Change Yourself…Change The World.

May 19, 2010, 6:34 pm
Filed under: China

Dear friends,

Are you ready for an INCREDIBLY long post? Prepare yourself, because these past two days in Beijing have been absolutely action-packed.

I don’t even know where to begin about telling you of our (me, my brother, sister, and cousins) adventures in China. The past two days alone have been so exhaustingly exhilarative that I haven’t even had the time to write a blog post about it. I tried staying up late last night to write a post, but I was so tired from the day’s events that I fell asleep in the middle of writing. So I set my alarm for 6:45 AM this morning to make sure that I had the time to relay back our adventures so far.

First, personally, I can’t believe that I am actually in China and that I am traveling again. It’s just been so long- five months- that it’s hard to remember that I am actually out in the world again, doing what I love most. Second- WHAT A TRIP! Wow. I had not expected this to be so much FUN! I am traveling with my brother’s university- University of Colorado, Boulder- and they have an 11 day planned itinerary where we’re visiting a whole lot of tourist sites around Beijing, Xi’an, and Shanghai. I thought that because of this, we might not be getting an ‘authentic’ experience, but I’ve been wrong so far.

We are traveling with about 12 other people, who all go to my Donner’s (my brother) university. Most of them are going into their junior and senior years, and they’re all pretty much a cheery lot. The group is led by Mary Banks, this awesome go-getter who works at University of Boulder. And our tour guide, Yokee, typically works incredibly hard to make sure that we get the most out of our trip (in the same fashion that I learned in Taiwan, which is similar to China, Yokee is easily stressed out if the group is 10 minutes late or randomly changes plans- I don’t think that Americans consciously realize how much work and effort they put into making these trips ‘supremely perfect,’ and that one simple change of plans can upend everything for them- I didn’t realize this until we learned a hard lesson from our last coordinator in Taiwan. But so far there haven’t been any disasters here).

So where do I begin with what we’ve been doing in Beijing? Let’s start from the beginning. We (Hillary, Donner, Sam and I) landed in Beijing on Tuesday the 18th, at about 1 PM (this was 1 AM in the United States). We had resolutely decided that we were NOT going to fall asleep until at least 9 PM to skip the jet lag, and this proved quite an interesting challenge for all of us. We walked through customs and received our bags so easily it was laughable- we had been told pre-travel by the tour that’s sponsoring us that at customs they all take our temperatures and if we’re sick we get quarantined- no, not the case. We were all told that the Chinese government would ‘break into our rooms’ and insert chips into our computers and electronics to steal all of our information. My cousin Sam told me that when she worriedly asked about this to her friend who lived in Shanghai, he cracked up and said ‘Are you SERIOUS? What would they want with a college student’s computer?’ Needless to say, I brought my computer so that I could blog for all of you guys (though to use precautions, I lock it inside my bag every time I leave). No problems so far.

We then took a cab to the hotel for 400 yen (for those of you who had been to China, yes, gasp in shock- no, this was not my idea, my brother and sister thought it was reasonable, to my objections), and then met our cousin Elise later, who had taken a cab for 89 yen. The beauties of traveling. While we all sat around waiting for the group to arrive and valiantly fighting to keep our eyes open, I decided to thwart my sleepiness by walking around the city.

First impressions: I have never felt so self-conscious being a foreigner, and especially taking photos. Everyone stared at me as if I was an alien from outer space. People shooed me away from taking photographs of their restaurant wares. I had the distinct feeling as though I was being followed. It was unsettling.
Right next to our hotel is a really prominent and busy road in Beijing, with all kinds of expensive Western shops- but a street over are literal slums. I didn’t go into these (though I had a strong desire to), because I was alone and don’t know enough about them to feel like I was making an educated decision, but it was interesting to see an amalgam of rich Chinese men and women dressed in suits and highly fashionable dresses, sidestepping mud and chattering away on their blackberries, versus old men and women with hard lines dressed in traditional Communist garb, wandering down the street with a sense of resentment to everything around them.

Finally our group arrived, and after a round of introductions we headed off to dinner, to ‘Roast Duck Restaurant,’ which is supposedly the best restaurant in Beijing that serves Peking Duck. They weren’t wrong. It was UNBELIEVABLE. I have never shoveled so many roast duck and scallion pancakes into my mouth at the same time in my life. Our table just couldn’t stop eating, even when they put two huge plates of duck in front of it. It was so delicious, but at this point I was so exhausted that I was hallucinating at the table, so I didn’t get to quite enjoy it as I normally would have.

We passed out at 9 PM, and then Elise promptly woke me up at 3 AM singing about blackberries or something or other, and we sat on my computer for awhile trying to get through the Great Firewall of China to see our facebooks (I actually had to get through the firewall to even write this post). For those of you that are bringing computers to China, check out this web page. Click on any of these proxies and type in the URL to get to the website you desire (though it takes pretty long). I am using dtunnel.

When 8 AM rolled around, we piled into our bus to go to Tiananmen Sqaure and the Forbidden City, which was AMAZING- rows upon rows upon rows of palaces, architecture- and people, people EVERYWHERE. You couldn’t get away from them. Trying to take pictures of some of the insides of these places required so much pushing and shoving that I’m surprised I made it out of there intact. We spent about three hours in the blistering sun wandering around the Forbidden City (I recommend that you take four hours- Wow. What a masterpiece. I like to call the Forbidden City the ‘Taj Mahal’ of China), and convened for lunch and an afternoon bike ride.

So I wasn’t too keen on this bike ride, but it actually proved to incredibly fun, and the perfect balance between such a tourist-filled morning and a laid back afternoon seeing some real parts of the city. If you come to Beijing, DEFINITELY take a bike tour. There are so many people that bike in Beijing that it was a really nice cultural experience (and also CRAZY- we almost got run over by cars about 5 times- the traffic is seriously pushy here), and there was a fabulous breeze that made riding quite enjoyable. We rode our bikes to Hao Hai, which is a really ritzy area of Beijing in the Old City that houses a lot of Western-style bars (and a Starbucks), spread out around a gorgeous lake (wait for the pictures!), and then we rode all around the lake, where we witnessed countless models dressed in Western and Chinese garb, posing for photographers right on the shore of the lake. It was incredibly fun.

By the end of our bike tour we were all feeling satisfied, yet exhausted again, but the day didn’t end there. We rushed home to shower and change to go to a Chinese acrobatic show later in the evening, which was also fabulous. It’s really interesting to see how shows differ here than in the United States. I thought that the music, costumes, and some of the dance moves were pretty cheesy, but the acrobatics were UNBELIEVABLE. I know that my Dad, who is a big Cirque du Soleil fan, would’ve loved it.

By the end of the show most people were falling asleep in their seats, (myself included), and so our group split up- some headed out to Hao Hai for drinks (I thought these people were crazy as some were too tired to stand up, and we had to leave at 8 AM the next day for the Great Wall of China), some went to Pizza Hut for dinner (my cousin is deathly allergic to peanuts, hence most Asian food is out), and I headed back home to try to upload pictures to my blog. But I passed out as soon as I got back. Sorry! I’ll be uploading some soon.

So there’s the beginnings of our adventures in Beijing, which has been incredibly fun so far. I have never had so much fun in such a short amount of time while traveling! In about half an hour we leave to go to THE GREAT WALL OF CHINA, one of the seven wonders of the world. I am so excited.

Until then, friends,


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