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Day 291: Farewell, China!

Well, it’s here – our last day in China. How did this happen? Simultaneously, it feels like we’ve been here for a lifetime and that we arrived just a couple of days ago. It’s hard to wrap my mind around the fact that by tomorrow evening, we’ll be back in the States, among friends and family and will stay there for the foreseeable future. But before we say our final farewells to China, we’ve done a little more exploring the past couple of days.

Yesterday was the smoggiest day of the year so far in Hong Kong (with a whopping AQI in the 100s compared to Baoding’s 400s…) so, naturally, we went to the mountains to go sightseeing (not the best planning on our part). We woke up early, headed to the subway, and (after bypassing Disneyland) we ended up on Lantau Island, in a cable car, and headed towards the giant Buddha.

From the cable car:
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Below, is the Dragon’s Back Hike:
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Climbing the steps:
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High five!
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View of Lantau Island on the way back:
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It was a very hot day and the smog disrupted some of the beauty, but we had a good time walking around and seeing the giant Buddha and looking out over the mountains.

Today we tried to make the most of our China time by wandering through the city for a couple of hours, eating in the #2 best restaurant in Hong Kong (with the friendliest staff in the world, in our opinion), and visiting the Ladies’ Market (in the neighborhood with the highest population density in the world).

Cool building we passed by in our wanderings:
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Dumplings:
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Ladies’ Market:
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We’ll be checking out early in the morning and taking the subway to the airport, so I’ll make a post after we arrive and make note of all the culture shock we’re going through. It’s sure to be a whole other adventure just getting used to life in the States.

This year has been the most life-changing year of my life and I wouldn’t have changed it for the world. I’m so glad and so grateful that we took the chance and decided to spend a year living and teaching in China. We’ve seen so many amazing places, eaten so much good food, and learned so much (about the world and ourselves) that it’s impossible to wrap up the entire year in a few words. I’m so proud of the experiences we’ve had and the people we have become.

Thank you very much for following along and supporting and joining in on our adventure with us!

Best wishes,

Alyssa

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Posted by on June 9, 2014 in Travel

 

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Day 289: Victoria Peak and International Style

Hello!

We had two really great days yesterday and today. Both were laid back and filled with our basking in the culture transition and this amazing city.
Yesterday afternoon we decided to go to Victoria’s Peak instead of the escalators and I’m so glad that we did.

From the top of the peak:
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It’s almost like there’s a whole other city on top of the peak!
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For dinner we stopped by Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. and I fan-girled Lieutenant Dan:
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From the top of the Sky Terrace:
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Today, we went to the Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens and spent a couple of hours wandering around, enjoying being outside, and watching all the monkeys and birds.

I found Zaboomafoo!
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And signs of “civilized” life:
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After wandering around there, we headed to the mid-levels (the giant escalator system) and grabbed a good Mexican dinner before heading over to a Caribbean bar where we people-watched for a couple of hours.

Look at all the different cuisine types on this one road:
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One of the things that makes Hong Kong so fascinating is how international it is. Everywhere we go, we see people from all over the world, hear so many different languages, and you can find about any cuisine type you could ever want. It’s so much fun and so interesting (not to mention delicious)!

Tomorrow we are making a day trip out of going to see the giant Buddha on Lantau Island and in the evening we might go check out a ferry or a night market.

Thank you for reading and until next time,

Alyssa

 
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Posted by on June 7, 2014 in Travel, Uncategorized

 

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Day 288: A Whole New (Hong Kong) World

Alright, the bug has bitten me too – I’m quickly falling in love with Hong Kong. Everywhere you go there is something to do or see or hear. It really is amazing here.

Wednesday we woke up, grabbed some food (I found a muffin!) and coffee and set out on our day’s wanderings. Most of the day was just spent wandering around on Hong Kong Island taking in the sites and sounds.

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A wet market we stumbled into while wandering:
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In the evening, we went to Times Square (a giant, really expensive shopping mall) and saw Maleficent (very good). Outside of the mall was a Tiananmen Square tribute that served to remind us just how much we’re not in Mainland China anymore.

This is the Apple store across the street from Times Square:
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Though our day was great, I had a sad realization – my Chinese speaking days are over. No more feeling accomplished because I ordered my food in Chinese and no more surprising my students when I respond to their questions. Now, I’m back in the world where I don’t feel accomplished for just saying everyday phrases and courtesies. When I go to the grocery store and can pay for my food without any linguistic barriers, no one is going to pat me on the back and say “great job! You really understood what that cashier was saying to you!” But hey, it was a ton of (often times embarrassing) fun and I’m proud of what I did accomplish throughout the year and at least I went out with a linguistic bang when I had a conversation with our bread people letting them know when we were leaving, that we wouldn’t be back, and we’ll miss them.

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I also realized no more special friend prices and no more rides around town on kuai long. I’ve been out of Mainland China for three days now and I’m already missing all of it. But on the up side, we’re enjoying no one staring at us or calling out “laowai”, the shower has water pressure, it took only five minutes to completely update my phone and laptop (compared to the 24+ hours it took in Baoding), and we’ve rediscovered beauty in the world again (compared to smoggy Baoding). We spent an hour yesterday just staring at the clouds rolling over the harbor and we keep stopping to stare at the sky and marvel at how big and blue it is. I’m excited to do more of that when we get to our home in the States.

Thursday, we woke up and (after a pancake breakfast!) went on a jaunt through the city to Victoria Park and along Causeway Bay. Though it was in the 90s and quite humid, we had a really wonderful time strolling around and taking in the scenery. When we were a block from our hostel, on our way back, without any warning the sky just opened up and started pouring. I’ve never seen a rainstorm start and stop so suddenly. We also went to Ikea (my first time) and had a really fun time wandering around and looking at all the Hong Kong living space sized room set-ups. The Ikea set-ups kind of made me want to live in Hong Kong just so I could decorate my tiny space like that.

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Since Hong Kong boasts over 11,000 restaurants, we decided just to take a stroll and see what popped out at us to try for lunch. Without realizing it until we’d sat down and ordered, we picked a Northern China restaurant a couple of blocks from our hostel. Though it was just a little hole in the wall restaurant, it tasted like home (our Northern China home) and was exquisite. It was so good and satisfying we might have to go there again despite the plethora of culinary options.

In the evening we made our way over to Kowloon Island to explore the Avenue of Stars and see the Hong Kong skyline (supposedly the best in the world tied with the NYC skyline). It certainly didn’t let us down.

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As we continued to wander around on Kowloon, we stumbled upon a German restaurant we just couldn’t pass up. It was the perfect way to end a really good day – sitting waterfront, looking at the Hong Kong skyline, while we drank German beer and had a true German feast. It’s tempting to go back there again too.

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Today we had a late start so we are going to save our big touring sites for the evening when we go to Victoria Peak and then go neon sign watching on the largest escalator system in the world!

Thank you for reading and until next time,

Alyssa

 
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Posted by on June 6, 2014 in Travel

 

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Day 286: Welcome to Hong Kong

Hello!

After a really long day yesterday, we’ve arrived in Hong Kong and have found ourselves in a completely different world. Since we finished packing Monday night, when we woke up yesterday morning, all we had to do was have our final coffee in Baoding, fold the sheets, and drag our luggage down the four flights of stairs one last time. The school sent a car to pick us up and take us to the train station and with that, along with the company of Li Laoshi, we were on our way. We had no problems getting our tickets or into the train station (other than they stopped us to look at the pocket knife Duncan had in the bag we intend to check at the airport – but they didn’t take it) and soon enough we were in our first class (super comfy) seats on a fast train down the East coast of the country, one final time. We were thrilled to discover that we got complimentary snacks and Cokes as soon as we boarded the train but other than that, the ten-hour ride was uneventful (but very comfortable and quiet). We passed the time by reading, talking, sleeping, and (most interestingly) observing the changing scenery the farther South we traveled. Once again, I was reminded of how gorgeous South China can be, especially compared to the North (and Baoding).

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Traveling the length of the country through the countryside was a fitting (and very enjoyable) way for us to say goodbye to Mainland China.

The problems started when we got off the train and began the long traverse to our hostel. We arrived in Shenzhen at 6:16 but didn’t make it to our hostel until 9:30. What with several money exchanges, multiple checkpoints through customs (twice we had to get out of line to fill out papers we didn’t know we were supposed to have when we got in the line), ten million escalators, metal bars at every entrance and exit spaced about two feet apart (making lugging our six bags of our life in China stuff quite frustrating), and four subway line transfers that resulted in one stubbed toe, one scraped knee, and (today) very sore shoulders, necks, arms, and backs we were pretty grumpy when we got to the hostel. Once we did find the hostel we climbed four flights of stairs to check-in only to discover that they don’t (even though they said they would) accept RMB and we had to use my credit card to check-in (and hope that it didn’t get declined since we’re in a new country). The card went through and we got checked in but then we had move all our luggage back down the four flights of stairs, across the street, and up five more flights of stairs to get into the tiniest room I’ve ever been in (that’s not a closet). Hong Kong is known for having ridiculously tiny housing for ridiculously high prices and considering how much we paid for our “room” at the hostel, I totally believe it. We may be at the second highest rated hostel in Hong Kong but on top of the tiny rooms it also can’t boast a restaurant or a bar – something we were looking forward to after our ten-hour ride on the train and difficult trek through the subway (called the Mass Transit Railway – MTR – in Hong Kong). By the time we’d settled into the hostel and were ready to head out, it was 10pm so the restaurants we’d eyed on the way in were closed. This ended up being just fine because we went to the 24-hour McDonald’s across the street and found “real” Western food – chicken nuggets, French fries, sweet and sour sauce, and an iced coffee have never tasted so good!

Fed, clean, settled, and caffeinated we were much happier and went on a mini-wander around our block to see what Hong Kong was all about and we’ve concluded that Hong Kong and Mainland China are truly different places. We feel like we are more in the west (I think it feels just like NYC) than any part of the world we’ve been in for the past ten months. And the things we are noticing (culture shock) are so fascinating and kind of hilarious to us. First off, Hong Kong is definitely an international city. In a five-minute walk down the block we heard Mandarin, Cantonese, English, French, Spanish, and Arabic. Everything is written in English and in Chinese (traditional characters) and (a big deal for us) everything we’ve done (ordering food, exchanging money, going through customs) has been done in spoken English. We were so taken aback by the process of ordering our food in English that Duncan and I both (separately) misunderstood what the people behind the counter were saying to us because we were expecting Chinese instead of English (Duncan kept thinking the guy behind the counter was saying “what’s that” so he kept repeating his order and I responded with “Alyssa” when the lady asked me if I wanted whipped cream and I thought she asked me for my name on the order). Another thing that has really shocked us is the nudity in advertising – it seems like there are naked women everywhere! We’ve also been shocked by the Internet (fastest Internet in the world and no more firewall of China!), flushing toilet paper (instead of throwing it away), people wearing baseball hats, and “civilized” behaviour. People wait for lights to change, no one is hawking loogies, people say “sorry” and “excuse me” when they bump into you, they clean up after themselves in restaurants, there’s no honking (and people drive on the “wrong” side of the road), there’s no burning plastic, and people smell like perfume and cologne. The hardest thing we have to deal with right now is the fact that almost everyone speaks English so when we talk to each other, other people are likely to understand us. We’ve developed a bad habit of just talking to each other about anything and everything around us (since it’s pretty likely that people wouldn’t understand us in Baoding) and we’re making a conscious effort to end that here in Hong Kong.

Overall, I think it was a good idea for us to come to Hong Kong before arriving in the US because it will serve as a culture-shock transition period. I’m really enjoying taking note of all the similarities and differences between our life in Mainland China, Hong Kong, and the US.

We found clouds!
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The hustle and bustle of a 24-hour, international city:
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Hong Kong is more vertical and horizontal:
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View from our hostel room (I see the ocean!):
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The rest of today will be spent wandering around and getting our bearings and tomorrow we will begin exploring and touring. As a side note, today is the 25th Anniversary of the Tiananmen Square incident, and international media has said that there are massive protests going on all over Hong Kong. We have not seen nor heard anything about protests since we’ve been here and the only thing we know about is a candlelight vigil scheduled for tonight. We are staying safe and all is well!

Thanks for following along and until next time,

Alyssa

 
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Posted by on June 4, 2014 in Travel, Uncategorized

 

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Day 257: Goodbye Beijing

Hey everyone,

We’re back from our May Day trip to Beijing and now in the final month of our contract.

Last Tuesday night we were able to have another (final) dinner with Johnson and Samantha and we had a really amazing time. We met up at QLH and took taxis to a Chinese tapas restaurant that was delicious and then we went to an “indie” coffee shop that smelled like Asheville but was decorated with Cultural Revolution era artifacts. It turned out that we went to the coffee shop on its one-year anniversary so on top of our orders of coffee, we all got a free glass of wine – definitely my kind of place!

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Wednesday, we headed out and began our grand adventure to Beijing. The girls were thrilled to have the opportunity to explore a part of China outside of Baoding and were as impressed with the high-speed rail as I continue to be. Once in Beijing, they got to experience the subway as we made our way to the hostel, hutongs (alleys), and, as always, tremendous amounts of walking.
The hostel was almost directly behind the Lama Temple, a really gorgeous part of Beijing, and as the girls went off to explore the temple itself, Duncan and I wandered through the hutongs and streets in that district.

Yoda in our hostel:
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Also while in Beijing, we visited the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square:

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We went to an acrobatics show:

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And on the way there, drove past Tiananmen:

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We did a ton of shopping (along with all these people):

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And when we almost got caught in a terrific thunderstorm, we got hand-carved stone stamps made by this guy:

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We even went to the Olympic Village:

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We had a really wonderful time in Beijing, and loved getting to share everything we’ve seen and done with our new friends.

Sunday, we said a final farewell to Beijing and left Beijingxi Railway Station, and made our final return to Baoding where we will be for the next 27 days.

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Yesterday, we had another good day of classes and Haley, Caitlin, and I all got our own Baoding Bilingual School uniforms:

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And I found these gems on the sixth grade floor hallway:

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Today, the school asked Duncan and I to oblige them by doing a photo-shoot for them to advertise us to future middle school students. Apparently, some teachers saw me dancing in the parking lot a couple of months ago, and now they want pictures of that too.

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Thank you for reading and until next time,

Alyssa

 
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Posted by on May 6, 2014 in Baoding, Uncategorized

 

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Day 250: Teacher, I love you!

Nimenhao da jia! (Hey everyone!)

The happy days just keep on coming!

We taught through the weekend in preparation for May Day holiday and the classes were great. Saturday, we met up with Samantha and Johnson for the first time in two months and had a wonderful dinner out together while we caught up. Plus, the weather has been so gorgeous recently we haven’t had to wear masks the past couple of weeks. The sun is shining, the wind feels amazing, the birds are chirping delightfully, and the trees are releasing these giant white puff-balls that are coating the ground in a layer of white and filling the air with what we’ve come to call “Springtime Snow”.

Since Haley has been leading my classes recently, I’ve been sitting in the back observing and reflecting. When it’s all said and done, I really couldn’t be happier about this year in China, especially in regards to teaching. The winter was harsh and there have been many ups and downs, but what I take away from this experience, now that it’s almost over, is overwhelmingly positive and I’m grateful for all of it.

Today was the first time I sat in on my seventh grade classes and I have to say it was a blast to be a half-way participant in the class and to be amidst the students rather than up at the front teaching, for once. Students that typically aren’t very engaged with English were trying to communicate with me either by talking or by passing me notes with questions (which was so much fun for the students to have Alyssa Laoshi participating in note passing – but it was more beneficial for them than they realize since it was all in English) and some even got a rare dose of positive attention from their classmates when they answered Haley’s questions right (after I secretly whispered the correct answer to them – again, it was more beneficial than they realized because even though I was helping them, they were getting to experience what being the smart kid in the class is like and be encouraged further because of it, which, for these particular students, never happens even in their Chinese classes). I talked about earrings and piercings with a group of girls in one class and I spent another class discussing the fact that Haley is not my teacher from America even though she is a teacher at this school and that she is my friend, even though she has “scary eyes” (for some reason, many of my students think her eyes are scary – I think it’s because they’re not used to seeing eye make-up on their teachers and because her eyes are a deep blue). I even got into a debate with my students about whether or not my eyes are blue or grey (apparently, I don’t know what color my eyes are).
My last class before lunch though (a class in which I have a personal relationship with almost every student), was the really heartwarming one. After I spent the majority of the class sitting in the back so as not to be a distraction and to help with classroom management, I moved into an empty desk towards the front of the room and spent a while talking to the students around me. This group of kids, in particular, has always had some of the best English in the school, but today they impressed me even more than they usually do in our mini-conversations.

Students: Will you be our teacher again?
Me: Yes.
Students: Will you teach with the new teacher? (Meaning, both of us up at the board at the same time.)
Me: Maybe.
Students: We don’t love the new teacher as much as we love you.
Me: Why not?
A boy named Scot (leans real close to my face looking very serious): Teacher, I love you.
Me (laughing): Well, thank you. I love you all too.
Students: When do you go home?
Me: I got home to America in June.
Students: When will you return to China?
Me: I don’t know.

[This is when the panic began setting in…]

Students: Will you teach us in September?
Me: No.
Students: Will you teach us in October?
Me: No.
Students: Will you teach us next year?
Me: No. I’m going to America.
Students: WHY!? No, teacher!
Me: My family is in the US.
Students: Do you want to see your family?
Me: Yes, I do.
Students: How will you go to America? (This is a surprisingly common question and they do, indeed, mean transportation.)
Me: By airplane
Students: Do you like us?
Me: Yes, of course.
Students: Will you come back to China after you go to America?
Me: Some day.
Students: When?
Me: I don’t know.
Students: Will you come back to the Bilingual School to see us and teach us?
Me: Maybe.
Students: Teacher! I’ll miss you!
Me: I will miss you too!
Students: Will you remember us?
Me: Of course I will.
Students: Teacher I LOVE YOU! Teacher, I will be sad!

They seemed not to understand when I clarified for them that I will teach them again before I leave, because as I walked out of the room the kids kept saying “good bye, teacher!” and one girl gave me a card attempting to say, have a good trip:

Recent gifts from students:
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A postcard that wishes me a happy flight (in broken English), anime me, and three post cards – one of which is meant to say “forever” friend not “never” friend. 😛

When I reflect on the past year of teaching, I can see just how much confidence I have gained in the classroom compared to the first few weeks of classes. I can see things that I should have done different as part of my classroom routine, and I feel like I’m beginning to grasp the best way to handle these students kindly but without letting them walk all over me. But I think my greatest accomplishment this year as a teacher has been the relationships I’ve developed with my students. I’m going to be very sad to leave them and say goodbye, especially when the reality is that I will probably never see nor hear from these kids again. But I was very excited to share with some students today that I want to keep in touch with them through QQ and email and that it will be possible even when I’m in the US.

Feeling so confident about teaching and proud of our time here, especially at the school, has even tempted part of me to want to stay here for another sixth months just to take advantage of the confidence and experience I’ve gained along with making practical use of the reflecting I’ve been able to do about what works, what doesn’t work, and what I should have done more of in the classrooms. My pride for my Chinese language ability, our traveling, and our other success during this China-life adventure, makes extending our time here even more tempting with the possibilities of even more growth.
But, in truth, we will be back in the States in 41 days and I am even more excited about that! It will be great to see friends and family and to relive the entire year as we share our pictures and stories.

Look at these goofballs:
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Tonight we are having our last dinner with Samantha and Johnson (probably) before we go back to the States and tomorrow the four of us (Duncan, Haley, Caitlin, and I) are going to Beijing for the week. Duncan and I are really looking forward to playing the role of tour guides in this city we’ve come to know pretty well (who would have ever thought I would ever be able to say Beijing was once “my old stomping grounds”?) and to have some time out of Baoding. We’ve been really happy with everything recently, but it will be nice to go on a trip anyway. This is likely going to be our last touring trip in China before we head out of Baoding permanently and on to Hong Kong, Macau, and then home.

Look for another post in the next few days (probably including the Forbidden City and the other big sites of Beijing) as we replicate our first big China touring trip. The first time we over National Day holiday with our old American friends and now, as our last time, it will be over May Day holiday with our new American friends. I can’t wait!

Thank you for reading and until next time,

Alyssa

 
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Posted by on April 29, 2014 in Baoding

 

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Day 220: Western Qing Tombs

Hello!

Reluctant to wake up early over the weekend, we nevertheless did so that we could go on a grand mini-adventure! Greeted by a choking wall of white smog that made it difficult to even see the next door building, Enkui and his wife picked us up early yesterday morning and we headed to the Western Qing tombs about an hour outside of Baoding.

It was quite an interesting adventure because of how different it was from the seven months we’ve been here. First of all, we were traveling by private car and got to take the highways (all toll roads), we experienced filling up at a gas station (where the attendants fill up your tank and gas is measured in liters per 100 kilometers), and we had Chinese caretakers that ushered us around the tourist site. We were essentially Chinese tourists  (rather than laowai) for a day. And it was great!

As a UNESCO World Heritage site, the mausoleum complex is remarkably big and really can only be explored by car and with the help of a local guide.  In all there are 78 royal member buried on the grounds comprised of four emperors of the Qing dynasty and their respective royal households including family members and concubines. We didn’t see all there was to see but after several hours of exploring and wandering, I’d begun to lost count of how many tombs we did see. One of the most striking things to me is that there are farmers and other villagers living basically in the complex. The tourist sites (such as the tombs and the temple) are all guarded and you can only get in with a ticket, but immediately outside the walls there are families living in old servants buildings and their own homes. Even the building the emperor used to change his clothes in at the entrance of the mausoleum grounds is now home to a farmer (a fact I found astounding since I got fussed at for walking on the middle path of the road where historically only the emperor was allowed to walk).

You can definitely see the resemblance to the Forbidden City in Beijing:
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Look at the remaining original paint! Also notice the three languages on this stele – traditional Mandarin, Manchurian, and Mongolian:
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Inside one of the emperor’s tombs (the only opened tomb). I felt like an archaeologist in this. Definitely in both of our top three best things about the day:
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A tomb surrounded by a remarkable echo wall. It was so much fun listening to our friends whisper hello to each other from across the courtyard thanks to these phenomenal acoustics:
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The day was filled with speaking in Chinglish, laughing, and hanging out with our friends and it was absolutely magnificent. Even though we originally hadn’t wanted to get up and go, I’m so glad that we did. It was an excellent way to spend a Saturday and welcome in the spring.

Today, we woke up and the smog was all gone. The weather has actually the best we’ve seen this year and we celebrated by going outside in short sleeve shirts without jackets, eating pizza and ice cream, getting coffee, wandering around a park and then going shopping in a new grocery store where we found peanut butter, fruit and M&Ms!

It’s hard to believe we’re already halfway through this semester and we’ll be on a flight headed back home in only 71 days. But as the weather gets nicer and nicer, we get more excited about what’s left to come during this grand adventure in the Orient.

Thank you for reading and until next time,

Alyssa

 
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Posted by on March 30, 2014 in Travel

 

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