D-O-N-E

Fabien’s contract in China and with his company was scheduled to end on July 31st. I was freaking out a little thinking that we’d both return to the US without jobs to one of the worst economies in the country. And not to mention the fact that Fabien is a foreigner and even with his excellent experience, that still makes him a challenging candidate. That being said, once we did return to the US Fabien would only have 3 months to find a job before he would be forced to return to France. So, needless to say, we were totally thrilled when we were in the Philippines and he received an email from a Director at his company stating he would like to speak with him about a permanent transfer to the US. From hearing that, I exhaled a little. Our excitement was short-lived when he finally connected with the Director and was told the company would like him to stay in China for 6 months and then transfer to the US. This was deflating because we already began to make plans and had our mind set on being in Michigan for summer camping, Michigan games, the marathon, etc. Plus, we are both mentally done with China. The days following that information were like a rollercoaster. And this was all going on while Fabien’s parents and 4 friends were here and I was playing tour guide. Then, while we were in Macau Fabien’s mom received a phone call from him. On the way back from his farewell lunch he received a call that they would settle for 2 months in China with the transfer happening in October. Big exhale. We’ll take it. If you’re familiar with the Detroit economy and the US Immigration system, you will know that this is truly a miracle.

Even though Fabien has another 2 months to endure, we both decided that I should return home. I’m really, really, really sad that I am leaving him behind, but I am really, really, really excited to get home. I am done with China. Done with hearing people burp, spit, fart and slurp their noodles. Done with the heat. Done with the pollution. Done with the sidewalks being tore up everywhere I go. Done with trying to speak chinese. Done with trying to embrace the culture. Done using squatty potties. Done with everything smelling like a toilet and cigarettes. Done with having to look both ways, ten times when crossing the street. Done with the metro. Done with people staring at me all the time. D-O-N-E. Done. So, I began pricing flights to go home for the 2nd week of August with a brief stop in France to visit Fabien’s family. After a full spreadsheet and checking and rechecking, the cheapest flight I found was leaving Friday, August 6th and by the grace of God, it was a direct 15 hour flight from Hong Kong, so unfortunately, there would be no France for me. But, as I post this, I’m happy to announce that I am home. Home, sweet home.

This also means that my occupation as a blogger will be ending soon. But, before I retire, I plan to write a no holds barred expose on China and, of course, a reflection piece. Stay tuned for 2 more Stacie in Asia blogs, directly from Stacie in North America.

Time Traveling to the Philippines

Life has been a little crazy for us over the past month. I went to Bali, then a few days later Holly arrived, overlapped with a visit from Jeff, followed by him and Fabien going to Japan, capped off with his parents arriving a day after his return and concluding with 4 of his friends arriving a week after his parents, who are here for 3 weeks. Not to mention, we’ve both been trying to secure jobs in Detroit and plan our return to Michigan. Phew. BUT, it’s all fun stuff, so we are not complaining.

The first week his parents were here, we decided to go to the Philippines. Instead of taking a plane there, we took a DeLorean back to 1960. Arriving in Manila for an overnight stop over, we were introduced to rainy season. Throughout the city we saw locals taking Jeepney’s, which instantly reminded me of something I would’ve seen in a Vietnam war based movie. Our hotel was in the Makati District which was filled with people, restaurants, bars and girls who didn’t even have to say “me love you long time” because their body language and clothing said it for them. Manila was a rather disappointing and sad city. For being the capital, we expected to find plenty of monuments and other tourist attractions. Unfortunately, we saw many homeless, children begging for money and a beach that looked like a land fill. The highlight of the visit was dinner at a seaside restaurant complete with fireworks. The next morning, it was sunny and our drive to the airport was scenic in the sense that we saw people living in shacks made with tarps, abandoned buildings and under poorly made highway underpasses. Sad.

Arriving in the Cebu province was much more uplifting. From there we took a boat to it’s neighboring province of Bohol and checked into a resort on the beach to spend the afternoon napping and swimming in the clear blue water. The next day, we arranged for a driver to take us to all of the great Bohol sights. The pictures will give the best description, but we saw the Chocolate Hills, a beautiful man made forest, a few churches, adorable tarsiers and took a lunch cruise where the riverside villages provided entertainment of dancing and singing. Both evenings were topped off with fantastic dinners on the beach where we picked our own fish which was caught earlier that morning. A perfect couple of days.

Some friends who had been to the Philippines made us promise that we would go to Malapascua Island during our week. So, we took the boat back to Cebu and a taxi to the bus station. With a little hesitation and a big sense of adventure, we boarded a $2, unairconditioned bus for a 4 hour journey through rural Philippines. It turned out to be one of my favorite parts of the trip. Yes, it was windy, uncomfortable and a little scary at times, but driving through the villages, seeing school children wave and the beautiful scenery of the country is something I will never forget. As if our traveling couldn’t get more grassroots, when we arrived to the port, the boat we needed to take made us nervously laugh. If I thought that taking the little fishing boat in Bali was scary, this was really, really scary. We hopped on a 4 person, turned 6 person fisher boat that took us to a bigger boat (yes, we changed boats in the middle of the Indian Ocean), which took us to another little boat, that took us to the very remote island. Fortunately, it was worth it because Malapascua was paradise and, considering that it was a mission to get there, the island was empty.

We checked into our hotel which had a front porch in the sand. For the next two days we napped in the sand, swam in the blue water, ate way too much, snorkeled and got massages on the beach. After major relaxation it was time for the long journey back to Guangzhou to greet Fabien’s friends. So, we boarded the boat, then a smaller one, bus for 4 hours, taxi to the hotel, shuttle to the airport, plane from Cebu to Manila, transfer shuttle to the international terminal, plane from Manila to Hong Kong, car from airport to China border, bus to Guangzhou and finally a taxi to the apartment. Again, phew.

The Philippines is not for those who are high maintenance or looking for a luxurious vacation. Also, if your looking for the latest and greatest amenities, you’ll need to look somewhere else. The whole country is decades behind, but for a week, it was nice to be in a more simple world. It’s also one of those place that requires hard work, thick skin and patience to discover the beauty. But once your there, it’s totally worth it!

My Night at the Brothel

Fabien went to Japan this week with a couple friends, so I’ve been left to fend for myself. My friend, Julia, had some vacation time to burn, so it worked out well that both our boyfriends were out of town and we were women in need of some relaxation. I suggested we finally head to the all night spa that she had told me about months ago. And so we boarded the train Wednesday evening and within an hour and a half we were being greeted by 10 singing women spa employees. Weird.

They immediately whisk you to the female locker room and give you a key tag with a number that services are charged to. The attendant screamed as us to take a shower and threw a towel down. Strange. So we did as we were told and when I got out of the shower, I couldn’t find Julia. Another attendant said something I didn’t understand and motioned for me to follow her. Hell bent on not being kidnapped and sold into sex slavery I decided to find Julia instead. Once I did, we were given pajamas and cleared to enter the spa area. I was just grateful they make everyone shower up before coming in with God knows what on their body.

It reminded me of being in a casino except there was no gambling and everyone was in pajamas. Low overhead lamps, neon lights, curricular booths, women dressed scantly clad and lots of people smoking. The cool points were that there were leather recliners with your own personal TV screens everywhere, free buffets and so many activities to occupy your time. Sauna, steam room, 5 pools, hot tubs, pool and ping pong tables, bars, restaurants and kids area (yes, there were tons of kids there). For our first activity, we decided on a 2 hour aroma therapy massage. After we ordered it up, the hostess asked us if we’d like to choose our girls. Bizarre. Um, I’ll just take one that is free of any sort of STD, thanks. The massage itself was actually one of the best I’ve had and my masseuse was nothing but professional. However, it sounded like the guy in the next room had the best “massage” of his life. Creepy. After that, we were ready for bed, which would be in one of the big leather chairs. Surprisingly I slept really well with the exception of someone’s kid crying several times throughout the night and people having loud conversations on their cell phones. This just reinforced the fact that there is no common courtesy in China.

The next morning Julia and I had one of the most amazing cups of coffee I’ve ever had, fresh fruit and foot massages, all while we watched a movie. This time my masseuse raped my foot with his hands. Basically, it just hurt and I asked him to stop several times. He responded by telling me we was trying to work out the pain and that I should relax. No means no and after I protested further, he eased up. Then I got a foot scraping, which sounds scary but I can assure you that my feet are as soft as the day I was born.

I’m positive there were some sketchy things going on but overall, the place was pretty awesome, clean and, for the most part, classy. For about a hundred dollars I got a few hours worth of massages, ate great food, drank, had a relaxing night and another authentic experience.