Being home is weird. Not much has really changed during my 10 months away except me. But even I haven't changed THAT much. I can speak Cantonese now, know a lot about Hong Kong/China, and have tons of new friends, but really I'm still the same 'Ben' I was before I left.

Of course it will take a few more weeks to really see how I've changed (I've been home 2 days now actually). And when school starts I'll get back into a normal daily schedule where everything will become even clearer. For now though, I'm just happy to see my lovely family, specifically Bok my dog, and unpolluted blue skies and corn fields again. I had a teensy bit of culture shock during my 4-flight trek home from HK. Hearing Spanish spoken by the airport staff was weird and seeing Asian-Americans speaking normal English was offputting too since I'm used to all Chinese-looking people speaking Chinese. The prices, specifically of food and restaurants, suddenly seem monstrously high to me, as they are generally about double to triple the HK norm. Also I've noticed that Americans are BIG. In all dimensions. Their girth, width, and height all grossly exceed the Hong Kong average, and thus I feel decidedly short being just 5ft 9ish. In Hong Kong I was considered above average, but now I'm below average.... oh well, not a big deal.

I'm a bit busy doing things now that I'm back, so I'll have to keep this short. If I have any more epiphanies I'll be sure to post them on this blog, and I do hope to continue it even though I'm back home now. I like blogging!

7 Days left in Hong Kong. Now that's scary. The past 10 months have flown by faster than a speeding minibus, and the time for me to get on a plane back to little old Iowa is nearly here.

In the past few weeks I have done several unforgettable awesome things including Dragon Boat racing and going to Guangzhou for a final look-see around mainland. Great.

Guangzhou has something like 11 million residents. Its huge. Seriously, compared to Guangzhou, Hong Kong is a small city, in land area and population. Guangzhou is the major city of southern China, but it seems to almost form a continuum going from Guangzhou to Shenzhen and then to Hong Kong. Without the political boundary around HK, the 3 would kind of form a neverending megalopolis of tens of millions of people. The total time from my house in HK to downtown Guangzhou was just over 2 hours, taking the MTR to Shenzhen, then the train to Guangzhou East Station. Basically the city can be divided into 2 major areas; the new and the old. The old area feels like something out of a storybook. Cobblestone paths and alleyways winding around brick houses, shops, stalls, and tea houses, with stray dogs and pirate DVD vendors everywhere. The feeling is something I haven't found anywhere else, and there is a certain buzz of energy present. The local foods there are great authentic Cantonese cuisine. I had the best Wonton soup of my life, some special fried pig skin, red bean homemade ice cream, and many other delicacies. The new part of the city is totally opposite. Multilane streets full of trucks and luxury cars are everywhere, and skycrapers dominate the skyline. Guangzhou has kind of been made into an architectural museum, so almost every building is a landmark in some way, with a unique modern-style architectural design. The drawback of this is that the air has lots of trouble moving out of this area, so pollution is unbelievably serious. I doubt there are many days of blue sky in that area; when I was there the air was a hazy grey-brown that severely limited visibility. Nevertheless, Guangzhou is my favorite city I have visited in Mainland China, maybe just because it is so bustling and huge, but I really think it has a special atmosphere especially in the old parts.

Dragon Boat racing was fantastic. A team made up of mostly AFS students and a few EF (other exchange organization) students competed against various other teams. About 20 people per boat, one of whom is the drummer to keep the rest paddling in unison. The race is a part of the traditional Chinese festival called 'Tuen Ng Festival', but most of the competing teams were actually also foreigners, presumably expats. Anyway, having practiced only once prior to the real event, our team lost miserably to the others who take the event as a serious sport. But winning isn't everything, right? It was just a great time to be on the beach absorbing the unique atmosphere of a Dragon Boat race, and being with friends.

Of course I've done many more things recently, but time is limited so I won't write about every little thing.

I'm gonna miss this place! I'm gonna make these final 7 days the very best I can!!