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!