Saturday, October 19, 2013

The Great Wall and Olympic Stadium

 We went to the Great Wall on the morning of national day, October 1st. A man from our hotel drove us all the way there, about an hour to the north from Beijing. Other guests at the hotel came too. Most of them were from Germany. The hike up to the wall took us 30 minutes, and then we walked along the top for three hours. Visibility was poor that morning, but the wall was great. It felt amazing to be in such a famous place. Several vendors were selling snacks along the wall, but prices were high for the convenience. Some of the steps on the wall were extremely steep. It took a lot of effort to get to tower 1, the furthest and highest part of the wall at our location, but the view from it was great. The sky started to clear and we all took some great pictures. Luke, Josh, and I sat down at this furthest point, and we had a mini picnic rest. I ate Tuōshuǐ xiāngjiāo piàn (dehydrated banana slices). We met many awesome people at this spot. The walk down was much easier, and we met up with our hotel group for lunch at 12:39 (9 minutes were lost when we walked too far). We drove back to the hotel after the meal. The wall started to get much busier. 

That evening we went to the 2008 Olympic stadium. The whole area was extremely busy, and we had to go through security to get in. The big buildings were closed, but they were all brightly colored. There were many shops selling souvenirs, and street salesmen were showing off their light up merchandise. One young man was playing guitar for money.

Friday, October 11, 2013

National Day Expedition: Part 1

      School was off this last week for national day, so we took a five day trip to Beijing. We traveled by bullet train at 190 mph, and it took 3 hours each way. Trains are very common in China, and the price is quite reasonable. The train stations are as large as airports. On our train ride we saw several small towns and lots of farmland. The crops were in huge fields like in the US, but once we were surrounded by a landscape of greenhouses. When in Beijing we took the subway to get to our hotel. This is the way to travel for cheap, as a cross city ride cost the three of us just one dollar. Our hotel was also low priced because there were many people in each room. There was a booking error so we got upgraded to a three person private room. This hotel also served food and gave tours to the Great Wall, and we took advantage of both services. It was called The Red Lantern, and the place was decorated with many such light sources. There was a goldfish pond in the middle of the common room, and a mini wooden bridge over was the best way to get to our room. Exiting out the front door, we would step into a small Beijing alleyway each time we left the hotel. Many small vendors sold fruit or meat or second hand books - all for a low price.

      We ate at three local restaurants in the neighborhood of the hotel, but one really stood out. To order we pointed at pictures of the food that looked the best, and we ended up with a great supper that night. The first dish was mutton and octopus with celery, red peppers, and raw garlic. There was a flame underneath that kept it boiling hot. We also had a beef and potato combo as well as a healthy helping of Sweet and Sour chicken (Suān tián jīròu). Finally we each had a bowl of rice and bottle of brand beer (both very common in China). It was a great meal. 

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Moon Cakes

This past weekend was the Mid-Autumn Festival, a Chinese holiday celebrating the harvest moon. It is recognized as a national holiday, so there was no school for us on Thursday and Friday. The moon was full on Thursday night, and this was when most of the activities took place. There were lots of fire crackers around dusk, and many people gathered outside to view the moon soon afterward. Luckily the sky was clear, so the moon was brilliant. From what I understand, there is a small story behind the celebration: long ago a dog bit the moon and made it a crescent, but then a magic girl traveled through space to make it full again. (At least, that’s what I gathered from a small performance we went to Thursday night).
One tradition during the Mid-Autumn Festival is to eat a desert called a Moon Cake. There were many of these cakes for sale during the days before the holiday, so I decided to get one to try myself on Thursday night. It tasted good, kind of like a donut with raisin mush inside.
There is another holiday coming up next week on October 1st. It’s called National Day, and is the equivalent of our 4th of July. We get a whole week of school off to celebrate.

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Plane Ride

I got to the Minneapolis airport about two hours early. My luggage bag weighed in at 49 pounds (50 was the limit!), and all my carry-ons passed through security. I had a gate number misprint on my ticket, but I was able to find Josh at the right place after calling him. Our passports were checked with our tickets, and we met another person traveling to China. The first plane was delayed 50 minutes for mechanical problems.


My flight from Detroit to Beijing went smoothly, and we took off right on time. The meals on this plane were spectacular, and lots of drinks were served. I got pretzels and peanuts for a first snack; chicken with noodles, salad, ranch dressing, buttered bread, cheese with crackers, and a triple chocolate brownie for lunch; a banana and bread for a second snack; and a pork rice dish, salad, fruit, and another buttered bun for a very late supper. Drinks were served at every meal and snack, and I usually ordered apple juice or water. 



Both of my planes had personal entertainment screens, but I mostly used the one on my long second flight. I watched a movie called Lost in Thailand, and really enjoyed it. The screen also played music, and I listened to Green Day, Fun, and Florence + the Machine at different parts of the flight. The windows on the second flight were usually all shut. Many people were trying to sleep. I tried but I couldn’t snooze, even with the help of my complimentary pillow.

My first view of China was over the northern desert part, which seemed mostly uninhabited. I didn’t really think much about being on the other side of the world yet. 

I saw a few cities closer to Beijing, and noticed some square, strangely colored patches of land nearby the city. The landing went very smoothly, and I kept trying to connect to a ‘just-a-little-too-out-of-range-no-matter-what-I-did’ Wi-Fi signal called HNA Group. My cell phone was out of service for good, but I was trying use Wi-Fi to email my family.
                Once through security, we met our Beijing travel agent, Phil. Phil took Josh and me out of the airport to a parking garage, where we loaded our luggage into his car. He drove us to our hotel and made sure we checked in. Luke came in at around 11 pm, and we all fell asleep fast.