Wednesday, March 3, 2010

8 Days in China, 1 Long Blog Post. -Hope you still read-

    I left China over a week ago and I waited to write because of exhaustion and there was only two days between China and Vietnam.  But I’m really glad I waited because I’ve now had time to digest China and appreciate it a little more.
    Our first day in China we docked in Shanghai.  The city looked architecturally beautiful-kind of like something out of Tomorrow Land at Disney-so we expected a clean, fast moving city like we saw in Japan.  Surprise! It was not.  China has a much different lifestyle than Japan and we did not expect that-I honestly thought the cultures would be a lot closer.  But the people were loud, very loud and pushy.  Bumping into people is not rude in China; it is just what you have to do to get around since there are so many people.  And apparently in Shanghai it is perfectly okay to throw your trash and food on the ground and/or allow your children to poop straight on the sidewalk.  That was different.  The best smelling thing was the octopus that was being barbecued at the street vendors on the corners.  Also, we arrived in the middle of the Chinese New Year so it was a little crazy because crowds of people were in the markets and hustling around the streets and restaurants.    So that might have affected our original fear and hesitation in China.
    The second day was a lot better.  We were aware of what to expect and we avoided the markets.  We walked around a much cleaner area of Shanghai and went down to People’s Square, which is a large park that was full of people lounging on their day off and enjoying the sunny day that we were blessed with.  Shanghai felt like springtime, which was a good relief before Beijing and also allowed for a great photo opportunity of what we entitled “Babies and Birds”.
    Beijing is where the real Chinese magic happened.  Beijing was an interesting difference just from Shanghai because it was less intimidating and felt more traditional.  We stayed in a hotel a few blocks away from the Forbidden City so we had access to some amazing cultural experiences.  The Forbidden City was one of my favorite places.   I was surprised at how beautiful it really was-I just had no idea going in how huge it was and how immaculate the details on all of the buildings were.  It was also interesting how many beautiful buildings there could be in the middle of these large, open, stone courtyards that were created because the emperor was paranoid about being murdered.
    Our first night was a fun one because I ended up learning more about the modern Chinese culture as opposed to the traditional.  A few friends and I went out to a strip of bars which was funny simply trying to get there.  Apparently almost no one speaks English in China, or at least they didn’t want to (they were definitely not to keen on Americans-my friend Amy and I actually started telling people we were from Canada).  Anyway so when we headed out to the bars that night my friends and I took two cabs and got split up because of the communication issues.  So me and three other friends ended up sticking together.  The strip we were on was filled with bars that were very similar except for one major difference, the price of the beer.  In China, you can barter for anything, including your beers.  So we were getting beers for a dollar and refused to buy anything that was less.  Once we had a good drink deal we were set because each bar had singers performing on stage.  They were all so talented and entertaining to watch.  They sang both English and Chinese songs and loved how enthusiastically we were listening to them.  It was funny though because they sang karaoke kind of style, basically playing a recorded version of the music and them singing the vocals—no actual instruments.  And the songs they sing are hilarious because they are from about ten years ago.  Man did I miss Avril Lavigne and the Backstreet Boys!  But the best part was when we went to a bar where we met one of the singers, a spunky girl named Emily.  Emily is 21 years old and has a short blonde pixie cut.  She was singing “I’m coming out” when we walked in and her energy was amazing.  So as soon as she took a break we went over to speak with her and she chatted with us for longer than she could.  She spoke such great English so it was so easy to talk to her about where she grew up and how she moved away from her family and after going to school for music, sings at this club seven nights a week.  Once she went back on stage she sang tons of songs dedicated to us and even helped us get a better deal on our drinks.  Talking to local people in our ports really makes the trip a thousand times better, and Emily made my China trip.

    Of course, going to The Great Wall was also a huge highlight.  We hiked up the wall at sunset one night and let me tell you, the wall is not an easy hike.  For some reason I had not thought about the fact that it is on the top of some enormous mountains but not that that would mean you would have to hike up and then back down and up and again back down steep and broken steps.  We later went to another part of the wall and had to climb 1,044 steps up to the top of the mountain in the dark.  That’s 1,044 steps straight up! No break!  I used to say I didn’t mind steps because back in Boston we are climbing up staircases all the time to get into our apartments or going to class (because it’s not courteous to take the elevator if you’re going to floors one through three) but after this hike I officially hate stairs.  Every opportunity that we had to skip staircases in places after the wall I opted the escalator.  I better have perfect legs now-it was intense!
    However, that night, after the hike of death, we got to sleep on the wall.  We slept in one of the towers and I slept underneath a window so I could see the moon (the sky that night was incredible-although somehow I still think I saw more stars up in VT with the girls).  Now let me remind you it is February-So China is COLD!  In my real world I would never sleep outside in the middle of winter, but when you’re on the great wall you have to do what you have to do.  So I slept wearing layers and layers of clothing; on the bottom-under armor, jeans, sweatpants, two pairs of big, fuzzy socks, on the top- a tank top, a long sleeve shirt, a sweater, another long sleeve t shirt and a sweatshirt.  All of this on a mat and inside two sleeping bags.  When I first got in it wasn’t that bad-it was actually a relief from the cold and I had to take off my jacket.  But then, once I stopped moving, I froze.  I constantly had to rearrange myself into the fetal position and pull the sleeping bags over my head so that I was cocooned tightly and could get some blood flowing again.  I’m not sure if I actually slept that night.   I kept waking up in the middle of the night and when I did I wasn’t sure if I had been asleep or if I was just closing my eyes.  All I know is that in an instant I was being woken up for the sunrise.  That is where it was all worth it.  The sun coming up over the mountains was breathtaking.  Now I don’t know what is better, the view from the poets table in the black hills in South Dakota or the view off the great wall.  Both are officially sacred in my mind.  I spent a long while sitting on the wall overlooking the mountain range with the sun just starting to touch each and every mountain top.  It was a relaxing experience and a perfect time to reflect on my life and this voyage.  I missed everyone from back home a lot up there.  I took some great pictures but it is not as comforting as the energy and feelings that came from being there in person.

    Leaving Beijing was kind of sad because it made my Chinese experience a better one, but I was looking forward to coming back to the ship to sleep in my own bed again and see all of my friends who weren’t on my trip.  Back in Hong Kong we were all reunited and were able to explore the city together.  Hong Kong is a pretty easy city to get around-it’s pretty cool they have ferries from island to island-and I love ferries because they remind me of Long Island.  But the city was fun because it was a mix of so many different cultures.  The city was like a mix between London, Los Angeles, and a little bit of New York-with a slight Asian touch.  Honestly it was harder to find Chinese food there than it was to find American food.  But thanks to a nice couple at an antique shop we had a recommendation for some great dim sum.  I loved that couple.  They had a tiny, tiny shop that was covered with statues, jewelry, boxes, masks, anything.  We stayed in there for a while, me and five friends jammed into this shop so much that we literally had to stand one next to the other in a perfect line and we filled the whole shop.  I bought a bracelet from them that has a Buddhist prayer for protection on it-I figured it might be a nice mindset for traveling.  But once I showed an interest in the different types of Buddhism and the prayers and practices they pulled out a book and continued to teach me different things about the religion.  I had noticed there were a lot of Buddhist statues which involved couples having sex (so of course I had to know) and when I asked they had no problem telling me.  In Buddhism they believe there is time, space, and consciousness-and sex is one of the only things that alters your consciousness so it is considered more of a holy experience.  Good research.
    The next day was our last day in Hong Kong and it was a little cloudy outside so we were worried, but decided to head to Victoria’s Peak.  Victoria’s Peak is at the top of a mountain on Hong Kong Island that has a gorgeous lookout point over the whole city and the waters around it.  Thanks to some life luck, when we got to the top the sky was clear and the weather was warm.  It was a nice day walking around in the sun and enjoying the views.  We ended the day taking a trolley back down the mountain and had to head back to the ship but it was definitely relaxing to be back on the Explorer that is my home now.

    Before we knew it we were in Vietnam.  This last week there and in Cambodia was absolutely amazing and I can’t wait to blog more about it.  Unfortunately I’m exhausted and we actually have to lose an hour of sleep tonight changing the clocks because we’re going east around Singapore to get west to India.  So Jennie Wennie needs some sleep.

    If you read this whole thing-you rock! I love you all!!


  1. I laughed out-loud when I read the pooping on the streets thing. Craziness. Love hearing about your adventures!!! Keep writing Jennie!

  2. hahah yeah I was like ummmmm what with the pooping on the streets thing lol. I can't believe you slept on the great wall of China!!! That's insane! I thoroughly enjoy your blogs!