Sunday, July 12, 2015

Yangshou China-Where Miracles Happen

     And by miracles I'm obviously referring to fish eating my feet, but we'll get back to that later.
Out of the frying pan and into the fire. At least that's what it feels like when you jump from trip to another back to back. We came back from Beijing and almost immediately left for Yangshou.  It doesn't help that we left at 5 am.  The only times I'm up at 5 am are when I accidentally stay up that late reading.  Ugh. This picture is just a view from the train on our way.  When we finally arrived I couldn't believe the fairy tale place we found ourselves in.  I mean look at this site! What kind of town is this? The mountains are all around and look super cool early in the morning when it's misty out.  The river runs right along the town and the streets are full of vendors and goods.

While we waited for the fishing plans for tonight we made more fishing related plans for the afternoon. Those plans mainly included going to this fish foot spa.  It was a little intimidating to put our feet into these tanks (as you can see us hesitating in this first picture) and even once we put our feet in I could barely keep them under the water. While I may have been hesitant, once I put my feet in I was laughing so hard I was crying.  Then I somehow grew accustomed to the sensation of fish eating the dead skin off my feet.  All of the sudden my hour was up and I didn't want to take my feet out.  It's kind of weird how that happens.  How did I grow accustomed to and even start to enjoy having fish eat my feet?

     Ok so once we checked into our hotel our first objective was to finalize our agenda for the 3 days and 2 nights we were going to be here. While we ate lunch at Cafe China (so original) we figured everything out-beginning with Wild China episode 1.  (For real, watch Wild China episode 1 on Netflix and that pretty much describes my experience here. At least the part with the birds.)  Our first night there we went out onto the river to observe cormorant fishing.  It was seemingly legit and then all of the sudden the boat people were yelling 'get off the boat!'
 So then we all crowded on shore again while they said something about it being easier to see the fishing process once dusk fell.  (Psht, ya right. I'm sure it conveniently had nothing to do with the fact that they just saw some police boats. But for the life of me I can't figure out what part of this process is sketchy or illegal.)

Anyway, pretty much the whole situation was funny and quite memorable. This is the old man steering his boat, and I even got a picture of me with the birds.  Don't I look so natural with my straw hat on my head and bird on my arm? I was born for this life.

The next morning dawned bright and foggy and full of mountains.  We got up extra early to find these delicious buns that our professor had told us about.  Not only were they 50 cents but they were some kind of fantastic combination of savory and sweet. Plus what doesn't taste delicious when you eat it looking at this view? Can you believe that the people who live here get to see this every day? I couldn't even believe it was my real life for these few days. Hooray for traveling!

Anyway, after breakfast the morning started with a float on a bamboo raft down the YuLong River.  How cool is that? This is my roommate and I waiting to take off and the other is my roommate and I floating into shore at the end.  I'm not sure exactly why that is our pose, but what a great picture.

After we got off our boats we saw all of these random things-like these adorable monkeys you could take pictures with. They're like the pet Abu I've always wanted! What a dream.  Except I wasn't willing to actually pay for a picture with them so here's some random Asian child with the monkeys of my dreams. There was also a camel there that you could ride, but, again, I resisted the temptation.  (I'm not really sure how China-esque a camel really is.)

After the float we went to moon hill and hiked all the way to the top.  Somehow it doesn't look as impressive as it actually was in this photo, but let me tell you. If we had known how intense the hike was going to be before we started I'm not sure how many of us would actually have gone through with it.  But we did.  We're so healthy.

After the hike we had lunch and then went to these rainbow caves.  They were pretty cool, but any cave lacking bat guano is lacking authenticity as well.  But still, they look pretty cool, right?

We crossed this crazy bridge and then got to go down this cool slide where you controlled your speed with your hands. We had to wear these weird bum protector things for the slide and gloves for our hands, but I think we're looking pretty good, right?  I mean, just look at us. How could anyone resist us?  Not that we're trying to make people not resist us, but I'm just saying. So anyway, once the slide was done we left Butterfly Springs and headed to our last destination for the day.

Say hello to the mud caves and hot springs!  We had a guide who showed us the way to the springs, but on the way he was randomly like "there's a hole here where you can crawl through."  So we were all gathered around looking at it.  Then it kind of seemed like he was expecting someone to want to give it a shot, and who am I to disappoint?  So I crawled through this hole into a tiny blue cave room where I had just enough space to sit up without having to hunch. Then I decided that 30 seconds was plenty of time so I was going to crawl out and he's like "now you just keep crawling through" and I was like "no, I'm pretty sure I don't." But he was pretty insistent that there was another hole you could crawl through on your belly.  Now I'm not saying that I'm opposed to spontaneous spelunking in my swimsuit, but I am slightly opposed to spontaneous spelunking in my swimsuit into tiny holes that are black and I can't even see an exit to.  Yet the guide was pretty emphatic that you could crawl through to the other side.  And then there wasn't really much of a chance to retreat anyway because another guy from the group was like "I'm coming in after you."
"You are?" was my slightly hesitant and alarmed response as I struggled to make room for him in the tiny blue room by army crawlinig across the uneven cave floor. Anyway, it was slightly comforting having another person going through this weird experience with me even if he was a stranger, but not as comforting as having my head pop out the other side where all my friends were waiting. They named this photo "Laura's rebirth."  Once that mini adventure was over we made it to the mud pool.  This is exactly what it sounds like. I couldn't get a decent photo of us so I grabbed one off the internet so you can get an idea of what it was like.

Even this I managed to mess up.  There was a mud slide off to the side which I decided to give a try.  Yet somehow I tripped over my foot at the bottom of the slide turning it into a graceful tumble (you know me) which I ended with a 10 out of 10 faceplant into the mud.
Upside: I think I got everyone with a good splash in a solid 5 foot radius of me.
Downside: I wasn't expecting to faceplant and I didn't close my mouth, which is, unfortunately, part of my face.
Upside: there really wasn't getting any dirtier than I was at that moment so I no longer had any reservations in the mud pool.
Downside: Rinsing off was a real beast.
Once we finally did rinse off enough we all sat around and relaxed in the hot springs.  Did I ever picture myself chilling in a hot springs in a cave in China? No.  Did I like it? Yes. Immensely so.
We were home by 4 that day but everyone was so exhausted we just kind of crashed until dinner at 6.  We went to get Indian food.

Dinner is a whole different story.  During our day we kept running into another tour group of Asians who befriended us.  We saw these girls we had met yesterday and talked to them again.  Then this boy (a friend of those girls?) came up and talked to me and was like "Hey. I didn't think I would be seeing you again."
"I didn't think I had seen you before."
Ok that was what I wanted to say, but I didn't want to be mean so obviously I said something else.
Anyway he invited me (us?) to lunch and even asked for my number.  Luckily I didn't have a number for him so it was pretty easy to respond to that at least.  I felt bad for the fact that we had just eaten so I let him know we were going to get Indian for dinner if him and his friends wanted to join us.  Yet when dinner rolled around I was equally surprised that 1) he showed up and 2) he didn't bring a bunch of his friends with him-just 1. Dinner was awkward because most of my friends kind of abandoned me because "I invited him" (so much for just being nice.)  Clearly this kind of blew up in my face because he asked his friend to switch seats so he could sit by me, told me he was nervous to eat with a girl, and tried to pay for my food.  The worst part is-with my luck he's probably in high school.  Can anyone hate their baby face more than I do?  (So much for my face coming together.)
Anyway, it was a really funny story but still, why??
The last day in Yangshou was pretty uneventful because we made no plans.  So it was full of wandering, teeter totters, and the train ride back home.  And with that I say sayonara to traveling for a while (at least for another 3 weeks-which is all I really have until I go home.)

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Beijing: Where the Real Attractions Are the White People, Not the Great Wall of China

      I'm not even sure where to begin with this Beijing trip. So much happened this week, and I can't even keep it all straight. So a good place to start seems to be this tiny police vehicle that we found almost as soon as we got off the airplane.  Pretty cool. And by cool I mean unbelievably cute.
Anyway, this week was the most tourist-y week I've ever had. We did so many things that I'm having a hard time keeping everything straight.  We started off by going to a museum in Xi'an that had so much history packed into 3 floors that I could barely take it all in.

Howeaver,  museums weren't all of it. We also got to see this pagoda here. Pretty crazy stuff. I'm just hanging out with this elephant here.   While the days are filled with tourist sites, the nights are filled with Chinese meals and shows. The meals here are always eaten at round tables with centers that turn.  If we aren't given chop sticks to eat with these days we almost don't know what to do with ourselves. We've had some really delicious food and some definitely not typical American food.  For example, this is a picture of me eating a monkey brain potsticker.  Who knew this was a thing?  
Our second day in Xi'an we biked around the city wall which was pretty much the coolest thing ever. (Although I feel like I may say that about most things we do that include bikes.  What can I say? Biking just makes things that much better.  Sometimes I wonder why I don't own those shoes with wheels on them so I could roll everywhere.) 

 Plus, turns out it gave my roommate and I an opportunity to talk (which apparentlly we've been missing these past few months.) We got to bond over lawyer daughter problems-including how your parents try to convince you that shredding papers is something fun or having to do annual inserts into law manual books because people just have to be constantly changing the law.  Anway, it was pretty random but also I never thought I would find someone to bond over law book inserts and yet the surprises never end in China.

We also went to see the terracotta warriors but before that we had to go see the workshop where terracotta warriors are made today. It was pretty cool and a bit insane how the temperatures in the kiln can get up to 900 degrees.  Remind me to never fall linside one of those.

These pictures seemed necessary.

They say that each terracotta warrior has an individual face  On one hand that seems pretty incredible considering how many warriors made up the army.  On the other hand, a lot of these guys are missing heads so ...there's that.

We also took the time to go to the Muslim quarter and visit a monastery-all cool things. Although I have to say there's a definite excess of markets here.  I can't even walk down the street without seeing stalls and vendors.  And where there are vendors there are goods.  Goods which generally attract your attention as you walk by,
even if it's only a passing glance.  Yet, regardless of how 'passing' that glance may be it could be enough to get the vendor to engage you in a barter battle.  Bahh shopping.
At least the monastery was quite and peaceful.  We even saw a cat-featured in this picture.

We went to the Xi'an Opera House and saw a lot of traditional dances from the time of the Tang Dynasty. Here are some pictures from that.  There was a lot of twirling involved and the idea of long sleeves was taken to a whole new level. 

The next day was actually pretty restful since all we did was ride a train from Xi'an to Beijing. However, that doesn't mean it was without it's China craziness.  Typical China style, there were way too many people on our train and we were bumped out of our seats.  How does that even happen? Isn't the purpose of reserving seats and buying tickets so the seat then becomes unavailable and can't be sold again?  So we actually ended moving from from first class to coach but at that point I think we were all just kind of relieved to have a place to sit at all since it was a 5 hour trip.  It felt a little nostalgic ruiding a bullet train in Chian because it was around this time a year ago that I was riding one in Japan.  Except in Japan I didn't have to fight for my seat. And I could at least have a basic conversation with someone to try and fight for my seat.

Beijing was just another crazy whirlwind of tourist spots.  You would think that people would be more used to seeing white tourists here since we were going places like the Forbidden City and the Great Wall, but that didn't stop the gawking and the creeper photos.  I count it as a good day when I have people actually ask to take my photo (or take it with me) instead of just snapping photos of us without saying anything.  We saw the Temple of Heaven (featured on the left and below).  I wish I could tell you more details about these places but it seems like after you go to enough places, regardless of how fantstic they are, the history and stories start to blend together.

The Forbidden City was huge and full of people. It was China at it's finest.  Even I took a creeper picture or two here. For example, there were so many people in this one area that I saw this lady with her back to this pillar holding on for dear life as if she was scared of getting trampled to death.  Understandly so though, China is like a giant mash pit all the time.

I asked a lady at the Forbidden City to take a picture of Hattie and I and then she asked her kids if they wanted a picture with us. (No, she didn't ask us-just her kids.)  The little girl was ecstatic and yelled "I want to!" while the boy originally said he didn't want to. But then he saw his sister in the picture and ran over to join us as well.  I'm not sure if my favorite part of this is that the conversation happened in Chinese (albeit basic Chinese) and I understood or if it's that the lady took the pictures on my camera (since she had it from earlier) so she doesn't even have these pictures of her kids.

There was a really pretty garden that we kind of had to rush through but I easily could have spent an hour or two (or more- if I fell asleep) hanging out here.

Here's a picture of China encouraging my reading addiction.  Although they don't make it easy-especially since it's all in kanji.

We got to go on a rickshaw tour!  I don't know if I've ever even used the word rickshaw before but here I am riding it like I've been rickshaw riding all my life.  We had the cutest old man for our driver/biker and while I felt kind of bad making him work, it was also really cool. We rode through the streets and not-quite slums but really tiny streets of China and were able to really soak in life.  We even stopped by a native's house to heare and ask questions about her daily life.

One of my favorite stops by far was the Great Wall of China.  Can you believe that I've climbed it?  It wasn't nearly as flat and scalable as portrayed in Mulan.  Let's just say that the RB stairs have nothing on the Great Wall.  We spent two hours here. I could have used 5.
We were going strong in the middle of a selfie contest against our professor's husband to see how many selfies with random people you could take and here's one we took with another tour group that was there. It's surprisingly easy to get selfies with people because they all want your picture first, so then you just have to ask for another picture but on your camera.
Here's a picture of Hattie and I playing cards on top of the Great Wall.  I don't know what other people do when they climb up, but this seemed to be the perfect place for a Speed show down.

It's also a typical thing now to get food and a show.  Here's an example.

Oh and this is a picture of us with a random group of people.  We don't know them. They don't know one another, but they all wanted individual pictures with us so sthen we got a group picture with all of them.  I'm telling you-going back to America and making it through a day without anyone taking my picture is either going to be a huge relief or a huge blow to my self-esteem.

I just got a kick out of this picture because the top animal is captioned "a fabulous animal."  It makes me wonder what the Chinese really says.
Here's something most of you can really relate to.  This is Lucy and I at the Water Cube where Michael Phelps won so many gold medals in the Beijing Olympics.

I have no idea what this is or any explanation for this photo. It just seemed like a good idea to hug this little blue fella.

This next photo is from the Summer Palace. I just have to point out the beautiful blue sky because it is kind of rare for us to get those.  Although I kind of like rainy days being the usual and clear skys being the exception.

We took a picture with this baby because he would look at us and then just start laughing and it was the most adorable thing ever. How could we resist taking a picture of that face?  Obviously, we couldn't.

The day we went to the summer palace that was our only thing planned so we had the whole afternoon free. What better way to spend a free afternoon in Beijin than by going to the Beijing Zoo?  Just try and tell me that this panda is NOT adorable.  You can't. And this monkey is well on his way to "speaking no evil."

And how could I resist taking a picture with the penguins?  It seemed extremely necessary to take one on the ground.  (The good news is I'll never see any of these people again. And if they think I'm weird it can just be played off as an American thing instead of a Laura thing.)

Hattie and I ordered piggy buns, which were adorable and, surprisingly, not filled with pork. Look how cute food is in Asia.   This was one of our last opportunities to go scavenge for dinner in Beijing but I think we did a pretty good job.
This trip was our first time rooming together but we got along really well.  By that I mean that she didn't try to talk to me when I was reading my book at night. Oh and we both like to eat Asian food so it helped to have someone to explore the options with.  Honestly she was cool for a lot of reasons, but the book thing definitely won her major points.
Our last day in Bejing was a free day where we could actually do whatever we wanted. We ended up going to an art district called 798 which was pretty far away but well worth the effort.  Not only was it full of cool little shops, art galleries, and cafes, but it was an adventure from start to finish.  I even got to use my Japanese kanji skills to help us with directions which made me realize how much I need to study and how cool Japanese is (although there was never any doubt about that.) We went to a random gallery that was doing a drawing in 5 minutes and giving away one of their pieces in the exhibit. Naturally we had to go join the crowd. Despite the weird atmosphere which felt more like a count down to a rocket take off than to a picture drawing we enjoyed the random experience.  Especially when one of the 8 of us won the drawing!  It was pretty unexpected but also super cool and resulted in even more creeper photos being taken of us.

For some reason I feel like I've failed to make this blog exciting despite all of the really cool things I had to write about.  I'm behind another trip already so maybe I'm just kind of distracted. Either way, I hope it was still fun to read and look forward to the next one. It will be coming fast because I had really epic trips back to back.