Monday, July 26, 2010

Okay, I suck at posting...

but this trip is too fun to be always sitting behind a computer, and seemingly everytime I go to upload photos, the power goes it, and takes my internet with it, or my adobe plug-ins crash.. so photos are being uploaded very slowly and very painfully.

I am alive, and I am currently in Hoi' An, which is a city on the South China Sea. The sea is gorgeous, it's the first time I've ever seen any non-Atlantic saltwater, and I got to go swimming in it with Tom yesterday. It was very hard, you see, the water is freezing.. only 75-80 degrees (Just kidding about it being freezing, obviously)!!! We are here with John, Tom's friend from the war and now lives in Thailand, who is all sorts of awesome and full of stories. We met up in John in Hue, where we stopped a few days to see the Citadel, or, alternatively, the Purple Forbidden City.

Before that.. I'm going backwards now, because I sort of lost track of the days... we road the train 11 hours on hard seats to get back to Hanoi, which is like sitting on a wooden bench for 11 hours, but with awesome company. Tom met some Vietnamese War veterans, and watching them talk and genuinely get along was nothing short of incredible. There was also a young entertainer on the train, who had the whole car in stitches with his singing, although he'd been put up to it by some dubious older men who were then sternly lectured by one of the Vietnamese War veterans.

Before that we were in Sapa, which is this really gorgeous town in the mountains, high up in the clouds, and full of Black Hmong (Tribal) people. The woman are pushy and try to sell you stuff; they get you by asking your name, asking if you have any brothers or sisters, and then trying to get you to buy stuff for said siblings. While we were there, Tom decided we should go on a hike down a mountain to the tribal villages of the Black Hmong and Red Zui (Sp?) people.

It was raining that day, but I was excited to go. It was a 12 km (8 mi) hike. Tom thought it was all down pavement.. but it turned out we would be hiking through streams and down the mountain in slippery red clay. It was really awesome, but one of the most straining hikes I have ever encountered, my legs were SORE the next few days. I took a few falls, despite having a Black Hmong woman who helped me in hopes that I would buy something from her at the arrival of the village 3 hours later.. I didn't buy her something, but I gave her 100,000 VND ($5), which is a ton of money to them. She was really grateful and seemed genuinely surprised, and she gave me a woven bracelet in return, which I really treasure since it was given freely.

We also went, the day before the hike in SaPa, to the market in Lao Cai. In the market, they were mostly selling tourist junk.. it used to be all the stuff that the Flower Hmong and other tribes would buy from one another, but as they started bringing more tourist buses to the market, this changed. In my opinion, there were two things of note here: 1) They have this gross soup Tom pointed out that was every part of a horse but a meat. If you ever encounter this, proceed with caution! 2) I saw puppies and got very upset by the way they were being handled.. lifted by the leash and things like that. Tom noted that they were still used for food in the tribal villages, and this became evident when we went to the villages outside of Sapa. It was the first time I was shocked, since I was under the impression that this practice only really still existed in North Korea and small pockets of Asia. Well, I guess we found one of those small pockets.

But it was a really nice little town, the air was very fresh and the hike was really cool.

The power keeps cutting out here, so I will keep this short, but I am alive and well, and Tom and John are also great. I will keep trying to post pictures, but I promise no success; I only have 20 out of about 900 that need to be posted uploaded, and I can't seem to manage to get an entire album up at once, so I'm going to keep trying.

I hope you are all well!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Away from the blog

I will be unable to post pictures and post to Facebook for a period time, as I am unable to use my computer here and VPN in for Facebook, or upload pictures. As such, I will post updates tomorrow when I can of the past few days: I will retropost pictures to the appropriate days when I am able to. I am currently in Hanoi, Vietnam, and thus far, it exceeds my expectations. Please check back tomorrow for updates.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Day 9: Trip to the hospital and Train from Xian to Beijing

No photos as today was a sick day.

It happened. I got food poisoning from KFC.

I woke up this morning feeling like hell after numerous trips to the bathroom overnight in addition to extreme stomach pain. Last night, before I went to bed, I noticed my hands were yellow.

Josh and Tom came by this morning, and asked if I wanted to go to a clinic. I initially said no, and took some medicine Tom had, but an hour later, it hadn’t helped. I then remembered the yellowing. I showed them, and it had gotten darker over night- at that point, I agreed to go to the hospital.

We got a cab there and we were directed to the VIP area- an area for government officials and foreigners. I was immediately- no wait whatsoever- shown to a doctor. A sweet, beautiful young nurse then took me around to get my blood tested, pay the fees, speak to the doctor again, and get medicine. I was given two types of medication. I am not sure how much it cost, but I think it cost well under $100 US. I was in an out in less than an hour.

I went back to my hotel room to rest and sleep. Josh and Tom went out on their own, and arrived back just before 6 PM. We tried to hail a cab for over 30 minutes, at which point a porter got a friend of his to come pick us up, for a much higher fee than typical- but he DID get us to the train on time.

We rushed to the train, and climbed into the car. The d├ęcor is beautiful- private compartments that sleep 4 people to each, with little vases and fakes roses; mirrors on the backs of the doors that seal off each compartment; controls for the lights and music, as well as reading lights; soft padding by the bottom bunks for sitting, and thick mattress pads; and a choice between a sit down or squatting toilet, WITH TOILET PAPER, a total luxury in this country.

And now I’m sitting on this luxurious train, which moves at over 100 miles an hour, typing this and getting ready to sleep. I’ll post more from Beijing, but even though I feel much better, it’s been a long day, so I’m calling it!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Day 8: Xian, Terracotta Army, Pagoda

Pictures of today at:

Today I overslept, I didn't wake up until almost 8 o'clock. Whoops. I climbed out of bed just before Tom rang, and threw on clothes. Tom called and said that we'd be leaving the hotel at around 9:30, so I goofed around a bit and then joined him and Josh downstairs.

We got a cab- Tom said the cab driver reminded him of John Belushi- and headed to the Terracotta Army museum. It was supposed to be an hour and a half drive, but it was actually much shorter than that- maybe 40 minutes or so. We pulled up and Tom checked his bag since they didn't allow luggage in, and then we proceeded up to the museum.

The walk to the museum was a long gauntlet of shops and restaurants. I saw a KFC there, and practically started drooling at the thought of potato wedges, so it was resolved we would go there after for lunch.

Tom stopped at an antiques stall and got a VERY cool pair of steampunky 19th or 18th century brass sunglasses, with the original case. The guy wanted him to buy more, but that was all Tom wanted- I don't blame him, it was a very neat purchase that many of my SciFi/Fantasy convention friends would drool over. He also got me a really cool bottle opener for my occasional beer cravings.

We proceeded through two security checkpoints and went into the museum. Tom told me that they built the museums on top of where the found the Terracotta Army- so you go in and there are these massive pits filled with Terracotta soldiers and horses, as well as remnants or wells. I'd try to explain it better, but the pictures really do it a justice I cannot with words. And Beccy, I took a TON of pics for you. :)

We went to the museum housed with the terracotta army, which held urns and vases and uniforms of the historical times of the emperors and the army, and also looked at a very expensive jade store- some of the offerings were over 800,000 yuan, over $100,000 USD.

We then wandered back through the shops, where Tom and Josh got baked sweet potatoes, and went to get the KFC. I was disappointed, no potato wedges or biscuits, but decent fries. Tom and I also also split a popcorn chicken, which was problematic from the start.

First of all, they were spicy, at least some of them. Tom and I CANNOT do hot foods. So I pulled them apart to see which ones were spicy, and realized that they were little slimy chunks of chicken cubes inside. I ended up eating some anyway, because I was very hungry.

We left and went back to the hotel for a while, and rested there until evening. My stomach started to feel very unsettled, and I lay down for a while. I was also a little sad as I got news about the passing of someone I knew, so it was an off afternoon for sure. I kept running to the bathroom, but took some immodium, and felt better.

We went at around 9:00 to the Pagoda in Xian. It was very beautiful, with a lights show and the largest fountain in China, which shot up and sprayed everyone. I took pictures of that and many of the Pagoda. Tom and Josh spotted a place where one could dress up like a concubine and be photographed, and they asked me to do it. I said sure, the price was reasonable. As they took pictures along with the girl who worked there, a crowd gathered around, staring and giggling. Eep. But I got two nice- while very amusing- pictures from the shop, in addition to what Tom and Josh took.

We wandered up to the Pagoda, and Josh and I illegally *gasp* walked on the grass to stand by a carved wall and get pictures. We were laughing with Tom about breaking laws in China. I realized, while we were by the pagoda, that I would probably be very happy living in a city like Xian- It's clean, it's beautiful, the people are friendly, it's not very expensive, and there are a lot of things to see and do within the city.

We got in a cab and tailed it back to the hotel, where I uploaded pictures and got very sick again. I also realized that my skin was jaundiced- turning yellow. More on that tomorrow, but a word to my readers: I went to the hospital, I was treated EXTREMELY well, I was in and out in about an hour, and it's just food poisoning from the KFC. I'm feeling better now, I have medicine, and I am resting today, but it's nothing to be worried about or that I hadn't anticipated.

End of story? Don't eat foreign food in China.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Day 7: Train Ride Continued, Xi'an

Pictures of today:

I awoke on the train at 8:30 today after sleeping soundly for almost 10 hours. It was very relaxing- I got up, talked with Tom, played the DS, stretched my legs, and generally hung out. Definitely a decent ride. Before I knew it, it was noon, and the train was pulling into the station.

We got out, and a kind Chinese man who shared the compartment with us, in addition to a Russian who boarded in the middle of the night, assisted Tom with our luggage out to the front of the station. We then got tickets back to Beijing for the 7th- they only had soft sleepers, the first class cars, so we ended up with those instead of the hard sleeper tickets.

We tried to get a cab, but the first cabbie said we had too much luggage. Blah, they are always saying that. Josh convinced another one to take him, and Tom and I demonstrated our mad awesome American packing skills. We can always make the luggage fit, even with 6 bags and 3 people!

Today was an easy day. We went to the fruit market and got some really good rice noodles, then procured cookies, a sugar baby melon, bread, and a cucumber from the stalls in the market. After that, we went to the supermarket, and bought random stuff- I got a bottle opener/peeler/knife (all in one!) and a spoon for my melon, in addition to some detergent for my shorts and underthings; Tom got a wastebasket to fit his emperor hat into, as well as some other miscellaneous stuff. Oh, and beer, let's not forget the beer.

We are staying at Home Inn, the same chain we stayed in before. It's very nice, the rooms are bigger here and there is a lovely Chinese girl who works at the desk who speaks very good English.

The original plan for tonight was for me to go to Karaoke since there's a KTV here in the building, and for Tom and Josh to go out. Well, the three of us went down to the karaoke place, and they were all like "It's 200 yuan (like $33 bucks) just for the cover because you get a private room, and another 29 yuan to sing a song.. and then you gotta pay for drinks, food, yadda yadda. Tom remarked that it was the type of place that businessmen took prostitutes, and after some googling, I found out that he was right- mostly. What happens is, there are two types of KTV in China- one for young people who want to have some good clean fun, and one for the businessmen. At the one for the businessmen, you get a private room, and hire girls to spend time with you- and yes, sometimes for a price, they will go home with you. So I was NOT about to even give a second thought to going there.

I went up to my room and drank my beer and ate some melon, and then decided to go for a walk alone. I went and walked across the street to an eyeglass place, and was able to quickly communicate the fact that I needed saline. I was so relieved to finally find it, it's very difficult to find here since they don't sell it in pharmacies or supermarkets, and the price was right on par with US cost, which is expected for something like that. I then walked down the street past the little shops to see if anyplace was open where I could get my eyebrows down, but alas, I was out of luck as they were all closed.

If Tom and I get looks and stared at here, I got even more stared at walking alone. However, there are policemen on every corner, so I feel safe walking down the streets by myself, so long as they are the major streets.

As I went back to the hotel room some of the KTV people were downstaies. They were trying to talk me into going up, and said for me, it'd only be a 30 yuan cover. But this is how I see it:

1) I get ripped off by the club in some way.
2) I don't get ripped off, and have great fun in the club with the businessmen and hookers. Yeah. Real viable.
3) I go to the club, don't get ripped off, and it's still a disaster. Either I'm the entertainment or it's uncomfortable or something else happens.. way too much that could go wrong here.

So yes, I passed on that.

Now I'm kicking back now again and finishing my beer and watermelon. Today is a welcome "down" day, but tomorrow we see the Terracotta army, so I can't wait!

BTW- It's nice to not have terribad internet too. This post, unlike the last 3, is not backlogged.

Day 6: Train ride from Huhhot to Xi’an

(Retroposted in Xian as this was written on the train.)

Photos of today are at:

This morning I woke up at 6 AM, but crawled back into bed at 9 after unsuccessfully attempting to get the internet to work on any decent level. I slept until around 9:45, then got up again and got dressed. Tom rang me and asked me if I wanted to go for a walk, and we picked a direction and started walking in it.

Tom and I rounded a corner and ended up in a wedding clothes shop. It was very beautiful, full of what we would think of as traditional Chinese dresses and elaborate fabrics. Tom took pictures of the shop, and we thanked the woman and walked down a while farther, realizing that we were in a district entirely for wedding clothes. Tom and I went into a small shop with wedding favours and purchased an invitation to use as a card for 1 yuan, and then we walked back to the hotel to get ready for our 23 hour train ride to Xi’an.

We got packed up and Josh came, and we grabbed a cab to the station. I have become an expert at hailing cabs at this point. We got down there, waited in line for a while, got food at the station for the trip, and the boarded the train. We were back on a hard sleeper.

We ended up all bunking together this time; Tom and I took the bottom bunks, while Josh took one in the middle. We all sat on the bottom bunks, talking together and joking around, and I read the entire book Twilight before the sun set. The terrain we passed by was gorgeous mountains but also large factories, cities, wind farms and small towns, so I occasionally looked out the window for a time. It’s very comfortable here, being able to move around at whim and lay down when you please. The time has passed very quickly so far, but it’s lights out at 10, so this is a short entry compared to my others as nothing too notable has happened today.

I will take a moment here to talk about the cleanliness of the Chinese cities. People, particularly children, urinate everywhere outside, and Tom and Josh even saw a little girl peeing on a subway platform. On our walk, I observed a toddler going #2 onto a piece of paper on the street. It was on paper, but still- the cultural differences in acts regarded as intimate acts in America is very notable. The smell is also very distinct; it’s not everywhere, but it’s not uncommon to catch whiffs of human stench all over the city. In public, they have toilets that you squat over- pretty much metal or porcelain holes in the ground- don’t help matters much (although hotels and homes have the same toilets we have in America). I’m used to the smell from other life encounters, but it’s certainly something you don’t encounter much in the states.

Also, people spit everywhere- and smoke. It’s just the way of life. Not many women smoke here, I’ve only seen one, but most of the men seem to. It also seems that in the major cities, like Beijing, people are used to tourists, and try to get a higher price from them. Outside of the major tourist cities, in the smaller cities like Xian and Huhhot, people are more honest about things and are also generally friendlier. But they stare a lot more at white people outside of the major tourist cities as well, something I’m quite used to now.

The hotels we have stayed in have all been powered by the keys. You have to insert your room key to get power, and take it with you when you leave, so as not to waste power. They also have wind farms and solar lights all over the place.

It’s also very cheap here, about 40 cents for a coke. My sun parasol was 5 dollars, beer is about 60 cents. Food ranges from very cheap- 50 cents for a large meal- to very expensive, very expensive being about 10 dollars a head.

So those are my basic observations. If you have any questions, ask away, but I’m done for the night!

Day 5: Mausoleum of Ghenghis Khan

(written in Huhhot and posted from Xian, courtesy of crappy internets and China blockage. Gotta stay one step ahead of the censors here!)

Pictures of today at:

Today was a very long day. We woke up at 6 AM, as we had to be out the door by 7 AM to go to the Mausoleum of Ghenghis Khan, which was approximately a 4 hour drive. We rented a taxi cab and driver for the day to take up there; it cost 160 USD for his services for the day. A young man about my age pulled up in front of the hotel in a cab, and Josh and I were off.

We drove for a very long time past vast mountains and places where the Earth had eroded into deep turrets into the earth, revealing many different layers of sediment. It was very beautiful. Traffic going up was on the lighter end; when needed, the driver switched lanes to go into the breakdown way (as well as oncoming traffic at some points!) to get around the large trucks that travelled the roads. We also saw an accident where the front edge of one of their trucks was very badly smashed, but it seemed that there were no injuries from it.

About 3 ½ hours into the ride, we stopped at a fancy restaurant for food that was nothing short of decadent. They had delicious potatoes and pork with a sweet sauce, the potatoes sliced up like chips; there was diced beef with peanuts and vinegar cucumber, pasta florets that were heavy and coated with a thin but excellent sauce, and a massive bowl of noodles and pork and eggs. We fed the driver, and he acted almost as a servant throughout the day, pouring our tea, holding the car doors for us- he was a very courteous young man, and was very happy to pull off to the side of the road so we could take pictures.

After we departed from lunch, we arrived about 30 minutes later at the Mausoleum of Ghengis Khan. It was on perfectly maintained grounds covering many acres. It is worth noting that this attraction was formerly located in Tibet, but moved to Mongolia. We went up several flights of stairs towards the central museum building. Unfortunately, pictures were not allowed inside the museum, although I did manage to sneak one of the massive statue of Ghengis Khan in the front hall from outside. Inside the building, the walls were covered in murals celebrating the life and acts of Ghengis Khan; the ceiling was painted gorgeously with colors of red, gold, blue, and yellow, with large dragons on the domes above us, and pillars emblazoned with gold. They had display cases with artifacts belonging to Ghengis Khan as well as those members of his clan; horse bridles, milk jugs, jewelry, golden saddles and weaponry. They also had places where one could kneel down and light incense and worship.

Outside, they had an altar where one could pray to Ghengis Khan’s horse, which was thought to be supernatural, as well as several other areas for praying. Ponies grazed on the grass, and little buildings with souvenir shops were scattered about. A young boy was very entertained by the sprinklers, playing in them, and we seemed to be a bit of an attraction ourself; a Chinese couple came up and asked Josh if they could take pictures with us and Tom, and we happily agreed. The people in Mongolia, once again, are very friendly people; earlier when we had stopped for drinks on the way, a young man was tickled to practice his English with Tom, saying “Good morning, teacher”, which I found very amusing as Tom is actually a teacher back in the states.

We went back to the cab after seeing the sights and headed back to Huhhot. On the way, the driver pointed out the desert to me while I was engrossed in the DS for what was sure to be a long trip back; the dunes were the heavy tan of stand and just unimaginably beautiful. It was my first time seeing the desert, and while it was there and gone before I could snap a picture, I am sure it is a sight I will remember forever.

The driver took us through a city, and pulled off where there were more monuments to both Ghenghis Khan and the people of the grasslands. I snapped some pictures of Josh and the monuments while Tom did the same, and as I was photographing the monuments, a man came up and gestured for me to give him my camera. At first I hesitated, but then I noticed the expensive Nikon around his neck- I couldn’t see him hauling off with my camera when he had one so nice himself. I handed him mine, and he took many pictures of me, gesturing for me to make different positions and turn different ways. Both he and I were entertained, and eventually he handed back my camera and I thanked him.

We got back in the cab and headed back to Huhhot. It was a very long and mostly unnotable ride; it took 7 hours to get back, and we passed through towns that were very poor coal towns; the dust coated the roads and the land around. The cab driver, once we hit Huhhot, was getting very anxious to watch the World Cup, so we got out a little before the hotel, Tom paid him, and we walked back. We got beers and went to our room to drink and sleep, and that was the end of our long journey to the Mausoleum.

Day 4: Sleeper Train to Huhhot, Inner Mongolia Museum

(Retroposted from blog written but not posten in Huhhot)

Pictures and video of today are at:

I awoke this morning on a “hard sleeper” train to Huhhot. The train ride is 13 hours long from Beijing to Huhhot; there are 4 classes, consisting of first class sleeper, second class sleeper, soft seat, and hard seat, in order of price. The hard sleepers have a firm mattress with a thin layer of padding on top, as well as soft blankets and barley pillows. There are about 8 compartments to each train car, with each compartment consisting of 6 bunks; 3 up each side, with a small table in the middle. I took the top bunk, and went to sleep soon after getting in. It was quite comfortable, surprisingly, as the train did not jostle around as I had expected.

I awoke at 7 but went back to sleep until about 9:30; Tom and Josh were already awake. We sat beside the window and took pictures; Tom and I observed that we were the only foreigners on the train. At about noon, the train pulled into the station in Huhhot, Mongolia, and Josh found us a hotel.

We took a cab over to the hotel; on the way over, there were many vendors selling fruit. Some of these vendors also had donkeys tied to the cart to help with hauling. We dropped our luggage off at the hotel and promptly took a cab over to the Inner Mongolia Museum.

The Museum was a massive structure, consisting of a first floor of science exhibits, and a second floor of history. When we went in, some Chinese children greeted us in English and followed us around. Later I would realize that these children, about 9-10 years old, were actually pint-sized museum tour guides. They also had very beautiful woman in traditional Mongolian dress guiding people around.

We hit up the exhibits on the first floor, which consisted of dinosaur fossils, native animals (all stuffed), a space exploration exhibit, and a room with the different gems and minerals of Inner Mongolia. Josh told us that the museum was a gift from the Chinese government, and he followed around the older tour guides, listening to the explanations. When we hit the animal room, I realized that a little girl who I had assumed was a child of someone in one of the groups was actually explaining everything and guiding people around. Everyone seemed very enamored by it, and asked continually to take pictures with her. I got some video of it, and pointed it out to Tom.

We then went upstairs, where they had relics of the warriors of Mongolia, as well as replicas of awesome things like catapults and trebuchets. It was pretty win, and they had some very cool weapons- even old morningstars! They also had a room on farming artifacts that wasn’t as interesting, and a room on the Communist History of the company. I couldn’t read most of what was in that room, but again, there were some neat guns, so I took a few pictures of those and some pictures of pictures of Communist people. Even though we were already surrounded by Communists, but that’s beyond the point.

It’s also worth noting that I saw the only American I would see in Mongolian here, and he didn’t say a word to me, but nor did I. I don’t really feel an urgency to talk to the other foreigners I see, although I did wonder at the fact that he appeared to be alone. But my desire to speak English to someone is sated by conversations with Tom and Josh, in addition to the bits and pieces the locals speak.

We left the museum and looked for a fishing pole for Tom, but struck out. Then Josh decided to get his hair cut. There was a trendy shop in Huhhot that he wanted to go to, so we went there. I was not going to get my hair cut, but the price was very good-less than $3- so I asked Josh to have them trim off the dead ends. Mercifully, they did not only that, but also thinned out my hair, making it easier to bear in this climate. I was very happy with my haircut, and Josh’s looked great as well!

I went outside, and a girl invited me to sit down on a magazine on the curb with her. As we sat, she admired my tattoo, touching it and pointing it out to other young adults who worked at the shop. They came, and also wanted to touch it- and finally, one boy took off his shirt to show me his own! He introduced himself in English as Batu, and said it was nice to meet me- I said the same and told him my name. I think the girls were teasing him about it, but he was very sweet. I joked about how the only Chinese I know is “Ni hao” (hello), “Shia Shia” (thank you), and Coca-Cola and Pepsi. They were very nice, and when I left, Batu asked me to come back soon. It just reinforced how much friendlier the Mongolians seem to be than those we’ve encountered in Beijing.

We walked back from the hair salon to the hotel, and settled it. I can’t get my VPN working, so this will probably be posted a day or two after writing. It’s been an exciting day, I can’t wait to go to the Mausoleum of Ghengis Khan tomorrow!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Day 3: Beijing, Electronics City

A special greeting, videos, and pictures of today at:

This morning I woke up at 6 AM, talked to Peter and friends for a couple of hours, and then Josh came at around 9:15.. it was a late day for getting out! When we went out the door, it was pouring, so we decided to veto the Summer Palace, which is over 200 acres but mostly outdoors, and go shopping for some essentials. We grabbed breakfast at the UIBE cafeteria and headed to the subway.

We took the 10 line to the 4 line and ended up in Electronics City, which is pretty much geek mecca. Every major PC manufacturer has a billboard and 15 different stores in Electronics city. First we went to a small market, where people pretty much left us alone unless we looked at something, and sought out rechargable batteries for Tom, as his died yesterday. However, his camera is a tight fight for American batteries as it is, and no one would let us remove theirs from the packaging and try them to be sure they fit, so we left and went to one of the high-rise electronics boutiques, which was at LEAST 20 floors of nothing but cameras, laptops, video games systems, MP3 players, and every imaginable accessory.

We were accosted just by the entrance by about 10 salesman, all for different brands, all trying to lead us off to show us products. We declined until a girl from Sony said something to Josh, and he asked her about the batteries. She showed him some but wouldn't take them out of the package for Tom to try them, so we started to walk away.. but she yelled something to Josh and he walked back over, so we followed. She told him that she would take him up to the 13th floor to a place where they had spare batteries, and led us to the elevator.

We got up there and she escorted and left us into a room with Sony, Canon, and Casio products, along with tables and chairs. There were even ashtrays for people to smoke. We were told to sit at one of the tables, and a salesgirl came over and started talking to Josh. She left briefly and returned in about 5 minutes, 4 batteries for Tom's camera in hand. He tried them, and they fit both the charger and the camera, and were of a suitable capacity. Now started the real interesting part.

I believe initially she wanted 220 Yuan for 8 batteries. There was 10 minutes of back and forth between her and Josh; she said 220, he said 130, she said 180, he said 140, and finally, they settled on 150. She joked to Josh that Tom looked like Colonel Sanders from KFC, and Tom joked back that he had to go fry some chicken. We really liked her; she was young, savvy, funny, but VERY aggressive. I then thought to pull out my DS and the dead charger, which I'd brought along, and asked Josh to ask her if they had anything for it, even though I really doubted that they would.

I could not have been more wrong. The girl brought it back to the office, came back out, and said "Give me 5 minutes". Josh explained that they had to bring up the charger from another floor. 5 minutes later, she was back, Class 1 (Asia) wall adapter for the DS in hand. I asked her to test it to show me that it worked, and it did. Josh shot off a price of 30, she said 60 yuan. I took a calculator (Over here, everyone has calculators where foreigners can simply type in a desired price) and typed in 40. She shot back with 55. Tom typed in 45, and she said 55 again. Josh said 50, and she said sold. I handed over the money, and left with the DS charger. Tom pointed out that the process was VERY similar to buying a car in the US, and I couldn't agree more.

We then decided it was lunch time, and headed to McDonald's across the way. It was down a floor in the basement, and the second we walked in, a young woman came over with a picture menu to us to take our order- apparently they keep a separate staff for the purpose of serving foreigners. While the locals crowded at the counter, she took our order right there on the floor, and brought it over to us. Another employee came over and offered to help us find a table for 3 , but Josh had already found one, so we sat there.

On the food: The beef was mostly filler. My burger reminded me of cafeteria meat. The fries were okay, the usual, but it reminded me of what I HAVEN'T been missing out on since I met Peter and started eating better. The decor was hands down gorgeous for a McDonald's, and it was very clean. There were even some very beautiful McCafe drawings on a marker board an employee had done, and I got a picture of one. World Cup fever was also evident; there were national flags and soccer balls hanging from the ceiling. Overall, a pleasant experience, other than the "beef".

We then went to the bank so Tom could exchange more currency. It was also in a high-rise; in fact, it looked more like a corporate building than a bank, and it was very beautiful, all wood accents on the walls, and very modern. We went to the third floor, exchanged our currency, and rode the subway back to the hotel, which was pleasant. Tom and Josh went off gallivanting again, and I'm sticking around so I can go get our laundry at 6:00 PM, so I'm writing this blog now, at 5:15 in the afternoon. At 11:30 we depart for Inner Mongolia; I am not sure when I will post again, although I said this before, but check back tomorrow and the day after for more from Hohhat and Xian, Inner Mongolia, China!

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Photos are fixed.

The photo album at is now working. My apologies to everyone who tried to access it today; uploading is very finicky even with the workarounds I have applied.

Day 2: Beijing, The Great Wall

Pics of today's adventures are at:

I woke up at 6 AM today, and made the rest of the calls I intended to make to family letting them know that I got in safely,. Replied to a bunch of e-mails, then got dressed and ready to go out with Tom for the day. While getting dressed, I realized that I fried my charger for my DS as well as my rechargeable battery pack by plugging them directly into the wall. Whoops. You'd think I'd know better. The recharge pack isn't a big deal since Tom has one, but the DS one sort of is, since it's my clock, alarm clock, and my train/flight entertainment. So I need to work on finding a replacement tomorrow.

We ate breakfast at the UIBE (University of International Business and Economics) cafeteria- I had some salty flatbread thing that was decent, as well as some WAY oversalted collard greens- and took the city bus to the Beijing hub for trips to The Great Wall. At around 8 yuan each, it was a real bargain. The ride was about an hour, and the first half hour, other than some giant Disney-looking palace thing, was fairly unremarkable. The last half hour, on the other hand, was gorgeous. The mountains are high- REALLY high- and all a tan stone with the most beautiful greenery growing out of it. And the Great Wall is visible among the mountains, fading in and out as we took the twists and turns in the road. There was also a carving in the stone near the top of the mountain- I am baffled by how someone could have gone up this steep ledge solely for the purpose of making a massive carving of some deity or emperor.

We arrived at the based of one of the portions of The Great Wall, which was lined with shops and restaurants- even a cellular telephone dealer- and packed with tourists, primarily from China but also from all across the globe. I sighted Americans, Japanese, Germans, Arabs, and French. It was nice to overhear a smattering of English.

We bought our tickets for 40 yuan a piece, and headed for the Wall itself. I cannot begin to state how massive it is- it towers up into the mountains, and is very, very steep, although steps are used only when absolutely necessary; much of it is simply paved stone aligned towards the ascent with the curve of the earth's mountains in the region. We climbed over halfway up, taking pictures along the way, although regrettably, my overwhelming fear of heights prevented me from going as far as Josh and Tom did. I made it much farther than I thought I would have though.

The stones used in the construction are overall not massive like those used in The Forbidden City, but the sheer number of them, along with the length of the wall and the fact that parts of it have held so well over time, is just amazing. Little wonders that it IS one of the 7 Wonders of the World.

We came back down after a bit and ate at a little fast-food noodle joint; after last night I kept it safe with some shredded chicken and noodles that were quite good, although we all agreed that the portions were too large. Tom and Josh got dumplings, and they got a heap of them. We then went in the gift shop so that I could check out some of the gorgeous parasols like the ones the girls here use to keep out the sun- but while the price was good, the construction was shoddy, so I passed.

We took the bus back down, and Josh and I compared notes on universities while Tom slept. We went to the Wu Mart- I'm not kidding, it's like Wal-Mart but Chinese- and purchased a backpack for Tom and some nail polish remover for me, as well as some pens. Then we realized that there was a Wu-Mart grocery store in the second level of the basement. Score.

I picked up some Chrysanthemum for a friend back home who's fond of it, and browsed the aisles. They have shrimp Pringles here. Major "icky-but-I'm-fascinated" moment. We also looked at the baked goods, which looked awesome till some old guy stuck his nose right into them. Ewww. But among the haul, we got: Cadbury candy bars, Pepsi, Coke, some Moon Pie type things, coconut cookies, jasmine tea...
tasty things, very tasty things.

It was now around 5:30, so Josh and Tom were talking about going to the old city. My back was killing me, so Tom and Josh escorted me back to the hotel, then went out gallivanting for the night. I bought a beer, got in a nice shower, changed into PJs, and am now drinking said tasty beer whilst writing this. So this is it for tonight; tomorrow, we will be going to the Summer Palace. I will post again when I can, but it will probably be a few days, as tomorrow night we take the night train to Inner Mongolia to meet Josh's family and go see the Terracotta army. So until then, enjoy the pictures, e-mail me if you'd like, and have a great week!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Day 1: Beijing, The Forbidden City

Pics of today are at:

Written recap is below.

7:30 AM: I woke up this morning after 3 hours sleep, but feeling well-rested, courtesy of my sleep on the plane. I called my father, grandmother and Peter to check in, and then got a call from Josh at the hotel room saying that he'd be here in 10 or 15 minutes. I woke Tom up and told him, and then went back to my room to play with the internets for a bit, since I'd already showered and dressed. We headed over to the University of International Business and Economics across the street where Josh goes to school to grab breakfast; I had some form of delicious pound cake and an eggy roll, which was very good other than the weird white raisins unexpectedly crammed in the middle.

9:00 AM: We go to a local hotel which has a train ticket branch office in it to buy tickets for the sleeper train to Mongolia; they only have hard seats, no sleepers left, which is not the best option for a 13 hour overnight train. We decide to wait till later in the day to go to the Great Wall, and head for the Beijing train station instead. We are able to procure train tickets there for a hard sleep (2nd class sleeper), although we cannot get tickets back; apparently here in China, they do not have it set up so that all of the systems are networked, hence only being able to purchase tickets for your destination from your departure city. I see a Google bus and geek out again.

12:00: We head over to take the bus to the Great Wall, but the last bus of the day is leaving, and we haven't had lunch and do not have drinks. As a result, we decide we will head to the Forbidden City instead. We get over there, and browse souvenir shops, then go down a side street to eat some really delicious, juicy pork dumplings. A young woman down the street waves her beautiful baby's hand at me and says "Hello!". It was a very sweet encounter with someone who probably just had a few words of English!

2:30: We go into the Forbidden City. It is so huge, I cannot even describe it. It is adjacent to the resting place of Chairman Mao Ze Dong, and it really is a massive city. Over 1,000 rooms, and so many structures that each time you think you've entered the last enormous courtyard, there is another larger one behind it. There are many tourists there; most seem to be Chinese, although we sight some Italians, Portuguese, and Tom spots a couple of possible Mormon missionaries milling about. I am obsessed with both the architecture and the hundreds of sparkly multicolored parasols the woman tourists carry around.

4:30: We decide to head over to the Pedestrian's street market. It's a little awkward; everyone wants us to buy stuff and some vendors are selling fried baby ducklings (with the heads still on) as well as scorpions for food. Some woman gives me a way overblown price for two sets of rosewood chopsticks; I walk away. Another woman does the same thing with a similar pair I really like. I tell her I'll give her 20 yuan ($5) for the pair. She says "don't make me angry", and I turn to walk away. She relents. I hand over the money, she bags up the chopsticks, and doesn't throw in the resting stands for them; starts demanding 5 yuan a piece. I tell her, very loudly, that she needs to then give me my money back as that wasn't the deal. She throws them into the bag, likely because I have at that gone into frugal bitch mode. I learn not to hand over the money until they hand me everything I want, lest I have to get loud.

5:30: We stop in a clothes shop, where I think blouses are 5 yuan a piece. They are, in fact, 50% off, but still a reasonable price. Tom generously gets me one color of the blouse he thinks would be good for business affairs in the fall, while I get another color. We get on the bus to head back.

6:15 PM: The dumplings decide they hate me. My spoiled American stomach rumbles with discontent. I look for a good place to throw up, but thankfully, the urgency passes although the sick feeling doesn't go away. I grab a cucumber and a coke for dinner on the way back to the hotel and decide to stay here for the night, since I'm still feeling unwell.

7:30 PM (now): So here I sit, updating my blog with a trashcan comfortably nearby. My gut (no pun intended) tells me that this will pass by tomorrow; the food I've encountered so far is very good, but quite an adjustment.

All in all, a very good day. After over 9 hours of walking, and a wonderful first full day with Tom and Josh, I'm looking forward to more!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Crazy day

Holy crap. So apparently proxies in China aren't enough to access blogspot.. the Great fireWall of China needs to be VPNed around. But after two hours of playing around with it, I now have a successful VPN connection, which means I can update this. It's now 3:30 AM, so I will make this somewhat brief.

We started out in Hartford, but our flight kept getting delayed.. it ultimately ended up leaving two hours later. I saw Jim Monahan at the airport though trying to get on the same flight; that was cool, although he didn't make it on. Supposedly a ground stop at O'Hare caused the delay, but I later overheard one of the stewardesses saying that wasn't actually what had occurred.

It still gave us over an hour at O'Hare; for more reasons I don't understand, we didn't fly business class, but rather economy. It was okay though; I was medicated and slept most of the flight, chatting occasionally with the Chinese woman who was bringing her son from Lincoln, NE to see his grandparents for the summer.

We got in earlier than expected, at around 10:30 PM, and were swept through customs, a body heat reader (to ensure that no one coming through has Avian flu), followed by a meeting with Josh. He was very friendly; it was nice to meet him! He got us a cab, as it seems that most of the Chinese here speak little to no English, and the cab driver got very irate because there was not enough room in the trunk for luggage and he wanted us to take it in a separate car. Josh talked him into letting us bring a lighter bag up front, but the guy was very loud, and seemed a little PO'ed. And his driving... it reminds me of stories I've heard from Saudi.

As we rode in the cab, I thought of what the woman next to me on the plane had said to me about the pollution in Beijing, and I have to say, we are lucky in the states. Here it seems to hang low and heavy; I've never seen anything quite like it. By no means is what I've seen of Beijing so far a hellhole, but it's interesting to observe that while the city is quite modern, the manufacturing that comes with the technological updates seems to have caused quite a bit of damage to the air quality.

We made it to the hotel at around 12:30 AM, but were turned away. The hotel owner had not realized that we were foreigners, and here in Beijing, possibly all of China, you need a special license if you want to have foreigners to stay. It was okay though; while Josh went off to find another hotel, Tom grabbed up drinks, and I amused my self with two white, probably feral, kitties hanging around outside.

A much nicer cab driver came, and Josh escorted us to the Home Inn, which accepted us and is quite comfortable. There was a drunk man sleeping in the restaurant downstairs on a bench with a bunch of beer bottles in front of him; I guess he had his own little party tonight.

I enjoyed a shower when I got in, and things are winding down now. I haven't seen much of Beijing yet, but we will be going to The Great Wall and probably finding another, more inexpensive hotel tomorrow.

Everything has been pretty smooth so far, all things considered, and I can't wait for the morning!

Sunday, June 27, 2010


I am at Bradley International Airport right now waiting to pick up my flight to Chicago (where I won't be on because there is no free internet- boo on you, O'Hare) where I will then make a connecting flight to Beijing. As I told a friend earlier, I probably don't have enough clothes, but I have enough electronics to probably strike fear into the hearts of the TSA. Figures. Definitely excited to get on the plane and get moving, I will be in Beijing at around 1 PM our time tomorrow, and if I'm not feeling too drained and can find wi-fi, I'll post then!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

My first visa (Well, the first I've ever held)

Tom gave me back my passport today, and to my joy, I opened it and found this:

It's my Viet Nam visa, with my typical wonderful paint skills added to blur out the numbers that I probably shouldn't post online. I could scream right now, I am so excited!

I also got to talk to Josh on Skype last night. Josh is a Mongolian who came to UConn for a semester; he's now going to school in Beijing for his PhD in insurance law. He seems very nice, and since he knows nothing about Beijing, he's arranged for his professor's daughter to act as a tour guide. Very cool things. I'll admit I don't know fully the itinerary of the trip yet- some things have been added, other things have been changed- but I'm going to try to find out and post it here when I know in the next few days.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Departing Sunday!

As of this Sunday, I will be departing for Asia. Approximate travel dates, barring any mishaps or reschedules, will be flying out from Hartford, CT, to Chicago, IL, then transferring flights and heading to Beijing on June 27; return flight from Bangkok, Thailand to Tokyo, Japan, then off to Austin, TX, transferring again, and arriving back in Hartford, CT on August 20th, followed by a few days of R&R then back to NY!

I am taking this trip with my Uncle Tom, who was a translator in the Vietnam War. He currently teaches in MA, but also teaches ESL over in Asia. On the trip, I will be meeting several of his friends from the war, as well as other friends of his who live over in Asia. Major destination stops for cities and sites will include Hanoi, Beijing, Phnom Phen, Bangkok, Angkor Wat, the Great Wall, Mongolia, and many more. We will be travelling a variety of ways: at times, by foot through the jungle, by plane, by train, by motorbike- and who knows how else!

I'll be keeping everyone updated here, posting photos here as well as recaps of my trip. I will still (hopefully) be updating facebook periodically if I set up my proxies right, but this will primarily be where the good stuff is.

Thanks for following along with me on my journey: comment often, and feel free to ask any questions you have along the way!