinese so I wanted to try to stay as cool as possible. But, alas, it was for nothing. I was in and out of there in 10 minutes flat. It was most definitely the easiest interaction I have ever had in China with both a government agency AND a Chinese person. I feel like that man deserves a huge raise and some baked cookies.

By the way, I know how much everyone hates that Americans (or English speakers, in general) expect the rest of the world to speak English. It is definitely annoying and sad that the rest of the world is losing their culture and language because of American songs and movies taking over the airwaves. I get it. But, dear god, if it doesn’t make my life easier sometimes. Anyone who lives in China, knows how difficult the Chinese language can be to speak and understand (even among the Chinese themselves). I have tried and failed miserably to learn this language. But I understand their annoyance at all of the foreigners who do not know how to communicate in Chinese, especially coming from a likewise proud and ethnocentric country where people talk about foreigners constantly and say things like “Why don’t they just learn to speak English?!” It’s not that easy folks.

Anyway, this is all to say that my departure date is getting close. I am both excited and totally freaked out about moving to Switzerland. First, I am totally stoked to be moving to a country where I speak the language! No more needing a note, like a 5-year-old, to go buy a train ticket or visit the doctor. YES! It’s also going to be awesome to be in a beautiful country (with a beautiful man, to boot!), where I can breathe clean air and go running without my hypochondria convincing me that I am getting lung cancer, asthma, or emphysema. However, not having a job is freaking me out beyond belief. Not knowing whether I will have enough money to survive through my 3-month stay (the length of my visa if I don’t find a job) is incredibly unnerving. I have been self-sufficient too long now to go back to being that irresponsible 25-year-old who has to borrow money from her younger sister to buy a plane ticket back to America. I will not do it! (OK, maybe I will, but I really don’t want to have to.)

So keep your fingers crossed for me! And send any job leads my way 😉



Great Wall Marathon 2013, originally uploaded by bexadler.

This past weekend I ran a half marathon on the Great Wall with some friends of mine from Shenyang and thought I should post something about it since this is one of those destination type races. I figure if there are any of you out there who want to do it, maybe I can offer some advice for how to train.

I trained for this race for 3 months, but still ended up with super sore legs. This is because I was lax in my stair training. I kept telling myself that I’d do stairs, but then I’d do two flights of stairs, maybe three and give up. I would not recommend my approach. No matter how in shape you are for the running portions, if you do not do some hills and stairs before the race, you will be sorry. The race begins with 3 miles (5KM) of uphill running that takes you onto the wall for about 2 miles (2,582 steps). The views are beautiful and it gets crowded here, so you may as well stop and take a couple of pictures. The stairs are steep so the traffic is stop and go for most of the wall portion. Just to illustrate, these first 5 miles (8KM) took me 1:20 to complete. Normally I finish 5 miles in about 45 minutes.

After you leave the wall, the course is straight and flat for a couple of miles and it is a huge relief after feeling like you can’t move on the wall. It also will give you a chance to regain some of your lost time. However, there are some rocky dirt roads about 3 miles (5KM) into the flat portion, along with some more hills, so I would recommend doing some trail running as well. I was definitely slowed down by the rocky terrain and worried that I’d twist an ankle. This portion, however, is one of the best parts of the race because it goes through a small Chinese village.

The village children and many of the adults were outside watching all of us crazy laoweis running on a chilly Saturday morning. Some were cheering and some were just there to watch the spectacle. The children were my absolute favorite part of the race and kept me smiling throughout. There were some who sat alongside the road and shouted “Hello!” at each runner who passed (I shouted back “Ni Hao,” which made them laugh), while many others held out their hands to give high fives to the runners. Some of the adults even got in on the action, shouting “Zai Zher! Zai Zher!” This is the Chinese equivalent of “Go!” I was personally shocked to see so much support from the community, but also grateful that they were there. The race does not have many outside spectators because the organizers charge an entry fee to be a spectator, and it is a steep fee, so it was nice that the community got involved and cheered us on. No race is complete without spectators to help cheer you on, especially near the end.

For those of you interested in the full marathon, be aware that you must do the wall portion twice. My friend did the full and he said it was one of the hardest races he’s ever done. He added a full hour to his best finishing time and finished in 4:30. He said the difficult part was that you get into a good rhythm on the flat portion and then when you get back to the wall and have to start on the stairs it makes you light-headed because you feel like you come to an almost complete stop. Even though by then the wall was not crowded, he was still slowed by the stairs because of their steepness, which made it so he had to really concentrate on watching where he was going. This is also at mile 20, so you’re already exhausted at this point.

Despite the difficulty, this was one of the best races I have ever run. It was incredibly well organized and included a lunch and showers afterward, which was a relief since it was a 2.5 hour bus ride back to Beijing after the race. The only disappointing thing was that it was almost exclusively foreigners running it. As I’ve written before, the Chinese aren’t really runners. Still, I’d hoped that there would be more locals participating. Anyway, I would definitely recommend this race to anyone who is considering doing a destination marathon. Just be sure you train properly for it. Also, for those of you who are expats, be sure to email them to get the resident price, rather than paying for the full tour. It’s an expensive race regardless, but no need to pay for a week-long tour of Beijing if you’re already living here.

Finishing time: 3:09:49 (my worst finishing time since my first half 6 years ago).
Next up: Dingle Marathon in Ireland!

*laowei – foreigner
*Ni Hao – hello

Coyote, originally uploaded by bexadler.

Today I was lamenting the fact that there are no cute little creatures around Shenyang. I began making a list of all the animals I miss seeing on my runs back home and even mentioned skunks. I mean, really? I had a skunk hiss at me once on an evening run in Sacramento and I was in panic mode for at least another quarter-mile. If anything, I should be grateful that, in addition to all of the regular nuisances that exist in Shenyang, at least I don’t have to deal with animals, vermin, and bugs too.

*Picture above is of a coyote in Death Valley, not a skunk, obviously. I didn’t have very many creature pictures on hand. 😦