Posted in 2014 (China), Blog

17/04/15: Almost There

Right so I’ve got a month left. Almost exactly, actually. I’ll leave a month from yesterday if you’re counting days and a month from the day before if you’re counting dates. I’m pretty excited.

For one thing, the internet will work again. For another, my family will be there. That’s cool too I guess.

My mom, dad, and brother came to China the week of Easter sooooo…. two weeks ago. I’m a little hazy on dates but anyways. They were here for a week and man oh man did we pack a lot in. We visited Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, and Jingshan Park on Day 1. Day 2 we flew to Xi’an in the morning and then visited the Little Wild Goose Pagoda and the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda before we went to the Muslim Quarter for supper. Day 3 we went to the Terracotta Warriors Bros and then rode bikes on the City Wall before heading back to the Muslim Quarter for supper. Day 4 we took the train back to Beijing and… I don’t think we really did anything else that day. I don’t remember. Day 5 we went to the Beijing World Park and Pearl Market. We were going to go to the Wanfujing Night Market, but we ended up partying with 3 Australians and a Brazilian until pretty late. Day 6 we hiked the Great Wall and then went to the Night Market that night with the Australians and the Brazilian guy. Day 7 I took my family to the airport. We were super busy.

Right now, I’m sitting in the Music House waiting for the fast bus to start running from Langfang to Beijing and I think it’s running now, I’ll have to check again.

This weekend, I’m going to see Lisa tomorrow, maybe do some shopping.

Next weekend, I’ll just hang around Langfang again.

The weekend after that is the Labor holiday weekend and I’m definitely not going to Beijing for that, it will be chaos.

The next weekend, Bernard comes to Beijing.

Then I go home the Friday after.

It’s so close!

Posted in 2014 (China), Blog

01/03/15: I Might as Well Move-In Here

Once again, I am staying in my go-to hostel in Beijing (Leo Hostel, if you’re ever in the area). I’ve been here for a week now, if you count last night when I went home to do laundry and grab some stuff to go to Hong Kong tomorrow (today? It’s 2:30am…). I know the staff by their first names, including the manager, and I’m trying to convince Angus to let me stay here for free on the weekends during the school year in exchange for my A+ English skills. I think he’ll come around.

For the past week, I’ve just been hanging around in Beijing. I made some friends who I saw every so often, since we were all on our own schedule. I met up with Lisa (who I met in Shanghai and had been in Japan) and Tai for pizza, bringing along a slew of people that I had met throughout the week and missed pizza/cheese. Other than that, I’ve just been consuming tea and speaking English, which is really all a girl like me could ask for. In a fit of “Golly, I hate it here” I booked another trip to Hong Kong, which I leave for in a few hours.

In preparation for that, I went back to langfang for a night and half a day so I could do laundry and pick up clothes for weather that isn’t related to snow and being freezing cold. I also wanted to pick up my Octopus card (the train/bus pass for Hong Kong) and my various papers and maps I have from when I went over the summer. So far, my plans consist of going (back) to Disneyland, going (back) to Macau, and going (back) to Shekou. A few people have expressed an interest in meeting up for food at some point, but they’re all back in school, so we might not get the chance. I’m also going to try to spend more time out in the non-city part of Hong Kong, like the big Buddha and maybe a beach.

My Hong Kong iPhone also got stolen a few hours ago, so I’ll need to go and drop another few hundred bucks on a phone. I have resigned myself to the cost because I really love my iPhone and it’s either pick up one in Hong Kong, unlocked, or get one in Ireland and end up buying a phone for China again. Ugh. I just keep reminding myself that it could have been worse, since my passport and my wallet were in the same pocket. Plus, I had backed my phone up and gotten all of my photos off the night before. Plus plus when the thief tried to reset my Apple ID, they were unsuccessful because it was linked to my gmail account and gmail no longer works at all in China. It’s the little things.

Posted in 2014 (China), Blog

19/02/15: Imagine All the People

Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world
Imagine, John Lennon

My trip to Shanghai was a lot more than the places I visited because they were secondary to the people I met and spent time with. I guess I want to start out by saying to those people:
Thanks.
I don’t think you have any idea how much that time meant to me.

I’ve been in China for nine months now and, in all of those nine months, I have spent a maximum of three consecutive days with the same English-speaking people. (Until Shanghai.) Usually, it’s meet-and-go, either I head on my way to somewhere else or they’re passing through Beijing. It’s really very lonely. I had a blast the night I spent in Beijing and met some awesome people, but it was a night and then we were on our ways again. Standing on the platform of the train to Shanghai, it really hit me how temporary my life has been since I got here, and how lonely. Bernard is the only recurring English-speaking person and I’ve only been able to meet up with him twice since we met over the summer and only for a few days. Then I spent a weekend with Pippa. Then the weekend with the Troxell siblings (and Bernard). But that’s been it. It’s sucked.

The week started with another meet-up with Bernard, who left after 2 days, I think? It wasn’t long, he had to get back to work. When I thought about how I would spend the rest of my week in Shanghai, it was sort of depressing. I figured I’d hit some museums, bum around English-speaking places, and mostly pretend I didn’t live in China. What actually happened was way better and way less depressing.

When I checked in to the hostel, I had the great fortune of meeting Lisa, who was checking in at the same time as me and was also staying in the same dorm room. Now, I don’t want to sound superstitious and call it fate, but at the same time if the shoe fits… It was totally fate. We went with Bernard and his new Vishal to get dinner (and Bernard is not allowed to be in charge of anything because we always end up lost) and then the next day, Vishal went to Beijing, Bernard and I got breakfast (I seriously almost wrote brekkie, I hate Bernard and Vishal and all the other Aussies I keep meeting for that), and Lisa slept in. It was, actually, a pretty perfect day. (Except that part where Bernard was in charge and we got lost.) We got bagels for breakfast, went to a great bookstore, went back to the hostel and convinced Dean and Lisa to go to the Science and Technology Museum with us, hit 221b Baker St, and then went back to hang out at the hostel some more. I think this was the same night we met the Spaniards? I’m not trying to say it was fate…. No it totally was. Let’s not even pretend here.

Turned out, Alex and Victor (brothers whose age difference matches me and my bro, except the younger one is literally 17 days younger than me fate) were staying the same amount of time as Lisa and I was (originally) leaving a couple days earlier than them. I think we may also have met the Swiss guys at this point? My memory was hazy even before we all left because I always felt like we all arrived at the same time fate and were leaving at the same time fate, so there was never a point in my memory that we weren’t all hanging out in the hostel café together.

Over the rest of the trip (a total of 10 days, I think? I ended up changing my train to leave the same day everyone else was leaving), Lisa, Alex, Victor, and I went to Suzhou, Hangzhou, ZhuJiaJiao, and spent some time in Shanghai itself. Lisa and I became instant besties in a way only girls can (my best friend from back home asked “You talked about boobs, boys, and periods?” and the answer was “actually, boobs, boys, and birth control…”) and ended up switching from our 4-bed dorm to a private twin suite together. Over the course of the trip, we got used to “the Bro Show” as we called it, where Alex and Victor would be doing whatever brothers do in Spanish while Lisa and I planned what we did next. At the end of the day, I would hang out in the café with Sandor, Manuel, and Friend (except Dimitri never really hung out and always went to bed, hence me calling him Friend all the time) and whoever else was staying in the hostel at the time.

I honestly couldn’t remember what we did or where we went when I got back to the quiet hostel in Beijing. (There were something like 30 people staying in the hostel when I returned.) It didn’t really matter to me. Usually, I go to a new city armed with a list of restaurants and museums, but this time my list was discarded for the sake of socialization. And I couldn’t have had a better trip. I’m so thankful for social media and VPNs because it means we don’t have to lose contact with each other as easily as we would have before Facebook, WeChat, WhatsApp, etc. And since Lisa studies in Beijing, we met up two days after we left Shanghai to go shopping. And we’re planning on meeting up again when she gets back from Japan.

So, again, to those people with whom I spent a fantastic week in Shanghai, thanks. It meant so much to little lonely me that we were such fast friends.

Safe travels, hope to see you all again,
<3 April

Posted in 2012 (Europe), 2014 (China), Articles, Blog

Article: 4 Ways Living Abroad Changes You Forever

So I’m scrolling through Facebook (once I finally get my VPN to connect and stay connected) when I see my cousin’s friend (with whom I am friends on FB and who is currently in Spain studying abroad, I think) has liked an article on someone’s page called 4 Ways Living Abroad Changes You Forever.

So here is my take on Russell V. J. Ward’s 4 Ways Living Abroad Changes You Forever.


 

I think for me it started long before I made a choice to go abroad, let alone visit. By the time I started high school, we had lived in three states, four cities, and I had attended school in four different districts.

Phoenix, AZ – born; Charlotte, NC – 4 years; Greensboro, NC – 1 year; Kernersville, NC – 2 years; Jamestown, NY – 4 years

My thirst for traveling abroad started with the first Harry Potter book. Even though I knew Hogwarts wasn’t real and that I couldn’t catch a train from King’s Cross Station to the magical school, I still remember thinking “I want to go there.” London was really where I wanted to go, but I’d settle for anywhere in that area (even now, my geography skills are subpar).

When I went to university, that’s when I started making plans of how to study abroad. I had a plan from freshman orientation on how to get there. And so I went. In the summer of 2012, I went on a cruise with my gramma, aunt, and cousin (Turkey, Greece, Croatia, Italy) and I didn’t want to get off that ship. Except in the fall of 2012, I studied abroad in Ireland.

Kernersville, NC – 4 years; Wilmington, NC – 4(ish) years; Maynooth, Ireland – 1/4 year

Between moving home and back to school every winter and summer break (I lived on campus and wasn’t allowed to stay) and my study abroad experience, I moved sixteen times in the span of my four-year degree. Of course, by this point the wanderlust had settled in completely, so I was home for the summer after graduation before I moved to Colorado to live with my gramma. Then, of course, I moved to China, which is where I am now.

Kernersville, NC – 4 months; Lakewood, CO – 9 months; Langfang, Hebei, China – 12 months

My contract in China will end in May (but I might end up staying until June? I’m not sure) and I’ll return back to Kernersville, NC, which is obviously where my parents live. Ten years and they’re still in the same house, I’m impressed! Of course, I’ll be heading off to Dublin, Ireland in August/September so… Anyways. Here’s the four ways:


 

1. You’re not the same person you were.
Boy howdy. If that’s not the truth, then I don’t know what is. Even my trip to Ireland, which was only a few months, was life-changing to say the least. These twelve months in China, even more so. Ward talks about how you might not realize it immediately, but I think somewhere as vastly different in culture as China is to the US makes you realize it a lot sooner. Once you’re over that culture shock, you start to think back “Remember how hard this was when I first got here?” My personal huge oh my god moment involves a lot of “Remember how frightened I was when I first got here?” Now I can navigate my way around Beijing, I’ve gotten used to the way things work in China (even if some of the practices still annoy me), and I have the courage to travel from one end of this giant country to the other — on my own. (In fact, I’m heading to Shanghai in a week and a half.)
You learned about you.
Before I spent the summer here, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my life. As a driven 22 year old who always had a Plan, that terrified me more than moving across the world. I thought my problem was that I liked too many things and couldn’t pick between them, but it turned out to be my strength, in a way. After a summer on my own – 100% on my own – I finally figured it out. What I want to do, what I want to be, but most importantly, who I am.

(China 2014) New friends I met in China and I in Xi’an! (Thanks to Erin for the lovely picture)

2. You can never go back home.
I think part of this is also me growing up. I hear about things from my family well after they happen now, I’m not constantly up-to-date like I was when I was just living across the country. I can’t call my mom just to chat when I’m walking somewhere and I spent my first summer without my brother for the first time since he was born. When I first studied abroad and had a taste of what it was like to live not-there, I came back and tried to go back home. It didn’t work. People had gotten so used to my absence (a mere semester!) that they forgot to include me in things later. It hurt at first, I was so used to being in that place and being surrounded by people that it was hard for me to let go and do things on my own. Plus, I missed Ireland a lot and didn’t want to return in the first place.
At some point, you realize you couldn’t go back even if you wanted to.
Admittedly, I currently want to go go go and not stay stay stay, but these are the times I realize who I miss the most and who misses me the most. (Shout-out to Katie, my bff since high school, Gagey-poop, who I miss dearly, Marcus, for constantly asking me when I’ll be back in Ireland {SEPTEMBERISH}, and my family, cause well duh.) I don’t want to go back to what I was, to where I was before. I love the people I miss, but I’m ready to go go go!

3. Your world became a whole lot bigger.
Holy moly the world is huge. But at the same time, it’s really not. Since I’ve been here in China, I meet new people every time I go to Beijing. My world is a lot bigger, but the world itself seems a lot smaller. It’s a lot more manageable now. I used to think “Gosh, I don’t know if I’ll ever visit [insert place here], it’s so far.” Now, it’s not. I can go anywhere. “I always wanted to visit” has become “I’m gonna visit…”
And there’s no turning back.
I always wanted to go go go, but I was afraid. “What if” I asked myself a lot. Now I know, the only room I have for “What if”s is “What if I don’t?” I have never regretted a single thing I’ve done in my life (no, seriously) and the only thing I regret is not having done. I was afraid and living in the What if zone too much, but now I know. The world is huge and completely, utterly manageable. I am no longer content to be in one place for very long. I wasn’t before, but even less so now.
Let’s go.
Because it’s all good.

4. Anything is possible.
Let me repeat that:
Anything is possible.
This, I think, is the truest number on this list. When I graduated college, I was so afraid. I was afraid I’d end up “stuck”: stuck in a job, stuck in a place, stuck in myself. And I did get stuck for a bit. Now, though? Now I can do anything. I wanted to move (back) to Ireland. I wanted to go back to school. Now I know I can and I will.
You proved you can live abroad – and you survived.
And I’ll do it again. The US to China culture jump was terrible. There were days I didn’t want to leave my apartment because it was just so overwhelming. Eight months in and I still get those days. But eight months in and I know this is the hardest thing I’ll ever do. And even if it’s not, I’ll survive that just as I survived this. Anything is possible and anything is survivable and there will be times in the future when I will be afraid, but I will think of this time in my life and say to myself “Well, we did that. Let’s do this.”
You did it.
Almost. I have a few months left, but when I’m done, this will be the thing that gets me through everything. I’ll be going back to school and everyone says how hard that is, but I will think of the drive and determination that brought me here and kept me here and I will pull those up and say “Okay, well. We can do this. We can do anything.”

 

Posted in 2014 (China), Blog

24-28/12/14: Have a Holly Jolly Christmas!

Okay so. I’m not very good at updating this blog and I am so sorry. Or am I? ANYWAYS, the point is I’m going to try something a little different here so I’m sorry if I get rambly. That’s just sort of how I talk.

I started off my weekend trip in Beijing just so I wouldn’t be worried about ending up missing my train. I’d bought the tickets a couple weeks in advance because I was meeting my friend Bernard in Xi’an. (Bernard teaches in Wenzhou and I met him in Beijing. No, it’s not like a “oooOOOooooo you met a man in China?!” No offence to Bernard, mainly because he already knows this, but no. Nope. No. Friends. Men and women can be friends without all that weird “you must be interested in each other” bullshit. But like, as props to Bernard, we are actually friends. So it’s gotten to the point of friendship where hugs are o-k!) He called me a couple days before we were meant to leave to tell me his flight got rescheduled and he couldn’t make that flight, but he got it sorted in the end. Since his school isn’t as flexible as mine, our plan was to meet in Xi’an on Christmas Day since that’s when he would actually have off. Originally, I was only supposed to get three days off for Christmas, but because of the way I’d worked it out with the school (I would have off Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday and “teach” the Christmas “party” on Tuesday), when they rescheduled the Christmas “party” to be exactly the same time as my train left Beijing for Xi’an, I ended up having the week off. Which was fine with me, haha.

Anyways, I went to Beijing on Christmas Eve and got pancakes at Grandma’s Kitchen (like I do literally every time I go to Beijing for anything) before wandering around a bit. I was wearing my new boots, so my legs/feet hurt more than normal but I COULD HANDLE IT. I went back to the hostel to hang out a bit and there was a Christmas Eve party happening where the other people staying in the hostel paid for the dinner (I had pizza nearby where the little girl of one of the people who worked there came over while I was waiting for my dinner and played with my phone, it was super sweet) and played games and stuff. I went and sat at the table with them anyways and used my wiles to help the other people. Mainly, they needed bowls and I tricked the Chinese guy who worked at the hostel to give them to me and then I would hand them to everyone else. I also spent a lot of time putting food into bowls since my chopstick skills are A++ now. After the food was finished, we spent the rest of the night chatting and dancing. (Apparently the way I was dancing in my cupcake pj pants was seductive because a very, very drunk guy propositioned me and then spent a good 30 minutes sulking when I said no. But seriously, cupcake pants that are at least three sizes too big.) Literally the rest of the night. The dance party ended at 4:30am.

I got into bed in the 14-bed dorm at 5am and couldn’t sleep because other people sleep so loudly and I’m a really light sleeper, so by the time 8am rolled around, I decided it was time to give up and take a shower while there weren’t many people up. At 8:45am, I climbed back up into my bed to get my stuff from the other end of it (phone, keys, glasses, etc) and debated going back to sleep but eh. Instead, I went down to faff around the hostel cafe for a while. Luckily, someone from the party was already up and I sat and talked with him before we went off to get breakfast. Just before we were leaving, though, we saw someone else for the party and I mentioned my lost skirt (Bart said it was because I drank all that tea so I must’ve been drunker than I thought, but I told him it must’ve been that half-sip of vodka someone brought me because the party insisted I get vodka instead of more water for my tea). Luckily, his sister had my skirt, so it wasn’t lost, just temporarily misplaced. When Bart and I got back from getting breaky, I sat at the table and chatted with the folks as they got up before I got my skirt back and headed to Beijing West Railway Station to catch my train to Xi’an. I got to the train gate right as the sign went from “Waiting” to “Checking”, so it was really perfect timing. The train was one of the high-speed ones, so it was a 4-5 hour ride instead of 15 and when I got to Xi’an, it was a 30min subway ride and a 10min walk to the hostel. Bernard was already there so when I got a little lost, I called him and he gave the receptionist his phone to give me directions and I got unlost. But then when I got there, he had gone back to his room even though it was really only two minutes or less later, so I kept saying how he and I weren’t friends anymore. The receptionists laughed at me because I kept fumbling the money and muttering to myself honesty, I’ve been in China for this long and I still struggle with the money but I got checked in and went to find Bernard. I played Marco Polo and he said he could hear me coming, which was totally the point. I set my stuff in his room before we headed off to the Muslim Quarter for some food. Unfortunately, because of my lack of sleep the night before (although I did have a 2-hour nap on the train), my new boots, the dancing, all the walking, and the usual aches of being me, I was really hurting when we got back to the hostel. My feet were all swollen and it was not good. We hung out a bit and headed off to our respective rooms to sleep because we were going on the Terracotta Army tour in the morning and had to be in the lobby by 9am.

When I got up the next day and went down for a bit of food before we caught the bus, Bernard was already up and working in his Chinese workbook. nerd. I zombied out with my tea and my breakfast and Bernard kept having to repeat things because I was still mostly asleep, but we made it to the van thing on time and two other people from our hostel were going as well. They were American and we’re totally friends now. 🙂 We picked up one other person from another hostel and the tour guide and then we were on our way. I wasn’t really impressed with the tour guide’s personality because we were all introducing ourselves to each other (me, Bernard, Erin, Steven, and Phina) and having a lovely chat and she interrupted us to have us introduce ourselves… Then she told us history of Xi’an and the Terracotta Bros (as I called them the entire weekend, much to Bernard’s dismay) and I was looking out the window the whole time because why not? But at the end of her lecture she called me out and asked me to name the four types of statues, I remembered two of the four, but honestly it’s a tour I paid for on my holiday, if I don’t want to listen, what does it matter as long as I’m not interrupting the lecture and making it so others can’t listen? Ugh. But we got to the park place for it and we started in Pit 2, I think. We definitely did Pit 1 last…  ANYWAYS the statues in that pit were mostly crumbled because they hadn’t restored them yet, but she told us how a farmer was looking for water when he found the first statue, a kneeling archer who was still in one piece. There was one of each statue type all put back together and on display for us to see in that pit, but the tour guide kept disappearing so when I wanted to ask why the horse had a very deliberate hole in its side, I could only speculate since she wasn’t around for me to ask. (My speculation was correct, the hole was to keep the hollow horse’s body from cracking during the firing process, but still. I had to wait until we were in Pit 1 to find out!) The next pit was special because it was separated into “rooms” where different things happened, like the meeting room and the ritual sacrifice room. That pit wasn’t finished before the emperor who made the people build the warriors died so some of the statues didn’t have heads because they were unfinished. Pit 1 is the famous one with all the warriors in it, though, and it’s the most restored one, too. Some of the statues we saw were in the process of being restored (some had saran wrap cling film around them and I speculate they were glued and drying). There was a section of statues where each statue represented a different minority in China and then there was the big main section of the restored ones.

After the tour, we went back to our hostel and Phina came with us to our hostel and we walked around the Muslim Quarter again. I tried to find the tea lady from the night before to say hi because I bought some Jasmine tea flowers that bloomed and she gave me some of her favorite tea for free because I love tea and had to leave before I bought it all. I perfected my Chinese man squat by this time because I kept needing to rest my feet/knees/legs but there weren’t many places to sit. I bought a couple of cute keychains and some post cards and ate tofu and plum juice. I love plum juice. Then we went back to our hostel and Phina went on to hers and we hung out in the cafe until it closed at 11.

The next morning, I got up around the same time and went down to the cafe for breaky. Bernard was the next to get up and then Erin. Phina ended up coming to the cafe before Steven even though he was staying in the same hostel as us and she wasn’t. We gave him shit for it the rest of the day. We decided to go see the Forest of Stelae Museum and the Giant Goose Pagoda before touring around the wall. Of course, our plans changed a bit after we went to H&M for some warmer clothes and the ATMs and Steven decided to eat before we left, which of course we gave him shit for the rest of the day. Then we went to the Forest of Stelae Museum, which had statues of Buddha carved in the stelae style. My legs were killing me by that point, though, so I was hobbling around and squatting or sitting as often as I could. We then went to the Small Goose Pagoda after catching a subway train there. I hoped to find a place to get a knee brace, but hadn’t seen any. After we ate some pretty spicy noodles and walked in the wrong direction to the Gian Goose Pagoda, we did find a place I could get some knee braces to try and help with the pain a bit. Phina went to the train station to get a ticket to go to wherever she was going next (I forget) and we caught a taxi to the Giant Goose Pagoda since we’d spent a couple of hours trying to find it and Erin, Steven, and I were leaving in the morning. After sitting in the little plaza thing and talking for a while, we tried to catch a cab back to the hostel, but it took about 30min because it was changeover time and we were four. Phina was meeting us at our hostel at 8pm and so we were planning on going up on the wall, but it was 50元 and about to close, so we decided against it. (I was actually very, very glad because I had been almost in tears a couple of times that day from how bad my legs hurt, but I didn’t want to miss out on anything and I didn’t want them to try to miss out on anything in an attempt to accommodate me, so not going for a bike ride on the wall was great for me…) We ended up just hanging out in the cafe the rest of the night and said goodbye to Phina, although Bernard saw her the next day.

In the morning, Steven, Erin, and I went to the little outdoor market we passed on our way to the Forest of Stelae Museum and did a bit of shopping. I had to go earlier than them, though, because I was taking the subway to the train station and didn’t want to miss my train. I got there in enough time to get a Coca Cola from the McDonald’s above the gate, which was perfect. The train ride was 5-hours again so I finished half of a book, read another book in its entirety, then read some of Sense and Sensibility, and had a bit of a doze. The trip home had pretty perfect timing, though, because I got off the train, took the subway from Beijing West Railway Station to Beijing Railway, stopped at KFC to grab some chicken nuggets and fries for the road, managed to catch the quick bus that had only 1 seat left, got back to Langfang in time to pay my phone bill AND catch a bus back to the school. Once home, I tossed all my super gross clothes into the wash (which I still need to go start, shoot), unpacked half-heartedly, made my bed, and played video games before I went to bed.

Even though I was in super pain the entire weekend, it was totally worth it. 🙂

Posted in 2014 (China), Blog

1/12/14: I Went for a Day and Stayed for the Weekend

So it’s Monday now. I have to teach in about an hour and a half and I’m still in my pjs but whatever. These footie pjs are the best thing since pjs + socks. Don’t hate.

I went to Beijing on Friday, mainly because my laptop’s fan wasn’t working at all and I really needed to get it fixed before the overheating got really bad and ruined more things. So I got on the 805 bus down by HuaLian. The 805 has a fast route and a normal route, so I always figure it will take me three hours to get to Beijing because I can’t tell which is the fast one and which isn’t. I accidentally caught the fast bus that time, so that was AWESOME. It took about an hour and a half because of the Beijing morning traffic, but it really wasn’t that bad. So the first thing I did when I got to Beijing was go to Grandma’s Kitchen for banana pancakes because as a Mittlestaedt, the first thing I do when I plan a trip, no matter how long, is make sure I know where I’m going to eat. Plus, those pancakes are DELICIOUS. Then I made my way over to the SanLiTun SOHO, which is one of my favorite places, because that’s where the Apple Store is and I needed to get a new lip ring (I lost part of the other one the night before). I got my lip ring (for 20元, I got a new lip ring, the guy put it in, and he replaced the ball I lost. That’s like >$5!) and went over to the Apple Store, but there weren’t any earlier appointments, so I just went to my favorite bookstore and hung out there while I waited for my appointment time. Then I got my computer fixed (it still needs a new keyboard and the battery is a bit shot now, but the fan works and the rest I will deal with later) and went over to the Tiananmen area where I went looking for some tea for a friend (which I couldn’t find) and some long sleeve shirts for me (which I did find, and the H&M I went to was going out of business so they were EXTRA cheap) before deciding it was too late to go back to Langfang and checked in to a hostel in the area. There, I hung out in the bar section and met a girl named Pippa (who is from England) and we made plans for the next day.

Saturday, I met Pippa in the hostel bar around 10am and we decided to go to the World Park because she wanted to see the Leaning Tower of Pisa replica they have. Unfortunately, the day was super smoggy and gross, but we went to Grandma’s Kitchen for breakfast first. The night prior she asked me what biscuits and gravy are, so I ordered them so she could try a bite and she got pancakes. Then we went off to find the World Park and when we got off on the right subway station, I wasn’t sure she brought us to the right place. The subway’s sidewalk and surrounding area was under construction and looked like it was being torn to pieces, although the buildings themselves were really nice. The smog/fog didn’t help much at all, though, she kept saying how it reminded her of a horror film. But we started walking, and luckily we weren’t murdered or kidnapped. We finally spotted the towers to the entrance of the World Park through the haze and were very relieved Pippa hadn’t gotten us horribly lost. We had a lot of fun going through the World Park and disregarding the “No Admittance” and “Do Not Climb” signs. There weren’t many people around, so sometimes it felt like we were the only visitors to the park, but that just made it easier to duck under the ropes and pose with the attractions. I even went inside the Vatican and felt like a giant. Although, we couldn’t get inside Manhattan, so Pippa couldn’t recreate King Kong… After we went through the various countries, although Pippa was infuriated by the Big Ben replica and because of our horror, we missed America and had to go back, we finally sat down on the subway and were headed back to the hostel. It was a lot of walking, that’s for sure. Back at the hostel, we ordered pizza and ended up talking to a Welsh couple the whole night. Scott was really excited he got to borrow my computer to watch the rugby match live on streaming. By that point, I had already decided it was too late to go back to Langfang, so I stayed in the hostel another night.

Sunday, one of the girls staying in the same dorm as I put on her light at 7am and it lit up the whole room, so instead of trying to go back to sleep, I just got dressed and went back to Langfang. Pippa, Scott, and Kayleigh all went to Mutianyu, although Pippa went on a different tour than the other two, so they had gone by the time I got up. I caught one of the long buses at 8, but it was mostly empty so I put my coat on like a blanket and dozed the whole way to Langfang. When I got back, I took a (6 hour) nap before reading and getting dinner. The woman upstairs from me saw me go to get dinner around 5 (I hadn’t eaten the whole day) and she brought me some 饺子 (jiaozi) that she had made yesterday and cooked them up in my apartment. Then I read some more and went to bed at 11. I was so tired. XD

Posted in 2014 (China), Blog

04/09/14: Beijing (again?!)

When I go to Beijing, I always take the same train. Not on purpose, but because taking the train at 9am means I’m not up obscenely early and I’m not in Beijing obscenely late. There are a few trains that leave Langfang for Beijing around nine, but I always seem to end up on the same one.

A trip to Beijing goes like this:
6:15 : Warning alarm goes off
6:45 : Get up alarm goes off
7:00 : Warning alarm goes off
7:15 : Leave alarm goes off
7:25 : Catch bus 21 (at the beginning of the route)
8:15 : Arrive at the Langfang bus station (at the end of the route)
8:30 : Arrive at the Langfang Railway Station
8:40 : Train starts boarding
8:59 : Train disembarks
9:20 : Arrive at Beijing South Railway Station

From the railway station, I usually take the subway to Nanluoguxiang Hutong because it’s a nice place and there’s food. (It’s all about the food.) I tend to get a little lost wandering around the winding streets of the Hutong, but it’s a fun kind of lost. I invariably find a park or a river or something pretty cool that doesn’t have many foreigners while I get unlost. Today, I got a tuna croissant sandwich with some jasmine tea at a cafe that looked like it was decorated by a retired cat lady but was staffed by guys not much older than me. They didn’t really speak English, but they were really nice.

I wandered through the Hutong on the way back to the subway station, picking up gift ideas and a few gifts themselves. (Plus one for me. Oops.) At the subway, I went to Tian’anmen Square, which took a while since I had to transfer lines. At one of the transfers, I had to go up about 4 lights of stairs to go down 2. Some of the station layouts are questionable at best. Last time I went to Tian’anmen, I went with my student and we didn’t actually go in. This time I magically picked the right exit (when there are four to choose from, it’s easy to go wrong) and ended up right across the street. Two women talked to me as I was leaving the subway, but I always say I’m meeting a friend just in case. One of them asked me where I was going as we were exiting and, even though she walked ahead of me and went considerably faster, she was still nice enough to shout “No, this way!” Across the street from the square on one side is the National Museum of China, on another is the Forbidden City, and on another is some sort of police building. In the middle is the Monument to the People’s Heroes, which was under some green construction fencing (of course), and behind that is the Chairman Mao Memorial Hall (which was closed). I got pictures of them before asking a young Chinese couple to take my picture after I heard them speaking a English.

After the Square itself, I wanted to go into the Forbidden City’s outer gate, so I followed the Chinese through an underground walkway that led straight to the gate. I decided against more exploration (I had a flight to catch) and sat under some trees in the City. I was doing the same as the Chinese and attracted a lot of attention that way! Some people talked to me as I people watched and I even saw some (presumably) monks eating popsicles under their umbrellas. When I tried to leave through the gate I entered, a guard told me it was one-way and gave me some (not so great) directions. After wandering around a bit, trying to explain that I didn’t want to go inside, I finally made me way out by walking allllll the way around the Forbidden City. I made it to the subway after what seemed like ages (I was carrying my giant backpack) and made it to the next item on my “itinerary”.

Apparently, Guomao station opens up into the China World Trade Center, which looked like a giant mall to me. I was looking for a shop in the nearby SOHO, though, so I had to stop for directions a few times. Of course, I passed a closer subway station on the way, which was annoying. I finally found the tattoo shop and had to wait a bit to get my lip pierced, but then I was on my way to the airport! (I took the closer station that time.)

Taking the subway wasn’t too bad except I wasn’t sure which terminal to exit at, so I got off at terminal 3, which was the right one! I later found out that the other two terminals were kind of far away! Unfortunately, finding my check-in desk wasn’t nearly as easy. I asked desk D where to go, she said H, who said B, who told me H. I finally saw a check-in counter list (after getting pretty annoyed at the lack of signage in Beijing) and went to H02, where I checked in no problem. After checking in, I got my favorite mango sorbet at Hagen Daaz and then paid 8元 for a can of Coke (I can get a bottle in Beijing for 5元!) so I could sit with WiFi. Once through security, I talked to a guy on the train from NY. It was nice to talk to someone in American English, let me tell you. As I was walking to the gate, I realized I left my camera strapped to the outside of my (checked) backpack! When someone was finally at the counter, I was told that the luggage had been planed and there was nothing to do about it, so we took a bus to the plane and I saw that the (only other) foreigner was just across the aisle from me.

Even though we were delayed on the ramp for 1/2 hour, we still landed right on time. This time, I talked to the other foreigner from the airport. She and I went to baggage claim together and ended up getting to the (right) section just as my bag went by. I checked my camera immediately and… STILL GOOD! AW YEH. The woman and I parted ways and I went to get an Octopus Card (like the Oyster of London or he YiKaTong of Beijing, it’s a travel card you store money on and can beep through buses and subways without buying a ticket every time).

When I got off the subway near the hostel, I was surprised at how many people and lights there were, even though it was nearly midnight! I got a little lost because I couldn’t find the stinking signs, but I asked some girls about my age for help and one of them walked me there! I went up and checked in, but they didn’t accept RMB or credit cards, so I had to give the guy RMB until I could exchange some to HKD. Since I got in so late, he led me to a private room, even though I only paid for a dorm! I set up the wifi, went to socialize, took a shower to wash off some of the sunburn, and finally, finally, finally went to bed!

Posted in 2014 (China), Blog

26/07/14: To Beijing and Beyond!

What a tiring day. I started off at 7am so I could catch the bus to take the train. As a person who abhors mornings, I made sure everything was ready to go the night before: tea made, reminders taped to the door, backpack ready to be grabbed. Of course, I forgot to eat my breakfast yogurt. Such is life.

Earlier in the week, I met my student, Dave, at the train station to get our tickets. The entire trip was his plan, since I only mentioned I wanted to go to Beijing but didn’t know how. The train station itself reminded me a lot of an airport, complete with entrance security and a boarding/arriving display. As with many things in China, I was surprised at how big the train station was. Dave told me the one in Beijing was even bigger!

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I stood in one spot and took a picture going one way…
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…then I turned and too it going the other way. The station is HUGE.

Once we got to Beijing (after hitting 305 kph or 190 mph in the train), we met Dave’s friend and then smushed ourselves onto the subway. Our first stop was the Nanluoguxiang Hutong where we saw many foreigner families. Dave kept saying I should go say hi to them, but if they’ve only been in Beijing, they wouldn’t understand my lack of foreigners after 2 months in Langfang.

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At the end of the hutong, a bit past where the tourists to go, we went to a cat café. I’m disappointed that these aren’t popular in the US (yet) and that there isn’t one in Langfang. If there was one in Langfang with WiFi, that’s where I’d be most of the time. Especially if they had high-quality tea.

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After the cat café, we took the subway to Tiananmen Square, but to leave the sidewalk we had to go through another security point. The Chinese aren’t very good at waiting in nice, neat lines. Instead, they push and crowd and I often end up waiting longer because I’m trying to be polite.

We decided to go to a park near the Forbidden City instead of crossing the street to Tian’anmen Square. It was too hot to be on that giant slab of exposed concrete.

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A gate to the summer palace and the location of one of Chairman Mao’s speeches.
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Tiananmen Square and the Monument of the People’s Heroes. We didn’t actually go to Tiananmen Square, it was across the street and very, very hot. (91F, 33C)
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Beyond the gate, we needed tickets, but the boys decided it was too hot (it totally was) and we were all getting tired and hungry. It seems like no matter where we go, there’s always construction.
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Instead we went into a park and saw a house and read the sign in English, looking for errors. (There were only 3 or 4, which is pretty good for two paragraphs of text.)
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I was making jokes about the slab of dirt, but it turned out to be pretty cool. There were five kinds of dirt in the square thing, four on the ground and a rock in the middle.
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Each of the walls behind the section of dirt was the same color as the dirt, as you can see with the red dirt and yellow dirt. The blue dirt and the black dirt were a lot harder to tell apart.

After the park, we tried to get lunch, but it was too late and a lot of restaurants were closed. We ended up at a pizza buffet that was lacking in pizza, but we could get individual pizzas. After we finished eating, we rested a bit, although the boys just played with what was left of their food.

We weren’t sure what to do after that, so I suggested a bookstore. First, we tried the National Library, which was closed, but we did make it to the Beijing Books Building.

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Beijing’s Books Building! Four floors and a basement of books books books! I ended up getting Harry Potter 1 & 3 (since I already have 2 & 4), and those books and post cards were the only things the boys would let me pay for.
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After the books building, it was time to take the subway to the railway station, so I took a picture of the smushing that happens in the subways.

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Taking the high speed trains reminds me so much of taking a plane. The seats are set up like planes, there’s luggage compartments like planes, you have to go through security.

Finally back in Langfang, I caught the last bus back to my apartment where the yeye who works in the canteen greeted me by giving me a peach. He’s a peach, but I’m not sure how I’d convey that to him. Finally, at 9:30, I was in bed with my electronics charging.