Week 1 in China (yeah I know I’m a little behind!)

21 09 2011

As we’ve stated, the general quality of the internet here (plus government blocks) have made updating difficult, so I figured I’d put together a series of posts summarizing a week at a time. At the end of this post you can find Flickr links to some of my pics from the week, plus Whitney’s more extensive collections of pics from the Great Wall, Yungang Caves and the Hanging Monastery.

Flight to Bejing – I do my best to live free of envy and jealousy, but people who fly international business/first class are seriously big pimpin’ (i.e. “living large” in the non hip-hop vernacular). The extensive food menu even had the chef’s picture on it! Imagine, someone taking personal responsibility for airplane food. Don’t get me started on the hydraulic seat with independent adjustable sections. It’s still too much of a premium over coach seats, but we got hooked up thanks to airline miles.

Beijing – The hutong area we stayed in was kind of like what I pictured “old” China to be: narrow alleys, temple-like roofs, clotheslines and lots of scooters. During a taxi ride out of the center of the city though, it was more like what I picture when I think of a “mega-city” – 20-30 story blocky apartment buildings as far as the eye could see (not super far considering the pollution) in every direction. Not the most appealing future but considering the rapid urbanization of the world, there may not be a lot of choices. The Great Wall (see pics) was impressive and fun/hard to hike, but the Forbidden City was disappointing. Huge open square to start, but otherwise the buildings looked pretty similar to most every old style temple/building.

Datong area – The Yungang caves were awesome, containing multiple 50ft+ high statues of Buddha (see pics). The Hanging Monastery was smaller than I thought from pictures but still pretty dang cool (see pics). Cause when you really want to show off your devotion, it’s hard to beat creating a temple on a cliff face 250 ft off the ground. The robot in the pics was a noodle-slicing model at a random restaurant in Datong (I had no idea that even existed!)

Trains – China is friggin huge. Traveling between cities is usually accomplished by bus or train. Previous blog posts have mentioned the ever-present smoking so we’ve taken trains for trips longer than a few hours. Oftentimes, overnight “sleeper” (the quotes are intentional!) trains are the only option. It’s apparently impossible to get the more comfortable “soft sleeper” tickets because they are bought up as soon as they come available. Even the “hard sleeper” tickets we’ve gotten can be tough because resellers buy them up early too. Each hard sleeper compartment (no door) is a narrow aisle with 3 bunks (low, middle, top) on either side. The bunks are designed for Chinese people, not 6’1″ gangly giants like us. Once we put our small packs with valuable behind our heads, we can’t stretch out without bending our knees. And don’t think that just because it’s an overnight train and all the lights are out that people won’t talk on their cell phones or chit-chat with their fellow train employees or smoke cigarettes in the space between trains ALL NIGHT LONG. Because they will. That being said, we did have a fun experience on one of our train rides trying to communicate with an old lady and a middle-aged guy. Through a combination of our Mandarin phrasebook (thanks Valerie!) and various iPhone translation apps, we could get into a scintillating discussion of how old we were, what our jobs were and where we were going in China. The problem is even if we can make them understand our butchered pronunciations, it’s almost impossible to figure out what they’re saying well enough to translate to english. One app I have will turn spoken Mandarin into a mishmash of english words that usually gets the point across (e.g. “In day, work done is what”) and the old lady in particular seemed to delight in speaking into the phone.

Flickr Links:

Great Wall pics by Whitney

Yungang Caves pics by Whitney

Hanging Monastery pics by Whitney

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2 responses

23 09 2011
kimberlea

I love your blogs……so glad you are having such an incredible adventure!

3 10 2011
Val

I find the idea that the future may hold fewer options rather than greater, (re: the urban landscape/dwelling choices), in this era of rapid urbanization ironic.

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