Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened

As I start to write this, which I did days ago, so I could capture thoughts, feelings, memories along the way, beyond what the blog itself was doing, the first thing that came to me was something from a tv show I used to watch, in high school I think, maybe middle school, im not sure.  but during that time, road rules was one of my favorite, cant miss shows, and its tag lines, ‘welcome to the ride of your life’, and ‘throw away your rules, these are road rules’, mean so much more now than they did then.

Because really, this has been the ride of my life.  The memories and photographs mean more to me than I could ever put into words.  Im actually not coming back with that much stuff…most of it isn’t for me anyway.  I wanted the experience, I wanted the days wandering Tokyo, the Shanghai nights, the Beijing history…everything from the foreign subways to the familiarity of mcdonalds.  I wanted the desire to experience it all and the thirst for more once it was done, and well, mission accomplished.

And, ‘throw away your rules, these are road rules’…this has totally been a way to let go of everything familiar and immerse myself in everything unknown.  Because, well, all the rules I once had are all of a sudden very different.

I am thankful for every minute…from getting to Tokyo and having to convince myself that I needed to shower and unpack before I went to explore, to the amazing time I had in Shanghai, to soul searching in Sanya, to my humbling trip to Beijing, to exploring there with friends and then not knowing quite what to do once I was dropped off at the hotel, and was once again alone.  To these last few days, realizing how far I had come, and how far I still have to go.  I’m surprisingly thankful for my ability to get lost, and even more thankful for my ability to always find myself.

And…I’m thankful for my ability to play charades.  Anyone up for a game?

So, what did I learn?  So much, and so much more than I could ever put into words, but to give it a shot…

  • Smile – it goes a long way
  • If you’re walking somewhere…strike that, if you need to go anywhere by a certain time, give yourself at least an hour to get lost – or find it beforehand
  • Brushing your teeth with the water will not kill you.  I’ve done it for 24 days…I haven’t gotten sick, not once.
  • Don’t be afraid to say no, and walk away quickly….otherwise you will end up with a purse, a watch, a bag, a bike ride, and god knows what else I was offered.  And don’t be afraid to scream if they actually grab you.
  • There is a magic chemical in Chinese sunscreen…it’s gross and runny, but somehow works like a charm.  I didn’t burn in Beijing, and I was the only one not to burn in Vegas.
  • Try anything, well, most anything – I did not try the street food and have not been sick.  But it’s amazing what you’ll find if you try everything else.
  • Take a deep breath and enjoy it.  All of it.  Because it’s such a ride…whether the trickshaw driver is like a salmon swimming upstream in traffic, or you’re at some random house, or taking a shot of Tabasco sauce, or wandering Tokyo to find the hotel.  Stop.  Smell the roses.  It’s amazing.  I’m not kidding.

Like I’ve said before, after all the preparation, I can’t believe it’s over.  But, I’m ready to get back to my regular life and where ever I go from here.  Will I do this again, most definitely.  This has been nothing short of amazing, and I don’t ever want to lose that.

Until next time….

wild, wild wall

Today’s adventure involved a return trip to the great wall.  I had considered trying to cancel since we went on Saturday, and there’s other stuff I haven’t seen yet, but – it was a different part of the wall, and well, given the choice, am I going to choose a museum or going to play outside?  This is me – of course I will choose to play outside.

After my experience on the bike tour, I will admit, I was slightly afraid of being with another guide on my own.  But, I got lucky in two ways…I got emails last night stating that two people had joined my tour, so not only would I not be alone, I was getting a refund for some of the cost.  And, the guide showed up this morning and was so professional and organized.  The other two on the tour were a couple about my age, also doing a tour through China.  It was great having a few other people along.

So we drove two hours or so outside the city to Jiankou, which is not officially open to the public, but the local people keep it open and have a toll.  The last bathroom before the hike, and Mutianyu over 6 miles away, was a public toilet in the middle of a completely rural area.  Half the squat toilets didn’t flush…my second experience with them was not nearly as scary as the first, but I will say it makes the wildflower bathrooms look like the four seasons.  Surprisingly, there was a working sink.  Saweet….especially since the hand sanitizer was at the hotel.  We drove a little further, and then stopped…literally in the middle of nowhere.  Had I not known better, I could have been in rural New York, or California.  Then the guide was like, ok, we’re off.  Really?  Where are we…this doesn’t look like the wall.

After 45 minutes or so of uphill on rocks, off rocks, by fields, through bugs and bushes, you name it, we crossed it, we made it to the wall.  And…well, it was amazing.  The restored part we saw on Saturday was pretty darn cool, but the unrestored, wild wall adds a whole new experience.  There were make-shift ladders, and stone steps, and we got to climb in towers…complete madness and I am so sore and bruised, but it was totally worth it.  And our guide and group, were fantastic.  We came up on another guide and lady, and she asked us if we were afraid coming through the woods.  We were like, no…we have a guide.  She said so did she, but he kept second guessing the right way to go….reassuring since our guide told us about someone who tried to hike there on their own and was never seen again.

It was so amazing and so crazy, just another level.  We’re walking on loose stone (one flew up and smashed my ankle – ouch!) and to the side of us is a cliff, god knows how far down.  Something that you’d never find in the states, but, its thousands of years old and has never been restored.  The fact that its still standing at all makes it that much more amazing.  It was such a relief to hit the restored part of the wall, yet a little sad as well.

We ended the hike at pretty much the same place we were on Saturday, and then went for lunch at a Chinese restaurant on the way back to town.  Sweet and sour pork and rice and something that looked like green beans, but was apparently some veggie that if it wasn’t cooked enough would kill us….that was hours ago, and I’m still alive, so I’m thinking I’m good.

After the hike and the two hours in traffic on the way home, I had the best intentions of going for a walk, but I was so sore, the bar and dinner just sounded more appealing.  Of course, it was raining, so I couldn’t sit on the roof deck…oh well, I did spend a ton of time up there.  While I was eating one of the waiters came over and talked with me for a while, then asked if we could take a photo…I kind of felt like a celebrity…or a spectacle.  I tried the last of the signature cocktails and went back and tried to remember my favorites.  One I got, the other, not so much.

Then came back to the room and packed up my stuff…I cant believe that my adventure in Asia is over and I’m flying back tomorrow, I’m ready to go home, but after all the planning and craziness, and whatnot, I can’t believe it’s over.  It doesn’t seem like that long ago I was checking in for my flight out here and panicking that I would get lost at the Hong Kong airport at SFO…if only I knew then what I do now. Now I’m checked in for my flights home…here’s to keeping my window seats.  Vegas is next, and that will be a blast, I’m sure.  And, hopefully a good way to get used to the time difference, or a good way to pass out by the pool….

Until next time…I have four hours in Korea tomorrow, perhaps I’ll be able to access the blog then…or gasp, facebook, and post some photos.

Try the duck

Today’s mission, amongst other things was to try roast duck.  I found the idea and the restaurant on this website,,31489,1850076_1850078_1849846,00.html, the same place I found pretty much everything else, other than the crazy bike ride.  I decided to go for lunch, thinking that might be less crowded than dinner…that, and I really didn’t want to make a reservation for one.  

Anyway, the cab drops me off and points me in the wrong direction.  I end up in some office building, but luckily I had the address in Chinese and they were able to point me across the street.  I walk in and it looks amazing.  Other than the giant crab on display on a platter of ice that was all alive and moving and stuff – he was kind of creepy, and probably not happy.  Of course there’s a wait, but it’s only 20 minutes, and there’s plenty to look at in the meantime.  But of course, it’s not 20 minutes, and 45 minutes later, I’m still standing there.  However, after I went back up to ask, they did get me seated pretty quickly.

Then they bring a gigantic menu with all sorts of delicious looking things on it.  But, I was there for one thing, and one thing only, to try the duck.  I was a little concerned about ordering a whole duck for myself, but wasn’t sure how else to try it.  Luckily, when I ordered, the waitress suggested a half portion – perfect.  I also ordered the little plate of fixings, I wasn’t sure what that meant, but figured it was something I should have with my duck.

A short while later, a chef brought out the duck on a platter and carved it right there at the table.  I have photos…I felt like a total tourist, but had to do it.  As he carves it, he lays it out on a little plate, all organized with the skin covering just the right places.  Once he finished, the waitress came back and showed me how to make a few of creations with the plate of fixings.  For example, dipping it in sugar – not something I would have tried on my own, but actually quite delicious.  Sweet and savory at the same time.  There was also a little roll that she put some green stuff and some orange stuff and some garlic and some soy sauce in with the duck – also quite yummy.  Last, there were tortilla type things that she put garlic and soy sauce and duck in.  Yum!

After I’d finished the duck, they brought over some random fruit/ice thing…not so yummy, but I did try it.  Then came the dry ice and the letches (which is a fruit, in case I totally butchered the spelling…Chinese google and I are not getting along right now).  I’m not a fan of letches, but decided to try again because it looked so cool…unfortunately, still not a fan of letches.

Perhaps because I didn’t eat the letches they thought I wasn’t done, or something, but it seemed like everyone who had been waiting on my table left…and 30 minutes later, I was still sitting there.  Finally I was able to flag someone down and get the bill and pay it, but not the end I wanted to the yummy lunch I had.  Overall, amazing food, great wine, but not the best service.  However, would still recommend.

Prior to lunch, I had a few meetings at VanceInfo, a company I’m hoping to use in the paper I’ve been working on since November.  Overall good meetings, but still think I have a long way to go on the paper.  When I arrived, they actually had me listed as Professor Nevinger…now that’s something I’ve never been called before.  It was interesting to see the company first hand after reading about it, and also to see what China based companies are like.  Since these meetings popped up after I was already here, I was concerned that I didn’t have anything appropriate to wear.  As I mentioned before, I was going to go the white pants route, but apparently I donated those to the hotel in Sanya, so had to wear my red dress with a black sweater over it.  And of course the hair dryer here only blows cold air, so I was pretty sure I looked like a trainwreck.  I was in desperate need of one of the hair places Jaime and I went to in Shanghai, but of course who knows where one is here.  But, they were actually pretty casual, so I was fine…might have been better if the dress wasn’t somehow too big, but whatever, I made it work.

After lunch, I headed back to the hotel and then ventured out for what turned into a long walk around the Imperial Palace and Tiananmen Square.  Both were closed, but it was nice to see them again.  I was also hoping they might have nice souvenir shops, but unfortunately, I didn’t see anything, other than the touristy stuff you can buy on the street.  And then of course there were all the sketchy ‘I’m a tour guide’ people and peddicabs and god knows what else trying to talk to me.  I’ve gotten very good at just yelling no…multiple times.  They eventually go away once they realize I’m not going to tell them where I’m going, I don’t need a tour, I don’t want their card, and I just want to walk.

I arrived back at the hotel to find the roof bar closed for a private party, so had dinner in the restaurant.  It was fine, just not nearly as fun.  And not nearly enough food.  I miss being able to make my own.

Tomorrow’s adventure – great wall part 2.  And I’m not going to lie, I’m slightly afraid of being with a guide again.

Until next time….

What is a Hutong?

Today was really the last day I had total freedom, and while it’s sad that the majority of my trip is over, I am excited to be around people again.  It was also the last day I had to sleep in – tomorrow I am meeting with VanceInfo about my paper, and Thursday I have an all day hike on the great wall.

So, I decided to take full advantage.  I woke up late, went for a run, in attempts to find the temple of heaven, but, of course I couldn’t find the streets I had written down.  It also doesn’t help that no one at the hotel can find exactly where the hotel is on the map.  But, I ran by the forbidden city and beihai park, and a few other things as well.  It was nice, but difficult to run here because there are so many people, especially around the touristy stuff.  And hardly anyone here exercises, so I just stick out more, but whatever.

After my run, I was starving, so ended up grabbing lunch at the restaurant here and tried another signature cocktail.  I looked at the map again during lunch to see if I might be able to figure out how to walk to the Hutongs suggested in this article (,31489,1850076_1850078_1849777,00.html).  I thought maybe I would recognize the street names from my run or something, and to some extent, I did.  However, the whole not really knowing where the hotel was didn’t do me any favors.  So I asked the front desk (really the employees standing around in the lobby, since there isn’t a front desk) and they told me I had to take a cab or a bus since it was too far to walk.  I took a cab, but I’m pretty sure it was a mile and half tops.  But, when you don’t know how to walk there, your options are limited.

Once the cab dropped me off, the hutong area I was looking for was actually quite easy to find.  Hutongs are neighborhoods with narrow alleys and traditional courtyard houses.  Of course, the first person to grab me was the trishaw driver.  Typically, I just walk away, but since they popped up in the article and seem to be a good way to see the Hutongs – short of renting a bike and going on my own (I’m pretty sure I’d still be lost if I did that), I went for it.  I’ve only been one other time, in Philly, and it was a fun way to see the city, so why not.  I also needed to find an ATM, but they were like, don’t worry, we’ll pass one.

And it was a cool ride.  I was pretty sure I was seeing things I would never see on my own.  These were tiny little neighborhoods with narrow streets and all sorts of people.  It was like taking a step back in history.  Cars parked outside most of them which seemed very out of place, like they were in the wrong era or something.  We’d get passed by bikes or scooters, maybe the occasional car, or trishaw coming back in the other direction.  For the first ten minutes or so…

Then he pulls up in front of a house and puts the break on, looks at me and says ok, gesturing to the house.  Ummm….what’s going on?  When I did this in Philly, they just drove us around, no getting out…and why am I at someone’s house.  So a guy comes out to let me in, and I step inside to a courtyard with four random dogs, some trees, and four houses.  Almost a smaller version of the summer palace I saw yesterday.  He asked where I was from and then called to someone….I still really didn’t know what was going on.  So a lady comes out and starts telling me about the house and her family, and how its been in her family for years.  She showed me the different yellow and red pomegranate trees, and I tried to ask her questions, but it was difficult with the language barrier.  She explained how it was feng shui due to the three trees and the set up of the four parts to the house.  Then we went in one of the parts and she showed me photos of her family, and explained how the house has been in their family for years.  It was actually pretty cool once I got over the randomness of being dropped off at someone’s house factor.  Then she tried to teach me Chinese…it didn’t work, but I guess it was worth a try.  Individual words, maybe, phrases…not so much.

Part way through, another couple showed up at the house, from…San Francisco.  They were able to translate a little bit of what she was saying, but even they were having trouble understanding.  We stayed with her a bit longer, signed one of her many guest books, and were on our way.

We went through a little more of the Hutongs, but then ended up on the main road – I guess because that’s where the ATM was?  So I thought maybe we’d go back to the Hutongs after that, especially since I didn’t see any other trishaws…or we’d take it on an adventure on the main road…including an upstream salmon like swim in traffic.  So he could go to a cell phone place….really?   So I’m just chilling in the little cart while he’s doing whatever, hoping nothing hits me.  That part wasn’t so fun.

Once he came back, we took another spin through the Hutongs, passed a couple of schools where the kids were being let out, so that was pretty cool to see.  Made the single lane road pretty crazy…lots of kids, lots of parents, plus bikes, motorbikes, and us.  It was interesting to see the parents picking up the kids….some had kids jumping on the backs of their bikes, some were walking, other kids were walking home in groups.  I was also somewhat surprised as to what the kids were wearing.  Very similar clothes to what kids in the US would wear, if they didn’t wear uniforms.  They did have matching visors or hats, with what I’m guessing was the school logo on it.  Then, he pulled up to the end of a road and gestured ahead of him.  I was like, oh, we’re stopping again?  And he was like, finished.  Really?  You don’t take me back to where we started.  Then he asked if I wanted a photo…umm…sure.  So we took one, right there in the middle of traffic.

I realized he had dropped me off at the Shichahai Lakes, which weren’t far from where we started.  The lakes were once part of the palace, a recreation area of sorts, but are now circled with shops, bars, and restaurants.  There are also places to rent paddle boats and bikes along the way.  I wandered, and did a little bit of shopping, and hoped I may be able to avoid my first run in with the squat toilets.  Unfortunately, if you’re looking for a public restroom in the middle of Beijing, that’s probably all you’re going to find.

I decided to stay for dinner, and decided to try another Chinese restaurant.  I ordered sautéed duck (I have plans to get roasted duck for lunch tomorrow) and some rice.  It was…spicy, nearly inedible.  Sad, because it actually would have been pretty good had I been able to taste it.  Not the best dinner choice…and the drink choices weren’t that great either….and I think water was $5.

After dinner, I decided it was time to head back to the hotel, prepare some questions for tomorrow, and probably have dinner number two since dinner number one didn’t really do it for me.  I started working on stuff for my meeting tomorrow, and of course, I get hungry.  So I call room service.  Of course, they don’t answer…so I call the front desk, who tells me to call room service.  I tell them no one is answering.  So they transfer me to the restaurant, they take my order and I wait…and wait…and then wait some more.  Finally, I call back, of course it hangs up on me.  So I call the front desk, and theyre like, oh…they called a while ago cause they didn’t ask for your room name.  Perfect.  So I have them transfer me back to the restaurant, who takes my info.  I wait another 15 minutes and call back.  Apparently the message didn’t get relayed?  I don’t know.  The lady on the phone assured me it would be on its way.  And it finally was…and it was free.  Apparently that’s what happens when it takes them an hour and a half to bring you dinner.

Now to finish prepping for my meeting and get everything ready for tomorrow….I am wearing a red dress and a black sweater.  Apparently I donated my white pants, my only non-blue jeans, to the hotel in Sanya.  They were old and too big, so no huge loss, but they really were the only thing I had to wear to this meeting.  Hopefully I’m dressed ok.

Until next time…

Every day is an adventure

So I am blogging from the rooftop bar at my hotel in Beijing.  Im not going lie, it is amazing, and I will be forever thankful that I’ve been able to be here.  Today, I am the only one up here, yesterday, it was packed.  There is a bar tender, who’s speed of service is slower than molasses, but he doesn’t seem to mind that I sit up here and plan the rest of my adventure and blog, and eat my emperor’s fine sandwich and fries.  Should I be eating local food?  Probably, but I am hungry and this sounded good.  Its some sort of club sandwich meets BLT, which means I can make a chicken sandwich and a ham and cheese sandwich.  Plus, I had local food for lunch, which was actually pretty similar to western Chinese food, but more about that later.  Back to this fabulous bar….really the fabulous hotel and bar.

I found the hotel by reading about the bar on this site,31489,1850076_1850078_1849769,00.html.  Once I realized it was pretty much in the middle of everything I wanted to see, I decided to stay here if it wasn’t too expensive.  Luckily it wasn’t….well, the exchange rate has shifted a bit, so not as cheap as it once was.  But, it is amazing.  I have a bunch of photos…will post once I can get back on facebook.  If you read the article, it says to come up here during sunset and that there are infamous rice alcohol mixed drinks.  It’s true.  The view is pretty freaking amazing, and there is an entire menu of signature mixed drinks.  I’ve made it my mission to try all of them before I leave – unless I KNOW there’s something in it I don’t like.

The hotel its self is really cool – ultra modern plopped in the middle of Chinese history.  Tiananmen square and the Forbidden City are moments away…it didn’t take long to get there on today’s bike tour, but more about that later.  The rooms are named after emperors and empresses, rather than having actual room numbers.  I am staying in Wu Ze Tian….an empress of some sort.  I don’t know much about her, but there is a book in my room about all of them, so I plan to check that out later.  There is wireless – first hotel I’ve stayed in to have it, so I can check my email and receive whatsapp messages on my phone without getting nasty texts from AT&T.  And the room, well, it looks like something out of the Jetsons.  Again, I have pictures and will post once I can access facebook.  But, it’s got green couches meet tables meet the bed…and the bathroom is a capsule thing behind it all.  It also has the weird card thing that Sanya and my previous Beijing hotel had, but I’m beginning to realize that’s common place.  My only complaint is that the doors are really thin, and my room is next to the maids closet, so it gets loud really early.

So, today…I had scheduled a bike tour.  And I think maybe I was spoiled by Tokyo.  Anyone reading this…if you are in Tokyo, or are going to Tokyo, do the bike tour.  It is amazing.  It’s a small company, off the beaten path, and the two guides are fantastic.  It’s also a group tour, which adds to the fun.  This one was an individual tour – I couldn’t find a group one.  But, whatever, the idea of riding a bike all over Beijing was just as appealing as riding all over Tokyo.  And, the guide was picking me up at the hotel, so I didn’t have to worry about getting lost.  But, it was so different….

It started out fine, we rode to the forbidden city and he took a couple of pictures so I could prove I was there.  Then we rode over to Tiananmen Square, but he had no qualms about letting me almost get hit by a bus….and yelled at by a bunch of people waiting to get on the bus.  Good times especially with the heavy bike.  So we looked at the square, but didn’t really stop there, or at the forbidden city.  He asked me if lunch at 11 was fine, and I was like sure (it was about 10).  Then we stopped and he said he was going to get water.   And came back with green tea….yes, cause that’s exactly what I want  while cycling in the 90 degree heat.  But, it wasn’t that hot, and I was doing ok, so whatever.  We rode around some more, and then went to lunch…it couldn’t have been more than 10:30…ok, I guess that’s fine.  I didn’t really have breakfast, so I guess this works.  I had several plates of food placed in front of me…traditional Chinese meets US Chinese, I guess.  It was ok…some sort of chicken dish, fried rice, random veggie thing, soup, all ordered for me…and then whatever potato and meat dishes he ordered.  He had me try the potato thing before he would tell me what it was – after I ate it, he was like, its potato…I was like, really?  All that drama over potato?  They asked me what I wanted to drink, and I said water, so I got a glass as big as my hand sideways.  Cause that’s like, one gulp…I asked for more, and they were like, well, that’s 5 yuan.  Which is probably less than a dollar, but really, had I taken them up on their offer for beer, it would have been more, and definitely a bigger glass.  So we’re eating lunch, and out comes the bottle of 90 proof alcohol from his bag….really??

After lunch, he took me back to the hotel, and went to return the bikes.  Later I would find out he rented them from a shop around the corner….what kind of bike tour company doesn’t have bikes….

We met again a little after noon and a driver took us to the summer palace.   On the way there, the guide was all like, I would like to show you around tomorrow for free….yeah….ummm….I have plans tomorrow.  I have to meet someone for a school project.  Really, its not until Wednesday, but what does he know…so we go to the palace, and it was actually pretty cool to see – other than the 90 proof alcohol made another appearance.  Lots of photos….we took a boat to one of the islands, and then walked to meet the driver.  I started thinking, maybe it wasn’t so bad after all….

Then we went to a tea tasting, which was actually pretty cool, despite the obvious tourist trap.  It was interesting to learn about some of the different teas, and what they do…and what the figurines we bought at the great wall are actually meant to do.

After the tea tasting came the foot massage, I was really looking forward to a few minutes without the guide talking at me….or anyone talking at me.  It sounded like heaven.  Unfortunately, we arrive at this place that looks normal at first, but then goes downhill from there.  Once you pass the entryway, its like a hospital.  Kid you not, they show me to a room called ‘Surgical Prep’.  There were a couple of pretend comfy chairs, but everything else, including the décor made it look like a doctor’s office.  And then one came in…and hes talking to me like a doctor…and im wondering where I am and what alternate universe ive stepped into.  More importantly ,im wondering when hes going to go away.  So he’s telling me about the facility and how its bilingual and who knows what else…I really don’t care.  And he’s like we do preventative stuff…do you want your pulse checked?  And im like, NO…..and hes like, yeah, you look like an athlete…ewwww…..before he left, he was like, make sure you tip the girl 20-30 RMB….this was the second time this was brought up….and tipping isn’t customary here…..tourist trap much?  And really what do they do?  Take us all to the sketchy hospital and hope they can get someone to buy into long term care?  Everyone coming off the elevator was western, so seems like a faulty business plan to me.

After that, we end up at this Kung Fu thing….another tourist trap it seems.  He kept asking me all day if I knew anything about kung fu or did it or anything like that, and I was like, no.  And in the back of my mind thinking, I don’t want to go to Kung Fu.  I know I didn’t sign up for that.  I thought maybe I was out if once we were done with the foot massage since it was already 4, and the email I had said I’d be back at the hotel at 4:30.  No such luck…and to make it more fun, he was like, well, it doesn’t start until 5:30, so we can hang out here.  Ummmm….no.  That means I get back to the hotel really late…and I have dinner plans at 6.  And I am not hanging out with you for an hour and a half.  So he’s like, we’ll you paid for Kung Fu…and im like, im pretty sure I didn’t….please just take me to the hotel.  So he calls the office….and they confirm, that no, in fact, I did not pay for Kung Fu.  So we go back to the hotel.  On the way hes like, my friend has an office near your hotel…maybe we can go for a walk after your dinner plans.  Ummm…yeah, we’re going out….sorry, its not going to happen.  Adios…good bye, nice knowing you….

Ugh…my skin was crawling for quite some time.  But, nothing some time at the rooftop bar cant solve.

Tomorrow, hopefully a run to the temple of heaven, duck for lunch, and hutongs.

Until next time….

Kim and Jaime (and a couple of other people) take on beijing

My first two days in Beijing have been amazing.  Jaime met me for the weekend, which was so much fun.  Friday was a little crazy due to my detour to wuhan, but we still managed to get in a foot massage before the spa closed.

Saturday, we went for a run…man I am out of shape, and days of focusing on biking and swimming, not to mention the absence of our weekly runs, are catching up with me.  She totally kicked my butt.  Get back in running shape…definitely on my list for when I get back.  Then we wandered the art district we were staying in and found a place for brunch/lunch.  Im not sure what pizza at 11am qualifies as.  Super cute and interesting area.

Then we headed out to the great wall will two of her coworkers and their families.  So much fun, and I can say ive seen one of the seven wonders of the world.  It was amazing.  There really are no words, and I spent a good portion of time in awe.  And then I got a bunch of cute photos.  Im heading back to the wall on a day long hike at the end of this week, and I cant wait.  I thought about canceling, but it was so fun seeing part of it, I imagine it will be equally as fun seeing other parts of it.  However, im sure nothing will compare to seeing it with the great group of people I was with.

We finished the night with dinner at German restaurant in Beijing.  I don’t  know that ive ever had german food, but everything I tried was amazing.  Then we got our nails fixed and ended up back at the spa…such fun and such a good time.

Today, we went for another run, where I was once again left in the dust….must. get. Back. In. shape.  Then brunch with some French toast, cappuccino, fresh juice, and miraculously, an egg white omelet.  We continued to wander the art district, looked at the statues, came across a wedding photo shoot, and shopped.  Well, she did…im a terrible shopper.  Yet, still so much fun.  I could wander there for hours…and so much more fun with a friend.  Not too much time after that – check-out and airport and dropping me at my final hotel.

so now im at my final asian destination.  and i have mixed feelings.  this has been a ride…an eye opening, amazing, ride, that i wish i could stay on for a bit and get to know a local area.  like today, i needed sunscreen and toothpaste…and my hotel is on a pretty local street, so i ended up finding both in local markets here.  and i was able to say hello and thank them in chinese.  so not like anything back home, yet so amazing.  i feel like i can read so much for school, but actually seeing it, is so different.  At this point, its all come down to kindness – from the person at the store to the girl next to me on the plane, a smile and a nod go a long way.  if youre friendly, people will forgive a lot.  And getting to know it for more than a few days would be amazing.

But, I miss Brian and home and my normal.  I miss my Saturday swims in the bay and my Sunday Canada workouts…and our nights out.  I miss knowing what I’m eating and being able to drink the water and my own bed and my cats.    I’m looking forward to driving my car and eating a real chicken sandwich.

But, this has been amazing, and I plan to continue to enjoy it until Friday.  Starting with tomorrow’s bike ride around the city.  I cant wait to see all the things on the list – forbidden city, Tiananmen square, Olympic village….i cant remember what else, but I’m sure I will love it.  And, they pick me up at the hotel, so I cant get lost.

Until next time…

A place called Wuhan

Oh what would I do without travel adventures.  Checking out of the hotel was much more complicated than it needed to be…back to the 1000 yuan deposit.  So I charged lunch once, and then there’s hotel fees, so the total bill was 143 yuan.  Fine.  Can I pay that?  No, you want my card…fine.  Great…but, why are you charging more?  And do I get credit for the amount I didn’t spend. Of course, she can’t confirm anything, keeps telling me it’s my bill and all I’ve signed is something for an additional charge.  So she grabs the girl next to her and she’s at least able to explain that they’ve charged the new amount and I will get credit for the old amount.  Fantastic…now that we’ve sorted that out….

I go out to get a cab.  The bellhop asks me where I’m going and I say the airport.  He proceeds to ask me additional questions in Chinese.  I just look at him….so he tries again.  Yup, still don’t understand you.  Then he’s like, domestic or international.  Ah, something I understand.  So I get in the cab and tell the driver where to take me.  After all that with the bellhop, I don’t think he ever communicated with the driver.  The driver takes me to the airport for 15 yuan…yup, was definitely swindled by the non-taxi driver.  Then he proceeds to pop the trunk and sit there.  Ok, apparently I’ll be getting my own suitcase.

The airport is interesting – of course all the check-in counters look the same, so I have to go to a general counter to attempt to ask where to check in.  That was actually easier than I thought it would be, she brought up the flights to Beijing on a computer, I picked mine out and was on my way.

I could only find one restaurant in the airport, despite seeing the signs for KFC.  I would totally eat KFC right now.  But all I could find was ‘the lucky shamrock’ or something like that.  And it was….well…lucky for them, theyre the only restaurant here.  My choices – steak and French fries, lamb and French fries, steak tips and French fries, chicken wings and French fries.  Great… I end up with chicken wings and fries.  Which they drown in catsup, and the chicken wings were so fried, I don’t think there was meat on them.  And of course there aren’t any napkins.  And, extremely thirsty, I ask for water….yup, none of that either.

Ok…is there some reason the lady across from me cant cover her mouth when she coughs?  Moving on…

On my hunt for a bottle of water, I notice that there are massage chairs all over the airport, kind of like slot machines in vegas.  Interesting, and slightly gross.

Alright, Beijing bound, thank god.  And my jeans are still wet….

And then….i get on the plane, and some guy has taken my seat so he can sit with his family.  Fine, whatever, hes taken my aisle seat and given me a window seat.  Which, actually, im fine with.  I like the window…I have my own space, I can sleep against the window, im good to go.  Other than it’s further back, but whatever.  I remember a conversation with my father about how the back of the plane is the safest place to sit, so im good with that too.

And somehow, despite the relaxing, restful, five days ive had, I fall asleep.  Only to wake up to an announcement about turbulence.  Fine, whatever, ive survived that before.  Then another announcement followed shortly after that….i think the first two versions were in mandarin and Cantonese, so of course I don’t understand…I can just read the mild panic on the faces of those around me.  Ok….whatever is coming isn’t good.  And then they get to the broken English….’the plane is experiencing difficulties, so we will be emergency landing in wuhan’.

Great, awesome…this is what I always hoped for….and then we hit turbulence on the long landing approach.  Somehow, I was eerily calm, and could just think, well, im not going to know what happens until it does.  Is my seatbelt tight (like liam neason in whatever movie Jaime and I watched last weekend with the plane crashing), I can pull my legs up, and brace myself against the seat in front of me.  Ive got this….or something.

And then we land…worst runway landing ever, but we made it.  So I thought maybe we’d get off the plane.  Or not so much.  I guess they decided to fix it with us on it.  I have pictures of them fixing the wing right outside my window….awesome, I totally could have had a front row seat to whatever was going to go wrong in the air….i have photos…will post once I get back on facebook.

The whole experience was about 2 hours….and really one of the most humbling yet.  I know people have been stuck on US tarmacs and runways for much longer, but really, when youre stuck in a plane, with 170+ people who you don’t understand, and don’t understand you, and its hot (think bikram yoga), and your only source of information is the gauge of people’s emotions around you….it’s totally different, and totally humbling.

And of course, my phone only half worked, but I was able to text Brian and let him know what happened, and say I love you, and text Jaime and let her know I would be late.  Jaime offered to have someone find out what was going on via phone, but I was pretty sure there was no information to be had, other than that I was hot, sweaty, and hungry in the back corner of a plane.

Luckily, they did feed us dinner…or unluckily….choices – rice and chicken or something and noodles….i asked again, and they said – rice and chicken, and I was like, yes, that’s fine. It smells disgusting….im kind of sad I ate my first granola bar when we landed and my last when I was on the phone with Jaime 20 minutes ago…

And it was, disgusting….i didn’t really have any chicken – the lady next to me was lucky – she had a bunch.  I had rice and nasty veggies marinated in some sauce.  So gross, but I was so hungry.

And they continue making announcements….some translated, some not.  At some point, I started ignoring them and just reading the people around me.  Then the lady next to me looked out the window and was like, it’s raining…and I was like, yes, yes it is.  You speak English.  Yay!  She asked where I was from, and I her.  She had been on vacation with her husband and lived in Beijing.  She asked if I had come here to travel, I said yes, for that and school.  Then there was another announcement…I looked at her and she said….we’re leaving in 10 minutes.  They never bothered to translate that to English.  Later when I saw her at baggage claim, she waved to me, and I waved back.  Short and sweet, but with limited language skills, I had made a friend.

And then I went to take a cab to the hotel…an actual cab this time.  Jaime had one of her DM’s tell the driver where to go in Chinese, so all should have been well.  Until he took me to some random hotel, and….somehow, I was pretty sure this wasn’t correct.  Of course he’s talking at me in Chinese, and im like, I really have no idea….so I call them and we try again.  And he’s still talking/yelling at me in Chinese…and im like, yeah, whatever…the plane didn’t kill me, keep it coming.  So then he calls the hotel….and then pulls up to some random people on the street to ask for directions…eventually we get there, and id survived adventure number 2 of the day.

The hotel was actually quite accommodating….secondary check in was far easier than I thought it might be.  Someone took my bags up, and then I came down for some food…really my first food of the day….so excited…only to find the restaurant closed.  After I found that out, I must have looked like I was going to cry, because the manager came out and was like, you just checked in, right?  And I was like, yes, yes I did.  So she told me I could have a meat, cheese, and bread plate, or a salad.  I opted for the meat, cheese, and bread plate, along with some wine, and all was right with the world.  I had survived adventure number 3 of the day.

And then I get a text – ‘we should find somewhere to get foot massages’.  Yes, yes we should…that, that sounds like heaven right now.

Ghost Town

First of all, this whole blogging thing is much more difficult when the internet isn’t easily accessible.
Sanya has been….interesting.  It isn’t the beach destination I’m accustomed to, the one we found in Puerto Rico, or Hawaii, or where ever else we’ve been.  Not that I was expecting it to be, but I guess on some level that did form my expectations.
But, I’m in a different country, a different place, so why wouldn’t it be different.  Why wouldn’t I need to put the key card to my room in the slot by the door in order to use the lights or the fan.  Makes perfect sense, right?  Let’s back-up….
So I arrive at the airport…and theres some random guy trying to shove me down the escalator….really??  cause today hasn’t been enough of an adventure already?  Apparently he needed to go first, what do I know….then I’m pretty sure he was trying to take photos of me…really?  Dude, you picked the wrong person.  I am the queen of evading those who want to take my picture – Kristie, if you are reading this, think Universal Studios or Disney or where ever we were.
The next thing I notice is that it’s hot….like really hot and my clothes are sticking to me.  And where is my suitcase.  Of course its like the last one out…but thank god its here.  So I gather my stuff and get my passport and ticket ready to leave baggage claim.  Yes, they check that at every turn here.  The guy in Japan actually opened all of my stuff.  I’m surprised China wasn’t more difficult to get into.
So I escape the airport and step into the heat.  And here I thought it was hot before.  I find a sign for the taxis and start to head in that direction….but, my bag is apprehended by some random non-taxi driver, probably the ones that SFO tells you to steer clear of.  He asks where I’m going, and I say the taxi line, pointing to the area where you’d wait for a taxi.  He tells me he is a taxi….somehow I doubt that, and am quite pissed with myself for letting him get a hold of my bag.  But, I’m also thinking, maybe that’s how they do things here.  He looks at the address and wants it in Chinese, cause there’s no English here….and I’m like, that’s it…do you know where it is?  And he’s like yes, 100 yuan….awesome…congrats, ive just been swindled.  But, I guess if it’s taken me this long, maybe I’ve done ok.
So I end up in a bright red G6 with what I’m pretty sure is a bottle of alcohol attached to the dashboard.  Is this really happening?  I wish I had been brave enough to take a picture.  After about a minute ride, we make a u-turn into the hotel….yup, ive been swindled.  Annoying, but glad that’s the worst that’s happened.  Of course he gives me a card so I can call him if I want to go anywhere while im here.  Riiight…like I’ll be leaving the resort.
So I go to check in and apparently need to leave a 1000 yuan deposit.  I’m slightly annoyed, as I’ve already pre-paid, but whatever.  1000 yuan is like $158.  But I’m annoyed, and I’ve already been swindled today, so I make sure to keep the receipt.  However, remember the deposit.
I get quite the tour of the resort while trying to find my room, it resembles a small vegas hotel, or maybe medium sized.  Finally someone walks me to the room….apparently on a different 5th floor than I visited the first time.  I come in, and its hot…and im…a hot mess.  Hungry (I think the last time I really ate was brunch the day before), tired, sick of traveling, and my room over looks….a construction site….awesome.  I cant wait to sit out there and read.  Slow, deep breaths, I can figure this out.  Something to do…spa…that works.  So I schedule a massage and then leave in search of food.  And, im the only one here….there may have been one other person in the restaurant.  But really, that’s it.  So weird.  So, they ask me if I want to charge my lunch to the room.  Ummm….ok, that’s what we typically do, so I do it.
I think I went back to the room after that and just read the kindle.  I don’t really remember, since its been a few days, but that’s pretty much been my MO.  And it was raining.  Then came the spa.  90 minutes of pure bliss….I asked for 90, then 60, then they had me down for 90, and I guess if I’m not spending money at the pool bar, I might as well spend it at the spa.  Of course, they give me the thing to charge it to my room.  So I do so, cause I think that’s how it works.  Oh wait….not so much.  I end up on the phone with the desk or the manager or someone, cause no one speaks English.  Really, I just want to pay….can I pay here?  They don’t know….no one knows.  Finally, I get a supervisor that at least understands enough to tell me that I can pay in the spa.  Fine, done.  I guess the 1000 yuan deposit is incase I trash the place.
After that I tried the Chinese restaurant for dinner.  It was ok…a couple of screaming kids and me at a table for 8….nothing like that to make you feel lonely.  And the food was definitely family style.  Also awesome when there’s only one of you.  But, I tried it.  It was ok….food was good.  After that, I was excited to go hide in the bubble that was my room.  But I really wanted some wine to enjoy while I sat and read on my balcony over the construction site….
So I walk all over….a place this big has to have a store where one can get a bottle of wine, right?  Or not.  I end up having to call room service.  And ask for red wine…and theyre like…huh?  What?  We bring you menu.  Cause, why wouldn’t there be a menu in the room…far too easy.  So some poor soul brings a menu up…and takes my order down.  And then brings the wine back up.  Cause this is efficient.
Tuesday brought more rain….so, wine and reading it was, along with a spa appointment at 6.  Foot massage this time.  It was nice…other than the white wine/red wine debacle.  But, we figured it out.  The morning was nice enough to go out and swim in the lanes they have set up, until I realized that there were frogs and snails living in the pool…and a small pool of massage fish that you could pay to sit in.  ewwww…..frogs and snails living in the regular pool most likely meant no chlorine and no shield between me and the man spitting in the other end of the pool…yup, time to get out.  And of course, laying by the pool bar wasn’t really an option…unless youre fond of tecate, water, or coke.  But, I had to give them enough time to clean my room, since the only way to get my two drinkable bottles of water was to let the maid come in.  grrr…so I sat in the hot tub for a bit.
Wednesday was more of the same….a quick swim in the morning before anyone else was awake…lunch, and falling asleep reading.  And lots of thinking.  Lots….looking for, I don’t know what….but hopefully I’ll find it soon.  Then came my adventure with the hot stone massage. Interesting, and I would do it again, despite the bruises im sure I have.  And the wine adventure….four tries tonight…and Tuesday….le sigh….why is it so difficult?
And then today….I was going to send my laundry to the service here, but the thought of dealing with them was exhausting, so I decided to wash it on my own.  Great idea, until I realized it’s so damn humid, its not going to dry.  Hopefully all day and all night will be enough time.  Then I realized it was the first and only sunny day I’ve had here, so I scurried out to the pool, only to sit there for an hour with the rumblings of thunder in the background.  And then the storm blew in…and I’m pretty sure that there are more people working here than staying here as they all ran out to lock the place down.  So crazy.  So, lunch time an then reading time, and then I sat outside for a little longer, before my final visit to the spa.  Not before I spent an hour wandering trying to find water since they hadn’t managed to make up my room yet.  None at the fitness center, despite the vending machine….crazy to think it might be there, right?  Finally found some at the pool “bar”.  Crazy enough, I got burned in the hour or so I spent outside…only me.  Then spa visit, dinner, and chill time.  they actually got the wine order correct this time…and I was able to order it over the phone.  Go figure.
So tomorrow I move on….i hope to go for a run in the morning, maybe see the beach for the first time before I leave.  But, I’ve found out I’m way more into cities and exploring them than setting foot off the resort here.  The resort is enough of an adventure, thank you.  It’s…it’s safe, but there is a gross lump of soap or something in the shower…and the nasty flip flops the maid keeps leaving by my bed that have obviously been worn, and the dirty on the bed spread, and the dead roach in the hall….and….the frogs and snails in the pool…yeah, im good with city life.
I’m excited to see Beijing and to see Jaime again…it will be so nice to have someone to talk to, and to do my school meeting that came up out of nowhere, despite having nothing to wear.  However, I’m somewhat sad, as Beijing is my final destination on my adventure to Asia.  But, I’ve learned so much, and know nothing will replace the time I’ve spent here.
Overall, it’s been relaxing, but I’m not so sad to see it go, other than it meaning I’m that much closer to the end of this, but not sure that’s a bad thing.  Relaxing with a book, a porch, and some wine is much more fun with someone else.  I’m still amazed that there really aren’t that many people here – there was a band playing at one of the restaurants tonight, and literally no one was there.  Until a couple dining in the restaurant I was in walked out there.  So weird.  Makes me wonder how much I’ve missed by not leaving the resort (and how much additional $$ I’ve had to spend due to resort prices).
So, here’s to my final destination in Asia.  Here’s to my clothes drying tonight.  Here’s to another amazing time, to more exploring, and continuing to find whatever it is that I’m looking for.  

Sometimes, there are no words

Catching up on the blog and attempting to summarize five days in Shanghai in one entry is proving challenging.  Really, I’m finding these entries challenging no matter how many there are.  I can’t even put into words the amount I’ve learned…about people and places and culture.  It’s been a daily discovery of good things, interesting things, and things that are ten times more difficult than they need to be.  But, let’s see…

Arrival…this in and of itself was an adventure.  First, my suitcase was too heavy, and rather than be able to pay some obscene service charge, I had to actually start pulling stuff out and shoving it into my hiking bag. Which, I was pretty sure had a hole and wouldn’t survive being checked.  Awesome…I really didn’t want to be that girl in the airport, but whatever, it was over pretty quick.  Add to that some gross airport food and I was ready to land before we ever took off.

Once we landed, the plane pretty much unloaded on the tarmac.  Slightly odd, and really hot, then you get on a bus to the terminal.  Where it’s time to clear customs. Which would have been fine if the flight attendants had given me the clearance forms, but minor detail I suppose.  So I have to get out of line to go fill out the form.  Which should have been easy, but of course I need an address….and Jaime’s still flying…I see this going well.  So I’m waiting…considering putting down some random hotel – they aren’t going to hunt me down, right?  Then one of the officials comes over and asks if I need help.  Of course, I’m too honest, and tell him I need to find out my friend’s address. Apparently me being in there for so long made them nervous and he let me in with just a phone number.  The upside, my luggage was ready and waiting – old hiking bag made it in one piece.

Finding the driver and getting where I needed to go was easy after that.  Had dinner at a Chinese restaurant on the bund – really cool atmosphere (including tables decked to the 9’s) and amazing food.  Walked around downtown after dinner and took some amazing photos.  Apparently the city has grown so much in the past few years.  Ended the night with massages – I’m still amazed places like that were open late, but it seems like things here open and close later than in the states.

I spent most of Thursday wandering Shanghai – five mile run, Jing’An Temple, Lujiazui, Nanjing Road, and People’s Square.  It was all so cool…and I managed to navigate the subway without getting lost. There are so many people and so many stores, so many large stores.  I had such fun just wandering, and then the temple in the middle of it all.  That’s the coolest part about being here – there’s modern buildings, stores, and whatnot, then turn the corner and there’s a temple or a picturesque old street. Wandering was the perfect way to spend a day, and when I needed a rest, I stumbled upon a park with a restaurant that served coconut water straight out of the coconut.  So yummy!  Once I was tired from wandering, and done being asked to buy a bag or a watch, I met my friend Aimee for a Thai dinner.  So nice to catch up with her after several years.  So good….the food here (aside from McDonald’s) has been amazing. So interesting what happens when you’re not necessarily sure what you’re eating and try just about anything.

I spent Friday traveling stores with Jaime and Ken.  So interesting to see how similar it is to the US and Japan, but also how different. We visited two stores, talked to the store managers, district visual, and Ken explained how the processes here worked.  So interesting to hear about.  We had dim sum for lunch…something else new to me, despite being able to try it in San Francisco, but never having done so.  I may need to do so every once in awhile….it was quite yummy.

Friday night was pretty low key – happy hour at a bar with a great atmosphere – little lanterns dangling from all over the ceiling, and an amazing roof deck.  After a few drinks and appetizers there, we spent the evening wandering the little stores in Jaime’s neighborhood.  Once again, I found it interesting that stuff is open so late there – 24th St. closes at like 7.  She introduced me to the $1 DVD store where you can get just about any new release, or old release for that matter, for a $1.  We popped in several other stores, and a local coffee shop, offering spiked coffee – perfect for a Friday of wandering followed by DVD night.

We were supposed to run and then walk around Shanghai on Saturday, followed by a beer fest.  Then came the rain and out came some more $1 DVD’s.  There was brunch at Mr. Pancake, which reminded me of San Francisco, from the food down to the fact that we were seated right on top of the people next to us….similar to Caron and I at Polk St. Toast.  We did go to the beer fest, which was a ton of fun, despite the rain.  Post beer fest, feeling (and probably looking) like a drowned rat, we went to a hair salon where they wash and blow dry your hair.  Apparently quite popular here, and also lots of fun.  Made getting ready for dinner and a night out much easier.

Dinner was at another Chinese restaurant, I’m totally going to butcher the name, but here goes….Szechwan Kitchen.  Also very good and lots of new stuff to try, including a basil martini – it was kind of like a milkshake, or something.  Then came my introduction to Shanghai nightlife.  I know I don’t get out much, but it was big…so many people…so many places to go, filled with people.  I still don’t know where they all come from.  And so much fun to be a part of, even for a short time.

I forget the name of the place we went on Sunday – lots of little alleys, shops, bars, restaurants, very much reminded of the alleys in Japan.  So much to see and so easy to get lost.  We started with brunch somewhere in the maze, and then wandered.  So much to see and look at – I think I have some photos. American style brunch, but still so good…and I tried a mimosa.  Interesting….not a fan of orange juice, or champagne, but, mixed together, they were actually quite yummy. Then more wandering before we stopped at a cool little bar for a drink…or two….or the rest of the afternoon.  This place was kind of like the cannery, Shanghai style.  There weren’t many people, really five groups throughout the day – tourists on their way to a wedding, expats who’d been there before, expats who hadn’t, a guy with a kitten….a good time and ali, the 20 year-old bar tender makes a great tom collins.  Yay for a drink I understand.  He also made a great shot….ready for this? Tomato juice, Tabasco sauce, tequila, amaretto, and I’m sure a few other things….apparently, if you take a bunch of stuff that’s not so good on its own (other than tequila) and mix it together, it’s also quite yummy.

We met a bunch of interesting people, everyone had a story – where they were, where they were going, where they’d been. Then somehow, Jaime’s playlist became the bar music…and we were behind the bar….and there were panda hats and a bunch of Chinese tourists.  I wish I had turned around when the hat was put on my head…I really have no idea where it came from….

Overall, so much fun.  So much culture and so different from Japan.  Once again, I was sad to leave, but excited to move to my next destination.  Travel started off as an adventure when my atm card didn’t work….however, I did remember that I could take the train to the airport and that I still had a pass for the train.  Not that I was crazy about lugging the suitcase on the train, but I could figure that out.  Luckily, there were more atm’s in the train station and I could get cash there and the driver understood where I needed to go.

Next up – my move to Sanya and the interesting, yet challenging time I’ve had since arriving….