The Longmen Grottoes

Hello all! It has been quite a while since I’ve updated and I wish I could blame that on the jet lag, but that’s certainly not the case. I arrived back from the US on July 2nd, so a little over four weeks ago. I will be writing more about that experience later since I wrote some things down I wanted to talk about concerning my reentry into American culture and such, but for now I just want to show you guys my photos from Longmen.

Sometime around mid-May a friend and I went to the Longmen Grottoes in Luoyang. The grottoes are famous for housing some of China’s most famous sculptures of Buddha—there are over 17,000 in total, ranging in sizes from some as small as your thumb to others larger than your house! Many of the Buddhas are hundreds to thousands of years old. They were all truly a sight to behold. It’s a very touristy area and therefore the tickets were a bit expensive, but the park itself was totally worth it.

Because the sight has essentially become a tourist trap, I really didn’t feel like I was visiting a very spiritual place. It wasn’t very quiet because there were a good number of people visiting, but I suppose that’s for the best because it didn’t feel like we were disturbing anybody trying to pray (which sometimes happens at smaller temples and sites), nor did it feel like we were intruding upon holy grounds. The photos don’t perfectly capture the enormity of the park or some of the Buddhas , for that matter. But I hope you enjoy the photos!

Beijing–Day 3 (The Great Wall)

Welcome back reader! This post will conclude the retelling of my shenanigans in the capital of China. We actually didn’t leave until the evening of the fourth day, but much of that day was spent sitting in the train station and wandering around through the biggest mall in Beijing. On the third day, however, we set off for the Great Wall!

Before leaving Kaifeng, some research was done concerning the Great Wall. The closest section of the wall to Beijing is Badaling making it the most visited section. There are many other sections you can visit, but they are further away and are much less convenient to travel to unless you’re with a tour group. Several modes of transportation are available to get to the wall, such as a handful of buses that leave from Tian’anmen to Badaling, a train line that only goes to the wall and back, and ridiculously overpriced taxis. We opted for the train because trains have never let us down in China before, and they’re usually a bit faster and more comfortable than the buses. To catch the train to Badaling, we had to go the Beijing North Station. While there, we ran into another fellow who was travelling to the Great Wall but spoke no Chinese. This was a problem for him at the ticket window because the teller didn’t speak any English, so we helped him out. The tickets were surprisingly cheap—each one was under $1! Unfortunately, we missed the first train and had to wait a few hours for the next one.

The train ride took about an hour or so, and we arrived at the Badaling station around 1 PM or so. From the station, it’s a good mile or so up to the entrance of the wall itself. It was surprisingly chilly that day: the sky was filled with clouds and there was a pretty constant wind blowing, but I suppose that’s better than unbearably hot weather. There was also a mist or fog that settled over the mountains that made photo-taking a bit frustrating. I was really hoping to get some nice, clear shots of the wall winding over and through the mountains, but most of them didn’t come out so well due to the obnoxiously passive grayness that stubbornly covered the landscape the entire time we were there. But it’s okay—I’m not bitter.

When we finally reached the entrance to wall, we decided to go to the right. Because the wall is, well, a wall, when you enter it at Badaling you enter in the middle and can choose which side you’d like to climb. I want to take a moment to briefly comment on the use of the word “climb” when in context of the Great Wall. Before I myself climbed the Great Wall, I always thought that people who used the verb “climb” to describe their journey on the wall were over exaggerating the effort required to tackle a big old fence. I mean, it has stairs, right? Right. But after visiting the wall, I can honestly say “climb” is the most accurate word to describe how this wonder of the east is tackled. There are parts of it that do not have stairs yet the surface is slanted at a 50 degree angle or so, and the bricks are quite old and have become slick and worn with age. At the sections where there are stairs, they are inconsistently spaced and are often not level. Some of the stairs might be only a few inches tall and others over a foot. The only thing more difficult than going up the wall is going down it—particularly on those stretches where the Chinese felt stairs weren’t necessary even though the wall was slanting at a 45 degree angle. In fact, most people just ran down those parts because it was easier than taking your time and trying to walk down it.

We hadn’t picked a specific spot to end at or specified a certain amount of time we wanted to stay on the wall, so we ended up turning around at North Tower 8. It’s one of the higher points of that section of the wall, and we were pretty tired by that point so after resting awhile and getting some photos, we turned around and worked our way back down. There’s a cable car that goes up pretty far along the wall, so that’s always an option if one is pretty tired and doesn’t feel like walking all the down. They also had something that looked like a little roller coaster that one could take down if they so chose. Dannysha and I declined these options but did take another way down: along one side of the wall, a newer and less intense path has been constructed that lacks the crazy dips and uneven stairs that make the wall a challenge. There are still many, many steps though.

We caught the 5:30 train back into Beijing, grabbed some dinner and then headed off to Wangfujie. We weren’t heading there originally, but I could find the street market I’d originally looked up and so we ended up at one of China’s biggest tourist streets. It was lined with many different stores and restaurants, some of which I knew and some I didn’t. We did find a little night market down one of the side streets, but it wasn’t all that impressive. Some vendors had live scorpions on sticks that they would cook for you if you so desired. I didn’t get any photos of this, however, because it was really all stuff I’d seen in Shanghai.

The next day we checked out of the hostel, went to the Joy City Mall, got some lunch and much needed Starbucks, then headed off to the train station after we grew tired of looking at overpriced American brands. This ended our trip to Beijing. I hope you enjoyed reading about it, and hope you enjoy the photos below! Again, the weather wasn’t perfect but that’s part of traveling. I hope to update again in a few days, so until then, 加油!

Beijing–Day 2 (The Summer Palace/The Temple of Heaven)

Welcome back! I hope you enjoyed my photos from the previous post highlighting my first day in Beijing! On the second day we set out to explore The Summer Palace and the The Temple of Heaven.

The morning started off a little rough–the old woman living in the same room as us woke up around seven and began rifling through all of her bags for something. This was a task she did on a constant basis. When she would get back to the room she would look through her bags, when she woke up in the morning she would look through her bags–and these weren’t even the bags she left in the hostel! They were the ones she had with her the entire day! I think Mary Poppins could learn a thing or two about magic purses from this woman. Anyway, we left the hostel and found the weather to be less than desirable: it was raining. Just harder than a drizzle and enough to get you pretty soaked if you were out in it long, but not hard enough to cause us to want to change our plans. While walking to the subway station, we stopped at a local restaurant to try some dandan noodles. They were not as tasty as I thought they were going to be, and seemed a little bit overpriced. After breakfast we bought a large umbrella to share that we didn’t end up using because by the time we got off of the subway at the appropriate stop, the rain had subsided.

I want to talk about the Beijing metro system for a minute. It is absolutely huge, and can be very convenient. Every single stop is only two kuai, which means one ticket costs about $0.33, and the price is constant whether you’re just going one stop away or twenty. I found that to be very nice. Some of the trains had AC and others did not. Some of the lines were consistently crowded while others were not. The biggest problem I encountered with the metro system was purchasing the tickets and the machines you put your ticket into to allow you in and out of the system. The machines to buy tickets would only take the one kuai coins, so any one kuai paper notes were essentially useless. They were often out of change, so you could not use anything other than the coins at times. Towards the end of our time in Beijing, the almost all of the machines were broken and we had to go to the women at the counters and buy our tickets there. When we were exiting the system, sometimes the electronic turnstiles would eat our cards, emit a high pitched screeching noise but not let us out. Other times they just wouldn’t accept the card. It was a bit frustrating, but mostly just an annoyance. The metros in Shanghai and Taipei were much better.

When we got to the Summer Palace, the rain had cleared up but a sort of mist or smog had then settled around Beijing. I say smog because the US Embassy reports that the level of pollution in Beijing is usually around 180 or so, which is pretty bad. So the weather wasn’t as nice as I’d hoped it would be, but at least the umbrella wasn’t necessary. The Summer Palace was built for Empress Cixi and she would go there in summer to relax and hold parties. It is without a doubt the most glamorous and exuberant summer house I’ve ever seen, but I suppose that’s what one would expect after living in the Forbidden City. We only ended up going through about half of the gardens, and that alone took around four hours. Parts of it were very confusing–I recommend buying a map once inside. I would also recommend buying the comprehensive ticket at the front gate. You’ll end up saving yourself a few bucks. The gardens were absolutely wonderful. In the middle of the lake is a small island that you can either walk to via a bridge or rent a paddleboat and paddle your way to it. There are many structures surrounding the lake, along with different shops and monuments and structures. We visited the Buddhist temple and some other buildings along the way. All of them are absolutely wonderful, built in the traditional Chinese style with trees and flowers all around. After about 4 hours, though, we were ready to move on.

We grabbed something to eat and then headed out for The Temple of Heaven. The park surrounding the temple came as a bit of a surprise, because it very much reminded me of American parks in the sense that there were large manicured areas of nothing but grass. They have grass in China, but it is very coarse and they cut it maybe once every two months, so it’s not like what most people have in their lawns. Besides the grass, there wasn’t much going on in the park. It was very flat and very boring with lots of people yelling “HELLO! LOOKY!” as they waved novelty items in your face, but they thinned out as you got closer to the Temple. The entrance cost was pretty low, which is fair because there really isn’t much to see at the temple. It’s famous in China partially because of it’s shape–I’ve seen at least 20 other temples by this point, and their shape is always rectangular, but the Temple of Heaven is circular. Inside is a beautiful sculpture of a Buddha, but they said that photo taking wasn’t permitted so I did not grab any photos of it. Inside another building off to the side of the temple there was a description of the sky worshiping process. What I gathered was that the people would sacrifice gold, jade, and other people to the gods and light seven fires and do some other spooky stuff. The Chinese description seemed to be more in depth than the English translation, but I couldn’t comprehend much of it.

We left around 5:30 or so and headed back to the hostel to eat dinner. Our hostel was a good half mile away from the nearest subway station, with lots of restaurants and shops in between. On our way back we stopped to get some authentic Chinese wonton soup. Unlike the dandan noodles, I was not disappointed. It was amazing. Because they’re essentially jiaozi in a broth, you can get may different kinds of wontons. I had some sort of pork wonton that was reminiscent of those that Chinese restaurants serve in the States. After dinner we were pretty exhausted and quickly passed out in the hostel, thus ending our second day in Beijing.

A word for those planning to visit Beijing–most of the tourist sites close around 5 or 6 PM, so plan accordingly. Enjoy the photos below, and be sure to come back tomorrow to read about our day at the Great Wall!

Beijing–Day 1 (Tian’anmen/Forbidden City and The Olympic Park)

Well hello there! It has been quite some time since I’ve updated my blog, and for that I sincerely apologize. After getting back from Taiwan, I began preparing for the HSK which is a Chinese Language Proficiency Test. Before Dannysha and I left for Taipei, the school told us we would be taking HSK level 4, but when we returned they informed us we would be taking level 5, which is much more difficult. We took the exam on May 12th, and until we reached that date much of our free time was spent studying, though I did take a little trip to Taiyuan to free my mind a bit (I’ll make a post about that later). So, again, I apologize for my absence, but I plan to post quite a bit before I leave, particularly since my departure is looming ever closer.

About a week ago, Dannysha and I jumped on sleeper train to head up to Beijing, the capital of China and probably the most famous city in the country. From Kaifeng, it’s about a 14 hour train ride to get to the thriving metropolis. Fortunately, this ride wasn’t so bad–we left around 8 PM on a Friday and arrived around 10:30 AM the next day. This was not my first time on a sleeper train, but I did take a photo for your viewing pleasure. They aren’t necessarily the most comfortable, but it’s way better than a hard seat. What I really enjoy about them is that people won’t bother you because you’re white–they’ll still talk about you, but people book the sleepers because they want to sleep, and sleep they do.

When we got to Beijing, the first order of business was to get to the hostel. We found ours off of and the cost per night was only around $6 per person. This is, of course, for the dorm style room which means you’ll be rooming with other people and using a community bathroom. But for $6 a night, I am absolutely okay with that. We took the subway to the appropriate stop, missed the entrance to the hostel at first but eventually stumbled upon it. The girl working the front desk knew very little English (not a problem for us, of course) and was not very helpful. She forgot to give us our key and gave us the password to the wifi begrudgingly. When we entered into the room, we noticed that there was indeed an air conditioner (just as it said online) but it did not work. There was also a 127-year-old woman that was apparently living there. She seemed nice at first and it’s always useful to practice Chinese–I found the Beijing accent to be much easier to understand than the Henan accent–but then she just became a bit annoying. She would ask us where things were in Beijing even though we explained we were just there to sight-see, and she would go to sleep very late with the TV blaring and then have the audacity to be the first one up the next morning, usually clambering out of bed around 7. The bathrooms were nice–but there was only one shower per restroom. This was apparently not a very popular hostel because this never became an issue, but the shower itself wasn’t too pleasant: the temperature options were Direct From the Arctic or Straight Out of Hell. Needless to say, I will not be patronizing that hostel again.

After checking in and putting our stuff down, we decided to head out for lunch at the fine American establishment, Burger King. No, seriously. It was in the gourmet food section of the mall instead of the food court. Burger Kings are much more difficult to find in China than McDonald’s and are far superior in quality in that they are less Asian and retain more of the American fast food feel. After dining on a delicious Western meal, we set out for the Forbidden City. Tian’anmen is located directly in front of the Forbidden City, so it’s essentially a two-for-one deal. It was a Saturday so the palace was pretty packed. I was a little bit disappointed, to be honest. The Forbidden city has three main palaces, and two out of the three were blocked off for renovation. It also wasn’t quite as tall and grand as I thought it would be, the Chinese movie Curse of the Golden Flower being the cause for my disillusion (which I highly recommend if you haven’t seen it). But it was much much bigger than I thought it was going to be. The spaces in between the palaces were absolutely huge, and it’s not hard to believe that there actually are 9,999 rooms within it’s walls. My favorite places in the Forbidden City were definitely the smaller alleyways in between buildings. The walls were maybe 30 feet high on either side, with random gates and intersections that seemed to have been placed there for the sole purpose of confusing the person wandering through them. After meandering through many of the palaces and smaller chambers, we exited into Tian’anmen. Tian’anmen also wasn’t too impressive, though it was also quite large. There were some nice looking buildings surrounding it, but because there was not even a sliver of shade to rest under and it was about 90 degrees that day we left pretty quickly.

That night we went to the Olympic Park to check out the Bird’s Nest and the Water Cube. Since the 2008 Olympics, the Water Cube has been converted into a large indoor water park. The cost of admission running on the high side, so we settled for some photos outside. The Bird’s Nest is still mainly a giant stadium, though a 5-star restaurant has been installed somewhere inside, and I’m fairly certain there’s a large gym in there too. You can take a tour of the stadium during the day, but, like the Water Cube, it’s a bit expensive. The park was nice though–lots of people selling cheap novelty items, many people were rollerblading, and most interestingly, there were some karaoke set ups. People came out with their own flatscreens, generators, microphones, etc and set up a little karaoke area. You told the guy what song you wanted to sing, paid him the appropriate amount, and then waited for your song to come up and sing. It was fun to watch, but looked very intimidating to participate in.

And that concludes day 1 in Beijing! Tomorrow I plan on writing about day 2 and post the corresponding photos!


Hello everyone! Today concludes the Chinese New Year celebration. Most people returned to work last week, but today marks the two week point after Chinese New Year, which makes it the Lantern Festival thus ending the celebration. The Lantern Festival was one of the main reasons Dannysha and I decided to come to Taiwan for the winter break. We did some research and reliable sources (wikipedia) said that the town of Pingxi is supposed to be one of the best places to go for the lantern festival, which was where the 天灯节 or “sky lantern festival” originated.

Pingxi isn’t too far outside of Taiwan, but it’s not accessible via metro. To get there, we had to go to the Taipei Main Station and buy train tickets to Ruifang, and from there transfer to the Pingxi line and take another train to our final destination. Buying the ticket was easy, but getting on the train was a little tricky. China’s train system is very well organized and there are many workers on the platform to help you if you have any questions. Unfortunately, Taiwan was severely lacking in the helpful department, and the arrival/departure board was utterly confusing. Despite the confusion, we boarded the correct train and arrived at Ruifang within a short amount of time. We bought our tickets to Pingxi again (which was a mistake because we’d already paid for the full ride at the previous station) and rushed to the platform. The train was waiting for us when we got there, and was packed with people. I was dismayed at first, but realized the cars further down the platform were fairly deserted. Dannysha and I nearly sprinted to get a seat and were practically kowtowing to the gods for it by the time the train started rolling. Anyone who is claustrophobic or doesn’t like being in close proximity to strangers would not handle this trip well at all.

Being in a seat, we were unable to read the sign when we reached a station and the train began emptying. We followed the crowd and wound up at the wrong town and station, but it was no big deal. We ended up in Shifen, which had a very large Sky Lantern Festival itself. The tiny little town was completely packed. I’ve been to large, crowded theme parks and various other big cities but I’ve never been so jostled in my life. I’ve also never seen so many foreigners in any one place in Asia–I’d say that the crowd was maybe 30% foreigners. There were so many shops selling lantern trinkets and snacks that the streets were clogged and getting down to the area where people were sending up lanterns in groups was incredibly difficult and maybe even a bit arduous.

Finally, we came to a large area where people were selling lanterns and providing markers with which to write your hopes for the new year. People say that by sending the lanterns into the sky the gods are more likely to see your wishes and prayers. So we purchased a red one from an option of about 9 different colors, my favorite of which (purple) was sold out. After writing our wishes on our lantern, a girl came by and helped us send it to the gods. The way these things work is that it’s like a mini hot-air balloon–they light a fire under it and then it just floats up. This can, of course, go terribly wrong. One of the lanterns became entangled on a telephone wire while ascending and caught fire, another hit a building and sort of exploded, and several simply hit a strong pocket of wind causing them to tumble over and immolate mere feet above the heads of the crowd. I’m assuming that all of these scenarios do not forebode good fortune. Fortunately for us, Dannysha and I’s lantern flew away safely, and thank heavens for that because I did not want to see my message of 给我钱 or “GIVE ME MONEY!” go up in flames.

The ride back to Taipei was, well, crazy. There were thousands of tourists in this tiny town, and only a few trains were coming to take them back. This was the first time I’d ever seen the train workers shoving people into the train to make them fit. However, Dannysha and I made some new friends while being crammed into the train. It seemed better to be friendly to the fellow foreigners whose faces were only several awkward inches away from your pelvic region than to ride on in an uncomfortable silence. It was very interesting to hear their opinions on Taipei and the Chinese spoken there since they were all exchange students and also studying Chinese. I wish I’d met them at the beginning of my stay in Taipei, but at least some nice conversation made the uncomfortable train ride a bit more tolerable.

I’ve uploaded some fairly bad photos for your disappointment. I should have taken my camera’s instructions with me or read them before I came to Taiwan. I did not, however, so many of the photos are a little blurry. Some of them are not the camera’s (or my) fault–there were so many people that I was constantly being jostled and it was difficult keeping the camera still. Still, here they are!

Taiwan–Day 12(?)

Hello everyone! It’s been awhile since my last update, I must apologize. I’ve turned into a bit of a night owl here which is quite fun but means that I haven’t been to as many places in or around Taipei as I’d like. I’ve gone around to a good number of places, though, so this will be a little catch-up blog for a few days. Concerning food here, Dannysha and I have had authentic Japanese ramen and tonkatsu which were both astounding, some Korean food of which I forget the name, plenty of Taiwanese food, and best of all MEXICAN FOOD! Now, I can’t really say it’s as good as what you can get in America, but it’s close enough to quell my need for queso. We recently climbed a mountain and got some nice photos, visited a few night markets, wandered around the area near our hostel, went to the zoo and visited the Maokong area. I’ll be making a different post for those last two things, so for now just enjoy the photos!

Taiwan–Day 5

Hello all! I hope this post finds you well and in good health, and possibly stuffed from a grease-filled Fat Tuesday! I didn’t really go anywhere of historical importance today, so I don’t really have any good stories for you. Instead, I thought I’d make a note of some of the things I like about Taipei so far. So, here we go!

1. CLEAN AIR!! Air quality was never something I gave much thought to in the States and is something I choose to ignore in China. But after living in China for about 5 months, it really is amazing how different a whiff of fresh air will make you feel.
2. FOOD VARIETY!! Kaifeng is fairly limited when it comes to food options in that you will be eating Chinese food regardless of what your taste buds want. Don’t get me wrong–the food is wonderful, but a taste of home is just that–home. While in Taipei, I’ve had french fries covered in cheese, a corn dog, some kind of Greek sandwich that was similar to a gyro, and those were just snacks from street side food vendors! There are a plethora of Japanese, Korean, Italian, Mexican, etc restaurants in the area. The only food I’ve had trouble finding is Taiwenese food.
3. SUBWAYS!! Not the fast food chain you silly Westerner, I mean the underground public transportation method! The Taiwan MRT system is just amazing. It’s clean, fast, well organized, and has decent hours. Most of the lines stop running around 00:30 so you’re fine unless you’re going to a late movie or a bar.
4. FRIENDLINESS!! The Taiwanese are very friendly, particularly towards foreigners. I’m not saying China isn’t, but let’s be honest–Taipei is a big city and people living in a big city usually aren’t the friendliest towards strangers. I haven’t had to ask anyone for directions yet, but I’ve had several people come up to me and ask if I needed help. In another instance, I was behind a young Taiwanese couple on the subway escalator (by young I mean they could have been anywhere from 15-30 years old) and they just turned around and asked Dannysha and I where were we going and if we liked Taipei. They also made some suggestions about places to see before we leave.
5. MUSIC!! Chinese pop music isn’t really my thing–it’s mostly ballads and ALWAYS melodramatic, but Taiwanese pop seems to be closer in relation to Korean and American pop which are much more dance-y. Because small shops selling anything other than men’s clothing will be playing the most popular tracks, music is of utmost importance.
6. PARKS!! There are parks everywhere in Taipei, just like Shanghai. I’m beginning to think this a common theme in many Chinese cities, and I love it. Sure, New York has Central Park but who needs that when you’ve got about 12409 small parks randomly scattered about the downtown and running/biking parks running along the rivers that dissect the city?
7. ENGLISH!! Now, before you start judging me–a student of the Chinese language–for listing my mother tongue as a Pro, allow me to explain. When I step up to a counter to buy a food item or knick knack, the shop clerk will always begin in English. I will always respond in Chinese. They seem to love this and will then continue in Chinese, usually saying that my Chinese is great (which it’s not) before I leave. So to anyone thinking about travelling to Taiwan, don’t worry too much about the language barrier! You can get by with English. If you don’t speak Chinese or English you might run into some issues.
8. CLIMATE!! I suppose I should have listed this with clean air, but they’re fairly different. I’m visiting Taiwan in mid-February but it feels like mid-October to me. It’s also been cloudy and windy the entire time I’ve been here, which I also love. Were I here in July, the climate might be on my list of cons.
9. STARBUCKS!! They’re everywhere. I’m a regular now at the one closest to me. I’ve missed my quad grande americano in the worst way.
10. LINES!! That’s right, lines. Queues. People in China seem to find forming lines a cumbersome task and so they choose not to. This is not the case in Taiwan at all. On the escalators in the subway, everyone waits and lines up along the right side if they aren’t walking up the escalator. This way, those who want to move quicker can walk past on the left-hand side. While waiting for their train, people form lines on the subway platform and patiently wait for the train to arrive. When it does, they stand to the side and allow room for those exiting the vehicle. It’s truly a beautiful sight to see.

Well, that’s all for now. I’ve uploaded more photos of the Memorial for you to see, along with some random ones I’ve taken in the city. Enjoy!

Taiwan–Day 3

Hello all! 新年快乐!It is now the year of the Snake! I really have to be honest—I was let down by Taiwan’s celebration of the New Year. There were almost no fireworks that I could see, or hear. It’s very possible I was simply in the wrong place to see them, but I was let down nonetheless. I would recommend, therefore, those wishing to experience a Chinese New Year to go to mainland China.

Today we wandered around the city for a bit, along with visiting some famous places in Taipei. For lunch we stopped by the Modern Toilet restaurant. The food wasn’t outstanding, but let’s be honest—you go there for the experience. After that we went to the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial. It was pretty outstanding. The crowds weren’t terrible at all, particularly for this being a holiday in which many people seem to go sightseeing and such. It was a fairly exhausting day filled with much walking and photo-taking, my favorites included down below.

So far, I am absolutely loving Taipei. It’s not really as clean as Shanghai was, but it just seems much more…me. I can’t really describe it, but I just feel a sense of belonging here. I know I said the same for Shanghai, but this is true love, I think. I can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings!


Hello all! Dannysha, myself, and all of our things officially made it to Taipei! We checked into our hostel a good while ago, dropped off our things and went exploring for a little bit. The location of our hostel is absolutely phenomenal–we are about a one minute walk away from a subway station. There’s also a convenience store attached to our building, so buying snacks and drinks will be very convenient. This is the first dorm style room I’ve stayed in. I’m not super impressed, though the man and woman who are operating it seem to be quite nice. We followed the directions from (a fantastic site for finding hostels, highly recommend) and ended up in an apartment building of sorts. We rang the bell of a slightly shady looking place, and a women who spoke no English poked her head out of the doorway and asked us what we wanted. We explained the details, and then she took us back outside the building. Once she realized we weren’t some foreigners there to rob her, she became very friendly. I was a little wary, however, because we walked down the entire block to a different building with a woman we’d known for 5 minutes to a place whose address we didn’t know in an unfamiliar city. Were we in America I’d have said “Nope. I’ll just find another place to stay, thanks.” but we are in Asia, which is exponentially safer, so we just followed her. She took us to the 4th floor of this rather large building and showed us where we could sleep and the shower and so forth. My initial reaction was that it was a bit dirty, but that’s not the right word. The furnishings are a little bit old, but everything’s clean. The shower is nice and warm–sadly not hot–and the room is air conditioned! There are another 4 guys staying here besides us, but we haven’t met them. It seems as though everyone mostly keeps to themselves.

A bit of good luck concerning my camera–I didn’t forget it! It turns out it was merely hiding in my bag. Tomorrow begins a hopefully long day of walking around and exploring this exciting city. The Lunar New Year is almost upon us! I hope everyone has their fireworks ready!

My Journey to Taiwan–Pit Stop in Xiamen

I am now comfortably settled into a small, nice hostel for the night in the rather large city of Xiamen. It was no easy trip getting here, though. In preparations for the trip, I purchased a large travel book bag from taobao to act as a second piece of luggage. I over-packed it and had some issues with straps–mainly that they unwound themselves from the small plastic device that held them together. Because we only had an hour and a half to catch the train, I decided to bother with the straps later. On our way out of the dorm, a wheel fell off my carry-on. I checked to see if would be fixable, but it seemed irreparable and we now had about one hour and twenty minutes to get to the train station. So instead of wheeling one bag and carrying another on my shoulders, I ended up carrying them both to the station. Fortunately, I had a 26 hour train ride to rest my weary muscles.

When I woke up this morning on the train, we were in Southern China and the view outside the window had changed drastically. It looked sort of like Jurassic Park out there. I grabbed my bag to find my camera and take a few photos, but could not find it. I apparently left it in my dorm, along with my beard trimmers. By this point, I was fed up with this trip. When we got to the Xiamen station, we grabbed a taxi and gave him the directions for the hostel we wanted. He took us to the correct street but not to the hostel itself. We asked shop vendors in the area where it was, but no one seemed to know. We opted for hostel number two then, but our “hostel” according to Google turned out to be an apartment complex. At that particular point in time, I just wanted to rip my beard off my face. My luggage was broken so I was carrying everything around a few large streets in a large city I didn’t know, and we couldn’t find a hostel for the evening. I was ready to call it quits and traipse my way to the nearest McDonald’s (they’re open 24/7) and camp out there for the evening when Dannysha miraculously got the address for a different hostel on her phone. When we finally hailed a cab, I told him the street and he took us to the hostel. I didn’t even mention the name of the place or the address besides the street name–I guess being foreign travelers is enough sometimes.

We got a place to stay for the evening at a decent price, and I found a new carry-on that seems of decent quality for a decent price, so I’d say things are looking up right now. As for forgetting my camera, I brought my iPhone so I plan to just use the camera on that. The photos won’t be as good, but they’ll suffice. Wish us luck for leg two of the journey!