Wednesday, September 19, 2012

I Want Adventure in the Great Wide Somewhere

Last Saturday marked exactly one year that I have been in China. Last Sunday was my last day of classes. Last Monday was my last day of work, and everyone's last day at our center. We're relocating (finally) due to the construction in our building. We finished packing and had a rice fight. Today I moved out of my apartment and head off for a week on my last big in-China trip. Soon I will leave China for the Trans-Mongolian Railway and the United States. It has been a challenging adventure of a year. I feel good about it. I'm looking forward to the next one.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

You Ain't Never Had a Friend Like Me

A couple of weeks ago, I went to visit Guangzhou, which is the city where I was supposed to be placed but the opening was delayed. It is now open and I stayed with a friend of mine who is working there. We saw temples, Shamian Island (which is where the embassies used to be), and went up Banyan Mountain. It was beautiful and very green. I had a lovely time. 

Then, 2 of the awesomest people in the world came to visit! SP and Lisa arrived in Beijing last Saturday, and I took off work and surprised them at their hotel. Unfortunately, the hotel wouldn't let me stay with them (even though there was plenty of room) since I didn't have my passport (I had dropped it off to get a visa for another trip), so I stayed with another friend. Saturday night was very laid back - we had dinner and wandered around Tiananmen Square and the local food and snack street and caught up and talked about how exciting it was that they were here. 

Sunday morning we journeyed to Jinshanling, an un-renovated part of the Great Wall of China. We walked up, climbed past 18 towers and thousands of stairs, took lots of pictures, and had an awesome day. The weather was great - a little hazy but mostly sunny and no rain. Since it was un-renovated, there were many parts that were sandy, pebbly, or otherwise in crumbles, which made the walk very interesting. But we survived, tired with minor blisters, but with great memories. We had a noodle dinner and off to bed. 

The next day we took the train to Tianjin, a smaller city 30 minutes outside of Beijing. My new boss had worked there for a year and given me a scoop of the cool things to do there, so we spent the day exploring. First, after lunch, we went to find the house of the last emperor of China. When we finally found it, it was closed for lunch, so we wandered, and SP and Lisa wrote some postcards at the local post office. Back at the emperor's house, we watched a biographical video of his life with English subtitles and saw a group of people filming a documentary, which was odd and unexpected but still neat. Then we went in search of the tall building to get a view of the city, as it was too cloudy to spend money to go on the Tianjin Eye (like the London Eye but built on a bridge in China). Instead of the hotel we were looking for, we arrived at the Tianjin Financial Center and took some pictures from halfway up that building. Then we backtracked and went to the Dabei Monastery (Compassion Temple). Some parts were under construction, but we did see a Buddhist service and a monk gave Lisa his bottle of water. Then we did some souvenir shopping on the Ancient Culture Street, picked up our bags and went to the train station to catch our train to Nanjing. 

Tuesday was pretty laid back. The weather was muggy. We slept in. I sent SP and Lisa to the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Museum while I ran some errands, then we visited my center, and went to finish souvenir shopping and SP and Lisa went to the Confucius Temple. We had a nice dinner of Nanjingese food, went to KTV where Lisa serenaded us for an hour, and met up with my coworkers at a local bar. 

The next day was busier. We started our morning with a Chinese breakfast - pizza bread, sesame bun things, steamed dumplings, and Congee (rice porridge - not a big hit) - and then went to Xuanwu Lake where we went paddle boating for an hour. When we finished boating we walked around the lake to where we could get on the city wall (and SP gave us a tour of the mini-museum inside), and we walked along that until we reached Purple Mountain. We were going to climb to the top, but couldn't find the right direction but we wandered in the shade through the trees for an hour or so. We found a girl practicing the Pipa (Chinese Lute), and a monument to someone, and as soon as we left, it started to rain, so that was good timing. Then it was back to the apartment to pack and rest before Kungfu. One of my co-workers studies with a teacher who studied at Shaolin Temple (the place to study martial arts in China), so we tagged along for a free hour lesson. Great fun. Sadly, after the lesson, it was time to take SP and Lisa to the train station for their overnight train back to Beijing and their flight home. 

I can't wait to see them again soon!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Mysterious as the Dark Side of the Moon

I realized the other day that it's been about a month since my last post. To be fair, nothing very exciting has happened in that time. Brief recap:

I renewed my passport.
I started job hunting.
We got new FTs and ATs at work. (That may have  been in June. After about a week it's like they've always been here.) 
We went to a bar for "America night" on July 4.
I nearly drowned my phone and camera in a puddle during a week of intense rainstorms. 
I joined a yoga studio and started the Insanity workout program. 
I went paddle boating on the lake.
I did some souvenir shopping and ordered a tailor made qipao (traditional Chinese dress for myself). 
I was not involved in any traffic accidents. 
There has been massive construction - in the apartment next to mine, at my grocery store, at the market by work, and especially at work. Which prompted me to write a song today:

"Dongbao center's falling down, falling down, falling down. Dongbao center's falling down. Oh my, Mickey!"

Also, it has been hot (40+ degrees Celsius (100+ degrees Fahrenheit)) most days and super humid. The past few days have had blue skies, which has been really nice. Also nice, the following things that are awesome and totally throw off my sense of money:

Breakfast wraps for $0.33-$0.50
Popsicles for $0.25-$0.33 (some days I buy 2...)
Whole watermelons for under $1
A water bill for 2 months that's about $5

So I'm still here. 

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Under the Sea

Nanjing is quickly becoming a sauna. It's hot, humid, and sticky, and you can't step outside without breaking into a sweat. 

This past weekend was Dragon Boat Festival, which is a holiday commemorating a famous poet who either drowned himself or was sentenced to death by drowning. The boat races represent the people trying to rescue him. The race is fun. Disney didn't have a team, but a friend of one of my coworkers did, so Friday morning I went to Mochou Lake to cheer them on. They came in third in their race, as they were mostly foreigners. But it was fun to watch. I couldn't stay the whole day as I had to work. 
Dragon Boats and racers

Saturday was a day off for the holiday (as opposed to the 3 days most other people had). I went to a couple new parks in Nanjing that I hadn't been to before and relaxed at home. 

Then on my actual weekend, I went to Qingdao. I like the fast trains. They have comfortable seats and air conditioning. Anyway, Qingdao is a seaside city, founded by Germans, where my friend/former short-term roommate moved for work. It's a nice enough city, great architecture, and the weather was wonderfully cool compared to Nanjing - a little too chilly to actually go in the water, but refreshing none-the-less. My hostel was in an old observatory, which was very cool, one of the first built in China. It even had a telescope on the top floor, though the roof was covered, so you couldn't see anything out of it. 

Observatory/Youth Hostel

View from the hostel rooftop cafe/bar

Tuesday, I had ice cream for breakfast. The streets are much too complicated to navigate (like snakes, one local told me); maps are no help; so I spent Tuesday wandering and seeing sights (including Chinese couples taking wedding pictures on the beach) along the boardwalk. It was very nice. 

Zhanqiao Pier (famous image on the Tsingtao beer bottles)

Wednesday, I tried wandering the streets again for a little to find some sights. I found a street market with lots of seafood and meat and other things, and I found the church I had been looking for. Then I taxied my way to all the sights I wanted to see but couldn't find the day before. I saw nice views from the top of the sightseeing TV tower and a pavilion in a park - I recommend the pavilion; it's cheaper and you get basically the same view. Plus, apparently there are different types of tickets for the tower, and since I got the cheapest one, I didn't get to go all the way to the top. I didn't go to the beer factory (Qingdao is also known for it's locally named brew - Tsingtao - super cheap, supposedly good, advertised at all the local restaurants). After a rest by the water and some more ice cream, it was time to head back to Nanjing. 

Sightseeing TV Tower
St. Michael's Catholic Church 
Stall at street market

Train station - cool architecture

Friday, June 22, 2012

Climb Every Mountain

Oops! Sorry, I thought I posted this. I wrote it a week and a half ago. 

I'm healthy again, and I hadn't traveled for a month, so this weekend I took a trip to Mount Huangshan (aka Yellow Mountain, named for a Chinese emperor, not the color of the mountains). It is a very steep mountain that everyone who lives here says is a must climb. So after work Monday, off I went. 

I woke up early Tuesday to catch the bus to the mountain gate. Then there was another bus to the start of the hiking trail, from which out one window was mountains and out the other window was clouds. It was very cool. I started climbing the stairs. (If I haven't said so before, most hiking trails in China are stairs.) It was hazy, so a little difficult to take pictures of the scenery, but the mountains were amazing. After about 15-20 minutes, I wanted to go back down and take the cable car up. Instead, a lovely Chinese student named Kathy asked if I was traveling alone and suggested we climb together. She kept me going for the next 3 hours, which is what it took for us to get to the first stop up the mountain. She was very nice, and she was ready to hike. She had a walking stick (and made me get one) and sneakers on. Interesting thing about hiking in China: many women wear high heels. I didn't see any heels on this whole trip, but I saw a couple pairs of sandals and fancy flats. I felt terrible because there were definitely people 3 times my age hiking. And at least one 5 year old. And several men carrying their body weight up the mountain in food and drink on a bamboo pole. But I made it. 
Me & Kathy

When we got to the "top", Kathy and I had lunch and then parted ways. She was going to stay on the mountain for the night (like a smart person - you must plan 2 or more days for this hike), and I wanted to get to the peaks and had to catch a bus around 5pm. I am very thankful for her help up the eastern trail. She made it much easier. 

I kept climbing to the peak - Brightness Summit. It's the second tallest peak on Huangshan at 1860m. It looks out over a sea of mountains. It's beautiful. And people put padlocks there to show that they have been there - they are sold as you walk up the mountain. It's pretty neat and different from other things I've seen people leave at tourist sights. 
View of Huangshan

I started heading down the western side of the mountain, which is a much steeper and longer climb than the eastern way up. There's a little fork where you can choose between 2 paths to get to the cable car on the way down. One is kind of straight, one is up to the tallest peak and down the other side. I thought I had read that Lotus Peak was closed - I was wrong. There was only .2km to go up it, so I forced myself up. I stopped about every 10-20 steps to catch my breath. The view at was very similar to the one at Brightness summit, and the peak was much narrower and cramped for everyone pushing to take pictures, but again, I'm glad I can say I did it. My favorite part was cheering on other hikers and being encouraged to keep going. Especially since we would just kind of look at each other, laugh and point in the direction the other one was going. It was also fun seeing men who had been carrying bamboo poles with food and drink who had dropped off the supplies and were now walking with just the poles, smiling and much friendlier. 

Then I happily headed down to the cable car and took the 20 minute ride to the bottom. (Remember, I had already walked 15-20km and had a bus to catch.) There was a bi-lingual recording about the mountain as you went down, which made me laugh because there had been very little English the rest of the day. I can count on one hand the number of foreigners I saw on this trip. Then I took the bus back to the hostel, had dinner, and slept for 11 hours. 

When I got back to Nanjing the next day, I found out one of my friends was getting a degree from a Chinese university (he had studied there for a year when he first came to China), so I headed down there to go take pictures for the afternoon. Very fun. Then dinner and more sleep. 

Thursday, May 31, 2012

2 Worlds, 1 Family

For the past month, I have been hanging around Nanjing. I went to the mountain, explored some parks, laid around the house. 

This week, my parents and my brother arrived in China. My parents were here to see me. My brother was here because it's China (I think). They spent a few days in Beijing and arrived in Nanjing Monday afternoon. After getting my parents settled in their hotel (Hilton Nanjing - very nice) and visiting my apartment (where Steven was staying), I walked them to work where they looked around, and then we had dinner. Then my parents went to sleep, and I took Steven out around town, and we ended up hanging out at my friend's apartment. 

Tuesday, Steven and I went to the hotel for breakfast with my parents, and I hung out at the hotel while my family went to the Massacre Museum. Then we got in a cab and went to Purple Mountain. I had decided to take the cable way to the top of the mountain to get a view of Nanjing. However, it was very gray out. About halfway up, it got very windy and the cable cars started to sway. I also found out that my mother had wanted to see Sun Yat-sen's Mausoleum. Oops. At the top, I pointed out some of the mountain's sights and we took some pictures. Then we walked down the mountain and went to dinner at the local mall. My parents went back to the hotel, and Steven and I went home and rested before going out for our second dinner - dog. 

I had successfully avoided this until my brother came to town and said he wanted to eat something weird. Nothing I suggested was weird enough, but my friend suggested this and Steven agreed, so Tuesday night we got 2 plates full of dog meat, put it in soup and ate. The parts that weren't super fatty actually didn't taste too bad, basically like any other type of meat. I only had a few pieces, as I was still disturbed by the fact that it was, in fact, dog. 

The next day was gray again. I took my mom for a foot massage while my dad repacked and my brother did something else. We got noodles for lunch and spent the afternoon in the hotel. A lot of the stuff to do and see in Nanjing is outside, and it was not an outdoors day. But they needed rest, and I got to swim in the fancy hotel pool and nap in a soft bed, so it all worked out. We went to a steak dinner and said goodnight. 

They left this morning for Shanghai for a few days, and I got back to work. 

Friday, May 4, 2012

One Jump

Last week, Andrew (from Chinese embassy and Xi'an) came to Nanjing to start his vacation. We went to Xuanwumen Lake and the Yuhuatai area and he did other exploring when I was at work. Sunday night, we took the train up to Beijing. 

Monday we met up with 2 girls whom Andrew had met when they slept on his couch in Xi'an a few weeks prior (Lara and Sissi) and their new roommate (Monique). We went to the Forbidden City. As someone mentioned (I forget who), it's not so forbidden anymore. It was also a holiday, so there were masses upon masses upon masses of people. 
We saw about a quarter of it as we shuffled around. The garden was nice. Then we went far far away for some peking duck. Then Lara, Sissi, and Andrew went to find a camera shop, while I went with Monique to pick up her ticket for the Trans-Siberian Railroad, and I picked up a business card for future reference. We all met up later to walk through the night market. 
Forbidden City

Tuesday, Andrew and I moved from our hostel to room with Lara and Sissi at their hostel, which was more centrally located. (Monique had left for her big railroad trip.) Eventually, we headed off for the Summer Palace. We spent a majority of the day exploring some parts of that, including taking a boat ride on the lake and climbing a very steep hill to see the Hall of Buddhist Incense. Chinese emperors definitely knew how to take up a lot of space with their palaces - it was ridiculously huge. 
Hall of Buddhist Incense on Longevity Hill
Wednesday was GREAT. Woke up early, got the train, bus, and taxi to Mutianyu, a slightly less touristy part of the Great Wall of China. The sun was out and the sky was blue. It was even more awesome than I thought it could be. The mountains were huge. Took a cable car up to the top and we walked from Tower 6 past Tower 1 where the wall wasn't so well preserved back to Tower 14 (there are 23 towers on this section) then to Tower 6 to toboggan to the bottom. The views were incredible. The climbs were steep and the stairs sloped to the side. The breezes in the towers were life-saving. It was glorious. We then went back to the city, and the three went to get haircuts and I went to see Tian'amen Square at night. Very pretty.
Can you believe I walked this?

Thursday was my last day in Beijing. I woke up early again, walked around Tian'amen Square, and headed toward the Temple of Heaven. The Temple of Heaven is really the Hall of Prayer for the Harvests, but it has a great big garden and a marble altar for sacrifices and was very pretty. Picked up my bag and got a train ticket back to Nanjing. 
View of Tian'amen Square

Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests (AKA Temple of Heaven)