Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Joe holding Shanghai in his arms :)

Me and Sarah in front Hai Boa (of the world expo mascot)!

The mall where ACS is located

More Ramen, and my tired eyes.

Joe and Sarah in a Cab

Notice Sarah's panda hat!

My hero of the hour! (Joe)

My pack in our hostel (I like the photo :)

Hostel Room

My passport retrieval folder!

All the goodies we could purchase at Le Tour!

We ate soo much ramen on the go...

Shanghai and the Passport Recovery Project

We got off the buses with the ship in sight, just a short walking distance away. There was a long line to get on the ship, and a Chinese government check point where we needed to show our Ships ID and Passport. As I went to fish these out of my pack, I realized I’d made a terrible, terrible mistake: my passport had disappeared.
I searched my bag repeatedly, my friends saw me scrambling and tried to help, but it was absolutely nowhere to be found. I was shocked and devastated. If I got on the ship, I wouldn’t be allowed off as I wouldn’t have proof of already entering China legally. My friends all got in line to get back on the ship – Corey took my bag, and Ariel took my key to go into my cabin and grab all of my photocopies and proof-of-identity documents. I ran into our Executive Dean Sue Weitz. She told me to get moving, so once Ariel reappeared with my documents, that’s what I did.
        I waited two hours in 40 degree weather, but I was bundled up so it was alright. I ran into my friend Joe Bagliere, and he was on his way in from the rural area of Dehong. He showed up complete with his large pack and full of energy, which I was surprised of. He offered to stick with me and go to the consulate, which I didn’t turn down, but assured him was unnecessary. Being the stellar friend and person that he is, he decided to accompany me anyway. We hopped in a taxi, and the rates went up SO quickly that we decided he was ripping us off and made him pull over. We hopped out of the cab, ready to walk to the consulate. We were told it was a 10-minute walk.
Two hours later, we arrived at the consulate. On the way, we stopped for some KFC (mm), some meat-pie street food, bubble tea, and went to a dried-foods market. I think we saw more of Shanghai walking around than I would have seen any other way. Once we got to the consulate however, we were told that they could not issue me a new passport, and I would need to go to American Citizen Services on the 8th floor of Westgate Mall. We took a cab and kept our eyes on the meter. ACS wasn’t far, and was in a ritzy mall. We met a woman in the elevator named Fabiola, she was an American citizen of Chinese descent living in Shanghai. It was great to find someone who spoke English. We got to cut the whole line outside of ACS because we were American citizens, and I had to show passport photocopies to get into the department.
        We put our bags through security, pulled a number and waited. I was called up and spoke to a woman named Grace, who was very cold with me and told me that they could not help me until I filed a police report claiming that my passport had been lost/stolen. She gave me the address of the Exit/Entry Bureau where I could get this and told me I needed to have passport photos taken.
        Joe and I got back into the elevator with Fabiola coincidentally, who sympathized with me and said she could help. Next thing we know, she pulls out her iPhone to call her driver to pick us up on the corner, jumps in the car with us to the E/EB which is on the opposite end of the city, and comes inside. She spoke to the men at the desk in Mandarin and took me to the front of the emergency line where I could have my report filed. She left us there to continue on our own, but I’m so grateful for how generous people can be. She was amazing.
        I got photos taken and we went to the ship so Joe could refresh himself. We ran into Kathy, our Assistant Executive Dean, who helped me figure out how to pay for everything and retrieved my bag from Corey’s room since I would have to stay off the ship overnight. Joe and I parted ways but met back up a couple hours later. He wasn’t able to get back on the ship as it would take 3 hours to process his passport, so we regrouped and found a hostel. The hostel is called Le Tour Youth Hostel Traveler’s Rest and was amazing. It was in a small alley with beautifully lantern-lit paths. They were understanding and accepted the photocopy of my old passport to check me in. We got a room with 2 beds and a shower. Joe took a nap while I checked my email. I met a guy named Chris in the lobby who went to WVU and had just moved to Shanghai. He was there to teach English until he figured out his career in helping with customer service development in China, which they could use the help with.
        Chris was in the hostel because he was between living situations. We ended up going out with him to a bar called I <3 Shanghai for a beer. Then he took us to a club that he said is busy on the weekends, though it seemed dead when we went. We went inside and lo and behold – it was FILLED with SAS students only. It was all of my friends and then some other little cliques I didn’t know too well, but it was fun and a relief to see everyone. We also found Joe’s (girlfriend?) Sarah there. She’s from Kentucky and she’s so much fun. (I’m going to stay with her for the KY Derby!) Anyway, we called it an early night – my eyes were bloodshot and barely open from exhaustion and a lack of good sleep – and went back to the hostel for the night.
        Joe, Sarah and I were up and out by 8:30 am and off to the consulate to get my passport. I was interrogated and reprimanded, and told that my passport was probably already in the black market and may be used for terrorism. I was horrified. After they agreed to issue a temporary passport, someone else waiting reassured me that it would likely be passed around the black market but never actually get anywhere. Also, all three of us were asked to be witnesses for couples to get mortgages on houses in the U.S., which was pretty cool. I noticed a picture of Barack Obama, Joe Biden and Hilary Clinton hanging on the wall in the consulate, which I thought was interesting. It was amazing how familiar and friendly those faces seemed.
        I GOT A PASSPORT! We then left there and went to the E/EB by 12 to get my exit visa. After pulling a number and waiting, the person I spoke to said they couldn’t help me. I needed to wait until 1:30 for the emergency line to open. We waited, and Joe turned into protective Papa-Bear and made sure I didn’t get cut. Then the thing that made me cry happened - the woman who sat at the desk at 1:30 told me my forms were invalid.
        I had to have a form from the hostel with my passport # on it proving that I had been staying in Shanghai. Though I made sure I had this form, it had my old passport # on it thus making it invalid. A Spanish woman let me borrow her Chinese phone to call the hostel to have them fix the numbers and fax it to the E/EB. Even though I begged, the woman at the hostel wouldn’t do it. I burst into tears. Joe took the phone from my hand, and shuffled me down the escalators to head back to the hostel. We left Sarah with our packs and took the subway to the hostel. I again begged the woman at the desk to please help me. That I couldn’t get out of China unless she changed the numbers on her form. So, she did, and I kissed her. I was so happy!
        Skipping, we headed back to the subway and the E/EB, where I was issued a visa. Joe stresses out in these situations, provoking the nickname “Jetpack Joe,” so he went back to the ship while Sarah and I waited. At 4:30, I got the visa and we got back to the ship by 4:50 pm. Our registrar, Adam, had me cut excessive line, and I was on the ship before dock time. WHAT A CLOSE CALL!!
        For the next couple days, Joe and Sarah came up to me saying “Hey, great to see you onboard today!” What amazing friends. Anyway, I’m pretty heartbroken over losing all of my stamps. Joe was flipping through his when we stopped at a bank, and said “wow what a great souvenir…” and I looked at him with a death stare. But he’s right, and I definitely learned my lesson here. Do not ever lose your passport in China – the exit visa was more expensive than the passport itself! Also, I should mention, Shanghai has some of the coolest architecture I’ve ever seen in my life. Their buildings have huge bulbous sections or rectangular parts jutting out in different directions, and the way they light up at night is amazing. Also, Shanghai hoested the world Expo recently, so their little blue mascot (who looks like Gumby) was all over the city. Even bushes were cut out to look like him. One last thing – my tour guides told me that in China, everyone is photographed about 4,000 times per day under the government’s watchful eyes. I didn’t notice it  until Shanghai, but there are cameras on top of random light posts. How weird!

Monday, November 29, 2010

The greatest and shortest-lived slippers

Corey, Nancy, Me, Ross and Kelly

Sleeper Train!

Me and Corey on my bed, Kelly and Ross on their bunk, and Heidi on our top bunk.

Winding and beautiful :)

The ones with little hats on them were the forts with interiors/shelter.

Kelly and I on the Wall

The most warm (and colorful) outfit I had..

My view in the morning!

Road signs (they light up!)

Setting up camp for the night...

In front of Forbidden City (w/o Panda Hat)

The big picture of Chairman Mao is above my head. They have a new painting made of him every year to be put there, so it is always in good shape and flattering.

In front of The Forbidden City (w/ Panda Hat)

The Main Plaza in The Forbidden City

PS - These pictures are all from The Forbidden City, not Tiananmen Square. I got side-tracked, sorry!

The happiest of all dragons!

Look at all his smiling teeth!

Me with some guards

I later learned that in China, the" thumbs-up" sign really means "up yours!"


I thought the English translation was funny. :)

Me behind Tiananmen Square


I packed in the morning and jumped in a taxi to the airport with Luis, Carol and Kelly. We got there at around 11, and our flight was to be a bit after 1 pm. The airport was easy, and so was the flight. It was only 3 hours, but I was still recovering from LKF and slept through the entire flight. There were some points when I woke up because my peers were being incredibly loud and disrespectful, which was a little embarrassing.
        I organized my trip through TheChinaGuide, which is an American based tour company working out of Beijing. They had over 200 SAS students sign up for their “Sleep on the Great Wall” tour, and booked all of our flight and train tickets for us. It took 3 airplanes to get us all to the northern part of the country. My flight was probably 90% us, and 10% Chinese people traveling. Alcohol was free, and a lot of the kids on my trip were immature and irresponsible; this would be the first of many times I would be mortified with the behavior of my “friends” for the next 3 days.
        Anyway, we got in around 6 pm and our China Guide tour-guides met us at the airport and shuffled us into 8 buses. We split into 2 different hotels, but Kelly and I were roommates and stuck together which was great. We ate dinner at the lounge in the lobby of our hotel, which was relaxed and really neat with oriental decorations, lanterns and a lot of red interior design with gold accents. About 30 minutes after we ordered our food, loads of drunk SAS students suddenly piled into the lounge. There was a family eating there who was staying at the hotel, and an older English couple with a friend sitting at the table adjacent to ours. We waited another 30 minutes silently for our food, appalled at how these kids were behaving. The food finally arrived, and wasn’t that great. Kelly’s garlic bread was toast with whole cloves of garlic on it, sparsely topped with mozzarella. The service was slow because the hotel staff was running around trying to cater to drunk American teenagers. As we left the lounge on our way out after our meal, the couple sitting near us stopped me and told me that we should be embarrassed for the image we are creating of American college students. With our spirits low, Kelly and I apologized and went straight to bed around 11 pm.
        We left in the morning, and most kids bought panda hats that cost $1 at a stand just outside of the hotel. We all looked ridiculous, and walked over to the next hotel to meet our friends. After dividing into groups of 30, we filed onto our 8 buses and off we went to The Forbidden City. It was so, so beautiful. The architecture was incredible, the colors and designs in the ceilings and building exteriors were so intricate. There were vast plazas that I could just imagine large army parades going through, with the Emperor on a lifted seat floating through the crowds. What a neat thing to be in a place with so much history. If you’ve ever seen The Last Emperor, that’s exactly where I was. There is a scene where the young boy cries about having to take on such a big role and not see his family anymore, and his father says “it will all be over soon.” This was a real event and was seen as the bad omen that ended the rule of the Chinese Empire. I saw the room where this all took place, so that was pretty crazy to behold.
        After walking through many large structured gates, we were dumped out under an image of Chairman Mao and exited into Tiananmen Square through Tiananmen Gate, which means the Gate of Heavenly Peace. Huge permanent bleachers lined the streets so the public could view the communist party armies marching down the streets of Beijing. There were tourists from all over the world and all over China. Surrounding the enormous square (which is the largest public gathering place in the world) are the Chinese Parliamentary building, Mao’s tomb and the National Museum of China, among others.
        We left this for lunch, and then the silk factory, where we spent a couple hours haggling with ladies who laughed at my hat and called me “panda lady.” I bought a harmonica and have been working on it, but am not getting very far. After this, there was a three hour bus ride to the great wall, during which we all slept. When we got there it was dark and about 7:30 pm. Tons of food was brought out to us, and there were a lot of Chinese people on the other half of the huge banquet room. They were SO drunk. Of course this got our group going crazy, and a lot of kids had bought bottles of alcohol on the way in, so they joined in with the Chinese people and stood on chairs dancing and singing national anthems and Auld Lang Syne in English and Chinese, among other things. It was fun and such great entertainment!
        We all changed into our thermals and layers on the bus, and then headed up to the wall. On the way we were each given a sleeping pad, a flashlight and two 10-degree sleeping bags to carry in addition to our clothes and belongings that would sustain us through the next 18 hours. There was a huge staircase on the way up to the wall – it was a climb – and we had to stop and take breaks from being so out of breath.
        We got up to the wall finally, and walked along it in the dark for about ¼ mile until we threw our bags down and made camp for the evening. I was pretty happy a bunch of my good friends on the ship decided to do the same trip and ended up in my group! It was FREEZING outside. We were told to expect 4 degrees Celsius, and it ended up being about that – which is 10 degrees Farenheit. I bought a 20 degree sleeping bag, so after that didn’t keep me warm until about 3 am, I jumped out of my bag and doubled up with the ones provided by the tour company, and that was finally enough to let me sleep through the night. I wore socks but still couldn’t feel my toes for most of the night, and before I doubled bags, there were times when I woke up from trembling violently until my nerves calmed enough to let me fall back asleep. It was also hard to fall asleep for a while because a bunch of the kids who wanted to stay up late and party brought speakers with them, and we were provided with free beer though most of us didn’t have any interest in it as warmth was generally the #1 priority. For those who stayed up though.. they had a good, loud time until about 3 am.
        I woke up with a cold nose to the sounds of light chatter. Eventually I crawled out of my sleeping bags, reluctantly, and stretched – only to find myself overlooking the three miles of the Great Wall that lay ahead. I’d almost forgotten where I was! We ate some bread and apples and headed out. Our guides took our sleeping bags, and we walked down the wall until we saw them at the end of our three miles. It was SO rough out there. The hike was strenuous, and though Table Mountain in South Africa has been referred to as the “3-hour stairmaster,” the Great Wall could easily challenge it. Much of the trail is built to incorporate the mountains it sits on, meaning that if you climb the Great Wall, you really are “climbing.” It was fun though, and great to stop and take pictures. There were moments when I looked around and reminded myself of all of the history that took place where I stood, and of how profoundly beautiful the sights before me were. The annual Great Wall Marathon goes onto the actual wall; runners conquer almost 4,000 steps on the wall itself. It is known as the biggest graveyard in the world because it’s construction was so strenuous that many people died. Legend has it that their bones were used in the structures of the wall itself.
Quick history lesson – the Great Wall was constructed under the rule of Emperor Qin (pronouched “Chin”) Shi Huangdi. He had the shortest rule of any emperor in China (11 years), but left the biggest mark. “Chin”-a is named after him. The terracotta army in Xi’an was built for his tomb. He established written language systems and coin-currency rather than trade, as well as weights and measures. However, he expended so many of his resources that his empire fell very quickly.
Anyway – back to the wall - it was really neat to be able to be so casual about it, and to feel like I actually conquered something when we headed back down to the buses. There were points where we all had to stop and catch our breath. Some people actually got sick from all the physical activity.. often times, locals would stay within the forts with cans of pop or t-shirts for sale. They’re so impressive – these people wake up every morning and go out to hike on the wall just to sell their merchandise. It’s good to buy souvenirs there and support the locals, so I bought a t-shirt that reads “I climbed the great wall” and am pretty excited to wear it at home!
        We got back on the buses, which took us to a restaurant in Beijing (which was a few hours away) for lunch. After lunch, we went to the location of the Olympic stadiums used in 2008 and saw the Bird’s Nest, which was a stunningly intricate piece of architecture, and the Swim Cube which looks like it’s covered with big, transparent bubbles. Then we went to a teahouse called Dr. Tea (which is the biggest in Beijing) and learned about different Chinese teas and how to taste them and appreciate the flavors. Some of them are headache or stomachache remedies, which was neat. They also showed us a little device called the “pee-boy” which is a tiny statue of a boy, and when you aren’t sure if the temperature of your water is right – you dip pee-boy in the water and if it’s the right temperature, he pees everywhere. It’s ridiculous, but of course we all bought one because it was the funniest thing we’d seen all day. Our guides then took us to the train station, where we got McDonalds for dinner (mmm.... seriously) and waited for 2 hours to board our train. The station was very clean and as big as an airport, with giant screens flashing promotional China videos. We parted ways with our guides and hopped on.
        The train was SO fun.  Even though I didn’t stay up all night – it was still really cool to see how clean and tidy everything was and how technologically advanced it was too. There were flat-screen TV’s built into every bed-space, and hangers available for coats. There was hot water on the table for tea and little foot-handles that you could pull down from the wall to climb on the top bunk. Though we were rocking all night, I can’t complain because at this point I’m used to it (thank you, Ship) and it was nice to just be warm in a bed again. There were four pairs of colorful slippers in each room, and I was pumped about having ship-slippers, finally! We all had a couple beers and played some cards until it started to get late, and I got a solid 7 hours of rest (except for when I woke up in the middle of the night to scream at the completely rude SAS students who stayed up partying and drinking… third night in a row). Unfortunately, when the stewardesses came around doing wake-up calls, they sneakily swept our shoes up into garbage pails, so they were gone when we finally got up. :( We woke up in the morning in Shanghai, ready for a new adventure.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Hong Kong

Hong Kong was quick! I was only there for a grand total of 36 hours.
        We docked in Victoria Harbour. When I got off the ship with my friends, I brought my laptop to Skype home because we were told that there is free internet access in all government buildings (yess!). Anyway, my friends and I ran around trying to get their Japan Railpass situations worked out. Cousin Allie took care of mine at home (thanks, cuz!). The ship pulled up directly next to a mall, which was actually the port – we had to walk past all these big fancy stores like Chanel and Marc Jacobs just to get out onto the street. It was busy and there were cars and buildings everywhere. They drive on the left side of the road, like in England, India, South Africa, etc.. The weather was a beautiful 75 degrees and it felt great!
        We stopped at McDonalds for burgers to tie us over until lunch – it tastes exactly the same as it does in the US. Amazing. And even people who can’t understand any English can understand the word “ketchup.”
At around noon, we took the Star Ferry over to the Kowloon area (I think) and went on a mad hunt for dim-sum. We ended up finding some in a restaurant located within city-hall at around 2:00. I got separated from them, and figured I should stay where I was to avoid getting lost, so I sat down where I was standing on the stairs and pulled out my computer to start Skyping. They came down the stairs about 45 minutes later full and happy, saying that they though I’d gone to a different part of the restaurant to eat so I could have some privacy on the computer. Hmm…
        Anyway, I decided to wait there for my dad or Justin to get online. Everyone left to take the Peak Tram to the top of Victoria Peak, which overlooks the city. At about 4:15, my computer had died and I gave up waiting on the return of my friends, and started to walk around outside. I ended up bumping into them, and we took the ferry back towards the ship. We found this tiny, hole-in-the-wall Chinese food place with noodles and orange chicken that had LOTS of bones in it, making it practically inedible. It was cool though to find a small local place and to be surrounded by local people rather than hoards of SAS students in a nicer resturant.
        Kelly, Eric and I parted from the group to run to the open market that sells electronics – we got there right after dark and MAN was it crazy. We took the subway there, which was extremely efficient, and emerged from the underground passageway onto a street full of stands boasting flashing neon lights, every type of cord or cable you’ve ever imagined, cell phones from as late as the 80’s.. everything electronic that has ever existed could be found in this market. We ran around for about 30 minutes until I found a 3 year old Canon point-and-shoot for only $65! We got lost heading back to the ship, but it was good to walk around the city at night. The streets were lined with flashing neon lights and signs. There were enormous GAP advertisements that said something about "mixing is better" and featured a white person and a Chinese person in every photograph. So bizarre. A lot of buildings were already lit up with Christmas decorations, too. Hong Kong has run into a situation where they only have a certain amount of space to build outwards, so they started building up. Their architecture was unlike any I'd ever seen before, and very futuristic.
        We ran into the other half of the group on the ship and ran in to change. There is an area of the Kowloon part of Hong Kong called Lan Kwai Fong (LKF).  Our taxi driver did not speak a lick of English, but saw how we were dressed and must have known where we were going. We split into two taxis, and at a red light, our driver jumped out and ran to the car behind us to ask for directions. Kelly, who was sitting next to me, shouted “Chinese firedrill!” and we burst into laughter for a good ten minutes.
We thought we were looking for a street when we were in the taxi, but man were we wrong. Once we turned the corner, parties ERUPTED in the streets. There were narrow intersections and taxis stacked down the street, SAS kids and locals running around with open containers in their hands. Everyone was dressed to kill. It was great! There was a stand on the sidewalk that reminded me of the Mexican food stands around LA, and they sold shots so we got a few. We found a bar that had free drinks for ladies, and hung around there for the rest of the night. It was such a good time to go out and dance with my friends after having been separated from them for most of the day. It really is so much easier with cell phones.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Cu Chi Tunnels

Trying to squeeze into one of the tunnel openings - these things are TINY

Vertically structured buildings

They build up instead of out. So compact!


One of the guides held his hand behind my shoulder so I wouldn't go flying backwards.

My shock from the explosive sound of my AK-47!

Everyone rides motorbikes in Vietnam

oops.. here's the baby

Baby on a motorbike

Often times in Vietnam, you'll see babies or entire families of 4 fitting comfortably on a motorbike. Are you sure we need that Ford SUV, Dad? We could just get a Harley... ;-)

Lady cutting pineapples

(notice her pineapple hanging to indicate what she sells!)

Stilt Houses

Boat Shop on stilts

Lady selling water to our boat

I've noticed that  A LOT of people in Vietnam (and in India) sit very comfortably in this squatting position.
I tried it and fell over.

Dragonfruit Lady

A woman in her boat hammock