“Hey Lady, you need wallet – gucchi”

Okay, so today I went to the Great Wall – which was awesome. It was beautiful out – finally a cool day. We road lifts up (like ski lifts) to the wall and hiked as much of the wall as we could in the amount of time that we had (we almost made it to the top, but had to turn back to be on the bus, but I say we WOULD have made it!). It sure felt good to be in shape for that one (thank you boot camp, zumba, walking, and tennis!). We slid down from the wall to the bottom where the bus was (it was an alpine slide!). I drove my slide like a grandma and had about 15 people backed up behind me. The signs kept saying “slow down” and the guides along the way kept shouting “faster”. I erred on the side of signage. After the Great Wall we had our last Chinese meal – a farmers meal at a really cool restaurant in the village (I have to give our Beijing tour guide, Jack, props for the meals he has arranged – they have been less touristy). Everything tasted fresh and delicious. My stomach is almost back to normal (about 80%).

After lunch we went to a shopping village where they sell all kinds of knock offs and junk. It was the funniest thing I have ever experienced. The building was 7 stories high and each floor specialized in selling a few things (like luggage or clothes or souvenirs). Booths were crammed together with narrow walkways (like a flea market). The vendors all stood outside their booths and you had to walk the gauntlet… “Hey Lady, you need wallet – gucchi” “Hey Lady, you need scarf””Hey Lady, you need nice shirt” We were dying laughing – twenty Chinese vendors all yelling “Hey Lady” to us at once and then we would turn the corner and go through it all again. I couldn’t stop thinking of Jerry Lewis. They also started out trying to charge you $100 for everything (I had to buy a duffle bag – $100 was the quote and then you have to talk them down – I paid $20 which was still probably way too much). When you walk away is when they give in. It was funny and fun, but after awhile you get sick of haggling over everything.

Tonight me and Gari, Jessica, Mary, and Brian went and got foot massages (he says he knows they were saying in Chinese something about the four women and the gay man – which he is not). After that we ate at Outback by our hotel and then hit the local streets. What a blast (I’ve been too sick or tired to do that the other nights). We ate scorpions on a stick (which started out live!) and haggled over t-shirts. Now I am going to pack and go to bed because tomorrow I start my long flight home. This has been the trip of a lifetime. I cannot believe all the amazing things that I have gotten to do. I have tried to be as adventurous as possible and not turn down any opportunities to taste, touch, feel, explore, etc… I crawled through an infiltration tunnel in the DMZ, experienced the life of a Buddhist for a day, visit schools, met the Ambassador to Korea and had cocktails in her garden, participated in the fever that swept Seoul in their knockout game vs. Uruguay in the World Cup, visit an old and dear friend, stretched silk fibers into a sheet, practiced calligraphy with an 89 year old master – who during the Cultural Revolution was sent to a farm to cut grass, visit the World Expo, explored the grounds of the Terracotta Warriors, walked in Tiananmen Square (which Jack said is a symbol of China to the rest of the world, but not for the reason he thinks), stood where Emperors have stood, climbed the Great Wall, and climbed countless steps to ancient temples and historic sites. I have eaten everything that can be fermented imaginable, fish, chicken, lamb, beef, scorpions, dried squid, raw octopus, noodles, rice, Mongolian hot pot, Korean BBQ, bibimbap – you name it. I have made awesome friends – Gari, Wendy, Kay, Cindy, Su, Dr. Clark, Franke, Mary, Jessica. We all pushed each other to try more and more and keep it interesting – who can get the most outrageous picture. Gari, Jessica, Mary and I volunteered to try everything and I am grateful for hanging around with such a fun group.  I know I have left a lot out and will be reminded when I see the pictures. Thanks to all of you who read my blog – it really keeps it fresh and real to write about it daily – and your comments have kept me going. See you all in a couple days!

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Reflections on China

It is still a little early to do my wrap up (we are going to the Great Wall tomorrow), but I have a feeling I will be busy tomorrow evening. I never really got to do my wrap up for Korea because of the whole Facebook thing and trying to set this up on WordPress (which is really hard to upload pictures to!). However, I digress.

First, let me say these are only MY observations and are not cold hard facts. China has been a little hard to get a read on because of all the touristy stuff we have done. My impressions of the tourist areas are that there is a lot of poverty and begging – I think you find that near any touristy interest in the world – beggars know where to go to get foreign money. Tonight was the first night that we didn’t eat at a “tourist” restaurant (except when I ate with Ying). The first thing we all noticed was that the wait staff was extremely friendly and excited to share their restaurant with us (Mongolian BBQ – which my stomach tolerated very well as it has been on the mend). All the tourist places we have gone the workers seem unhappy, but they probably deal with pushy tourists all the time. The other thing we did today that wasn’t touristy was visit an arts district in Beijing. We shopped and visited with local artists, who were very friendly and didn’t try to force us to buy their wares.

I talked to our tour guide, Jack (who won’t tell me his Chinese name) today about contemporary issues. He is very proper and always starts his warnings to us out like this, “I don’t want to cast a bad light on China, but….” He warned us today at the Summer Palace about buying things because the vendors gave counterfeit bills as change (he didn’t want us to call him over and ask if they were legitimate or not because he said they might beat him up for warning us!). He and I talked about the growing middle class and the influx of migrant workers into the cities and how they are consuming space and energy and resources. The United States is very unique compared to the rest of the world because of our city designs. The popularity and affordability of the automobile coupled with the interstate highway system and construction of freeways caused the American middle class to move out of the cities into the suburbs. In the rest of the world the middle class and wealthy class live in the cities and the poor people live on the fringes. I have seen some magnificent apartment buildings here. Actually, to compare the cities in China to the United States is not possible (unless you are talking about New York City or maybe Chicago). The amount of people these cities house and feed and move around is astounding.

Overall, the cities I have visited have been clean (at least the major thoroughfares – alleys may be a different story). The air quality in China is not what I expected. It has actually been pretty good. There is more Soviet style buildings in Beijing than in Shanghai (which has a real European flare to it). All of the cities use roundabouts to move traffic around (it is kind of scary because everyone is wanting to go a different direction). Most of the newer thoroughfares have separate lanes for buses, cars, and bicycles. The older roads just don’t have the room and that is where you see bikes and mopeds and cars and buses all vying for the same space.

One thing I have been particularly interested in on this trip is surface textures. To look at any major modern city you could take the signs off of all the buildings and roadways and replace them with signs from a different city somewhere else in the world and not tell a difference. Curbs, lamp posts, gutters, sidewalks, road construction, highways, freeways, office buildings all look the same. City planners all must attend the same universities and conferences!

I was particularly impressed with how well traffic moved in Seoul. It was congested, but they do an awesome job of moving ten million people around that city everyday (wide lanes, excellent subway system, buses). Better than New York City or Beijing. I do think a lot of that has to do with the relative newness of Seoul (totally rebuilt post Korean War in 1953). It is much easier for city planners to plan infrastructure when you have blank space to work with. New York City and Beijing and Suzhou and Shanghai are old cities where things have to be demolished to try and keep up with the times.

Okay, I have to go to bed because I will just keep getting off topic. More reflections tomorrow.

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“You’re in Peking!”

When we got to Beijing they made us change roommates (Mary and I were very sad because we had roomed together all through Korea and most of China). I ran mine through the ringer the first night. She said I sat up in the night and screamed “Where am I!?” and she said she screamed back at me, “You’re in Peking!!” She finally did have to calm me down and tell me that I was on a trip in a hotel in Beijing. She had to take the next morning off from our itinerary because she had a headache and didn’t sleep well – oops.

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Every Party Has A Pooper…

And that pooper would be me! I finally got sick 😦 Yesterday I woke up with a bad stomach. I spent most of the day sleeping with a low grade fever and stomach cramps. We had to be on the bus at 7:30am to go to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City – which I was not going to miss! I soldiered on and got on the bus. I did okay at Tiananmen Square, but by the time we started going through the Forbidden City my stomach really started cramping and all I could think about was the squat toilets and how awful that experience was going to be. We have one lady in our group who cannot handle the heat (it was 102 degrees yesterday) and two of our group leaders hung back with her to walk her through the shade – so I hung with them. I was bummed because the gardens in the Forbidden City are phenomenal – but my pounding head and cramping stomach were very distracting. Besides the gardens in Suzhou, it is the most beautiful thing I have seen on this trip. When we got done with the Forbidden City I decided that I was really sick and took a cab back to the hotel (along with heatstroke chick). I slept the entire afternoon, got up bought some crackers and a popsicle, then went back to bed and slept through the whole night. I am sad that I missed getting to ride in a pedicab yesterday and I missed Peking Duck for dinner. I feel better today and am ready to go!

Outside the Forbidden City was very sad. There are tons of beggars – some of them are quite persistent. Our guide was trying to give us the history of the place and we were all gathered around trying to hear him. Groups of men and women selling water, postcards,  hats (or “hatters” as they keep calling them), parasols, and fans started gathering around us and closing in. Then all these men just started closing in too (Gari and I made a Blair Witch-esque video about this). We were really ready to move on, but our guide just kept talking and talking. The men kept bumping into everyone and finally our guide screamed at them in Chinese and they backed off a little bit. Inside the City it was fine, but on the other side – more beggars. It is getting tiring everywhere we walk being attacked by people selling junk. You are supposed to say boo yeow to them so that they will go away (which they don’t). The other day at the Temple of Heaven Mary, Gari, and I couldn’t remember what to say and we kept saying bibbity boo, boo, shamalamadingdong, bibbity boppity boop. We were laughing so hard, but the vendors just stuck right with us (postacards? hatter? handamadu). Yesterday, during my brief awakeness, I went out onto the streets to find a store with crackers (should have just looked in the hotel, because that is where I found them) and I ran into Gari and Jessica who convinced me to go down a side alley with them to look at junk and scorpions on a stick. The vendors are so persistent they make me irritable – they grab you and won’t give up. I finally told Gari I was going back. It really is sad how hard they beg you for something that really only would cost you .25 cents to .50 cents in American dollars. There is so much poverty here.

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Happy Fourth of July!!!

The fourth of July here was very uneventful. We went to the Temple of Heaven and ran into a couple other Americans and wished them a happy Independence Day, but other than that it went unnoticed (although I commented that the Buddhists burning incense today  looked like they had sparklers!).

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I Can’t Handle Another Temple or Gift Shop!!

What Are You Lookin At?

One thing that most of the teachers on the China trip have been disappointed about is that most of us teach about contemporary China and we have visited tons of temples – Buddhist Temples, Muslim Mosque (which looked just like all the Buddhist temples), Temple of Heaven, Llama Temple, and Confucius Temple. After awhile they all just seem to blend together. Also, to me it isn’t reflective of today’s Chinese culture at all. Ninety percent of the population are atheists so religion plays no part in their daily lives. You see this when you visit the temples. They all seem very touristy and the people irreverent (the temples in Korea seemed different).

Another thing that most of us have been disappointed by is that we really feel like tourists being herded through everything. We have no down time, no time to really experience anything or participate. Every national treasure that we have seen (Silk Museum, Terracotta Warriors, Temples, Beijing Opera) has a distinct theme. We eat at the Chinese equivalent of Golden Corral (with all the other tour buses), we rush through whatever it is that we are supposed to be seeing, and then we are herded into a gift shop for more time than we spent learning and viewing the historical place. We are constantly on the move. Also, because we are doing such touristy things, we are not really seeing contemporary China. We have witnessed lots of street begging, vendors that are really pushy, and a lot of junk. Today we went to the Temple of Heaven and spent way too much time listening to the tour guide talk and all we wanted to do was roam around and look at all the people. It was an amazing place because all these retired people hang out and play cards, dominoes, Chinese chess, line dance, ballroom dance, or practice Tai Chi. Mary, Gari, and I jumped into a Chinese line dance (I called it Chinese Zumba) and we ballroom danced with a little old man. It was fun, but we did not get to spend enough time there. Yesterday we spent as much time in Xian at the government sanctioned Terracotta Warrior replica making plant (complete with gigantic gift shop) as we did looking at the site where the Terracotta Warriors are housed.

Our Ballroom Dance Partner

Men Playing Chinese Chess

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Please Stop Butchering the English Language

Trash can for recycling, should read "organic"

Vitamin Functional Drink! I wonder if it gives you wings?

Don't worry, I didn't burn any film in the temple

I read a book a couple of years ago called “Confucius Lives Next Door” written by a man who moved his family from the United States to Japan for business reasons. The book tries to explain cultural differences between East and West. He has a hilarious chapter about the popularity of English words in Asian countries – whether they make sense or not! I have been trying to document t-shirts and signs that don’t quite get it right while I have been in Korea and China (the butchering of the language seems to be more prevalent in China). Today at one of the temples, I found a few funny ones: a trash can for “recycled” and one for “organism”, a sign warning you not to “burn incense or film in the temple”. I have many pictures of some of the funny stuff. I will post them.

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