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Students share journals of China trip - Part I
Monday, April 11, 2011 – Summer Palace: Just got back from a kick-ass day! Did many things, tried many foods, and finally learned how to haggle.
The day started off with a trip to the Summer Palace, which was filled with scenic views and amazing Ming architecture. The palace itself had an amazing view of a lake and a mountain range. I tried as hard as I could to see it as it was 500 years ago before there was air pollution, tourists, airplanes, boats, sky scrapers, or cameras flashing left and right. It must have been beautiful, awe-inspiring. And to think - the emperor only used the palace for 2 months out of the year!
The summer palace was followed by a trip to Olympic Stadium, which was not as cool as I thought it would be. The buildings were amazing, but they seem desolate without the roar of thousands of fans.
We then trekked to old Beijing, which was terrific. There were no skyscrapers here... this was REAL Beijing.
Immediately following that was a Peking Duck dinner. That was absolutely fantastic! First, the servers brought out many dishes of which I was unfamiliar. Today, I tried seaweed, calamari, shrimp, mutton, duck, and some other meat that I didn't want to identify... The food was excellent, but between that and buying bottled water at every meal, the price is starting to escalate.
Lastly, I took a trip with Jesse Newcomb and Benin LaLiberte to the Silk Market to look for ties. Everyone else wanted to stay in because they were tired, but we decided to tough it out and get our China on. I finally got good at haggling at the market. I bought a tie for 35 yuan that normally costs 100 yuan, and then a pair of Abercomlb and Fitch shorts for 75 yuan that normally costs 280 yuan. The Silk Market was the best part for me. It was nice to get away from a tour guide and experience China from a different perspective.
Tuesday, April 12, 2011 – The Great Wall and Evening Show/Snooze: A Glorious Day! We set out for the wall and optimism pervaded our numbers. The wall was everything it had been made out to be and more. I felt exalted by the history under my feet and the story that each stone held.
I came in concerned about the tourist aspect, however my worry was unfounded. The grandeur of the place could not be diminished by the amount of people. We made it up to the 23rd tower (over 5 K I think). It felt fantastic. I spoke a bit of Chinese with the vender at the top. As I say this I realize I would expect myself to be annoyed at the prospect of a vender at the top but it was so China and natural it didn't even cross my mind. A funny little trip (literally) occurred on the way down.
We were cruising at a fast walk/jog and I started this new technique. Unfortunately, just as I recommended it to Ruby I found myself sprawled out across the great wall, extremely humbled by it's mightiness. I gained a scraped knee, but over all completely worth it. Especially considering that now I have a bit of great wall dust forever imbedded in my leg. On the way down we (meaning Me, Ruby, and Beryl) had some fantastic conversation. This bonding is so important to me, it was all so beautiful I felt myself choke up with the pure joy and my own contentment. It was so amazing. We dreamt up the fantasy of walking all 3000 miles of it and camping along the way... who knows maybe some day.
It feels good to dream. It was an unforgettable afternoon, which ended with an extremely satisfying lunch in an interesting indoor Chinese style botanical garden.. another words a bit sparse and industrial. It is unsurprising that the evening had a hard time comparing with the magic of the great wall. We went to a Kung Fu show, which was great when I could keep my eyes open.
I came to China thinking Chinese faces were uniform... not so
Wednesday, April 13, 2011 – Tian Anmen Square and the Forbidden City: Today, we continued visiting the ancient histories of the Chinese. It was finally time for us to see Tian Anmen Square and the Forbidden City (originally we were supposed to see these sights on Monday, but Richard changed our plans.). We left the hotel at 8 sharp, but not before we took a group picture out front. It was, after all, the last time we would ever set eyes upon that hotel.
After a fairly short ride we arrived at the (in)famous square. There must have been thousands of people gathered there. The majority of which, Richard informed us, were there to get a chance to see the body of Chairman Mao. The lucky few that can get through the line quickly enough, can pay pilgrimage to their deceased great leader. Fortunately for us, on this day we weren't going to attempt to see Mao. Which I am grateful for, because the line looked infinite.
Slowly but surely, we made our way across the square. There is no way to describe the largest municipal square in the world. The architecture is amazing. With Mao's tomb on one end, something reminiscent of an obelisk in the middle, and the entrance to the Forbidden City on the other. Multiple government buildings flank either side of the square. Which remarkably included a Parliament building, where all the members are communist party officials. After a much watched group picture in front of the Forbidden city, we took a tunnel underneath the road that led to the Forbidden City.
If I thought the summer palace was something, the Forbidden City was that and beyond. When I did a final project for Mr. Blanchard last year, my group decided to do the Forbidden City. This was before the China Trip was even an idea, and I couldn't have guessed a year ago that I would be there before I knew it. The architecture was once again astonishing. We walked through each courtyard continuously being amazed by the scenery around us. I thought to myself at one point, “I can't believe that just the emperor and his family lived here.” The sheer size is surreal.
The Forbidden City was the first place that I witnessed our “American celebrity” that Mr. Blanchard mentioned leading up the the trip. Often times we would stop for whatever reason, Chinese citizens of all shapes and sizes, would then ask us for pictures. Just because of the fact that we were young American students. I have never witnessed a phenomenon like this before. Many of us, like I, enjoyed the attention that we were getting. It was awesome.
The sights we saw today in the Forbidden city include the throne of the emperor, the Emperors concubine chambers, and the concubine chambers. My personal favorite was seeing his “war room” where he discussed matters with a select few and made decisions about his country.
After leaving from the Forbidden city, we went to lunch. It was a small restaurant that served us a very interesting fish dish. On first glance I didn't want anything to do with it. But after listening to other's testimonials, I decided to try a piece. It was delicious. It was basically a fried fish with an orange sweet sauce on it. It was a masterpiece.
From lunch we still had some time to kill before going to the train station. So Richard decided to let us go to a Jade mall in Beijing. We had about an hour there. Whatever my pre-concieved notion of a Chinese mall was, it wasn't anything near what an actual mall was like. The mall was a huge multi-level mall with at least 4 floors (there were more floors but I didn't want to keep going up and up). Upon entry, Sam and I went straight up two floors to the Jewelery level, because we both needed some jade for presents.
I picked out a small jade tiger pendant for my mother and Sam got a pendant necklace of her own. Then came the haggling. The cashier wanted 130 yuan for both pendants. But after some poking and prodding, I managed to convince her to give us both for 50 yuan. This is just another of the amazing parts of China. You can bargain pretty much any price with the locals. Nothing is set in stone. What I really wanted though before I left, was a hat. But not just any hat. It is a hat that looks similar to Russian fur hats, but with a red star on the front of course.
The hat stand was just in front of the exit and it was the last thing I went to before we had to leave. The hat is what I was going to get, but the cashier at the hat store was willing to stand in my way. A very stubborn and funny woman, Lulu, was the cashier. She knew English very well and was asking 500 yuan for the hat. Well I only had 100 on me so that wasn't going to do. I managed to talk her down to about 150 but it still wasn't enough.
So I went and found Mr. Blanchard, to see if he could help me out at all. But he ended up making the situation much more comical. She appeared to think that he had money, and so she upped the price again. “You're a very rich man!” she said while rubbing her belly. That was the most hilarious thing to happen all day. In the end though, it worked out. I got my hat for 100 yuan and we said farewell to Lulu.
We planned on getting a hot-pot supper before we went to the train station, but Beijing traffic changed our plans. So we went to a very dirty noodle shop before we went to the train station. I cannot comment on how the noodles tasted as I didn't want any. But they apparently weren't that bad. I instead went with Laura into the store next door and got some snacks for the train. As soon as everyone finished their meal, we walked the rest of the way to the train station.
Once we passed through security and found our way, it was time to bid farewell to Richard. He was a good guide all in all. He didn't know the most English possible, but his English got the job done. And he certainly knew how to guide a tour of Americans.
At last, we arrived at the train. In my mind's eye I had been picturing something more like the Hogwarts Express, what I got was very different. The compartment was a box with two bunks on either side of the room with 3 feet of space in between the beds. It was hot and stuffy. The quarters were cramped. They weren't ideal conditions. But there were two things to be grateful for: They had a regular toilet not a squat toilet. And we had snacks. It didn't take long for us to get acclimated to the train and get ready for sleep. It was time for Xi'an and the Terra Cotta Warriors in the morning.