Hello all! 万圣节快乐，or Happy Halloween! I hope everyone saw some great costumes this past weekend! I’ve been celebrating vicariously via Facebook because China doesn’t really get into Halloween–I’ve seen one store selling Halloween masks, and it was a very limited selection. They had a few witch hats also, but everything was stuffed into the back corner of the store. It was a store that sold all things cute, and it was as if they decided to carry a few Halloween goods begrudgingly. At least, that’s what the display told me. Pumpkins are nowhere to be found in Kaifeng, so that means a serious absence of Jack-o-lanterns. I haven’t seen any shops selling costumes, but I’ve spotted a few girls walking around campus with a shirts emblazoned with either rhinestone ghosts or witches, although those hardly count as costumes. I’m not really into Halloween that much myself, however I found that I did miss it this year. I suppose it was the utter lack of the holiday (and the candy) that really caused me to want to get into the Halloween spirit.I’m really hoping that Christmas in China won’t be the same.
This past weekend all of the foreigners went to Longting Park in Kaifeng, which was where the emperor resided for more than 7 dynasties. The Chrysanthemums were still in bloom and full of color so the park was incredibly breathtaking. As promised, I took many photos and I’ve attached my favorites down at the bottom of the post. The park was absolutely huge–the palace sits on the edge of a lake. The walkway leading up to the front it stretches over the length of the lake, branching off at one part to reach a small island. Behind the palace is a large expanse of gardens that were very easy to get lost in. And every single inch of all of this was covered in chrysanthemums. I can’t say I’ve seen anything in the US that quite matched the grandeur of this place, particularly with respect to the flowers. I don’t think I was quite able to capture the magnificence of the park though…everywhere you turned there were flowers and statutes and shrubbery and people. There were so many people milling about the grounds taking photos and, well, being tourists. We went on a Saturday, which was apparently when all of the Chinese decided to go as well. We were stopped many times to take pictures with Chinese families, and the attempted “candid” photos were probably twice the number. The weather was pretty good–it was the in mid-70’s, though it was pretty hazy that day. Next weekend we’re going to another park, so I’ll be sure to take plenty of photos there as well!
大家好！我希望大家的身体是很好！Yesterday (October the 18th) began the start of this year’s Chrysanthemum Festival! During the past week or so skeletal sculptures were erected along the sidewalks and in front of gates and storefronts. They looked a bit odd at first, but things quickly became clear–they are now being used as vehicles to displays thousands and thousands of chrysanthemums. We had a small presentation about the festival in class, but I didn’t catch much of it. The orator was speaking pretty quickly, and I’m fairly certain smoke began wafting out of my ears towards the end of the speech because my brain was completely fried. I did understand that the city will be displaying the flowers for a month and that all of the foreigners are going to be taking a class trip to one of the historic parks next weekend to wander around and see the flowers. It may be a tad on the boring side, but I plan to take many pictures.
This afternoon, we decided to go on an “adventure”. The original plan was to catch the number 6 bus out of town which would take us to the bank of the Yellow River. However, we arrived at the bus stop after it had been there for awhile so it was about as packed as it could get. We asked a local how long it would be until the next bus, and she told us it would be about 30-40 minutes, so we ditched the plan and began walking towards another park. By the time we got there the gates were about to close because it was 5 o’ clock at this point, so we opted for plan C which was to take a bus to the downtown area. This then turned into plan D. Plan D was exactly the same as plan C but instead of a bus we caught a cab because we didn’t want to waste our time with the bus. You’ve probably guessed by now that within our little group patience isn’t our strongest virtue.
We finally arrived downtown and walked around a bit, coming to rest at a crepe shop. It was pretty fantastic–they even used real whipped cream! That was a shocker, since almost all other sweet dairy products in China (ice cream, yogurt, smoothies) all have a fermented sour taste. Eventually, we found our way to the Pizza Hut in Kaifeng. They had some of the most interesting pizza topping combinations I have ever seen. This was also the classiest Pizza Hut I had ever been to, and the first time I have sat down to a meal in China with a butter knife included in the place setting. Fast food chains in China are not like the ones in America–they are some of the most expensive places to dine. A glass of soda at the Pizza Hut cost 12 kuai, whereas buying a bottle in a little restaurant would be about 1.5 kuai. And the meals seem outrageously expensive too–30 kuai for a chicken sandwich, compared to 4 kuai for a large bowl of beef noodles. The meal was a bit on the pricey side, but the thick, buttery crust and stringy, greasy cheese was worth every fen I paid. Nothing has tasted like home as that pizza. Also, if you would like to get a better feel for the decadence that is Pizza Hut in China, you can try looking at their website here.
Yesterday evening I purchased the first two seasons of The Walking Dead (with all of the extra footage and whatnot) for all of 15元. With an exchange rate of 1元 = 0.159569 USD, I bought this DVD set for about $2.40. Now you too know the greatness of the 夜市，or night market. Between the hours of 7 and 10 PM, parts of certain streets and empty lots are filled with vendors selling a plethora of tasty treats and fairly priced treasures. If you see something you like, but think it’s tad too expensive you can always try and bargain down the price, or just walk down a few stalls because you’ll likely find an identical trinket on another table. The night market we visited was on a specific street, and it is by far the largest one in downtown Kaifeng. The street is named 书店街，or Bookseller’s Street. It’s a bit like the historic part of Kaifeng. The buildings on the street have been restored and repainted to resemble their original structures, and it was where everyone would go to purchase their books and utensils in a younger China. Because it’s one of the main tourist attractions in Kaifeng, it quickly became the largest night market in the city. The vendors arrive around sundown and simply set up shop right in front of the store fronts, crowding the street. I’ve definitely gotten used to inevitable jostling and shoving that comes from being swallowed by a crowd in China. Rarely am I startled when the scooters (and often cars trying to squeeze into the narrow streets) honk at us to get out of the way. Th night market is one my favorite things about the city thus far–simply strolling around the street, looking at the clothes and food and nick-knacks while making Chinese friends and laughing along with them when they can’t understand my broken Chinese just seems utterly unreal. On the taxi ride home I can’t wipe the I-still-can’t-believe-I’m-in-China grin off of my face. I really feel like I’m a part of the city now. Be sure to check back in a week or so because the Chrysanthemum Festival is coming, and the city is going to be COVERED in flowers, so I plan to take many pictures. Enjoy the ones I took of the market yesterday evening! 慢走。
This is the “small” room they put us in. Did I mention it was swanky?
Bottle service (kinda…?)
Coming to China, I knew that a trip to a karaoke bar was inevitable. I was involved with music for quite a few years, so I’m not particularly tone deaf but I try to limit my singing to the car and shower. This being the case, I’d never done karaoke prior to this experience, so I really had no idea what to expect. I was pleasantly surpirsed when we arrived at the venue and the host took us to a private room. I’ve seen enough movies to make an assumption that most karaoke bars in the US are simply bars with a microphone and karaoke machine in the corner, and everyone in the bar has to listen to you sing. That is absolutely not the case in China. The host takes your group into a room depending on the size of the party, and you pay for the amount of hours you would like to sing and possibly drinks and food. The karaoke bar we ended up at was rather swanky, so it was a little pricey for only an hour and a half but they gave us some alcoholic beverages and a fruit tray (pictures at the bottom). I had a great time! Particularly after a few drinks. The song selection was very large (including the American/UK hits), so no one could use the excuse “I don’t know any of these songs!”. And because you’re only singing in front of a small group of people, the experience isn’t quite as nerve-racking. Well, that was the case for me. It’s interesting how many people I’ve met in China that absolutely love karaoke. This is not to say that all Chinese are great vocalists and love showing off–it seems to be more about making a fool of yourself, and letting go of your inhibitions. The Chinese are a very expressive people, so the more feeling you put into the singing (whether it be good or bad singing) the more they cheered. You get a sense of family from it–like everyone in the room is a little karaoke family, and you support them in their singing no matter what. There’s never anything but good vibes in a karaoke room, and a sense of unity. I really must say, I can’t wait to go again.