First off, Whitney has now arrived in Beijing and is staying. She is living with me and working at a different center. One of my roommates broke her contract and left China so we had an opening so Whitney just filled that spot. She has been here about 12 weeks and it is going very well.
Remember how I mentioned I was thinking of getting a bike? Well, I did. It is fantastic. Riding in the beautiful, sunny weather is great...I am just covered in sweat constantly. Seriously, I am so sweaty. Beijing summers are hot and humid. They average is about 30 C (find a converter online) and about 40% or so humidity. But, back to the bike. I do have a helmet, and 2 locks so I don't join the legions of people who have had their bikes stolen in Beijing (knock on wood). But also remember how I was afraid of getting hit my cars? Well, no longer afraid of that...I have been hit...twice...and 1 scooter. Don't worry, the bike is fine and so am I. :D The first time I had a car turn right and hit me. I hit the ground, picked myself up, picked the gravel out of my hand and kept riding home. The next one I was riding and a car pulled into the bike lane, going the wrong direction on a one way street in front of a police station and I hit the car while it was turning into the street. I pulled the glass out of my shoulder and continued on. I met my friends and went rock climbing. The scooter was just stupid. I was passing the scooter. There were some low hanging tree branches--it was a weeping willow tree with long, droopy branches that seem more like vines and branches. We were riding next to each other in a narrow bike lane when he hit one of those branches (by the way, you could clearly see that we were going to run into them) and I did too. The difference between him and me is that he freaked out an swerved into me pinning my ankle against my pedal and the small fence separating bike from car traffic. Once again, I was fine, just a small limp for a couple of days, and a couple cuts around my ankle and calf. My bike pedal got slightly bent but otherwise it is fine. So, that was the worst accident. And I must reiterate, I AM FINE!
Got the chance to ride with with an amateur bike racer. He took Whitney and I on a “short” and “quick” ride one morning...through the busiest part of Beijing. Whitney and I left our house at 6:30 AM to meet him about 10 Km from our house, waited about 10 minutes for him. When he got I was a little scared because his legs were the size of me—not to mention hairier than me—and had a lot of the expensive gear that I don't. Such as clip in shoes, a very very expensive, light bike frame, racing uniform AKA spandex from head to toe, etc. Whitney was in better shape than me, she has bike shorts (they are padded) and gloves because she has done this sort of thing before and rode regularly in Ningbo. I, on the other hand, have never done a ride like this before in my life and therefore I had on my gym clothes. We rode with him for 1 hour, at his pace, and it was obvious that he wasn't pushing himself. I was sweating and swearing after the first 10 minutes. When Whitney and I decided it was time for us to turn around because a) we were tired, b) we didn't want to hold him back anymore and c) my butt hurt we had ridden around 20 Km...after 50 minutes. After riding for about 30 minutes, we saw Adam (the guy we were following) pass us at a speed I can only judge as inhuman. But we made it home safely and by 9:30. So, if we are doing the math, in 3 hours, Whitney and I rode approximately 60 Km. Which isn't much until you consider it was on 2 of Beijing's busiest roads, dodging pedestrians, other cyclists, buses pulling in and out of traffic, and taxis who think the bike lane was made for them. The funny thing is, this is the “slow” guy that another group suggested when Whitney couldn't keep up with them.
Life here is good. I am enjoying China very much. I also got a second job. Not because Disney English isn't paying enough but because that work isn't fulfilling to me. I love working with kids, my coworkers, but the top-down organization of such a large company doesn't agree with me and doesn't work well for the business of education. My second job is, surprise, making coffee for a company called Ocean Grounds—that name is changing because of arguments between the previous owners over trademark ownership. They do direct trade (relationship coffees), small batch roasting, public cuppings (stop giggling), espresso, hand pour-over drip coffee, some amazing specialty drinks, whole sale—green and roasted coffees. I work only 16 hours a week, on my days off, and primarily work to help with some training issues, machine cleaning, cupping, and overall taste quality. My hand pour-overs are still a little off, always a little on the bitter side. My milk texturing (steaming) needs a lot of work. They consider it too thick. I have also been talking with them about other avenues of employment with them. Learning how to roast, possibly moving into green buying after some work on my cupping skills, and training their barista team on proper techniques and drink building to increase efficiency and decrease chance of repetitive stress injuries. But I am really enjoying my job there. Working with coffee and customers is really something I enjoy. I really think food service is where I will find a”career” (wow, that is a scary word...better not think about it too long, let's change the subject)
Otherwise, life is life. I keep getting pressure to extend my contract so they can give a promotion. But my sense of...pride?...maybe self respect has a hard time dealing with that with working for the mouse for too long. I like my job, I like the people I work with, I like working with kids, but the mouse and working for a heavy handed top-down company hurts my soul. If 24 year old Ryan met 29 year old Ryan, I am sure he would punch me in the face. That said, I will still be extending my contract for 3 months so that Whitney and I can finish our contracts together. Then I will hopefully travel a little bit on my way back to the US. I have a couple of friends in Manilla (the Philippines) and want to stop by Hawaii—it has been a long time since I visited them.
Speaking of vacations Whitney and I are heading to Guangzhou and possibly Hong Kong for the national holiday—the first week of October. That would be exciting. We are looking at staying at one hostel right next to the pearl river in Guangzhou, but everything is very expensive in Hong Kong so I am not sure if we will make it there. Also, looking forward to eating a lot of dim sum while in the region, that is the region where it comes from. I have learned to make a couple of dim sum dishes: 烧卖 (shao mai)，麻团 (ma tuar/tuan—fried glutinous rice balls with red bean filling, the sesame balls Jonny and I like)， 芝麻虾土司 (zhi ma xia tu si, sesame shrimp toast). But I won't be able to attend many more cooking classes because I am now working almost every evening. But oh well. This vacation should be fun. It is going to be warm and humid there. Tropical. Also, I will be very close to one of the coffee growing regions of China. There are lots of options in the region. It is supposed to be very beautiful and the city is supposed to be nice. So, we will see what we can do.
In other news, my Chinese name is 萧文昌 (xiao wen chang). So that is pretty cool. 昌 means prosperous while 文 has a lot of meanings, mostly revolving around language or culture. Here is the translation table from google translate (so take that as you will):
That is all I have for now. Yes, I am still working on getting to Nicaragua to volunteer sometime next year, the details are unfolding slowly and I will let y'all know more when I have a more concrete idea about what is happening. Sorry that was sooooooooooooo long. I hope you found some time to read through it. I hope this message finds you all in good health and spirits.