Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Day Seven (8/1/07)

We were dropped off at our hotel last night at 10:30 and told that we would be leaving at 6:30 in the morning to ctch our next flight. We were also told that we needed to have our luggage out by midnight to be checked in. Even though I did not say in the hotel for very long, it was by far the nices hotel I have ever stayed in. Up above you will see a picture of the nicest shower/bathtub combination I have ever seen.

We actually made the flight on time (and believe it or not the flight took off on time) and now we are headed to Hangzhou. Stepping off of the plane I can explain Hangzhou in one word: HOT. The temperature today hit 104 degrees which caused us to change our schedule around a little bit. We started off by going to the Pagoda Of Six Harmonies. This pagoda is a beautiful lighthouse that has an amazing grden surrounding it.

After the pagoda. we took an amazing boat cruise. We were able to ride around the lake and then afterwards walk around the garden. This was magnificent, exceot for the fact that we were walking for more than an hour in 104 degree heat. I have never sweated so much in my life.

Here are some of my observations and notes from today:
1. Bartends in Hangzhou are not real intelligent people. It took us 30 minutes for one bar to get our tabs straight tonight. They were charging us for things that we didn't even buy.

2. On some Chinese flights they play games. Halfway through our flight today the stewardess gave us each a card where we had to scatch off two squares. If the squares matched you won 100 yuan (about $13). I've never experienced anything lke this before.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Day Six (7/31/07)

Today was a day of complete opposites. We began the day still stranded in Beijing, but we all received a call at 5:00 in the morning telling us to meet in the lobby at 7:30 a.m. to go to the airport. When we all assembled in the lobby at 7:30, we were told that we were bumped off the flight which normally wouldn't be so bad except for the fact that we all turned in our room keys and thus couldn't go back to bed. So we basically waited in the lobby until noon when we got lunch and then boarded the bus to the airport at 1:00. When we arrived at the airport I was amazed. I have never seen anything as crowded as the airport when we got there. It looked like a refugee camp.

Our plane was scheduled to depart at 2:30, but we didn't take off until 4:30. We were all tired, disappointed, and upset when we landed in Xi'an, but our mood soon changed. We made it very clear that we wanted to see the Terra Cota warriors in Xi'an and the tour company paid $3000 for us to have the whole museum to ourselves. We headed straight from the plane to the Terra Cota museum and I was completely and absolutely blown away. I am sure having the museum to ourselves played a role in this, but I was mesmerized by how much time and effort was put in to make each warrior different than the other. At one point I sat down outside all by myself and just soaked in all the history. I have to say that this has been m favorite thing in China so far.

I guess it is time for me to give my observations:
1. The Beijing airport is not even close to being ready for the Olympics next year. The terminals are overcrowded, the lines are huge, and in some cases (like mine) you have to board an unairconditioned bus and drive 10 minutes to board the plane.
2. Social status and money are everything in China. Some of you may be asking why our flight was cancelled this morning, well it was because a man bribed the airline officials and he had more social clout than us. Also think for a moment that for $3000 we bribed our way into the 8th wonder of the world to get a personal tour.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Day Five (7/30/07)

Today didn't quite happen the way it was supposed to, but more about that later. Today we began our morning by taking a rickshaw ride through a hutong. You can actually see a picture of my grandmother and myself in the rickshaw up above. For those that don't know what a hutong is think of a maze of alleys that contains houses. The hutongs are really so small that only one car can go through at a time and if you want to actually go into Beijing you need to either walk or ride your bike. Our rickshaw stopped at a hutong where we were able to visit a local family. That was actually very interesting because it showed us the small confining spaces that many families lived in. Just imagine 10-15 people living in a space that is only as big as a classroom. Those people were considered the lucky ones. It really makes you appreciate what you have.

We next got back into the rickshaw and went to visit an old folks home where we had the opportunity to see their livign facilities. It is much different than what we are accustomed to in the states. They all live in little apartments right next to each other and they share three kitchens. The most amazing thing is that the government pays for all of it.

Lunch was incredible again and later we went to a local art shop where we took a class. We could choose between either making a rice doll or making a papr butterfly. I choose to do the paper butterfly and it came out a whole lot better than I thought it would. They even gave me a nice little frame to put it in.

We next drove to the airport and arrived at 3:45 for our 5:00 flight. There was a big rainstorm when we arrived and our plane never took off. After that it was a madhouse and a blur with people yelling at the airline people behind the desk and me and some others in the group drinking beers while waiting. Our director finally decided to call it quits a little after midnight.

I am so tied right now that I am going to make my observations short:

1. If you push an airline official you are arrested. People were irrate and yelling at the airline workers, but never touched one. I wondered why and it was finally explained to me.
2. Chinese serve their beer warm which is disgusting.
3. I am sick of the Beijing airport.

Day Four (7/29/07)

Today yours truly saw and climbed one of the 7 Wonders Of The World, and even have a certificate showing that I climbed the Great Wall. Before I get into my Great Wall adventure, let me go through my day.

We began the day by taking a tour of a jade factory. We were shown how the statues and jewelry were made and then given time to shop.

After the jade factory we visited the Ming tombs. Thirteen of the sixteen Ming emperors are buried here and we were lucky enough to see an exhibit of some items that were buried with one of the emperors. I will have to say that I was a little disappointed by the Ming tombs because I was expecting more than what was actually there.

Our next stop was the cloisonne factory and lunch. We saw how they made the cloisonne jewelry and vases. After the factory tour was lunch which again was delicious and it gave me a chance to try some fire water. Fire water is 120 proof alcohol and packs quite a punch (I was able to sweet talk the restaurant into let me take home an unopened bottle). It probably wasn't a good idea to take a shot of this before climbing the Great Wall though.

We then made the trip to the Badaling part of the Great Wall. It was actually very crowded which you can see by the pictures below. When we got there our tour guide told us that there were two different ways we could take on the wall: the easy way or the difficult part (which gave a better view). Those who know me can already guess that I did the tough part of the wall. Much of the climb was extremely steep and I had to stop 4 times to catch my breath. My original goal was to make it to the fourth tower, but I only made it to the second (which was about a mile and a half walk). I was amazed at all the people selling stuff on the wall and I finally caved in and bought two things. I bought a certificate with my picture on it showing I climbed the Great Wall and I bought a hand engraved picture of the Great Wall. I was not let down at all by the Great Wall and it is an experience I will never forget.

Tonight I also attended the Peking Opera. I went into the performance kind of leery, but I was actually entertained the entire time. The costumes were very colorful and there were a lot of gymnastics going on. I also had no idea that Jacki Chan got his start in the Peking Opera. They also had a video board on either side of the stage that translated what they were saying into English. It was funny because before the performance out tour guide said that people either loved or hated the Peking Opera and after talking to people afterwards she was right.

Here are some of my observations from today:
1. Chinese people do not eat desserts. In America it is customary to have desserts after a meal, but in China they substitute tea and fruit for dessert. Believe it or not China does not even have fortune cookies and no one is sure how the fortune cookies in America came about.

2. After eating all of this authentic Chinese food, I can never go back to the Americanized version. Very big difference.

Tomorrow I am boarding a plane and flying to Xi'an for a few days.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Day 3 (7/28/07)

I can honestly say that I did so much today, that I will have trouble remembering it all. Today along with the descriptions I will have some photos of the places. I took over 100 pictures today, so I promise to be selective.

The first place we visited today was Tian'anmen Square. What an absolutely huge place. You will notice the monument next to this entry also and this statue is for the people who gave up their lives for China. What was interesting is that you could not get next to it (vandals spray painted graffiti on it a few years back causing this), but they do have school children around the statue explaining its history. It is required for all school children in Beijing to do this once as a part of their education.

After Tian'anmen Square we visited the Forbidden City. This is where many of the emperors lived and did their work. The history of this place and buildings blew me away. The one story that really fascinated me was how one emperor was so paranoid that people were digging underground to pop up in the Imperial Palace to kill him that he ordered 15 layers of stone be layed to prevent this from happening. The pictures show many of the gorgeous buildings.

Our next stop after the Forbidden City was to the zoo to see the giant pandas. I had absolutely no idea they were so big. The Chinese seem to have a real fascination with them.

Our last stop today was at the Summer Palace. This is an absolutely gorgeous place. It at one time was the home of the Dragon Queen and it has the world longest corridor. It also has a marble ship that the Dragon Queen used to use. I was an absolutely incredible ship that you can see in one of the pictures below.

For supper tonight we were treated to Peking duck. This could be one of the best meals I have ever had. I ate duck beak, sweet and sour shrimp, tofu, spicy radishes, duck (with bamboo shoots, mushrooms, and broccoli), Peking duck (which was incredible), and believe it or not my favorite which was bone of duck soup. The restaurant had 6 floors and there was still a line to get a table. The pictures below show the restaurant and the chef cutting the duck.

Well here are my observations for today.
1. The street vendors in China are terrible. As soon as we got off the bus we were bombarded by them. hey were quite aggressive and many times would not take no for an answer.
2. People in China for some reason are fascinated by Americans. I saw numerous times where someone in our tour group was asked to stop and take their picture with someone. I later found out this was because many people have never seen an American before.

Tomorrow is the Great Wall and I am very excited about this.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Day Two (7/27/07)

Finally the plane has landed and I got my first taste of China. The hotel we are staying at is magnificent. The pictures you see are the view from my hotel room. The biggest shock for me so far has been coming out of customs with my luggage and seeing all the people. I thought about how to describe it and I can only say I now know what it was like for the Beatles when they stepped off the plane for the first time in America. There were metal gates, armed guards, and people just yelling names and holding up signs. Tonight we checked into the hotel and I was completely amazed when I turned on the television and saw a Kansas City Royals game. I am a big Royals fan and was blown away by this fact.

Here are some of my impressions from my first day in China:
1. I feel like a giant. I am only 5'8" on a good day, but everything here is my size. The height of the doors are much smaller and if I stand in my toes I can just about touch the ceiling.

2. Beijing is very Americanized. As we were driving to the hotel I noticed that all of the signs were in Chinese, but they were also in English below that. All of the building were the same way with Chinese names and the English names underneath.

3. Beijing traffic is terrible. I have never seen so much traffic in my life. I just don't mean cars either, I am also talking bicycles, bus riders, and walkers. It is just crazy.

Well tomorrow the tour actually begins, so I better get some sleep and get rid of some jet lag.

Day One (7/26/07)

Well the journey has begun. Before actually arriving in Beijing, I get a mini tour of the airpors in America. I fly from St. Louis to Denver to San Francisco and then finally arrive in Beijing. My day bgan with a 3 a.m. wake up call and arriving at the St. Louis airport by 4:00 a.m. for my 6:30 a.m. flight. I have been anticipating this for nearly a full yearand I think I am even more anxious now. Day one is actually ending the same way as it started, on an airplane heading to Beijing. Who knew that an 11 hour flight could be so boring (just joking). They are tying to help us pass the time by showing us four movies: The Astronaut Farmer, Premonition, In The Land Of Women, and Blades Of Glory. There is also a little girl sitting next to me keeping me entertained, so I guess it could be worse.