Saturday, September 27, 2008

Friday in Beijing and arriving in Yinchuan

Yesterday was a full day! Our train arrived at the station at 6 in the morning, and we high tailed it straight to McDonald's for coffee. From the moment we arrived though you could tell the sky was beautiful- I got lovely pictures of the sunrise. After breakfast we decided to check out the Olympic venues, so we hopped on the subway and when we arrived it turned out you needed special passes to get in! We got on these buses instead with Beijing 2008 on the side, and it basically went in a loop around the venues, stopped at like the Village and outside the Stadium, etc. We didn't get terribly close to the Water Cube or the Bird's Nest, but close enough to take pictures- the pictures just have lots of gates and buses in them!

Then we finished off the loop (the buses were really comfortable and the weather was gorgeous-Beijing really did a fantastic job with the air pollution) then went to Yonghe Lama Temple. According to Hack it's one of the rare temples that a. wasn't destroyed in the Cultural Revolution and b. is from a particular sect of Buddhism that's seldom practiced. The biggest sight was this giant Buddha carved from a single sandalwood tree- it actually had a Guinness World Record plaque outside the temple (for what record, I'm not sure, I'm assuming it's to do with height or building material. Or both).

We took the subway back, and after three trips to Beijing I finally made it to the Silk Market. I spent a good almost hour probably at this one shop debating over jackets- one I didn't buy, it was a nice dark green Inspector Gadget-type trenchcoat that was 200 rmb, but the one I did buy was a 240 rmb Columbia knock-off, that I'm incredibly pleased with. It's got two layers, and the inner sweater layer even zips out and can be worn alone, among other awesome 35 dollars I've spent in a while. I also bought a 'silk' skirt for 35 rmb (the lady was so upset though, she wanted 38 and I just wouldn't give in for pride's sake and she said, Where are you from? Are all females from where you live like you? I've never met anyone so stubborn/cheap from America.) then Hack and I were nearly threatened by a lady selling jerseys. We went to look at them and when we wouldn't agree to her prices (90 a pair) we tried to walk away and she got extremely red and wouldn't let us...I've never felt scared of vendors before.

After that we went back to Wang Fu Jing, where we had breakfast, and checked out a tiny little food street that had, among other things, seahorse on a stick. We ate dinner in the giant mall there, where we all made the comment that Beijing was way too Western for us, and how glad we were to be there only a day. Though, it was such a full day we felt ready to head back to Dalian, we had to be reminded there were still five more days to the trip!

We took a 9:20 pm flight to Yinchuan, where we arrived last night about 11:30. When we disembarked, I was realized buying the jacket was the smartest decision I've made in a while, it is Freezing here (46 F this morning)! We were picked up by contacts of Danny's and taken to this hostel where it seems to have been transfomed from an old factory building or something, and there's No Heat. No hot water for showers either; we asked this morning when hot water would turn on and the owner said probably not today...because their water is heated by the sun! I guess we're lucky they even have this old laptop for public use. There is this really cute collie here though in the lobby.

We're spending four full days here, and we're still not quite sure what we have planned. We could go to Inner Mongolia, or the desert and ride camels and go sand sliding, or raft on the Yellow's extremely cold and it's raining outside though, and the girls got about six hours of sleep (I got four because they moved back our pick-up time and I just decided to read books in the lobby instead of going back to sleep), so though it's not starting off on the right foot, as Hillary least we had a beautiful day in Beijing to remember if nothing else!

Thursday, September 25, 2008


Just a quick post since I'm packing to leave soon. Fall has hit, and amazingly Dalian's weather seemed to change instantaneously. One day it was humid and next day, it's windy and everyone's breaking out the jumpers. It also keeps alternating between raining and cloudy to extremely beautiful clear blue skies every other day. My mother just came to visit for the last three days and she caught two rainy days and one sunny day, though even on the cloudy day you could see how gorgeous the Dalian seaside is.

I've been in a ridiculously good mood today; I skipped class to drop mom off at the airport; then I went back to school to pick up my passport. I've got my residency permit all sorted out! Even though I had to rent a room in the dorms to pretend I was living there in order to get the new permit. (50 USD total for 8 nights in a room I never even stepped foot in...) Then I went to lunch at Amici's, a popular western food coffee shop, then F and I sat at the Xinghai beach for a good hour and a half just watching people, listening to the waves crashing and laying in the sun. Now I'm packing for my October Holiday trip -with BCA again -we're going to Western China for a week! Well, tomorrow will be spent in Beijing because of the way the train and flight schedules worked out, but then we'll go to Western China. Silk Road, Yellow River, some desert, Inner Mongolia...that whole area. I'm super when I return, I still have a full six days off of school!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Visa nightmares

I've known for a while my residency permit expires September 20th. I tried to hand in my passport last week, but the office lady told me to bring it back a few days later. Well thanks to the three day weekend for Mid-Autumn Festival, the next available day was today. Four days away from the 20th.

Chinese law states that whenever you come to China, you have to register with the local police station within 24 hours, or 48 hours, something like that. I moved into my apartment over two weeks ago and still have not done that because our landlady is out of the city- or country- I'm not really sure. Obviously there's also a problem with language since my one roommate (the one who dealt with the contract) is in Korea for the month, my Japanese roommate and I don't speak much Chinese, and my other Japanese roommate doesn't speak much English but speaks fluent Chinese. Oy. In any case, none of us registered because your landlady needs to come with you to the police station, so figured we'd all just wait. Except they luckily all have visas that can wait until she comes back from wherever she is.

So my school couldn't process my visa application until I had proof from the police station of my registration, which I couldn't do because 1. I have no idea where my landlady is 2. I have no idea where the police station is and 3. I have no idea how to register because my Chinese is barely conversational. I was freaking out all afternoon, because if I don't get this sorted I'd have to leave the country in order to do so- the most popular option being Korea, which is still a good 200 USD round trip plane ticket. I'll save my money woes for another post, but long story short I have nowhere near that kind of spare cash.

I finally reached my landlady though; the school office said she needs to grant 'official permission' to someone to bring me to the station on her behalf (she needs to show that she's allowed to rent the space, and get taxed on it, etc) so she asked her sister to do it. She's taking me tomorrow morning, which should be fine because apparently if I get it all completed by Friday at the latest the school can still renew my visa. Why some things in China only take a day and other things take months is beyond me, but I won't complain in this case. They may fine me for staying in the country without proper registration, but if they do they hopefully won't go by the on-the-books 500 RMB/day. The only silver lining to all this is since I'm going tomorrow at 10 am, I get to sleep in and skip both my classes.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Hong Kong

I realize I'm a crap blogger at this point; so much for those goals I'd made. But here we go, third attempt at keeping a regular blog....

August was a crazy month. I spent three weeks in the States, and came back to China with absolutely no plans. All I knew was I needed to end up in Dalian by the end of the month, since school started September 1st and I hadn't even registered with the new university yet.

I ended up just buying a round trip plane ticket to Shenzhen, and decided to let everything between the flight dates just happen. Turned out, I had a better time than I could have possibly planned. I stayed with a friend for over a week at his place; for the majority of those days we commuted daily into Hong Kong. It's about ten dollars round trip; twenty if you choose the first class metro seats.

The walk into Hong Kong is very anti-climactic though; you walk through this hallway, like those you find between airport parking lots and the actual airport, and in about four minutes you have officially arrived at Hong Kong Immigration. The first two days I actually was held up at Border Security because they couldn't figure out what the "C" in "Edna C Zhou" meant. On the plus side, my passport now looks like a proper passport should; it has red entry and departure stamps all over the place, I've like two blank pages left.

After that minor delay I was free to explore Hong Kong. The Metro system there is fabulous; at every major stop they have a giant map that details the local attractions nearby and through which exit you can reach them. E would head into work about nine every morning, which left me free to explore until lunch. After we met for lunch I would explore some more, then we would have drinks, a nice dinner, maybe explore some more of Hong Kong at night, and then cross back over the border.

I loved all of Hong Kong. Besides the fact that I'm an Anglophile and a big city girl- people are friendly, service is fantastic, there's very little pushing, everyone speaks English (even the taxi drivers), there's no spitting on the streets, people stand on the right side of the escalators to let people walk on the right....the only downside I could find was they speak Cantonese, which, in my opinion, is very unpleasant to listen to.
However, the rest of Hong Kong more than made up for that- even though wining and dining is expensive, the other attractions are fairly cheap, and very varied and abundant.

There's the city itself on display, which is always free and fun, like the Avenue of Stars or seeing Victoria Harbor at night. There's also places like my favorite spot in Hong Kong- The Peak, also known as Victoria Peak, the top of a mountain you can access by tram, from which you overlook all of the city. Roundtrip tram tickets cost 50 Hong Kong dollars (6.40 USD), and entry to the Sky Terrace- the roof of the buliding- is 20 HKD (2.50 USD). On those rainier days I spent a fair bit of time in the museums; a week pass for all the Hong Kong Musems (of History, of Science, of Art, etc) only cost 30 HKD.

Another favorite spot I decided to check out on my own was Ngong Ping, which is in the western part of Lantau Island-a 30 minute fast ferry and 45 minute bus ride cost about 50 HKD. The giant Tian Tan Buddha sits there, with the Po Lin Monastery and its vegetarian restaurant at the base. At the edge of Ngong Ping Village is Ngong Ping 360, a 30 minute cable car ride that takes you across to Tung Chung at the edge of the Island. It's convenient because TC is also a metro stop that easily takes you back to Hong Kong Island. A one way ticket cost 58 HKD, and it was worth every bit- the cable cars cross over all these massive green hills where the giant Buddha can be seen at a distance, as well as bodies of water (I have no idea which ones) and finally it comes over the last peak, where you see the edge of Lantau Island and all this development and modernity again. I was the only one in my cable car and I must've looked like a mental hamster in a wheel; I kept going in circles round the car because the view all around was so spectacular.

E also made sure I had a good time, since he was my host. After being stuck in a friend's house all day on an unexpected Typhoon 8 day, we decided to go to the Palace Theatre in the IFC Mall to watch The Dark Knight. That scene in the movie where Batman jumps off the giant building in Hong Kong? That's the IFC Building. It was kind of surreal, Batman jumping from the same location that I was sitting comfortably in, watching him jump on the big screen.

The night of the Olympic Opening Ceremony, we headed to Stanley, at the southeastern edge of Hong Kong Island. We watched the water and sat the pier for a while, then had some drinks until 8 pm, when the ceremony started. Everyone was absolutely entranced, the air was warm and electric; I personally was on cloud nine. After all the controversy and all the lead up, the Olympics had finally started- and not only was I in China to experience the hype, I was in Hong Kong, one of the most fantastic, cosmopolitan, international places on Earth!

Probably the best day of the whole trip was the Sunday two days after that. E and I went into the city, and I decided to wear a summer dress I'd picked up when I was home- an orange and brown halter that I knew I had to have the moment I saw it on the Wildwood Boardwalk. When we arrived in the city it was lunch time, so we went for dim sum at this classy restuarant- the best dim sum I've ever had. Fresh and succulent, it raised the bar so high I probably won't ever be satisfied in any measly US Chinatown. We then went for true Italian coffee at Segafredo Zanetti, where I continued my food binge with the tastiest, frothiest cappuccino I've never had (and I like to think I make a mean cappuccino at work). All while in this dress, feeling fabulous.

We then started walking for the Peak, but when we saw the hour long line for the tram, we decided to grab a taxi. The first driver wanted no less than 80 dollars, and refused to run the meter. The next person we tried quoted us "maybe 50" and ran the meter without us asking, so though it was only 40 HKD to the top, I gave him 50 anyway. We walked around a bit, taking pictures, staring out at the city, and timed going up to the Sky Terrace just right so that we saw the skyline as the sun was setting, then watched the lights switch on until the whole of Hong Kong was fluorescent and glimmering. It seemed silly to be so awestruck at something wholly manmade, but for a city girl, it was the pinnacle of urbanity, the ultimate display; the very soul of Hong Kong reflected in those lights.

To finish off the evening, E treated me to Wagyu, a restaurant that was good for a half casual, half fancy dinner but where I also felt like I belonged in the dress; I wouldn't have walked there in just jeans and a T-shirt. We didn't make a reservation so while we waited for a table, we went across the street for drinks with Olympic diving playing on the televisions. Once seated back at Wagyu, we started with a beef carpaccio appetizer that felt like it melted in my mouth; it was then followed by the juiciest, flakiest salmon with buttery mashed red potatoes. I felt so spoiled, having the best food I'd ever tasted all in one day; like I was on a constant stream of culinary nirvana. I can't imagine what it's like to be a food critic.

Everyone I know who's gone to Hong Kong claims there is just something about the city that makes it indescribably cool. I was completely enamored after only a couple days, but for different, hard to pinpoint reasons compared to why I love Shanghai. It has an incredible juxtaposition of nature and city, history and modernity, culture and wildness; all living side by side, something for everyone. I'd fallen in love with Hong Kong so fast I didn't want to leave when it was time to head back to the airport. (Though actually, my flight was cancelled so I didn't leave til a day later, but I stuck that one out in Shenzhen.)

It was also the first time in my life I didn't look at price tags but just did whatever I wanted to do. I hung out with awesome people- E and his English friends mainly- saw fantastic sights, enjoyed amazing food, and just had an overall incredible time...I never felt more carefree and at ease than during that week. On top of that, or perhaps because of it, I loved the feeling that I wasn't just a tourist; with E and his friends I felt like I was an international, debonair woman...even if it was an illusion for just a few short days. That week, I felt nowhere near a 19 year old student on her holidays.
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