Monday, June 21, 2010

$20 BILL

posted by Alan
click on pictures to see them full size
click on link at the bottom to see the full picture album

We've hit jackpot on our last two China trips. The small river town of Yangshuo is easily one of the coolest places in China. As tacky and overdone as many popular tourist destinations in China can be, Yangshuo manages to be low-key and casual, but still very tourist oriented and comfortable. Daisy and I went down there with three of our friends for a five day trip of river rafting, cave exploring and hiking and biking in the amazing countryside of Southern China.

YuLong River and Mud Cave in Yangshuo

On top of Moon Hill; at the entrance to the Water Caves

The normal trip to the region is between the cities of Guilin and Yangshuo, with the Li River running from one city to the other. What makes it such a popular destination are the crazy looking limestone karsts that are jutting out of the ground like mini, individual mountains. They are literally EVERYWHERE you look. And they're amazing to look at. They've become such an iconic part of natural China that an image of the Li River and karsts is on the back of the 20 Chinese RMB bill.
The famous Li River

The city of Yangshuo itself is nestled into a small valley in between these karsts and along the Li River. There is a section of the town that is completely built for foreigners, with Western and Chinese style restaurants, cafes and hostels lining the cobblestone no-cars-allowed streets. Most of the local Chinese places have also adapted with English menus and English speaking waiters and waitresses. But like I said, just a really relaxed atmosphere. And because it's in Southern China, near GuangZhou and Hong Kong, the cantonese food is really good too. The mountains are lit up at night and the rooftop bars are awesome places to hang out. I totally recommend a trip to Yangshuo for anyone that is coming through China.

The city of Yangshuo
Yao Mountain in Guilin; scooters in Yangshuo

Hot Springs Cave; Claypot spot in Yangshuo

Highlights from Yangshuo:
- My favorite part was the Mud Caves. Natural caves that had a "natural" pool of mud and "natural" hot springs inside of the cavernous caves. The mud was disgustingly fun.
- Climbing Moon Hill. Although the mosquitos were a lowlight. But the use of electric mosquito racket zappers is not only useful, but oddly enjoyable. Another invention the US needs to import.
- Bamboo rafts along the Li River.
- Renting bikes and scooters and taking them out into the countryside to explore.
- Awesome food.
- Browsing Chinese saying Tshirts. Bought a few as gifts....i'll show you mine on here.
- Talladega Nights in the middle of the day.
- Giant spiders in hostel rooms.
- Awesome food.
- NBA Finals and WORLD CUP watching.

Yangshuo at night from the rooftop bar of our hostel

Reflecting in Yangshuo brought this quote to my mind:
"We stand in awe of the ocean,
the thunderstorm,
the sunset, the mountains,
but we pass by a human being
without notice
even though the person is God's most magnificent creation"
- St. Augustine

My prayer after this trip is to allow people to amaze me even more than these incredible landscapes. I do believe that if we give them a chance, they really will.

Click here to see some more pictures of our trip to Yangshuo: Yangshuo 2010 Picture Album
What a great few weeks for sports. Waking up and watching one of the most memorable NBA Finals in years at the hostel flatscreen and all of the bars, cafes and restaurants in Yangshuo setting up flatscreens and projectors outside to watch the World Cup games. Not to mention the awesome Mets' win streak. I was in Shanghai during the last World Cup in 2006. Watching the World Cup out here is SO much fun. And that USA vs Algeria game was possibly the most dramatic sports moment I've ever seen (surpassing Endy Chavez' catch because the Mets lost that game). Not because I'm so into soccer (which i'm slowly warming up to and starting to appreciate), but because everyone is just so into it. The city is made up of internationals from all over the world, so our community is all rooting for their respective countries. But what I've also noticed is that the US audience is starting to get into it as well. How is it back at home? We gonna have some World Cup watching parties while we're back in July? Mid-summer baseball isn't much to get excited over.. GO USA.

Response to comments:
No love for Steven? How discouraging for future guest bloggers.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A Guest Blog

written by Steven Gong
click on the pictures to see them full size

“Don’t let a grain of sand in your shoe distract you from the beautiful beach…” (said by someone at small group)… Humidity, bugs, dirtiness, weird food, and a social culture that we Americans cringe at… but living the day-to-day with Alan and Daisy made me realize how much more there is to a “life in China” versus a “visit to China”.

I used to tell NYC visitors, “after your exhausting trip to the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty etc, come stay for a week and be a local.” I visited Shanghai four years ago and saw all the sights and sounds in a span of 2 days, but this time was a different experience. After getting a glimpse of the ex-pat life, I’d compare it to going away versus staying home for college. Sure, it is fine to stay in one place, but starting a chapter somewhere else is a whole new and fun experience.

Seeing young non-Chinese people walking to work with their iPods and coffee made me do double takes, but I was the only one staring. Shanghai is such a modern and diverse city yet so rich in culture. Alan and Daisy’s church friends include Americans, a Korean, a German, a Canadian, and many more… Again, it felt like the college experience on overdrive. It was refreshing to be surrounded by diverse, open minded adventurous people. Their zest and passion for their community was obvious.

It took me a few days to adjust, but I was driven by my insatiable desire for Xiao Long Baos aka Soup Dumplings from the corner shop (70cents/order, sure beats Joe’s Shanghai in nyc!). Being a Chinese person with zero Mandarin skills was frustrating: I think I said ‘May-gaw” or “ABC” about a hundred times.

We also got a glimpse of the legendary night-life thanks to our friend (also named Alan) and let’s just say there’s something for everyone here! Note: Green Tea and Whiskey is delicious, except for when it comes back up the next day during Ultimate Frisbee!

“It’s a small-world” has a whole new meaning when you're half-way around the globe as everyone seemed to be connected by just a few degrees of separation. The people you meet and the commonalities are astounding. Not to mention all the new relationships formed because of it.

Getting to experience the evolution and growth of China firsthand was awesome and if Shanghai is what the rest of China is supposed to be in 20 years – we better start paying attention (I’ll spare the business school analysis). An example in a recent post -

Other Highlights: McDonald’s 24/7 delivery, Shopping, Meat Knuckles (including the bone marrow through a straw!), Scooter/biking, Ultimate Frisbee, World Expo, Daisy Prego…

Click here to see Steven's facebook photo album of his trip to Shanghai: Steven in Shanghai

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Baby Gong

posted by Alan
click on pictures to see them full sized

So, my brother Steve(n)* has come and gone. We had a really good time with him and his friend Mike while they were here. It meant alot to us for him to want to come and see our lives here and the things we do out here. I think we gave him a pretty good feel of what life is like out here for us. He was supposed to do a guest blog while he was here, but we were just too busy. Then he planned on writing it on the plane ride home, but he got sick and remains curled up in a fetal position. His guest blog is coming soon though, so I'll let him update you on what we did and his perspectives on Shanghai.

Two lines means positive. Guess which one is mine and which is Daisy's.

But for now, we have our own update for you all. There will soon be another Gong in China. One of the things that Steven got to do while he was here was to come with us to see our first pictures of Baby Gong. Yup yup, Daisy has a future professional athlete already working out inside of her. We're both really thankful and excited.

Just to answer some questions that we know are coming:
- We don't know the sex yet and we probably won't until AFTER we come back in July. But yes, we're going to find out.
- I don't care if it's a boy or a girl, as long as it's a boy. I'm too protective, having a girl is gonna drive me crazy. Daisy thinks that we'll get a girl for that reason.
- As of this post, Daisy is 13 weeks. When we get home, she'll be 16 weeks.
- Yes, we're going to have the baby here in Shanghai. We have an American doctor in an international hospital. They even have running water!
- The baby will still be an American citizen. But it can't ever be US President (sorry baby).

We can't wait to see everyone in a few weeks! Give her big hugs, but not too hard.

*Side note: How come everyone calls my brother Steve? Me and my family have, and always will call him Steven, but it's even to the point where I start to introduce him now as 'my brother Steve.' But it feels weird, because my brother is Steven. Did he just start introducing himself as Steve to everyone? Did he tell everyone to just call him that? If so, then when? How did this happen? And how did my younger brother Robbie's name stick with him so long? It's just a nickname, but it usually goes away, right? You don't hear of many Robbie's these days. He could just as easily be known now as Bob Gong. Strange.