A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: Abroadabroad89

Beijing Spirit: Patriotism Innovation Inclusiveness Virtue

"[s]he who does not reach the Great Wall is not a true [wo]man." -Mao Zedong

sunny

At exactly 5:34am the sun rose over the quiet landscape of China's countryside and shone through our window as De and I adjusted ourselves in our cramped seats. We had been on the train for 10 hours already and still had about one more to go. It had been a long, tiresome night of failed attempts to sleep, surrounded by countless others curled up in seats like ourselves, passed out in heaps in the walkway, and standing where ever they could find room. Upon booking train tickets the day before our trip, De and I had been devastated to find that the sleepers were all sold out. We had had to purchase hard seats for the exhausting 12 hour trip, which is how we ended up in the nightmare aforementioned. We quickly learned that in order to accommodate as many passengers as possible, the train station will actually sell standing room in the hard seat cars so as we battled discomfort in our seats we watched a movie and attempted to blocked out our surrounding environment.

Upon arriving to Beijing, we went to the train station ticket counter in order to secure a ride home the following evening. To our devastation, the night train that left late Sunday night was completely booked so we were more than rudely shoved aside by the ticket agent who would not bother to lend a finger to help us find the next best available train. Cursing under my breath, I wished her a very crappy day and moved her to the top of my personal vendetta list, above others including most Chinese customer service agents, rude taxi drivers, the man who decided that mathematics was important for all to learn, and most of the people I encountered in Beijing; the most odious woman alive. We went back to the end of the next line and were able to buy tickets for the Sunday overnight train leaving in the middle of the afternoon. It was a bummer, but we had little choice in the matter as De had to work Monday and I had a train to Shanghai to catch.

We arrived to our hostel around 8:00 and set off for the public bus station to buy tickets to the Great Wall. I was so anxious to get there. Seeing the Great Wall of China was my main objective for making the long, last-minute trip to China's capital city. The bus ride was a convenient two-hour nap for De and myself. By the time we arrived to the site of the wall we had chosen to visit, my stomach was churning with childish excitement. By the time we arrived to the top via cable car, I was breath-taken. I was standing on the ancient, world-renowned Great Wall of China and as far as I could see, it continued, serpentining over and around mountains and hills leading far off into the vast distance. We could not have asked for a more perfect day, weather wise. The sun was shining, the air quality was superb (especially by Beijing standards) and there was a light breeze that kept us comfortable in the warm afternoon. We explored as much as we could in the time that we had, climbing over the edge, meeting other adventure enthusiasts and being asked to pose for photographs with countless Chinese tourists absolutely enthralled to be meeting foreigners. What we found to be very confusing is that there were foreign tourists littering the walk-ways yet it was us that everyone kept asking. Even when we went to dinner at a local Peking Duck restaurant, where the duck literally melted on my tongue it was so tender, we were approached at our table. De wants to start charging, the entrepreneur that she is.

Following dinner, we spent an enjoyable evening shopping at the night market where we purchased lovely dresses to wear out that night. Thanks to help from lonely planet and a bit of guess work on my part, we were somehow able to find the night-life district. We spent the night dancing, meeting fun people and enjoying our last night in Beijing. The night scene is much bigger and much more exciting than in Hefei, but we were starting to miss the luxury of living in a smaller city where we are treated like royalty , not 'just more tourists'. Beijing is like the New York City of China, where the people can often be rude, taxis don't stop for you the minute you stick your hand in the road, and if you aren't local, you may as well be dirt.

In the morning, we go our bags together and checked out, stuffing them into the hostel's downstairs locker area so that we could spend the day sightseeing and shopping without the cumbersome task of lugging around bags. Our hostel was conveniently located right next to Tienanmen Square, so, map in hand, we set off in that direction. We took pictures with the lovely Mao in all his glory and splendor, walked the perimeter of the Ancient Forbidden City and overpaid a Tuk-Tuk driver to take us to the eat street because we were slightly lost (though going in the correct direction), hungry and running out of time. It was noon by the time we reached eat street and our train home left at 3:36pm. Eat was bustling with shoppers and vendors buying and selling foods on sticks, including but not limited to beetles, scorpions, starfish, beef, squid and cicadas. I happily chose some BBQed squid, my favorite, and was overcharged for it by a landslide, but I enjoyed it thoroughly nonetheless.

After eating De and I went into professional shopping mode. We spent a great deal of time in a silk store where we bought matching traditional-styled Chinese dresses, which we wore for the remainder of the day, and some scarves. We then hustled to the huge Silk market where we only had half an hour to do some serious damage. We haggled skillfully (if I do say so myself), buying a great deal of stuff for ourselves as well as friends and family back home, and never paying more than half the originally offered price. Unfortunately time got the better of us and we had to rush back onto the subway to get to our hostel, collect our belongings and then get back on the subway to get to the train station. By the time we reached our hostel subway station, it was already 3:00 pm and I was in sheer panic.

I told De to stay at the station and buy our tickets and I took off sprinting towards the hostel. I must have been quite the spectacle in my Chinese dress, shopping bags in hand, hair falling out and running down the sidewalk, pushing past people as I went. By the time I collected our stuff, it was 3:10 and I looked like an Asian version of the bird lady from Mary Poppins (sans birds. I knew that if i attempted to run back to the subway, I would never be able to make it to the station in good time with all of the belongings I was trying to carry so I grabbed a Tuk-Tuk who, taking note of the panicked look in my eyes, so kindly charged me 20 yuan to take me right up the street. It should have been 6. He moved to the top of my list, trumping the ticket counter lady ten-fold. 2 minutes later, I thrust the 20 yuan note into his greedy hand and I met De and together we got onto the subway. I began to move at lightening speed. There was no way I was about to miss another train! While De strolled behind me carelessly, I was walking at a frantic speed only achieved by one other person I have ever known. Full of dread, I realized right then and there, in the middle of the Beijing Railway that I had finally fully become my mother. (For Baylee - I was the firebolt!) Luckily I didn't have the time to dwell on it at the time....

We settled into our bunk beds on the train with 6 minutes to spare. We passed out almost instantly and 15 hours later were back in Hefei, Beijing fading into only a memory.

P.S. Despite what you may have been told in grade school, you can NOT see the Great Wall of China from space. ....don't believe me? Google it!

Posted by Abroadabroad89 00:06 Archived in China Comments (1)

Life's Wonderful Little Accidents

Pass the lemonade, please.

sunny

It was tomb sweeping day in China, a national holiday where Chinese spend their time outside, honoring their loved ones who have past by tending to their graves. My roommate, De, and I decided to take advantage of our day off by spending it in Nanjing.  Nanjing, formerly known as Nanking, was the ancient capital of China before the capital was moved to Beijing in 1949 by the Communist Party of China.  It is a beautiful and vibrant city, and is well known for its struggle against Japan in 1937 during the crisis renowned as, 'The Rape of Nanking', or 'The Nanking Massacre'.  Although the exact numbers are disputed, especially among Chinese historians and Japanese historians and nationalists, the death toll is estimated by the Chinese at 300,000 casualties.

Waking up at 7:30, De and I got ready and set off for the train station on the number 10 bus.  We hadn't purchased our train tickets yet, despite being advised to pre-buy by everyone we asked, so our first stop was the ticket teller.  As it is a holiday, the train station was already very crowded by migrant workers heading home to see their families. This being the case, the lines were long and people were more pushy than usual.  We joined a queue and waited patiently, practicing, in Chinese, what we were going to say once it was our turn.  The wait was surpassingly short and in only a matter of ten minutes, we were passing through train station security and ready to board. 

After an hour of scenic countryside, we arrived in Nanjing.  Not sure where we were or where we were going, we couldn't exactly tell a taxi where to take us, besides, the drivers were trying to charge and obscene 80 rmb.  Instead we ventured down to the subway station to try our luck.  Nothing was in English, and it was rather crowded, but we were not to be deterred.  Feeling confident that between the two of us, our Chinese skills and intuition would lead us to a solution. We were directed by a kind security man who gave us a map of the subway system. The map was written entirely in Chinese characters. We told him we wanted to go somewhere where we could shop and sightsee. He circled a umber of places and then pointed at the ticket machine. We purchased tickets by matching the circled characters on the map to those on the screen.  It was only when our tickets were dispensed to us that we saw the option for 'English'.  Apart from that, and the fact that De tried to swipe her paper ticket on the magnetic strip to pass into the subway system, we were feeling very proud of ourselves.

We rode the subway for a number of stops and departed at the intersection of the two major lines, assuming this was a good central location.  Our assumptions were confirmed when we came up onto the street and found ourselves in the city's central plaza.  We shared an elated high-five and set off into Nanjing.  

Nanjing is exciting and vibrant.  There is less dust in the air than in Hefei, and the climate was slightly warmer.  The sidewalks are slightly more crowded, but we never felt overwhelmed by people.  There is much more Western influence in Nanjing and I decided we could have easily played some kind of drinking game with the amount of KFCs, McDonald's and Starbucks' we encountered. We ate dinner in the center of the plaza and discovered an underground shopping world. It was clothing heaven!  

When we finally arrived back to the train station, we were horrified to learn that the last bullet train left at 20:00 which had passed 30 minutes earlier.  This was a major problem, as we both had classes at 8:30 in the morning the following day. Trying to maintain composure, knowing panicking would not rectify the situation, I suggested that we go downstairs to Starbucks to brainstorm our next option.  I looked at the schedule for the overnight train and we found that there was a 3:45 train to Hefei.  We decided to take the subway to the overnight train station, buy the 3:45 tickets and spend the next five hours in the night district of Nanjing. Luckily, this was easy as Nanjing is very well known for it's popular night life scene.  We ended up having a fantastic time, meeting other ExPats who happened to co-own the bar we were in and were very fun, kind and generous people.  We spent the rest of the evening chatting and toasting (I got to toast with water because I was too paranoid about missing the train again to drink) and at 2:30 in the early morning, we returned to the station.

After a long, eventful day, De and I settled down into our seats on the train. This was my first time on the overnight train, or as we refer to it, the 'slow' train, and it exceeded all of my prior expectations.  The bullet train and the slow train are worlds apart. What I had always envisioned the slow train to be was simply an older, more worn down, slower version of the bullet train which is sleek, clean, efficient and timely. What we boarded was a filthy old train one loose bolt away from falling apart, carrying passengers of all sorts. They were all sprawled out across seats, passed out on fold-down tables, playing cards, practicing magic tricks, picking their noses, spitting, talking on cell phones and listening to iPods.   Food and trash littered the tables and floor and I couldn't help but imagine what horrific, disease-ridden creatures were embedded in the seat cushion I hesitantly sat down on after first having to wake-up the man that was already sleeping there with his feet propped up.  It took a while before my nose became accustomed to the pestilent odor of sweat, smoke, ramen noodles, dirt, piss, feces and arm pit that filled the passenger car.

De and I had decided to fall asleep in shifts so that 1.) we weren't pick-pocketed and 2.) we didn't sleep through the Hefei stop and end up lost in and unknown city.  I took the first waking shift and managed to get some reading and writing done.  Two and a half hours later, the sun was peeking above the horizon and our train was slowing to a stop at the Hefei station.  We were finally home. We snagged a taxi back to the apartment where we were able to sneak in a quick two hour nap before our classes.

Next week: Our big Beijing adventure!

Posted by Abroadabroad89 00:53 Archived in China Comments (0)

A Day in the Life

"Isn't life a series of images that change as they repeat themselves?" -Andy Warhol

More often than not, a typical morning for me in China consists of me waking up before my alarm due to an external interference to my slumber. This can be anything including, but not limited to, construction noises, horns honking, fireworks, car alarms going crazy due to fireworks or roosters crowing.  Sometimes, I am even awoken by a Skype call from home, when I have forgotten to close my laptop before falling asleep the night before and friends and family across the blue have forgotten the large time difference between us.

Whether it is because they have woken me up, or because I have time to spare, I usually talk to someone from the States while drinking my morning cup of coffee before heading off to work.  I then throw together my backpack, stuffing it with my lesson plan book, my ipad, my wallet, and a few packs of instant coffee.  After this, I head out the door, down the elevator, and onto the street. 

The weather has been getting nicer and nicer as of late, so I am much less inclined to pay the extra cash for a taxi to work. Instead, I walk to the bus stop and catch either the 15 or the 126. I spend my time on the bus reading, pretending not to notice that almost all eyes are on me, the foreigner.  I also try to stand when I am on the bus. If I do sit, I am always sure to give up my seat for anyone older who steps aboard.  My biggest bus-riding pet-peeve is when younger people sit comfortably without so much as a bother to care as they watch older people struggle to maintain footage while standing. On the other hand, when, on the rare occasion, I do see someone in less need of a seat offer their seat up to someone more in need, it makes my day.  

After a few stops, I hop off the bus and go the rest of my journey on foot.  I enjoy walking along the city streets. I see more of my environment this way, I appreciate the added exercise, and I like to snag some breakfast from one of the many street vendors I pass on my way to the school.  My favorite is the baked flat bread coated in a buttery-sugary glaze.  It counteracts the added exercise perfectly.

When I get to the primary school I am greeted by the 53 smiling faces of my second grade class. I spend the next hour singing, laughing, teaching and playing games with some of the brightest, loveliest, most excitable students I have ever met.  They have a way of turning around even the most miserable of days. Their smiles are my medicine for when living in China is at its hardest.

After teaching, I stop at Starbucks for a tall brewed coffee and a double chocolate chip muffin.  I love my afternoons at Starbucks.  It is quiet, warm, comfortable and it reminds me of home.  I spend my time there studying Chinese and reading.  I sit in the same chair and order the same thing every visit.  The staff is very friendly and they often offer me and extra cup of hot water if I look too cold.  Hot liquids and added layers is the Chinese solution to sickness prevention.  I am frequently told that I "wear too less."  As an ESL teacher in China, I typically respond by saying that I, in fact, "wear too little."  The corrections never seem to stick for the Chinese, nor do I ever heed their advice.

After Starbucks, I head home, usually walking the whole way back. The distance is a little over a mile.  Every walk presents something new to see:  An old lady walking with a basket of chickens, a woman knocking a pedestrian over with her motorbike because she was driving in the wrong lane then getting off of her bike to yell at the grounded pedestrian for being so stupid as to be in her way, or a young Chinese man waiting at a bus stop sporting a full U.S. Army Airborne Uniform, to name a few. 

When I finally arrive home, I drop everything in my bedroom and without fail, I dash to the bathroom.  I have come to the scientific conclusion that waiting for the elevator is directly correlated with the instant urge to pee, and the higher up the elevator is when called, the greater that urge increases.  After relieving my bladder, I go for a short run. On the way back from my run, I make three stops before retuning to my apartment. First, I stop at the convenience store directly parallel to my building and I buy a small pack of cookies. I probably don't need them, but the older woman who owns the shop always gets so excited when I walk in.  I then go next door and I buy rice and produce. I pick out different types of vegetables to stir-fry. The proprietor is a very kind man who enjoys speaking to me, and is very forgiving of my broken Chinese.  Last time I was there, he asked me as he was weighing my bag of rice, if people in my country like to eat rice because I sure do eat a lot of it.  I chuckled, nodded and said "Dui, women chi mi fan" (Yes, we eat rice).I choose to go to his store for my veggies because it is fresh, and I would rather support him and his individually owned business than the giant supermarket down the street where I go when I am craving American food.  After his place I make my final stop at the larger convenience store next door to my building.  They sell my favorite kind of tea, where as the woman I buy cookies from tends to only sell soda and water.

Once home, I drop the bag of rice on the counter and I chop up my veggies and throw them into the wok.  My roommate always has a fresh pot of rice sitting in the rice cooker.  We have a lovely arrangement where  I buy the food and she cooks the food.  A full bag costs less than a dollar and lasts about a week, and no matter what, I can count on there being rice ready to eat whenever I am hungry. I take my bowl of stir-fry and rice and my bottle of red tea, and I consume them in my room while doing my Bible study or while watching Hulu. My four go-to shows are Whitney, Once Upon a  Time, Cougar Town and New Girl. New Girl just got moved to HuluPLUS, however, so now I have 3 go-to shows and a huge bone to pick with Hulu.

Lastly, I lesson plan for the following day, brush my teeth, drink a cup of hot water, send a few emails, skype, say my prayers and fall asleep wondering what it will be that will wake me up the next morning.

Posted by Abroadabroad89 01:20 Archived in China Comments (0)

Teaching China

“Draw a crazy picture, Write a nutty poem, Sing a mumble-gumble song, Whistle through your comb" -Shel Silverstein

Five months later, and each day of teaching in Asia still brings a brand new experience, exciting adventure, or hurdle to jump over.
This past weekend was parents' weekend at Aston School Hefei, the private English Language school that I teach for. This meant that the parents, who invest a lot of money (especially by Chinese standards) into insuring that their child is getting an English education in order to be more competitive against the millions of other children in China, get to observe classes to see where exactly their investment money is going.
Chinese parents, and grandparents for that matter, take the helicopter mom of middle-class, American suburbia to the next level. They are heavily involved in their child's schooling, spending their entire weekends in the lobby and hallways of Aston, peering through classroom windows, spying on us foreign teachers in our offices, waiting outside in every weather condition to pick their child up promptly at lunch time and after school on the weekdays, and spending hours harassing teachers and administrators, in order to emphasize the importance of little Changpu and Qiuyue excelling in class.
They also expect the foreign teacher to provide entertainment for their children in the classroom setting. The majority of my class periods are spent doing song-and-dance and playing fun 'Western' games with the Chinese children. A guardian will leave a parents' class much happier if they have just spent an hour watching their child play duck-duck-goose with the American, than they would be if their child spent the hour showing mastery of English through dialogue and pronunciation exercises.

On the weekdays I am loaned out by Aston for promotional purposes to public schools within Hefei City. It is from these classes that I have come to love what I do. The classes have approximately 45-40 students (compared to my private weekend classes at Aston which hold anywhere from 3 students to 18 students). and they are all bright and eager to learn. They worship me, and my blonde hair, greeting me every time I walk through the door with enthusiastic 'hello's and 'how are you's.
Each morning is the same routine. They tie red handkerchiefs around their necks representing themselves as part of the Communist Party of Young Pioneers, line up in four double lines, each led by a chosen line leader, and march outside for their daily exercise routine and saluting of the flag. They then come back inside and complete their pre-lesson eye exercises to directions elicited over an intercom system.

Morning eye exercises

Morning eye exercises

I then spend the remainder of the lesson period teaching them a new song or chant, reviewing the material learned in the preceding class, introducing new vocabulary and new concepts, and finally we play a game.
As far as songs go, I tend to write my own now. I have exhausted all of the common ones that are learned in elementary school such as, 'Old McDonald', 'Head-Shoulder-Knees-and-Toes' and 'Twinkle Twinkle', and I find it fun to make them more relevant to the lesson. Last week we learned about 'What we can do to help Grandma and Grandpa' so, using the new vocabulary I wrote:
"Grandma and Grandpa, what can we do?
We can run,
we can jump,
We can go to the zoo.
Grandma and Grandpa, what can we do?
We can sweep,
We can read,
We can feed the dog, too.
Grandma and Grandpa, what can we do?
We can laugh,
We can hug,
We can say, 'I love you'.
Each line comes with an appropriate action to match the vocab word. The kids are so adorable acting it out.
Typically, the review portion involves students playing 21 questions with me as I ask them to guess what I am thinking of. For example, if in the class before we discussed animals or going to the zoo, I would say, "I am thinking of an animal. Can you tell me what it is?" and the students would respond with "Is it a....?" Once they figure out the animal, I usually give the student who guessed correctly the chance to come up front and have the students ask him/her what animal they are thinking of. Students love to play teacher!
New concepts and vocabulary generally come from the class book. I tend to read through the dialogue with the students a few times, and elicit the new words to the blackboard, drawing (or at least attempting to draw) a picture to go with each word. I then draw a stick man being held up in the air by five balloons over an object of peril (the kids' favorites are a toilet/W.C. or a hungry crocodile with his mouth open). I then draw a bomb next to one of the words and begin to point at various words prompting the class to say them. If they say the 'bomb' word, however, Mr. Stick man loses a balloon. If he loses all five balloons, I draw him falling to his doom. This is my class's absolute favorite game.

Mr. Stickman over toilet (W.C.)

Mr. Stickman over toilet (W.C.)

After vocab practice, I have the students read to each other and begin one of the workbook exercises. We then go over the answers as a class, wrap up the lesson, and finish with a game.
The class ends with me packing up my things and heading out the door as my lovely, wonderful, adoring students sing, "Good-bye to you, good-bye to you. Good-bye dear, Elyse. Good-bye to you."

After class ends at the public school, my favorite thing to do is to take up refuge at Starbucks for a few hours. I enjoy a hot cup of coffee and a muffin, read a little for fun, and study Chinese. It is a warm, relaxing setting, which is a luxury in Hefei.

starbucks, my place of peace in this crazy, hectic life

starbucks, my place of peace in this crazy, hectic life

Posted by Abroadabroad89 03:59 Archived in China Comments (1)

Dear China,

"China is a big country, inhabited by many Chinese." - charles De Gaulle

rain 10 °C

Dear China,
Although it's been fun,
I have some requests.
Here's number one:
Enough with the fireworks, (AD NAUSEAM!)-
New Years is done!

Dear China,
Your cuisine is exquisite!
The hot pot is as heavenly,
As the various dumpling dishes.
All I ask for is dinner,
Sans cockroach visits.

Dear China,
With your people so kind,
Enough with the spitting.
Honestly, do you mind?
A more repulsive habit
I'm hard pressed to find.

Dear China,
I'm trying to learn your language fast,
But do cut me some slack,
For the tones leave me aghast.
Mā, má, mǎ, mà... four different words,
But - each sounds like the last!

Dear China,
Use caution when you drive.
Washed up in a gutter,
On the streets of Shanghai,
Is not exactly a way
I would like to die.

Dear China,
I feel these stipulations are fair,
P.S. When I walk by,
Please try not to stare.
And when you're behind me on the bus,
No more petting my hair.

-Sincerely yours,

A broad abroad

Posted by Abroadabroad89 02:21 Archived in China Comments (0)

Korea, man. Korea...

We'll always have Korea...

I peered out of my window 30,000 feet above ground and watched, in quiet reflection of the the week I had just spent, as the sunset faded softly away in the distance below the glow of a crescent moon.  Seoul had been the perfect solution to my growing wariness of Hefei and China as a whole.

As I mentioned in my previous post, being on Post in South Korea was an enjoyably delicious taste of home. At times I even forgot that I was still in Asia.  I was shown, by the many wonderful friends I made there, not the tourist experience of Korea, but that of a G.I.  I was surrounded by American soldiers and dependents for the majority of my stay, both on and off post,  I took up residence in the barracks and I shared in the rush of getting back through the gate before 1 am curfew each night.  I was taught to 2-step and line dance in the country-western bar, The Grand Old Oprey, frequented by expats, service men and Koreans alike and I learned, first hand, the dangers of the popular Korean liquor,  Soju. Everyone I met was welcoming and ready to show me just how fun living in Korea can be. I will never forget them.

Touring Around

South Korean Rock Soldier

South Korean Rock Soldier

Though I thoroughly enjoyed partaking in the lavish (compared to life as an Expat in China) lifestyle of living on an American post in South Korea, I refused to allow myself to get so caught-up in it all that I neglected to experience the foreign culture around me.  I ventured off on my own around the city, getting lost on numerous occasions, but was always assisted by a local citizen or member of the national military of Korea (because South Korea is still technically at war with North Korea, military presence in Korea is heavy, but the young officers are all very friendly)  and I made sure to visit the Korean War museum and the DMZ (De-Militarization Zone). The DMZ is the region between North and South Korea that stretches East to West across the entire border of the divided countries.  It is a peaceful region that was devised as a result of the cease-fire agreement between the Koreas in the 1950s and remains as a symbol of hope for reunification.  Being in this region that juxtaposed both peace and war tension I was overcome with awe and wonderment.  I was granted the opportunity to look into North Korea, an area so mysterious to myself and the rest of the world as a whole.  It was like I had been given codes to unlock a top secret world.  I also trudged through a North Korean infiltration tunnel, built by the North Korean army in attempt to attack South Korea.  The South Korean military discovered the tunnel and three others like it over the decades of peace.  They built blockading walls at the North Korean ends but have opened sections up for civilians to witness. It was a truly surreal experience walking through the dark, damp, murky tunnel, knowing who had dug it and what it had been dug for.

De-Militarization Zone

De-Militarization Zone

spying on North Korea

spying on North Korea

Look Mom! North Korea

Look Mom! North Korea

Recreation

  On day two of being in Korea, I ventured off on my own for Jisan Forest Resort where I planned to do a bit of snowboarding.  With zero knowledge of the Korean language (apart from 'thank you' and 'yes') I took a taxi to the major Seoul bus terminal.  From here, I took an hour and a half long bus ride to the city, Incheon.  In only a matter of minutes of being in Incheon I learned that I had mistakenly gone to the wrong city and it was actually Icheon (note the missing 'n') that I needed to head to.  Back on the bus for another hour, I arrived to Icheon almost two hours behind schedule.  From here, I took a taxi to the city at the base of Jisan Forest Resort and completed the remainer of my journey on foot.  I would like to take this moment to say that this was all done with the help of a number of kind and friendly Koreans (I have yet to meet an unfriendly Korean) who were eager to assist me despite the  thick language barrier between us.  

I spent the afternoon snowboarding on the various slopes offered at the resort.  It was refreshing. I had forgotten just how much I missed boarding.  Initially, I was intimidated.  I pulled up to the first lift, left foot strapped in, right foot pedaling, and observed the Korean snowboarders around me (I was the only non-Korean).  They were decked out in high-snowboarding fashion, each of them wearing the coolest pants, coats and hats manufactured by top brand names.  They had fancy boards, wore mini-backpacks and traveled in groups and here I was, alone, wearing my oldest boarding jacket, borrowed ski pants and using a rental. I was also the only person in line whose board remained strapped to them. Feeling self-conscious of this, assuming it was some curios etiquette and not wanting to comit a faux pas, I loosened my boot straps and carried my board onto the lift in the same manner as those around me.  Once on the chair lift, I got a better chance to scope out my 'competition' and almost instantly was overcome with hearty amusement.  Snowboarding is very clearly a new thing for Koreans.  It is another adoption from the West,and like most things adopted from Western culture into Asia, they are still getting the hang of it and a few concepts are lost in translation. The riders spent the majority of their trek back down the mountain on their rears, or sliding slowly forward on their heels, holding up their super cool pants in the process. Needless to say, I was able to spend the afternoon feeling very good about myself and, as usual in Asia, the object of incessant staring.

Food

Eating my full in Brazilian BBQ my first night there, I opened my stomach up greatly, preparing it for the tremendous amounts of food I would be eating as the week continued. As far as Western food goes,  I enjoyed Subway for the first time in four months, ate Chinese food (American style, that is), drank countless Chai tea lattes from Starbucks (can't get those in Hefei), shared a rack of Jack Daniels glazed ribs from T.G.I.F., devoured fresh sushi, savored Mexican food on multiple occasions, and crushed a stuffed-crust pepperoni pizza from pizza hut.  All of this glutenous indulgence did not impede upon my desire for real Korean cuisine however.  I tried various street foods and was taken out by an amazing man to a delicious dinner of Korean-style beef & leaf (Essentially Korean BBQ) and rice beer. 

Posted by Abroadabroad89 19:59 Archived in South Korea Comments (0)

Korea At Last!

"It's better to travel well than to arrive" - Buddha (...and when you haven't traveled well, arriving is the best feeling in the world)

To a foreigner now used to the constant bombardment of nonsensical and backward ways of daily life in China, Seoul, Korea was kindly intuitive.  Aside from a minor incident at customs, my arrival into Seoul and onto Yongsan Army Base was seamless.   I had a moment of fright when the woman at the customs counter began to turn through the pages of my passport and then ask where my entry visa was, to which I responded, in sheer horror while my stomach started to do violent flips of nervous angst, that "all prior research I had done for my trip has led me to the conclusion that one was not needed for US citizens."  She began to shake her head in disagreement then stopped, stared at me for a moment in clear deep thought, as I fought back the pressing urge to vomit, and understanding that she had made a mistake, reconsidered her position and stamped me through with the assurance that I would be leaving Korea within 30 days.  I nodded 'yes' vigorously then scooped up my passport and hurried on before she had the chance to change her mind.

I wandered on through the airport optimistically.  The weather was nice, the atmosphere calm and reassuring, and so far, everyone I had encountered spoke English skillfully. I began to ask, with much hope, whether or not there was a bus that runs between the military base and the airport.  I was directed to the American Armed Forces desk located a few gates over. How pleasantly convenient! I approached the desk and asked if there was a bus, whether or not it chartered civilians and what it cost. There was, it did and it was free!  I followed the bus driver to a large charter bus and boarded, his solitary passenger for the hour long drive.  I took a seat in the front and dove back into my book (The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris - I HIGHLY recommend it to anyone who enjoys history, politics, or just a nice read).  After twenty minutes of reading I was struck with the realization that I was in a country I had never been in before and here I was reading, instead of taking in the landscape! I marked my place, put Teddy R aside and gazed out the window.  What my eyes found was anticlimactic to the point of sheer disappointment.  The surrounding sight was a vast, dormant wasteland awaiting industrial development.  As far as I could see, a panorama of dirt mounds and hills of upturned gravel encompassed by dry, barren farmland. Not awe-inspiring in the least. I slumped back into my seat and resumed reading.  

After another 20 minutes lapsed, I peered up from my book and was surprised to see that the scenery had shifted completely.  We had evidently reached the city limits and brilliant skyscrapers loomed in front of us as traffic picked up and people hustling along sidewalks and in front of stores appeared.  This was more like it! I wished, frustrated at myself, that I had a camera but alas I had to resort to taking the sights into my memory.  Soon, the bus reached the gate and after we passed through the security checkpoint, the scenery changed once again.  

Suddenly, and without any preparation or warning, I was overcome with a strange urge to cry what I was pretty sure would have been tears of joy. It was a confusing feeling. Being on base, surrounded by American families and men and women in uniform, instilled in me a sense of home unbeknownst to me in Hefei.  Signs were in English, Burger King and Popeyes peered from behind military barracks, joggers ran by, kids poured out of the base school, the currency was the American dollar, and the grocery store was jam-packed with things that I had almost forgotten about in my seclusion from the West, in my little corner of the world, Hefei.  I wrote about it to my grandparents, describing it as feeling so much like home that it hurts. It's a beautiful but cruel facade.

After the awe and wonder set in, I remembered that I was in a place that albeit familiar, I did not know. I was dropped off at the base lodge and approached the front desk, asking them if they had a complimentary phone that I could use to contact my friend, Alicia, who I was to be staying with.  They did not, and my cell phone does not work over here nor did I have the capability to purchase a Korean sim card. I tried a number of ways to get ahold of Alicia via phone but failed miserably with each attempt. I even asked a girl if I could borrow her cell phone, to which she kindly agreed, but was unable to get through.  Finally, I sat down and crossed my fingers that there was open WiFi at the hotel. Success! For a moment I was in a panic trying to figure out how I would tell Alicia that I was in Seoul since my only contact information for her was Facebook and I have never been able to establish a VPN on my iPad which is what allows me to access Facebook - in China. Suddenly it dawned on me that I was, in fact, not in China. I had flown outside the confines of the Great Firewall hours before! Back in action! Yay for Democracy and freedom. I logged onto Facebook and messages Alicia, who had also apparently been trying fruitlessly together ahold of me. I then sat and waited patiently in the hotel lobby for her response, perfectly content to read and relish in my familiar surroundings.

Though my time in Seoul has been cut short do to travel complications (see prior post) I am thoroughly looking forward to the days ahead of me. I have a packed agenda, a thirst for adventure and excitement and a growing hunger for kim bob and bulgogi!

Posted by Abroadabroad89 00:46 Archived in South Korea Comments (0)

The Challenges of International Travel

TSA has nothing on China.

sunny

The plan was to stay up all night. Pack, read, clean, prepare and eliminate the stress that comes from the worry of not waking up on time. The plan was to be at the airport two hours early. A habit inherited from my parents and their parents before them. The plan was to be able to relax before my flight, knowing that I had everything that I needed and would not have any troubles. The trip was supposed to go smoothly. As I have said, this was the plan.Instead, I end up on a China fast train to Shanghai, praying that it holds to its end of the bargain.
Somehow, last night, I allowed myself to fall asleep. Somewhere between Chinese study and Bible study, I do believe. Alarms were ignored and the ZZZ's had it. Sleep took over me like a merciless poison. I was defenseless.

7:30 in the morning, my biological clock says, "Wake up!" 7:30 and 2 seconds, I am freaking out. My flight leaves in 40 minutes. Grab bag (Thank God it is packed), throw on pants, shirt, coat, scarf, boots - no, no time - boots go in backpack, slip on moccasins. Wallet, keys, cell phone, passport. Out the door. Elevator takes an annoyingly long time to descend. Floor 9...8...7...6...5... - come on, come on, come on! - 4...3...2...1...doors open! Darn it all! I forgot to pack my towel. I can sense the judging disapproval of Ford Prefect.
7:34 Taxi! No taxi to be seen. Of course, it is rush hour on a Monday morning. Finding an available taxi at rush hour in Hefei is as likely as finding a Congress of GOPs and Dems that understand the true meaning and value of the concept, 'shared sacrifice'. It just doesn't happen.
7:35... 7:38... Panic creeps up on me and begins to strangle the glimmer of hope that remains... 7:40. I get a little more proactive. Instead of standing on the curb with my arm out like a hopeless fool I confront motorists instead. Third try's the charm! "To the airport!" I say in my best Chinese, hopping awkwardly onto the back of his bike with my backpack that nearly matches me in size. He nods, hands me a plastic helmet that doesn't buckle and says "40 kwai!" I agree. There is no time to be frugal. "Quickly!" I plead and quickly, he obeys! We weave in and out of traffic, dodging buses, bicycles, cars and motorcycles alike. Worry of making it to the airport on time was replaced by a worry of making it there at all. Because this is China, we blow through red lights at minor and major intersections. Because this is China, we do U-turns into oncoming traffic on the highway. I follow each incident with a prayer of thanks after watching the highlighted events of my life flash before my eyes. 7:46.
The trip goes on and on. Road, after road, after road. The icy wind whips at my hair and bites my nose and all feeling has gone from my cheeks and fingers. Tears stream uncontrollably down my face. I wonder what percent is from the wind and what is from the fear of missing my flight, and 'how did I let this happen?!'. 7:54.

Next thing I know, we are cutting through a a construction site. Because this is China, nobody pays any mind to it. Because I am American and we ask too many questions, I do. "Where are we? Where is the airport?" He explains that he is taking a short cut. Or so he thought. We are basically dirt biking at this point. Within moments we run into an obstacle we can't maneuver around. There are dirt hills, mud puddles and fencing all around us with no access to the conjoining road. There is no choice but to turn back the way we came. 4 minutes wasted. 8:00. My flight takes off in 10 minutes. I let it go. At this point I have two options. I can either allow myself to enter into futile anxious panic, or I begin to brainstorm my next best option. I take a deep breath and choose the latter.

8:14 I arrive at the airport cringing at the knowledge that my plane is thousands of feet above me by now. I go in and ask if there are any more planes that will get me to Shanghai by the afternoon. This is China, so of course not. I sulk out of the airport and phone my Chinese teacher and friend, Lowren. Lowren, my hero!

He stays on the phone with me as we devise my next plan of action. To the train station. The clock shows 8:30. I have to be at the Shanghai Pudong airport no later than 14:00 as I have a connecting flight to Seoul, South Korea at 14:50. I find a taxi to the airport and Lowren hangs up and begins to look up train tickets to Shanghai. He also calls China Southern Airlines in order to figure out what my options are as far as postponing my flight - just in case. He is such a dear! I allow myself to calm down on the warm taxi ride and even end of having a lovely chat with the driver who refuses to accept that my Chinese conversational skills are minimal at best. Much to my surprise and delight, we are able to communicate quite well. Basic Chinese: I am from America, I am an English teacher, I live in Hefei, what's your name, No I am not 30 I am 22, my name is, etc. Apparently he is even more delighted by the conversation that I, because as we are pulling up to the train station, I am having to refuse his request of my hand in marriage. He is crushed. I muster up my best American sweetheart apologetic smile and bid him farewell.

I get out of the taxi, and Lowren calls. He has already found a few back up flights from Shanghai leaving a day later. It will cost me more than my original ticket to postpone my flight. Optimism kicks in. I ask Lowren if he thinks I can make my flight if I catch the 10:00 train to Shanghai. He thinks it is worth the risk. I am unable to find the ticket counter so I run up to a man who looks in charge. He is wearing a green uniform with lots of pins and shiny gold buttons. Security, China style. Promising. I construe my facial expression to show that I am lost and in desperate need of help. I then hand him my phone and Lowren tells him I need to find the ticket counter to buy a ticket to Shanghai. He leads me there. I get a sneaky suspicion that this sort of petty duty is not in his normal job description. Other men wearing matching uniforms see him and laugh. I continue to follow. Of course the ticket counter is not actually in the train station. This is China.

9:46, I buy my ticket.
9:52, I buy a fanta and some gum.
9:58, I adjust to a comfortable position in my seat on the train.
The train arrives in Shanghai at 13:30. I have to take a taxi to the airport. I have an hour and 20 minutes until take off.
13:36 I am in a taxi heading for the airport. Lowren calls to make sure all is well. He asks me to hand the phone over to the taxi driver in order to tell him to make sure I get to the airport by 14:30. Suddenly, the taxi driver is speed racer. We thrash down the highway, going 90-100-120 kilometers per hour in 55-70 kilometers per hour zones.
The driver seems to be enjoying the excited a little too much.
14:19! We pull into the terminal. I pay him, thank him profusely and dash to the check in gate.

Spoiler alert! I don't make it.
I get to the gate only to be told that check in is closed. I am too late. I protest. My flight does not take off for half an hour. I have no bags to check. Because this is China, they don't care. I ask why. This is China, so "There is no why." Rules are rules and now I am stuck in the Shanghai airport. I think about crying. No! I suck it up and buy a new ticket to S. Korea. I refuse to be defeated.

I call my friends in Shanghai. They have a room ready for me. Bless the Bradners.
I am now sitting on a couch in Shanghai. Glass in hand. Wine trickles down my throat and washes away the stress.
I have deviated from my original course but I am still ready for an amazing vacation and Chinese New Year is only 1 week away, so I say bring on the adventures. Adversity, challenge accepted.

Posted by Abroadabroad89 06:22 Archived in China Comments (0)

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