LongShen and Yangshuo

I must apologize for the delay in posting. For the last couple of days in China, I did not have internet access and thus, it was impossible to post anything. When I got home, things got a little crazy and with the holidays upon us, well, I forgot to post my latest blog. So, here it is, two weeks late, my final blog about my trip:

After a very stressful flight, I made it to Guilin and eventually up to Long Sheng. We only stayed one night in Guilin but I could have stayed a couple more days. Not only was the weather amazing – 65 degrees in December – the city was just fun. There were little shops everywhere, every type of restaurant you could imagine, a cute little park, a river running through the city (clean enough that you could swim in it, a rare sight in China) and the people were incredibly nice. I really wish we could have stayed longer. The next day; however, we took a bus up (and hiked up) to the mountains to spend a couple of days in Long Sheng. The hike was difficult; although, I don’t think it would have been as bad had I not been carrying twenty extra pounds of luggage. I suppose that is my own fault though,  for being too stubborn to let anyone help me or pay one of the locals to carry it. Needless to say, when I got to our hotel, I collapsed. I think that has to be one of the hardest hikes I have been on but in my defense, it was all stairs.

Long Sheng is a mountain village of sorts. There are about ten different ethnic minorities that live in these mountains, all with their own dress and customs. I am not sure what group we were living with but they made beautiful clothes, scarves and purses. They also had their own style of dress that I have never seen before. The ladies all wore head dresses that dictated their marital status and whether or not they had children. They were all very nice despite constantly trying to sell us things. The only attraction in Long Sheng, other than the diverse culture, was the Dragon’s Backbone Rice Terraces. The rice terraces span across about 16,310 acres and run from the valley, which is about 900ft above sea level, to the mountains, which is about 4000ft above sea level.  It is said that in this part of the country, where there is soil, there is a terrace. As beautiful as this place was, I have to say that there was not a lot to do. You could hike around and/or talk to the locals but that was about it. I hiked around for a few hours but the all the hiking, like the hike up, consisted of stairs. After being in China for this long, I think I  have developed a slight aversion to stairs. I am almost dreading coming home for the mere fact that my apartment is on the second story. Please, no more stairs! I might have to install an escalator…

Our next stop and probably my favorite place to visit was Yangshuo. This had to be the most relaxing part of the entire two week trip. We went river drifting, shopped, ate good food, and basically just relaxed. Yangshuo seemed to be the place to go for international travelers. There were restaurants and people from every corner of the globe.  I met people from Australia, Great Brittan, USA, and Eastern Europe. The bakery next door to our hotel was owned by a woman from Belgium who came to Yangshuo, fell in love with the place, stayed and opened up a bakery.  It was a cultural melting pot. I am glad this was the last city of the two week study trip.

Back to Beijing I go, where the weather is 14 degrees Fahrenheit. Luckily, I will only be there for a couple days before it is time to go home.

Until next time,

Ashley

Chengdu

12/6

Made it to Chengdu! Chengdu is the home of pandas and spicy food. I got a lesson in just how spicy it was my first night there. We went to a hot pot restaurant which was apparently famous for its food. The food was absolutely delicious (although having a giant fish head looking at you from the hot pot you were putting your food in was a little off putting at first). I, however, was at the non-spicy table. Knowing that I was in the cradle of the spicy food, I figured I would be ridiculed by friends and family for not at least trying the spicy food, so I did. I cannot even describe the level of fire that lit my mouth on the first bite. Within seconds, my tongue went numb, my lips were burning and my eyes were starting to tear up. Don’t get me wrong, there was flavor to the spice but I was so overwhelmed by the heat that it was hard to find enjoyment in eating it. One look at the people who were sitting at the spicy table would warn anyone away. They were sweating profusely. Their faces were apple red with heat. Their noses were running and their eyes were watering. At one point, some peoples’ lips started to bleed. Why someone would put themselves through that, I don’t know. What I found to be the most interesting experience of the night was watching the locals eat the same food we were eating. They were shoveling it in as if there was no spice at all. I would not be surprise if their dishes were even spicier than ours. Who knows if they even have taste buds left.  I don’t know how they do it.

The rest of our time in Chengdu was spent at two locations: the Leshan Giant Buddha and the Panda Research Base. The Leshan Giant Buddha is a sitting statue of Maitreya. You can look up pictures online for yourself but let me tell you, this statue is massive. What I found interesting was that the Buddha has a drainage system. This system is made up of hidden gutters scattered throughout the head, the arms, behind the ears and in the clothes. The point is to displace rainwater and keep the inner parts dry. Since the project was finished in 803 A.D., I assume this drainage system must work well as the Buddha seems to have been preserved really well.

Our second location, as I mentioned, was the Panda Research Base. I think this was one of the places I was most excited to visit. I mean, come on, an entire zoo-like facility filled with pandas! What is better than that? At the facility, there were both giant pandas and lesser pandas, known to us as red pandas. The red panda looks very similar to a raccoon only with different coloring. They were awfully cute. The verdict is still out as to whether red pandas or giant pandas are cuter. We got to watch the red pandas play but I got to see a giant panda walking on two legs, apparently a rare occasion. Apparently giant pandas are lazy by nature so the fact that one of them stood on two legs for us was a special treat. One thing I did not know was that pandas are very territorial. This is why most of the pandas were in separate cages. I use the term cages loosely though as they were more like small jungles in which the pandas could roam. Being as lazy as they are, I doubt they really wander the full extent of their land. One thing I know about pandas is that they are super cute! I really wanted to take one home with me but the facility told me no. I can wish though, right?

Well, that’s it for Chengdu. Next stop Guilin!

Until next time,

Ashley

Xi’an

12/1

Well I can happily say that I made it safe and sound to Xi’an. We took the bullet train on Saturday from Luoyang to Xi’an. Although I slept off and on, I did see the speedometer reach 200kmph which is roughly 124mph. Pretty fast, huh? Xi’an is an interesting place to say the least. I suppose I had a preconceived idea of what Xi’an was going to look like before I got here because I was absolutely shocked when we walked out of the train station and into a city that looked exactly like Beijing. In fact, other than the historical background of Xi’an, I call it a mini Beijing. The traffic was horrific (in fact, our bus driver hit a moped, another bus and came close to hitting a pedestrian all while trying to get us to our hotel.) Compared to Luoyang, the hotel is a lot cleaner and a lot nicer.

We didn’t do much on our first day other than wander over to the Great Mosque. It was right smack in the middle of a giant shopping center (yes, I went shopping again). It was an interesting blend of Chinese architecture and Islamic architecture. It was kind of weird to see Islamic writing on Chinese style pagodas. We did not spend a lot of time there because we had dinner reservations to get to.

Our second day in Xi’an was spent visiting the Terracotta Warriors and visiting the City Wall. The Terracotta warriors are the one thing I wanted to see above all else during my trip to China and now I have seen them. I can go home happy. The detail on the each soldier is amazing. If I didn’t know better, I could have sworn that the soldiers were real people encased in stone. No two faces have been unearthed that have been the same, there were over one hundred thousand bronze weapons found, some of which are still sharp and probably usable, and there were two bronze horse drawn carriages found. It is astounding to think that over 2,200 years ago, the Chinese people were creating such a detailed and magnificent burial site. I suppose it also shows the dedication of the people to their emperor. Much like the Egyptians made the pyramids for their fallen pharaohs  this burial site was made for the first emperor of China. Walking into the pits was like walking back in time. I am so happy that I got to see the 兵马杨 (Terracotta Warriors).

Our next stop was the City Wall. It was apparently the oldest and most intact city wall in China and one of the largest and most complete ancient military defense systems in the world. It was cool that I got to see this historical place but had I not known the history beforehand, I probably would have just said “oh look at the pretty wall that looks like every other wall in China.” Sad to say, there was really nothing spectacular about it except its history.

Now we move onto Chengdu. I am a little apprehensive about going to Chengdu as it is in the Sichuan Province; the Sichuan province is known for their spicy food, so we will see how that goes….

Until Next Time,

Ashley

Luoyang

11/30

First city of the travel trip:

Today we arrived in Luoyang, Henan after an overnight train trip from Beijing. The train ride went just fine other than our train had a tendency to stop and start suddenly making sleeping quite an interesting experience. Before I go on about my day, let me first give you a little background about Luoyang. The city was named after the river that it borders, the Luo River. It was the capital city of China for 13 dynasties and is still considered the birthplace of history and culture for China. Many emperors resided here as the mountain that sits next to the town looks like it has a dragon sitting upon the ridge. As emperors believed that they were decedents of dragons, they figured that the safest place for them to live was next to a dragon. Apparently, if you fly over the city of Luoyang, it will look like the head of a dragon. Although the capital of China has since moved to Beijing, Luoyang still remains a city of great significance and it is said that if you want to truly understand Chinese history, you have to take a trip to Luoyang.

After arriving at our hotel and having a quick breakfast, we headed off to see the White Horse Temple. This was the first Buddhist temple ever built in China. According to many historians, this temple is the birthplace of Buddhism in China. It was a relatively small temple compared to the places we have been before and thus, we did not spend a lot of time there. We were; however, encouraged to light incense.  I felt slightly nervous considering I had no clue what I was supposed to do; I did not want to anger Buddha. One other interesting note about the temple was the contrast between modern China and ancient China. Inside the gate was peaceful. It was quiet. It felt like I had stepped into another world.  Yet, right outside of the gate there was a buzzing market place.

Leaving the White Horse Temple, we made our way to the Shaolin temple. This is the very temple where the Shaolin monks come from. It is considered the birthplace of martial arts in China. We got to watch a martial art show which was amazing. There were kids who looked no older than seven who were performing the most amazing acts. Not only did they show us martial arts moves, they did ‘tricks’ for lack of a better word to show off their skills. One man broke a medal bar with his head, one man threw a dart through a piece of glass (without breaking it) and popped a balloon on the other side and finally, another man climbed upon a structure that looked as if it had a spear in the center, balanced himself upon the spear and spun. It was incredible. The entire show was incredible. These men come to the temple at a young age and train for years. We got the opportunity to watch them practice and it was amazing to hear how much work these kids put into their martial arts training.

The next day we moved on to the Longmen Grottoes. Although I do not know the significance of this place, the sheer size of this home of worship is amazing. The Grottoes is a large cliff face in which many caves have been carved out. Within each cave there are representations of Buddha. There are many different sized caves and many different sized and shaped Buddhas. It is estimated that there are over 110,000 Buddhas carved into this wall and over 2000 caves. The absolute awe that I felt when I arrived  cannot not be put into words. I would highly recommend popping on the internet and looking at some pictures for yourself. Although it will not be as awe-inspiring as it was in real life, perhaps you can get a sense of the wonderment I felt when I got to see this amazing place.

Next stop, Xi’an. Happy December everyone!

Until next time,

Ashley

 

Almost Done!

11/24

Can you believe it? I am on the home stretch! Less than twenty days left and thirteen of them will be spent traveling throughout the country. I still remember sitting in my apartment writing my first blog entry before leaving for China. It honestly does not seem like it was that long ago. Yet, when I think of it in terms of how much I have done and how much I have seen, it seems like I have been away from home forever.

I apologize as this blog will be really short. This week was spent studying for final exams and writing term papers. I have to say, I think my term papers were very interesting this semester.  My paper for International Finance was how the appreciation of the Australian dollar is positively and negatively affecting its economy. My term paper for China in the Global Economy was an analysis of the development of socialist economies and their role in the world today. My term paper for Doing Business in China was a business proposal for a new service company in China similar to Dinners Done Right. I thoroughly enjoyed researching and writing these term papers. I suppose that makes me a nerd, huh? Oh well, I can live with it.

Tuesday is my Chinese final. Cross your fingers for me! We have anywhere from seventy-five to one hundred grammar structures to know, not to mention about five hundred characters. Should be fun. Once I am done with the test, I am done. That is the last thing I have to do before I leave on my travel trip. Tuesday afternoon will be spent doing some last minute shopping and last minute packing. I cannot begin to express how excited I am to be done with school and to have the opportunity to travel around China. Hopefully I will have internet but according to my Chinese teacher, we are not guaranteed internet nor heat at any of the places we are visiting. If I do not get to update during my trip, I promise to write an exhaustive account of all of my travels once I get home.

Until next time,

Ashley

Food!

11/19

The theme of this last week was food. Last Wednesday was my last day of my Doing Business in China class and my generous teacher brought pizza and juice for everyone as a way to celebrate. How awesome is that? It was Papa John’s pizza that tasted just like the pizza back home. I have to say, it made me feel pretty nostalgic. Given that I have less than a month left, I suppose I have a right to be though.  Can you believe it!?! In one week I will be on a train bound for Luoyang. It is going to be a crazy schedule for the following two weeks after that. Below, I have provided a copy of our itinerary for your enjoyment. You can see for yourself how crazy it will be:

Nov. 28:  Beijing—Luoyang 

Taking an overnight train to Luoyang   

Nov. 29:  Luoyang 

Arriving in Luoyang in the morning and taking a bus to Shaolin Temple

Nov. 30:  Luoyang 

Visits to the White Horse Temple and the Longmen Grottoes  

Dec. 1:  Luoyang—Xi’an

Taking a train to Xi’an and visit to the Great Mosque  

Dec. 2:  Xi’an 

Visits to the Terra-cotta Soldiers Museum and the city wall

Dec. 3:  Xi’an—Chengdu—Leshan

Taking a flight to Chengdu and then taking a bus to Leshan

Dec. 4:  Leshan-Chengdu

Taking a bus to the Leshan Giant Buddha

Taking a bus to Chengdu

Dec. 5:        Chengdu—Guili

Take a bus to the Giant Panda Research Center and visit at Jinlin

Take an evening flight to Guilin

Dec. 6:  Guilin—Longsheng

Taking a bus to Longji

Dec. 7:  Longsheng

In the mountains

Dec. 8:  Longsheng—Yangshuo

Taking a bus to Guilin and then to Yangshou

Dec. 9:  Yangshuo

River drifting in the morning and free afternoon

Dec. 10:  Yangshuo

Free day

Dec. 11:  Guilin—Beijing

Taking a bus to Guilin and then taking flight back to Beijing

Now back to the topic of food, on Saturday I met up with a Chinese friend that I had met the last time I was here in China. She took me to a famous shopping area which was really no more than a glorified alleyway that had been spruced up and filled with shops. Although the term alleyway does tend to provide a bad image, it was actually a really fun place. The biggest problem was that there was a ton of people but very little room to walk. Add cars that would come shooting down this alleyway and it definitely made for a unique experience.  The best part about this shopping street was that one side of the street was all food stalls and tea shops and the other side was all fun little gift shops. Surprisingly enough, most of these stores were pretty high end. Anyway, as we walked through this alleyway, we stopped at a couple little stands to try some food. I had chicken and beef skewers (they were very yummy) and crabapples on a skewer with hardened sugar (also very yummy). After that, we went to one of the more famous restaurants there. I have to admit that I was a little frightened at first because in order to get into this restaurant, you had to walk through a set of curtains, then down a not-so-friendly looking alleyway, through another door into a kind of dingy looking room before finally walking though sliding glass doors into this cute and fun looking little restaurant. Now, this may sound a little weird given that I am only in China once, but we had pizza at this said restaurant. However, it was not just any pizza, it was Chinese style pizza. It had Chinese style lamb sautéed in a red pepper flake sauce for the meat, a sweet tomato sauce for the base and some sort of salty cheese for, well, the cheese. Putting it all together, it was a really good pizza but nothing like I have ever tasted before. I also had a hot chocolate at this little restaurant. Of course, it wasn’t any run of the mill hot chocolate, it was a lot sweeter as if they had used soy milk instead of regular milk and it came in an old fashion milk shake glass which made it even more interesting.

After lunch, we continued to walk around a bit, stopping in shops here and there. We stopped in a tea store which was supposed to be one of the highest end tea stores in the area. They gave us a little cup as soon as we walked in and as we wandered around, they allowed us to sample any of the tea that was out on display. I happened to try a strawberry hibiscus tea that was to die for. It was naturally sweet due to the strawberries (I asked if they put sugar in it to make sure) but yet had just enough bitterness to still taste like a tea rather than juice. If it had not been 150 yuan a pound, I might have purchased some.

As we were heading out of the little alley, to go find some dessert of course, we stopped by a stand to buy some of the emperor’s favorite cheese. Apparently during the Qing Dynasty, the emperor acquired the services of a cheese maker to create a cheese just for him. Over the following years, the family of the man who had made the special cheese kept the business alive and continued making the cheese. About five years ago, the family decided to open a shop to sell this now famous cheese within this alleyway. My friend told me that her and her grandfather had come to get in line for opening day only to find the whole alleyway filled with people who had the same idea. Apparently, people had started lining up five hours before the store’s grand opening. I figure if that many people came to the grand opening, it has to be one famous cheese. Although I continue to use the word cheese, the final product that we had was similar to a sweet cottage cheese with the consistency of custard. It was surprisingly good and I would have it again given the chance.

Our last food adventure of the day was at a little café called Youth Cheese. It was an interesting little place. It was cute but given the amount of pictures of cats, it bordered on creepy. At this little café, we both ordered slices of cheese cake. I got one called black chocolate which was a creamy milk chocolate filling with a dark chocolate crust and shavings of white chocolate on the top. My friend got a mango cheese cake which was a vanilla and mango filling with a graham cracker crust and a mango sauce and fresh mango on top. Can anyone say delicious?

Well, that is my story on food for the week. Hopefully it made you all hungry just in time for Thanksgiving!

Until Next Time,

Ashley

Unforgettable Experiences

11/12

Well, it is getting harder and harder to post my blog. Not only am I getting busier, I can no longer get on to the site where my blog resides. Thus, I will apologize but blog posts might come few and far between. That being said, I would like to update you on what I have been up to the last week. First, on November 7th, I spent my day at a local café watching the election.  I happened to get there early enough to have an All American Breakfast which consisted of eggs, bacon, pancakes, home fries, toast and hot chocolate. Let me take a moment to describe this breakfast. Don’t get me wrong, it was good but it was different from what we would normally eat. First off, over easy eggs means no yoke. In order to have a yoke to dunk your toast in, you must order sunny side up. The bacon tasted more like ham than the traditional bacon. The pancakes were extremely sweet, as if they had dumped extra sugar in the batter. The home fries were good but had different seasoning on them than I am used to. Overall, it was an interesting take on an All American Breakfast and one I would most likely try again.

Now on to the more exciting part of this day, I got to watch the election, live, in China. How many people are that lucky?  There were probably fifty people all squeezed into a small room around a giant projector. The energy in the room was amazing. I will say that it was a little difficult to sit there seeing as I was surrounded by a room full of democrats when I happen to lean more toward republican. Everyone would cheer when Obama won a state and boo when Romney won one. Despite this fact, it was an interesting experience and one I will never forget.

The next exciting experience I have had since my last update was a trip to the zoo. I felt like a kid again as I ran around discovering new animal after new animal. The Beijing Zoo is much like the zoo at home only with different and more exotic animals. The zoo had a variety of different stations in which animals lived. There was an African section, and Australian section, an American section, an Aquarium, a panda house, an arctic animal house and a children’s zoo. How cool is that? I got to see a kangaroo! Also, I got to pet a zebra! Can you tell I am excited? I think I took about two hundred pictures of different animals. The aquarium was also pretty amazing. There were hundreds of species of fish and other aquatic animals. The one weird thing I saw while I was at the zoo was that the Children’s zoo consisted of only two types of animals: cats and dogs. I have never been to a zoo that has had cats and dogs on display. I did find it a little sad though as I think cats and dogs should be in a loving home where someone can rub their bellies every night before going to bed. I don’t know about you, I just find it kind of sad.

Now, some of you may have heard that the Beijing Zoo mistreats its animals. I, however, did not see a lot of evidence of this. Yes, there were a few things such as the elephants and giraffes having smaller than necessary cages and one of the pandas looking miserable but for the most part, the animals seemed happy.  Sure, they ate anything in sight but it was hard to tell if the animals were truly hungry or if they were just so used to people feeding them that they gobbled up the food. Yes, it was unfortunate to see what the people were feeding them as I saw a woman feeding a zebra cotton candy, but I can only hope that they get real food more often in their diet.

Overall, the zoo was another amazing experience that I will never forget. This is especially true considering I took over two hundred photos to prove I was there.

And now it is back to the grind, as usual.

Until next time,

Ashley