Campus Life, China, Weather

Whatever the Weather

On Thursday nights I go to play badminton at the gym with some teacher friends. I originally typed ‘indoor gym’, but there was some backspace action, because it really isn’t an indoor gym. It is a building with a roof, but open on the sides. What to call it? The semi-enclosed gym? The indoor-outdoor gym?

The gym has badminton and basketball courts, a small sea of ping pong tables, a jogging track on the 2nd floor, and room for various martial arts classes to distract me with their hyah-ing. I applaud the forethought of having a place to do all these activities when it is raining. As Zhuhai has a semi-tropical climate, it is indeed raining quite a lot here. In the autumn there is always the chance of typhoons and in the spring there is a very distinct rainy season.

Last year I thought one month of torrential rain was bad. I must’ve made the mistake of asking for more patience as it has certainly been tested by the last TWO months of rain. Seriously. The end of rainy season was perhaps dramatically punctuated by an official Red Storm warning and a morning of canceled classes last week. There was one more fitful downpour on Tuesday, but it appears we might have finally cleared the rain. I swear there cannot be a drop of precipitation left up there.

The rain began to feel a bit like a biblical plague. Maybe not 40 straight days and nights, but I think we got pretty close. Those of us not used to such weather might have been tempted to go hunt down the disobedient Jonah causing all this bad weather and send him down the overflowing storm drain to his “Ninevah” or large water-based mammal. Whichever he/she encountered first.

So, again, it is great to be able to play your sport of choice regardless of rain or no rain. However. HOWEVER. However. I don’t understand having an open-air gym in a climate that at least 6 months out of the year has temperatures over 80 degrees and humidity of equal or greater percentage.

With the end of the rain, the temperature just keeps climbing. Though I greatly enjoy my badminton Thursday nights, the “gym” is the next closest thing to the Inferno itself. Two hours of vigorous badminton leave me absolutely dripping. No, this is not hyperbole. Full on streams running down my face and back. I didn’t know this was actually possible. I thought this state could only be achieved by people in Gatorade commercials. Oh, no! You too can experience this novel state in picturesque southern China! Swim in the seas of . . . your own sweat?

High temperatures and impending rain have also resulted in another intriguing “plague” on several occasions. Shortly before the rain would begin, small winged insects—“locusts”—would appear out of nowhere and blanket the gym. One second you’re playing badminton and the next you’re dancing around like a fool swinging your racket ineffectively at the bugs all around you and on you. On your shirt, on your pants, sticking to your sweaty arms, getting IN YOUR HAIR! Ugh! Ugh! UGH! It’s enough to make you throw down your racket –no, wait, I can’t throw down my racket because it’s not mine. Okay, it’s enough to make you throw up your arms—no, can’t do that either because then I’ll get bugs there, too! Fine, it’s enough to make you run away, screaming, into the night. That I can do. Maybe no screaming and maybe not full-on running, but on those buggy occasions I certainly did high-tail it out of there. And my colleagues were not far behind.

Speaking of plagues, have I mentioned the frogs? More to come . . .

Campus Life, China, Weather

(Another) Weather Lament

Zhuhai is making me British. British in the sense that I talk about the weather constantly. And just like the Brits, I have just cause because the weather is positively neurotic here. The signals are all switched. What I expect and what I get rarely correspond. Overcast does not mean cool. Rain does not break the humidity. Big winds do not herald storms. Just because it was cool yesterday does not mean it will be cool today. I suppose the California climate spoiled me.

This week took the cake. It started out positively halcyon—beautiful fall weather. I wore cardigans and slacks and was perfectly comfortably. Mid-week—BAM! Humidity leaps back to astronomical heights. Everything in my closet feels damp. No matter what I wear I am a soggy mess in 10 seconds flat.

Friday morning I was so irritated at my students sitting in class with long-sleeve pseudo-leather jackets and skin-tight skins when I’m suffering in a knee-length skirt and the coolest top-shrug combo I could find in my closet. It’s like 8:30 in the morning, yes? I’m dripping. DRIPPING, people. Wipe face. Fan face. Wipe face. Fan face. “Okay, is it just me or does anyone else want to throw themselves in the swimming pool right now?” It took a bit of explanation—that type of question is more than some students can handle—but eventually the class cried “YES!” (Yes, but then why on earth are you wearing what you’re wearing right now?!?!) Nice to know it’s not just me.

Sometimes I really do think it’s just me. The humidity is hard for me; it’s my least favorite thing about living here. Yet many people seem perfectly comfortable, so I know not every ear is sympathetic to my weather laments. But when I reach the level of discomfort I felt Thursday and Friday, I need to reassure myself that I’m not crazy by asking other people if they’re also feeling it.

Saturday was more of the same. I was dressing to go to an outdoor BBQ and no matter what I tried on I felt terrible. Too tight. Too long. Too thick. Realizing it was hopeless because we were going to be outside anyways, I settled on something very unfashionable but loose and breathable. And I still felt disgusting–on several levels–all day. I came home, showered, and parked in front of the air conditioning for the rest of the night.

And today? After three days of miserable humidity and high temperatures? It’s cool. Almost cold. Overnight it becomes fall weather again. I might actually need to get up and close the sliding door because it’s getting a little chilly in here. My legs have goosebumps.

See what I mean?

China, Travel, Weather

My Sole Complaint

This week has been a hard one, specifically for my feet. At the moment I have band aids on the back of both ankles, around several toes and scabs across the top of my foot. I have struggled to find anything reasonably professional that does not rub any of my injured areas to wear to class. So I’ve mostly been wearing flip-flops.

I was very careful choosing footwear to bring back to China this time. I understood that I needed extremely comfortable, breathable, yet sturdy and supportive shoes. I needed shoes for teaching. I needed shoes for traveling. I needed shoes for typhoon season. I thought that I brought appropriate footwear for all these specific needs. And yet, one after another, my “perfect” shoes are failing me miserably.

Though I’d made sure to get shoes with plenty of extra room for when the humidity makes my feet swell, apparently it still wasn’t enough. A quick trip out in one particular pair left me with blisters on both ankles. Something about the design of my walking sandals always results in my heel being half-on, half-off the sole. My Crocs that I bought for when it rains are rubbing my toes, leaving me in agony as I mince the whole way from my teaching building to my apartment.

The only reliable footwear I have is my flip-flops. Which everyone says is the worst kind of footwear. What on earth is wrong with my feet? Is it my feet? Or is China trying to tell me something?

Humidity! It’ll be the death of me! Can I get a witness? Anyone? Please?

Transportation, Travel, Weather

Traveling Solo – Part II

So where were we? Ah, yes.

My first day consisted of moping around the hostel. I couldn’t check in until later. I couldn’t swim. This was not the vacation I had in mind. It’s all very nice if you’re staying at a resort and can turn on the AC and the TV, but I was at a no-frills hostel waiting out the rain with like 30 other people in a very small common area. I small talked with other travelers. Lots of other English teachers from China on holiday as well. Lots of oh-my-god-last-night-was-so-crazy stories being exchanged. When there was a break in the rain, I escaped down to the beach to have a look around. Everything pretty wild: waves, wind, and clouds. I was consoling myself at Starbucks when it started raining like crazy again. Sigh. The rest of the day was much like this.

I spent the first three days mostly walking up and down the windy beach, trying to take photos when possible, drinking lots of coffee, eating foods that I couldn’t get in China. I went shopping. At night I strolled the beach and listened to some of the live bands, one of which I really enjoyed. It was okay, but there was this strong sense that I was just killing time. I didn’t feel like I was really enjoying myself and was anxiously contemplating the hours until I could get on a plane outta there. It’s sad, but true. I didn’t make any strong connections with other travelers at the hostel initially.

On my third night, I met up with a Filipino girl who’d contacted me through Couch Surfing. I was thrilled at the prospect of not being alone for an evening. She and several of her friends were in Boracay for the weekend and we planned to spend the evening together. Finally, I had a satisfying evening with good conversation and great people. I woke up in the morning feeling much better about my trip.

My final day was sunny and beautiful. I spent the morning at the beach and in the afternoon went out on a catamaran with another girl from the hostel. I think boats are so invigorating. Love that whole wind-in-your-hair business. One of my life goals is to learn how to sail. Really. We snorkeled a bit. Getting back on the boat, I was taking down my hair, only to feel something sharp and moving in it. Somehow a little crab had gotten into my hair. The boat guy helped me get it out and then we raced back to the shore.

That evening I failed to connect up with the girl from the evening before and was feeling disappointed. I’d flopped on my bed in the hostel, trying to convince myself to go out again, when this fantastic Korean girl entered my evening. She’d come to Boracay with a guy who was interested in her, but she didn’t reciprocate his interest. Dreading another evening of just the two of them, she invited me along as a sort of buffer. I very quickly agreed. So we drank some strange Korean wine, talked, and passed the evening quite nicely.

In the morning, the three of us went and had a great breakfast at a local restaurant. Then the girl and I packed our bags and headed off. She helped me get onto the correct boat and heading the correct airport. She was so kind and I was so grateful. We exchanged contact info and said goodbye.

The rest of the trip was spent pacing airports, lolling in waiting areas, drinking coffee, and killing time. After a delayed flight back to Macau, I arrived back at the university sometime after midnight.

In retrospect, I am glad that I went. The weather was unfortunate, but normal for this time of year. Though the first few days were rather lousy, at least I had several good experiences to balance it out.

I had a classmate in grad school who loved to travel alone. She only traveled alone. I was astonished and could never imagine myself doing it. Well, I’ve done it and survived. Worst parts? Eating alone in restaurants, having no one to take photos of you, and no one to watch your stuff when you want to swim. Best parts? I suppose you are extremely grateful when you do make a connection with someone. My journal from the trip is a record of the emotional highs and lows of those 5 days.

As I tell my students, the most interesting trips are often the ones that don’t go according to plan. And they make great stories, too.

Transportation, Travel, Weather

Traveling Solo

I’d like to give a report on my first solo trip, as mentioned in a previous post. For the National Holiday week, I booked a 5 day trip to Boracay, an island in the Philippines which is famous for its White Beach. One of the top beach destinations in Asia, so I’m told. I’d really wanted to travel during this holiday for several reasons: (1) It’s a rather long holiday to stay home; (2) I wanted to see more of Asia; and (3) I promised myself last year that I’d travel this week. So though my funds were limited and I couldn’t find anyone to travel with, off I went.

My flight left from Macau. I chose Macau because I can take public transportation all the way from my university to the airport there. If I go to Hong Kong airport, the ferry ticket is a little steep; and if I go to Guangzhou, it would actually be a much longer trip, with changing between buses, trains, and subways. Since Macau is a Special Autonomous Region, that means you have to exit China and enter, uh, another part of China. So a stamp out of China and a stamp into Macau, with forms to be completed on each side. I’d feared the lines would be epic due to the holiday, but I actually made it through in good time and caught my airport bus with no problems. (Traveling alone, there’s so much mental checklisting going on: bus to Macau, check; immigration, check; money exchange, check; bus to airport, check; arrival at airport, first mission accomplished. Penguin high five to self.)

The Macau airport was compact, but stocked with all the essentials, like Gloria Jean’s Coffee. I had lots of time to kill due to excessive planning-for-the-worst-case-scenario. So I sat and sipped and read books on the Kindle. When I went through Security, my eyebrow tweezers pinged on the bag check and I apologized, expecting them to confiscate them (Rats, I thought, my favorite tweezers!), but surprisingly they said it was okay and sent me on my way. This trip also marked a landmark accomplishment for me. Not only did I travel solo, but I also brought only a carry-on. Gasp! First time in my life I’ve managed to do this.

Flight to Manila was fine. The layover was not so fine. I actually attempted sleeping across 3 chairs. It was horrible. I paid what seemed an excessive amount of money to be able to sit in another coffee shop with comfortable chairs. I was very grateful to board the flight to Boracay.

We landed in Boracay in a very jungle-ish environment. I’d asked my hostel to help me with transportation because it seemed a little complicated, so a nice young guy was waiting for me outside. We look a giant tricycle down to the ferry port, a boat across to Boracay island (impossible to land on the island itself), then another tricycle, and finally a brief walk down a very muddy lane to the hostel. The sky wasn’t looking so good and I’d only been in the hostel maybe 30 minutes before it started pouring. And I mean pouring.

Will the rain ruin her trip? Will she survive her first solo adventure? Stay tuned!

China, Travel, Weather

Hong Kong: Second Time’s the Charm

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I went to Hong Kong for only the second time last weekend.

My first visit to Hong Kong was on Christmas weekend. Yes, the actual Christmas weekend. And while the visit on the whole was good, the number of people in the city made everything more difficult. I remember fighting up this terrible street in Kowloon, trying to get to the ferry station. Literally fighting. I felt like a salmon swimming upstream. But when the real salmon do that they have safety in numbers. There were only 3 of us in this scenario. And of course when we arrived at the ferry station there were no tickets back to Zhuhai for hours, which was our fault for not reserving them ahead of time. We squeezed into the back table of a Starbucks and didn’t move until it was time to go.

And of course food had been quite expensive as well. Christmas Eve we were wandering the city in search of an affordable meal and finally found a tiny noodle house. Outside a large group of students were singing Christmas carols as we slurped our noodles. Christmas morning we stumbled on an underground Irish pub for breakfast. Not very cheap, but Christmas breakfast is a Van Gundy family tradition and I felt that I was honoring my own Christmas traditions by indulging in a large British breakfast.

(Perhaps it will amuse you to tell you that we then went and saw Mission Impossible IV. Well, it was either that or go shopping. I astounded my students by telling them that I went to Hong Kong and didn’t buy anything. In their eyes that is the entire purpose of Hong Kong.)

And our hotel on that trip. Wow. Hong Kong currently takes the cake for most deceptive Internet photos. Our hotel was supposed to be a reasonable looking room with 3 beds and our own bathroom. What we got was a closet-sized room with bunk beds, thread-bare linens, and soggy shared bathroom down the hall. For the rock-bottom price of 975 HKD. Outraged? A bit. Leaving Hong Kong, my feelings were somewhere along the lines of “good riddance”.


I knew that we’d chosen to visit Hong Kong on a quite significant weekend, where crowds, high costs, and general inconvenience should’ve been expected. So, though that trip had been a bit of a challenge, I wanted to give Hong Kong another chance in the spring. And after having done so I can happily report that that was a wise decision. I had a great time last weekend.

Saturday we went to Lantau Island. Though we were disappointed to hear that the cable cars were not running, it may have been a blessing in disguise as the bus ride around the island was gorgeous. We went to Ngong Ping to see the Big Buddha and the temple around it. Endless mirth because the infamous university orientation game “Big Booty” was quickly supplanted by “Big Buddha” and I had a hard time not breaking out into the chant as we circled the Buddha. Also some flashbacks to the terribly irreverent “Buddha’s Delight” song used in the movie Music & Lyrics. We had lunch in the vegetarian restaurant on-site and then explored some of the trails leading off into the hills. The hills were green, the skies blue, weather balmy. A truly excellent excursion.

The following day we went to Stanley Market on the south side of Hong Kong Island. Another gorgeous drive hugging the coastline which felt positively Californian. It could’ve been Highway 1, possibly even prettier at points. The bus deposited us at the market and we were promptly delighted by the market’s offerings. We made an initial circuit and popped out on the harbor. I was glad we’d passed up the nice, but chain-y looking café we saw in the market as there were several lovely waterfront cafes there. We hadn’t “broken our fast” yet so I was very inclined to treat ourselves to a wonderful breakfast with a fantastic view. So we did.

After breakfast we roamed the market. Suddenly everywhere I looked there were things I wanted to buy. Zhuhai has been a shopping famine for me other than food and bootleg DVDs. So I feasted a bit in Stanley. I bought some linen clothes in preparation for the coming heat. A new colorful, but sturdy bag. A scarf. It was fun.

Unfortunately soon the clock was tolling for us. Not 12, but half past 2. We’d booked tickets on the 4:30 ferry to prevent the problem we’d had last trip. We scurried back to the bus stop, multiple shopping bags each, for the beautiful drive back. After some intense power walking we made it to the ferry office to reclaim our tickets on time and just had time for iced coffee (with real cream!).

The biggest surprise of the trip was just how beautiful Lantau and Central were! Nothing like what I’d expected. Hong Kong had taken on grimy, urban tones in my mind based on the first trip. Kowloon was not that different really from Zhuhai; everything was just on a somewhat larger scale. But the coastline—wow! Already contemplating my next trip.

China, Weather

It’s a Jungle Out There

I turned on my air conditioner today. That feels momentous. March 6th—Day One of Air Conditioning.

More momentous is that I turned it on shortly after 7 AM. Waking up today everything felt slightly damp and sticky: bath towels, kitchen towels, even supposedly clean clothes straight from the closet. Bathroom floor is still wet from my shower the night before. Even the dust bunnies are damp, as evidenced by the way they clump together and then stick to the broom. And this isn’t just today. It’s been like this for awhile.

I taught my 8:00 to 9:35 AM class, walked back, and took a cold shower. I see many more in my future.