Wednesday, September 29, 2010

i hate the great wall of china.

i hope everyone enjoyed their mid autumn festival vacation :), once again, i'm not sure why china celebrates autumn. it does not look like autumn. autumn is my favorite season, especially at st. joe's - everything is so pretty. here, not so much. the weather is finally getting autumn-like, which is nice. but leaves are still green sky is still smog, etc. however i shouldn't be complaining, considering i got outta three days of classes.

since we had a few days off we decided to do something different. my friend taylor's tutor invited her to go camping on the great wall for a night during the break. mariana and i agreed we'd join them. i like camping!, it sounded fun! we took a subway to a bus then we were picked up by our host family and driven to a tiny little farm village. it was the most adorable thing i've ever seen. this little farm was run by a family. it was tiny. prolly half the size of the property a normal american family owns. they had a tiny little garden where they grew vegetables, a small indoor kitchen, two bedroom-like rooms, and a guest room with three beds, a tv, and a couch. taylor's tutor, jessie, taylor, mariana and i stayed in the guest room. i loved it the second i got there it was so cute and simple! the four of us walked around the village exploring. even though there wasn't exactly much to explore. mostly houses, a restaurant or two and one hotel. after our walk we all took a nap while we were waiting for dinner. dinner was delicous!! it tasted so fresh. we had lots of veggies, which were all freshly picked from their garden. it was so yummy. it was a nice change to the normal greasy, fried beijing street food we're used to eating. ahhh delicious!! they served us wine, mooncakes, and the best tea! mmm it was great. the four of us hung around, played cards, learned chinese chess!, and watched some chinese tv. we went to bed early to prepare for our long journey along the great wall the next day.

damn you great wall of china. that is all i have to say. we were very close so with jessie as our leader we walked to the great wall of china, sounds like a piece of cake considering the many experiences i've had with this notorious wall. LIES. it in no way shape or form was a piece cake. it was a mountain. we legitimately climbed a mountain to get the great wall. i thought the great wall was bad, man was i in for a real treat. i know i am often known for exaggerating or making sarcastic comments; however in no way am i exaggerating or being sarcastic when i say we climbed a mountain. we kept going higher and higher and higher. the "path" we were walking was full with overgrown weeds and grass and also looked like it endured a rock avalanche a few days before. we went mountain climbing. it was brutal. thank gosh i have climbed the great wall before or else i don't think i would've been able to make it. however once we finally got there it was so worth it. this part of the great wall was beautiful. we seemed to have escaped the infamous beijing smog, it was a clear blue sky and we even saw a few clouds!!
unlike the first great wall TBC took us to, the steps were even, it wasn't as steep. it was great. while walking the wall, taylor, mariana, and i kept saying how much better this part of the wall was. continuously. "why didn't TBC take us to this part of the wall?" "this wall is so much nicer and easier to climb than the other wall." etc. etc. we were having a blast, it was the perfect weather, we were singing, it was great. we decided not to risk an early death by climbing down the mountain so instead we took the cable car which was pretty, we got a nice aerial view of the wall. once we got off i turned to mariana and taylor once i had realized our slip up. "uh this is the same exact wall." they both responded wiht no no no its not, they all have vendors like this at the end. no way this is the same wall. we continued to walk then we all looked at each other and we knew it. after the continuous complaints we realized that TBC in fact had taken us to the very same wall. least to say we got a few good laughs.

after a long walk home and a delicious lunch we packed our things and began the journey back. awful. absolutely awful. we were stuck on a crowded bus for an hour, standing. and to say crowded is an understatement. it was packed. you could not move. people were on top of each other. never again, never, ever. especially since they don't believe in deodorant in beijing. it was pretty bad. fortunately, we survived in case anybody was worried.

even though we just finished the mid-autumn festival vacation, this morning after my chinese class marked my week-long national day week vacation, oh china and your wonderful holidays. we have a week off of school! it feels wonderful! i'm beginning to think i'll be experiencing vacation here more than i will classes, and i'm not complaining. i'm even more excited because my mom, dad, aunt, and will are coming to visit me!! they come in tomorrow night and we'll be hanging out in beijing for a couple days then their going to travel all around china. and during the end of the week i'll be meeting them in shanghai! i'm so excited. except for the part where i will be dragged to the great wall of china AGAIN. kill me now. so i hope all you americans enjoy you're week of school because i will be doing no work whatsoever :) seeeeeeee yaaaaaaaa

Sunday, September 26, 2010

the silk road .....

get ready for the longest entry of your life. first of all if any of you are considering backpacking a significant part of the silk road within two weeks, i'm telling you now - don't do it. don't get me wrong i really did love it. but now i get to complain about it, but keep in mind i do realize it was the experience of a lifetime. :)

i was so excited to go on this trip when i got to china, now i never want to see another part of china again. we went to nine different cities - xi'an, lanzhou, xia'he, jiayuguan, dunhuang, hami, shanshan, turpan, and urumqi never staying more than a night in one place. least to say it was exhausting. we took overnight trains, planes, camels, buses and we stayed in yurts, villages, tents, and hotels. EXHAUSTING.

i literally felt like i was on this little excursion for about 2 months when in fact it had been about 3 and 1/2 days. we were on the move 24/7. most of that time was spent waiting. waiting for trains, luggage, people, tours, camels, etc.

the long awaited journey began in the city of xi'an, which is most famous for housing the terra cotta warriors. they in fact were prolly my favorite site of the trip. oddly enough i was extremely fascinated with something other than the real housewives of new jersey. its so crazy that some farmer just one day dug up a whole army of terra cotta warriors. i loved them. it was also in xi'an that i realized that the chinese add r's to english words. yes it is stereotypical, however i was unsure if it was actually true. luckily enough our tour guide was able to confirm this myth for me. she used words like pagoder (pagoda) buddhr (buddha) and phenomener (phenomena). least to say, she was great. another important discovery on the way to xi'an: sleeper trains. i think sleeper trains may make the list of my top 5 favorite things in the entire world. i love them. i think they are great. they're so fun. just like six little bunk beds in a little compartment, often our program took up a car or two so it was always fun to hang out with everyone and fall asleep to asian lullabyes. so wonderful.

also in xi'an, TBC (the beijing center - study abroad program i am going through) had decided to hire a few local students to take us around and show us the city for the night, and host a group of about 10 students at their house for dinner. sounds pretty cool and looks like TBC did their homework, right? false. our host student, joan, looked like she had been pulled of the street and forced to take a group of clueless, ignorant americans around. luckily her and her friend teamed up and took twenty of us around the city. after showing us some sites and forcing us to cross a major highway in the middle of oncoming traffic, it was time for dinner. my friend, mallory, took the initiative and asked how long far her house was from here. joan continued to tell us it was very, very far away. mallory continued to ask how we were getting to their house. joan looks at us with a confused look and says "whaaaa?" so joan and the other host student look at each other and ask "is this a prank." our group of TBC-er's looked at each other in confusion and quickly offered to go to a restaurant. job well done, TBC staff, job well done.

after xi'an we made our way to xia'he, which is a small tibetan village on the border between tibet and china. xia'he may have been my favorite place on the trip. we stayed in a town called labrong, which was literally a block long with a bunch of vendors, restaurants, weird stores, etc. however, they had the coolest jewelry and it was here that i had one of my favorite dishes in china! it was a bowl of soup with noodles and it was spicy and just delicious. the people here were great. i also tried yak! i know, i'm getting more and more adventurous everyday. on our last night in xia'he, a tibetan family threw us a great party. they served us great food and there was lots of singing and dancing. and alcohol. disgusting alcohol. they went into each of the rooms where TBC-ers were eating and started singing a beautiful song and then draping us with scarves. then they poured three shot glasses full of some tibetan liquor, most likely gasoline. they made us take three gasoline shots each and you couldn't say no because they were singing so beautifully. afterwards we serenaded them with don't stop believing. and yes, it was embarassing.

the next day we left xia'he for lanzhou to catch a train to jiayuguan. we visited a girls muslim school, which was really cool! all the girls were really sweet and they sang for us! we visited about a bajillion mosques, all were beautiful and all smell like yak butter. blehkk. we then made our way to jiayuguan where a few friends and i stumbled upon a carnival and treated ourselves to a few rounds of bumper cars. it was great.

after jiayuguan we arrived in dunhuang after a nauseous five hour drive through a place that most likely doesn't show up on google maps. there were no roads we just drove. people got sick which made the drive even more pleasant. however, it was worth it we spent the night in the gobi desert. thats right, how many people can say they've camped in the gobi desert? well i can. we set up two person tents and then spent the night climbing sand dunes. not the best idea when you can't shower for the next day. oh well it was prolly one of the coolest things i've ever done. we got up at 4 am the next morning to RIDE CAMELS. thats right, we rode camels through the gobi desert up to the tallest dune to watch the sunrise. it was awesome. i was so excited to ride a camel, but believe me they are not all that. they smell, they're uncomfortable, and i'm pretty sure mine had pink eye. i have spent two hours of my life on a camel, which for me is about an hour and 45 minutes too long. after making our way through loads of camel poop we got back on the bus and headed back to our hotel for much needed showers. also in dunhuang, we visited the mogao grottos which were actually really cool. they house a bunch of artifacts that are relevant to the silk road. they had buddhas there. i mean HUGE like 100 times my size. they were really cool.
after dunhuang we made our way to hami for a bit then off to shanshan. in shanshan we stayed in a uygur village where we picked grapes, danced, and spent the night. the uygurs and the chinese don't have a very good relationship. they are an ethnic minority of china and not very accepted. they cooked us great food, provided us with endless amounts of grapes, and of course provided us with the ever-present dance party.

our last stop on the silk road was urumqi where we stayed at the heavenly lake. it was beautiful. it was a hike, but completely worth it. we stayed in kazak yurts - google 'em! - that were uncomfortable and cold. they cooked us lamb and when i say cooked i mean most likely killed the lamb that day and fed it to us. also when they brought out the lamb is was a legitimate lamb laid in front of us. it still looked like a lamb. yeah right was i eating that. of course there were some double dares involved and i ended up with lamb liver in my mouth, disgusting. however the normal lamb parts weren't that bad. except for the fact that 50% of our group spent the night puking. it was either the lamb, or the gross kfc we stopped at for lunch. i guess we'll never know. the next day we spent driving to the airport and hanging out a bazaar waiting for our flight. all we talked about was how excited we were to get back to beijing. and after a two hour flight we landed in our new home. it was glorious i never though i'd be happy to see the notorious beijing smog, but i was wrong i was ecstatic i prolly would've kissed the ground had i not jsut witnessed a small child drop his shorts and relieve himself just a few feet from me. oh beijing, how i missed you and your unique ways.

so i'm officially in love with you if you read that whole thing. and i hope it was able to persuade each and every one of you to cancel all ventures you had planned to travel the silk road. stay in america and save yourself the hardship.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

happy mid-autumn festival

i figured i'd try and update the ole blog since i had a two day school week this week. its tuesday night and already the weekend! hooray for random chinese holidays. tomorrow marks china's mid-autumn festival where people celebrate the end of the summer harvest. its usually celebrated by indulging in mooncakes and watching the moon. however since the sky is a dusty sand color, i doubt that will be happening anytime soon. i don't know why the chinese even have a word for moon, i still have yet to see it. i will be celebrating the moon festival by camping on the great wall tomorrow night. please don't ask me how i got dragged into this seeing as i believe i have seen enough of the great wall to last me more than a lifetime.

unfortunately nothing too life changing has occurred recently. however my chinese medicine professor did inform us that the bar district we frequent every weekend is better known for picking up prostitutes and buying drugs. talk about my kinda scene. sadly more no asian pop star run-ins i think i blew that one.

i'm very excited because in 9 short days my family is coming to visit me in beijing for national holiday week! i'm so excited and i've been drafting my mom a list of stuff to bring to me which mostly consists of food and other things that are prolly illegal to bring into china. it got me thinking about the usa and how i do miss a few things. so i drafted a short list to remind me of all the stuff us ignorant americans take for granted, as well as some of the beautiful things about beijing.

happy mid-autumn festival, ya'll!

top 10 things i miss about the united states
1. toliet paper in public bathrooms
2. cars, bicycles, and police yielding to pedestrians
3. clean air
4. democracy
5. drinking tap water
6. dogs peeing on sidewalks, opposed to small children.
7. drying machines
8. law and order svu marathons
9. dunkin donuts/slurpees (they go hand in hand)
10. st. joe’s ☺

top 10 things i love about beijing
1. tipping is illegal
2. the fourteen year old drinking age
3. everything is so cheap!
4. the weird food
5. chinese candy, well some of it.
6. asian pop music everywhere
7. playing charades while trying to order food
8. asian babies everywhere
9. mcdonald’s delivery
10. the Beijing subway

Sunday, September 12, 2010

quick shout out to the beijing devil's rugby team

so this past week was my first week of classes, which i have been long awaiting. i am excited to feel like i actually have a reason for being in beijing. making new friends and drinking too much are not good enough reasons to spend four months in country where they do not provide toilet paper in public bathrooms. my first class was chinese. i have chinese for 2 1/2 hours every day of the week except for wednesdays. i'm not quite sure when i thought that was a good idea. there is no english spoken in the class whatsoever, which is really great. least to say i am confused 24/7. that class is going to hands down kick my butt.

tuesday nights i have intro to buddhism, which is proving to be a pretty solid decision. the class is supposed to last three hours and my teacher took up less than one. and the last 10 minutes of class we practiced the lotus meditation position and meditated. he read our vibes told us he could tell that we were a really great group. he was being serious. i am also taking chinese medicine, which conveniently counts as a science credit at sju. my teacher is a hippie and the class was so boring she spoke a lot of the philosophical elements that drive chinese medicine, yawn. she also said she wouldn't be able to perform any practices on us because of liability issues, why do they think i'm taking this class anyway? i'm tryna get a free acupuncture session out of this. hopefully it will get more interesting as the semester goes on, keep your fingers crossed. i am also taking chinese ethics and asian values, mostly to teach me how to be more asian-like. i need to make more of an effort to learn the ways of my people and i feel this is a step in the right direction. it also doesn't hurt that i will be fulfilling my last philosophy requirement through this process.

my next class, chinese foreign policy, seems like a winner. our teacher is a big shot around china who is not a fan of the united states. he also looks exactly like a lego man, esp. when he wears hats. the spitting image of a lego man. google image "lego man" and you legitimately see my teacher. lego man proceeded to tell us that we would have no class for the next two weeks because he would be on "a semi-offical governmental mission" to Southeast Asia. he proceeded to tell us americans he was going to talk about how we suck and make awful decisions. however, lego man was able to teach me that the chinese really do not exercise the humor of sarcasm. they really don't. lego man told us he wanted to schedule a make up class since he would not be around. he proposed friday night. our whole class looked at each other and went silent. i thought this was great. my friend chris and i looked at each other trying not to laugh in his face. i turned to him and said, "yeah, definitely! count me in." sarcastically, of course. luckily, lego man overheard me and said yeah! you'd like to do that. my face went blank. he then proceeded to schedule a class for friday night. i think its safe to say i will not be making any friends in that class. however, lego man did promise me he would bring me a six pack. i love him already.

overall i would say i had a good first week of classes. however my fellow tbc-ers and i were ready for the weekend. we spent most of it in the bar district of sanlitun. we went to the street where there are lots of international bars. fortunately last night i was sober enough to commit myself to the beijing devils rugby team. perfect. look out kaitlyn vaughn. a group of girls from the united states, england, australia, new zealand, etc. apparently thought my friends and i looked like we'd be into playing rugby. well they apparently were right. my friend taylor, mariana and i are now expected at rugby practice thursday night. this however is going to coincide with the ladies night specials at bar blue. ladies night, which is free cocktails from 8-11 no cover charge, is a very important part of my weekly schedule. its going to be difficult to tear away from that. so if you don't hear from me for awhile it is definitely because i died at the beijing devil's rugby practice. somebody let my mom know it wasn't because i brush my teeth with the tap water. thanks.

Monday, September 6, 2010

progress on the homefront.

so i am currently in the process of attempting to create a witty post about my trip along the silk road, it is proving to be very difficult. its seems the silk road may have sucked away all my wit. too bad thats impossible. but i have made some progress on the asian pop star front and i figured that alone deserves an update.

since we were all ecstatic to be back in beijing, we decided to treat ourselves to a nice night out. we went to a bar in the bar district of sanlitun. and ordered fun drinks, wine, and champagne. whenever my friend, ross, is drunk he insists on buying large amounts of champagne and does not let anyone else pay for it. i guess you could say i enjoy hanging out with him, only when he's drunk of course. so we all got a wittle drunk and hung out at the bar being loud and obnoxious americans, obviously.

one thing led to another and a 24 year beijing artist, kenneth, decided to buy us a $100 USD bottle of wine for us, i did not complain. this man has lived in beijing for the past 5 years. he was african american and grew up in california and lived two streets away from me in new york this summer, we could have been friends. he has lots of shows in the US and Beijing. he was great. he then introduced us to his two friends: bryan, an fabulous african american man who basically owned the bar we were drinking at, and cooper, A REAL LIFE ASIAN POP STAR. least to say last night was the best night of my life.

he told me his chinese name about three bajillion times, good thing i don't remember it. his agent also gave me his card, good thing i lost it. he was a cute, asian man named cooper. i think i was in love. he was so great. cooper and kenneth told me i was hen piao liang, which means very beautiful. duh. they asked me about my heritage and were very interested and then continued to shower me with compliments, which i had no problem with, obviously. so basically i got a marriage proposal from an asian pop star last night, too bad i forgot his name. that would have been such a beautiful marriage. just my luck.

luckily, i am staring to enjoy china more and more each day. and my search for my asian popstar husband to bring back to america looks very, very promising.