The Last Couple Days

I have to apologize for my grammar in this next one…I am on the plane flight back to America (thank goodness I have a power outlet this time!) and I am attempting to pull something pretty close to an all-nighter so that I can adjust to American time faster. So I just got done taking a 3 hour nap and now it is 8 pm Chinese time and 8 am Eastern Time. So I will just pretend it is the morning. Oh, and another thing…our plane goes into Chicago and then to Indy. It is honestly one of the most pointless flights ever. But anyways, we only had like an hour to get into Chicago, get our luggage, go through customs, recheck our bags, and start to board our plane to Indy. If that wasn’t bad enough, our plane was delayed a half hour! So now we only have a half hour…which is not feasible. Since we have 18 people on that flight, we are wondering if it will be delayed or if we will all have to be put on a different flight. Either way, there will have to be a change of plans. All of this would be a lot easier to communicate to home if I had a way to contact them…but I guess it will all work out in the end. Plus, only 9 more hours until I can take my phone off of airplane mode, so that is pretty exciting. Now let me get back to what this post is supposed to be about:

My last week in Shanghai was exactly what I wanted it to be. I was able to finish up classes, hang out with my friends, and finish up/repeat anything I wanted to do in the city. On Wednesday I was officially done after completing my heat and mass exam. I packed a bit of my clothes to make the afternoon pass by and headed out to meet my Chinese buddy, Xiaorong. We decided to see the Avengers. Josh, JY, Annie, Sarah, and JY’s buddy came along.

I forget if I mentioned this already, but we were assigned buddies when we got to this campus. They are Chinese students who are really good at English and were there to help us throughout the semester with anything we may need. My buddy is actually coming to Purdue in the fall for her senior year of college and to complete her master’s degree. I am pretty excited to see her again in the fall. I am hoping that she will want to come to Thanksgiving with me or and maybe meet my family. I am for sure introducing her to my friends at Purdue.

Anyways, Avengers was pretty awesome. I had a great time. After Avengers, Josh and I headed into the city. He went straight there from the movie, I had to grab my stuff from the dorms still. We were going to meet at our hostel, but I was about 30 minutes behind him. On my way to the hostel I saw all of my friends walking to the bar we were going to that evening but I had to find it myself. It was a big group of people and included Katie, Mike, Brendan, Trevor, Ben, Jonny, Josh, Jeremy, William, Kevin, and David. So by the time I ran back to the hostel, checked in, and got out, I was about 20 minutes behind them. But I had never been to this bar before. It is an extremely high end rooftop bar in the heart of downtown Shanghai. It offers a great view of the skyline. Unfortunately I got pretty lost and went the wrong way. Navigating downtown Shanghai at night by yourself is not a good idea… or fun. The lights of the buildings turn off at 10, which had already passed so it is difficult to tell where anything is. I ended up getting lost for over an hour until I decided it was time to get a taxi. I should have done this much earlier, but I did not have the address in Chinese. I attempted twice to tell a taxi driver where to go but my pronunciation is not good. I asked some random person on the street to help me out who knew how to read English letters in Chinese (aka pinyon) so he helped me out. I finally arrived to the bar and wow! It was amazing. I could not envision a better place to be on that night. It was a beautiful night and the temperature was in the 70s. I wish I had not gotten there so late, because I could have used more time there. We got a table for free (which is usually like $3000 USD). Then we had to buy our own drinks. Since it was so fancy and classy, it was like $16 for some of the cheaper drinks! Since I am still a poor college student I only had one drink, but we stayed there for hours. It was almost 3 am once we left this beautiful place. We just sat around and talked, reminisced, laughed, and maybe teared up a bit. We took plenty of group pictures and just really enjoyed being around each other. These are the times that I am going to miss so much this summer. I am sure we will all hang out together at Purdue  a few times the next year but it still won’t be the same. I will have to post a some pictures of this place. When I come to China on business someday (which I am sure will happen), Bar Rouge is the place I will take my coworkers.

The next day I woke up fairly early and went with Josh and David to Century Park. This is a park I had yet to go to in Shanghai but I heard it was beautiful. I really enjoyed my time there. The three of us walked quite a bit but then decided to just sit on a park bench and take in Shanghai and enjoy each other’s company. It was a great afternoon. We got lunch at some dumpling place, then Josh recommended this one dessert place. It was quite pricy but I did not mind, I was leaving soon and didn’t want to miss anything. This was a cake made out of like 40ish layers of chocolate mousse and ganache. It was incredible. Next we went back to the hostel. I saw Katie there and we decided to go to the fake markets. I still needed to finish up my gifts for my sisters. It was honestly the easiest best fake market experience I have had my entire time in China. I knew what I wanted and what I wanted to pay for it. Plus I incorporated enough Chinese that they really helped me out. They get very impressed when you can carry on a short conversation. A lot of times you can guess what they are saying and run with it. It makes them so happy.

That night we went out as a group once again. This time we had almost our entire group out. Around 20 of us were at the clubs that night. I had a good time just dancing and hanging out with people. I made the next morning pretty early too. I attempted to go to Tea City, got lost, and decided to go to the Shanghai Art Museum. It was a great decision! The museum was so large though, I spent four hours there and did not see the entire thing. I was very impressed with it and took a few pictures (everyone does and it is not a rule that you cannot in China… I feel like in America you can get in some trouble for taking pictures of art).

I came back and we all met up once again. We got ready, grabbed some dinner, and then met some Maymester students. Maymester is a two week trip in China that is offered through Purdue. This is for kids who want to go to China who did not come for the semester, or who are wanting to do the entire semester next year. My friend Alex Benson came in and we dragged him out. We wanted to show him the best of Shanghai. Plus, it was our last night out in the city and wanted to hit all of our favorite places. We picked up Alex and two other students from their hotel. It was kind of hard to convince them since they literally just got off the plane like four hours prior. But they came, and I got to see Dianne (the program coordinator) again. She comes with the Maymester students each year. I missed her and will be a TA in her class this coming fall.

First we took them to this bar we like called Windows Scoreboard. It’s nothing too special. Next we took them to Perry’s, which has easily become one of my favorite bars in Shanghai. Katie and I have a favorite drink there that we split. It was kind of sad to do it one last time. Finally we went to our favorite club: 7th Floor. They have a big dance floor so we like it. They are also pretty chill and we always have a fun time there. I stayed out pretty late just having a good time with everyone.

The next morning I went to Tea City and did a tasting for like 45 minutes. It was 1:1 with the shop owner who spoke pretty good English. We sat there and just chatted. She told me about a lot of teas and I tried many. At the end I bought some of my favorites (probably too much) so I can take them home and share them with my family/friends this summer.

After that it was back to Minhang for a lunch. We met all of the Maymester students then (there are 20 of them…eight of which were girls. I have no idea where that ratio came from and I’m a bit jealous) and told them about our experiences. We took some pictures then it was packing time. I finished packing and decided to walk around campus and just enjoy it while the sun was setting. Some of us got our favorite street wraps, chow mien, and milk/bubble tea and watched the sunset on campus one last time.

We spent that night watching Harry Potter. We have been working on all eight movies since we had arrived in China. We started the first one our second week. We got so busy as the semester went on that we were just able to finish the last one on that night. It was a great wrap up to the semester. The semester ended how it started, but with stronger friendships and so many experiences and adventures later. We talked a bit after the movie and went to bed. The next morning I woke up and got a few airplane snacks, grabbed some cai baozi (vegetable dumplings), and took my things to the bus. Two of my Chinese friends, Linda and Cedrick, came to see us off. Giving them a hug goodbye was pretty hard. It was the final thing I did in China and with people I have no guarantee to see again. Now that brings me to just about now. I am currently over Russia and wishing I was out of this seat super uncomfortable airplane seat.

I have been thinking a lot about the trip and I still owe one last blog post. I need to write down what I learned on this trip and what I got out of it. I need it for myself but anyone is welcome to read it. It may be a couple of days though… let’s see how I adjust to this jetlag.

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What if I’m Not Ready to Leave?

Hello folks, this may be my last blog post before a wrap-up one once I get back home in just SIX days! I am not sure if I am quite ready to leave. Did I do everything I wanted to do in China? Eh, there are a few more places I would have liked to see…I only had a semester here (but I’m guessing I will be back to this country someday). But I am so happy with everywhere I got to travel. Do I have any regrets? Nope. I feel like I lived up every moment and took every opportunity to learn and grow. Do I miss America? I miss the people more than anything else…and maybe having guaranteed soap and hot water in the bathroom. What am I going to miss the most about China? The people and experiences. I really pushed myself way outside of my comfort zone with some of the activities and adventures I made for myself. But mostly I will miss the people. I will miss my Chinese friends, but most of all my Purdue friends. We will (mostly) all be back at Purdue in the fall but it just wont be the same. We won’t be able to send out a “canteen 4 in 15 minutes” text, fit 5 people on one twin bed to watch Harry Potter, or discuss what we want to do on our next weekend adventure. I know that some of the friends and connections I have made on this trip are going to last a lifetime. It is my hope that I get to work with or run into some of these people in the future. Enough reminiscing though…I still have quite a few days to live it up in Shanghai. I will have to do that in my last blog post…which will probably be written on the 14-hour airplane ride on the way back. Plus Katie and I already have plans for Saturday night to each drink a bottle of wine while we pack, reminisce, laugh, and cry about our past semester. Is it bad that we are both really looking forward to that night?

Anyways, I did not mean for this to be a long post, so I am going to get right to the point. My main motivation to writing tonight was to put the final newsletter on here. I know I haven’t posted all of them… but I really like this one. Once again, Kevin, Mike, and I nailed it and we made one last amazing publication.

ETA_SJTU_Newsletter_Volume_4_Spring_2015

My other motivation for writing this was because I wanted to feel productive. I have an exam tomorrow and another on Wednesday. Since the classes are pass/fail, i found out I need a 48.5% on the final tomorrow and a 50% on the final on Wednesday to pass. So all motivation for studying anymore today has gone down the toilet. Maybe I will study tomorrow… I mean, a 50% is a little harder than a 48.5% (please note my sarcasm).

I just want to have one quick shout out to home, so much has happened/changed for not only me the past few months but also my family. The Lebowitz and Huseman clans are busy doing what they are best at: being successful and overall amazing. If you aren’t caught up, Sophie quit her job and got a new one in Cleveland and is moving out! So it is pretty sad that I will only live with her for another few weeks! I cannot believe we are already this old and growing up. Isabel finished her first year of college, which I have to give her kudos for. It is hard and she told me how overwhelmed she was. But she did it. She also bought a car, so that’s pretty cool. And she also quit her job and got a new one… one that has monetary GPA motivation, so that is pretty cool. My mom and dad are doing great and are still constantly doing improvements on the house. Plus their anniversary for 26 years is in a couple of weeks! My Mimi and Papa just celebrated their 51st wedding anniversary this past weekend. My Aunt Jenny is expecting another baby, which will put my total cousin count to 18! My cousin Jessica had her Bat-Mitzvah (which I heard was absolutely fabulous)! My dad brought back a t-shirt from the celebration for me and I cannot wait to sport that back at home and Purdue. My cousin Hannah is about to finish the 8th grade and be a freshman! Which is still so hard for me to believe. She is a phenomenal writer and did absolutely amazing in the Power of the Pen competition this past year. Plus she made it through those awkward middle school years…which (we all know) calls for a celebration in itself. So much is happening lately and I cannot wait to celebrate all of the great things happening in my family’s life right now. I love and miss you all and will see you guys soon!

Guilin and Zhangjiajie

The first day of May is Labor Day for the Chinese so no one has work; therefore we did not have school. Luckily we do not have classes Thursdays and Friday was May 1st. Trevor, William, Josh, and I headed out to Guilin on Tuesday after my lab (we decided skipping one day of class wasn’t too bad. Guilin is known for their rice terraces in the mountains and the beautiful landscape. We took a plane to Guilin, my first time on Spring Airlines. It wasn’t too bad to be honest. The seats do not recline but for a two hour flight, it is worth the saved money. Also, about 20 minutes before decent for landing we did exercises led by the flight attendants. It was very cool to watch and participate. We did things like rolling our necks, raising our arms, and rolling our wrists. Once we arrived in Guilin we got a taxi and headed to our hostel. It was pretty late at night so we pretty much just booked a tour for the next day and went to bed. Our tour was for the rice terraces built into mountains. This is located about two hours outside of the city. Our first stop was a minority village of the long haired people. It was easy to see that these people did not look like the Han Chinese people. They get their name from the long hair that the women wrap up on top of their heads each day. They only cut their hair when they get married. I believe there was another time when they cut their hair but I cannot remember it right now. Most of the women had hair that was close to touching the ground. They showed us some singing, dancing, and what a wedding ceremony looked like in their minority village. They even asked for audience members to participate. Trevor volunteered and he was the groom in a fake wedding. It was awesome to see their rituals which included a lot of singing and dancing. After this, we headed further up the mountain and hiked for about 30 minutes. We grabbed lunch which consisted of the famous bamboo rice and bamboo chicken. This is when they take a chute of bamboo and cook the food right in it. I was unsure if I liked the rice better this way or not, but the chicken was delicious. I am still not a fan of all of the bones still being in the chicken, but it was delicious. The steamed rice here was amazing! It was so fresh since it was literally just picked. I can really tell the difference between the super fresh rice and the rice that gets shipped across China. After lunch we hiked up the rest of the mountain. There was a lot of culture and shops surrounding us in this village-type area. There were chickens outside of houses and ladies cultivating honey. We were even able to try some of the honey, it was delicious.

On our way up I encountered a spider that was the biggest I had ever seen and ever want to see. It was in its web and started to make a meal out of one of the bees it caught. In a way it was kinda majestic to watch… but on the other hand, this spider was at least the size of my palm. Once we reached the top of the mountain, we saw the terraces from the top. These were amazing! They literally cut the mountain so that it is in layers so that they can farm on the mountain. They kind of ring around the mountain and are absolutely magnificent. It is the rainy season so the fields are normally flooded at this time of year (this is good for the rice) but we went on a day that was not too wet. After this we headed back to the city. We were pretty hungry so we stopped at this street that seemed to have a lot of people eating outside. We took a table and ordered food. I am unsure if these shop owners had ever seen westerners before, so they were pretty excited to be serving us. We ordered eggplant (which is so incredibly cooked here in China), some other vegetables, chicken, and fish. The live fish and chicken is sitting out in front of the restaurant. The chicken we had was butchered previously to us sitting down at the table. The fish though was picked once we ordered it. We all of a sudden turn around the there is a chef with a fish net fishing through these small pools for our fish. Then *WHACK* *WHACK* our fish is pounded on the sidewalk and then taken into the kitchen to be cooked for us. This was some pretty delicious fish. They once again, do not take out any bones, just the organs. The whole head is kept on the fish though. We ate the entire fish. Trevor ate the tail and fish brain… I thought this was kind of gross. It ended up storming as dinner was finishing up so we moved inside the restaurant and ordered dessert so we did not have to walk to our hostel in the pouring rain. It is very humid in Guilin (it is in southern China so it gets pretty tropical) so they have quick summer storms almost every day. For dessert we had candied bananas. They were delectable. One of the downsides of travelling with guys is that they can eat faster than me. So they were able to eat more of these bananas.

We finally made it back to the hostel that night and we booked a trip to go on a plastic raft down the Li River. We woke up the next morning, eager for our adventure that day. We got to the river, grabbed a raft, and started our journey. The raft looked like it was made of bamboo, but it was plastic. It had two benches on it where Trevor, Josh, William, and I sat. Then there was a weed-whacker looking motor on the back that a Chinese man used to steer us in the right direction. The river was beautiful! There are mountains and hills that come up right out of the water. It is a very majestic looking place. The scene on the back of the 20 yuan bill is taken from the Li River in Guilin. It is hard to describe the views. We got off at two towns on the Li River. One town had a lot of little shops. I expected it to be expensive since it was touristy, but it was actually one of the cheapest places I had been. I bought two dresses there for $10 total. After that town we took a bus to a different town. This town was much bigger and a lot more touristy. We wanted to have some Li River fish again like the night prior. We found this restaurant and sat down. The lady was so excited to have us eat there. William, who has become really good at the Chinese language since being here, asked the waitress if he could see the fish. Trevor went with him in the back and I later joined. Behind the restaurant were these fish tanks. William stuck his hand into one of the tanks and felt a few fish and pointed to the one he wanted. The lady working there took that fish and hit its head with the back of a hammer type device back in the kitchen. Then a man who worked there sat down and gutted and scaled the fish and then butchered it into smaller pieces, keeping the bones in. This was crazy! We were literally in the back of a restaurant watching our food being made. The two people who ran the restaurant thought it was so funny that we wanted to be in the kitchen and watch them. Then they cooked the fish and brought it to our table. That fish was literally living twenty minutes prior to eating it. It was the best fish I had ever had. They put some really fantastic spices on it too, which we later put over our fresh Guilin rice. This meal was absolutely fantastic. We also had some eggplant and taro. Taro is a potato-like vegetable but it is purple. It doesn’t have much of a flavor, but when the right seasonings and sauces are on it, it can be pretty delicious. We got our picture with the lady who prepared our meal and then caught a bus back to the city.

Once we got back to the city it was time to head to Zhangjiajie. This is also known as the Avatar Mountains. In the movie Avatar, the writer found inspiration for the setting (and the floating mountains) from this mountain range. But before getting to Zhangjiajie, we had a twelve hour train ride to get through. This twelve hour ride did not have beds, but was instead just seats that did not recline. This was about to be a long twelve hours. During this time… I really got to know Chinese culture. Before boarding the train, two fourteen year old girls approached me and started making small talk. Their English was not too good, but enough to have a small conversation. They were so cute! We got on the train and they switched seats so they could be near us. They tried to talk to us for a bit and then started writing. I figured it was for a school project or something but they ended up being for me! They are the sweetest notes and they asked me to never forget meeting them on the train. They left me their phone numbers so I will have to add them on We Chat. Once we got on the train we met this girl who was an English major here in China. She was fabulous with English, she even had an American accent. She was sitting with us on the train as well. About two hours in, the two fourteen year olds got off the train and this older gentleman got on. He had to be in his mid-forties, but man, this guy was crazy! He had a full mouth of grills. He came up to us from his seat (which was like 5 rows back) and started talking to us. He did not speak like any English, so the English major started translating for us. Will was only able to pick up a little bit of what he was saying. I got a few words, but not enough to decipher what he was trying to say. He was where we were from, we told him Meigo (America in Chinese) and then he thought that we were all siblings. They he thought I was the oldest, then Josh, Trevor, and finally Will. He later switched Trevor and Will. When we asked how old he thought we were, he said that I was 30, Josh was 25, Will was 22, and Trevor was 20! This guy was legitimately crazy… I do not even think I look 21, let alone 30! Then he kept on commenting on how fit Josh was. It was like it amazed him. We think this was because of how tall Josh is. He is 6’4”, which is like a giant here in China. Our English major friend left the train after an hour of talking to this guy and now we lost our translator. But he did not care. We asked him what his name was. He said Jackie Chan. A group of Chinese people across from us (around our age) were dying of laughter. It was very funny. But after a while longer it got to be too much. So we told him we were going to bed and told him goodbye. He went back to his seat and we stayed up a little longer to talk. He saw us talking and came right back. This time he came back with bracelets for me. These bracelets were made for kids or ladies with very tiny wrists. They would barely fit on my wrist, but I am unsure if I would be able to ever get them off. They were made of fake jade. But Jackie Chan comes over, determined to fit these dang bracelets on my writs. I kept on saying “Wo bu jiao, wo bu jiao, mayo” (I don’t want, I don’t want, I have not) but he persisted. I made my hands bigger so they would not fit. He kept pressing on. At this point Josh and Will are pulling him away and asking the Chinese group across from us for help. They did not quite understand so this girl comes around with a bottle of lube and puts it on my hand so they will slip on easier. But I really just did not want these bracelets. So at this point my left hand is covered in lube and is starting to get cold and tingly. I am still saying “Wo bu jiao” in between my laughs (I was pretty slap happy at this point). Trevor is trying to grab the bracelets from him, and Josh is trying to pull Jackie Chan away. William decides to take out his phone camera and it is hard to tell if I am laughing or crying…but I will assure you that I am laughing. I finally am able to pull my hand away and I wipe it on the seat. I say goodbye and give the bracelets to Trevor to put in his pocket. He finally goes away and I just sit with Trevor, Josh, and William for a bit, just trying to relax after that experience. This was one of those moments I noticed how great my friends are here. We have become kind of like a family. My three ‘brothers’ stayed up with me and made me feel safe until I was ready to go to bed. It is really great that I have found friends here that care so much about me and how I feel.

After sleeping for 5 or so hours we woke up to some obnoxious Chinese kid singing. It was so annoying that William copied him and he noticed how silly he sounded and quickly stopped. We got off the train a little while later and got to our hostel, which was a two minute walk to the national park entrance. It was pretty rainy when we got there. Mike, Ben, and Kevin were staying at the same hostel as us; they did not go to Guilin and just went straight to the mountains. We grabbed lunch and started hiking. We took a cable car to the top of the mountain. These are hard to climb since they look like pillars, so there is not much of a choice besides a cable car. By this time the rain had ceased and we were on our way to the top of the mountain. The views in these mountains are indescribable. The pictures do not even do it close to justice. You are pretty much standing on this bigger pillar with a 360 degree view of these other pillars of stone and trees surrounding you. This was the first national park in China. The mountain range was originally a valley and then the land sunk through erosion and some tectonic plate action to make it look as majestic and prehistoric as it does. Many of these pillars and the surrounding areas are untouched my humans since you cannot really climb them. These mountains also have a large amount of monkeys, like actually infested with monkeys at some points. It was pretty cool to see them, but also a bit scary because they are 100% wild monkeys that you are pretty close to. I put a part of a banana on my hand and a monkey took it from me. There were also a lot of baby monkeys that were pretty cute. They monkeys were a lot more common to see at the lower levels of the mountains. On the second day we hiked around the base for a while. This was probably my most favorite hike. It was amazing to look up at the mountains. We also went to this other park nearby where we took a boat ride on a big lake. We also hiked up and down a mountain here and the scenery was gorgeous. We even found an abandoned Buddhist temple on the top of this mountain.

The last day we were there was quite interesting. I was not quite feeling 100% that day. I blamed it on dehydration and drank a lot of water. We took a cable car up to the most popular spot in the national park and started walking around, I already knew this was not going to end well. The sights were gorgeous but I started to slow down and turn pale. We ended up getting some cool pictures and I ended up climbing over the guard rail and climbed a tree and sat on a branch over the edge of this mountain. It was probably not the safest but it made for a great picture and the view was fantastic. A little after this I kept on walking. I told Josh, Trevor, and Will that I would meet them back by the cable car and I was done taking pictures. The loop itself was only a little over a mile with many places to go off and come back into the trail. The last quarter mile or so had many monkeys. I was feeling very nauseous at this point and there was this Chinese man teasing a monkey so the monkey started hitting his legs. He moved right in my way and I just couldn’t deal with him running into me so I pushed him into the monkey. I kind of feel bad, but he is okay and kind of deserved it. When I got back to the cable car entrance I went behind the sign and got sick. I now knew this was not just dehydration, but either food poisoning or a virus of sorts. I then had to take a cable car down the mountain, three different busses, and a taxi to get to the airport.

We were planning on going to another mountain that day that has the world’s longest cable car ride (which is almost a half hour long!). Instead I asked to be dropped off at the airport. Since Trevor, Josh, and Will are kind of like my brothers at this point, they made sure I got to the airport safely, dropped me off, carried in my bag, and then headed to the mountain. I got to the airport around 1 pm and our flight did not take off until 11:45 pm that night. It was about to be a long day. Two hours into my waiting, Ben showed up at the airport and told me he was sick. At this point we thought it was food poisoning. At 7 Trevor showed up at the airport and told us that he started getting sick ever since taking the cable car up to the top of the mountain. Josh and Will somehow did not get sick, which led us to believe it was a virus since we had all eaten the same food for the past few days (Kevin and Mike left a day earlier so that is why they are no longer in the story). Josh and Will were great to me and helped watch my things as I went to the bathroom, carried my bags, filled up my water bottle, etc. It was so nice to have someone there to help take care of me when I was feeling (and looking) like crap. We finally got on the airplane and made it back to Shanghai. We got a driver to take all five of us back to campus at a reasonable rate. Little did we know he was going to blast Chinese music and drive slow the entire time. At this point it was getting close to 3 am and all I wanted to do was go sleep in my bed with a nice mattress. It would usually take about 35 to 45 minutes to get from the airport to our campus; it took this guy over an hour! With three sick people, it was not the ideal ride. I finally made it back and slept into noon…casually missing my Monday class. Now it is Monday, almost 8 pm and all I have done today is write three blog posts. Once again, sorry for the lack of pictures but I need to get started on my homework that is due tomorrow morning. I will for sure be posting pictures on Facebook, making a slideshow of sorts, and making a physical album. So just ask me if you want to see some specific pictures and I will for sure post them on Facebook ASAP. I will be home in less than two weeks and I cannot wait to see everyone again. Studying in China is amazing. I am not sure if I am ready to go back but so far it has been one heck of a ride!

Xi’an and Huashan

Xi’an was once the capital of China and is located northwest of Shanghai. It is significantly west, almost in the middle of the country. Trevor, Josh, Katie, Brendan, Mike, and I hopped on an overnight train after our class on Wednesday got to Xi’an around 9 am on Thursday. The overnight train was an adventure… it was 14 hours long! We did not have seats, but instead had tiny bunk beds that were staked three high in each car! You could not sit up in the beds since there was not enough room. They were about two feet wide and very difficult to get up and down from. I was in the highest bunk in a room with all Chinese people. We had three of our friends in one car though so I joined Katie in her bed and Trevor joined Mike in his bed. Brendan had some work to do so he stayed in his bed. We played a cool game that Mike introduced to us called contact. It takes a long time and makes you think a bit so it makes time pass quickly. Trevor and Mike had brought wine on the train so that also made time pass by a little quicker. Before we knew it, it was 10 pm. The train lights go off at this time so it was time for bed. I went to my bunk and did not wake up until we only had an hour left. This 14 hour long train ride was 14 times easier than the 14 hour long plane ride to China. When we arrived in Xi’an, we were all well rested and were ready to tackle the day. There are a lot of things that you have to do when you travel to Xi’an. On that first day we went to the bell and drum towers, the Muslim Quarter, and biked around the city wall. When we went to the bell tower, there was a show going on. This was pretty cool. People were dressed in traditional outfits and were playing bells and other instruments. I really enjoyed this. The Muslim Quarter was very cool! The food was delicious and there were fake markets which were pretty cool to look at. I had a fried banana that first day along with all of these samples of pastries. We did not spend too long in here since we wanted to bike the city wall that day too. After renting our bikes, we took off. The city wall used to contain the whole city…now it does not. The city grew but the wall is old. Xi’an has 12 million residents which is considered a medium city in China, but this is the population of New York. The wall is 14 kilometers around. It was awesome to be up on the wall just before sunset and really take in the history. The Chinese say: if you want to see 30 years of history, go to Shanghai; if you want to see 300 years of history, go to Beijing; if you want to see 5,000 years of history, go to Xi’an. After this, Josh, Brendan, and I went back to the Muslim Quarter. I ended up spending probably too much money… but it was worth it. I found the perfect gift for my mom and for my family. You will have to wait another two weeks to see what it is!

That night we went to our hostel for a nice chill night. We had scheduled to see the Terracotta Warriors the next morning with the hostel. Little did we know, our hostel was a blast! We met so many people! They came from Ireland, Holland, Sweden, America, and Canada. We had a great time talking with and getting to know them and their adventures. I like to hear how people are putting travel in their lives post-college. Some people just full out quit their jobs and are travelling for a year or so, others are taking a two week vacation, and others are doing their master’s thesis while travelling in China since their research is based there. It is amazing how people are finding time to discover the world. I even met a 70 year-old lady who was travelling with her husband around the world. They were staying in the hostel with us. She said that she wished she had more money when she was younger so that she could do more and didn’t have to wait for retirement to travel. That night the bartender of the hostel (who also happened to be the manager) kept on giving us free rounds of shots since we were such a lively group of people. He ended up taking us to a bar street in Xi’an which was pretty cool. After one drink I was tired and ready for bed… we had a lot to do tomorrow.

We woke up around 8 and headed to the Terracotta Warriors. If you don’t know what these are, you should have paid more attention in your 7th grade history class. I will give you a short synopsis if you do forget. So once there was this farmer who was just tending his fields and all of a sudden he finds a life-sized soldier. He tells the local government and it turns out there’s an entire army of these clay soldiers, horses, chariots, etc. under his farm! He ends up becoming a celebrity in the city and became rich. I got to meet him too. The Terracotta Warriors were only discovered in the 60s so it is pretty recent history that was discovered. But now about the actual clay army… there was the emperor that the Chinese view was good because he united China. Most of the world would think of him as crazy. He wanted an army to protect him in the afterlife so he called all of the artists to make a warrior that looked like him. He also had a representative from each of the 56 minority groups in China to make one. The warriors were made slightly bigger than the average person in China those days so that the army could protect their emperor in the afterlife. After they were done making themselves out of clay, they were killed and buried. The emperor did not want anyone to know of his clay army. The army also included horses and chariots. When he died, all 3,000 of his concubines were also killed to serve him in the afterlife. He also had all of the scholars and books killed/burned during his reign. There are over 6,000 soldiers that have been found. Each one is an individual and no two look the same. The way that the tomb was laid out was exquisite. There were three areas. One area had the generals and many horses and chariots. Another area had a good mix between horses and warriors. The last area was almost completely full of soldiers. When the emperor died, anyone who had not yet finished their warrior was killed and their half-done warrior was kept and placed with the rest of the army. The detail put into each of these warriors was amazing. Also, they had only found one smiling warrior. It was that of one minority group. The rest of the warriors looked sad since they knew that by the time they started making the head, they were going to die. It is a part of ancient history that I am glad I got to see. It is very unique and I am so happy that my travels took me to Xi’an.

The next morning we woke up pretty early and travelled to Mt. Hua. (aka Huashan). I ended up forgetting my passport and Brendan came back with me. We missed the high speed train that our other friends got on and it set us two hours behind them! This kind of sucked but we have kind of learned that everything that sounds bad can be a blessing in disguise. We ended up meeting this Canadian guy who hiked the mountain with us. He had a very cool story. He decided to take a year off of work so that he could teach at an international school in China. These students would then attend a Canadian university so that they did not have to worry about the Gao Cau (aka a horribly stressful test all Chinese high school students have to take that results in many suicides every year) and they can get out of China to see what other parts of the world are like.

The hike up the mountain was quite a workout…and a bit scary at points. Sometimes the climb was a 90 degree vertical climb over a big boulder. It was difficult but made the views that much more amazing. Brendan and I like to take the mountain quickly, but still enjoy the views and the way up. The other group that went up the mountain (Katie, Mike, Trevor, and Josh) like to get up to the mountain as quickly as possible and they do not care as much about taking their time. We took a lot of pictures and had some great conversation. We saw Annie, another girl in our group about halfway up. She had come alone but stayed in the same hostel as us. She was doing the hike this day as well. We continued up the mountain. Annie decided to turn back around when she was almost to the top. It is really difficult to climb these mountains. We finally made it to the top in about 3 hours. The goal of the day was to do the world’s most deadly hike. We met up with the rest of our group there. The timing could not have been better. Brendan decided that his stomach probably could not handle that hike. I got in line but while standing in line with one chain that that did not even come up to my hip separating life and death, I decided that this hike was probably not something I needed to do. I do not regret not doing it. I heard the views were spectacular but I honestly don’t know if I would enjoy it or just be freaked out the entire time. You are strapped in with a harness and two hooks. Then you make your way along the side of the mountain. You have to occasionally unclip one of your hooks to get around a person or to change areas of the hike. There are wooden planks that you walk on during some parts. Katie, Josh, Mike, Trevor, and my new Canadian friend, Simon, really enjoyed the hike and said it was amazing. I’m glad they did it and liked it… it is still not my cup of tea. After this we hiked to a hotel on the top of the mountain and decided to stay there for the night. It was interesting…to say the least. They only had four beds left for the six of us. So Katie and I shared a bed along with Brendan and Trevor. It got really cold at night so we rented these surplus Chinese military coats. They were very warm and I kind of wish I could take one home with me. Brendan has some great pictures of us wearing them; you can look for it on Facebook. I have them on a Google Drive that I cannot connect to until I get home, so I will have to show everyone later. Taking these pictures though, I actually felt like a zoo animal. Like all the Chinese people were taking pictures of us, all lined up. I feel like I now fully understand how celebrities feel with paparazzi and it is not the best feeling. We are pretty used to random people wanting to take pictures with us, but it is really starting to get old and annoying. The next morning we woke up at 5 am for the sunrise. We were on the east peak so it was a wonderful spot to see it from. Unfortunately it was a bit cloudy in the morning, but still beautiful. We hiked halfway down and then took a cable car. We checked out of our hostel that was in Xi’an and worked on homework for a couple hours. I had to get caught up. Josh and I went to the Muslim Quarter one last time. This time I got something that we ended up calling a hamburger. It was hot corned beef put into a pita-type roll with some amazing spices; it was delicious. I also had some of the best tofu I have ever had, and some freshly squeezed pomegranate juice. It was a great way to end my weekend in Xi’an before I boarded the plane that night to get back to campus.

Yellow Mountains

I am about to post three in a row… to make up for the three weeks I have not been posting. I have been so busy lately between classes and travelling… it has been hard to find any free time to keep up with my blog. Also, sorry for the lack of pictures, I am so behind with organizing them. I am planning on making a PowerPoint and physical album when I get back to America so you will be able to visually see my adventures.

Two weekends ago I went to Huangshan (Yellow Mountains). This is a mountain range that is about six hours outside of Shanghai. After class on Friday (three weeks ago) Josh, Mike, Brendan, Katie, Mohammad, Xiao Ma, Cedrick, Hercules, and I headed out. Xiao Ma is a Chinese friend we made who was a reporter during our Chong Ming Island field trip during week 2 of my China adventure. Cedrick is one of our Chinese TAs and Hercules is his friend. Let me tell you, travelling with Chinese friends makes such a great adventure, and it also helped a ton!

When we arrived to our hostel for Friday night, we were incredibly tired from the week but also excited. It was located an hour south of the mountain range in an old town called Tunxi. We stayed in a very European-looking part of the city. Not too far from us was a more traditional Chinese looking area with many shops and restaurants. That night we were suggested a restaurant through some Chinese locals and ate there. It was pretty good. To be totally honest though, I was so tired and hungry that anything could have been delicious.

The next morning we woke up around 5:30 to catch a bus to the mountains. When we got to the base of the mountain we took a bus to take us to a hiking trail. A ‘hiking trail’ does not describe what this actually was. It was straight up stairs of varying width, length, and height. It was humid and difficult to climb…actually the most difficult one I have done in China. But I think that had a little to do with the group I was with. They liked to pretty much sprint up the mountain so we did a 4 hour hike in two and a half hours. On our way up we saw some people whose job it was to carry goods up to the top of the mountain to sell to people. It was crazy! The calves on these older gentlemen were incredible. I had a hard enough time getting up with my backpack…I cannot fathom going up with some gas tanks, water jugs, and bananas all for just a couple hundred yuan a day!

The views as we got closer to the top of the mountain were amazing, absolutely breathtaking! After reaching the top we hiked around the peaks for a couple more hours. I loved this part; we would just hike up and down, and up and down again to see a new beautiful view of the range. By the time we were done hiking it was later in the day, so we decided to take the cable car down the mountain. This turned out to be a great decision because the view was spectacular, like we were flying over the mountain. We reached the bottom and took a bus closer to our hotel for the night. Little did we know, our friend Xiao Ma knew where there hotel was and asked the driver to stop in front of it for us. It was so nice having Chinese person with us. By this time we were starving so we had a traditional Chinese meal. Katie and I tried some Huangshan tofu, it was pretty good. It’s not much different than other tofu I have had, it just had some of their spices on it. After dinner we took our much needed showers and then met up in one of the rooms to play cards. Xiao Ma, Cedrick, and Hercules taught us Chinese poker. This was interesting because you cannot bet in China, so it was the first poker game I had played where you do not bet. I really enjoyed it and cannot wait to show my family when I get home. We also played truth or dare… I had not played this since high school. I think they like to play it at an older age in China because they don’t have time when us American kids play the game. Their high school is a lot more intense than ours.

The next morning we woke up and Cedrick knew of a really cool waterfall to go to. We pretty much do/trust anything our Chinese friends say is true. They said it was a very ‘fame-rse’ place in Huangshan. We always liked to correct them with their English since they constantly correct us with our Chinese. They get a kick out of it and we both lean a lot. Anyways, we somehow got private driver for the day to drive us around for just $3 per person. I am not quite sure how this deal went down; Cedrick arranged it. We arrived to this place that we would have never found on our own. It did not have a big entrance or anything but once you walked in, it was gorgeous! There was water going throughout this entire park with multiple waterfalls. After hiking up for as high as the park would let us, we decided to just sit down and admire the scenery for an hour or so. Xiao Ma and I sat at the bottom of one of the larger waterfalls and started splashing in the water. I felt like a little kid for a while there. We started talking and she was very open. I asked her about her high school, travelling, the Chinese government, and Japan. She had a lot to say, but the two things she was the most passionate about was seeing the world and her hate of Japan. We talked a lot about this and then decided it was probably time to grab lunch and head back to campus. We stopped at a tea house and tried some traditional Huangshan area teas and then went to a Chinese meal. We had Cedrick order everything for us and it was delicious. I wish I could bring all of this Chinese food back with me for everyone to try… it is just not the same in America.

After lunch we went back to the bus station and departed back to campus. The six hour bus ride did not seem too bad since we spent most of the time talking and reminiscing about the weekend.

Western Religion in the East

As I have mentioned in a previous post, I have been attending Bible study each week here in China. It is led by one of us Purdue students. The group keeps on growing, we have about 10 Purdue students along with two PhD students: one from America and the other from New Zealand. While the Bible is not what I usually study, I enjoy it. I enjoy being religious and learning about what other people believe. Religion is possibly the thing that I have missed the most since being here in China.

A couple weeks ago we were discussing what it meant to give up everything and follow G-d and if any of us would be willing to literally drop everything for our religion. It is actually a harder topic to think about than I originally thought. My first reaction was ‘duh’ but after thinking about it, would I really be able to leave my family, friends, soon-earned degree, and all of my possessions behind? We then thought of the question in a few different lights. One that I brought up was: do we have to give up everything in order to follow G-d? And couldn’t we follow him and put him as a priority in our everyday lives? For example, G-d talks about tzadakah (charity). I am going to school to be an engineer so that I can help improve the lives of people around the world. Maybe that is why I chose a consumer products company? I can touch more lives every day. Also with my degree, I will make a comfortable salary so that I can give back to my community and raise a family.

Anyways, we were on this conversation for a while. Then my friend Kevin brought up that when coming here, we left everything at home: friends, family, activities, clubs, possessions, etc. We were looking for something greater; some experience to better ourselves and our lives. He mentions that the only thing that he was ‘thirsty’ (we were previously talking about Jesus giving the living water to Nicademus) for was religion. I honestly could not agree more. I have looked for religious opportunities here including Passover and Shabbat services and Bible study. Many of the students in the Bible study ask me questions about Judaism since it is different and they want to learn. Sometimes I can answer the questions, other times they are tough and I wish I had Rabbi Slaton there to help me answer them. I believe they are curious because Jesus did grow up Jewish and it is part of their history that does not get touched on much during Sunday School as a kid. While being away from Western society and organized religion, I have thirst for G-d even more. In a community that does not really see Western religion, I almost feel closer to G-d than ever . Between silent prayer each night and my occasional appearance at Chabad, I feel like G-d is there for me no matter where I am in the world.

This past weekend I went to Chabad. The leader of Bible study, William, wanted to come along. We had a great time. Services were about an hour long but dinner lasts a while. We spent of total of three and a half hours there. By the end, he knew how to say Shabbat Shalom and Hag Samach (since it was still Passover). I think it was a cultural experience for him more than anything else. One thing I really love about Judaism is that no matter where you are in the world, there is this culture that follows us. I am not really sure how to describe it, but it is a homey feeling… like I always belong when I am surrounded by this culture. William commented on this and he said he wished Christianity had something like that. It is something that I almost took for granted in the US, but now that I am more aware of it, I think I will appreciate it more.

I know this post is a little ‘preachy’ but it’s just what has been on my mind lately. I hope everyone gets the opportunity in their lives that I have had where you really get to explore your religion and see if you travel far away and leave everything at home, will you still thirst for G-d?

On a side note, I got my thermodynamics exams back today and I am on track for passing, so that’s pretty exciting!

Beijing!

Just a warning: This is a long post but there are lots of pictures at the bottom if you just want to scroll to those.

After being in China for 12 weeks, I finally made it to Beijing! It has been quite the weekend. I took a bullet train on the way here and slept most of the way Friday afternoon. The last couple hours I was awake and I made small Chinglish talk with the person next to me. He wanted to know all about my studies and why I was in China. He was so excited that I was going to Beijing since it is where he is from. He told me everything that I had to see…most of which I already had on my list of things to do. It was a great chat and it is so cool that I can just meet people like that and talk to them for hours in both of our broken Chinese/English. The app Pleco is very useful for the both of us, that way it is easy to look up nouns and continue talking.

I arrived in Beijing about 9 pm. I took the metro to the station where my hostel was. I walked where I thought it was and stopped to ask directions when I thought I walked too far. They said I walked in the wrong direction. So I walked back to the metro and went the opposite way. When I walked a while I couldn’t find it so I asked someone else. They said it was where I originally thought it was at. So then I walked all the way back to where I thought it was and then got a taxi. I was literally 200 feet away from the Hutong entrance… but I guess my minimum taxi was worth the stress. I walked for nearly two hours before finding it but I finally made it and went straight to bed so that I could wake up early the next morning. I was meeting my friends JY and Varun to walk through Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, and the Summer Palace.

Just a side note, a Hutong is a wide-ish alleyway that was made hundreds of years ago. Rich people used to live in them since they are so central in the city. But they look kind of scary at night. It is a maze of small alleyways and all are dark…there are no street lights so it is kind of creepy just depending on the lighting from buildings. But I felt safe…you just never know if a cat is going to pop out around the corner.

Tiananmen Square is huge! It is located in the middle of the city. There were some touristy stores around the edges. But according to the people here, nothing ever happened there…like nothing bad. They are kind of just denying facts. I asked my friend JY about it and he said that they like to keep everything internal. Like they only want the Chinese to know the Chinese problems…which I could understand. I noticed this throughout my Beijing weekend. The descriptions in English on many items throughout the historic sites only consisted of 5 or 6 words while the Mandarin would go on for a paragraph.

Next we went to the Forbidden City; Tiananmen Square kind of leads right into it. It is really big. You could probably spend 5 hours there alone. There are so many different buildings, alleyways, and museums within the area. JY, Varun, and I snaked through the right side and the middle. The right side was the concubine quarters. We saw where they put on their makeup, got their water, and hung out. They also had their building where they ‘did their job’. It is weird thinking about this way of life.

The Emperor did have very extravagant living quarters. It was so big and absolutely beautiful. I loved looking at all of the intricate details of the buildings and pillars. The paintings and color work on some of these posts is amazing! It is also amazing how old some of this is. The Forbidden City was burnt down three times, if I remember right, but they keep on restoring it and making it look the same. Going between buildings and sections, you could tell what was older and what was newer. It was cool to see a mix of the two. After the Forbidden City we crossed the street and went into a park. Within the park, there was a hill with a temple on top. From the top of the hill we had an awesome view of the Forbidden City. It was amazing to kind of stand on the top of the city. You could see the newer parts of Beijing along with the historical areas.

We left the park and got some lunch. Since it is currently Passover, I am surviving this entire day off of fruits, vegetables, and milk tea. It doesn’t fill you up too much so I ordered three different plates of veggies. They were all delicious.

Next we headed to the Summer Palace. This was my favorite place of the day. There were not as many people there as Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City (it was kind of a complete zoo since it was a holiday weekend). But the Summer Palace was very nice. It was a second palace the emperor could go if he felt like it. It was gorgeous. There was some amazing landscape within the palace. It is also the place where one of the emperor’s mothers loved. I cannot remember her name right now but apparently she was a not-so-good one who got rid of concubines she did not like by lying and having them get kicked out of the palace or killed. The Summer Palace also contained a stage where Pecking Opera and plays were performed. This stage was amazing. It was very large and incredibly intricate. It even had its own waterway under the stage if water ever had to be a prop in any play. On a platform under a cover about 50 feet from the stage was the emperor’s seat. He had a large seat that looked like a couch/daybed. This thing looked pretty ratchet…I wouldn’t be surprised if this was the exact seat used in the early 1900s when the last empire existed.

The Summer Palace had a huge lake where you could paddle boat. We walked around quite a bit and just admired the water. The sun was getting lower in the sky so we just sat on rocks against the water and admired the old traditional Chinese architecture over the lake.

Next, I headed back to my hostel, changed clothes real quick, and headed to Chabad. I thought it started at 7:30 but I got there early at like 7:15. Turns out it didn’t start until 8. So everyone was getting ready for the Seder still. I offered my help and I was put to work. I was in charge of setting up different headbands for each of the plagues around the tables. It was awesome! It reminded me of home a bit since we do fun things for the plagues as well. The Chabad building itself was impressive in size. It was very close to a park and was so pretty! I wish it wasn’t a shomer holiday or I would have taken so many pictures. We went upstairs to do Mariv first. After that we went back down and started the Seder. I sat next to a lady I met during services. She had to be in her late 40s, early 50s. She was originally from Los Angeles but she had also lived in South Africa and traveled to many cities around the world. We had a great chat. She thought it was absolutely awesome that I was studying in China while I was in college. She said how it would be a great experience. It made me remember how blessed I am to have the opportunities that I have had in life thus far. She was on vacation with her husband. They were in Beijing and then headed to Tokyo. I think it is absolutely amazing that they still look for adventure and new things. I hope I am like that one day.

I sat with her for dinner and I also sat next to the Rabbi’s two older daughters. I met them while setting up for the Seder. They have an amazing story. Their mom is from South Africa. I cannot remember where their dad is from. But they lived in Israel and heard that there was a need for a Chabad in Beijing. So fourteen years ago they took their two daughters and themselves across the world and started a Chabad. This is such a blessing. Without a family like that, people like me would not have anywhere to go for the holidays. One daughter was in high school, but she went to school in Israel. The older of the two was in her second year studying in Yeshiva in Israel but she went to high school in South Africa and lived with her aunt for those four years. It is amazing how worldly these girls were. They grew up learning four languages. They learned Chinese and English in elementary school. Their parents taught them Hebrew and Yiddish. It seemed like English and Hebrew were their languages of choice. They had two younger siblings as well. They are much younger and still live in Beijing with their parents.

The Seder was very nice. We went through the order and said all of the blessings. There were about 65 people there and at least 15 of them had to be under Bar/Bat-Mitzvah age. It was amazing to see all of the young Jewish kids going through the Seder. Since there were so many kids, the service was kind of centered around them. It was really cute though. I heard them sing Ma Nishtanah in Yiddish and Hebrew, so that was cool. And the rabbi asked during each part of the Seder if any of the children had anything to add. Most of the time they didn’t, but when they did say something, it was adorable. The food this evening was wonderful. The matzah ball soup sucked… but that’s just because the Chinese waiters have no idea how to make one. Besides that, we had some great mid-eastern salads and some salmon as appetizers. Then we had chicken, eggplant-wrapped lamb, potatoes, and some vegetable kabobs. Since I had only eaten fruit and veggies the past 24 hours, this tasted delicious and was well needed. The Seder wrapped up and it was time to go home. I got back to my hostel around 11:20 pm and I had to wake up the next morning at 5:30 to go to the Great Wall.

When I woke up, it was still dark outside. I got ready real fast and headed to the subway. I was meeting JY, Varun, Sameer, Nikko, Abhi, Aros, Adith, Jeff, and Olly for our climb on the Great Wall. It is about a two and a half hour ride to the part of the wall we were going to. We chose to climb a less populated area of the wall so it would be more enjoyable. Plus the long bus ride gave me time to catch up on sleep. When we finally arrived, our large group split up. Varun, JY, Jeff, and I headed off to climb up the steepest and tallest part of the wall we could see. You take a gondola up to the wall, get off and walk. At first, I did not expect the walking to be too bad…boy was I wrong! The stairs are uneven and much of the climbing is steep upwards or downwards. Very little of the wall is flat. The view was breathtaking though. The Great Wall is located in these beautiful mountains. They air was not too bad that day (for Beijing) so we could see blue skies. The trees on the mountain are also just a few weeks from being in full bloom. So we were able to see some tree buds and flowers. The climb was definitely worth it. It is so old, has so much history, and it is breathtaking along with its surroundings. I am so happy that I was able to visit such a magnificent place. After we were done with our climb, Varun checked his phone which tracks his movement for the day. We had climbed a total of 109 stories and over three miles on the wall.

After the wall, we were given lunch by the tour company. Luckily half of the dishes were just straight up vegetables so I was able to fill up on those. We all slept the entire way back to downtown Beijing so we could go exploring tonight.

The group decided that they were going to go to a place called the lounge that night. It was $8 to get in and then you would get unlimited drinks. It was Passover and I was not really into that so I decided to go exploring on my own. I wanted to see the Olympic sites from 2008. It is really easy to find since it labeled on the subway map. They have their own stations. The stadiums look magnificent and I love how they all light up at night. There are many smaller monuments and statues around the area that really add to the atmosphere. One thing I liked particularly was this one wall where they listed the gold, silver and bronze medalists for each competition along with their country of origin.

The Olympic Village is really well kept and I am happy I got the opportunity to see it.

The next morning I woke up and decided to tackle the Temple of Heaven on my own. I did not expect much from it, but it was so beautiful. The Temple of Heaven is a place where the emperor used to go to get ready for and to carry out a cow sacrifice for the heavens to pray for an abundant harvest. There was an entire procedure that he had to follow and it was a very particular process. Reading and learning about all of it was amazing. He even had abstain from the world for three days before performing the ceremony. This included food, water (except what was necessary to stay alive), and human interaction. The Temple of Heaven is surrounded by a large park that is full of trees, pathways, and local people. The local people were all older and were busy. Many women were dancing and having a great time. The older men were playing cards and various Chinese board games. It made me happy to see people just out and having fun on this beautiful day.

After touring around this area I had to check out of my hostel and I headed to the Pearl Market. This is a famous fake market in China. I actually happened to run into the rabbi here from the night before; I thought that was kind of funny. I need to stop going to these fake markets though. I keep on spending an increasing amount of money whenever I go. The first time in Shanghai I just bought two scarves. The next time I bought some Beats earbuds (but I needed headphones anyways and they were only $8) along with two pairs of Ray-Bans. I understand they aren’t the real thing, but they are a pretty good fake and no one will know the difference. At the Pearl Market in Beijing I bought a ‘Kate Spade’ sling purse (I needed a black purse anyways and I couldn’t have done better in the US for $16. I also bought a stuffed Panda since I am in AOII…plus the lady offered it for a dollar. I also got this one frog thing. We had them at the Seder the night before. It is wooden and when you rub its back with this stick, it sounds like a frog. It was awesome to hearing 65 of them at once. But since that was not in my price range, I got one for our Seder next year. If anyone reading this and you want me to pick you up something from the fake markets, let me know. You deserve it after reading my super extensive posts that pretty much say “This was awesome. This was amazing! This was beautiful. It is so great” because I am pretty sure that I what I say about pretty much everything.

But all in all, my impression of Beijing was that it was a lot more historical there than in Shanghai. People were enthusiastic and happy with communism there, which is not taken in the same regards in Shanghai. Beijing was cheaper than Shanghai, like food-wise. There is a lot of national pride in Beijing, just like there is in Washington DC in the USA. I had a fabulous weekend and I had many adventures I will hold on to forever.

After being in China for 12 weeks, I finally made it to Beijing! It has been quite the weekend. I took a bullet train on the way here and slept most of the way Friday afternoon. The last couple hours I was awake and I made small Chinglish talk with the person next to me. He wanted to know all about my studies and why I was in China. He was so excited that I was going to Beijing since it is where he is from. He told me everything that I had to see…most of which I already had on my list of things to do. It was a great chat and it is so cool that I can just meet people like that and talk to them for hours in both of our broken Chinese/English. The app Pleco is very useful for the both of us, that way it is easy to look up nouns and continue talking.

I arrived in Beijing about 9 pm. I took the metro to the station where my hostel was. I walked where I thought it was and stopped to ask directions when I thought I walked too far. They said I walked in the wrong direction. So I walked back to the metro and went the opposite way. When I walked a while I couldn’t find it so I asked someone else. They said it was where I originally thought it was at. So then I walked all the way back to where I thought it was and then got a taxi. I was literally 200 feet away from the Hutong entrance… but I guess my minimum taxi was worth the stress. I walked for nearly two hours before finding it but I finally made it and went straight to bed so that I could wake up early the next morning. I was meeting my friends JY and Varun to walk through Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, and the Summer Palace.

Just a side note, a Hutong is a wide-ish alleyway that was made hundreds of years ago. Rich people used to live in them since they are so central in the city. But they look kind of scary at night. It is a maze of small alleyways and all are dark…there are no street lights so it is kind of creepy just depending on the lighting from buildings. But I felt safe…you just never know if a cat is going to pop out around the corner.

Tiananmen Square is huge! It is located in the middle of the city. There were some touristy stores around the edges. But according to the people here, nothing ever happened there…like nothing bad. They are kind of just denying facts. I asked my friend JY about it and he said that they like to keep everything internal. Like they only want the Chinese to know the Chinese problems…which I could understand. I noticed this throughout my Beijing weekend. The descriptions in English on many items throughout the historic sites only consisted of 5 or 6 words while the Mandarin would go on for a paragraph.

Next we went to the Forbidden City; Tiananmen Square kind of leads right into it. It is really big. You could probably spend 5 hours there alone. There are so many different buildings, alleyways, and museums within the area. JY, Varun, and I snaked through the right side and the middle. The right side was the concubine quarters. We saw where they put on their makeup, got their water, and hung out. They also had their building where they ‘did their job’. It is weird thinking about this way of life.

The Emperor did have very extravagant living quarters. It was so big and absolutely beautiful. I loved looking at all of the intricate details of the buildings and pillars. The paintings and color work on some of these posts is amazing! It is also amazing how old some of this is. The Forbidden City was burnt down three times, if I remember right, but they keep on restoring it and making it look the same. Going between buildings and sections, you could tell what was older and what was newer. It was cool to see a mix of the two. After the Forbidden City we crossed the street and went into a park. Within the park, there was a hill with a temple on top. From the top of the hill we had an awesome view of the Forbidden City. It was amazing to kind of stand on the top of the city. You could see the newer parts of Beijing along with the historical areas.

We left the park and got some lunch. Since it is currently Passover, I am surviving this entire day off of fruits, vegetables, and milk tea. It doesn’t fill you up too much so I ordered three different plates of veggies. They were all delicious.

Next we headed to the Summer Palace. This was my favorite place of the day. There were not as many people there as Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City (it was kind of a complete zoo since it was a holiday weekend). But the Summer Palace was very nice. It was a second palace the emperor could go if he felt like it. It was gorgeous. There was some amazing landscape within the palace. It is also the place where one of the emperor’s mothers loved. I cannot remember her name right now but apparently she was a not-so-good one who got rid of concubines she did not like by lying and having them get kicked out of the palace or killed. The Summer Palace also contained a stage where Pecking Opera and plays were performed. This stage was amazing. It was very large and incredibly intricate. It even had its own waterway under the stage if water ever had to be a prop in any play. On a platform under a cover about 50 feet from the stage was the emperor’s seat. He had a large seat that looked like a couch/daybed. This thing looked pretty ratchet…I wouldn’t be surprised if this was the exact seat used in the early 1900s when the last empire existed.

The Summer Palace had a huge lake where you could paddle boat. We walked around quite a bit and just admired the water. The sun was getting lower in the sky so we just sat on rocks against the water and admired the old traditional Chinese architecture over the lake.

Next, I headed back to my hostel, changed clothes real quick, and headed to Chabad. I thought it started at 7:30 but I got there early at like 7:15. Turns out it didn’t start until 8. So everyone was getting ready for the Seder still. I offered my help and I was put to work. I was in charge of setting up different headbands for each of the plagues around the tables. It was awesome! It reminded me of home a bit since we do fun things for the plagues as well. The Chabad building itself was impressive in size. It was very close to a park and was so pretty! I wish it wasn’t a shomer holiday or I would have taken so many pictures. We went upstairs to do Mariv first. After that we went back down and started the Seder. I sat next to a lady I met during services. She had to be in her late 40s, early 50s. She was originally from Los Angeles but she had also lived in South Africa and traveled to many cities around the world. We had a great chat. She thought it was absolutely awesome that I was studying in China while I was in college. She said how it would be a great experience. It made me remember how blessed I am to have the opportunities that I have had in life thus far. She was on vacation with her husband. They were in Beijing and then headed to Tokyo. I think it is absolutely amazing that they still look for adventure and new things. I hope I am like that one day.

I sat with her for dinner and I also sat next to the Rabbi’s two older daughters. I met them while setting up for the Seder. They have an amazing story. Their mom is from South Africa. I cannot remember where their dad is from. But they lived in Israel and heard that there was a need for a Chabad in Beijing. So fourteen years ago they took their two daughters and themselves across the world and started a Chabad. This is such a blessing. Without a family like that, people like me would not have anywhere to go for the holidays. One daughter was in high school, but she went to school in Israel. The older of the two was in her second year studying in Yeshiva in Israel but she went to high school in South Africa and lived with her aunt for those four years. It is amazing how worldly these girls were. They grew up learning four languages. They learned Chinese and English in elementary school. Their parents taught them Hebrew and Yiddish. It seemed like English and Hebrew were their languages of choice. They had two younger siblings as well. They are much younger and still live in Beijing with their parents.

The Seder was very nice. We went through the order and said all of the blessings. There were about 65 people there and at least 15 of them had to be under Bar/Bat-Mitzvah age. It was amazing to see all of the young Jewish kids going through the Seder. Since there were so many kids, the service was kind of centered around them. It was really cute though. I heard them sing Ma Nishtanah in Yiddish and Hebrew, so that was cool. And the rabbi asked during each part of the Seder if any of the children had anything to add. Most of the time they didn’t, but when they did say something, it was adorable. The food this evening was wonderful. The matzah ball soup sucked… but that’s just because the Chinese waiters have no idea how to make one. Besides that, we had some great mid-eastern salads and some salmon as appetizers. Then we had chicken, eggplant-wrapped lamb, potatoes, and some vegetable kabobs. Since I had only eaten fruit and veggies the past 24 hours, this tasted delicious and was well needed. The Seder wrapped up and it was time to go home. I got back to my hostel around 11:20 pm and I had to wake up the next morning at 5:30 to go to the Great Wall.

When I woke up, it was still dark outside. I got ready real fast and headed to the subway. I was meeting JY, Varun, Sameer, Nikko, Abhi, Aros, Adith, Jeff, and Olly for our climb on the Great Wall. It is about a two and a half hour ride to the part of the wall we were going to. We chose to climb a less populated area of the wall so it would be more enjoyable. Plus the long bus ride gave me time to catch up on sleep. When we finally arrived, our large group split up. Varun, JY, Jeff, and I headed off to climb up the steepest and tallest part of the wall we could see. You take a gondola up to the wall, get off and walk. At first, I did not expect the walking to be too bad…boy was I wrong! The stairs are uneven and much of the climbing is steep upwards or downwards. Very little of the wall is flat. The view was breathtaking though. The Great Wall is located in these beautiful mountains. They air was not too bad that day (for Beijing) so we could see blue skies. The trees on the mountain are also just a few weeks from being in full bloom. So we were able to see some tree buds and flowers. The climb was definitely worth it. It is so old, has so much history, and it is breathtaking along with its surroundings. I am so happy that I was able to visit such a magnificent place. After we were done with our climb, Varun checked his phone which tracks his movement for the day. We had climbed a total of 109 stories and over three miles on the wall.

After the wall, we were given lunch by the tour company. Luckily half of the dishes were just straight up vegetables so I was able to fill up on those. We all slept the entire way back to downtown Beijing so we could go exploring tonight.

The group decided that they were going to go to a place called the lounge that night. It was $8 to get in and then you would get unlimited drinks. It was Passover and I was not really into that so I decided to go exploring on my own. I wanted to see the Olympic sites from 2008. It is really easy to find since it labeled on the subway map. They have their own stations. The stadiums look magnificent and I love how they all light up at night. There are many smaller monuments and statues around the area that really add to the atmosphere. One thing I liked particularly was this one wall where they listed the gold, silver and bronze medalists for each competition along with their country of origin.

The Olympic Village is really well kept and I am happy I got the opportunity to see it.

The next morning I woke up and decided to tackle the Temple of Heaven on my own. I did not expect much from it, but it was so beautiful. The Temple of Heaven is a place where the emperor used to go to get ready for and to carry out a cow sacrifice for the heavens to pray for an abundant harvest. There was an entire procedure that he had to follow and it was a very particular process. Reading and learning about all of it was amazing. He even had abstain from the world for three days before performing the ceremony. This included food, water (except what was necessary to stay alive), and human interaction. The Temple of Heaven is surrounded by a large park that is full of trees, pathways, and local people. The local people were all older and were busy. Many women were dancing and having a great time. The older men were playing cards and various Chinese board games. It made me happy to see people just out and having fun on this beautiful day.

After touring around this area I had to check out of my hostel and I headed to the Pearl Market. This is a famous fake market in China. I actually happened to run into the rabbi here from the night before; I thought that was kind of funny. I need to stop going to these fake markets though. I keep on spending an increasing amount of money whenever I go. The first time in Shanghai I just bought two scarves. The next time I bought some Beats earbuds (but I needed headphones anyways and they were only $8) along with two pairs of Ray-Bans. I understand they aren’t the real thing, but they are a pretty good fake and no one will know the difference. At the Pearl Market in Beijing I bought a ‘Kate Spade’ sling purse (I needed a black purse anyways and I couldn’t have done better in the US for $16. I also bought a stuffed Panda since I am in AOII…plus the lady offered it for a dollar. I also got this one frog thing. We had them at the Seder the night before. It is wooden and when you rub its back with this stick, it sounds like a frog. It was awesome to hearing 65 of them at once. But since that was not in my price range, I got one for our Seder next year. If anyone reading this and you want me to pick you up something from the fake markets, let me know. You deserve it after reading my super extensive posts that pretty much say “This was awesome. This was amazing! This was beautiful. It is so great” because I am pretty sure that I what I say about pretty much everything.

But all in all, my impression of Beijing was that it was a lot more historical there than in Shanghai. People were enthusiastic and happy with communism there, which is not taken in the same regards in Shanghai. Beijing was cheaper than Shanghai, like food-wise. There is a lot of national pride in Beijing, just like there is in Washington DC in the USA. I had a fabulous weekend and I had many adventures I will hold on to forever.

Tiananman Square
Tiananman Square
Tiananman Square
Tiananman Square
Forbidden City - Largest stone carving, it was hauled into the city by sliding it on ice in the winter
Forbidden City – Largest stone carving, it was hauled into the city by sliding it on ice in the winter
Forbidden City
Forbidden City
Forbidden City
Forbidden City
Forbidden City
Forbidden City
Summer Palace Theatre
Summer Palace Theatre
Summer Palace Theatre stage
Summer Palace Theatre stage
Summer Palace Theatre Spectator Seating
Summer Palace Theatre Spectator Seating
Great Wall view
Great Wall view
Great Wall
Great Wall
Great Wall
Great Wall
This is part of the slope I climbed up. It was quite the workout!
This is part of the slope I climbed up. It was quite the workout!

ALAM from the Great Wall
ALAM from the Great Wall

Olympic Sites 15 Olympic Sites - Arena 2 Olympic Sites - Birds Nest 2

Old people playing cards at the park surrounding the Temple of Heaven
Old people playing cards at the park surrounding the Temple of Heaven
Temple of Heaven
Temple of Heaven
Temple of Heaven
Temple of Heaven
Temple of Heaven
Temple of Heaven
Temple of Heaven
Temple of Heaven
Temple of Heaven
Temple of Heaven
Pearl Market
Pearl Market
Pearl Market
Pearl Market
Hutong
Hutong
Market in a Hutong
Market in a Hutong
Hutong
Hutong
Beijing Streets
Beijing Streets
Bullet Train Station
Bullet Train Station
Bullet Train
Bullet Train
View from the Bullet Train
View from the Bullet Train
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