“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.” Mark Twain

Friday, February 26, 2010

Beijing - Day 1- Greatness awaits us - Friday, February 19

I decided if I want to get this updated as quickly as possible I would do one Beijing day at a time so this is the first little bit about Beijing.
So Friday morning we headed to the airport for flight 2 of 3 on this journey around China.  When we arrived in Beijing we headed straight to lunch and as soon as we got there I realized I left my camera on the airplane.  This would be the camera I am borrowing from someone because my camera broke while we were in Hawaii (I do not deserve to have a camera!!).  Jason (our guide) called the airport and found out that it had been turned in to lost and found because it was found on my airplane seat.  So he and I took a taxi back to the airport to retrieve it.  I missed lunch (which I heard was not the best and of course there was a meal on the plane) but I was able to get the camera back...thank goodness or else these blogs would be just words!

After lunch we headed to our hotel and then would have the rest of the day free to spend in Beijing.  The hotel we stayed at was a Courtyard Marriot and Shelly and I had a pretty sweet room.  I headed out with some of the students to check out some of the local shopping and the consensus was that we all wanted to take a break from Chinese food and since one of the people I was with was celebrating a birthday she choose pizza.  It was decent Pizza Hut style pizza that was good enough to get us through to our next Chinese meal.
Even Starbuck's celebrated the new year:

We headed back to the hotel after and asked about markets in the area and we were directed to the night market.  We hopped in 2 cabs and headed there.  So basically what the night market is is a mixture of food vendors and souvenier type stuff vendors.  The food that was being sold was not your typical street food they were selling scopions, beetles, seahorses (these were still moving) sheeps penis.  Nobody I was with sampled any of these goodies but I know other students on our trip did. 

Here are some students posing with one of the New Year's Tigers:

We left when the market closed (around 10) and headed back to the hotel to rest up for tomorrow's big day.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Xian, China - why would we go there???

On Wednesday we headed to the airport to start our big trip through China. This was the longest of the overnight trips in China and we will be visiting Xian and Beijing. There were 98 people on this trip most of which were students, there were a few lifelong learners (Shelly was my roommate) but I was the only staff and there was one faculty member. He was the trip leader and I was the bus leaders. That basically meant that we needed to make sure everyone got to and from the buses because our guides were phenomenal. We met in the morning in the Union and got everyone on buses and then it was off to the airport. Much to my surprise there was a decent airplane food meal served.
Jackie Chan on a tea bottle in the airport:

The mountains from the plane:

Once we arrived in Xian it was straight to a museum we went to learn how to write Calligraphy and explore the art from local artists. We learned about the different styles of Chinese art as well as some info about the different dynasties.

One thing I found particularly fascinating is that the Tang dynasty revered large women and we all decided that that was the dynasty for us!
We walked around a bit more and then it was time for our Calligraphy lesson. We learned the basic format and structure of the Chinese written language and then we wrote out I love you!
After our Calligraphy lesson we were off to our 5-star hotel (Xian Jianguo Hotel) and I found out that I had been upgraded because I was the bus leader!!! From what I understand the other rooms were quite nice as well and I think the only major difference is we had a shower stall and bathtub in our bathroom. After a brief break at the hotel it was time to head out to our dim sum dinner. The bus dropped us off in a location that made it necessary to walk through a very decorated part of the city and it was hard to not become distracted by all of the fanciness around us. We made it to the restaurant after snapping photos of course and had a feast waiting for us. We ate 18 different varieties of dumplings…I was in dumpling heaven!! The dumpling varieties we tried were pork with celery, spicy pork, pork with cabbage (they really like there pork), walnut, duck and a fried rice dumpling which stole the show amongst others.

After dinner it was back to the hotel to rest up for the next day which was going to be a big one!

We woke in the morning to head down to a complimentary buffet breakfast. Note every meal is included in this trip except one dinner and they will all be excessive…excessively good that is!!! Also, I am really happy to not have to plan anything and just be led around for a few days. This is the only trip that I am doing like this and usually like to be spontaneous or plan myself but this trip will prove to be a nice break from that.

So anyway our 1st stop this morning was to the Xian city wall. This wall separated the inner and outer city of Xian. The inner city is where the emperor of Xian lived during the Ming dynasty and the wall (the largest and most complete city wall that still stands in China) protected him. The wall was decorated for the New Year, some large lavish decorations.

This is our group!!!
After the wall we went to the Great Mosque and Old Bazaar. We learned that the silk road was built from the Middle East (Persia?) through China to bring silk to China and specifically Xian. This is why there is a significant number of Muslim Chinese in this area. I had not connected the Muslim religion with China but I was mistaken. We walked around the Mosque, learned about its history and ventured through the Bazaar.

Now the Bazaar was essentially street vendors selling knock of purses, polos, jackets (Northface, etc) and souvenirs significantly cheaper then in the stores. We will come across many more of these experiences as our days in China continue. Now Stacey of a few years ago would have taken full advantage of the haggling that could ensue, instead I left the haggling to the others only picking up a few postcards and chopsticks. Now it was off to lkunch. Similar to the night before’s dinner we had large dishes of food placed on a lazy susan and be ate family style. It was not as good as the dim sum the night before but how can you compare with 18 courses of dumplings! I love dumplings and will eat as many as the country allows me too!!! Even if it means turning in to one and I am almost at that point!

After lunch it was off to see the Terra Cotta Warriors. Now is when I must let you know that I had no expectations for Xian and I pretty much agreed to go on this trip because they needed a bus leader and the trip that was only going to Beijing already had the leaders taken care of. But now I understand one of the most significant reasons to visit this part of the country - this is why we would go there!!!!  Xian is a small city compared to Beijing and Shanghai, with only 8 million people and you can definitely see and feel both the country and city life. In 1974 (only 36 years ago) peasants were digging a well and came upon a clay head and thought they dug up a ghost. To everyone’s surprise they had uncovered the Terra Cotta Warriors. The 1st Emperor of the Qin Dynasty had these warriors created to protect him when he would die. Because he was a hated emperor when he died one of the generals at the time destroyed all of the warriors and left them in pieces. So when the pieces were found it was realized that there are at least 8000 of these soldiers all of whom have different faces. In fact if any were found to have the same face the emperor would have the artist and his family executed.

So I envisioned a museum (because that is what it is called) with the warriors behind glass that we would walk around. No, they built the “museum” around the excavation site…it was pretty amazing. The man who discovered these warriors has now been hired by the government to sit in one of the other museum buildings to sign autographs on a book you can purchase about the warriors. Pretty sweet gig and apparently he gets paid pretty. So there were a few museum buildings that we could walk around but the true star of the day were the warriors.

This one was behind glass:
These bronze chariots were also found:
Here is the man that found the Warriors: 
After this we went to an orphanage to meet with some children. We were told that the kids who lived here were children of parents who were in jail so they were not able to be adopted. There is no foster care system in China so this is where they would stay until their parents are able to care for them. The children had prepared a a little performance for us and while they were getting ready we sang a few children’s songs to them. Though the time with them was short I believe it made an impact. Since this was Chinese New Year if the children had family in the area they would stay with them for the holiday so the 30 children we did get to see did not have any family to go to.
After the orphanage we made a brief stop back to the hotel and then it was off to the Tang Dynasty dinner show….ummm can you say Vegas??? I was thinking this will be cheesy but it was kind of amazing! This was like some sort of Vegas style Chinese review with singing, dancing and full orchestra instrument playing. This show has won awards in China and it certainly deserved them! Everyone had a great and the food was excellent as well (the only dinner without lazy susans!) and we were able to try rice wine which was warm and kind of tasted like melted butter (it really was not that bad).  

Now it was back to the hotel to rest up for Beijing.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Shanghai Oh My!! - Tuesday, 2/24 - lots of walking of course!!!

So I must start out by thanking my friends Jodie, Sara and Olivia for giving me a journal for Hanukkah.  It is because I had this journal that I was able to retain anything that I did while in the country of China because except for this 1st day in Shanghai I was without my computer.  I decided that blogging has truly kept me accountable to documenting my travels and it definitely helps knowing that people are actually reading it!!!!

I also realized that writing in a journal allowed me to express the emotion and feeling side of some of my experiences that I have held back on in this blog, so I may continue to write in this journal so I can recount my memories as well as how I felt about some of the experiences I have had.

Anyway let's start with Shanghai.  We started this morning with a diplomatic briefing at 8:15am and I thought we would start the debarkation process soon after but it was taking a lot longer than we anticipated.  The reason that we came up with was because of some relationship problems at the present time between Obama and the Chinese government (he is visiting the Dalai Lama and the Chinese are not very happy).  We were also told to not talk to anyone in China about politics for fear of an altercation happening.  We are in a communist country after all.  So by the time I got off of the ship around 1pm we left with a large group and just started walking and walking and walking.  We walked over this bridge from the ship and to the Bund.  The Bund, a river walk, was supposed to give us excellent views of the river and the city.  Unfortunately for us the Bund was under construction for the Expo that would be there in the summer so we did not see the view we were looking for.  This was not starting out to be one of the better walks we had taken on this voyage.  At some point we realized that we were not walking alone, we were walking with lots of people, some locals and other tourists from other parts of China visiting Shanghai for the Chinese New Year's.  Yes, we were in China for the Chinese New Year...How cool is that!!!!  So anyway we kept walking and half of the group decided to leave and we were down to about a group of 6 and after a little bit longer we were down to a group of 3.  I think that traveling in groups is great and necessary but unless you are on some sort of guided tour any group over 5 or 6 people starts to get unmanageable and you start to get many different wants and needs.  Here are some views of the city:

When we finally got down to Cindy, Laura and I we arrived to the old part of Shanghai and what I envisioned China to look like not like the city we had walked through to get here.  We encountered our first of many street food and store front bargaining vendors.  We walked around here for a couple of hours and of course tried some different foods.  I ate an overflowing styrofoam container of lo mein and glass noodles for 6 yuon (less than $1) from street vendor.  Also we figured that noodles were a safe street vendor food, safer than some of the other things we were seeing that is for sure! 
Street food:

 We came upon this other area that included a 2 yuon store (less then 30 cents)
and then we got to a candy shop that had a restaurant upstairs where we were able to use the bathrooms (which were western toilets - they are starting to become more scarce!).  Anyway we came down to the candy shop and I saw this man drinking Bubble Tea and he looked at me and said "Tea", I asked him if he spoke English and he did so we chatted a little bit and he helped Laura and I order bubble tea.  Far less people in China speak English then they did in Japan and there are also a lot less pictures for us to point to in restaurants!

But our new friend Phil and his wife Mrs. Chen (this is how he introduced his wife to us - she also spoke No English) were very helpful.  After they helped us order we were led out and told we needed to see the temple that was lit up near the Yuan Garden.  We followed dutifully and Phil and Mrs. Chen walked us down this street that opened up in to an area that was decorated for the New Year with lanterns and cartoon pictures of tigers (It is the year of the tiger after all) and the mascot for the 2010 Expo.  We looked at all of the decorations and it was good to be a tourist with other tourists who were mostly Chinese. 

We definitely received more stares here than in Japan and I learned later that many people experienced this as well.  One family even wanted to take a picture with us.  After walking through the entire temple- which by the way had been converted into stores and restaurants- we went to dinner. 

We had told Phil earlier that we wanted to eat dumplings and he said that was what he and his wife were doing and we would join them.  We were grateful for this because we knew he would help us order our dinner.  We went to a place that we called Grandma's Dumplings.  I ordered dumplings (of course) and I knew that I wanted soup because I was out in the cold all day (high of 40 degrees).  Phil said (or so I thought) soup with pork bun and since pork buns make me happy I said I would have that, he laughed and then I laughed.  I did not know why we were laughing until the soup arrived and there was a large meat covered pork BONE floating in my soup.  We all had a good laugh including Mrs. Chen!  I ended up offering my pork bone to Phil and he graciously accepted. 
Cindy with Grandma's Dumplings:
Us with our new friends:

So this meal was quite a hit and it was time for us to part ways from our new friends.  We said our goodbyes, wished each other a Happy New Year.  After walking for a little bit we hailed a taxi which was a task in itself we pretty much had to step in front of one in order for it to stop.  Once back to the ship it was time to pack for my big trip across the country of China!!!