Monday, April 21, 2008

Post embarrassing.

Wow guys. I'm really sorry. I doubt anyone even pays attention to this anymore at this point, but I apologize anyway. It has almost been 2 months since my last post, but I will not let that 2 month mark pass! As can be imagined, much has happened. I will start with most recently. Seeing as I have a vocab quiz, here referred to as a 听写 (ting xie = hear, then write), in a little bit I will probably do the update in stages. Starting with this past weekend.
CIEE took us to Hangzhou, which is a city in the south known as one of the most beautiful cities in China. And beautiful it was, though unfortunately it rained both days we were there. CIEE trips, of which there were two, work like this. Friday afternoon you meet up by two big buses with all your stuff and make your way to the train station. In the case of the Xi’an trip, which was a couple of weeks earlier, it unfortunately worked a little bit differently. That update will come in a bit. For the Hangzhou trip though, we bussed our way to the train station to make a 4pm train. I believe the train ride was about 16 hours, so we got hard sleepers, which means in each train car there are around 20 compartments, all open (no doors), each with 6 beds (3 stacked on either side of the compartment). So what usually happens is the CIEE group of 80 takes up a whole car and then the overflow end up in a second car, but all the cars are connected so you can freely flow between. So people usually cluster together in compartments, chatting, usually a bit of alcohol is involved (hey, there’s nothing else to do). So after partaying on the train all night you finally make your way to your bed, which could be on the bottom (pro: easy access con: people are usually sitting on your bed hanging out), middle (pro: people don’t sit on it, con: a bit squished), or top (pro: really high! So that’s fun, and there’s also more privacy in terms of changing clothes etc., con: when the lights go on in the morning, sometimes at 5AM, there is nothing shielding your eyes). So then the next morning we arrive usually around 6:30-7, go get breakfast and drop off our bags at the hotel, and then CIEE has organized a tour guide and a plan for us. That night then after dinner we usually go out to the bars and clubs. The next day is free, so we roll ourselves out of bed to check out by 12, then go exploring on our own.
This past weekend in Hangzhou we made our way around a bit. The first day (Saturday) CIEE took us to West Lake, where we went on a little boat ride. It could have been great but it was rainy and foggy, so unfortunately it ended up being pretty useless. Though we got to chat with each other I suppose. Then after lunch we went to Lingyin Temple, translated as “Temple of Inspired Seclusion” or “Temple of the Soul’s Retreat.” It is one of Hangzhou’s main attractions, and it was pretty nice. Originally built in 326 CE, though it has been rebuilt a bunch of times. It’s a Buddhist temple, so there are a couple of giant different kinds of Buddhas, which is pretty standard for Chinese Buddhist temples, of which we have already seen a few. A bit after we got there the skies cleared up a bit, so that was fun. I sort of got separated and wandered around the grounds by myself a bit, which was pretty enjoyable, though some people went to climb up a big hill/mountain and I kind of wish I had found them. Around the temple there are giant bowls where people put their incense, first they burn it and hold it in front of them while they pray, then they put in it big incense bowls. There is also a big thing where you are supposed to try to throw a coin in for good luck. Unfortunately the temples were all pretty crowded; it is kind of hard to feel like you are connecting to a place when people are hustling and bustling around you all the time, though honestly that is often the case in China. There are just so many people here!
So after the temple we all bussed it back to the hotel, showered, changed, and quickly got back in busses that were taking us to Hefang street, which is a shopping street. That was pretty nice, I kind of wanted to buy some things, but I ended up not really having time since we were on our way to dinner. So we wandered around and looked at the things being sold on the street: some little dolls made out of straw, people drawing pictures, custom-made clay busts of tourists’ heads, etc etc. There were also a lot of silk scarves and the like, though you have to make sure what you are buying is real, and then you have to bargain down the price, so shopping is always a bit of an event.
We went to dinner at a restaurant near Hefang jie (street) and ordered the Hangzhou specialties, which were chicken cooked wrapped in banana leaves and mud, which was pretty good, some shrimpy thing, and really fatty but (once you found the meat) realllly good pork. The eggplant in Hangzhou was also pretty tasty. After dinner we went out first to a Reggae bar, then danced the night away at a place called Coco club, recommended to me by my lovely friend Alea from DC. She hooked us up with the DJ and got us some free drinks.
The next day a big group of people and I ate lunch, then we split off and two friends and I went touring. We went first to Dreaming of Tiger Spring, which was a nice park-like thing with trees and (obviously) springs; it was really nice to breathe in some clean, fresh air. That is hard to come by in Beijing. Inside we had some Longjin tea, which is a Hangzhou specialty, though to be honest we were a bit disappointed by the tea that we got. Though I’m sure other places had better varieties.
Next we went to the Six Harmonies Pagonda and climbed up to the top. It was pretty, though the view would have been better if it hadn’t been rainy and foggy. But it was definitely a fun experience. After that it was getting late, so we made our way back to the West Lake, had some dinner at a Japanese restaurant, then made our way back to the Hotel around 8:30 to be bussed to the train.
Another long train ride, we didn’t get back to Beida until Monday afternoon (which did mean we got to miss Monday classes, wooop!)

Alright, sorry again this took me so long. I have to get to studying for my quiz in an hour, but later I will post more and maybe add some pictures. Comment if you’re reading!