Change Yourself…Change The World.

June 7, 2010, 3:11 pm
Filed under: China, Pictures Post

Dear friends,

Below are the final pictures of China (I know, I have an exhaustingly large amount from this trip. Working out the camera I got a few months ago, I suppose), in which we were in Shanghai. We spent two days in Shanghai, one day of which was touring the city, and the second of which was a designated ‘free day,’ where we all went to the Shanghai World Expo.

Shanghai as a city, is really awesome. It was a shame that we only got to spend two days there- I wish we could’ve stayed two months. I’ve never seen a city like it– it’s an up and coming superpower (though I hear that Hong Kong makes Shanghai look like a child’s playground). Merely 15 years ago, Shanghai was akin to farm land, and the amount of high rises that have gone up since then is CRAZY! Today, there’s a gorgeous full-fledged city, with carefully manicured gardens and futuristically-designed buildings that light up like fireworks at night. It’s a city that was built to be in awe of, and so I’d say it was the perfect place to host the 2010 World Expo.

The World Expo (which we saw our last day), was very high up there on my list of amazing experiences I’ve had while traveling. If you’re wondering what the World Expo is: imagine the Disneyworld Epcot, except times 1,000.
(For you readers who aren’t American, the World Expo is a place to promote different cultures and technological advances from all over the world, in one place. Most countries have a ‘pavilion’ where they house their own nationalistic advances, to showcase to the public).

As you all know, I am an avid traveler. To be able to visit all kinds of pavilions that houses different cultural sights, was exhaustingly rewarding for me. It’s an anthropologist’s dream, for sure. Every single place we visited, whether inside or out, was bursting with different cultural flavor. I found myself repeating throughout the entire day ‘I can’t believe how lucky we are to be here.’

We went inside the Indonesia pavilion, Belgium, the Pacific Islands pavilion, Luxemburg, the African pavilion, and we tried to get into the United States pavilion, but were too impatient to wait in a 3 hour line (many of the ‘big’ pavilions, like many European ones, the United States, the Chinese pavilion, and others, had queue lines of 3-4 hours. We all decided beforehand this was not our cup of tea, and spent most of our time aimlessly walking around and seeing the outside of the pavilions, which I personally think is more worthwhile than going in them).

All too soon, the day turned dark and we hauled our weary selves into a cab and back to our hotel, to pack for our flights the following day. China was an exceptionally wonderful experience, and I can’t believe how lucky I was to be able to go. I hope to come back there someday to sample more than just a taste of it, and to explore even further areas (I’m itching to go to Hong Kong, for starters).

Check out the final pictures of Shanghai below!


June 3, 2010, 7:26 am
Filed under: China, Pictures Post

Xi’an is one of the oldest and most important cities in China, and it houses the City Wall, the famous Terracotta Warriors, and was part of the Silk Road. We traveled to Xi’an to better understand the grand history of China, and to come to a quieter and more relaxed place (as Beijing and Shanghai houses millions and millions of people in their cities).

‘Quiet and more relaxed?’ Yeah, right. We had our most intense scheduling in Xi’an, and there didn’t seem to be a moment’s rest. As soon as we got off the train from Beijing, we were whisked away to a variety of events, including visiting an area where Terracotta Warriors were made (and then forced to walk through a maze of shops that sold all kinds of Chinese goods- tourist trap, anyone? Yes, each of us bought at least one thing. Damn you, China!), and then to an actually delicious lunch (we were all given hot pots and raw meat and vegetables to self-cook our own food- I must admit, it was one of our best meals). Afterwards, we went to the actual Terracotta Warriors Exhibition, which was really interesting. After a few hours of exploring and picture-snapping, we convened at a tea house for a traditional tea ceremony. Finally, we ended the night with a dumpling dinner, where we stuffed ourselves full of various different colors, sizes, shapes, and fillings.

We slept very well that night.

The next day we visited the Wild Goose Pagoda in the morning, which is an ancient Buddhist Pagoda (the building, which you will see in the pictures, is literally sagging over), and then ventured over to the City Wall, where we all decided it would be a great idea to try to bike all around Xi’an, via the wall. This was a terrible idea. The City Wall is inlaid by mottled stones, which makes the ride incredibly bumpy. We all celebrated our City Wall experience with hand calluses and scorching sunburns (at least Fan and Mary had a good time, who decided to brave the double bicycle). In the afternoon, we headed through some markets in the city to visit a mosque (a Muslim house of worship). I found this mosque to be INCREDIBLY interesting- I had never seen one like it. Since I traveled on the Comparative Religion and Culture program with Global College, I’ve seen mosques in Taiwan, Thailand, India, and Turkey– most of them are in an enclosed space. But this mosque was all out in the open– it almost looked Chinese Buddhist with the architecture, though the writings were Arabic (the language of Islam). Very cool.

At the end of the day, we all headed onto another train ride, this time 13 hours, to Shanghai. I leave you here with pictures of Xi’an!


The end of Beijing
June 1, 2010, 3:12 pm
Filed under: China, Pictures Post

Dear friends,

Sorry I have not updated in quite awhile. Going through a proxy server in China proved to be so slow, and our days were so packed, that I literally couldn’t find any spare time to write about my experiences. While complaining about this over the phone to my Mom, she suggested that I just enjoy where I am and what I’m doing, and to update about my travels upon my return. So this is what I decided to do– in which case, I intend to address the end of Beijing!

Our last two remaining days in Beijing were free days (well actually, one of the days were ‘company visits,’ in which my brother’s school visited Lenovo and IBM to see how the companies work differently in China– I thought this would be incredibly interesting and wanted to go, but was goaded into hanging out with my cousins and sister instead). So the first free day, my cousins (Elise and Sam) and my sister (Hillary) were left to our own devices, in which we all unanimously decided that what we needed was a day of relaxation after the intensity of the tour (plus, the day before we had just climbed the Great Wall and were super sore). After about an hour of searching for nice ‘spas’ at fancy hotels, which were WAY too expensive, we luckily came across Bodhi, which gave $30 one hour massages.

This proved to be the most EXCELLENT choice. If you are in Beijing and are looking for a nice place to relax, choose this place! The massage was excellent- a combination of Thai and Chinese massage with a bit of Western thrown in- and there was a hot shower waiting for us afterwards in a gorgeous room, followed by free fresh squeezed juice. Completely worth it after the jet lag and intense climbing ritual at the Great Wall. Moreover, right in front of Bodhi was a cafe called ‘The Olive,’ and for the first time in a few days we were able to get away from the ‘family-style’ meals and indulge in fresh fish, wine, and even bread (my cousin Elise has a severe peanut allergy, so it was a nice break for her as well).

We rounded up the day by meeting up with the group and going into a night market (this was a highly touristy night market, but one nonetheless), whereupon my brother and I (along with another member of the group, Fan) ate fried scorpion to the utter delight and/or disgust of our onlookers– it actually didn’t taste half bad– and then we walked up and down sampling all kinds of strange foods, including fruits dipped in some kind of gelatin, a kind of scallion burrito, and roasted corn.

Unfortunately, apparently the combination of these foods did not suit well to my stomach, and I had some food poisoning issues the following day. After a strong dose of immodium, I ventured over to the Yashow Clothing Market in the late afternoon, which hosts thousands of goods such as clothes, jewelry, make-up, sunglasses, toys, and most importantly, faux-purses galore. Quite an interesting place, and I recommend anyone going to Beijing to check out! And if you’re up for the night life as well, I suggest Vics, which is an incredibly fun nightclub with great American music and a packed house.

Finally with Beijing coming to an end, we said our goodbyes to my lovely cousin Elise, who had to head back to London for her job, and we visited a Lama temple in the morning and then the Summer Palace in the afternoon. We then boarded an 8 hour train ride to Xi’an, in which my cousin Sam, Hillary, Olivia, Fan (two group members), and I watched LOST and scarfed down all kinds of strange food and wine, only to arrive at Xi’an at 6 AM.

And so our Beijing journey ends here, and I leave all of you with pictures below of our adventures from the final few days in Beijing. Hope you enjoy them below!

More Beijing!

Impressions of China
May 24, 2010, 10:17 am
Filed under: China

Dear friends,

Sorry I haven’t written in awhile… first off, the past few days have been so intense and exhausting that I haven’t even had the time to write a decent post… I am even nodding off right now while trying to write this. Second, the internet in China is so slow (especially going through a proxy server, which I have to do in order to write this post), that I haven’t been able to find enough space in this schedule to take a long time to write a post. But it is now 11 PM here and I passed up going to a KTV bar tonight with the others (KTV stands for a karaoke bar… very famous in China), and so here I write.

WOW. These past few days have been so intense. I have never had such an exhausting schedule. With Global College, we take breaks at least. Here, no way- it is one straight thing after the other. But while we’ve been going through an array of crazy events, I wanted to take the time to write a general post about my first impressions of China.

This is filtered through what this trip has been geared towards, of course, and that is: tourism. I have never been on such a tourist-laden experience while traveling before. Our days consist of traveling around in a bus to various tourist sites. We then stop at a tourist restaurant and eat, surrounded by tourists. Then we are taken to a huge shopping center to buy things. Then we run off to another tourist site, and then we come back to our tourist hotel. So all of my impressions are painted by the tourism industry in China. And because I’ve traveled all over the world and have seen sites not just from the tourist-tinted lens, I know that this may not be the ‘truest’ form of what China is about: a grand history, beautiful sights, dumplings, peking duck, and little to no integration with the culture.

So while I know that my feelings about China are biased, it makes me wonder: What IS really China? Are we really SEEING China? Or are we seeing what China wants us (foreigners to see)?

The only way I can adequately explain this is from an example. A few days ago (yes, I know I am super backlogged), after our trip to the Great Wall, we went to visit a local high school. I wondered why we were going, but thought that it would be a fun experience based on my past encounters with local high schools with Global College (note: these were all rural schools, and most of them elementary). Well, this high school was the nicest school I have EVER seen. There were grand and detailed buildings, and the teachers proudly walked us around the campus, showcasing all of their best assets while a school photographer snapped pictures of us every 10 seconds. A high schooler casually showed up ‘by accident,’ and it turns out he spoke English fluently (a rarity in China). He took us all around the campus and attended a special tea ceremony set up for us followed by a student playing the koto (an Asian instrument sort of similar to a harpsichord).

This was an incredibly strange experience for me. Obviously we were being shown the best of the best of the high schools in Beijing. When the bell rang, parents came to pick up their children in BMWs. One of the high school students bragged to someone in our group about how their family got to skip the ‘one child policy’ (in China, parents are only allowed to have one child due to overpopulation) and had three instead, because their dad worked in the government and they were rich. And I had the distinct feeling that we were not the only tourist group that had attended the school before.

This made me question ‘why are we really here? Who decided that we were going to go visit a school? Why are we visiting THIS school? For the ‘cultural experience?’ This was not a cultural experience. This school trip will leave an impression on foreigners who come to visit China- that every high school could look like this, that everything is rosy and perfect. Is this really the case? I don’t know.

I’m not trying to say that what we are being shown is totally biased and wrong, or that China is wholly poor, or terrible, or keeping up some sort of pretense- I’m merely saying that I’ve never traveled from this side before that’s purely from a tourist’s perspective, and it makes me wonder what pure tourists take away from this country when they leave, and what they bring back to the outside world. Is it honest? Is it unbiased? I don’t know.

While this trip to China is AMAZING and I am incredibly appreciative, and while I have the opportunity to spend time with my brother and sister and cousins, the whole tourist attraction thing is getting a bit old for me. I am starting to get frustrated with the lack of real cultural experiences, and with a lot of the fluff we’ve been getting instead. I just suppose that I wish I could spend some more time hanging out with locals and going on some more cultural experiences and interactions! That’s where I feel most in my element.

However, I know that this trip has been amazing nonetheless and that I am incredibly lucky to have this opportunity, so I’ll stop my complaining here. There¬†is my little ramble about my perspective from the tourist angle in China. I am exhausted, and it is bed time. More updates soon.

Much love,

The first pictures of China
May 21, 2010, 5:38 am
Filed under: China, Pictures Post

The first pictures of China are up! Check them out below!


The Great Wall of China
May 20, 2010, 6:28 pm
Filed under: China

Hi friends,

Well, we did it. Yesterday we climbed the Great Wall of China.

There are actually five Great Walls in Beijing, and you can go to any of them. The closest one to us was Juyong Guan, which is about an hour’s drive from the city.
While Beijing is pretty flat, the area turned more mountainous when we got to the outskirts of Beijing, and finally the Great Wall was visible. Spreading across the mountains like a twisted snake, it stood glaring in the sun as a relic to one of China’s most amazing feats in history. The Great Wall took centuries to build, and I can’t even begin to fathom how they managed to bring tons and tons of stone up these mountains and establish a huge battle rampart.

Our bus pulled up and suddenly we were there, given about two hours to ‘climb’ the Great Wall. What I didn’t understand previously was that if you want to really see the Great Wall and feel like you’ve encountered it, you need to CLIMB. And there are THOUSANDS of steps. And we’re not talking about those little shallow steps like those regular stairways. No, these are the kind of steps where you need to grasp onto a railing, lift up your leg to your chest, and hoist your entire aching body upwards to keep going.

This proved to be brutal work, at 11 AM when the sun was at it’s peak and it beat down unmercifully on us. I spent most of my time climbing the wall with my cousin Elise, and we were both drenched in sweat by the first quarter. I counted myself thankful that I had my camera with me so that I could stop and take pictures as a break.

But the long climb wasn’t enough to deter us- the Great Wall is really beautiful. It is so ancient and interesting, and the higher up you get, the more of a gorgeous view you have of the surrounding mountains and the steps below you. Fortunately, there are also always watchtowers every few hundred steps, which is dark and has a cool and strong breeze, where you can lay gasping against the cool stone and stare out of the windows at the mountains below (warning: The Great Wall does not have any bathrooms, so after about one or two watchtowers, these places started to stink of urine and disgusting bodily functions. After Elise got a strong whiff of poo, we decided to not enter any more watchtowers. But the first one is nice). Another cool fact is that every few watchtowers are gift shops of sorts, and each one has more cool stuff than the last. The first gift shop had a bunch of magnets and t-shirts that said “I climbed the Great Wall” (though this was one of the lowest parts of the Great Wall), and then the second Gift Shop was actually air-conditioned and housed a bunch of paintings and jewelry.

Elise and I climbed incredibly far (about six or seven watchtowers), but we didn’t know that there was an actual END to the Great Wall in Juyong Guan- and there was. When we finally reached a tower that was pretty high up and we couldn’t tell where the next one was, we decided to call it quits and head back down (we also had only half an hour to walk ALL THE WAY DOWN the Great Wall, which proved to be just as brutal as climbing up). Ahead of us, Donner and Sam heard there WAS a top, climbed to the very top of Juyong Guan (I am so jealous of this- if only I had known!) But regardless, it was such a great experience, and I think that it’s one of the seven worlds that is quite interesting to interact with. With the Taj Mahal and the Colosseum (the two other seven wonders I’ve been to), you look at it from afar and from the inside, but you don’t feel as if you are ON it. For the Great Wall, you need to WORK to be able to appreciate and really see it. I consider myself really lucky that I’ve seen the Great Wall when I’m young and that I had the strength and energy to climb so far (though who am I kidding- Mary Banks, our trip coordinator, is older than my Mother and reached the top of the Great Wall WAY before Elise and I did).

Three out of seven wonders of the world down! I am so lucky.

Much love friends,

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,


China tomorrow!
May 16, 2010, 10:45 pm
Filed under: China, USA

Dear friends,

Tomorrow I am heading off to China!! I’m incredibly excited, as I’ve never been to China before, and I am finally TRAVELING AGAIN! I am back in my element. I have my trusty Eagle Creek backpack stuffed with clothes and medicines, my traveling shoes and jacket (I made my Mom bring them up from Florida- she came to New York for my graduation), and my camera. I’m going out into the world again and couldn’t be happier!

To give you a little rundown on what I’ll be doing, I’m spending 11 days in Beijing, Xi’an, and Shanghai, and I’m going with my brother (Donner), my sister (Hillary), and my two cousins (Elise and Sam).

Sorry this post is so short- we are all frantically packing last minute things before our flight at 9 AM tomorrow.

Expect updates and pictures soon!

Much love,