Archive for the ‘sights’ Category

Taipei!

Monday, July 9th, 2012

Just got back! It was  weird mix of China and the West… It’s like Beijing, but cleaner, calmer, tons of delicious desserts, people have more Western manners… so basically nothing like Beijing.

Here’s how I knew I was on the right flight back to Beijing:
1. Everyone was wearing Crocs.
2. Someone sneezed on me.
3. I got jostled in line to board.
4. My seatmate kept bumping me, took over the center armrest, and ate three pieces of fruit she brought for a three hour plane ride where they serve you a meal anyway.

It’s good to be back.

Some pictures…

The subway: 

At the Chiang Kai-shek memorial:

Debby on the gondola ride at Maokong:

The tall building on the right is Taipei 101, the second tallest in the world. And the fastest elevator. (My ears popped twice. It was awesome.)

Da Sui. We rented a tandem bike and rode along the coast:

The shopping in Taipei was AMAZING. This was an enormous mall:

The flight back. (The world is pretty cool looking, actually.)

See all of my pictures here. 

Side note: you can’t tell from these pictures, but it was wicked hot. I decided to travel closer to the equator… should’ve thought that one through…

In Taipei, I stayed with Debby’s aunt and grandmother. They were the sweetest hosts! They wouldn’t let me do anything to help while I was there, they drove us to the train station every day, and cooked… I could go on! And Debby’s grandmother kept trying to feed us. Here’s a typical morning.

Debby’s grandma: I’m making you breakfast, what do you two want?
Debby: No thanks, we’re going to eat when we get into the city.
Debby’s grandma: You need to eat! If you don’t eat, you might faint!
Debby: We won’t faint, Grandma.
Debby’s grandma: Okay, just eggs then.
Debby: No eggs!
Debby’s grandma: What about her?
Debby: She doesn’t want any eggs, Grandma!
Debby’s grandma: Then juice?
Debby: No thanks.
Debby’s grandma: Okay, I’ll bring you some milk.

She also told us to come back home before dark, or else we wouldn’t be able to see. I was so happy to meet them though, especially because now I know where Debby gets her sassiness! Ha!

Everything is written in traditional characters there, and since I can barely read simplified, that was a little difficult. Also, the accent is hard for me to understand! It was funny to me, because I could understand Debby’s aunt and grandmother (since they came from China and speak more like people here) than her cousins (who’ve lived in Taiwan their whole lives and have thicker accents.) In Beijing, it’s usually the opposite, where it’s easier to understand young people rather than 老北京人who have a really nasally hard “r” sounding accent.

It was nice to go to a place where the specialty foods are all amazing sweets!
Like.. 雪花冰 (shaved ice with topped with fruit, tarro, and condensed milk), 太陽餅 (flaky pastry with a sugary filling) and 凤梨酥 (pineapple tarts). Oh and of course, 奶茶 (pearl milk tea).

Since Beijing isn’t especially known for its sweets, I bought some of these to bring back home. (In fact, one of the only dishes Beijing is famous for is Peking duck, which is delicious of course, but not exactly transportable. Not to say that it isn’t a popular gift for Beijingers to bring to give to others when they travel. You can buy a vacuum-packed, hermetically sealed, entire roasted duck. It looks really nasty, but I’m certain they’ll be surviving the apocalypse.)

Lately, I’ve been shopping like crazy to buy gifts to bring home. Almost done, but I think I’m still going to make another trip to the Pearl Market soon. If you’ve ever wanted anything of ANY luxury brand, let me know! Gucci, Louie, Fendi, Prada, Longchamp… (Did you know that a lot of Chinese people go to the US to do their luxury brand shopping? I thought it was crazy when I heard that, but now I understand their desire to make sure they’re buying legitimate products). Also, I’ll take requests for any movie or TV series ever created (if you don’t mind Chinese subtitles)…

Other than souvenir shopping, things are winding down here. About half the people in the program have already gone home. My roommates and I are currently sitting on the couch blasting the AC. When I got home, they were working on this needlepoint project (?!), watching historical dramas, and snacking. I have the feeling they’d been passing the week similarly :)

Less than a week until I’m back in the U.S. Can’t believe it!

Shanghai and Nanjing

Thursday, June 28th, 2012

I’ve been traveling for about the last week! It’s amazing how coming back to my neighborhood feels like coming home. While traveling with just a backpack feels pretty incredible, it’s also great to be back in Beijing.

Annie, Phil and I took the fast train to Shanghai on Thursday. Phil had a friend he had met while traveling in Kashgar earlier in the semester, so we met up with him. Turns out, he owns a factory that makes “rapid prototypes” for companies like Ford and GE. Who knew… so he picks us up from our hostel, drives us to this bar that overlooks the Shanghai skyline, bought us drinks, and we all hung out on the rooftop. There was a hottub up there. The view was insane:

The next day, we drove to Xintiandi, which is an upscale outdoor shopping area. I was amazed how Western it felt. It kind of felt like walking around Old Town in Alexandria…. such a strange feeling. There were upscale Western restaurants and Starbucks. It was especially strange because this is the place where the first congress of the Communist Party of China was held. There’s a crazy little museum. Apparently the first meeting was busted by the police, so it was continued later on a boat. Interesting history, very intense museum. Here’s a picture that will prevent me from ever being elected as president of the United States:

Next, we headed to Tianzifang, which is an area with a lot of small shops and galleries. The area was built around the 1930s. The district was artsy and fun to walk around on a rainy afternoon.

After that, we headed to our friend’s factory. Now I feel like I have a much better idea of what it means when something is “made in China.” The factory was small, only about twenty employees. They can make almost anything though… from a car to a soymilk machine. Basically, the companies send a design, the programer codes instructions to the machines, the prototype is produced. If the parts are complex enough, they are assembled elsewhere. It was so interesting to hear Xiaoyi talk about how he grew his business. When he first bought it, it was failing.  He started procuring business through cold calls, cultivating relationships, and gradually built a network through positive relationships with different companies.

Here are my Shanghai pictures.

The next day we took a bus out to Hangzhou. IT WAS SO BEAUTIFUL! There were moments during the day that I was just in awe. We went to West Lake and then to Longjing tea fields. It made me really happy that green tea actually comes from such a gorgeous place. Earlier in the semester, I asked my Chinese friends where I should buy good tea, and they told me “Hangzhou.” I kind of meant more like which store in Beijing, and not a city five hours away, but now I get it! We got some dinner (and drank tea of course) and inadvertently ordered an entire chicken (head, feet, and all). Yum.

More Hangzhou pictures here.

The next day, we did Zhouzhuang, otherwise know as “the Venice of the East,” which at first made me a little skeptical…don’t get me wrong, it was gorgeous, but not particularly anything like Venice! (How insane is it that I’ve been to both places within 6 months?) We took a gondola ride and wandered around the alleys all day.


Then we got on another 高铁 (fast train) to Nanjing. After missing our first train by a few minutes (oops) and doing the classic running through the train station, we wandered until we found our hostel.

We went to the Presidential Palace that afternoon, which has a ton of history from Sun Yat-sen to Chiang Kai-shek. The next morning we went to the Nanjing Massacre Museum, which was incredibly sobering. 30,000 people were killed in about a two week period when Japan invaded in 1937. I felt like I have a little bit of a better sense of the complicated relationship between Japan and China, and the impact of the invasion on the city.

Next, we headed to Purple Mountain to hike up to Sun Yat-sen’s mausoleum (we had kind of a morbid day). Sun Yat-sen is considered to be the father of China, similar to how we view George Washington. The view was stunning.


Before we left, we headed to Xuanwu lake to see even more beautiful scenery (if that’s possible).

Here are all my pictures from Nanjing.

Such a great trip.

Next up is Taipei! I’ll be leaving on Monday to see Debby.

Trip to Shandong: Qingdao, Qufu, and Tai’an

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012

Saturday morning, we woke up at 5 am to catch a cab at 6 to get to the train station and board a 7 am train to Qingdao. We stayed up late on Friday night “planning out” our trip, which I now find hilarious because planning ahead here is just kind of laughable. Regardless, it was a great trip. I’m exhausted, but it was so much fun.

The trains were really classy… they went about 250 km/hr, which is around 155 mi/hr. Is that fast for a train? I have no idea. Anyway, the whole train experience was generally more pleasant than Amtrak by far. We got to Qingdao and promptly started wandering around until we found our hostel, which was in an old church. Old church, you say? Yes. There was really heavy German involvement there in the early 1900s. That explains the brewery! After we checked in  (can’t argue with 50RMB ($8 per night) for a 3 person room), we headed to the brewery for a tour.

It was mostly of the old equipment, which kind of grossed me out to be honest. And the modern production facility, which I was most excited to see, was “closed for sterilization” (!?!?). But we got to taste test twice… once unrefined/unfiltered (gross) and once at the end (alright). Then we walked around the Zhan Qiao (pier) until sunset… it was stunning.

Does that pavilion look familiar?

As we were walking around the city, we walked through a crazy outdoor food market… live chickens for sale, that sort of thing. We bought fresh steamed buns for 0.50RMB each and some oranges and headed back to our hostel to crash.

Here are the rest of my pictures from Qingdao!

The next morning, we were up at 7 to catch a train to Tai’an. The mountain was beautiful and it was fantastic to be breathing non-hazardous air for a change. After we checked into our hotel, we decided to make the 1 hour trip to Qufu, because after Qingdao, I was feeling the need for some history and culture. Qufu is where the 3 famous sights of Confucius are located: his tomb, his mansion, and the Confucian temple. If you know anything about my favorite kind of tourist attractions, you know where we headed first: the tomb!

Writing this out, everything sounds very straightforward. In reality, it takes us about 500 times as long as it should to figure things out. For example, this little excursion to Qufu: when I summarized it just now, it seemed like we did A, B, then C. In reality however…. the process went something like this: we decide we want to go, ask the hotel front desk in terrible Chinese how to get there, they direct us to another hotel where they say we can catch a bus. We go to the second hotel, ask the concierge (again, using awful Chinese) who redirects us to a bus station. We take a cab to that bus station. Ask someone there, who tells us there is no bus to Qufu from that station, we have to go to a different station 3 km away. We make the executive decision to take a cab to Qufu instead of pursuing that mythical bus. Hail about 3 cabs and barter with each driver about rate. Finally get in one. Ride for about 40 minutes while the guy speaks lighting Chinese to us while throwing in the occasional “mingbai?” (understand?) To which we would usually say, “um… yi dian dian” (a little). Get to Qufu, get crazy hassled by the souvenir sellers. Walk to the gate, realize we need a ticket, wander around until we find the ticket place. Then we got to the cemetery, wandered around lost for a while. Try to go to the temple, get extensively lost. Finally get inside. The weather was perfect and it was a really serene place.

We then notice a park maintenance guy who looks like he’s power washing or watering the trees… as he gets closer we realize everyone’s backing away from him and covering their mouths… he’s spraying some kind of chemical (??) so we’re coughing and rubbing our eyes the rest of the way though the temple. Hahaha, China. It was so interesting to see Qufu though, and I’m glad we went. Hopefully it will somehow translate into me understanding Confucius in my philosophy class. Probably not.

See my Qufu pictures here. 

We ended up getting that bus back to Tai’an. We pretty much crashed from exhaustion when we got back. The next morning was the one we were supposed to climb the mountain and watch the sunrise. The hotel staff told us that the weather was supposed to be really foggy, so we decided to sleep in instead. When we finally got to the mountain, we … I feel really pathetic writing this but… we couldn’t figure out how to get up it.  Let’s just say there’s not a lot of signage going on. Anyway, we end up asking someone, hiking around a lake, realizing we still weren’t going up, asking two more people, determining we needed a bus, getting on a bus, and getting off at another entrance to the mountain. Little did we know: that’s the most difficult route up the mountain. It was nonstop stairs for about 4 hours. There’s apparently another way up that’s much more touristy and scenic, which you would think would be easier to find? Apparently not. Anyways, we had a serious work out. It felt really good to hike, and the scenery was gorgeous.

See my Tai Shan pictures here. 

I love the character for mountain (shan) because it actually looks like a mountain: 山

Since both of my friends I was traveling with aren’t white, I definitely stuck out. I was surprised that people reacted surprised to see me, since all the places we went were very touristy. But I definitely got many stares and a very very awkward picture request. A lot of parents would tell their children to look. People weren’t mean about it, but were definitely unapologetically staring. It was a weird feeling to stare back at someone and have them NOT look away. In Beijing, being white comes with intense privileges: people kind of assume that you’re perpetually confused and are pretty nice about it. If you try to use Chinese even a little, people usually smile and generally don’t expect too much. Outside of the city, while I wouldn’t say being white is a “disadvantage” it’s just something that makes you 1,000% more conspicuous. Annie and Norah were really great about helping me laugh it off… we decided we should start telling people that I was actually Chinese, just really ugly! Or what would happen if I said “BOO” really loudly. Another thing that happens is that other white people shoot you a certain look. I think we saw about three or four other white people total over the course of the trip, and each gave me a kind of nod and smile that said “Hello, fellow Caucasian!” Very weird.

On the subway ride back to our apartment, I was squished into the middle of a packed car. When it came to our stop, I started saying “xia che!” (getting off!) and pushing my way towards the door. The man in front of me moved to the side and smiled at me as I said “xie xie!” (thanks). He then says, “Zhong wen hen hao!” (good Chinese)… just because I learned a two word phrase that prevents me from being trampled in a subway car. That’s a low bar right there, but I’ll gladly clear it.

A side note on my nose ring: everyone thinks it’s weird.

Olympic Park, 798, and life

Thursday, March 29th, 2012

We spent this weekend doing some touristy things around the city. The weather has been so beautiful (and clear!) so I’m trying to take advantage of that before it gets hot. I’ve been told that summer and winter are the longest seasons, and spring and fall last about two weeks each.

The Olympic Park is right next to my internship building, so we just took the same bus I take every week. The Water Cube is my favorite building… it looks like it’s made of bubbles. We didn’t go in, but apparently there’s a water park inside.

The Bird’s Nest, of course.

The torch:

On Sunday, we went to 798, which used to be an industrial district. In the late 1990s, some artists reclaimed the empty factory spaces as galleries and studios. It’s really really cool, guys. There are tons of shops, cafes, and innumerable galleries… way too many for one day. All of the art is very modern, very weird, and I didn’t really understand any of it. All in all a great place to wander around on a beautiful Sunday.

Click here to see my pictures!
(as well as more from the Olympic park) Be ready for some crazy art.

Next Monday through Wednesday is Qiming Jie Festival, which means we have no class. Because our language classes are only for exchange students, we don’t have to make up our classes on the weekend, as many Chinese students will have to do.  Kind of defeats the point of a break if you have to make up classes, if you ask me.

Qiming is “tomb sweeping day” where people travel to their ancestors’ places of burial and offer food or other tokens of respect. Many of the Chinese college students will not make the trip, but their families will. Read more about Qiming here or here.

This weekend, two of my friends and I will take a train to Qingdao (where they make the Tsingtao beer). It’s supposed to be very beautiful there, and you can tour the factory and try the beer straight from the production line. Then, we’ll take a train to Tai’an and hike Taishan at sunrise, which is a really beautiful mountain (pictured on the back of the 5 yuan bill… I have a goal to go to every place pictured on the back of the bills). Wish us luck! This will be my first hostel experience, not to mention first train experience. I’ve been told the trains get overbooked, so people stand in the aisles smoking, spitting, and generally being Chinese. I should have some nice pictures to post when I get back on Tuesday.

My Chinese gets better everyday. I think my listening has improved the most since being here. I think sometimes it’s mostly attitude that helps your listening. If you go into a situation thinking “I’m not going to understand what this person will say,” you will totally psych yourself out. But for example, I can order and customize my coffee really well, because I know all the questions the fuwuyuan will ask (what size, hot or cold, milk or sugar). It’s interesting how my communication skills in English (much better reader, writer and listener than speaker!) change when I switch languages… I’m terrible at writing and worse at reading in Chinese.

I love learning different idioms and weird nuances to the language. For example, the expression for flattering someone translates literally to “you touch the horse’s butt.” If you flatter someone, but they aren’t having it, then you say “you tried to touch the horse’s butt, but you accidentally touched his feet.” Too funny!

Another cool one is “521.” Many people sign texts with these three numbers. When said aloud, “five two one” is “wu er yi.” “Wu er yi” sounds like “Wo ai ni,” which means “I love you.” So 521 is shorthand for I love you. Cute.

 

Temple of Heaven (天坛)

Sunday, March 18th, 2012

Last week, my roommate and I met a student who wanted a language partner to practice for the TOFEL (Test of English as a Foreign Language. He needs it to apply to graduate school in the US). We agreed to meet twice a week so that he could practice conversational English and we could practice our Mandarin. Of course, his English is FLAWLESS…typical Tsinghua. He’s lived in Beijing for ten years and offered to show us some sights around the city, so on Saturday, we headed to the Temple of Heaven.

This is the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest:

It was initially built in the 1400s for the emperor to pray for agricultural prosperity and opened as a park around 1920. You can read more about its history here, here, or here. In addition to tourists, many locals come to do tai chi or just take walks on the grounds. Groups of people were playing Chinese chess and card games that involved a lot of slapping down cards.

Fun to watch! Also, there were groups of people patriotic singing songs. For example, my personal favorite: 我爱你我的北京我的家园 (I love you my Beijing, my home). Watch it here and then wonder what exactly you just watched.

I was surprised at the size of the park… it was huge. I find it so interesting to think about the development of this city, and how much of the space is devoted to parks like this one. Sort of like Central Park in NYC, but bigger, and more of them! Also, there’s a central meridian that runs North to South through the city. It passes through Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City, as well as through the Olympic complex in the North. Our Chinese friend told us it also runs through the Temple of Heaven park. Walking on meridian kind of gives you a harmonious and balanced feeling. It felt like we had stepped out of the city, since the park felt so peaceful it was hard to imagine that outside the gates was bustling Beijing craziness.

There’s an incredible amount of symbolism that went into the design of this temple. For example, a lot of the number 9 (doors that were designated for the emperor’s use only were decorated with nine rows of nine). Also, much of the architecture has to do with the intersection of square and round. Heaven was perceived to be circular, while the earth was square.

This is the Imperial Vault of Heaven.

It’s surrounded by a circular “echo wall.” You turn towards the wall and speak into it, and someone on the opposite side of the circle can hear you as if you were standing next to them.

The Circular Mound Alter:

This is the Center Heavenly stone in the middle of the alter. The number of marble tiles around the center ring is 9, then 18 in the second, all the way until the 9th ring, which has 81 tiles. Also notice the alter itself consists of 3 concentric circles.

If you can’t already tell, the air was “crazy bad” that day… this is a shot of the Hall  of Prayer for Good Harvests.