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 hostelworld.com 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!

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!

My Journey to Taiwan

Hello all! I’ve been absent on here for a while, and I must apologize for that. I’ve become quite lethargic over winter break and have sincerely neglected my blog. Not much has been happening here in Kaifeng. Almost all of the students have left, so campus is incredibly quiet and empty. Because the school’s student body is the main source of business for the shops and restaurants surrounding campus, many of them have closed until the spring semester begins. Thankfully, my journey to Taiwan begins tomorrow which means a plethora of tantalizing food stuffs will soon begin their journey through my stomach. I’ve already done my research–Taipei has more than a handful of Mexican restaurants. I cannot put into words my elation at this discovery.

 

Even though the promise of Taiwan shimmers with the foods of the world and a thriving metropolis, the journey to this promised land will be long and arduous. No, really. My train from Kaifeng will leave tomorrow around 2pm and will arrive in Xiamen around 4pm the next day. Yes, that is a 26 hour train ride. China has these wonderful sleeper trains where they have bunk beds stacked three high instead of seats, but I was not lucky enough to get one of those. I only found out a few days ago that there’s a Chinese site where one can reserve tickets and then pick them up at designated location, so by the time I was able to buy tickets at the office due to the time restraints (refer to an earlier entry about this) the sleeper train was completely booked. Before hand, the only site I’d been able to find concerning train tickets in China charged an outlandish service fee and could not guarantee the actual tickets. Obviously, I elected not to purchase anything from that site.

After arriving in Xiamen, I’ll be staying in a hostel for one night. The next morning I’ll be taking a ferry to Kinmen Island and will then be taking a plane to Taiwan. Total travel time: about 48 hours from point A to point B. The reason I’m not simply flying with a commercial airline to Taiwan from mainland China is because a one-way ticket with one of those would have been more than my tickets to and from Taiwan.

 

Well, I should get back to packing. I may have dropped the ball on my train tickets, but I’ll be damned if I leave my lucky socks in Kaifeng. Look forward to some great photos from Taiwan, and possibly a check-in in Xiamen! Until next time.

好久不联系

Hello all! I hope everyone’s doing very well back in the States. We are already midway through January, which means that everyone will be going back to school and many New Years resolutions already forgotten. Not that I’m pointing the finger or anything–I didn’t even make any this year! With the passing of the holidays I celebrated my 22nd birthday, and it was pretty great. I can’t really say that it was better than my 21st last year, but this was my first (and possibly) last birthday in China. I spent it at KTV and had planned to go to a bar afterwards, but I was really in no state to do so and ended up back at the dorm fairly early.  Many of my Chinese friends and people near the campus wish me and the fellow foreigners a Happy New Year, even though to them they don’t take this to be New Years at all. I got into a little bit of an argument with a friend over QQ over the meaning of “New Year” here. He agreed with me that the 31st of December is. indeed the last day of the year but that new one doesn’t really start until Chinese New Year (which is February the 10th this year). Also, for the Winter Solstice Chinese tradition is to make jiaozi and then eat them. If you don’t eat jiaozi (which are dumplings, essentially) your ears will fall off or freeze off, depending upon whom you ask. I ate plenty of jiaozi that day so I think my ears are safe.

My semester officially ended on the 9th of January. No, that was not a typo–the 9th of January. And the scary thing is that we foreigners have it easy. Most of our Chinese friends don’t finish their semester until around the 20th of January. Even though I was incredibly homesick over the holidays, I decided it was a bad idea to go home for break, mainly because of the terrible timing of my dates off. I’d be getting back to the States when all of my friends would be preparing to head back to school and my parents resuming work (if they hadn’t already). Besides, that’s a pretty pricey plane ticket and I doubt Santa would’ve picked up a hitchhiker and taken him to the other side of the world.

Now that I’m done with school for two months, I’m preparing for my trip to Taiwan. The original plan was to take a train from Kaifeng to Xiamen and from there take a ferry to Taiwan. Unfortunately, the ferry we were planning to take will be down for maintenance for a month, so we’ve had to make a few adjustments. We will now be taking the train to Xiamen, and from there a small boat to a small island that is still part of Taiwan, and then there we will take a a small plane to Taiwan and then hop on a bus to Taipei. All I think I’m missing is riding some sort of an animal (my preference would be an ostrich).  I can’t say I’m necessarily excited to experience all of these modes of transportation just to get to one place, but it’s still cheaper than taking a commercial airline from the mainland to Taiwan.

I’ve had some issues recently with my VPN, mainly being that it doesn’t work anymore. I was able to get my hands on another one that allows me to access WordPress and Youtube, but not my Facebook or Twitter for some reason. Now that I have access to WordPress, I’ll try and keep up with my blog posts!

雪盖老河大的时候。。。

大家好!Last week I mentioned on Facebook that Kaifeng saw it’s first real snowfall of the year, and that I had the chance to go out and take a bunch of photos of the snow covering campus. I only uploaded my favorites here (along with one of me trying my hand at printing a kind of Chinese lithograph).

Christmas is quickly approaching, although it doesn’t feel like it much in Kaifeng. Some stores have Christmas trees displayed inside or put up some decorations, but the overall holiday atmosphere is severely lacking. I have yet to hear a single Christmas Carol or see any Christmas Lights put up, which are two of my favorite things about Christmas. All of the foreign students have been asked (by this I really mean coerced) into performing something for a holiday program the school is apparently having on Christmas Day. Despite my not wanting to have to perform anything, all of the foreigners are essentially being forced into it so at least we’ll all be able to laugh at each other. Our finals are just around the corner now, my first exam landing on the 7th of January. It seems extremely late by America’s standards because Chinese New Years is the biggest holiday of the year, and that is the holiday the Chinese school system works its semesters around. My second semester doesn’t begin until the end of February so I suppose I can deal with having class through my usual Christmas break. Happy holidays everyone, enjoy the holiday atmosphere, and let’s hope we make it through the impending Doomsday.

 

 

I <3 SH

This past weekend two friends and myself hopped on a train to Shanghai. We decided we were going only earlier this week, so it fairly unplanned and sporadic.  This was the first time I had used the Chinese railway system and it was also my first time in Shanghai.  Buying train tickets in Chinese isn’t hard—buying train tickets in China is unnecessarily complicated. If you want to do it online, you have to buy them more than five days in advance. In Kaifeng, you can only purchase tickets for trains that depart within the next five days. In Shanghai, they have a similar rule but it’s for three days. Because we weren’t able to purchase tickets back to Kaifeng before we left, when we got to Shanghai we had to purchase tickets with a 7:45AM departure time back to Kaifeng. The trains themselves weren’t too bad. We went on the soft seat fast train which got us to Shanghai in about six hours. The seats were pretty comfortable and there was a surprising amount of leg-room. Tickets were a bit steep—¥233 one way—but the slow train would have taken about eleven hours to get there. Everyone agreed the extra dollars were worth it.

We arrived Friday evening around 11:30, and had unfortunately missed the very last subway train forcing us to take a cab. This wasn’t too terrible though because he dropped us off right in front of the hostel. It was really pretty nice, particularly for the price, and the best part was that it was very clean. I won’t lie, I had my doubts about hostels in China at first, but I have certainly changed my attitude concerning them.

Saturday morning we woke up, and went to the nearest ticket office to buy our tickets back to Kaifeng, afterwards we stopped by a dumpling shop for brunch. A Shanghai specialty is Xiaolong Jiaozi, or Little Dragon Dumplings, which were on the menu so we ordered about twenty. These dumplings were the tastiest food I have yet encountered in China. They are fairly large and fried on the bottom so that they have a nice crunch to them. The inner part is filled with a pork meatball of sorts, and soup. These wonderful little devils are as difficult to eat as they are tasty. The method I found most effective to devour them was to nibble a hole in the dumpling and let it cool for a minute, suck out the soup inside and then proceed to eat it. I’ve been in China for two months now, so I’m fairly adept when it comes to handling chopsticks, and yet I dropped every other dumpling onto my plate splashing the soup all over the table.

We spent much of Saturday just wandering around the city taking in the sights. The air was incredibly smoggy—we couldn’t really feel or smell it but you could see it, or rather, you couldn’t see much because of the smog. One of my favorite things about the city was the randomly interspersed parks that cowered in between the skyscrapers. There was about one on every block and they all varied in size. There were a few very large parks in Shanghai, one of those being the Peoples’ Square which contains the musical fountain, but we never got to see it “perform”. We waited around with other Chinese tourists for about 15 minutes before deciding we wanted to leave and do something else.

That evening we went to a club, but one of our group wasn’t much of a drinker, so she requested a place where she could dance. This proved to be more of a challenge than we’d originally thought. We first went to a very popular club called Richbaby. It gave the appearance that you needed to be a rich baby to afford their beverages and they didn’t have a dance floor so we left. We then went to Mook, a club which specialized in women dancing on tables in their underwear. This place also looked really pricey and did not have a dance floor, so we left. We came to a shabbier hole-in-the-wall bar which ended up being utterly fantastic. Drinks were relatively cheap, the DJ was good, and they didn’t close until the sun came up. We stayed until about 3:30 in the morning, and I regretted some of my drink choices just a tad the next morning.

After recovering, we walked along the Bund on Sunday and bought tickets for an evening cruise on the Yangtze River. After acquiring tickets, we walked around Shanghai for a bit and eventually found ourselves at the doors of the Shanghai Art Museum. It was 3PM when we arrived, and they closed at 5, so they gave us our tickets for free. They had an exhibit for a photographer (I can’t remember the guy’s name, he was really good) and for Tibetan modern art.

When the time finally came to go to the pier for our cruise, we had some issues with the driver because he took us about three very long blocks too far. And in China, when things such as trains or boats are scheduled to leave, they often leave about 15 minutes early. We finally made it to the boat, and it was literally just in time. It was a fairly short ride, but the view and photos were amazing.

By the time Monday rolled around, we were all incredibly exhausted and ready to get back to our little Chinese city. We woke up at 6:30, and our train left at 7:45. This was not, unfortunately, anywhere near enough time to make the train. We ended up missing it, and got in line see if there was any way to get our money back for the tickets or exchange them. I’m pretty sure that were we Chinese, the woman at the window would have told us that we should have been there on time, but as foreigners in China, we get what we want. The woman at the desk merely asked for our tickets and passports, and then gave us almost all of our money back. This renewed our spirits somewhat, and when we were able to get tickets for that afternoon we were all feeling pretty good about how the situation turned out. Some authentic Dim Sum in our tummies increased that feeling tenfold about an hour later while we found our seats on the train and settled in for a long ride.

Shanghai was the sleepiest and somehow most quaint large city I have ever been to. Unlike New York, this city has a curfew. The subways stop running around 11:30 and the streets become deserted, aside from the ambling taxis whose drivers are desperate for passengers. Even while walking down the dark alley towards the hostel or coming across strangers on the street at 2 in the morning, never once did I feel uneasy or in danger. If you don’t know much Chinese, you can make your way through Shanghai easily, though dealing with the cab drivers might give you a headache or two. Many of the signs near the center of the city and the tourist traps are translated into English, and most shopkeepers and clerks know enough English to understand what you want. I was only in the city for a few days, but it made a huge impression on me. It was the first place I’d really been where East meets West and ancient meets modern—Shanghai had a bit of everything. It’s an international city, but it is definitely still very Chinese. Sometimes, in retrospect, I really question the things I’ve done so far and the choices I’ve made. But looking at my experience thus far in China and the people I’ve met and the places I’ve been, I know with absolute certainty that when I accepted the scholarship to study in here, I made the best decision in my life so far.

 

Chrysanthemum Festival (Part 2)/万圣节快乐!

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!