Letters From China (Bunny Bureaucracy 2008)

I changed the order of my last two posts from China in order to end on a happier note. There was so much about the last few months of that experience that was difficult and miserable, and in large part, I simply stopped doing things or writing things as the illness and depression took hold. However, the unconditional love of a pet is a powerful force, and it turned out that I would do nearly anything for my bun. So, here’s the wacky story of how I got the red stamp of approval to bring him home. I don’t have any pics of the events described, but instead you get more cute bunny pictures to break up the wall of text.


Bunny on a Plane: An Epic Tail

This post is dedicated to Elspeth. She was there for me and the bunny in our moment of need and has remained a faithful friend to this day. She supports me from afar, and I love her for it. Thank you, El.

66Monday:

Monday was my first day of not teaching. It was not too bad. I did a lot more research on bringing pets on international flights and became seriously disheartened that bringing the bunny home was simply outside my price range. I went to dinner with some of the other teachers and made arrangements to house the bunny with another American in Beijing who already has one pet rabbit. I got home about 11:30, and met Elspeth online because she had agreed to call some airlines for me to see if we could possibly find something the internet had not revealed.

She called 6 or 7 airlines, spent a lot of time on hold and even more time talking to machines. I had eliminated airlines that did not allow animals on international flights, and airlines that did not fly direct from China to the US (each airline has its own rules and pricing, and many tickets over long distances may say they are one company, but the planes are actually partner companies planes, thus would result in new rules and prices. For example, one airline told us they could carry the bun trans-Pacifically, but not OUT of China). Of the remaining options, many simply refused rabbits, and the rest were WAY too expensive.

Finally, around 3am we were on our last try, all others having failed. The number given for reservations totally refused to yeild a human being, and it looked like we would have to give up without any good news and the bunny would have to stay in China. I found another number, not for the department we needed, but in the same airline and said, ok if the person who answers can’t get you a human in the department we need, then we’ll give up.

Huzzah, they were able to give El a sneaky way to bypass the machines and get to a person!

And then a ray of light came into my dreary morning. Yes we can take your bunny internationally, yes it’s a reasonable price for the bunny and for you! For it would have done me no good to get a cheap fare for the bunny and a hugely expensive one for myself.

Book it!

Oh wait.

What paperwork does the airline require? The USDA, CDC and Fish & Wildlife have no restrictions on bunnies entering the US as pets and don’t need any proof of shots etc, but airlines have their own rules.

They need a certificate of health.

What is that and where do I get it? The internet says it has to show proof of rabies shots, but my bunny hasn’t had one, bunnies don’t traditionally get them. Is there an exception for bunnies?

The airline does not know.

Well, rabies shots must be given 30 days before departure, so if he needs one, this still may not work. The airline offers to hold the ticket for 24 hrs so I can call my vet during Beijing business hours.

4 am I get to go to bed.

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Tuesday:

I woke up at 9 something am to be awake when Abbey (the coordinator for the foreign teachers) came over with my final pay. They decided to withhold an additional 500 yuan in case of furniture damage… given the state of the sofa, I’m not expecting to see that again.

I called the vet and left a message that I urgently needed to talk to him THAT DAY about travel documents for the bunny. I also emailed.

I turned the volume on the phone way up and tried to go back to sleep. But the power was out. I think there are 2 things worth mentioning here. 1) the power goes out here several times a week with no apparent reason, so I was not worried or surprised. 2) its usually only out for 5-10 minutes at a go.

My bedroom window faces the street, and its one of the busy ones, hair salons blaring music in competition with one another, cars honking to say hi, or get out of my way or fuck off, not really sure, and firecrackers at random. Because of this, I leave the fan in my AC on to create a white noise and dampen these outdoor noises.

The power was out for more than 3 hrs. I had no fan, and though MY power was out, all the hair salons’ power was not. So sleep did not happen.

I start to wonder why the vet has not called back. I’m tired and bored, and don’t want to go out because I have no mobile phone. So I call back around 230-3pm and re-explain how important it is to get this info promptly.

I finally get through to the vet, yay. For the next 2 hrs there is a dance in which his Chinese secretary calls the government office of import/export to find out what’s up (I did not know that the certificate had to come from the government, I thought it just needed to be from a vet), then tells the vet what the government said, then the vet calls me and tells me what the secretary said. Then I ask questions, cause its very confusing, and he asks his secretary and she calls the government office back, and… for 2 hrs. At one point I even have to email the link to the APHIS page on US regulations for rabbits to the vet.

Finally, at nearly 5 pm the vet tells me that the government official refuses to believe that the US has no requirements and that I must go to the office in person the next day before 11:30 am, because he’s leaving at lunch and won’t be back until Friday. FRIDAY! Bad enough I can’t get answers in time to get the good ticket price that’s on hold, but if I have to wait until Friday, I’ll have to reschedule my whole return flight.

Why do I need to come in? Bear in mind, I still think that my vet is the one who has to give the bun his exam and paperwork, so I’m thinking that I have to go to this office and who-knows-what just so the official can tell the vet what to put on the form or something, very vague at this point, and the vet is not dispelling my understanding, because he’s talking about needing to make an appointment for the bunny to come see him.

The vet thinks that the guy is just being stubborn and wants to see me put in some effort or jump through some hoop, and I should just print out the website to take to him.

Where is it?

His secretary will email the address to me (never did, btw).

Who is this person?

Surname Xue.

EEEK! I don’t understand! What to I bring, what am I supposed to get from them, HELP!!!

He says maybe I should have one of my Chinese friends call Xue, but its 5pm now and he’s probably gone from his office (totally true, I tried to call)

So, I’m furious, I’m tired. I can’t buy the ticket yet, because I still have no real answer on the rabies issue, the vet couldn’t tell me. The airline doesn’t know what the health certificate is supposed to have other than ‘generally not in ill health’, and I can’t DO anything about it for 15 hrs when the office opens again.

So, I went out, got food and beer, which helped. Took a shower and completely failed to be able to relax enough to sleep until after 1am.

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Wednesday:

Woke up at 7:30 am, rushed to dress and get out (no breakfast) so I could get to the international affairs office at the school when it opened at 8am to beg them to call this Xue person and find out what I was supposed to be doing.

Xue didn’t get to the office till 8:30, and turned out to be a Ms. rather than a Mr. (thus demonstrating just ONE of the communication breakdowns that occurred between Ms. Xue, the vet’s secretary, the vet and myself). Abbey was able to explain the situation apparently better than the vet’s secretary, which is a little scary, and was also able to steer Ms. Xue to the APHIS website so she could see the regulations (or lack thereof) for herself, which is what the vet said I HAD to do in person.

Several phone calls, an email and an hour later, I had learned that I simply needed to go to her office building, starting on the ground floor at window 3 or 4 to fill out a form, then proceeding upstairs to Ms. Xue’s office on the 4th floor, and please bring the bunny and no it shouldn’t cost anything.

At about 9:30 am I rushed back to my apartment and packed the bunny and his breakfast in his travel bag. Stopped at the supermarket on the way to the bus stop to grab a snickers and a can of coffee for me, and hopped on a bus totally forgetting my music and book, but in too much of a hurry to go back and wait for the next bus, since I’ve got an 11:30 deadline and a 90 min travel time.

Bus, taxi, finally there. I go to window 4 (3 is vacant) and say I need to bring my pet home to America with me. She says I need some exam paperwork from my vet (which is surely why he thought he needed to make an appointment for me). And I say, no no. Ms. Xue in room 405 told me I just needed to come here to you and get one form, then bring my pet to her.

So, she calls Ms Xue, and thankfully I am not sent packing to my vet’s office, but rather handed the requisite form to fill out. Which I do, with only minor difficulties due to odd translations. I then take the form upstairs, being stopped occasionally by overzealous clerks to make sure I belonged there.

2017 Note: Basically everyone I encountered in this building other than Ms. Xue (who was expecting me) figured that I had a dog or cat. They also didn’t speak English, so I would say that I had a rabbit (tu-zi) and they would look confused, sure that I had misspoken. Tu-zi? Zhen-de? (rabbit? really?) and then I would open the lime green bag and the bunny would look up and twitch his nose at them and they would look completely stunned and wave me on to the next office, door, or checkpoint. I went through exactly the same thing at the airport when he was in his carrier and the woman at the check in counter called over every other employee she could find to look at the crazy white woman and the adorable bunny. 67.jpg

Ms. Xue is rather young and wearing a uniform with shoulder epaulets that put one in mind of a military or boy scout uniform, but by now I know that all government employees wear some kind of military-esque uniform.

I wait for her to get off the phone then hand over my form. At this point, a conversation in rapid Chinese commences between Ms. Xue and her colleagues. Normally, I try to tune these things out, but I could tell they were talking about me and my rabbit, so I listened. I couldn’t tell you word for word, but there was definitely an issue about the lack of vet papers and the veracity of the claim that the US has no regulations on pet rabbits.

The print out of the APHIS website is passed around. Ms. Xue starts to make phone calls, and I loose the thread. She takes a look at the rabbit, not an exam, doesn’t even take it out of the bag or touch it, but I suppose she needed to be sure it really was a rabbit. Then she asks me to write a declaration averring that the rabbit is indeed my pet.

I hereby do certify that this rabbit is my pet. Handwritten, signed and dated.

She asks me to leave the bunny in her office and come back downstairs, where we return to window 4. I am handed a new form and asked to write what soon turns out to be a request to cancel the first form I filled out.

Then, Ms Xue takes me to ANOTHER office, where I fill out new and different forms, which are then typed and reprinted. I am asked to double check this printed information and to pay a 200 yuan fee (about 30$). Whereupon I am handed 2 stamped forms.

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An Aside About Red Stamps

I would like to say something about red stamps at this point.

The Chinese are mad about them. Everything official needs at least one, but the more the better. For example: the supermarket. There are many small non-food items at many stores that cannot be taken to the main register with all your other goods. In fact, they may not be taken to a register at all. You bring your item(s) to a clerk in the department, and if you try to walk tOo far with said item, a clerk will find you. The clerk takes the item(s) and writes a description and price on a small 3 layer carbon copy form. You then take this form to the nearby register (still not the main one at which you will pay for most of your goods, this is a register that deals only with these little forms). The girl at the register (I’ve never seen a man at one) takes the 3 layers and your money, she puts the top layer in the register, glues the register receipt to the second layer, stamps the second layer and receipt with one stamp (so that part of the design is on each and is only whole when they are together), and stamps the third layer as well (little red stamps), then hands these back to you. You then take them back to the clerk who has your item(s), who takes the register receipt glued second layer and gives you your item(s) and the third layer.

This you must do to buy nail clippers. Imagine what an export form for a rabbit entails. Am I complete now that I have these 2 red stamps?

Back to the Bunny

I follow Ms. Xue (who has taken my stamped forms) back to her 4th floor office to collect my bunny. She prints out another form and places it on a stack of papers containing the 2 red stamped forms, the printed pages of the APHIS website, the handwritten statement confirming the petly nature of the bunny and possibly something else, I lost track, and hands the stack to me.

I glance at the top (newest) form and notice it does not have a stamp.

Oh no, she says, we must go see the official government vet so they can examine the bun and stamp us.

Ok, BACK down to window 4 (this woman was getting familiar with my issue). It is 11:45 am at this point, and alas, the vet has already left for lunch. I need to come back at 2pm, and she TOOK my stamped papers!

So, I’m in an unfamiliar neighborhood, 2 hrs to kill, not remotely enough time to go home, and the bunny is still stuck in his travel bag. The net bar I found was closed, and as previously mentioned, I ran out the door without music or book. So I find a cafe and stare at the wall while sipping iced Americanos and try to stay awake.

I get back to the office at 1:45, expecting to actually SEE a vet. No, Window 4 sees me coming and pulls out a brand new stack of forms. Thankfully, these are are the official on letterhead paper versions of the forms I had filled out or had printed before. She liberally applies her red stamp 5-6 times, stamping each layer of the carbon copies and removing the requisite ones for her own records, and I am handed my official animal health certificate and export approval certificate.

Taxi, bus, get home around 3:30 with real food finally. The bunny has been stuck in his bag for 6 hours, and I’ve been running on a snickers bar for 9, but we’re DONE, we have the stamps. Now, I just have to stay up until 11:pm till Elspeth gets back online and we can finally buy the ticket (hoping that the low price will still be available) so I can officially cancel my early Thursday morning meeting with the potential adoptive pet owner.

Lychee flavored beer and liberal amounts of snackfood and Facebook see me through the intervening hours and Elspeth wakes up extra early in sympathy, for she was made aware of my plight before going to bed.

Finally, we have a ticket for me and a reservation for the bunny. See you soon!

In loving memory: October 2007-April 2012


And so it was that the Bunny and I returned to Seattle together. He was a good bun, and I miss him. Elspeth still talks about the hardship of waking up at the crack of dawn to call airlines, even though these days she’s regularly up and out of the house early enough to take photos of the sunrise. In many ways, this was the benchmark for my experiences in pointless international bureaucracy with crazy mistranslations and inconsistently applied policies. It never ceases to make my brain boggle, but it is somewhat reassuring to look back and see what kind of paperwork I’ve navigated in the past to give me confidence to take on daunting paperwork mountains needed for my future. 

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Winter Wonderland 2018

This winter was full of cold and confusion. My hunt for a new job has been incredibly time consuming, and the uncertainty about my future led me to forgo an out of country winter holiday. Instead I decided to head north (not across the border or anything) to visit the Hwacheon Ice Festival and other snow filled winter activities in case it was my last chance to play in the snow in Korea. It looks like things are working out, and I will be staying in Korea next year after all, but I’ll tell that story after all the details are wrapped up. For now, walk with me into a winter wonderland weekend.


I like going on tour trips with the group Enjoy Korea. They’re by far my favorite organized tour group in Korea: polite, well-organized, helpful, responsive, and fun (without being a total party bus). I highly recommend traveling with them if you’re looking for more things to see in Korea while you’re here. No, they aren’t paying me to say that, or even giving me a discount, I just think they’re cool and deserve more business.

When I realized I wasn’t leaving Korea for the winter holidays, I turned to the upcoming events page of their website and looked for something fun that didn’t involve skiing. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to learn how to ski, but stress and health concerns over the fall just made it seem like this winter was not going to be the one. Instead, I found the Winter Wonderland Weekender.

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Naminara Republic

While we were on the multi-hour drive up from Busan, our guide handed out pamphlets about our 3 weekend destinations, and being me, I actually read them. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the tiny river island of Nami was it’s own country! Nami is a small island within the North Han River. Not that long ago, it was only an island for part of the year when the waters ran high. However, when the Cheongpyeong Dam was built in the 1940s, the river level became higher permanently, and Nami was cut off from the mainland year round.

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It was said to be the grave-site of General Nami, and the grave was gradually built up and around, turning the island into a nature reserve and kind of amusement park/garden. In 2006 they declared their independence from Korea to become a “fairy-tale nation”. I’m not making that up, it’s in their declaration of independence. They have an immigration office. I didn’t bring my passport because I didn’t know this ahead of time, but apparently they will stamp your passport if you like. Because of their friendly relations with Korea, it’s not required for visitors to do so.

I cannot help but look at this and think of Nami as a precocious 5 year old who really wants to be a grown up. Nami: “We’re independent and we’re gonna have our own country made of fairy tales!” Korea: “Ok, honey, you have fun and make sure to be home in time for dinner.”

It’s cute.

There are 2 ways onto the island of Nami: the ferry and the zipline. I wanted to try the zipline since our guide said it was actually rather slow and more of a scenic experience than an adrenaline rush, but the wait time was over an hour and we only had a few hours to explore that afternoon.

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The ferry is not disappointing. It’s small, and mostly standing room, but it’s only about 6 minutes from shore to shore and gives beautiful views of the river on the way over. The water wasn’t frozen solid, but there were floating chunks of ice like green glass floating along the shore where the water was shallower. As we approached the island, we were first greeted with a giant ice formation overshadowing the maid of Nami.

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The maid of Nami is a famous statue of a woman standing in the water, but she was nearly obscured and entirely overshadowed by the mountain of ice that had formed from the freezing spray of the nearby fountain. Instead of turning the fountains off for the winter, the Naminarians decided to let their fountains run and turn into fairy-tale castles of long white and blue ice stalactites. Although at first the beautiful structure was overrun with ferry passengers queuing up to take photos, it didn’t take long before they all moved on and I had a chance to get a few of my own.

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The island has a multitude of walking trails as well as a “train” (think kiddie ride). I spotted the post office on my way in where a telephone allowed visitors to make international calls or send post cards from the micronation.

At first, I was feeling a little disappointed by the lack of snow. After all, it had snowed in Busan just a few days before, a place that sees snow every 2-3 years, surely Nami which is famous for it’s snow clad beauty would be white from edge to edge. The main entrance and pathways were simply brown, perhaps from lack of snowfall but more likely from an excess of foot traffic. I determined to seek out more frozen fountains and whatever patches of snow I could nonetheless, and soon found a frozen pond which remained snowcovered and I began to feel more in the mood.20180113_140124.jpg

My spirits were lifted completely when I encountered the sledding hill. Snow from all over had been piled together in a large hill that was decorated with ice-men (like snowmen, but made of ice). There was a line to borrow a sled but it wasn’t long and within a few moments I was lugging my luge up the snowy slope. I think it hadn’t snowed in a few days at least because the snow was quite packed and hard. Many sledders fell over sideways the first time their sled hit a bump. I watched as the line grew shorter, determining my best strategy for not suffering a wipe out and when it was my turn, I tried to center myself as much as possible and took a firm hold of the rope that formed the handle at the front of the sled.

When the countdown ended and the whistle blew, 3 of us took off at once. The slope wasn’t too high, but I soon picked up speed and when I hit the first bump my sled and I were launched into the air. I managed to land without falling over and kept my seat all the way down, whooping in a very American way at the thrill of speed and snow and winter wind whipping my skin.

Next to the snow hill was an ice village. There were sculptures of animals and fish, but also houses and castles built from carved ice blocks where visitors could climb around and take silly photos. I was impressed by the size and scope of these ice constructions, but oh wait until tomorrow.

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While I was finishing up my photos of the ice sculptures at a particularly large ice shark, I looked up and noticed there were ostriches running around in a field across the road. Nami island is very proud of it’s animal population, but apparently the ostriches are the stars of the show. It was a bit surprising to me how curious of visitors the birds were, spending most of their time right up at the fences despite having plenty of roaming room. I bet there’s food involved somewhere. Still it was odd to see these African savanna birds in the snow.

After the arctic ostrich experience, I meandered to the far bank of the island where the river was completely frozen over and dusted white with snow. It was quiet and serene. The emptiness was a stark contrast to the crowds I had left behind only 5 minutes before. It is a function of Korea that will never cease to amaze me, but no matter how crowded it is at an event, all you have to do is walk away for 5-10 minutes to be totally alone.

20180113_144230.jpgNext I headed back towards the center of the island to the arts and crafts village where handmade goods can be viewed, created, and purchased. My favorite was a metal tree dripping glass globes that caught the winter afternoon sunlight. There were also plenty of places to grab a hot drink, a snack or a meal.

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I went on a search for the glass blowing studio because I’d read in the pamphlet that there was an activity where visitors could make a small ornament, but alas it was only for groups of 8 or more who had booked in advance. My foray into molten glass will have to wait for another time.

While I was meandering around the statues and shops, I found a pottery shop with two peacocks perched on the rooftop, and I found a lone snow bunny hopping around on one of the frozen ponds. Great place for him since humans were kept back by the fear of falling in the ice. Great spot for me since I got to take photos of him against the snow. He was pretty fearless though and didn’t seem to mind when even more visitors noticed him and rushed over to take photos.

The weather was so cold that my phone battery was struggling more than normal and my phone actually shut down right in the middle of this bunny photo shoot, but it was still special. I suppose I’ll always have a soft spot for bunnies after having one of my own as a furbaby.

I found that while many of the restaurants were quite expensive (surprise, we’re on an island) there was a place called the Asian Family Restaurant that had decent prices and a wide range of foods. I ended up with a giant bowl of hot and spicy soup in a Chinese style, and by the time I was full, I was warm enough to head back into the snow.

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I decided to walk around the other side of the island on my way back toward the ferries to see what I hadn’t seen, I found more frozen ponds, sculptures, trees covered in a light snow, and the further I went, the fewer people I had to share it with. Coming out of a small birch grove, I spotted the oddest piece of art adorning an unused picnic area. Alone with this, the sounds of distant tourists muffled to silence by the blanket of snow around me, it felt more than a little creepy.

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Heading back to the riverside path, I found some other members of the Enjoy Korea group who were skipping stones on the frozen water to hear the odd laser blaster sound that it makes. I tried it myself, there’s literally no technique involved, just toss a rock on a frozen body of water and pew pew pew! Lot’s of people saw that guy on YouTube be very dude-bro about it, but here’s another guy who actually explains it.

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Finally, the short winter day began to wind down and my last bit of trail gave the ice, river and sky some beautiful twilight colors. I got back to the bus just a few minutes early and discovered that someone had participated in the ice carving craft. She made a hefty stein from ice, and since it couldn’t possibly last in the heat of the bus, she was offering to let anyone who liked have a shot of Korean soju from the frozen chalice. I think it was probably the best soju I’ve ever had, even though it was the same stuff that’s in every convenience store. Bonus, I can safely say in retrospect that either I got in on it early enough or the combo of ice and alcohol did the trick, but I didn’t get anyone else’s cold!

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Go check out the rest of the photos on Facebook.

Garden of the Morning Calm

After dark, we headed over to view a special winter lights show at a nearby botanical garden. The Koreans are, as always, just spectacular at light displays. This large garden usually makes it’s living showing off plants and flowers, but in the dead of winter when everything is brown and brittle, it opens up at night for a whole other color spectacle.

My first few months in Korea, I saw the biggest and most amazing light show when I went to the Taean Tulip Festival, and while I enjoyed every other light show I’ve been to since then, none have been able to take the title from Tulips until now. I did not realize what I was getting myself into. The entry way had trees and bushes wrapped in lights and the almost obligatory tunnel of lights (still not tired of those). I expected it to be similar to the one at Boseong, and I was happy with that idea.

I especially liked the lights glowing on the snow and ice, creating fun reflections and pastel color splashes. I dawdled far more than I should have, but the maps in Korean parks are notoriously bad for scale, and I just did not understand how BIG this place really is. I got to the (also obligatory) suspension bridge and noticed it led back to the entrance, so I turned to head down another path, even though it appeared to lead into darkness. Just to check.

I found another tunnel of light. I found a frozen pond that had been covered entirely in blue lights with a glowing sailboat and dolphins frolicking in the blue. I found a path covered in umbrellas made of tiny lights. I found giant vines and leaves of light that made me feel like Alice when she shrank small and talked to the flowers.

Then I turned a corner and saw the stars.

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Not really the stars, but huge balls made from clusters of tiny lights high in the tall trees looking like the night stars in the blackness. Fiber-optic cables flowed down from the branches like willow trees and waterfalls. Giant leaves wrapped around the trunks of trees climbing to meet the falling fronds of light above. Silhouettes of animals were picked out in life size golden glowing sculptures: reindeer which made sense, and a giraffe I suppose because why not? At the far end of this wonderland was a neon pink church that the King would have been pleased to see in his Vegas days, fronted by two pure white glowing angels. I could have probably done without the extra religion, but as I headed down the hill toward the next display, the church shrank into the background and I was left with a final stunning view of the immersive forest of light.

The theme of over sized plants continued a bit with giant mushrooms and trees wrapped in lights to an almost fractal level of detail. Faced with another fork in the road to go on into darkness or return to the glow of lights at the entrance, I checked the time and decided to forge ahead. I pondered what could be left after that wonderful wood. I took some photos of creative path lanterns and more trees draped in shifting colors, casting a glow on the snow beneath them, content and not expecting very much more when…

A viewing platform is always a good sign. Korean tourism departments everywhere have thoughtfully created a viewing platform at the optimum viewing place. They are hardly ever wrong, and everyone knows the etiquette, so you might have to wait a few moments, but you will get your turn. And when I did…

Usually, I like to describe things I see and experience, but in this instance, it might just be better to shut up and show you. You can see the whole roll on the Facebook album.

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Stay tuned for part 2 when I get to spend Sunday at the Hwacheon Seoncheoneo Ice Fishing Festival… I know, a festival for ice fishing? but it turns out the city of Hwacheon, and really Korea in general, knows how to turn anything into a great time. They can even do up an anchovy festival right, so something as exotic as ice fishing should be no problem! And if for some reason the prospect of catching trout through a hole in the ice isn’t your cup of soju, it’s also the home to the world’s largest indoor ice sculpture, so there’s more photos of beautiful lights to come as well. Thanks for reading!

Letters from China (The Bunny 2007-8)

Living abroad, alone, was a real emotional challenge. I decided to face this challenge as any reasonable adult would, by getting a fluffy companion. It took a lot of research to decide what to get, since I had no idea how long I would be in China, and wanted to be able to bring my new friend with me wherever I went next. I came dangerously close to buying a chipmunk before Google convinced me that was way too much work. While looking at things like quarantine times and veterinary paperwork, I discovered that rabbits when personal pets (not lab animals) have pretty much no such restrictions, and so it was decided I would head back to the neighborhood pet shop and plunk down a few kaui for an itty bitty ball of fluff that would hopefully brighten my life. Spoilers: he did.


Oct 11, 2007 at 9:49pm

I bought a bunny today. It’s very teeny and very cute. I haven’t thought of a name yet, partly cause its impossible to tell at this age which gender it is (if you doubt me, look it up). It is strictly not going to be named Stu (stew), or any other variation of food: fish, human or otherwise. Enjoy the pics!

Oct 15, 2007 at 4:13pm

The bunny is very friendly. It likes to be around me. It hops around my feet when I’m home and paws at my pants until I sit down and let it hop in my lap. It likes to be petted and is very soft. It often falls asleep on me. When feeling active it will hop around the living room and occasionally leaps in the air for no reason. It likes to hang out in my pocket when I go out, which will not last too much longer. It’s very good about using the cage w/ newspaper as a potty. It loves cilantro and bok choy and bananas, but isn’t very fond of the dried food at all. It’s soooo cute. While exploring, it sometimes tries to stand up to see better and will lean so far back it falls over. It doesn’t always make the jump into my lap, but it keeps trying, and sometimes when its washing, it leans so far over trying to reach a spot that it topples. It gets sleepy after eating and sometimes falls asleep before it finishes washing and there are green smudges on its mouth. I’m still having some naming issues, so I’m going to put a poll up.

*The cage I bought was too big for his baby self and he was able to squeeze between the bars on his first night home, so he never did actually live inside it, but I encouraged him to use it as a “home base” of sorts and kept the bedding food, water, and liter pans in or around it. He never did get a proper name, and ended up being The Bunny (capital letters a later addition) for the rest of his days.

Nov 21, 2007 at 2:12pm

I’ve been promising more pics of the bunny forever, and I finally took some, so here we go…

Before and After

As you can see, the bunny has grown up a lot.

Now it likes to chew, especially on my clothes, and especially when I’m wearing them. It also likes to stand on my feet.

Bunny in the kitchen, wants food…

Dec 9, 2007 at 8:49pm

Don’t panic, the bunny is fine, although it came closer to being made a hat today than ever before. The reason I’ve been off line for a while is because the bunny chewed through the power cord of my laptop last night. And when I woke up this morning, I discovered that it also chewed through the Christmas lights. This was the last straw, and I spent my morning rearranging my apartment to create a wall to pen the bunny in the kitchen while I’m gone or asleep, and to remove, lift up or cover EVERY cable elsewhere, to protect them when I let the bunny out while I’m home and awake.

The couch forms the main barrier across the room, and since the back of the couch goes all the way to the floor, it can’t get under the couch from the back. The cage forms the remainder of the barrier with strategically placed cardboard boxes closing any gaps to prevent the bunny from pushing the cage out of the way. This gives the bunny a large space to play in with its food and litter boxes, while keeping it out of the part of the room with most of the electronics (the one outlet in the kitchen is high on the wall and the cord runs to the top of the fridge where the microwave has been returned to).

The living room now has a real table for the computer, the couch, desk and former tv stand guard the outlets in the wall, the main power strip runs from behind the couch to the top of the desk where I can plug in the tv (now living on the desk), the dvd player, and the computer, keeping the power cord WAY off the floor.

Its not the best feng shui, and I have to step over the cage to get into the kitchen, but it is my hope that this new arrangement will permanently protect my cords from being eaten.

As for my power cord, that was a whole other adventure to replace, since there are no Best Buys in Beijing, and I couldn’t exactly hop on the internet to look up a good store to go to.

I went into the city, and asked a taxi driver to take me to a place I could buy computers (hoping that a large computer store would also have spare cords). This conversation was a little tricky for me, since it was all in Chinese, but he took us to a large shop that, like many Chinese shopping centers, was full of many small booths selling goods.

When I went in, I asked the sales people where I could find “Dell”, and they pointed me to a Dell dealer. I showed them the broken part and said I needed one just like it. He told me it would be 850 for an “original” and 350 for a “copy”, so I made sure he understood I needed the exact same thing, but I would take a copy, and he took my money and scooted off, I believe to buy the product from another vendor, and came back with the copy.

I looked at the adapter, but the plug for the wall was Chinese. (Here I should note that while my American electronics will mostly plug into Chinese outlets with no trouble, Chinese shaped plugs will not plug into American outlets, no matter what voltage they can take) So I told him it wasn’t what I wanted, because it wasn’t the same, and he should give me my money back and I would look elsewhere. Now this was great, because the apparent difference between the original and copy was the American style plug, which he tried to tell me, and I insisted I didn’t want to buy what he was holding, so he finally relented and went to get the American model (yay).

So, obviously, I’m back on my computer, working just fine. But that’s pretty much my birthday present to myself, ’cause 350rmb (46 usd) is a big chunk of change to spend all at once (hence the extreme makeover for the apartment, I can’t afford to do that again).

The Christmas lights are only 10 kuai, so its not a big deal, but it means I have to redo the tree for what will now be the third time (sigh).

The joys of owning a pet. I love my bunny, but I’ll take cat-clawed couches over bunny-chewed electronics any day in the future.

Dec 10, 2007 at 10:07am

Well, not really… as it turns out the barrier doesn’t work at all. Although while I was gone, the bunny was content to stay put, once I was home, it worked really hard to get out, and succeeded, I was up till almost 1:30 am trying to fix it, but the bunny just kept jumping over everything I put in place… sigh

At least the furniture rearrangement keeps the wires safe, and the couch barrier means the mess from the kitchen is less visible from the rest of the room.

Dec 29, 2007 at 5:07pm

I finished all my paperwork for school and put the entire pile in a drawer in my desk to keep it nice and safe until it was time to turn it in.

Today, I’m cleaning my living room in preparation for my upcoming trip, and I open this drawer to discover that SOMEHOW just in the last 2 days the bunny has gotten into it and chewed all the paperwork to bits INCLUDING the student’s final exam papers.

My only guess is that there is somehow a small space at the back of the drawer that it was able to squeeze through, but there is something wrong with the world when even the papers IN A DRAWER aren’t safe.

*I went to Seattle for the winter break and left the bunny in the care of some of my students. I came back to a very chewed couch and learned bunnies have separation anxiety.*

Feb 23, 2008 at 12:28pm

It’s Saturday morning here and I’m about halfway unpacked. I’m getting some laundry done and I’ve managed a trip to the store for the basic essentials, food for me and the bunny and new dvds.

The bunny is well, however we’re going to the vet soon anyway because I got a really enthusiastic greeting when I got home and I now know beyond a shadow of a doubt that it is indeed a boy bunny.

The sofa is not as bad as I’d feared. The hole seems to be underneath the sofa, so the bunny crawls up inside it and vanishes, but the visible damage to the sofa is, while definitely there, not as scary as an actual hole.

* I was so wrong… 

Feb 24, 2008 at 6:43pm

Day 3, and i’m already going insane…

The weather is still evilly cold, especially when the wind blows, so its still hard to make myself go outside for anything non-essential.

The bunny had a little conniption fit and knocked over its litter boxes (not for the first time), so I finally went out and bought a full size covered cat box. The lid is off while it gets adjusted, but the sides are quite high, and its (I hope) too heavy for bunny to overturn. I’ve left the lid on the floor to see what he thinks of it, I’m still not sure if I’ll use it on the box, or just keep it as a bunny hideout elsewhere in the room.

I’m going to try to figure out my new camera this week, too so I can upload some pics of the sofa damage everyone keeps asking about, and of course of the bunny, which has grown more into his ears now.

*One of the more hilarious aspects of owning this bunny that I somehow failed to write about the first time was that I became known at the local pet shop as ‘the weird white lady who thinks her bunny is a cat’. I would return to the shop where I bought him for food and supplies. When he was little, I just used basic washing bowls for litter pans and regular people dishes for his food and water. As he got bigger, he knocked all these over… a lot. When I went in to find a weighted food dish he couldn’t pick up in his mouth and throw around (which he did when unhappy with it’s contents), the pet shop owner was confused, pointing out to me (in Chinese) that this dish was for dogs, and I had a rabbit. ‘Yes, I know’, I said, and tried to explain the issue in my limited Chinese. She laughed a bit and sold me the dishes. When I went back next for the litter box, she was once more perplexed. ‘This is for cats’, she explained, ‘you have a rabbit’. ‘I know’, I said, ‘but he doesn’t use a cage, he uses a litter box.’ ‘Like a cat?’ she exclaimed incredulously? ‘Yes, like a cat’. And she had to get her shop neighbors to come over so she could show them the crazy laobai who taught a rabbit to poop in a box. From then on, whenever I picked up the cedar shavings there, she asked again if he was still using the box like a cat and it cracked her up every time.

Mar 6, 2008 at 5:59pm

I was informed today that my rabbit has a better standard of living than some of my students….

Yeah. Take some time to soak that up.

I was chatting with a couple students after class today. We talked about various things, and when they found out I had a kitchen they were amazed, then even more amazed that I didn’t use it, but preferred to eat out. One asked me if I thought eating out was cheap, and I said, compared to America, of course. But they told me that even 10-20 kuai (2-3$) is a big deal, and too much for them to do!

They asked me what I often did in the afternoons and I mentioned that I sometimes go to the store to get food for the bunny. We got to talking about the bunny, how it lives, what it eats, etc. and I made mention of the fact that the bunny ate fresh vegetables every day, and my students told me that they cannot afford to eat fresh veggies that often, which astounded me, since I usually only spend a couple kuai a day on them.

However, given that the bunny has a room to run around in, its own toys, and plenty of fresh fruit and veggies to eat. They determined that the rabbit has a better standard of living than they do. Which you can imagine, caused me to be more than a little embarrassed. I mean… its one thing to know that I have a higher standard of living (a bigger apt, more discretionary income etc) but to know that my standard of living is so much higher that my PET is better off…

Post by zipwow on Mar 11, 2008 at 2:20pm

On the lifestyle of your students: What kinds of things do they do with their discretionary income? What does an evening’s entertainment cost, or for whatever they’re eating what does that cost? Now I’m curious.

Mar 11, 2008 at 7:59pm

I haven’t quizzed them directly, though perhaps I should. Generally, they’ll do something like play ping pong or basketball in the afternoon if the weather is nice. Also, walking around the “walking streets” seems to be popular, you can just wander around and look at stuff, like window shopping. I am also lead to believe that they play cards in their dorms when its too cold to go out. The school turns the lights off in the dorms at 11pm, so many of them are also trying to get their homework done before that time. And they are made to get up and run around the football field at like 6 or 6:30 in the morning, even though classes don’t start until 8, so they don’t stay up terribly late.

I’ll investigate, but I also have to admit that I think I was talking to some of the lower class kids in this conversation, because others have told me they do some drinking and ktv (like karaoke). But on the whole, they entertain themselves doing whatever free activities the school provides like sports and reading.

As far as food goes, there is a cafeteria on campus that is way cheaper than the restaurants outside it. So they can eat there, though I understand the food is not as good. And I’ve also seen many students buy some of the cheap street food snacks and share it. So something that might cost 2-3 kuai, they’ll split up, so everyone is only paying 1. There are a lot of, what I would consider, substandard snacks, things that are basically a little sugar and flour and a lot of air, but they’re cheap. And of course, they eat a lot more rice than I do. You can buy a bowl of rice that’s between 1.5 and 2 cups (cooked) for 1 kuai, and many poor students just eat rice with some soy sauce on it for most meals, and then can get meat or veggies every so often and in small quantities.

Mar 12, 2008 at 7:55pm

Another slide show, the bunny is getting bigger and bigger…

Mar 19, 2008 at 7:16pm

We went to the vet today.

The appointment was for 9:30am, so I got up at 7 and left around 7:40. Rode the bus for like an hour, I got an English speaking seatmate. I’ll never understand why the Chinese assume that just cause they speak English too, I want to talk to them, they don’t assume everyone who speaks Chinese wants to talk to them. Oh well. Then got a taxi who had to call the clinic to get directions, and drove past it anyway. He was nice enough to turn his meter off while he circled the block to get back to it.

*I do love talking to people when I travel, but living abroad is not the same as a holiday. There are some days I just want to run my errands. 

Checked in and waited about 30 minutes to see the vet. While waiting I let the bunny out of the bag on his leash, and sustained two bruises (from a very impatient and nervous bunny biting) and a handful of scratches (from when a shaved corgi came into the hall).

Got told that the rabbit wouldn’t get worked on till maybe 3, they’d call me when it was ready. I explained I lived 2 hrs away and didn’t have a cell phone, so they said they’d try to move him up to 12:30.

Yes the appointment that the VET himself made was for 930… I have no idea.

He recommended a cafe for me to wait in, which the next taxi couldn’t find, and when he tried to call, no one answered. So I just asked him to take me to the nearest net bar instead. He tried to ditch me by telling me that a place that offered phone service was a net bar, and got very upset when I protested that I couldn’t see a net bar anywhere, having learned the characters for it.

I should point out here that the base fee for a taxi is 10 kuai, and after you’ve gone a distance worth that it goes up, but you never pay less. This guy was trying to get me out of the taxi before we’d even gotten to 11.

He asked a passerby where there was one, and she told him where to go. We found it, and he insisted on driving just enough past it to make the meter go up one more kuai. *sigh*

I got into the net bar with HOURS of waiting, having been told to return at 2pm. I got a computer and hung out online for 3 hrs. Turned out to cost 3 kuai/hr, so I spent about 1.25$ on that. The internet was even slower than here at my apartment, but it gave me something to do.

Went back to the vet at 2 only to be told he just went into surgery. Waited for that, then had to wait another hr for the bunny to wake up enough for the vet to be sure he was ok. Two more hrs of taxi and bus home, and here we are. Safe and sound.

The bunny is still a little woozy, but he’s out of the bag and back on his rug. I have one of those silly collar things for him in case he tries to chew up his wound area, but there are no external stitches and the vet said he should be fine in a day or two.

Interesting note, unlike cats, the bunny didn’t have to not eat before, nor after the procedure. The vet told me the most worrisome thing for bunny health is upset tummies, so one should keep the diet as regular as possible and use very few drugs. Which sadly also means the bunny has no painkillers and won’t have any sedatives when we fly back.

*I shall pause the tail (haha) of the bunny here, with only a few more caveats. It turns out neutering/spaying is about the only vet trip a healthy bunny needs, but they can actually go crazy and damage themselves and others if they are not neutered but also not allowed to mate. There’s something to that “like bunnies” metaphor, I guess. But bunnies are also hard to sedate and medicate so every procedure is rough. It was a relief to get him through the experience, and his mood did stabilize a great deal afterward, returning him to his sweet pre-puberty self. The Letters from China will return to the bunny in a few posts with the dramatic saga of getting him out of the country when it came time for us to go.


For those wondering about my long silence, I apologize. I went to the Philippines for the Chuseok holidays this year, which was mostly lovely, and have been frantically working on the rough drafts of that trip ever since. Normally, I would be spending the fall enjoying the cool weather and fall festivals, unfortunately, life happened (job hunting, some health stuff, nothing serious) and has been eating up my free time, so not only is it taking longer than I hoped to finish writing, I’m not even getting good photos for the Instagram this season! I promise, I’m writing as much as I can, and thanks for waiting. ❤