Thursday, March 27, 2014

Greetings from Shanghai, China!

Okay, so it's been about two weeks that I've been here in China.  And the damn China internet firewall indeed is doing its job because I can't post to my blog directly.  Heck, I can't even see the blog because Blogger is blocked, just like Facebook.  Even WITH a VPN, I have immense difficulty accessing these sites.  VPN = Virtual Proxy Network.  Basically, I pay to login to another computer in France, or New York, and then it's as if I am actually located in those countries, so I am able to access the blocked sites.  But I can't do it here, despite all my efforts.  I am able to access Facebook sporadically from a VPN on my iPhone, but I get kicked off within minutes, and uploading photos is out of the question.  So how did I post this on Blogger then?  Via email.  I remembered that I had set up a long time ago a way to send a message to my blog from my email, and the message itself would post on the blog.  The subject of the email would become the subject of the blog post.   If this worked correctly, you are reading this message, and the title of the blog post is, "Greetings from Shanghai, China!"

Wow, so where to begin.  I'm in my apartment right now.  13th Floor.  4000 RMB (Ren Min Bi) per month.  Or 4000 Yuan.  Or 4000 Kuai.  They all mean the same thing.  Comes to $649/month for an amazing brand new apartment that has never been lived in, with an amazing 270 degree curved window view of People's Square on one side, and the Wusong River (Suzhou Creek) on the other.  Truly gorgeous.  Brand new Ikea furniture.  Wifi pre-installed.  Kitchen with microwave, fridge, oven, and stove.  Bathroom with a washing machine.  Bottom line: I feel like I am in the United States in this apartment.  I almost succombed to the pressure of trying to find a place and nearly paid 3500 Kuai for a dumpy place far away from any metro stops; old; decrepit; with no view whatsoever.  I am glad that I decided to wait a few more days: the wait was worth it.  And yesterday I registered with the police station.  You have to do so within 6 days of renting an apartment.  I think it's a little overbearing, but hey, I'm in China, and I don't want to find out what happens if you DON'T register.  So: Apartment? CHECK!

I had my IPhone unlocked before I left the states, so when I got here, it was pretty easy to swap sim cards, and get a Chinese number.  For any of you who want to write to me, the best way is to download the app WeChat and add me using the username: MonroeMann instead of my number.  I will come up.  Send me a message.  WeChat is like the Facebook of China, and EVERYONE has it.  It's the only way anyone communicates here.  So if you want to feel like you're living in China, just download that app.  Then you'll be one of us. :)  So cell phone: CHECK!

As for my job: having a blast.  It's actually hard work, working at Wall Street English.  It's the most prestigious and well-known English school in Asia.  There are 17 locations alone in Shanghai.  I am teaching at the largest one, in XuJiaHue.  I am one of 9 teachers.  I teach 6 classes a day.  But not yet.  I first went through one week of training.  Then they started me off with 3 classes a day this week, giving me enough time to plan each class from the lesson plan book prior.  Next week, it will be 4 a day.  The one after that, 5 a day.  Finally, 6 a day.  Some will be 4 person Encounters.  Some 8 person Complementary Classes.  Some 12 person Social Clubs.  And some, 20 + English Corners, where I can basically talk for an hour about any topic I want: awesomeness.  Soon these Chinese folks are gonna learn about Break Diving, Time Management, Entertainment Law, Moving Making, and Making Dreams Come True!  We are advised not to discuss the three T's.  See if you can figure out what those three T's are.  The job itself is challenging, and also fun.  And the people I work with are really great.  A year here is going to be a great time.   So, job: CHECK!

I started my Chinese lessons at Mandarin House this past Monday.  It's a short 10 minute walk from my apartment to 650 Hankou Road, which is where the lessons are held.  I studied Chinese on my own before I arrived, so I already know the basics, and have found that I am able to communicate basic things already: How are you?  I'm fine.  Where is this?  What is this?  How much is this?  What time is it?  Etc.  So I'm surviving at a very basic level.  I'm signed up for Chinese lessons for a year, and I am trying to figure out how to add a set of 100 private lessons too.  By doing so, I will reach HSK Level 4 by the end of my one year here, which means I will be allowed to work in Chinese organizations, go to Chinese universities, and even read newspapers and write basic papers in Chinese.  At least that's the goal.  If I could leave at that level, that would be amazing.  And I think it's possible.  With my studies at school, my private study in my self-study books and courses, and by forcing myself to speak Chinese every day, I think I've got a pretty good shot at success.  So, Chinese lessons: CHECK!

Chinese Culture: Yes, they spit a lot.  It's pretty disgusting.  And you see spit everywhere on the sidewalk.  On the streets.  Even inside sometimes.  But overall, the Chinese people are really wonderful.  They all stare at me as I'm walking around, and when I get on the subway, I'm usually the sole white person in a see of asians.  But as soon as I say, "Ni Hao?!" with a big smile, their eyes light up, and they reply, "Ni hao!"  So I have realized that the stares are excited curiosity and not antagonistic in any way.  I should note too that not everyone spits.  But there are enough people hocking up loogies every day for you to clearly recognize it as a part of the culture.  Most of the people in the streets don't speak any English at all.  So when I do speak in Mandarin, it's like a breath of fresh air to them.  I can only imagine how accepted I will be once I can actually have conversations.  The doorman downstairs (one of them anyway) is a very old Chinese man.  He knows maybe ten words in English.  I know about the same in Chinese.  But somehow we had a 30-minute conversation the other night, and we agreed that we're going to have a chat every week: partly in English; partly in Chinese.  I'm like the Karate Kid and he is my Mr. Miagi (and yes, I know, Miagi was Japanese---besides the points!)  Did you know they don't speak Mandarin in Shanghai?  They speak Shanghainese.  It is a completely different language.  But everyone also learns Mandarin in school.  In Beijing?  Beijingese.  But they learn Mandarin in school.  So when I speak to people here, I am not speaking to them in their true 'native tongue'.  Interesting, right?  

Shanghai itself: It is New York City, in Asia.  I have traveled all around the world and have seen almost every major city, from Moscow, Helsinki, Rome, Paris, and London to Boston, Miami, Los Angeles, and DC.  There is only ONE New York City.  And no city even comes close.  Well that is... until I arrived here in Shanghai.  Everyone with their infinite wisdom told me I was going to have such huge culture shock here, but ha, as soon as I arrived, the first think I thought was, "Hey, I'm home!"   And all the street signs are in English and Chinese.  All the signs in the subway are in both languages.  The voice on the subway even mentions the subway stops in both English and Chinese.  The big differences: more pollution here; very few people speak English here; very few whites, blacks, and hispanics here; the streets are wider; in NYC, a crosswalk means people crossing whereas here, a crosswalk means, "vehicle crossing, so watch out pedestrians!"; and there is more defecation on the streets here.  I have no idea if it's from people or dogs, haha.  Other than that, I absolutely feel like I am in New York City.  So for all of you who say, "I love NYC, but I really have no desire to visit Asia..."  I say: "COME HERE!"  You will be absolutely blown away!

Pollution: yup, it's bad.  I downloaded an app called ShanghaiAir to keep me up to date on how bad the pollution at any given time.  I am going to order a ResPro particle filter mask from London for about $60 and have it shipped here.  I went for a run the other day, against the counsel of many, but I wanted to see how it would feel on "Dangerous for Sensitive People" pollution day.  The app uses data from the US Consulate here.  The different levels are: Good, Moderate, Unhealthy for Sensitive People; Unhealthy; Very Unhealthy; and Hazardous.  While I have been here, it has never been "Good" and has once been "Unhealthy".  It usually hovers around Moderate and Unhealthy for Sens. People.  Though everyone has told me to be prepared, because it will hit the hazardous level at some point.  Yay.  I'm wondering about this summer, with the air conditioner.  What if it's a high pollution day, but it's sweltering outside?  Do I choose to keep the AC off and suffer in the misery of clammy and hot and sticky yuckiness, or do I turn on the AC and breath in the PM2.5 pollution in cool and breezy comfort?  Seems like a tough decision.  I have a couple months to figure it out: the weather now is still cool.and brisk.

Money: everything is relatively inexpensive here.  If you arrive here with $100,000, you could probably live in very nice comfort for 3 - 5 years.  As you saw, my super nice apartment only costs about $600/month.  My paycheck at Wall Street English is going to be somewhere around $2000 - $2500/month.  Back home, this wouldn't be very much at all, but here, I am one of the highest paid people in the city.  I'm definitely a part of the upper middle class on that salary.  Some of the MANY locals who support us at Wall Street English get paid only about 4000 Kuai/month.  That's $649/month.  That is my entire rent payment for the month.  And that is a typical salary for most people here in Shanghai, from what I am told.  So on my salary here, I will be able to live quite comfortably.  I have some credit card debt from my Eurotrip that I have to pay down, but I can't do that easily from here, because it's hard to transfer the money here into American dollars and then pay my US credit card company.  I'm going to look into whether I can link my Chinese bank account here (ICBC) with my US credit cards.  I have a feeling it won't work.  No matter, though, because I am still making some additional income from book royalties; from legal work from the United States (mostly Entertainment contracts); and from my career, life, and business coaching clients.  I believe that I will be able to make enough from these part-time gigs to pay down my credit cards, since I am paid in American dollars for those services.  

Gettting around: Don't have a car, and don't want a car.  Don't even want a scooter, and I LOVE scooters.  But it's just too crazy.  The drivers here are crazy.  You have to look both ways constantly when crossing a one-way street because vehicles tend to come both ways, particularly scooters.  I used to think Rome was bad with all the scooters: Rome is nothing compared to the amount of motorized insects in this city.  At one traffic light there are sometimes 30 - 40 scooters waiting to buzz off.  THIRTY - FORTY!  Wow!  And no one really abides by the cross walks.  You have to weave through traffic like that video game Frogger, trying your best not to get hit by a car or scooter.  Fortunately the Metro system is fantastic.  And inexpensive.  Each ride only costs about 50 cents.  I have a Jia Tong Ka (metrocard) with about 100 RMB on it.  I ride the subway every day and haven't had to refill it even once yet.  And it's clean.  And efficient.  And very easy to find your way around.  HOWEVER: each stop has MANY exits.  In NYC, there are maybe four or five exits per stop.  Here, there are sometimes 20 exits, each with a different number, and each taking you up at a different part of the city.  Exit 1 is FAR FAR FAR from Exit 15, for example.  So you can't just 'get out'.  You have to get off the train and then make sure you are getting out at the right exit or you're going to quickly find yourself lost (if you didn't already get lost underground in these massive subway stations).  

Friends; I have already met some really cool people at work, and also at my language school: I met three Italians who actually prefer to speak to me in Italian!  How awesome that my Italian is that good now!  WOW!  That made me feel so great.  I went out to a dance club last week called Hollywood (thanks to my colleague in training Demi) and met a French model. He and I became good friends, chatting in French, and he joined me at this French meetup last week organized by this Chinese girl I met online.  It was great speaking French with this group.  She also runs a dance meetup, and I'm going to a Swing party this Saturday!  I ran into three French girls here in the building, and we may watch Pirates of the Caribbean in French together sometime.  And I also made friends with my apartment agent Lee (Chinese) and also some of the guys who work in marketing at Wall Street English (also Chinese).  And this Canadian girl who lives an hour away who showed me around the city on my second day here.  I'm happy that I have made the acquaintance of people from the US, from France, Italy, etc.  Great to be able to keep up my language skills in those languages too.  Well, except English haha.  I know that language pretty well.

It's 11:39pm here.  Have to be at Mandarin House at 9am for my first reading and writing class, and then work from 1 - 9pm.  Goodnight folks!  Hope this was interesting!   

Monroe Mann, Esq, MBA <--my consulting and coaching firm <--my travel blog

Check out my new books "Battle Cries for the Hollywood Underdog" & "Romantic Suicide" on Amazon and  Read also my bestselling books, "Guerrilla Networking", "Time Zen", and "The Theatrical Juggernaut"!
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Thursday, March 13, 2014

Buon Giorno from a Cafe In Rome, Italy. LAST DAY IN EUROPE BEFORE CHINA!

And so my European travels come to an end. I'm back in Rome, living again with Roberto and Helen, 
and next stop is Shanghai on Friday, tomorrow. Today is Thursday. I pick up my visa tomorrow morning at the Visa Processing Center: there are so many people traveling from Rome to Shanghai that they opened a separate visa processing center in another part of town.  So no Visas are processed at the embassy anymore.  Just at this dedicated service center.  Interesting. 
But first a recap of the last week: I had a very nice time in Vienna with my friend M. I didn't remember 
one thing from my visit last time, which was odd. Just Schonbrun. The castle. (I guess that is one thing). We stayed in a hostel on the outskirts of the city on a vista overlooking the city. It was a very nice wake up.  We walked around on Saturday, we visited the Sigmund Freud museum, ate Spetzl!!, and then went to a very nice Mozart and Strauss concert. Overall a very nice time. The concert was amazing. Turkish march. Radetsky. Eine Kleine and more. On the blue Danube.  With singers. And ballet. Really quite nice.  I visited Berlin briefly again, and was going to go to Stockholm too, but just didn't have time (or money) to go back there again.
Anyway, I have one more free day here in Rome tomorrow.  Tomorrow night I fly to Shanghai.  Last night I was thinking to myself: What the heck am I doing?  I'm not even working as hard as I once did to make my showbiz dreams come true.  I'm heading to Chinese to learn Chinese for a year.  Teaching English.  All to what end?  I wasn't sure I had a clear idea...  And I was feeling a little down on myself.

But last night, a new friend wrote something very nice to me.  “Let me tell you something more please.  Okay…  I had absolutely no idea you were a lawyer and all the other things when I met you on the train.  Maybe you told me but I didn’t pay much attention to it.  Either I wasn’t interested at all if you were rich or poor.  You could have been a super successful, super rich, and super cool man… but if I hadn’t a topic to speak to you about, nothing in common with you, wouldn’t have felt that good with you let alone to let you kiss me.  See… it’s not about being successful.  It’s just about who you are.  About what you REALLY are.  And you are a worthy person.  You reflect your thoughts, your behavior searching for your way.  You doubt about yourself.   It’s not generally bad.  Without doubting one can make no progress.  Moreover to be a teacher of ANYTHING is a meritorious job.  If you do it well.  A good and wise teacher can give you more than knowledge.”

How incredibly nice, right?  Gosh it really touched me.  Made me feel really great about myself.  And helped me to realize that self-esteem should not be measured in accomplishments or lack of accomplishments.  Not measured in money.  Not measured in anything but character.  And it helped me to remember why I am going to China: to live in Asia; to travel Asia; TO LEARN CHINESE!  Why?  Why do I need a reason?  It's cool!  It's fun!  It's something I have always wanted to do!  IT IS SO AWESOME!  And teaching English is going to be great.  It's not my dream job ever, but neither is it a job that I am taking out of necessity: it is something I am choosing to do because it is making other dreams possible, and that in itself makes it worthy.  I'm gonna even write a novel called Shanghai'd using the city as my inspiration!  And she's right: I'm a great teacher, and I am going to touch a lot of people by doing this.  And help a lot of people.  And make some amazing friends and connections in China, and who knows where it all can lead.  How can this be a BAD decision?  It's going to be an amazing one year experience.  And the truth is: everyone is excited for me, and living vicariously through me.  I have heard more than once, "I envy you; I wish I had the guts to do something like that."  So if nothing else, maybe I am doing this so others can experience China... through me!  haha. 
In the end, I realized I'm just scared about what lies ahead.  And why shouldn't I be?  It's scary!  Traveling in Europe for three months is one thing, but moving to China for an entire year?  That's a different story entirely.  But I am almost certain that after I get there and get settled, I will be fine.  And to say a year from now, "I worked for a year in China."  Well, that's just pretty awesome!  And to be able to say, "Oh yeah, I also speak Chinese."  Well, like MasterCard, that is just priceless.  And at the very least, it will open up many legal opportunities in New York City.  To be a NY attorney who speaks Chinese who also has an MBA in Finance will be rather bankable I imagine... 
I’m at a café here in Rome now.  Where?  Not really sure but it's near Via Graziano.  Gonna meet Roberto in about 3 hours to go on a scooter tour of the city.  Meeting him at Piazza del Popello.  Spelling? 

I’m still trying to find an apartment in Shanghai.  All the apartment shares on Craigslist get posted and then swapped up in no more than two days.  I think I may have to wait until I get there on Saturday and go from there.  I’m also debating whether I should rent my own apartment, or room share.  I totally hated living by myself at my apartment in NY.  But maybe it will be different this time.  I don’t know. 
I also did a lot of work on my Phd these last few days, on the IRB application (Institutional Review Board) for my research proposal.  What an ordeal this whole dissertation process is for a scientific research project.  Phew!  I haven't even begun the research portion of the project yet!  Ha!

I wish I sent out more e-newsletters to my email list. Maybe I will have more time in China.  I’m sure I will—I will be stationary.  That will be a relief after almost two months of constant travel.
I’m excited to have a new legal client too.  I am doing some contract work for him.  He is a songwriter and a company wants to buy his songs, so I am helping to ensure he doesn’t give away too much and is compensated properly.  Sometimes I forget that I am still a lawyer in New York and New Jersey and that I can still do legal work from afar.  It was so nice to get this unsolicited email from someone I worked with in the past who needed some additional work.  It's a nice feeling to be working as an attorney again.  I didn't think I would miss it, but I sort of do apparently.  Also, every bit of additional money helps!

HA: I just realized that I should send out a damn email to my email list TODAY!  No excuses Monroe!  GET OFF YOUR ASS!  I need to DO IT NOW.  Because WINNERS DO IT NOW!
Oh, I received this great opportunity!  From my friend and music manager Michael Gewirtzman.  I am going to record 2 four-minute motivational speeches and he is going to edit them and package them and they will be sent out to over 200,000 college students around the country.  Coolio!  With links to my books and all that.  This could be an amazing marketing and publicity coup for me.  I'm super curious to see how it all pans out.  Fantastico!

I just love the Italian language.  I am going to miss it in China.  Going from one of the most beautiful languages in the world to one of the harshest (and yet most important).  What a shock it’s gonna be going to this new culture.  My oh my oh my!
Okay, well, I have my accounting to finish up today, and need to do that legal work, and some other stuff too.  And at the airport, or tonight, I am going to write another 1000 words in my novel.  I must I must. 

Arrivederci!  The next post on this blog will in all likelihood be... from... China!  Assuming my VPN (Virtual Proxy Network) works.  From what I understand, blogger is banned there.  I guess I will find out soon enough.

Oh, one last thing: I have to fill out this medical form for the Chinese government for my medical exam in Shanghai on Monday.  I have to be deemed 'fit' in order to receive my residence permit.  I laughed when I read it with Roberto.  It says, "Please check which of these you have had."  And then a list.  Are you ready to laugh?  Here we go: 1. Plague; 2. Leprosy.  Ha!  Oh yes, I had plague when I was 15 but it passed.  Most of my family died, but I survived.  As for leprosy, I did suffer for many years, but then Jesus touched my face and I was healed.  At the bottom of the list: cold.  I get it: If you've had plague or leprosy, they don't want you in the country, so let's get it out of the way up front.  But seriously: when was the last time you met someone who had plague or leprosy?  Mon dieu!

Honestly, that is hilarious!  There are quite a few other funny choices, but I can't remember them offhand.  Hilarious!  If this is an indication of the fun I am going to have in China... BRING IT ON!  Can't wait! :)

Monday, March 03, 2014

Greetings from Bled, Slovenia!

It's been a busy and fun week. 

Last I wrote, I was in Prague, Czech Republic.  I then made it to Brno, Czech Republic; followed by Bratislava, Slovakia; Budapest, Hungary; Zagreb, Croatia; Ljubljana, Slovenia; and now, Bled, Slovenia.

People keep asking: how can you visit a city in just a day and a half?  Trust me, it works.  The train is so relaxing.  I leave one city about 2pm and usually arrive before 11pm in the new city.  I use my wifi at the train station (most have wifi at the station, or city-wide free wifi, or I find a café or restaurant or McDonalds) to find a hostel nearby, and I always seek one out that has one of the free walking tours of the city.  The free walking tours always start about 11am.  I walk to the hostel and in so doing see the city at night.  I arrive at the hostel and check in.  I inevitably meet a bunch of people.  I then go out for a bite to eat and a walk around the city, either solo or with others from the hostel.  Then off to bed or to a club/bar.  In the morning, I wake up early enough to make the 11am walking tour.  I always meet more people on the tours.  I learn about the history of the city, and see the major sites.  It's free, but the guides work for tips, so I give about 7 - 10 euros depending on how much things cost in that city.  Then I usually eat lunch with someone(s) from the tour and we then walk around the city more together, either going to a museum or seeing more sites.  Then dinner, and do something in the city at night.  Finally, look at the train schedule and decide what time to leave the next day for the next city.  Sometimes I leave that night; sometimes I stay till the next day.  Then I get on the train and go to the next city and start all over again.

And... I honestly feel like I've seen enough of the city and have learned enough of its history to say "I've been there."  And I have inevitably added at least 2 or 3 more people to my facebook friends list. 

The currencies:
Prague and Brno, Czech Republic: Czech Kroner
Bratislava, Slovakia: Euro
Budapest, Hungary: Hungarian Florind
Zagreb, Croatia: Croatian Kuna
Ljublana and Bled, Slovenia: Euro

So just like in the 90s when I was in Europe, I have all these different currencies in my pockets!

As I wrote on Facebook, Ljubljana is probably one of the prettiest nicest cities in all of Europe.  The main square alone brings much to this city.  Just amazing.  And here in Bled, with the snow covered Slovenian Alps surrounding Bled Lake; it is just magical.  It's truly an amazing country. 

Prague was cool, but Brno was cooler because it's just like Prague, but no tourists.  It's the second biggest city in all of Czech Republic.  I didn't plan on stopping in Brno but I met a new friend on the train who convinced me I should visit her city.  So I got off the train with her and she showed me around.  She goes to school there, so I got a true local tour guide, which was really cool.  I met another student in Prague who did the same: showed me around.  It's really cool when you meet someone local who can show you their city.  And I have to cool friends in Czech Republic now--something I certainly didn't have two weeks ago!

Bratislava: another pretty city, but two things I have noticed: a) these eastern European cities are all really pretty and not what I expected to see but b) they all do start to look similar after a while: the main square; the tram system; the cobblestone streets; the castles which are in nearly all of them; etc.  But I loved Bratislava too, and would definitely go back to visit each of these cities.  In Bratislava, I ran along the Danube at night after arriving at the Hostel, and wow, how amazing it was.  So beautiful!  That new bridge is architecturally stunning.

Budapest?  Now that's a country with a history.  Invaded and occupied by the mongols.  Then the Turks.  Then the Nazis.  Then the communists.  Jeesh, what a tough history.  I'm proud that this people made it through all that.  Wow. 

Next stop: Zagreb, Croatia.  Loved that city too.  Croatia truly is as beautiful as they say it is.  I need to return in the summer.  And visit Bosnia, Serbia, Macedonia, Albania, Greece, etc.

Then Ljubljana.  Oh: the trains.  Absolutely the BEST way to travel.  For me anyway.  I love being able to read; sleep; eat dinner (they serve such yummy food on these European trains); and meet new friends.  And there are usually outlets to charge my devices.  But rarely wifi.  The only wifi I had was on the train from Oslo, Norway to Stockholm, Sweden.  After that, zilch.  And it would be nice to be able to research hostels; talk to friends; etc onboard.  It's not the end of the world, but if the train system could be improved in just one way, this would be it. 

I really want to do the same in North America and Canada one day.  I think they have a eurorail type pass too for Amtrak and Canadian's rail system, but it's a lot more expensive, and I guess it makes sense: American and Canada combined is like ten times the size of Europe.

I stayed in Ljublana for 2 1/2 days because a) it's a beautiful city, and b) my eurorail pass ran out, and c) I met some cool people like this guy Anthony from Canada who has some amazing stories, one of which is how two months ago, in Bulgaria, he lost EVERYTHING: passport, wallet, money, bag, clothing.  His story of how he put his life back together with nothing is pretty awesome.  He didn't leave Europe at all, and I'm impressed with his fortitude and determination.  Though he did tell me how totally demoralized it made him, and I can totally imagine. 

Anyway, I wasn't sure where to go next: Venice, Rome, Salzburg, Vienna, Lugano, Stockholm, where?  My 15-day eurorail pass ran out so I didn't have to rush off anywhere to get my money's worth.  So I looked at a map.  I asked around.  So many people told me about Bled, and the mountains and the lake.  I also got word from Helen that my China work visa paperwork arrived in Rome, so I need to go back there to visit the Chinese embassy at some point soon.  But I also want to meet a friend in Vienna, and maybe go back to Berlin to see more of the sites there.  I didn't know what to do.  I made a tentative plan to head to Venice by way of Austria (cause no trains go direct, which is weird) and went to bed.  I woke up and Anthony said he was heading to Bled.  I checked the map and it's on the way to Venice, so why not!  I checked out with him, and together we jumped on a bus for Bled.  That's where I am now. 

We're in the Castle Hostel.  It's near... the castle. :)  Right by the lake.  It's like a frat house here because we've got about 9 guys from all around the world: Finland, Lebanon, Spain, Canada, and me, the rep for the United States.  No girls.  It's kinda cool.  We're all in the hangout room.  On our computers.  Some are playing Fifa on the new PS4.  All laughing and talking.  Makes me smile.  A nice bromance as one of the guys joked.

Anthony and I walked around the lake today (6km) and then hiked up the mountain to the castle.  It was a steep hike up.  An even steeper and longer hike down in pitch darkness on a path we could barely see covered in snow, mud, and puddles, and hundreds of fallen trees--the result of a huge snowstorm two weeks ago that destroyed over 40% of the trees in Slovenia.  Even on the bus you could see the devastation.  Trees down everywhere, uprooted from the heavy weight of the icy snow. 

Tomorrow?  Off to Venice in the mid morning.  For one day.  Then Rome, back to Helen and Roberto's place.  Helen and I are going to see "12 Years a Slave" together at 8pm, so I need to plan my train plans accordingly to be sure to arrive in time.  How cool: I'm in Slovenia now and in two days I'm gonna be in Rome to catch a movie with a great friend.  haha.  Awesome.

And then, off to the embassy to get my visa squared away for China.  Then I think up to Vienna, maybe Berlin, I don't know.  I think I may skip Lugano after all.  I'm surprised.  Maybe next time.  It just doesn't seem crucial for me to visit.  But we'll see.  Three weeks ago I never would have guessed I would be in Bled, Slovenia tonight!

Emotionally?  Doing fantastically.  I feel wonderful.  I haven't felt this great in the longest time.  Someone asked me today what makes me happy.  I still don't completely know, but I do know that working a tedious 9 - 5 job certainly makes me miserable.  And I know that these last three weeks traveling have been amazing and wonderful.  The freedom is just fantastic.  Meeting all these amazing people just incredible.  And never having the same day twice, and rarely being in the same city more than two days, just magical.  It's a weird weird feeling.  And I'm even happier here traveling around by myself than I was for four weeks in Castres.  I honestly have more friends just spending two days in each city at the hostels than I did in four weeks' time in Castres.  Maybe because the people I meet in these hostels are just like me: adventurers; free-spirits; rebels; travelers.  Not tourists: TRAVELERS.  There is a huge difference.  I am not a tourist; I am a traveler.  And I love it.  And as 'nervous' as I am about heading to China, I am also getting more and more excited.  In less than two weeks, I will be in Shanghai.  CRAZY!

My big fear is that again I will be working a '9-5' job, but with two qualifications: it will be from 1-9pm, and it will be in China doing something totally different than what I was doing back in NY.  So my fingers are crossed that I am going to like it and enjoy myself there.

Okay, gotta go find something to eat.  OH!  Looks like we may be getting United States distribution for our film, "You Can't Kill Stephen King" after all.  Things are a bit murky at the moment, but looking quite promising.  I really hope to have great news to share with you soon.

Goodnight from Slovenia.