Saturday, September 30, 2006


I wrote this before we got to Vietnam, but then the internet stopped working. There will be a Vietnam blog soon to come but let me just say I LOVE it here! Ok, so on to China…

China was crazy and amazing at the same time. I absolutely loved it.

Sailing into Hong Kong on Thursday morning was an experience in itself and I’m glad that I was able to do it. As soon as we reached land, there was a non-stop line of skyscrapers. They went on for miles and miles lining the waterfront.
I got really lucky with my Beijing trip. Out of the six trips going to Beijing my group was the first one to leave on Thursday and the last one to get back on Saturday, leavening Sunday open for Hong Kong. However, I didn’t get so lucky at the airport. I went to take some Hong Kong dollars out of the ATM. When I was done it gave me a receipt, and it gave me my card back, but it didn’t give me my money. I called HSBC (the bank) but they told me I had to call my home bank. All I could think was I’m in China, how am I going to do that? So for now calling Bank of America is on my to do list.
We flew on Dragon Air from HK to Beijing and I would have to say, it was probably the best flight I’ve ever taken. They gave us free newspapers, there were bottles of water in the pouch in front of us, and the trays even had a little cup holder that flipped down so you didn’t have to put down your whole tray when you got a drink. For dinner we were given Dim Sum which tasted great and little containers of Hagen Daz ice cream. Honestly, what type of airlines gives you Hagen Daz? The in-flight movie was “Nacho Libre.” I can’t say that I really enjoyed it, it was actually really terrible.
We got into Beijing at around 6pm and were met at the airport by three girls from our host University, Peking University and then headed to the school to eat dinner with other students. The student I ate dinner with was named Susan (her American name kind of like how we choose different names in Spanish class). She was very sweet and is looking at coming to the US to get her doctorate. The dinner was very good. I would actually say it was probably my favorite meal all week. The food just tasted really good.
The question that had plagued each and every one of us since we got our itineraries had been what on earth is a cloisonné factory? On Friday we found out. Cloisonné can be anything from jewelry, to vases, to ornaments. These are fashioned out of metal on which designs are set. They are hand painted are really beautiful. At the end of our tour of the factory we of course got a chance to shop in the factory store. Many other SAS kids were buying large expensive vases or pictures and getting them sent home. Some of the items ran upwards of $100. I guess I’m just cheap but I bought a few things some earrings, bracelets and a charm.
After the factory we went to the Ming Tombs. I guess there must be more than one Ming tomb because I looked all over for the avenue of Elephants and Camels and couldn’t find it. I was so disappointed, that was the only thing I wanted to see there. I did find small elephants you can sit on like stools, but it wasn’t the same.
Overall I was less than impressed with the tomb we went to which was called “the underground palace.” We had to climb down 5 sets of stairs to get into the tomb which was boring and over visited. I personally didn’t think there was anything special down there. Even the coffins were incased in bright red boxes that seemed entirely out of place.
The Ming tombs was where had I my first experience with Chinese street retail. It was honestly scary, they don’t let up. They’ll pull you into their stall and keep showing you things. Since they don’t know English they just kept repeating the word here over and over as they show you “jade” charms, dragon sculptures, t-shirts. I finally ended up buying a Chinese placemat/chopsticks set just to get away. The one good thing is you can bargain down so things you buy aren’t that expensive. I got the set for $3, and I probably could have even bargained it down cheaper.
That afternoon we went to the Great Wall at Jurongguang pass. I was somewhat disappointed that you couldn’t see the wall stretching on for miles and miles, we were at somewhat of an isolated section, but it was supposed to be the most important section in the entire wall. I have to admit that as we pulled into view I had a slight feeling of dread. The wall at Jurongguang pass it mostly a climb up a mountain. When you get to the top you are at the highest point in the entire great wall. Anyone who makes it to the top is called a Hero, and I can now see why.
The climb to the top of the great wall was the second hardest thing I’ve done in my life, only surpassed by the climb I did to Camp Muir on Mt. Rainier. I don’t think you could fully understand the difficulty unless you saw it. There were nearly no flat spots on the entire climb. The sheer angle of the stairs was quite difficult, I can’t imagine having to climb it without a handrail, and the steps aren’t uniform. One step may be two feet tall and the next one may be 2 inches.
In each of the guard towers you also have the choice to climb to the top of them. The staircases in these are even worse. They are narrow, steep, and have been walked on so many times that the stones have a saddle shape. I could have sworn more than once that I was going to fall.
When I finally reached the top (and hour and 15 minutes after starting) it was so crowded with SAS students I could hardly move (there were 2 other SAS groups there at the same time). The view made up for it though. You could see for miles and miles. I probably could have seen even farther if the infamous Beijing smog hadn’t settled.
Honestly, the smog in Beijing is so bad that in the city area visibility is only about a mile ore less. Everything has a brownish tint to it. Beijing actually reminds me a lot of Tijuana, Mexico. Dirty, run down, and full of poverty. At the same time though they are feverishly getting prepared for the Olympics. Construction is going on everywhere. They’re building hundreds of new hotels, shopping areas, and resorts. We were able to see a few. One incorporated themes from all different Asian countries; another looked like it was pulled right out of the Mediterranean.

That night we ate Peking Duck for dinner. It wasn’t what I expected. It was basically little pieces of duck that you put inside a small tortilla and eat it. It didn’t taste bad. It actually tasted good, it juts wasn’t spectacular like I thought it would be.
After dinner we got to watch a Chinese acrobatic show and it was spectacular, amazing, phenomenal. These people did things that I would only be able to do I my dreams. They balanced people on their heads, did unicycle tricks on a tight rope, fit 15 people onto a bike, and that’s only the tip of the iceberg. This was the one time in the trip so far that I wished I had a video camera.
On Saturday, we checked out of the hotel and first went to the Temple of Heaven. The temple of Heaven is where the Ming and Qing Emperors would go to pray for a good harvest among other things. I liked the Temple of heaven best out of all the Imperial monuments we visited. Surrounding all of the temple pieces is a large park where the Chinese come on Saturdays and just hang out. There were groups singing, other groups playing music, and other groups dancing. Then there were others playing this game called Tai Chi Ball. It’s played with two people, each person having a racket with a stretchy elastic material in the middle. You throw a yellow ball back and forth with slow choreographed moves, around the back, under the leg, twists and turns. It looks really good when it’s done right. I myself am pretty terrible at the game. We walked by a couple people playing it and they offered to play it with us. I kept dropping the ball, it was embarrassing but so fun at the same time. Both me and Diana ended up buying a set. So, to my family, I have a new game to play at birthday parties J.
After the temple of heaven we went to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden city. This was the most visibly communist area in Beijing. All of the PRC’s political buildings surround the square, and there are constantly uniformed guards walking around Since now their getting ready for the Olympics and also their National day (Oct. 1) they had erected huge monuments to the country and Olympics out of statues and flowers in Tiananmen square. It was interesting to see. Out of the 5 cartoon characters they have for the Olympics I decided my favorite is the Panda. I even bought a sitcker of him to put on my Nalgene.
There were a lot of beggars in Tiananmen square. I felt bad, but at the same time they wouldn’t leave me alone so I just wanted them to go away. They weren’t just normal people begging either, they all had something wrong with them or were amputees. One boy had severely disfigured feet and a massive tumor on his back, another man had no arm.
I was so disappointed that that the Forbidden city was under renovation. The one building that everyone associates with the Forbidden City, which has the throne inside of it, was completely veiled over and you couldn’t go in it either. It was the one building I wanted to see.
One thing I noticed in the Forbidden City was you could really tell the difference between the un renovated buildings and the renovated ones. The renovated ones had bright shiny new paint jobs, where the old ones were chipped and peeling.
About half way through the city a art student approached me and Diana telling us there was a free art exposition that we should see. I should have known as soon as I saw the building that it wasn’t an art expo at all. Once we got in all she tried to do was sell us paintings. Some were hers, some were other art students, and they were all good, but I didn’t have money to buy art in China. She told us that these paintings usually go for $100 US but since we were students also she was going to give us a special deal of only 200 Yuan. I was completely honest and told here that I only had 50 Yuan. After a couple seconds of consideration she said Ok you can have it for 50 Yuan. I think she must have been desperate to make a sale because 50 Yuan is only about $5 US. It’s a really beautiful picture though. It has birds and flowers on it, it looks very Chinese.
When we were walking to the bus after the Forbidden City we were surrounded by street merchants who wouldn’t let up. It was a good thing and annoying thing at the same time. They were desperate so they would follow you for blocks and bargain until they finally made a sale. I got quite a few things for less than $10. I actually think that my whole time I China I only spent about $60 and I got quite a bit of stuff.
The flight back to Hong Kong was not as nice as our flight to Beijing. We flew on China Air and everything just seemed more worn and less special. The food sucked. We did get ice cream but it wasn’t Hagen Daz. They also didn’t start the movie until about half way through the flight so we weren’t able to finish it. The plane was mostly filled with SAS students (our group and another University trip group) so when the movie turned off nearly the whole plane groaned. Now in Vietnam there is going to be a mad rush to buy “Take the Lead.”

Hong Kong was a really nice city, really big. We were docked on the Kowloon side so we could look over the Hong Kong Island from the ship. My only regret from my time in Hong Kong was that I didn’t make it up to Victoria Peak. If I ever go back I will go up there, but the one day I was in Hong Kong the weather was overcast and drizzly so the view wouldn’t have been very good.
Priscilla, who’s family is from Hong Kong showed a bunch of us girls around the city. We went to a market area in Kowloon that was amazing. We went to both the Ladies Market and the Goldfish Market and also to another market right next to both of them that didn’t have a name. The bargaining wasn’t as easy as in China because they weren’t as desperate, but I was still able to buy some cool things. I was able to get two LeSportsac bags, one messenger and a small duffel for less than $10 US.
Later we took the Star Ferry over the Hong Kong Island. The Pilipino women who work as domestic workers in HK have Sundays off, so every Sunday they congregate in the park right outside of the ferry terminal. It was crazy, there were literally thousands of Pilipino women just sitting around.
Every night at 8 HK puts on a laser light show from the buildings on HK Island. It was crazy looking. I couldn’t imagine any US city doing the same thing. Different colored lights would run up and down even the highest skyscrapers. I wish we had been able to hear the soundtrack that is supposed to go along with it.


At 7:04 PM, Anonymous Christine said...

Dear Manda,

I loved reading your blog about China and Hong Kong, especially about walkin(climbig) up the Great Wall and comparing it to Mt Rainier. My son, James Toepel, is on the trip with you; do you know him?
We live on Bainbridge. Thanks for sharing your experiences!


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