June 28, 2011

Whad Up China?

The following is my account of my tour in China during the spring break of 2011. China blocked Blogger :( otherwise I would have posted sooner.

Going Back
Day 1/2: March 31/April 1 (Thursday/Friday)

Today was the day that I would venture back to the country where I was born. If you didn’t know that I was adopted from China when I was 9 months old, now you do. I took a long flight to get back. We took an hour flight from Minneapolis to Chicago and a 12 hour flight to Beijing, China.

I had to wake up at the ungodly hour of 5:00 AM central time. I never wake up that early on a school day. We made it to the airport and headed for Chicago at 7:50 AM. This is where the journey began. The flight to Chicago seemed to pass by quickly because I slept the whole way. I knew how important it was to get some sleep with the time change and all. China is 13 hours ahead of Minnesota time.

The plane ride to China was where it got interesting. I haven’t been on a large plane such as the A-777 for a while and was unaccustomed to the amount to headroom. Besides the headroom, the flight went down hill from there. For one, we were in the second to last row. The food wasn’t exactly appetizing either, all I managed to eat was bread, cookies, and a tiny salad.  To top it all off, we flew in daylight the whole time, making it extremely difficult to sleep.

On the upside, I did get to sleep a little bit. There was no one sitting next to me, so I had room to lay down. The 12 hour flight didn’t seem like 12 hours, they seemed to pass by quickly. I watched Conviction and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 on the United Airline’s monitors and I watched 5 centimeters per second on my laptop. I was afraid my laptop wouldn’t last the whole flight, but I needn’t to have worried, I only used it for the movie. I learned how to play cribbage, an interesting card game if you ask me. Apparently my dad will be happy about cribbage. Within an hour of China I started to read Water for Elephants, soon to be a major motion picture starring Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson (gasp).

Finally on April 1, 2011 at 2:45 PM Beijing time (1:45 AM U.S. Central time) we arrived. An old Chinese lady sitting in front of us attempted to speak to me, but unfortunately I found myself speechless, unable to give her a simple answer in Chinese because I couldn’t understand her. The feeling of being an alien in my birth country didn’t stop there. The customs officer asked me a question in Chinese again, once again I didn’t understand. And finally today our tour guide asked me if I was the best at Chinese in my group because my face is Chinese (I only found this out after talking to my teacher). These experiences foreshadow an alien feeling for the rest of the trip. We shall see!

Well there’s another day tomorrow, another adventure to join, and discoveries to be made. It’s now 8:22 PM (7:22 AM in U.S. Central time) in China and I’m exhausted.

Same World, a New Culture
Day 3: April 2-Saturday (written 9:00 PM in Beijing)

Today was a day with all new experiences, and I mean all. Thank goodness we had a western style breakfast or I might have gone crazy with eating 米饭(rice) 24/7. It is also a good thing that many people can speak English in China otherwise, there might be a language barrier.

Tian An Men Square

After breakfast we hoped on the bus and headed for Tian An Men Square and the Forbidden City. Our tour guide Kobe, graciously led around the tourist sites, explaining some of the history of the great palace.

Kobe, our tour guide, has been giving tours for 7 years. He has spiky hair and a scooter. He also loves American basketball, some of his favorite players are Kevin Garnett, Michael Jordan, and Kobe Bryant. He speaks with a funny American accent, perhaps he was taught by someone from Texas or Baltimore (because he talks like John Travolta from Hairspray)?

The food is definitely a new experience in China. I can no longer get a burger and fries. I am forced to try different kinds of vegetables with different sauces of which I cannot remember their names. We had lunch at a vegetarian style restaurant. All I can say is, beans do not agree with me. I missed meat. At least for dinner we got meat. Kaleen and Clark both suggested I try Peking duck. I tried it for dinner. I was scared I wasn’t going to like it because it was duck and I hadn’t had duck before. I tried some funky looking meat and asked my mom what it was, apparently it was duck and I found that I really enjoyed it!

Before the Hutong rickshaw tour our group went to a Tea House and watch a tea ceremony being performed. I’m not much of a tea drinker, and never had been one. The Chinese woman who presented the tea to us explained the tea and it’s benefits. We tried Ginseng Oolong, jasmine, pu’er, lychee with rose, and finally the fruit tea. They were all rather hot, because the pee pee boy indicated as much (this little clay boy would pee water if it was hot enough). Most of the time I couldn’t taste the teas, only drink the hot water and smell the tea that I was supposed to taste. When we got to the fruit tea I saw it’s magnificent pink color, it turned out to be sweet and tasty. We ended up purchasing a small package of fruit tea, a small teacup, a beautiful peacock teacup for my mom and two pee pee boys came along with it.

The last new experience for today was the potty. I’d never really thought about how going to the bathroom would be different in China. Amy warned me that public bathrooms would often just have a hole in the ground. But I successfully squatted and did my business, the only fear of peeing on my clothes. Chinese women must have very powerful quads if they squat all the time. Genetically, Chinese people are better suited for squatting anyways. A tip before coming to China: bring toilet paper with you to the bathrooms and learn how to squat confidently.

To be a Hero
Day 4: April 3-Sunday (written 6:20 PM Beijing)

My legs ache so much, I don’t want to go on. My breath is labored, I should stop. But my heart wants to be a hero.

Until you reach the Great Wall, you're no hero” – Chairman Mao
Section of Great Wall
After a significant amount of effort, thousands of breaths, and hundreds of steps I made it to the top of the Great Wall, or at least some part of it. I thought it would feel more rewarding when I reached the top of the section, but surprisingly it was just “ehh, I made it, time to go down.” It took half the time to get down.

Before we ventured to the Great Wall we stopped at a shop to learn a little bit more about the jade masters. They created beautiful pieces that take weeks, months, or even years to create. My mom got me a beautiful jade pendant.

After the Great Wall we travelled to the Emperor’s Summer Palace. The Summer Palace was a place for the Emperor and his family to stay April-October because it was cooler by water. Today wasn’t that packed, but according to Kobe around May 1st it is just terrible to try lead a group around the Summer Palace.

The last big event of the day was a Kung Fu show. I thought it would be a kung fu school showing their talents but it was more of a play with a predictable plot. A master told a scared, young monk about another young monk’s journey, Chun Li. We didn’t stay to finish the show, but you could already tell that the master telling the story was indeed Chun Li.

We arrived back at the hotel at approximately 9:00 PM.

Crowded Times
Day 5: April 4-Monday(Written 11:15 AM on a plane)

As the bus passed by the Beijing Panda Zoo we could see the line to get in stretching from block to block. Luckily there was a special entrance for tour groups. We got in with minimal pushing and shoving. The first panda enclosure was packed, it would have taken a considerable amount of pushing and shoving to get through. Kobe urged us to go on, assuring there would be more pandas. And there were! They were soo cute wandering around to eat their bamboo.

Before we headed to the Temple of Heaven we stopped at a Freshwater Pearl Factory. The tour guide opened up a freshwater clam to reveal the tiny pink pearls that it held. It held about 20 pearls of which we each got one to keep. Freshwater pearls from China can be white, pink, purple, or black (pink and purple pearls are only from China). I got a beautiful freshwater pearl ring from the factory.

Next on our tour stop was the Temple of Heaven. The temple was where the emperor would worship the gods. It was very big and round, different from the usual rectangular buildings because the emperor believed that the earth was rectangular (like the buildings) whereas the heaven was round. I got a cute little crotched panda on the way out.

We went to a market that was at least five floors. Each floor was designated specific departments such as purses, bags and shoes or jewelry and DVDs. My mom was really good at bargaining. We got a “Coach” purse from 100 yuan to 35 yuan! We also made it out with two backpacks (like I need another one), another purse, Glee karaoke for Wii, and two jackets.  

The 大熊猫 were so cute, I just wanted to pick them up and snuggle them! The market was so overwhelming. I saw some interesting items for sale such as the mini-iPad (the font on the back wasn’t even right) and headbands for 60 yuan, way too expensive for the quality. I’ll have to remember to bring more money for the market if I come back to China!

Mushy Mystery Chicken
Day 6: April 5-Tuesday (written 9:00 PM in Shang Hai)

Plane food is bleh. However, Chinese airline food is significantly better than the sad attempt at Chinese style food on the international United flight to China. I’m surprised, but grateful that we even got food at all on the flight because it was such a short flight from Beijing to Xian.

On Chinese airlines they give you a nicely packaged meal complete with some mystery meat, rice, fruit, vegetable, bread, and water in a little fruit cup type container. I am told that the mystery meat is chicken, but it neither resembles or tastes like chicken, or does it? Everything is said to taste like chicken (one of my pet peeves, because saying it “Tastes like chicken” doesn’t help me at all). I ate it anyways because I wasn’t sure what else was good to eat was edible I could choke down.

After the hour or so flight to Xian we met our new tour guide, Allan (English name of course). He moved to Xian from a village nearby. Like Kobe he had impeccable taste in clothing and fashion. Allan dressed more casual, but nevertheless looked good. After meeting Allan we hoped on another bus that was smaller than the bus in Beijing.

Laura and I Biking on City Wall
The smaller tan bus took us to the center of Xian (which also happens to be the town where Heng Lao shi grew up) so we could see the city wall. The city wall is the best kept city wall in the world. It was probably built about 2200 years ago (don’t quote me) or something. It was chilly and windy on the top of the wall but there were people riding rented bikes and flying kites. Tim and I were the only ones who wanted to ride bikes on the city wall. It was really fun, we made it all the way to the eastern wall! The stones made the path a little bumpy, so my hands got a little massage.

Once we arrived at the hotel, we were ushered in through the back entrance for “special guests.” Although we were only staying one night in the Grand Noble Hotel, I wish we could have stayed longer because it was absolutely magnificent, one of the best hotels that I have stayed at in my life! Not only were the rooms well accommodating but also the lobby was beautiful from the star-studded ceiling to the grand piano sitting under the spiral staircase. I’d love to come back to Xian just for the hotel for the rich history it has.

From Old to Modern
Day 7: April 6-Wednesday (written 9:30 PM Shang Hai)

Our stay in Xian was short, but we all wished it could have been even longer. The day began with a wonderful breakfast, the hotel contained a wide variety of breakfast foods in both the Chinese and Western styles. It varied from pancakes all the way to dragon fruit (odd looking white fruit).

Finally, the stop I was most looking forward to; the Tero-cotta Warriors. According to history, the warriors were made sometime during the Qing dynasty some 2200 years ago. They were ordered to be made by the emperor in hopes of protecting himself in the afterlife. There is an estimated 8,000 of these warriors ranging from the emperor all the way down to the infantryman. It was an amazing site to see, life size clay warriors only discovered 35 years ago.

After another short flight with mystery pork meat, we finally arrived in the modern city of Shang Hai, home to about 20 million people. It was exciting to see the skyline filled with different color lights. It was amazing. Our new tour guide, Jasmine, explained that Shang Hai was kind of like a Las Vegas without a casino. I can see why with all of the lights.

I wonder how Shang Hai is a young man during the day and a beautiful young woman at night according to Jasmine.

Welcome to Shang Hai, Awkward Boys
Day 8: April 7- Thursday (written 10:00 PM Shang Hai)

The sky outside our hotel room window foreshadowed a dreary looking day. It was overcast and there were tiny rain drops on the window. It was very foggy throughout the day, a mixture between smog and fog. When we went out to the Bund, we could barely see through the thick fog to the other side.

Our first stop was the Yu Garden in China Town (yes, there is such a town in Shang Hai). It was absolutely breath taking, the rock structures were amazing, the architecture detailed and intricate, and the path we followed was inlaid with little rocks making various patterns . It apparently took many years to complete. I hope the family enjoyed it! It must cost a fortune too! I personally wish I could take some part of that garden and incorporate it into my own home in the future.
Chinese School BB Players
In the afternoon we visited a Shang Hai vocational school for cooking. Students ranged from 16 to 18-years-old. To our surprise we had to play basketball with some of the boys. I was nervous to play, but I needn’t to have worried because I made two shots! Granted, the boys were probably going easy on us. When we had our pictures taken with the boys they were being very awkward. They were also awkward when we offered them some American candy. Our conversations were limited and consisted of a kindergartener’s knowledge of Chinese, maybe even earlier.

The acrobatics show was scary but amazing at the same time. This show was where you could see the human form of Gumbies, young men doing some amazing jumps, and being stupid. These small Chinese women could bend themselves in ways unimaginable, it hurt to watch it. One of my favorite parts was when the guys were jumping through different combinations of hoops. It was just amazing to see the performers manipulate their bodies into all sorts of front flips, back flips, twisting flips and landing on each other’s shoulders. Of course there was a motorcycle cave that scared half the audience. They started out with one motorcycle moving every which way and then suddenly there were five motorcycles in the cage doing all sorts of tricks. When two more came out, I didn’t want to continue watching. But thank goodness they didn’t do any fancy tricks that were life threatening. If I ever see another acrobatics show, I’ll be able to relax a little better. I could barely watch the performers in life threatening situations where they could get seriously injured.

The End
Day 9: April 8-Friday (written 9:25 AM San Fran)

The end. This was the last day of our trip to China, the last day of my trip back to China, so basically the end. We took the bus out of Shang Hai and headed towards Su Zhou to visit gardens, silk factory, and a Bamboo Textiles factory. The trip ended with an evening cruise on the Huangpu river, it was lovely.

Surprisingly the time it took to get out of the actual city of Shang Hai took up a good chunk of the two hours. The rest of the time we saw mainly farmland until BAM, we arrived in Su Zhou. The gardens were beautiful as usual. The silk was something that my mom craved. Lastly, the Bamboo factory was eye-opening. The conditions weren't as bad as the sweat shops we think are in China but they weren't the best.
Shang Hai at Night

We almost didn't make the cruise. Our tour guide, Kai, was concerned that we weren't going to make it. On top of that my mom had a premonition that the cruise was just not going to work out. The bus driver couldn't find a parking spot at dinner and therefore didn't have any. But we made it and Kai was able to come with us and talk about the amazing skyscrapers that lined the banks of the Huangpu river. The cruise was a bit chilly, but still breathtaking. 

So long China! See you in the future...


  1. I really enjoyed reading about your journey and wish there was more! It is particularly interesting to be reminded how international travel is so revealing of cultural stereotypes - ethnic, gender-based, and economic. Your comments on arriving in China give that issue a new twist. Thanks for a good read.

  2. I'm glad it was a good read! It was one of my longer posts. Usually I don't like to write a lot for fear of the attention span of my audience.

  3. I just read every word and really enjoyed it -- we were in Xi'an to get our daughter who is from a city about 2 hours from there. We loved it there!