One Year

Today is one year since I left for China. That is so hard to believe. A year ago I took off not knowing what I was getting myself into and it was without a doubt the best experience I’ve ever had.

The experience of going to China to teach was amazing and I am so thankful for all the people who helped me get there: Co, Marsha, Martin, and all the other professors at BSU who really encouraged me to pursue it. It also wouldn’t have been nearly as awesome without the wonderful staff at CIBT: David, George, Season, Joy, Stephen, and all of our TAs who did such an awesome job every day. 

I think most important though are the friends I made while there. They really helped me to come out of my shell and blossom into the person I am today. By no means was my time in China the easiest or best 6 months of my life. Between ending up in the hospital right away and going through a tough breakup, I was in need of support and was no where close to my support system. Each and every one of my friends was there for me with words of advice, a shoulder to cry on, a new adventure to go on, and lots of laughs. I love them all dearly and to list them would take a bit of time…not to mention that I would probably forget someone and insult them unintentionally. So if I knew you/met you while in China just know you made a positive impact in my life and you will forever be in my heart even if our paths don’t ever cross again. 

Why is it important to me to thank all these people? Because they all helped shape me in ways I never could have imagined. Writing this today I am a much stronger, kinder, understanding, more intelligent, more culturally aware, more open-minded individual. I am no longer afraid of being on my own, traveling on my own, traveling to places I don’t know the language, making new friends, and trying new foods (after you’ve eaten a few bugs and some dog you really can eat anything).  I now know that as long as I can find a job there, I can live anywhere in the world. 

Going to China has also opened up many doors to me since being home. If I didn’t go, I would have graduated in May and would never had gotten a research job on campus (giving me experience). Never would have become an Herbalife distributor (learning more about business, helping people, and working on my own personal development). I would have never made some of my really good friends that I’ve met this semester. Now I will be applying for jobs and I know my resume looks much better than it did a year ago. I have learned more about the world, myself, and others in the past year than I ever could have imagined. I am so blessed to have had that experience and am so blessed for all the wonderful people who have came into my life. 

Home.

Well, today is that day. I have been home 1 month. Its hard to believe how fast the time has gone. I’ve been really busy. I still have a lot of posts to do from vacation, which means I have just as many photos to go through! I will get around to it eventually.

I don’t even know where to start on this post. I guess I will start with getting home. Long story short we got back 3 hours earlier than originally planned. Thankfully my parents were already in town. I will put up a separate post all about our ridiculous flight adventures because of course no series of flights can go smoothly. My parents picked me up from the airport though and we headed to my Aunt and Uncles house while stopping at Taco Bell. I have never been so cold inside a restaurant before. I forgot what it was like to be in a room colder than 80 degrees F. I had to go get a sweater just to eat my delicious Taco Bell! We got to my Aunt and Uncles and talked with them for a little bit and finally crashed around midnight. You would have thought I could have slept later than 6am, but no. I woke up before my alarm and went and chatted with my uncle who works 10 hour days and was already up and busy on his computer. We were on the road back to Bemidji by 9 after a delicious breakfast. Once back in Bemidji I had to go meet my roommate to get the house key, find out the address where I was living, go buy my books on campus, get my car from a professors house (where my parents dropped it off at a couple weeks earlier when they drove through Bemidji). Thankfully this professor had a trailer he let us borrow to move my stuff out of storage. I also have great friends, one with an old pickup that he let us borrow (since he had to work and couldn’t help me move) and another that came with his pickup and helped. Between a suburban, trailer, 2 pickups, and my car we got everything out in one trip and then moved it into the apartment.

That night we got supper and I stayed in the hotel with my parents since my tub was just caulked and I had no shower yet. The next day I arranged my apartment, ran lots of errands, and kept busy busy busy. Friday was about the same, but then that weekend I went home to get more stuff out of storage, see my aunt and grandma, and get my cats. I had to be back for a dinner with the exchange students from Weifang University on Sunday and then found out as I was driving back that one of my coworkers was getting married and there was a reception. So one dinner, a wedding reception and then a bar later, I finally got home. It was so nice to see everyone from work and go out.

School started up on Tuesday for me (I had already missed the first week) and I went in with a bang. I got caught up almost immediately with classes (didn’t miss much) and started work at the math department and with the Chinese students. I was just supposed to show them around town and let them know when events were going on in campus and help them get to where they needed to go. Tia and I took them camping one of the weekends (SUPER FUN!). Over the month that they here I got to know them all really well and I miss them a lot now that they are back in Weifang. They were a really fun group and we had a lot of good times together.  Then sometime I started work with MARS (a marketing research group on campus that allows students to do real world research under a supervisor) which is really cool and really interesting. Unfortunately, I can only work 20 hours a week on campus. I could easily have 30-40 a week on campus which would be easier than managing off campus jobs too…but there are regulations. UGH. But I’m working back at Keg about a night a week and loving it too.

Last weekend was the first weekend I’ve been in Bemidji and not going somewhere. It was super nice! My best friend came and saw me which was AMAZING! We hadn’t seen each other in 7 months and it was like we see each other everyday….I love that girl to death and I wish we lived closer to each other.

Its been weird being home. A lot of things have changed, but at the same time almost everything is the same. Its hard getting used to, but in general life is good. I’m finally back into student mode (only took a month and was really hard at first to concentrate-I like working so much more than studying). I’m working enough to pay bills. Classes are going well. I’ve caught up with a lot of friends but still have many to catch up with. I’m fully moved into my apartment. I am surrounded by great people who love me. I don’t see my ex nearly as much as I thought I would (whew!). I’m getting excited to graduate and find out where my next adventure will take me. I’m keeping busy, but not too busy to where I am stressing myself out. I have my cats back and they are little lovers now that they have forgiven me for leaving them with my family for so long and are used to the apartment. I can cook again! Although I forgot how expensive food is….UGH! Driving came back almost immediately (THANK GOODNESS!). Its a little weird not getting stares (I almost expect them and then have a sigh of relief when I realize that I can walk somewhere without always being the center of attention). I really really miss my friends I made in Weifang, although truth be told there are only a couple still there since almost everyone has gone back home or onto another new adventure. Its strange going to mass in English still. I don’t know all the responses and feel a little out of place understanding everything…who’d have thought that would happen. Speaking of, its weird hearing English in the background still and not Chinese.

Looking back on the past 7 months though, I have become such a stronger person both as an individual and professionally. Going to China changed my life drastically. I got to see the world (well more of) like I’ve always wanted, I had my heart broken, I gained new friends from all over the world and learned how to open up after being hurt and even learned how to love again, I got the opportunity to work professionally overseas, my time management skills got even better, I learned how the different ways jet lag can affect you, I learned about China in person, I’m not constrained by fear of the unknown anymore, and I see the world as mine to explore. Working hard has paid off and I can’t wait to have my degree in my hand and see where my hard work will take me next. I can’t even begin to thank everyone who helped me get to China, Sanjeev for putting the thought of not graduating/working right away into my head, Co for telling me about the experience and being one of my biggest cheerleaders for going along with Marsha, CIBT for hiring me and making my time in China absolutely amazing, and all of my family and friends (new and old) who have been so supportive and amazing and remind me on a daily basis that I’m loved and cared for no matter what I do and what crazy adventures I want to go on. Seriously though, going to China was the best thing that has happened to me.

 

Keep your eyes posted for more blog posts. I have a few left to do on our travels around China (Shanghai, Suzhou, and Nanjing), our last couple days in Weifang, a few randoms that I haven’t finished yet, and our flight home. I will try to post more now that I’m into the flow of school and work, but I can’t promise anything quickly :)

Guilin/Yangshuo/Longji Rice Terraces

Travel

So my last blog post left off with us getting onto the plane. It would have been a really good flight, but…I was definitely without a doubt sick by this point. I was so congested. By the time we were up in the air I could barely breathe. It was awful but bearable. Until we came down. My right ear wouldn’t/couldn’t pop. It was honestly more painful than having an ear infection.  It also took a full day to get it to fully clear. Moral of the story: Don’t fly when you are really congested if you can help it.

We found the hostel pretty easily, checked in and then got food. What did we find as we were searching for food (a bit hard at 10pm) but the exact same Halal restaurannt that we eat all the time in Weifang. After food, Tia had just made it to the hostel and she joined our merry (tired)  band of adventurers.

Day 1

We got up right away on our first day in Guilin ate breakfast and then got in a van that took us to a bus which took us the hour or so to Yangdi Pier. At Yangdi Pier we got on small “bamboo rafts” (that were not made out of bamboo) that held 4 people apiece and floated down the Li River. Now I say bamboo rafts in quotation marks because that is what we were told…they had plastic bottoms (granted the plastic was shaped like bamboo) and then wooden tops with wooden chairs (none of which were made of bamboo). Oh! AND they had a motor. Something that most people  don’t associate with rafts. Kudos on the marketing job! Granted they were better than the actual bamboo rafts because you could sit on the front and get wet, whereas the actual rafts had chairs and the guy would yell at you if you put your feet in the water.

It was gorgeous, relaxing, warm, and sunny. It was exactly what I needed on a sick day. We were able to sit in the front of the raft and let our feet get wet as water splashed over the bottom layer of the raft. When you have lived around water all your life, not having a lake to swim in or go out on for a whole summer (an especially hot one at that) is draining on the spirit. This so made up for it. You will see in the pictures later, but the landscape was breathtaking. It was a perfect day to be on the water and just relaxing, and the sun wasn’t too overwhelming. There were also water fights and people got really excited about getting the foreigners wet. There were water guns and the guys steering the boats would pull the motor up so it would spray us which felt really good on the warm day. We would also get wet when we would hit waves and the water would go over the first layer.

Now while the scenery was fantastic, we also saw a few goats in trees which was awesome. Less awesome was the water. People would throw their trash in the water rather than hold onto it or keep it on their boat. `There wasn’t as much trash as other places we’ve seen, but  it was still sad that such a beautiful landscape was tainted by trash. The water was interesting though. When it was relatively shallow it was crystal clear, but as it got deeper it got to be a gross shade of green. We are hoping it looks that way because of the thick spots of seaweedish grass like stuff at the bottom of the river. Also less less awesome were the bathrooms at Yangdi Pier. At least they were male and female. Like any other bathroom here, they stunk something bad and were squatters (which really don’t phase me anymore) This one didn’t have doors though. There were stalls, but no doors. I had to squat and pee in front of 5 staring Asian women. I have never felt more awkward as I did then, they all had little amused smiles on. I hope I never have to repeat that experience.

Now after this tour we could have gone straight to Yangshuo on the bus, but we paid extra to go on another raft ride (a romantic one with only two people) on the Yulong river (or I think that’s what it is called. If not it is the river next to the Yulong Village). This village has been used in several movies and the Yulong bridge is really well known. Supposedly, the scenery their was one of the screensavers or background options on Windows XP. Since I don’t have XP I can’t verify that, but it did look a little familiar. Regardless, the city and scenery were gorgeous.

We all got on our boats in pairs (Alex and I, Mana and Tia, and Kevin and Hugo). These bamboo rafts were actually made out of bamboo! We floated a little ways down the river and got to see cormorant fishing. That was really cool. So a cormorant is a bird that they train to catch fish, not swallow them (they have a rope around their neck so they can’t swallow the big ones), bring them back to the fisherman, and le the fisherman take the fish out. The birds cost about 3000-4000 RMB (500-675 dollars) and take a couple years to train. Honestly, the birds made me  think of dogs. They were so well trained, if the fisherman threw the fish the bird just caught back into the water, the bird would dive in after it and have it caught in a matter of seconds. It was like fetch with fish and wings.

Then we moved onto the water buffalo (EVERYBODY HAS A WATER BUFFALOOOOOOO YOURS IS FAST AND MINE IS SLOWW…if you don’t know this song from Veggie Tales this would be a good time to look it up. It was also why I was so excited to see a water buffalo) We didn’t just get to see them though, we got to feed them, pet them, and best of all RIDE THEM! I rode a water buffalo!!! It was weird. It was really weird. I figured it would be similar to riding a horse…no. It was nothing like that. The water buffalo swing their hips like a supermodel. One minute you are moving one direction and the next you are swaying (ungracefully mind you) to the other side.

Once back on the boats they took us a little further down the river. This is where it gets funny, they have a whole thing set up for tourists where they will take your picture and get all sorts of shots of you coming down, they even tell you its photo time…Alex and I had a little fun and made all sorts of poses for the camera guy. They ended up turning out really cute, but we weren’t going to pay 15 per picture. Wowsers was the camera man pissed at us. He was shooting us daggers when we were leaving. Seriously though, we didn’t go on the boat ride to have our picture taken. I never buy the picture on rides when I go to amusement parks, I’m not going to buy it when I’m floating down the river on vacation.

Our tour guide for everything was amazing! Her name was Trudy and she was the sweetest thing in the world. She spoke really good English and gave us all sorts of information on everything before we got there. She gave us a hand drawn map on how to get to our hostel in Yangshuo and a regular map of the town as we got off the bus. She even wrote her cell phone number down incase we ran into any problems.

We got into our hostel and they were great, online it wouldn’t let us book a 6 bed room for the second night so we were going to have to unpack and then move in the morning the next day. They moved stuff around so we could stay in the same room. It was so nice. We really appreciated that. It made life soooo much easier. They also informed us that the 13th was Chinese Valentines Day which makes the raft rides so much funnier. There is a really cute story telling why they celebrate “Valentines Day” really it is more along the lines of lovers day but same difference. Hopefully I remember to look up a link to the story before I post this, otherwise you should definitely look it up yourself.

Day 2

This day was awesome! We went rock climbing. It was something that Tia and I had always wanted to do and Alex had only been a couple times before, Mana was also really excited. Hugo and Kevin both being afraid of heights decided that rock climbing was not for them. It was so fun and in the gorgeous mountains in the area! I have climbed indoor rock walls, but had never actually been rock climbing in the wild. IT WAS SO FUN!!!!  We went to a place that they nicknamed little frog. It was also a lot harder than the indoor rock walls for a few reasons: you can’t see as clearly where to put your hands and feet, I also weigh more than I did the last time I went (I think when I was 14 was the last time I went on a rock wall), and I am less in shape than I was when I was younger.

They put up three different routes for us to climb. None of them went even close to all the way up, we went up maybe 1/2 way max…more around 1/3 of the way. Now when they put up the ropes it was amazing to watch. The main guide scaled up the wall like it was nothing. He made it look so easy. We were talking with him and he has been climbing for 7 years now. He takes people on tours (like us) for 1/2 the year and the other 1/2 he climbs for fun.

The left was easy until you got to what we named “The Bear” because the only way to really climb it was to bear hug it and shimmy up. I made it to the bear and gave up. I knew where I had to get my feet, but just couldn’t quite get there. The middle route was the easiest until the last 2 meters. 2 meters doesn’t sound like a hard climb. I did Insanity for a few weeks until I was too busy to do it and Insanity was easier than that climb. I made it to the top though!  I had to take a few breaks and I know the guy helped me out quite a bit, but I made it up those last darned 2 meters. If those last 2 meters weren’t bad enough as is, they were made worse by my archnemisis: a spider. It just sat there. Right where I needed to go. It sat there and stared at me. It was laughing at my pain as I was summoning all the strength left in me as I kept trying to pull myself up the last meter (it took a few tries).  UGH I hate spiders-we will come back to those in a minutes. The furthest right course was medium hard the entire way up, and then really hard the last meter or so. Once again I got to the last part and said ehhhh not worth it. I didn’t know where to go on this one. If I would have studied it a bit more I probably could have done it, but it was my first time up and I was feeling really tired and gave in. I made it up the hardest part out of all of them though and that is all that matters!!!

So while I am sitting down on the rock recovering from the really really really really hard climb, they are laughing about my reaction to the spider. Alex went up the same course and made it look ok. After he is down he says its ok because he ate the spider. Awesome, nothing else to worry about. All of the sudden I feel something land on my shoulder. I look and by god it was a black spider that had bright yellow on it. The body was about 1/2 the size of my ring finger nail. I froze in panic. I HATE spiders. Then it jumped closer to my face. *cue really loud screaming* Alex had to get it off of me…It was terrifying. I was mortified. Everyone else was laughing. Including the 3 guides who took us climbing.

So it was the 4 of us, Betsy (an mechanical engineering major from CO), and a French family with 3 REALLY cute girls. Betsy was really cool, she just graduated and she has family in China and so was visiting them and is now traveling on her own before she starts work in September. It was really interesting how much French came back to me listening to them speak. It was weird. I could understand what they were saying 1/2 the time, but I couldn’t have phrased a sentence if I wanted to. The cutest thing was when the middle daughter (maybe 5 years old) was climbing. She got to a point and let go and just held onto the rope. The poor thing was  terrified, she was hanging there perfectly safe with a death grip on the rope screaming bloody murder. While I honestly feel bad for her, She was maybe 1 1/2 meters of the ground and her dad was standing right next to her trying to get her to face the rock again supporting her. I felt awful for laughing, but it was so cute and funny!

Slightly ironic was the fact that when we were finished we got in the van to go back to the hostel and “The Climb” by Miley Cirus was playing on the radio. We were so gross by the time we were done. It was warm out already that day and rock climbing is definitely hard work. Hurting and sore we got food and then went to a kissing fish spa. They are everywhere in Yangshuo and just ridiculous. You put your feet into an aquarium that has maybe 30-50 fish in it and they eat off the dead skin and bacteria and it feels like they are giving your feet little kisses. I am typically not very ticklish. Sometimes I am, but for the most part no. Mana, Tia, and I could not stop laughing and shrieking the first 5-7 minutes. It was unbearably tickly. After awhile you got a little more used to it, but man oh man, they would hit somewhere new between your toes or would go to town on the middle part of your foot and it would be tickly all over again. It was only 30 minutes long, but the first 10 minutes felt like an hour. After that the time went by at a normal speed. My feet did feel nicer after it even though it was just a really really weird experience. The worst was when a Chinese family came in (obviously tourists too) and they didn’t have any reaction to it. Do they not feel??? SERIOUSLY! They were falling asleep….I could not in a million years relaxed enough to fall asleep, it tickled WAY too much.

By the time that was done it was around 3 and we showered, organized in the room a little bit and relaxed before going for dinner. We tried the local beer fish and oh my was that good. My only regret is that there was not more. Everything was amazing, the fish, the sauce, the veggies, we were able to get rice and put the sauce just on rice which was also amazing. We also tried crispy roast duck which was ok, nothing special (especially after the oh so special fish). Then it was back to the hostel too rest a little before hitting the light show.

The light show was really cool. It was amazing to see how many people were there. It was packed. It was outside and they gave us ponchos incase it rained (that was nice-also handy later in the trip). The light show was gorgeous, the mountains were in the background and it was outstanding in size. They had over 600 actors, copious amounts of lights, and beautiful music. The problem was the beautiful music. It was gorgeous music. Gorgeous, beautiful, calm, relaxing music. So while the show itself was really cool, it was also too relaxing as I caught myself getting tired often during it. There were a few really cool wow moments, but all in all it moved at a steady pace. There was one bad part: walking in. It was all nice and lovely (tons of people, but other than that ok) until I kicked a brick. I was wearing flip flops and that hurt like hell. It actually punctured my big toe :( mean brick. Why would there be a brick on the middle of a paved path??? OWWWW!

The light show being outside and using the mountains in the show, really made me think of the Medora Musical (in ND). In fact, the entire town was really a Chinese version of Medora. Yanshuo is a really cute town that is made for tourism. That is their business. Much like Medora. It is in a beautiful area, doesn’t have many people that live there year round, and shops fill the streets for tourists to shop at. For example on a singular block, the block our hostel was on there were not one, not two, but three Mango Mango smoothie stores. You can sure believe I had a lot of smoothies. I had 5…each time I tried a new one. We were in town for 2 1/2 days. I totally believe that they helped me recover faster from being sick. By the time we went rock climbing on Day 2 I was already feeling a lot better. I wasn’t feeling 100% great, but better. I had been eating a TON of fruit and drinking a lot of water and smoothies to get the vitamins. And the mango smoothies were made with a bunch of fruit and ice (so much easier than eating an actual mango but just as tasty!

Day 3

We were quite tired (and sore) from rock climbing and so we decided to make this a relaxing day. We didn’t set any alarms and just wandered around the town for the day. It was really fun browsing through all the shops until it started raining. Then it was still fun, just a little damp. Around 5ish we hopped on the bus to head back to Guilin and to our hostel there. Once arrived we got checked in, ate supper, and booked our trip to the Rice Terraces the next day.

Day 4

So we really didn’t spend any time at all in Guilin. Like none. We got in late to the hostels both nights, slept, and then left early in the morning to go to other places. I honestly have no idea what you can do in Guilin. It is just the biggest city in the area and a good hub for going to other places. It also has an airport.

We had our own tour to the rice terraces (thankfully we have 6 of us-the minimum requirement for booking a tour through the hostel separate). We had a driver pick us up, take us there, and then take us to the airport when we were done. There was a bit of a miscommunication between us and the driver, he spoke no English, and between Hugo and I (mainly Hugo) we got the jist of what he was saying, but had no idea how to ask him the questions we needed to. There was a cable car that would save us time and go up and down that he could book us tickets for and so we decided to go up to save time and then walk from all the points there. He told us it would be 5 minutes, and then another 5 minutes, and then an hour later we still weren’t on the cable cars and had no idea what was going on. So like most times we are lost for whats going on, we called Franky. The driver told Franky everything we already knew. (Score 1 for our Chinese skills) and then when we asked how long he said another 5 minutes but didn’t explain why it was taking so long. After about another 10-15 minutes we called Franky again to explain we don’t want to take the cable cars and we want our money back. Which wasn’t a problem, but it is safe to say we were all pretty annoyed by this point. The driver was really nice though and we got our money back without a problem and he took us to where we would start our hike and explained which points are the best to go to.

The Longji Rice Terraces were beautiful. In fact, beautiful doesn’t even begin to explain them. They were gorgeous. They were majestic. They showed the innovative nature of people. The terraces are built into the side of mountains. They were everywhere and went on and on in every direction. The people in this area had completely deforested the mountains and had built terraces into them so they could farm and support themselves. It was incredible. Even in the rain they were breathtaking.

So speaking of the rain, there was a 10% chance of rain…It didn’t stop raining the entire 4 hours we were there.  Thankfully we had gotten the ponchos from the light show. Now the word poncho is a bit of an exaggeration. It was shaped as a poncho, but I think a hefty bag would have worked better. Within 5 minutes I had to do some alterations (tie the left side together because it had split all the way up the side. After 15 minutes I had ripped the armpits open and part of the arms So then I just ripped the arms back and tied them behind me. By this point my umbrella was also doing little good and I just tied it to my purse. After an hour, I just put my hair down because it was so slicked down on top from the rain that it was all running into my face. By this point the only good the want-to-be poncho was doing was keeping my camera semidry . By the time we got back to the van, we were all soaked through all of our shoes and clothes. My hair looked like I had just gotten out of the shower. Once we found our driver and the van, we quickly changed clothes and headed to the airport. Man-o-man did it feel good to be in dry clothes. The ride to the airport was nice, although the roads were really really really bumpy. The driver had awesome techno music. It was all remixes of 90s music. He even let me copy it onto my netbook. HECK YES!

We arrived with plenty of time to the airport, and looked around for food (mind you we had breakfast, and had been eating snack food all day-of which we had very little). It was over 78 RMB per dish. HELL NO! Snickers bars which are normally 4 were 15. Needless to say, we were getting into Shanghai just after 9 and could wait a few hours. Little did we know we would be going hungry that night. I will give the full run down in my post about Shanghai, but we didn’t get into our hostel until after midnight.

Xi’an

DAY 1

Thankfully Alex and Hugo made a local friend while we were on the train. It would have taken us a long time to find the bus stop without him. Once on the bus, I immediately missed the busses in Weifang. I have never been on such a choppy bus ride. It was awful. The roads are definitely worse than Weifang, but the driver stopped and started  abruptly. One minute you were grabbing stuff so you wouldn’t fly forward and the next you were flying backwards because you weren’t expecting the acceleration. We actually missed our stop by one bus stop and had to backtrack to get to the square next to our hostel. Thankfully there was a square so it would be relatively hard to miss. We found our hostel, checked in without any problems, settled in, and ATE FOOD! Oh my goodness I was hungry. All I had eaten on the train were granola bars. So it was almost a full day on a “granola” bar diet. Breakfast is good, lunch not so much.

While we ate supper, we planned out our time we were going to spend in Xi’an. On tip from our roommates from Holland we went to the “Worlds Largest Water Show” at the Big Goose Pagoda that night. It was spectacular. Whether or not it is the World’s Largest is another story, but it was quite unbelievable. There were fountains in this HUGE rectangle in front of the Pagoda. It was about 1/2 the size of the capital grounds in Bismarck ND. We got there 30 minutes early and holy hell was it hot. All of us were sweating profusely and we had to gradually shift our way up so we could see. By the time it started we had some really good spots but it took awhile. We watched the show for about 20 minutes. It was really good, but after a bit it gets really repetitive and we wanted cold water. The show went on for about another 10 minutes to music.

After getting cold water, we walked around the outside of the Pagoda. Since it was night we couldn’t actually get in to see it up close, but we had fun around the perimeter. Of course next to the Pagoda on one side was a HUGE shopping center. Almost everywhere in China it is the old next to the new. It’s a very interesting dichotomy when you actually walk around to see it. At the shopping center there was a semi-outside place that had a screen above it, the screen played all sorts of beautiful scenes so it was like walking under the sea or being outside in the summer, it changed about 5 times while we were watching. Then we were off to find the mysterious source of very loud music a little ways away.

What did the music turn out to be, but a group of people line dancing in the square! It was so fun to watch although amusing because usually it is old ladies, but this group had about 3 guys to every girl. After watching a couple songs, Mana decides to join in on one. It was so fun! They just had a blast seeing a foreigner join them. And then folks after that song is when they did it. They played a remix of the bunny hop. For those of you who don’t know what the Bunny Hop is, it is a dance that I think I have done at every Willer family wedding. Left leg, left leg, right leg, right leg, forward, backward, hop hop hop! So yes, of course, I DID THE BUNNY HOP IN CHINA!

After having fun dancing in the horrible heat, we continued our walk around the Pagoda and looked at some souvenirs and just enjoyed ourselves. We figured we would have to walk all the way back to the hostel unless we wanted to take a taxi because people in our hostel told us the bus stopped running at 8:30. THANKFULLY it was still running! We got back around 11:30ish instead of at midnight or later.

DAY 2

Day 2 was our busy day. Our very very busy and tiring day. We left to go get breakfast at 9, got out of the hostel around 10:30, and headed out to the train station to get on the bus that would take us to the terracotta warriors. I can’t even begin to explain how helpful our roommates from Holland were. They were the ones who suggested going to the fountain show, and they gave us some great tips for seeing the warriors. #1: take the 914 to see them. There is a HUGE queue that will take hours to get through for tourist bus #5/306 both which go to the same place as the 914. #2: go through the pits backwards. 3>2>1. They are much more impressive this way.

Well tip #1 was so true. We got to where the busses were loading and the line was super long. We kept walking to the 914 like they said to do, just checking that they were in fact different lines, and sure enough we were ushered onto the bus before we could say another word. You pay once the bus gets going and there wasn’t even a line for the 914….I have no idea why there was such a long line for the 306. It is 3 rmb cheaper. Not worth the amount of time you would have to spend in the line in the heat  just to save it. It was a little alarming just getting ushered/pushed onto the bus by the worker, but it was the right place and it was air conditioned!

After we got off the bus it was a little bit of a problem though, things were not really well marked out and we had no idea where we were going. We finally found people walking with purpose and followed them until their were lots more people all going the same direction. We found the ticket booth (1/2 off with a student card! Or in Alex’s case a drivers licence) and headed in. We started with the museum which had a lot of great information in it (since we didn’t have a tour guide), went to pit 2, then to pit 3, and then for the grand finale pit 1. Pit 2 was relatively unimpressive. The size was impressive, but you got to see mainly how they were stored. So no warriors except for random arms and legs, and no weapons. There were some excavated warriors off to the side in glass cases where you got to see everything up close which was really cool. Then off to pit 3 where you could see how it went from being ruins to what it looks like once they put things back together. Pit 3 was significantly smaller than pit 2 though. Then it was on to pit 1. The one that everyone talks about, the one that has all the warriors. It was amazing! There were so many warriors! At the front they had all the restored ones in lines and then the further back you went they turned to rubble and random arms and legs. Something I wasn’t aware of before seeing them is that it is still an active archaeological site. There is a lot of work going on in Xi’an that is really interesting. They keep finding new things every year and new sites all around the Mausoleum for the emperor it was dedicated to.

After we were done with the warriors we immediately found food, at no place other than Subway. Subway is at the Great Wall, every city I’ve been to in China, and also the Terracotta Warriors. It would be interesting to see why Subway is such a hit in China. When most companies come into China (in my experience) they have to really change their whole marketing scheme (price, product, promotion, place). McDonalds changed their products quite a bit. Pizza Hut is mid-high end and has a completely different menu (although pepperoni pizza is still on it). Starbucks changed/added about 1/2 the menu. Subway on the other hand is exactly the same as home. They don’t have as large of a sandwich selection, but all your favorites are there including Spicy Italian, Teriyaki Chicken, and Steak and Cheese. They even have the same cookies! The price converts over to be the same as home, although it is more expensive due to the amount of money people make. It is about 25 RMB for a 6 inch which is about the same as home.

Once we got food in our belly’s (it was 3 pm by the time we ate) we headed back to town. We rested for about 30 min in the hostel,  reserved our place on the Panda Tour for the 12th and then went to the City Wall of Xi’an. The City Wall is 14 km long and about 14m wide and I think I read that it may be one of the largest city walls in the world. The wall was beautiful. I was really bummed we weren’t able to get bikes (you needed to put a 200RMB deposit down and only Mana had the deposit needed) but it was nice to walk. I only wish we would have gotten there a little sooner. It got dark quite quickly and we were not able to make it very far along the wall.

Once again, we were starving and in need of food. We had read online the Muslim Quarter is a good place to get food and shop. Off we went. Oh my was it fun. There were people everywhere. I’m pretty sure someone tried to pickpocket me. They asked directions and while I had the map out and was talking to the one guy his friend slid over quite closely, but I had my hand on my purse and was watching it like a hawk. Be damned if someone runs off with my stuff. I don’t care if it is just a pack of kleenex they run off with. It is mine and not yours. Keep your filthy paws off. It was a pretty sketchy situation there, but was over quite quickly and we were on with our night. There were all sorts of shops everywhere selling nuts, fruits, peanut brittle, all sorts of street food, all sorts of halal foods, souvenirs, and just about anything else you could imagine . We got a lamb pancake thing. For those of you who know what (please don’t laugh at this spelling family because I know it is very very wrong)  fleishkeckle  is, it was almost like that. They took a dough disk, spread lamb meat on it, put another one on top, pressed them together, and then fried it in a shallow pan. They were ridiculously greasy but oh so good. If you ever go to Xi’an I would highly recommend going to the Muslim Quarter. It was so fun and so interesting. After a little while we were drained though, it was about 10:30 by the time we headed back to the Hostel. On the way back we got a call letting us know that our tour was leaving at 6:30 instead of 7am…ewwwww.

It was such a good day. Everything was awesome to see, but it was so hot. And humid. It was awful. The heat was so draining. I haven’t been that tired in a long time. I’m still actually tired today. We were all pretty tired today. I’m writing this while in the Xi’an Airport while waiting for our flight to Guilin.

Day 3

Today was an early one. We had to leave the room at 6:15 to check out, put our bags into luggage storage, and be ready for the tour at 6:30. The research center was at the base of the QingLing Mountains. PANDAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAS!!!!

It was so worth it to get up early to see the Pandas! They are so CUTE! They are fat and chubby and all cuddly looking. Not to mention incredibly lazy. Perfect cuddle buddy…except for the whole being a bear thing. We went to a rescue and research place about an hour and a half south of Xi’an. They rescue all sorts of animals from the wild that have been injured and some of them go back into the wild, but some are kept for breeding. Although they haven’t had too much luck breeding. They have been open for 30 years and have only had 12 baby pandas. According to a volunteer, I question a lot of what I hear on tours, they have the only “brown” panda. It looks just like a normal panda but with brown hair. I don’t know how much I believe it, but that’s what was said. We got to see 4 pandas! I’m glad we got there when we did. A group got there 1/2 an hour after us and didn’t see any. They like the cold and once it starts warming up they start hiding inside. They have air conditioned homes.

Red pandas may be even cuter than the normal pandas. They look like a panda mixed with a fox and are so lazy. They were all just draped over whatever they could be. So cute. They just didn’t care about anything.

They also have Crested Ibis here, they are known for their work with Crested Ibis. Again, according to the guide, there were only 7 Crested Ibis in the world back in like the 1980s…60s…the last century sometime and the center we were at was responsible for helping them to not go extinct. There are now thousands in the world. Apparently it is easier to breed birds than bears.

We also saw golden takin (some sort of yakish buffalo goat creature that is really cute as a baby and incredibly ugly as an adult), silk deer (which are hunted for their antlers which are used as some sort of traditional medicine), black bears that they called moon bears (don’t know why, but they are hunted for their gallbladders in traditional medicine),  Sibuxiang (a chinese animal that is a weird mix between a horse, donkey, and goat. It literally means four don’t like), and golden monkeys (so energetic and adorable. There was a baby one that I just wanted to take home with me). There were also vultures, eagles, an owl, an  eagle, and a peacock.

It was really cool to see all the animals and it was better yet because there were barely any people there. Most people go to Chengdu to see Pandas and this place isn’t very well known. It was 30 years old though and you could tell. It wasn’t necessarily in a state of disrepair, but it needed a little loving.

After going through the zoo/reserve/shelter we got back in the van and headed back to the hostel. We got back, ate food at a restaurant we found near the hostel. Note: when you are near Sichuan province make sure to ask if it is spicy. I ordered cold noodles like I eat all the time in Weifang. They were sooooooooooooo hot. My mouth was on fire. This gets more impressive, because I woke up really congested and can’t taste like anything else. I couldn’t imagine if I had all my taste buds accounted for. Thankfully I had also ordered a really mild pork sandwich (like the “bbqs” I like in Weifang) and that was eaten last to save my mouth. I also just ate a mushroom and meat bun. It’s a blessing I can’t taste anything because I hate mushrooms but couldn’t tell at all what I was eating.  We had a couple hours to kill between Lunch and heading to the plane so we rested at the hostel and I worked on my last blog post.

Right now I am in the middle of my flight from Xi’an to Guilin. It is only an hour and a half versus the 20 hour or so train ride that it would have been otherwise. All in all Xi’an rocked! The warriors were definitely worth the time spent in the train and the Muslim Quarter was awesome. I am really excited for Guilin…maybe we might even get fresh air there…one can hope. I seriously doubt it, but it would be nice.

20 Hour Train Ride? Check!

To get to Xi’an from Weifang, the simplest and most cost effective way is to take the train. Unfortunately it is the slow train and it takes 20 hours. On the plus side we all got sleepers and I know that our trip went much better than poor Tia and Jessica’s trip to Xi’an (they were in seats the whole time).

It definitely has not been a dull trip though. To get all of us sleepers, the boys had to travel to Zibo ahead of us on another train and then transfer to our train. Thankfully that went swimmingly. So it was just Mana and I who got on the train in Weifang.

Before we get to getting on the train, we must talk about getting there. I was quite proud of myself, I got a taxi and picked Mana up from the TaiHeng office and then we headed to TaiHua to grab sandwiches at Abacababra. Note: if you need to get anywhere during rush hour don’t go to TaiHua, you will never get a taxi. After about 15 min of waiting for a taxi (we should be at the train station already), I called Franky to see what bus would take us to the train station. I swear he said the 26. Nope. He said the 56. I don’t remember why I called him after we were on the bus, but we found out we were on the wrong bus. Great. Thankfully he was able to check on his phone and the 26 went to the train station too (well a block away). I had no problems getting off, the guy I was sitting next to shifted out of my way and I get off and I don’t see Mana anywhere…uhoh. All the sudden the doors start to close and I start to panic. This is our stop and we are already late. Then I see her, pushing her way through the rest of the people like an NFL linebacker. The doors are almost completely closed at this point and she pushes her way through those too finishing with a few expletives. I laughed so hard. Problem averted!

So we walk the rest of the way to the train station and get there without a problem. A nice lady helps us figure out what floor we should be waiting on and we go up and play the waiting game. It was so stinking hot and packed with people in the train station. We were sweating just sitting there. We were sitting on a ledge just a little bit raised up from the floor. Even though we were lower than the people in the chairs, we were attracting many stares and getting pics. While this is annoying when you look good, we were sweaty and gross.

Thankfully the time comes to get on the train. We get in line and are in a pretty good position. Note: Lines mean nothing in China. We were almost the last people through. You have to assert yourself to move forward in the line because people will budge in front of you and push you out of the way and before you know it everyone else has made it through and you are left thinking “What just happened?!”

The train ride started out relatively uneventful. We are in soft sleepers that sleep 4 to a room. They are quite small rooms, but quite nice travel accommodations. The beds were long enough for me, there were pillows and blankets, there was a storage bin for our stuff, and it was air conditioned, all in all it was quite comfortable. Thankfully Mana and I were in the same room! We were with a mother and her little daughter (so cute!) and a guy who got off before we were up. But then a mother and her really young baby got on. OH MY GOODNESS BABY! IT WAS SO STINKING CUTE!!!! I just wanted to pinch its fat little cheeks and love it!

There was one problem with the room; the plug in didn’t work. A 20 hour train ride and I have a netbook (fully charged but doesn’t last long), a iPod that is going dead from use during the day, a 1/2 charged kindle, and a phone that is going dead. Crap. Don’t worry though, I had a knight in rusted armor come to save my day. While he saved my day, it cost me a bit of money for the saving. Obviously they know the plug ins don’t work and there are people like me on trains so one of the employees was coming around with portable chargers (fully charged) that you could buy. Granted I’ve been thinking about buying one for some time now and after some internal debate I broke down and bought one. Definitely a good decision. I would have died without my iPod for a majority of the trip.

Not long later the boys get on the train. Whew! We are all together and we don’t have to worry about them missing the train any more! So they get on and walk past us and we were talking with them for a little bit and they pass. This left the workers in the hall very confused. Hugo did not speak Chinese. What madness is this?! I explained to, coincidentally, the guy who sold me the charger that Hugo was Canadian and not Chinese. He kept asking if he was Korean…no he is Canadian. Then he stops and he pulls out a different charger telling me that it is better than the one he originally sold me (shows me it has a light) and is pretty insistent on me switching. Sure, ok. I really don’t care. They were the same price so whatever. It was quite the comical situation. He kept talking and asking questions (about 1/2 of which I understood). You would think after me laughing telling him I don’t know, I don’t understand he would stop asking questions, but he was quite persistent and quite flirty as well. It was definitely one of those “you had to be there moments” but it was priceless.

I slept really well on the train too, fell asleep around 11 and then woke up at 7. A solid 8 hours of sleep. Even though that still left 8 hours to Xi’an. It was a great rest of the trip. I napped on and off, did a Mandarin lesson, Mana and I talked about life, love, and faith, and then we watched Ted!

So the evening before we left we had a formal dinner with Dave Smith, Rose (the visiting professor to BSU who is from Weifang), Rose’s friend Mr. Su, and all the foreign teachers (except Hugo). Since we were leaving the next day for our trip there were lots of toasts to be had about safe travel and to new friends, but then the personal toasts started where Mr. Su went around toasting each person individually. What was his toast to me? It was something along the likes of have successful flirting. I don’t exactly remember because I was too busy laughing hysterically.

So not only was Mr. Charger salesman hitting on me the night before and told me to sleep well, but then the next day he stopped by just to say hi…with the eyebrow raise that is typical of guys that are like “whats up babe, hows it going” Oh my goodness! He was there for only a couple seconds, but it was priceless. I will have to tell Mr. Su his toast worked. Mana and I died laughing after he left. Then later as we are standing there looking out the window he comes back and starts talking to me again…Oh my, for unintentional “flirting” I did a pretty good job with my botched barely spoken Chinese at winning this guy over.

While most of the signs on the train that were translatedinto English were translated quite well, there was one in particular that was so off that I don’t even know what they were trying to say: No flushing while meeting emu. I’m sorry what? It was in the bathroom, so no flushing while…that makes sense. The meeting emu part doesn’t really work though…Is it common to meet an emu in a bathroom on a train that is crossing China?!

You go through some absolutely gorgeous scenery on your way to Xi’an. We passed Hua Shan (flower mountain) and a bunch of other mountains. It was spectacular. Hua Shan is one of the 5 famous mountains in China and you can find out more info about it here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Hua There were fields of corn and sunflowers all the way up to the base of the mountains. They weren’t like we know fields though. They were all staggered and the only way I could imagine being able to harvest the plants would be by hand.

We got off the train at 4:30 and made our way to the hostel with help from Alex and Hugo’s new  found friend from the train (a student in Xi’an who speaks really good English). Tip: If you ever travel, make friends with a local that speaks your native tongue. They will prove to be invaluable in times of need.

Here we go!!!

In just a couple hours we will be on the train on our way to Xi’an! I can’t wait! And now to shock everyone who has ever traveled with me…See that backpack and purse? That is all I’m taking with for 2 weeks. LIKE A BOSS! My packing skills are awesome! I’m so excited to explore more of China with my friends :D

2 weeks of travel with only a backpack and a purse. WIN!

2 weeks of travel with only a backpack and a purse. WIN!

You saw what?

So while being in China we have seen a variety of bad English on everything, horrible statues, and some really random things.  I didn’t title or caption almost any of the pictures because I felt they were pretty self explanatory. Enjoy!