Thursday, July 31, 2008
It is time for a weekly update! Since I spoke to you last, I've had some pretty exciting days! Last Friday, my friends and I spent a lazy day chilling out, since we had been busy all week. Then we watched Mulan, and on Friday night decided that we were going to go to Simatai, a place on the Great Wall that is much less touristy than the place we've already been.
So we read my guidebook which said we needed to get to the station between 6:30-7:30 in time to get tickets to go to Simatai. We left our rooms at the early hour of 5:45, and we took the very first subway to go to the bus station. We got to the station around 6:45, which we thought was PERFECT. So we went up to the ticket counter and said, "Simatai?" The woman replied, "Wait a moment." So we went and sat down where she pointed.
Twenty minutes later, she said something entirely in Mandarin, and all of the people who were standing around us scrambled to get in queue for a ticket. So we went up to the woman and said, "Simatai?" And she was like "WAIT A MOMENT." So we sat back down. Then, another 15 minutes later, she said something again, and we heard "Simatai" and a whole bus load went to get on a bus. So we climb aboard the bus, and figure that maybe we pay when we get there. Mind you, its now 7:15 ish in the morning, and it is roughly 95 degrees out. On the bus, we are all tired and grumpy, and the bus driver simply will not show up. So we're getting impatient, when suddenly the woman from before comes up and says, "SIMATAI." All of the Chinese shuffle off the bus, and so we figure that we must NOW go back and get the tickets.
So Anna and I go to get the tickets for us (Helen and Laura were also with us) and when we get to the ticket window, we realize that it is more expensive than we thought, so we have to go back to the bus to get money. The woman selling tickets, however, does not understand this, so we go through 5 minutes of communication and finally Anna just went to get the money and I waited at the counter.
When Anna comes back, we buy the tickets, get on the bus again, and some woman comes around and rips them. As we're getting settled, the bus driver appears and turns the air on. Five minutes later, after we're all comfortably taking over the back of the bus like a group of sophomores, another Chinese woman gets on and says something, causing the entire bus to shuffle off the bus. We realize they are making us get on another bus, so we get off and get on a different, smaller, cramped bus. Keep in mind that the bus ride is three hours to Simatai--one way.
Meanwhile, the bus driver starts the bus, and we're about to leave when five more western tourists step up the cramped stairway of the bus. When they get to the top, they realize they have no where to sit, and immediately begin arguing with the Chinese woman who has miraculously reappeared. So, what do we do? Get off the bus we've been put on and shuttled back onto the bus we just came from.
As Anna would say, "Welcome to China."
After the bus fiasco, there was smooth sailing from there. We arrived at Simatai around 3 hours later. To get to the top of the Great Wall and the rolling hills of China's greatest accomplishment, we had to take a cable car, and then a vertical inclined train. The cable car took about a half hour, the train about three minutes. Once at the top, we hiked up for about 10 minutes (the longest 10 minutes of my life, let me tell you) and then voila! We were at the top of the Great Wall.
Once we were to the top, my guidebook said it was a 2-3 hike down. And the part of the wall that we were on was STEEP. There were a couple of times that we had to basically crawl down stairs. Even though it was foggy and 100 degrees, the wall and its views were amazing. We made a pit stop for lunch on the wall for about a half hour, and then continued our descendent. Once we got to the part where the Wall breaks over a river, we headed for the zipline. That's right--a zipline. The zipline crosses the river, and you're basically put into a harness and you are moved by inertia downwards. All four of the girls did it, and it was amazing. I even video taped it--here's the link! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ECUMv0xsySo
After ziplining across, we headed to the "Pleasure boat" which brought us back to the parking lot! It was a full day, but a brilliant one. It was probably the best day of the trip thus far. When we got home, we even went to eat pizza to reward ourselves for having such a productive and adventurous day.
After Simatai, we had a wonderfully lazy day. Anna and I got up and went to Grandma's Kitchen, an American breakfast place. The best part, by far, were the "bottomless" cups of coffee.
The next day, Anna and I visited Grandma's again and headed to Ritan Park. It is one of the bigger parks in Beijing, and is located in the embassy district. It was built in 1530, which is one of the oldest parks in Beijing. It was where emperors went to make sacrifices to the sun. We hung out and played some rummy, and then walked around for a bit. Then, because it was so hot out, we decided to go get cheap massages. I got an hour foot massage for $10 USD. It was amazing. That evening we went to a book store called "The Bookworm" which is a large expat area. Anna and I played rummy again, and got some coffee. We then met up with a bunch of people from our trip to go out for our friend Sylvie's birthday. We went to a Persian restaurant called "Rumi." It was delicious.
On Tuesday we had training for the Bird's Nest from 9-5. We went to a university far away from our campus, and met all of the Chinese volunteers. We also had some training on specific sporting events. Wednesday, we went to breakfast and then went to the silk market--some of the girls needed to pick up souvenirs.
Today, we had more sports specific training, and got our uniforms! It is all very nice, and I shall send you some pictures of myself in my rockin' uniform and fanny pack. It's pretty awesome.
Well this update is kind of short. Tomorrow we have training again, and then we have the weekend off and start training again next week. It should be good fun! I hope to talk to you all soon, and hear from you all! I love you and hopefully next week will be more interesting!
Friday, July 25, 2008
Thought you might want to check out another site Emerson is using--a GPS type of site, like Google Earth, with pictures, video, text, etc. Click on my name to see what I've uploaded, or spend some time seeing what everyone has!
Thursday, July 24, 2008
It is time for my third update! I can't believe I have already been here almost three weeks! Beijing gets more and more interesting every day, but it's also been getting hotter every day! Today it is 87 but it looks (I haven't braved the heat, yet) like humidity might make it feel like 100. The fog/smog is so bad I can barely see the building across the way from ours.
Since I last emailed out, I have done tons of fun things! On Friday, I went with a group to the Forbidden City. The entire area is huge, and beautiful. We wandered around for a few hours, and at the end we came upon the Imperial Garden, which was gorgeous. The trees there were all very old, and they twisted and turned around the garden. There was even a artificial mountain topped with the "Pavilion of Imperial View." The emperors would climb up to the pavilion to watch festivals with the rest of the royal family.
After the Forbidden City, we walked down Wangfujing, a major street near the Forbidden City. It is a street much like New York--boutique stores, famous stores, bright lights, etc. On that street is the Donghuamen Night Market--a place where you can buy crazy food items, like scorpion on a stick! So of course the girls I was with and I decided we must try some. We had scorpion, silkworms, and sea snake! The scorpion tasted like a really sweet meat--forgive me for the comparison, but like chicken, but it was really crunchy, and I poked myself with the stinger when I ate the first one. The silkworm was gross--it tasted like what you'd expect a silkworm to taste like. As my friend Marc put it, it kind of explodes in your mouth, and the middle tastes like chalk only more gummy, if that makes sense. The sea snake was fine, but it was very very chewy.
After that, we walked down the Wangfujing main street and went to the big Olympic store there. There were Fuwas EVERYWHERE. The Fuwas, for those of you who don't know, are the Olympic mascots this year. They are very cute. After that, we went home!
The next day, we had a pretty lazy day, and ended up not going out until the evening. We went to Jingshan Park, which is located behind the Forbidden City, which was built in the early 1400s. We walked along the Forbidden City's moat to get there, and saw a man catch a fish in the moat--and it looked as though he was going to bring it home. It was a pretty big fish--probably a foot maybe longer? I don't know, it looked really big, and it was flopping around on the sidewalk. After we saw that, we continued on to the park and saw people practicing different dances behind the Forbidden City at the bottom of Jingshan Park. The park is a tall hill, artificially built with the earth that was dug up when they built the Forbidden City's moat. We watched them for a while, and then we headed into the park. By the time we entered the park it was almost dark. When we got to the top we were above the city, and it was beautiful! We hung out at the top for a little, and then we went to get Sichuan food, which was spicy but delicious.
Sunday we had another lazy day, and spent most of the day uploading pictures and hanging out. Then we got massages for around $10 for an hour, and then got dinner near campus at a Uighur restaurant. Uighur is a type of cuisine known for its lamb kebabs, among other things. It was delicious.
Monday a group of us had a VERY full day. We left campus at 9:30 to go to the Pearl Market, which is like the Silk Market only with more jewelry. One of the floors of this market had tons of little junk shops full of stuff you'd find at flea markets in the US, or tag sales, etc. It was fabulous. I spent a lot of time browsing those little shops, and got a few souvenirs. After spending a few hours there, we headed to get lunch, and then to the Temple of Heaven.
The Temple of Heaven was beautiful! It was built around the same time as the Forbidden City--in 1420. The Temple of Heaven complex is even bigger than the Forbidden City! It has a giant garden, and smaller temples and buildings. We all took turns climbing onto the stone that supposedly is the one closest to Heaven, called the "Center of Heaven Stone." The grounds were beautiful, and very peaceful. We walked around most of the perimeter, seeing gardens along the east side.
Then we walked back to the subway, and by this time it was nearly 6 pm! Susy suggested that we go to the Silk Market, since we were already out and a little grumpy (good for getting fabulous bargains) so we agreed and went off to the Silk Market. There, Susy and I were successful with buying sneakers (a pair for each of us) and sweaters (matching ones) and each paid under $20 for both. Very successful, indeed. By the time we left the Silk Market, the lights were off and it was 9 pm. A full day indeed!!
Tuesday was had a full day, too! We had training all day at the Bird's Nest! We finally got our credentials, and got to go inside the stadium! We had to do a relay around the entire building, looking for certain rooms and getting signatures from different people. Our group came in first (taking 20 minutes to complete the scavenger hunt) and we each won an Olympic pen. It was pretty fun. Then we got our schedules, and I found out that by luck of the draw I am going to get to cover the men's soccer final game!
After training all day, we headed off to Saddle Cantina, a mexican restaurant in Sanlitun, a huge expatriot area. We were there with all the people that are working in the Bird's Nest, and all the paid staff, too--all the international crew that we'll be working with. They were all very nice, and it was fun to finally meet them. Our boss, Emily, is a sweetheart, and is really helping us to feel welcome and comfortable. It was a good time, and it was nice to see some food that wasn't Chinese!
On Wednesday, a group of us went to Wangfujing, again, and went to a different snack street. It is called Wangfujing Snack Street, appropriately, and was pretty great. This street had the same things that the other street did, and more! On the snack street, there were scorpions that were ALIVE on a stick. On this street, Laura and I ate a starfish, some more sea snake, and Helen had a seahorse. Then we went to the Olympic store yet again. Good times.
Yesterday, Anna and I got up early to go to the Bird's Nest and drop off snacks for when the Olympics start. We felt pretty VIP when we could get past the check points without a supervisor, but just with our accreditation. Then, after a long two hour journey to get there, we rested a bit and then headed to the Lama Temple. It is the second largest buddhist temple in China, apparently. The temple houses a 26 m tall (that's 86 feet, roughly) Buddha, that was carved out of a single piece of sandalwood. It was gorgeous.
After that, Anna and I headed to Ole, a grocery store we found in Wangfujing, to shop for groceries for our tentative trip to Samatai (a part of the Great Wall.) Then we headed home, and got ready to go out for Ruby's birthday. We went to an indian restaurant which was very good, and we all had an excellent time.
And there you have it--my week in review! I hope you are all doing well. Be sure to check out my blog, and click on the photo section for new pictures. I also am sending you a link to Emerson's Beijing blog, so you can read other students' accounts of trip!
Emerson blog: http://blog.emerson.edu/beijing/
Thursday, July 17, 2008
Since I spoke to you last, I've been on many adventures! Last Friday, Saturday, and Sunday the BOCOG people (Beijing Organising Committee for the Olympic Games) were gracious enough to organize a city tour for all the students from my school! An overview of the tours:
Day 1: Friday: We went to a Water Treatment facility. The workers showed us around the plant, and it was really nice and technologically advanced. It is being used to treat water to use at the Olympics and for the Olympic lake. It was pretty neat.
After the Water Treatment plant, we had lunch, and then headed out to a village called XIang Tang. Here, we visited a couple different spots. First, we visited the grounds, and saw a Temple. It had a beautiful giant Buddha in it. It was gorgeous, and breathtaking. Then we walked to an area where there was a Senior Citizen center. Here, we talked with some of the people who live in the home, who said they are very happy! They even sang us a song. It was nice! One of the old men chatted with Laura and I for a while, even though we couldn't understand what he was saying. He gave us cucumbers out of our garden when he was teaching us the Chinese names for veggies.
Then we saw a section where there were calligraphy writers, and ink paintings. They were also very beautiful! One of my friends, Marc, walked into the room and the man painting looked up and was shocked because the painting he was drawing looked exactly like him! The man painting the picture even took a picture of Marc! It was very funny.
Then we saw some people practizing Tai Chi, which was pretty interesting. We even learned some moves! Then it was back to the bus, for a Welcome Dinner at a restaurant that served Peking Duck--delicious!! It was very funny.
Day 2: Saturday: The Great Wall at Badaling
The second day of the tour we went to the Great Wall. Words cannot describe how beautiful it was. I was shocked and awestruck by how big and beautiful it looked. We had to wait for a long time at the bottom because the Mexican President was in town, so he had a half of the way closed off for him and his people. After they opened it, we got to climb. It was much bigger than I could have ever imagined. We climbed up pretty far, and spent some time at the top. One of the Chinese students, Cindy, told me that in China you are considered a hero if you make it to the top of the Great Wall. She said now that we did, we are all heros. It was very cool.
After the Great Wall, we had lunch, and then headed to the Ming Tombs. These were very interesting indeed! There was an entire underground Palace dedicated to these tombs. The underground part was very cold, and refreshing indeed! It was interesting to see how they respect the dead here. After this, we all headed home for an evening of rest.
Day 3: Sunday: Summer Palace, Old Summer Palace
On the third day we visited the Summer Palace in the morning. It was beautiful--and huge! The palace is set on a beautiful lake, and after Rock (our tour guide) gave us a tour of the area, we all went out on paddle boats! It was very fun! After that, we got lunch, and we then headed to the Old Summer Palace, which was where the palace had been until it was burnt down by the French and I believe, the British. It was mainly ruins, but it was still beautiful to see what used to be a beautiful palace. It reminded me of the ruins in Rome. That night, we went to the Peking Opera, which was also very very beautiful.
That was the entire tour! On Monday, I woke up feeling a little sick. We went to the American Embassy, which was a treat! Then, since we were all dressed up and looking nice, we went to the St. Regis Hotel. We were invited to sit in a private bar, and we were treated to a round of drinks by Paul. Then we went to the Champagne ceremony, and then we went back to the bar to chat. After awhile I left, because I was feeling sick, and went to bed early. (Not to worry--I just have a little cold!)
On Tuesday, we had training with the ONS, or Olympic News Service, which is who I will be taking quotes for during the Olympics. After the training, a couple girls (Laura, Sara, Sylvie, and Rosie) and I all went to North Chaoyang, an area of the city, to go to a place called Jenny Lou's. It is an expatriot (people who live in other countries than their native country) grocery store. We couldn't find it, but we did find a restaurant to eat crepes at!! It was really great--a good break from eating buffet Chinese food. After dinner, we ended up finding Jenny Lou's which was nice to shop at on a full stomach!
On Wednesday, we continued the training, and then came back and rested. And I've already written about what I've done today! So there you are--my second weekly update! I hope you are all doing well! Check out my pictures!
(Click the "photos" tab for photos!)
Nihao all! Today Laura, Anna (pictured to the right, in the Hello Kitty stall), and I traveled to the Silk Market! We left school at 9:10 am, and got to the silk market 40 minutes ready to shop. We brought our own bags, and the knowledge that the prices at the Silk Market tend to be marked up--especially for foreigners.
We walked into the first floor, eager to bargain. At the first stall, we focused all our energy, ready to talk the shop keeper down. When we started to bargain with her, she said, "Maybe you go to the third floor. Cheap there." That made us a bit discouraged, but once we realized we were on a "nicer" floor, we moved up to floors where we thought we could do better.
On the next level, we managed to talk down some nice jeans from around 500 yuan to a mere 150 yuan. Laura and Anna each bought a pair. We walked past stall by stall, sometimes getting pulled in (literally) by shop keepers, some times just glancing up at a shirt or two, all the while keeping our eyes down. As we went on, we each started to separate a little, and bargain separately. I bought some souvenirs for myself as well as for friends, and got some pretty good deals. I even bought a really nice bag--something you'd pay $30-$50 for in the US, for only $7 US.
The Silk market was a cultural experience in itself. Walking though aisles of jade, jewelry, silk scarves, shirts, toys, etc., was a little overwhelming, but Anna, Laura, and I got some good stuff, and are definitely planning on going back--and soon! All and all, three hours later, we walked out confident to bargain again--and none of us spent much over $100 US dollars.
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
Saturday, July 12, 2008
Friday, July 11, 2008
Thursday, July 10, 2008
I am in China. I apologize for not getting an email out faster, but it has been a busy first couple of days! I will try to go over what I have done and learned so far in this email, and then I am going to try to update you weekly.
We all got on a bus to the CUC, and it took about a half an hour to arrive at school. Then we unloaded our bags and all got our meal cards and room numbers/keys. We had a few minutes to check out our rooms and change, and then we met the Chinese students for a tour of the campus. We saw the dining halls, the super market, and the gym. Then we had a chance to go to the supermarket, where I bought a toothbrush, since I left my other one in Boston. (It cost 1 yuan, which is about 14 cents.)
Then we adventured to the dining hall above the super market, but it was closing. So we went to a restaurant on campus that has no English speaking waitresses, or waiters. But the menus had pictures and some information in English, so we got by on our little Mandarin and by smiling a lot. Dinner ended up costing around $3 a person, and we ate six or seven dishes, and each got rice. (There were around 10 of us.) It was quite a deal! The restaurant is connected to our building, and we plan on going there a lot. (In fact, I've already been back!)
After dinner the first night, we came back to the dorms, where we intended to plug in our internet and settle in to our room a little. Laura (my roommate) and I were attempting to plug in the ethernet cable and the power into the wall. Jeff and I had bought a convertor before I came, so I was trying to figure out what plug I needed, and after I figured out which one I thought, I plugged it into the outlet, and the TV turned off...I had blown a fuse! Then we went into the hallway to get Janet (our prof and chair of the journalism department) or Paul (our prof) and found out that one of the other students didn't have power in his room and didn't have lights. We attempted to read the fuse box, and use the map, but it was all in Chinese characters.
So we figured we would go downstairs and ask the reception people if their was a way to fix it. They, however, speak no English. So we brought our phrase book and our plug, and attempted to explain it to the people downstairs. I basically pretended to plug it into the wall, and then said "bu" (which means no) and "mia dian" which is electricity. Needless to say, they eventually understood me, and sent up a maintenance man who helped us fix our problems.
The next day, we all met in the morning to go to our Olympic meeting, where we met with the Olympic committee and found out more about our venues. We then had to try on uniforms. (I am a size XXXL in pants, on account of the Chinese being very small, and they don't have a size 10 shoe size, on account of they have little feet.) We then had a long discussion with one of the teachers here on the history of China, but he mostly talked about how much he liked Kung Fu Panda.
After that, we went out with the guy who gave the lecture to get coffee. It was a pizza place called Danata, and we got coffee and pizza called Volcano Explosion and Fruit Passion, and they were both very very good. The coffee was very good as well! Thank Goodness, because we hadn't been able to find any.
Then we had an outing to a store to get cellphones. The store was called Suning, and it was much like a Best Buy, only in China. It was cool. I went with a whole group, and one of the CUC students, Cindy. She was very nice and we took her out to dinner afterwards because she was so helpful. After the phones, we got Korean food, and then we went to meet up with the CUC students to play Ping Pong with them.
They were MUCH better (obviously) then we were. Some of the Chinese students, Roger and Henry, were teaching us how to serve. Laura (my roommate) and I were actually getting pretty good!
Today, we woke up and went to Wal-Mart (I know, I know, the worst. But it's all we have here!) and we got a little lost on the way. I was asking the Chinese men how to get to the Wal-Mart, and I was like "Qingwen, Wal-mart?" (Which is "Please, Wal-mart?) and no one knew what I was asking. Finally, Paul showed someone the piece of paper, and this kid who I had already asked where the Wal-Mart was was like, "OHH! Wa-maart!" It was quite funny.
Laura and I spent about an hour in the Wal-Mart getting some snacks and other items, and when we were done we both had a bag of stuff and had only spent 6 US dollars each.
Then we went back to the dorms with Jim and Helen, and we went to get lunch with Helen in the dining hall, but it was closed! So we went to the restaurant we had gone to yesterday and got lunch. Then we decided to go to Jishuitan, which is near Xihai Lake, downtown north of the Forbidden City. It took us nearly an hour to get there, and we had to transfer twice, and use 2 subway lines. But Helen, Laura, and I made it safely. We walked around for a little while and went to a temple there. (I'll figure out the name soon enough.) We then found out we had to go back to campus for a meeting, so we went to this supermarket, ironically called Wau Mart, and got noodles...in a bag...from the hot food section. We shared them in the parking lot--not one of the most shining moments of our travels.
Then we got home late because rush hour traffic on the trains is insane--we were very close to everyone, and some of the trains didn't have air conditioning. Then we got off at the wrong stop, and had to get back on. But we made it safely back for the tail end of the meeting.
Then the three of us watched a pirated copy of Kung Fu Panda that Helen had bought yesterday. Very funny. And now I am here, finishing this update. Tomorrow we are going to the rural area outside of Beijing, so wish me luck! I hope that its fun, but I bet it'll also be a little sad. We'll see how it goes.
More next week. Until then, zài jiàn!
Tuesday, July 8, 2008
I am leaving for China in a little over a week, so I thought I’d send
out an email to all the people who I had on my list when I was in the
Netherlands, and see who wanted updated news from my adventures in
China! I will be in Beijing for most of the time, making day trips to
the surrounding area. I will be mainly reporting for the Olympics, and
I will be staying on the campus of the Communication University of
China. I will have the internet, but I do not yet know what will be
blocked or not. Because of this, I will be waiting until I get there
to attempt to set up a blog. Otherwise, I’ll just be emailing you
updates of my travels!
My address at the school is:
International Exchange Center
Communication University of China (CUC)
No. 1 East Street, Dingfuzhuang
Chaoyang District, Beijing
People’s Republic of China
If you are on this list but don’t want your email to be flooded, let
me know and I’ll take you off! Otherwise, expect a weekly or bi-weekly
note from me via China!
Hope to talk to you all soon!