30 August 2009

Beijing Tour


Firstly, I would like to apologize for the delay in writing the ensuing recaps of my national trip. But it's better late than never, right? Right.

I arrived in Beijing in the evening on Wednesday, August 19, which would have actually been morning for EST, after about 20 hours of combined flights from Charleston to Atlanta to Shanghai to Beijing, respectively, with a few layovers, of course, in between. I roomed with Andreina in the Red Wall Hotel, which was very near Tiananmen and the Temple of Heaven, I believe. We took a short walk that evening, but we didn't go very far, as we were all tired from our flights.

Thursday, we went to Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, and Prince Gong's Mansion/Palace, the former two of which I had seen last year, and then toured a hutong, which is a neighborhood on a traditional street, via rickshaw with a stop into a family's home, which I had also done last summer. We then had Peking Duck for dinner, which I not only don't eat, but had also suffered through on my previous trip. Thus, though the day was fun-filled and exciting and I did enjoy it, it was difficult for me not to assume a been-there, done-that attitude.

Friday was our excursion to the Great Wall of China. Though we had previously planned to go to the Simatai section, we switched to the Mutianyu section, which I climbed last summer, at the last minute, due to safety concerns. The trip felt different, though, for a number of reasons: the highway that had been in the process of construction last year had been completed, making for a shorter trip; I now have a CamelBak, negating the need for me to tote bottles of water around and instead allowing me to put two liters on my back; we took a sort of ski lift rather than a cable car to the landing at which we began to hike; and we TOBOGGANED down a metal slide, which was honestly one of the coolest, most exhilarating experiences of the entire 10-day tour. Also, I climbed to the top!!! I didn't last year. Actually, we didn't think that we would make it this year due to time constraints, but Robert, Caitlin, Karim, Andreina, and I went ahead and did it anyway and arrived back to the meeting spot only a few minutes late (albeit very sweaty.) I was absolutely exhausted to the point that my legs were involuntarily shaking after that journey, but I felt so accomplished that I bought a plush panda hat on the way down.

[If you are confused as to how I both tobogganed and bought a hat on the way down the mountain, you are validated. Basically, I tobogganed to the aforementioned landing, at which point one must hike the rest of the way to the parking lot down a stone path packed with vendors.]


After our trip to the Great Wall, we visited Olympic Park and then took a walk later that night and found that what I will call "line dancing with Chinese characteristics" is a very popular form of nightly recreation for middle-aged Chinese women. (Yes, of course I joined them.)

We deemed Saturday "Religion Day"as we traveled to the Temple of Heaven (one of my absolute favorite China haunts due to the liveliness, entertainment, and fun, park-like atmosphere of its surroundings - please see the video at the end of this entry for a 1:30 peek into a walk down the main corridor), Confucius Temple, Lama Temple, and a Catholic church. Later, we walked around and stumbled upon a grocery store with plenty of delicious junk food before eating, in my opinion, the most scrumptious meal of the trip, a Sichuan-style dinner with plenty of vegetarian dishes. That night, Zhang Laoshi took us to a popular, old commercial street whose name escapes me. The next morning, we flew to Xi'an to begin the next leg of our journey.
video

29 August 2009

Bridges Shoutout

video

ATTENTION: Does anyone have Skype?

My screen name is em_thegem. Call me!

Meng long, Dream Dragon: The Magnum Bar



Some of you who went into my dorm room when I was a freshman may recall an wrapper that I had hung on the wall. On a deep brown background, prominent gold letters simply declared “MAGNUM” and were surrounded by lots of Chinese characters. This oft-question cover once held none other than the most delicious ice cream bar ever made: the Magnum bar.

This chocolate-covered ice cream treat is not sold in the United States, though it is available in some other countries. Its Chinese name is “meng long,” which translates to “dream dragon” - how epic is that?!

Anyway, the Magnum bar was first recommended to me on my trip last summer by none other than Furman professor and SC State Superintendent hopeful Brent Nelsen, who declared, “A Magnum a day keeps the doctor away!” The bar comes in a variety of flavors, including almond, coffee, and chocolate. A standard Magnum bar consists of a smooth or crispy chocolate coating over scrumptious, creamy ice cream. They run anywhere from 4-20 kuai (20 obviously being well overpriced).

[“Kuai” is slang for “yuan,” which is the Chinese currency. The exchange rate is currently around 6.78 per dollar.]

Last summer, I ate as many Magnums as I possibly could - I probably averaged one per day and sometimes ate even more than that - because I didn’t know if I would ever be able to have them again! Now, though, as I will be here for three months, I have tried to restrain myself; fellow Magnum fan and classmate Robert and I have set a limit of 3 per week plus celebratory bars at any time.

Shiyou, roommate


Today, we came to Suzhou to settle into our SuDa dorms and meet our new roommate. It was so hot, and I felt like I had so much to unpack that I was initially reminded of move-in day LAST year at Furman! Obviously, I didn’t have QUITE that much, as it would not have fit into my suitcases, let alone this dormitory. (See attached picture for a mid-unpacking view.)

My roommate’s name is Zhao Chen, or Orange, as she likes to be called. (Chen is similar to chenzi, which her friends sometimes call her and may be translated to orange in English. She also likes oranges.) She is a 19-year-old English major from Yangzhou, here in Jiangsu province, about two hours away by train. She is the only child of a doctor and a housewife. We exchanged gifts early this afternoon: she gave me a piece of Chinese paper art and a bookmark with a garden scene of her hometown and a poem painted onto a leaf, and I gave her a Furman keychain and a West Virginia magnet. She really likes chocolate, so I think that we will get along just fine.

We had a few hours of free time this afternoon to unpack. I was SO happy to see clean clothes and other items, and I am beginning to feel settled! This evening, our FIC group went to dinner with our roommates, where I learned how to say “almost,” “bourgoise,” “hungry,” “full,” and “vegetarian” in Chinese and my roommate and I discussed everything from hobbies to food to language. We have the entire rest of the weekend free until a meeting Sunday evening with Zhang Laoshi, our former Chinese professor and current leader of our program.

27 August 2009

Cai, food

A lot of people asked me before I came back to China what the food was like here. It was always very difficult for me to answer, mainly because of three reasons:

A.) Their customs are different. At most Chinese restaurants, plates of food are put onto a revolving platter in the middle of a round table. Everybody crowds around and takes what they want with chopsticks, not thinking twice about double-dipping or pickin g around the parts of the dish that they may or may not like. A spoon is very rarely used, and forks are only seen at very Western (or wannabe Western) restaurants.

B.) There is as much, if not more, variety in Chinese food as there is in American food. Initially, they may all look similar, but upon further inspection, ingredients are prepared in a variety of different ways and put together into different combinations and then seasoned with different spices to make them tangy, sweet, spicy, etc.

C.) Many Chinese dishes are not vegetarian. For this reason, meals are often hit-or-miss for me. While, on one hand, ingredients such as rice, vegetables, bamboo, and tofu are very commonplace, on the other hand, these are often combined with fish, lamb, beef, pork, chicken, or other meat. Luckily, in my group, one person doesn't eat pork, and one person doesn't eat pork or beef, so efforts made by our professor to specifically order vegetarian food are not in vain.

I generally enjoy Chinese food, though sometimes I wonder if I will still like it at the end of three months. Hopefully, I will grow to appreciate it more. While I probably eat less here and walk more, especially on this tour, when our eating times are strictly assigned, I'm pretty sure that more butter, for instance, is used, so I believe that the pros and cons in terms of weight loss or gain will balance out. We'll see how I feel once I get involved in either an extracurricular exercise class and/or a regular workout routine.

24 August 2009

Safe, Sound, and Exhausted

No, I have not been quarantined. I know that it has been nearly a week with no communication to the masses, but unless by "quarantine," you either mean "sent your computer to your university while you travel" or "has discovered that your blog host as well as many of your favortite sites have been blocked," I am perfectly fine. Health-wise, actually, I would wager that I am better than I was when I left the country - save for some blistered heels and extremely painful and tight calves, thanks to the Great Wall - seeing as how I have walked more in the past few days than I had in the previous month and that I can actually breathe clearly here, allergy-free (go figure) (cross your fingers).

Anyway, let me explain my pronounced absence from the blogging world thus far in my journey: in preparation for my visit, I found that Facebook, YouTube, and various other websites had been blocked by the government, but I just assumed that Blogger had not been. Well, it turns out that I was wrong - so much for freedom of the press, Free Spirits [LINK: http://www.freespiritnetwork.com/]! - so I am going to simply e-mail Billy my entries and have him post them, and he will e-mail me back comments that I receive on them. *By the way - you don't have to be a member of Blogger to comment on these entries! Just try it.* Right; so, I figured that this plan would be easier than trying to find an available host and setting up an entirely new blog, especially after all of the work that I put into this one this summer. For the next week or so, there will be no pictures, as I still will be traveling, and, as I mentioned earlier, upon my arrival in the PRC, I sent my large suitcase as well as my laptop to SuDa to be stored in a safe place until we arrive, naively thinking that we would not have time nor means to access the Internet on this national tour. Wrong again! I have since tried using someone else's computer for a bit at night, but as grateful as I am, once you figure in adapters, chargers, Internet speed, blocked sites, and coordinating time, by the time that I gain access to my Inbox, I am usually too tired or frustrated to even check all of my new e-mails. Hopefully and quite probably, this will all improve once we settle into Suzhou. Until then, expect infrequent communication - sorry!

Alas, we have an early morning tomorrow; I need to do laundry and get some sleep. More on the Great Wall, temple visits, and cities, as well as general thoughts, soon!

P. S. - E-MAIL ME. I obviously have limited access, at least for now, but it is access, nonetheless. That is the easiest and cheapest way in which I can be in touch!

(Note from Billy: This would have been up sooner, but I had a hard time logging into Emily's account. Sorry about that.)

18 August 2009

Itinerary

As I sit here and count the hours until I leave my house, my family, my friends, and my dog, I remembered that all of the people to whom I've mentioned this blog might be checking it and finding nothing to do with China.

I fly out of Charleston at 6 a.m. From there, I will make a quick stop in Atlanta to meet up with the other nine students and a Furman staff member and then fly on to Shanghai, arriving around lunchtime the next day with the time difference. Here, as promised, is my *tentative* itinerary for Week One, as told to me by one of my professors:

Aug. 19
Arrive in Shanghai.
Flight from Shanghai to Beijing
Spend night in Beijing

Aug. 20
Visit Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City; lunch
Temple of Heaven, Quanjude Roast Duck Dinner
Spend night in Beijing

Aug. 21
Day excursion to Simatai Great Wall
Xishiku Catholic
Dinner
Spend night in Beijing

Aug. 22
Lama Temple, Confucius Temple; lunch
Prince Gong’s Mansion, Hutong tour, Traditional courtyard;
Dinner at Sichuan Restaurant
Spend night in Beijing

Aug. 23
Fly from Beijing to Xi’an. Lunch at Xi’an or in flight;
City Wall of Xi’an, Big Wild Goose Pagoda;
Defachang dumplings dinner
Spend night in Xi’an

Aug. 24
Terracotta Warriors; Lunch
Trip to Yan’an
Dinner
Spend night in Yan’an

Aug. 25
Yan’an Revolution Headquarters Site and Revolutionary Museum, lunch
Yan’an-Xi’an: visit an old Chinese village or an environmental project
Dinner
Spend night in Xi’an

Aug. 26
Qian Tomb; lunch
Famen Temple (China’s first Buddhist temple)
Muslim quarters; the Great Mosque (one of the largest in China)
Dinner
Spend night in Xi’an

Aug. 27
Fly from Xi’an to Shanghai; Shanghai airport pick-up; lunch
Pudong Special Economic Zone, the Bund; Oriental Pearl Tower
Dinner
Spend night in Shanghai

Aug. 28
Transfer to Suzhou

13 August 2009

Update

I replaced my computer this past weekend. Luckily, I only lost a couple hundred pictures and about $25 worth of iTunes. I went back and added pictures to my Road Trip entries. It was too hard to make a new photo-essay entry, because I've yet to take the time to figure out how to correctly manipulate the layout software on Blogger, and the finished view looks different than my editing pane.

Anyway, feel free to click back through and browse. Stay tuned for a China itinerary!!

06 August 2009

Bowling Green: Character

I continued my farewell tour with a short stint in Ohio for the past couple of days. I know, I know: my road trip was supposed to be over. And Ohio is definitely not in the Carolinas - or even anywhere near the South! But what can I say? I've been bitten by the travel bug, and is it really my fault that my best friend lives five hours away? (Answer: no, it's not.)

I left yesterday around lunchtime to see Daniel Scott, hoping to make my entrance just as he was returning from work - I was a bit off, but not enough to have missed anything. I met his roommate, Megan, and his friend, Mara, and got to see Lauren, whom I had already met when she came home with him and rode around with the two of us as I got my hair and make-up done for my senior prom. Anyway, the five of us sat around the half-packed apartment (they're moving this weekend) and chatted for a bit before Mara and Lauren had to go home and Danny and I had to eat before we fainted.

It was at this point that my tour of BG began. We walked around Main Street a bit, stopping in at the Ben Franklin, which is certainly superior to the one that was once in this town and which makes me wish that we had such a good craft store in Greenville. We extended our route to go back and forth between a few restaurants and eventually to find an ATM so that we could eat at Call of the Canyon. We stuffed ourselves and then, on the way to the car, we decided to stop in at Grounds for Thought, a favorite coffee shop of Dan's. Luckily, we happened upon a stupendous jazz concert, so we stayed through a few songs. We then continued on, stopping to admire the creepy courthouse across from the rabbit window, to the biggest DQ in the entire world (portion-wise), where we enjoyed delicious Blizzards and flipping through the latest issue of BG Magazine. They gave me so much ice cream that I couldn't even finish it!

After our dessert, we went back to his apartment. It was already late, so I changed clothes and, after a quick round of Mario Kart on Super Nintendo and then a stop at his friend's house to play Mario Kart on Wii (So I'm becoming a gaming addict - sue me!), we went to Uptown, where we not only danced the night away but where I witnessed my first-ever drag show. They do one every Tuesday! It was very fun, I must say. We got there well into the show, but there was enough time to see three or four drag queens perform. Upon the show's conclusion, we decided to stay and dance for a while, and I met some of Danny's friends.

The next day was the surprise that Danny would not reveal to me. After he woke me up and we tasted the hemp milk that we had purchased the previous night (It was not so good...), I made every excuse to continue lying on the futon in the comfortable clothes that I had borrowed from Danny the night before, but I eventually did get up and take a shower. We went out the door at least three different times, always forgetting something, and somehow, we ended up watching the Bridges dance class performance video as well as the video that Danny made about his Salamanca trip, so by the time we made it to Waffle House for breakfast, it was actually lunchtime.

I would like to take this time to say how impressed I was with that Waffle House - the workers were competent, clean, and friendly, and the restaurant did not smell smoky or greasy but was instead clean and bright. The food was good, too.

Danny then took me to BG's campus, and he gave me a tour of the school as well as his office. We spent the rest of the day exploring BG more, hitting up, to name a few:
-freaking BEN FRANKLIN and their fabulous candy counter
-an art gallery
-a hippie store that quite possibly bests the one in Marietta
-a COOKIE store, at which I tasted the best snickerdoodle that I have ever had
-a gas station convenience store

Finally, we had to leave so that a.) we could find some real food for dinner and b.) I could get home "not too late." My car was packed (not that I had that much stuff, really), so after I said my goodbyes, we met his family in Arcadia and then went into Findlay for dinner at the Olive Garden. The day came to a close with me driving home with the windows down, listening to the Iron & Wine CD that Danny left playing for me in my car.

Things that I would like to remember about my 24 hours in BG (+2 or so hours in the surrounding area):
-dancing on the speaker to "I Gotta Feeling"
-skipping to The Cookie Jar
-Story People
-the helpful trucker
-Ore-GON Trail/the shopkeeper's instructions
-"Are you drunk?" "Um...no." "Oh - it must be me!"
-dancing people at John Nemeth's concert
-our hula-hooping blocking the exit
-how comfortable Danny's clothes were to sleep in
-our pirate server
-healthy diets
-walking into what may or may not have been Danny's apartment while he was outside
-the restaurant with the long bathroom hallway with a stop in the kitchen

Reasons that I absolutely must return:
-to eat at Squeekers
-to check out Finders
-to swim in the quarry
-to go to Canada
-to continue staring at the twins in hopes of really being able to tell them apart w/out guessing
-to make friends with the people living in the Church as well as the Windmill
-to finish a small Blizzard from DQ
-to wear Danny's clothes again
-to receive tie-dyeing lessons

03 August 2009

Happy Campers

I arrived home from my road trip Wednesday evening after driving all day and briefly stopping to visit Jane. I unpacked a little bit and went to bed. Thursday consisted of a lot more unpacking, a little bit of cleaning, an attempt at reading for my class this fall, and a good amount of sleep. I wasn't even up late, but I fell asleep on the couch downstairs.

Friday, I slept in and then finally began to prepare for...THE FABLED CAMPING TRIP!!!

[Backstory: my friends and I tried to plan a camping trip to a cabin in Ohio last summer, and as more and more people came up with obligations and excuses, it didn't happen. This year, we decided to actually CAMP, thus making it supposedly more affordable for everyone. Out of the seven originally invited, only four came, and for half the planned time. Nonetheless, we made it work.]

Lacey came and picked me up Friday afternoon, and as I loaded more and more things into her already-packed car, I had to remind myself that I would be gone for at most two nights. We finally left around 4:30, and, after stopping at the grocery store, at which we both met Beth and shopped for foodstuffs, we met Logan at the campsite around 6:00 p.m.

As you might imagine, by this point, we were very hungry, so as soon as we pitched the tent (which took a lot less time than you might think for such a large - 7-9 person, in fact - tent...probably due to my mad talents, what with being able to do the same thing blindfolded and all!), I got to work making my veggie kabobs.

I chopped onions, potatoes, peppers, carrots, and squash for what seemed like hours, painstakingly trying to marinate them in a Cool Whip container. Finally, it was time for everyone to help me skewer them, and while it initially looked as if we were going to be able to feed the entire camping area, after a few minutes of the kabobs wrapped in foil over the fire (no charcoal for the grill - we improvised), we devoured them all. As night fell, we were still getting set up and situated. By the blinding light of Lacey lantern, we looked at Beth's old pictures and then played Catchphrase, much to my pleasure (and my friends' apparent dismay.) We finally turned in, but surprised Logan with his birthday cookies and then ended up chatting in the tent almost all night.

Thus, we woke up the next "morning" around lunchtime. For said meal, we hard-boiled eggs and cut up a selection of apples, strawberries, and a pear, and as we were still hungry, we had some odd snacks here and there. We played Catchphrase once more and took our time getting ready to go to the pool, and once we were there, we stayed a while. We returned to our site, hungry again, and foraging for leftovers, as our friends the raccoons had stolen not only our butter but the hotdogs (clearly, this didn't affect me much) as we listened the night before. We chatted some more and then Logan performed a small concert for us - huzzah! Sadly, as evening was upon us, our shindig broke up, and we began to tidy up so as to not leave so much for Lacey, who was staying longer. Logan and I left around 9, I think, and had a long and inspiring conversation on the way home.

All in all, I think that we finally had a successful camping trip! I, for one, felt very accomplished, pitching the tent, boiling water, cooking over a fire, and whatnot. It was GREAT to get to spend time with some of my best high school friends, not only to catch up at the end of summer after not having seen each other much but also to get ready to leave AGAIN for a few months. Of course, I wish that everyone could have made it; but...'twas a splendid finale to my Farewell Tour, indeed.

Raleigh: (Sub)urban


My final destination before heading home on my road trip was Billy's new house outside of Raleigh. I stopped for a splendid lunch with Sarafina Saturday afternoon at the Mellow Mushroom in downtown Durham, where we lingered over White Gourmet Pizza that hit the spot. After briefly meeting her dad and some of his friends, who were all extremely polite and friendly and gave me a generous slice of lemon pound cake for the road, I continued on.

I arrived to a boisterous greeting from Cotton, the yellow Lab, and then, of course, said hello to my boyfriend. Saturday night, Billy and I went out to eat the the Twisted Fork, a local Raleigh favorite that I very much enjoyed, myself. We then checked out the Barnes and Noble. Sunday, we slept in, and in the evening, he, his dad, and I all went to Bonefish. Later that evening, the girls came back from WV, sans Michelle, who was at band camp, and plus one of Kristin's friends, and even later, Billy and I went to Baskin-Robbins.

Honestly, my time there kind of blurs together, because I lost track of time during the course of my trip. The days that Billy and I spent together consisted of a lot of food preparation, Cotton-petting/walking, and Xbox-playing. Billy gave me a driving tour of his subdivision as well as the town. We enjoyed the community walking trail and pool - especially the water slide. I originally had planned to leave on Sunday evening or Monday morning, but they all convinced me to stay until Wednesday morning (their persuasive powers never cease to amaze me.) We all went to The Cheesecake Factory - yum! - for dinner (and dessert, of course!) on Monday night, and Tuesday, we watched the better part of a Carolina Mudcats game in Zebulon and then played a rousing game of hide-'n'-seek in the new abode.

I really enjoyed my visit there. Their new home is very nice, as is the surrounding community. Of course it didn't feel like home to me, because I doubt it even feels like home to them yet. Nevertheless, my accommodations were very nice, and my days were filled with fun activities. I am so grateful that I got to spend time with Billy and everyone before I embark on my transcontinental adventure!

02 August 2009

Charlotte: Chill

I arrived in Charlotte Wednesday afternoon by way of Rock Hill and a fabulous, drawn-out lunch with Jeff, a fellow Bridges counselor, at Majistic. No, that's not a spelling error - the restaurant really was called Majistic. Upon finally moving to the North Carolina sector of my trip, I went straight to a country club - my first time! (We don't really have too many country clubs around these parts in West Virginia.) I met Sarah, with whom I would be spending a couple of nights, as well as her younger sister and her best friend, both of whom I had met briefly during the school year, at the pool.

We stayed there for a while before going back to her house to change, and as they left for choir rehearsal, I showered and headed to Fort Mill to see another great friend, Michelle. After we turned down one restaurant for their lack of veggie burgers, we decided upon Salsarita's Fresh Cantina for dinner, which was delicious, I might add. We then toured the old Richmar Fashions building (YES!) and played with her dog, Buddy, a bit before I decided that it was probably time for me to return to the Queen City.

That evening, Sarah and I watched a few episodes of Friends Season One and chatted before it was time to go to bed - like most "normal" people, she, too, had to work in the morning. Per usual, I slept in as she got ready and left the house, leaving me to get ready to meet my good friend, Daniel. He picked me up and we headed to the South Park Mall, which was much more fun than I had anticipated. We purchased some trusty bamboo fishing poles, to be used when I return to the country next year, and made good use of the cushioned benches in the mall hallway as well as in department stores.

Daniel dropped me off at Sarah's around lunchtime, so she, her sister, and I set off to picnic at Freedom Park. We even took her dog, Joey! It was very humid/hot/rainy, so we didn't stay long, but it was fun while it lasted. We went back to her house and she tattooed my right leg in Sharpie as we watched more Friends.

She was then picked up for a date, so I headed to Misenheimer to see one of my two wives from the 2007 Mission of Peace, Chelsea, at Pfeiffer University. I met some of her friends that I hadn't on my previous trip (that brings my total of acquantainces up to about half of the campus population - just kidding, Chels!) and we went to a grand dinner at...WAFFLE HOUSE! haha We hung out in the apartments for a while, and then I went to work with her the next morning before leaving around lunchtime.

I arrived back in Charlotte just after Sarah and her sister got home from from work, and the three of us decided to go to the pool with Andrew again. After that, we watched MORE Friends, ate some of the scrumptious vegetable lasagna and drank some of the southern-style sweet tea that her mom and sister, respectfully, had made for me, and then decided to go downtown a bit later via the tram for dinner. We ate at Brixx and had a grand time, then they gave me a tour of the area, including the Epicenter. Finally, after a brief stop to see her friends at Andrew's house, we went back to her house and watched Paris, J'taime, which she had been borrowing from me for...oh, a few months. The next morning, we all left the house as Sarah left with her sister and mother to watch her dad perform in a play and I headed to Raleigh/Durham.

Charlotte was another great stop on my tour - it was more familiar than Columbia, but not as so as Greenville. I got to see many friends in the three or so days that I spent there, which was wonderful. Despite what residents said, there was always something to do, even if it just involved relaxing, sitting, and catching up. I felt at home there, and I'm glad that I got to see so many people - even if, per usual, I could have spent even more time with them.