We’ll call my tour guide Joe… that’s what he tells me to call him… that’s the American name he has given himself in order to make it easier on tourists. Joe not only kept his Chinese name hidden, but much of China as well. Joe took us to amazing places, beautiful places… The Great Wall, Tiananmen Square, The Temple of Heaven, Ming Tomb.. my friend Hannah and I had a private driver, so we couldn’t accidentally go somewhere that wasn’t Westerner friendly. But we had a day off. And just one street down from our fancy hotel we had to witness people living on roof tops, under bridges, and sleeping on sidewalks. A blind elderly man and a war vet played traditionally instruments in the street for money. The pollution is so bad in Beijing the sky looks cloudy. There are millions of people in the city, so the traffic is always terrible and the driving is a bit crazy. People honk their horns when they are trying to pass someone instead of using their blinkers. So, there’s a lot of noise pollution too.

Joe says that in order to get into college he had to beat seven other people out of a spot. And that he worked hard and was lucky. He wanted to use his degree to teach school, but he couldn’t find work, so had to learn English in order to become a tour guide. I hope to find more options with my degree this December. Joe has no religion. This is not surprising, but I was shocked to learn that his professor condemned him for this, and said that there would always be something missing in his life. I’m inclined to agree that a spiritual belief is fulfilling, but couldn’t believe that such an attitude was promoted through an academic authority.

Another tidbit of information from Joe that I found surprising about the educational system in China is that people who attend private school are looked down upon. Since getting into state school is so competitive some students choose to pay for private school instead of retaking high school until they can pass their exams.

In my free time in Beijing I went to a martial arts show where men did flips and broke steel using their heads. I also went to an acrobatics show where 12 people rode on one bicycle. It was like Cirque du Soleil except without the storyline – Every moment of the performance was filled with something unbelievable. Even the beginning, when I saw the performers trying to sell programs and merchandise.

I’m generally adventurous when it comes to food but once I saw dog in English on a menu with a picture I got a bit ill. Peeking duck is delicious… please don’t remind me how the animals suffer. Eating Chinese food for every meal has been a bit challenging… of course I have other options that I try not to resort to – The Colonel is King in Beijing. There are KFC’s across the street from each other, without a McDonalds or Burger King in sight. Even though it was comforting to see Sanders happy face everywhere it was also disturbing. Everything is changing for the Olympics.

While in Malaysia I went to the communications tower and roamed around down town. I got a foot massage for $10. It was a bargain of a beating. The massage therapist karate chopped my feet and legs. I thought massages were supposed to feel good? I got my hair trimmed for about the same price. I felt so sorry for the hairdresser. He kept asking me if I go for a swim everyday… I kept telling him no, but he didn’t believe me… he had never cut hair like mine before, and didn’t understand how it could be so dry.

Right now I’m in Tibet. It more wonderful than I had hoped it could be. Everyone I’ve encountered has been friendly. The mountains are beautiful. And while the altitude makes it hard to breathe it is still easier to inhale minus the visible pollution of China.