Category Archives: China

Goodbye Asia: Beijing solo adventure

When I arrived in Beijing I was terrified.  Could I figure out how to get to my hostel? What if I got lost?  What if something happened with my money?  What if someone took me away to a Chinese brothel and sold me?  Ok so obviously some of these fears were a bit irrational.  But I came to China terrified.

When I arrived in Beijing, a Chinese university student immediately befriended me.  He had never traveled before, and I knew no Chinese so we were a perfect match.  I helped him with things like what line to stand in for passports and where to go next, and he helped me with things like what subway to get on where and where I should store my bags.  I was off to a good start and feeling more confident.

When I stepped out of the airport armed with the new knowledge and maps my friend had given me, I was immediately hit with the insane heat and smoggy air.  Similar to in Kolkata, I could not see the sun and a grey haze was consuming the sky.  The heat was overwhelming.  I got to my hostel with the unsolicited help from a British man who lived in the area.  Upon arriving at the hostel, I met two Americans who had just left a year of teaching in Korea as well, and I made plans to take the bus to see the Great Wall with them in the morning.  That evening I explored the area around the hostel, got dinner, and did some wrong things and got yelled at, you know the usual.

The next morning we went to the Mutianyu portion of the Great Wall. After a 3-hour, sweaty, air-conditioning-less bus ride where my legs were buried in the seat in front of me because they were too long, we arrived at our destination.  Ever since my Chinese history class at AU, I had wanted to visit the Great Wall, and it was pretty unfathomable to me that I was actually there.  We climbed up the mountain, climbed the wall, and I imagined what it would be like to be a solider at my post, guarding China from its enemies.  It really is remarkable that the wall is still there and bears so much history.  I also think I have never been so sweaty in my entire life.

Sweatiest I have ever been in my life.

Sweatiest I have ever been in my life.

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Great wall and lost of fog.

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There are lots of steps to climb a the great wall.

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Tower on the wall.

After the 3-hour, sweaty, air-conditioning-less bus ride home with my knees buried in the seat in front of me, I was pretty well exhausted, but I knew I only had a precious few days in Beijing.  So, I rested up, went to dinner and then headed to the night market.  Where I saw all these interesting ObaMao things. Weird.

ObaMao

ObaMao

Night market.

Night market.

The next day I set off to the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square.  The thing that sticks out most in my mind about the Forbidden City is that it was incredibly ornate and massive.  (Sorry Gyungbukgung and Korea, but you are just not as cool as the Forbidden City.) I moseyed around for hours, took a lot of pictures, listened to my automated guide, which sometimes worked, and tried to dodge all the people who wanted to take pictures with me.

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By the time I was finished with the Forbidden City, I was exhausted and again possibly the hottest I have ever been in my life, so that did not leave a lot of room for walking around Tiananmen.  Luckily there is not a whole lot to do at Tiananmen but just be there.  The one thing I did notice was how much security was there. When you walk in every Chinese citizen has to give some form of ID to the security guards. For those of you that do not know, you will never seen the famous man standing in front of the tank picture, because it is illegal to publish in China.  If you Google Tiananmen Square anywhere but in China you will be flooded with scenes from the 1989 protests in the square.  But if you Google this in China, nothing comes up but pictures of tourists walking around and other pleasantries.  Just like China blocks Facebook from its citizens, it also blocks some of its history.

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After Tiananmen I went to the wrong temple.  I thought I was going to the Temple of Heaven, which looked interesting to me because it looked a little different than the dozens of other temples I had seen in Asia.  But I was actually at the Lama temple.  So rather than be disappointed about my mistake, I sat for a long time taking in the scenery and trying to absorb the fact that this was my last day in Asia.  This is where it somewhat hit me, and I was tossed into an emotional whirlwind for the rest of the evening.

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My last evening in Asia was spent eating dinner with an American on his way to North Korea and drinking terrible Chinese liquor on the side of the road with some meat on a stick.  The people I met that evening helped me though the emotions of my last night in Asia and my grand adventure coming to a close.  It is funny how awesome people can be that you have met only hours before.  I woke up the next morning at 5am with some help from a friend and went to the airport.  And that, my friends, was the end of my Asian adventure.

I did not eat these but crazy, hu?

I did not eat these but crazy, hu?

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Good-bye Korea

This is my final goodbye to Korea.  I am sitting in the Busan airport about to board my flight to Beijing, and I am strangely unemotional.  This morning was emotional saying goodbye to Davo for 3 days (I know I am a wuss), but I was not emotional about leaving Korea.  It is possible though that my brain just cannot process what is happening.  I don’t feel like I am leaving.  I feel like I will be back here after China, but I won’t.

This weekend we said goodbye to all our friends, our favorite restaurants, our coffee shops and our bars.  Saying goodbye to friends was emotional.  We have met many cool people here and their company has helped us throughout the year to forget the massive heartache of missing friends and family back home.  We now have friends all over the world and it makes the world feel a bit smaller and more homey.

Korea has been a huge growing experience.  I have learned a lot about myself and the way that I connect with people.  I have learned to just roll with things.  I have learned that I am more adaptable than I once thought.  I hope that these experiences will resonate with me and stay with me.   I am capable of more than I thought.  And now I am about to embark on a journey that is wildly out of my comfort zone.  Traveling solo.  No friends, no family, and no Davo.

I know I am capable of navigating China alone.  But it is still scary.  Luckily, I have an incredibly supportive partner who encouraged me to clear this hurdle that I have always wanted to clear.  The solo female traveler.   During our time aboard I have met many amazing women who have come to Korea on their own and traveled all over the world on their own.  I always wanted to see if I could do it, too.  Three days in Bejing hardly begins to touch the experience of moving to Korea on your own, but it is a start.  I love  my partner more than anything, but I can do things without him, and I am looking forward to learning more about myself during this experience.

After Beijing I will meet Davo and his family in Prague.  It only seems right that this year-long journey began in Prague, and it will end in Prague.  Soon I will be making grilled pizzas with my family and partner, and I can take comfort in that as I am navigating an Asian sprawling metropolitan giant all-alone.

I can do this! Bring it, China! I am sure there will be a blog about China shortly upon my arrival in Prague.  Stay tuned.

Shanghai

Last week was Chuseok, a Korean holiday that’s roughly equivalent to Thanksgiving. Sara and I both had thee days off school (plus a weekend, equaling five total days). What do we do with five days off? Why, Shanghai, of course!

Skyline from the Bund

We stayed in a fun little hostel called The Phoenix, located right in the city center. We were a block away from People’s Square (not the infamous Tienanmen; that’s in Beijing), and a 15 minute walk from several famous architectural or historical districts. We were surrounded by giant, modern-looking sky scrapers (including the 4th and 13th tallest in the world). We were a short walk from the Bund, a popular river walk where one can catch impressive views of the Shanghai skyline. We were also not far from the French Concession, an quaint historical district.

Yunnan Temple area

Shanghai is also… freakin’ huge. It’s the largest in the world by population in the city proper, the size of New York City and Mexico City combined. It’s also the most developed city in China.

Despite being located in the highly-developed, exorbitantly wealthy, flashy, glittery city center, the 10×10 block area around our hostel had a much more of a old-school China feel to it. There were open air markets, corner shops, and street vendors plying all sorts of bizarre goods and foods. Across from our hostel, one of the fish markets was selling shrimp the size of a hot dog bun.

Seafood shop

On our first day, we spent most of the day walking around. We tour the Yunnan Gardens and Temple, a Taoist temple not far from our hostel. The detail of the artwork in the temple was amazingly intricate. The old school Chinese architecture was fascinating. They all have the tiered roofs with the flared corners, just like in the movies. After exploring the temple, we walked to the Bund and took in the Shanghai skyline.

The score…

Hyndses: 1
Shanghai: 0

Yunnan Temple ceiling

Yunnan Temple area

It also happened to be Chinese National Day while we visited there. Like Chuseok in Korea, it’s the major holiday for the year in China. The throngs of people were overwhelming. In fact, they got so thick that the army actually began to commandeer various intersections just to direct traffic. Crazy! Oh, speaking of weird things that would never happen in the States, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter are illegal in China. After talking to someone at our hostel, she informed us that you could access a mirror site for Facebook at f2.prx.com, but this only worked for the first two days before it was shut down.

The army directing traffic

Later that evening we found a street with tons of street food vendors on it. We met a group of Mexican tourists who had just purchased some fried snake. The shop owner killed, cleaned and cooked the snake right in front of us. The group shared it with us. The snake was a little tough and very bony  but tasted fine. Then again, I’m pretty sure anything tastes good when you batter and deep fry it.

Hyndses: 2
Shanghai: 0

Fortunately, these weren’t on our plane. Neither was Samuel L. Jackson.

Sara eating snake with our Mexican friends.

We spent the next few days exploring more temples, strolling through parks, and eating more street food. We attempted to go to a water town, which is a traditional Chinese village that’s over 1500 years old. When we got to the train station, however, the ticket vendor informed us we needed our passport to purchase a ticket. Oops. So we explored elsewhere instead. We checked out the Jing’an Temple and the Jade Buddhist Temple. Both were amazing. I was fascinated by the beautiful wood and the woodwork in each of them.

Hyndses: 2
Shanghai: 1

Jing’an Temple

Jade Buddhist Temple

We also found an incredible kebab stand at the end of our block. The guys who owned it were Middle Eastern. You could buy lamb kebabs and flatbread. The line stretched around the corner. We went and saw a Chinese acrobat show, too. Sara can share more, but I’ll just mention that I never knew people could be so bendy! It was pretty crazy.

Hyndses: 3
Shanghai: 1

Can’t believe that I’m sharing a kebab with the most beautiful girl in the room.

On our last day, we tried preserved egg. It’s a food that I’ve wanted to try since I first learned about it. Preserved eggs, or century eggs, are made buy burying an egg in a mixture of clay, ash, lime, salt, and rice hulls for several months. The severe alkalinity of this mixture makes the yolk turn grey, and the white turn a translucent, mottled brown. The outsides are often etched with crystalline patterns that resemble frost or snowflakes. They taste like… eggs… at first. Then they slowly begin to taste more and more like rotty fart. Yeah, I think I prefer snake to this. But hey, I’ve always wanted to try one. Now I have. No need to do that again!

Hyndses: 4
Shanghai: 1

Preserved egg

In a comedy of terrible mistakes, we missed our flight home by 5 minutes. I’m not going to go into the details too much, but basically, I misread the departure time, and we (being so used to European travel) arrived only 1 hour early instead of 2, and got a little lost in the airport. We ended up catching a flight to Seoul and taking the KTX (high speed train) back to Ulsan. We finally crashed into bed around 2:30. I had to wake up and teach the next morning. Yech. Fortunately, the airline should refund us for the flight we missed, so that’s something at least.

Hyndses: 4
Shanghai: 3 (one point for each of us)

So, overall, we had a good time. Saw some crazy stuff and ate some crazy food. We had a few misadventures, but those were outweighed by the adventures. We enjoyed Shanghai, but really want to do Beijing soon.

Om-noming some street food.

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