April 30, 2008

Beijing: Day 1

My flight today was at 12. My goal was to get to the airport at 9 AM. Why so early? Well, I normally have small fits of anxiety about missing flights, so I like to get to the airport early. (I truly am my father's son.) And this time I knew that, well, I'm in a foreign friggin' country, so I wanted to be extra certain. And also, I did this deal with the airlines where I changed my flight dates, if you remember. So I was just paranoid that, like, someone forgot to hit the Enter key that day and my new flight information wouldn't be there.

But it all went quite swimmingly. I was at the airport by like 8:45, actually. And I would have been through security by 9 had I not stopped to eat a couple dumplings and drink a cup of (super-expensive!!) coffee. So I had like three hours to wait. Luckily the new issue of WIRED was in my hands, so I paged through that.

Also, and this is kind of interesting, apparently in China the flight times given are really boarding times. In the US, you get departure time and you just have to know that boarding starts like half an hour before. So I stood up around 11:30 and waited for the flight to board. But we didn't start until on the dot at 12. Interesting.

Everything in the airport was in English, including major announcements of delays and such. I thought that was great, considering the flight was domestic (this was at the Hongqiao airport, not the Pudong one). But there were actually a bunch of lao wai on the plane with me.

I however sat next to a Chinese guy, probably a little younger than me. We struck up a conversation and it was pretty cool to be able to talk a little bit in Chinese (as I keep saying). He was very nice; he lives in Suzhou and was flying to Beijing to see his sister for the holidays.

He was so nice! I mean -- this is what it's like being a lao wai in China. He asked where I was staying, and I was like "oh, I have a hotel near the Forbidden City." Wo you fandian kaojin Gugong. So he was like "you can stay at our house if you like." That was so nice of him, but of course I declined, I mean, yeah. Then he was like "is anyone meeting you at the airport?" No, no one is. "We can give you a ride into the city." Wow man. Awesome.

We had an in-flight meal, and I ordered the chicken. I opened the package -- and there were no chopsticks! I dug around a bit and saw a fork and knife though. That's when I realized -- it has been a long long time since I've used a fork. I hadn't thought about that until just now. But because I stick to eating Chinese food, I always eat with chopsticks. Strange.

So, it was very strange to hold a piece of chicken down with my fork and cut it with a knife. Stranger than I'd have thought it would be. I guess now that I think about it, Chinese food isn't served with a knife. I guess all you get are chopsticks and a spoon. I guess it's always cut up into manageable pieces. Again -- interesting!

The flight landed (somewhat more precariously than I'm used to, but whatever, I haven't been in the air in awhile) and the journey was complete. My newfound friend and I headed to the baggage claim to pick up my bag (I checked my bag because I didn't think I could bring one on, based on what a co-worker had said -- but she was mistaken I think). Then we headed out of the terminal to meet his sister. I was like, look, if you really don't have a problem with driving me into the city, I'd be happy to go with you, that'd be great. And then something must have gotten miscommunicated, or his sister didn't want to take me, because they led me towards a bus, said goodbye, and left. Haha. Strange.

Anyway I actually took a cab into the city, because I'm wary of taking buses when I dont' know the route. I asked the ticket lady which one to take to the Forbidden City, and she said something I didn't understand. I think she said "The seventh one" but that didn't make sense, because the sign only listed six bus lines. Anyway, rather than chance it, I just hopped in a cab.

The ride in was long and pretty boring, just like the ride in from Pudong Airport in Shanghai. I didn't know exactly where my hotel was, but I had it marked on my map and the driver knew the streets around there (since it's right next to the F.C.) And I couldn't say "Days Inn" because that's English and the driver wouldn't know how to read it. So I just said, "I know it's on Nanheyan Lu near the Tiananmen East subway stop. I have their phone number if we need to call, and if we see the English name, I'll recognize it."

All in Chinese of course :-D

So we made it to the hotel okay, and I checked in and everything, feeling quite awesome that I made it here on my own. I relaxed for a bit, then headed out into the city for some adventures :-)

The first thing I did was make my way back to the main road via this small series of parks in between my hotel and the street. I took a couple pictures because it was so unexpected and peacful.

I then emerged onto Dong Chang'an Dajie and turned right. I wanted a quick glimpse of Tiananmen Square, so I went there first. It's about a 5 minute walk from my hotel, and of course you can see the Forbidden City from there also, with the giant portrait of Mao hanging over the main gate. I'm leaving the FC for tomorrow (it's huge and takes at least half a day to see properly) so I went into Tiananmen - which, if my Chinese is good at all, means "Peaceful Heaven Gate" or something like that. A lot of the streets around Beijing end with men, or "gate". These streets run through where the gates to the city actually used to stand.

I was actually pretty underwhelmed -- it's just a big flat space with the Monument to the People's Heroes in the middle, surrounded by a bunch of flags, and Mao's tomb at the south end. There also are museums on each side, across the street from the square. The tomb was closed but I'm DEFINITELY going tomorrow; I don't care how long I have to wait. I hope they let me take a picture of him (probably not, though).

I stood there for awhile though and just appreciated the fact that I'm, you know, here. Plus, the weather was really nice :-)

After that, I stepped into the metro station. Tiananmen is flanked by two stations, Tiananmen East and Tiananmen West. I bought a metro card (now I have two!) and set out to find Beijing's indie record store, Fusheng Records, which is listed in my travel guide and which seems pretty cool. To do so, I took the metro Line 1 west to Fuchengmen (there we go with the gates again) and transferred to Line 2, where I stopped at Jishuitan.

I really had no idea where I was going, so I ended up just walking along Xinjiekou for like, half an hour or forty-five minutes at least. For some reason the street signs in Beijing don't seem to have Pinyin on them; at least not where I was this evening. The place was definitely a shopping area, but I never made it to the record store. I kept walking, asking people once or twice if they knew where Ping'an Dadao was (my guide says the store is at the corner of Ping'an and Xinjiekou). They both pointed me in the direction that I was walking, but I must have missed it, because I did not find it.

However, I did see a bunch of music stores, and by a bunch, I mean a shit-load. There were at least 20 stores packed to the brim with guitars, violins, saxophones, drums, and other instruments I can't identify. Out front were lots of disaffected-looking youth, kicking a ball around or attempting to shred on an electric guitar. What I mean by disaffected-looking is, their style of dress would look right at home in Austin's Red River district, or in Carytown in Richmond. So, make of that what you will. But I liked it. It felt very familiar :-) And just convinced me more that this world is tiny, so tiny, if trends of dress and music can so easily make their way across the Pacific.

Not to mention I passed a store selling audio equipment, including (gasp) turnables and a Pioneer DJm-700 mixer! So exciting :-) I wonder how much those things cost here, haha. It made me think of my lonely DJ equipment sitting in a storage unit in Austin.

Anyway, after walking for so long, I was hungry and my feet hurt and I still hadn't found the record store, so I decided to turn back. I went along the opposite side of Xinjiekou this time, and ended up wandering into a couple clothing stores (I think I may have mentioned that I am in the market for some shirts and pants). The first store I stopped in had a shirt that was worth looking at -- but first I had to answer questions from the 4 or 5 employees who swarmed the gao lao wai with interest, asking me where I was from, how long I was in Beijing, etc. Hehe. One of them, I shit you not, one of them reached out and touched the tip of my nose, completely without even saying anything to me first, then touched hers. I laughed and was like, is my nose big? Which, to be fair, it is kind of :-) She was like no, you're just really tall, hahaha. So crazy! I just wonder why this never happens in Shanghai. I guess maybe people there are just used to lao wai, but Beijing is a very international city as well. Hm.

I tried on a shirt, and I liked it, so I bought it. Big mistake. They started pushing all sorts of shit on me - shoes ("These are comfortable!") shorts, pants, and so on. Again I actually would like to buy some pants, so I did buy a pair, which turned out to be good in the long run (more on that later). But I was getting annoyed that they were asking me so much.

As I paid, I noticed they were playing some terrible rave crap on the in-store speakers. Because I figured I'd be headed to a record store, I'd brought along some I <3 RY stickers. So I was able to give like 10 of them to the staff and was like yeah, if you go to my web site you can hear my music. Haha.

At that point I was really tired so I headed back to the hotel and relaxed for a little bit more. I have HBO Asia on my TV so I watched that for a bit. I was planning to go to Wangfujing Lu to walk around, but honestly, I have two full days here (not counting even the Great Wall trip on Saturday) so I was like, well, I need to rest up. So I just walked across the street to have dinner.

The restaurant wasn't that crowded, but at the table next to me were like 12 or 13 young people, eating a shit-ton of food, drinking a lot, and being super loud. I guess I should have been annoyed but it was actually pretty fun to watch. They were all wearing the same kind of clothes, so I assumed they were co-workers.

At one point, well, I forget exactly what happened, but I was done with my meal so I was just watching them all have fun while I digested. Someone did or said something funny, and they all started laughing, so I cracked a smile too. The next thing I know one of them invites me over to their table! I was like, hell yeah, sounds like fun. So I went over, sat down, and began talking with them a little bit.

It was a little tough to talk with them though, because a couple of them were suuuuuuuuper wasted. They explained they work at a travel agency, they just came off a long day, and they have to work the holiday tomorrow, so they were out getting plastered. (I can understand the logic behind everything except that last point, haha.) Anyway they were drinking baijiu, which I've had in Shanghai once before. That shit will mess you up - some varieties are like 100 proof. They poured me some and we all did one or two gan beis. (Well, I didn't drain my glass, since it was over halfway full. That would have been painful.) It was pretty fun; they were all very friendly, except, well, again some of them were plastered, which made me awkward because I was sober (two shots of baijiu notwithstanding).

It became even weirder when the drunkest guy was reaching for something near me and knocked my glass of baijiu into my lap, getting distilled alcohol all over my jeans. He and his friends were very apologetic, well, as apologetic as he could be while attempting to stand up straight, haha. That was forgotten again as soon as they ordered another bottle of baijiu, which they kept trying to get me to drink. I was a little annoyed about my pants, and I don't drink much anyway, and I want to get an early start tomorrow, so I kept refusing. But they of course didn't accept this refusal, no matter how many times I or another one of their friends (who sort of adopted me as a protectee in this situation, haha) explained.

So what I did was fake it -- I raised the glass to my lips and tipped my head back, but didn't open my mouth. They were too wasted to notice that the amount in my glass stayed the same. So everyone was happy :-)

I stayed with them for like an hour, during which time the conversation got louder and louder. It was pretty fun, actually. I don't even mind about the pants so much. And I talked with them about some interesting topics. One of the guys gave me his cell phone number -- after all, they are a travel agency. He was like "See the Great Wall and the Forbidden City -- after you've done that, call me and I'll tell you where to go." We'll see. I may or may not call him. I'd certainly hate to be on the receiving end of his travel advice tomorrow, given how smashed he was tonight!

Anyway, that was my day! Pretty good one I think. I am uploading my flickr pictures now but they're taking forever, even longer than usual, so hopefully they'll be done by the time I wake up and am ready to take some new ones :-)

Beijing Dao Le

All is well, I'm safe and sound in my hotel in Beijing! So exciting :-)

It's 5 PM so I'm going to wander around a bit while it's light out ... but the REAL tourism begins tomorrow. Will try and update with some pics later tonight though.

April 28, 2008

Xianzai, wo you san ge mingzi ...

First, an announcement:

The fiendish overlords at work have decreed that I am to toil underground in the Shanghai mines, bereft of sunlight and oxygen and Mexican food, for another SEVEN months instead of two. Thanks to this extension, I will be returning to Austin around January 2009, not in July 2008 as originally planned. I screamed for mercy, but they flayed the skin from my bones, ignored my howling, and continued their awful cackling at my plight.

Please, please, save me from this hellish nightmare.



Okay, now that I'm about to get fired -- I'm still not sure whether I'm coming home in late June. I'll let you all know when there's a decision on that. But if anything, this should give you all a chance to save up more vacation time / $$ and visit.


I forgot to mention earlier that I now have a Chinese name, courtesy of my teammates:


If I got the characters right, that should read Gāo Ruìān. Because Chinese people put the last name first, my name in American Pinyin then would be Ruìān Gāo .

Gāo meaning tall (an obvious choice for my 'family name' - sorry Dad, I know you have like, generations of family invested in my last name, but this somehow fits me better ... hahaha)
Ruì meaning auspicious, lucky
meaning peaceful

I like it :-) The best part is that if you put 瑞安 into Google, you get "Ryan". It's like I was born for this name.

The next step is to learn how to write it :-)

This makes three names: 1 American, 1 Hebrew (שִׁמְשׁוֹן), and now 1 Chinese.


The best part about today was that I had an awesome conversation with an older couple on the train home. It was sooooooooooooo great because I understood like 40% of what they said, and we were able to have a semi-meaningful conversation. To prove it, here are some things we talked about:

  • Whether I understand or speak Shanghainese
  • How they don't speak English
  • Where I'm from
  • Whether I'm in town for work, where I work, and what I do (for this last bit I just made the typing-on-a-computer pantomime ... haha)
  • If I like Chinese food
  • If I like spicy Chinese food (don't worry Mom, I won't make you eat any ...)
  • (I then proceeded to tell them about Di Shui Dong, including where it's located)
  • If I like Shanghai
  • When I'm going to Beijing (the conversation started when I noticed the woman reading my Beijing travel guide over my shoulder, so I was like yeah, I'm going on Wednesday)
  • If I'm taking the train or flying
  • Where I live in America
  • How long I've lived in Shanghai
  • How the Line 2 metro is really fast -- I think they said this because they're Shanghainese and have seen the city grow up around them
  • Something about America and 20 years... I 'm guessing, something about how Shanghai will be better (or something along those lines) than America in 20 years ... or how Shanghai has changed so much in 20 years and it's now like America ... you see what I'm dealing with here, I only have so many pieces to this puzzle :-)
There were long stretches where the man was talking and I had NO idea what he was saying ... but I just nodded ... and caught a word here and there. The best part was that because we were on the subway, there were like 7 people were sitting on the bench opposite us, no doubt laughing or something ... but shit man, it's like, I got something out of it, I'm sure the couple enjoyed talking to a lao wai, and if people who watch it get some entertainment value, then everybody wins. I am more than willing to sacrifice what little shame I have to give people a good impression of Americans AND practice my Chinese. After all, I have Chinese class in a friggin' KFC, so I can't claim to be too shy about it.

Also, I ate dinner at a Chinese fast food place, and understood the guy behind the counter a bit ... "Do you want to eat here?" "Do you want anything else?" And I asked whether my dish had pork (It was a Chinese menu, I could only see pictures), and he said yes.

I could be having the worst day ever, I think, and conversations in Chinese like this could turn it all around. It's so incredibly encouraging to have these little moments. But, thankfully I haven't had to test that hypothesis yet :-)


Also, I wrote a mini-article about Saturday's CBL game for one of the (US) baseball sites I frequent. Check it out!

April 27, 2008

::Needs Title::

Saturday afternoon I booked my hotel in Beijing. I'm not sure if I mentioned it on here, but the MIDI Festival that I was looking forward to was postponed. My friends were unable to get train tickets anyway, so it will be a Ryry solo adventure in the capital of China.

Along with the hotel I booked a tour of the Great Wall at the Simatai section. I knew absolutely nothing about which section of the GW is the "best", but Tim said it's one of the less tourist-y sections, so that's good. It's also one of the sections that isn't fully restored, which again is a good thing. The section is ~3.3 miles long and the tour info page said we'd cover it in like 3 - 4 hours. Awesome.

The Great Wall --- I mean, c'mon. I am getting really psyched for this trip. One great thing about China is that it has millenia of history which the US doesn't have, at least not in its current state. In Hangzhou I ate lunch at Louwailou, a restaurant that is 150 years old. That means that when the restaurant first opened, the pencil-with-attached-eraser was just being invented. Sort of puts things in perspective for you. Okay bad example of ancient history -- but you know what I mean :-)

The rest of the must-sees in Beijing -- The Temple of Heaven, the Summer Palace, the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, etc. -- I'll do on my own after purchasing a TimeOut guide for the city. I feel confident enough in my reading of Pinyin, and usage of maps and knowledge of taking subway systems, and maybe asking people for help, to navigate. And my co-workers are still just a cell phone call away :-)

I should have Internet access so expect timely pics. I'm staying at the Days Inn Forbidden City. How Forbidden can a city be if there's a Days Inn (and, formerly, a Starbucks) there? I think it's best to not assume that any of this stuff is at all, well, "authentic." I mean it is, to be sure, but I'll just be disappointed if I expect to get the "authentic" experience from any of these places, you know? They're tourist attractions now and the number of people there will demonstrate that (especially since I'm going during the May holiday). I will go to have fun and see things and learn and that should be plenty :-)

On Saturday, I also went to see the first China Baseball League (CBL) game of my life. The Beijing Tigers beat the Shanghai Eagles 1-0. Nobody scored a run after the first inning, and not many people had hits either. Shanghai never threatened except in the bottom of the 9th, when there were runners on second and third with none out. But then we got three outs in a row to end it. I have some pretty good pictures up on flickr.

Beijing Tigers @ Shanghai Eagles 034

Beijing Tigers @ Shanghai Eagles 020

Beijing Tigers @ Shanghai Eagles 019

Beijing Tigers @ Shanghai Eagles 051

Of course I had to ask their mascot to take a picture with me:

(Qing gei he wo pai zhao is what I said - "Please take a picture with me.")

Beijing Tigers @ Shanghai Eagles 035

I dunno why I'm giving the thumbs-up like some doofus American tourist, but for some reason I did that :-)

There were maybe 100 people at the game, mostly from a nearby school. When they all got up and left at the end of the 6th inning, the place felt deserted. Too bad, really. But it was fun. Super-nice weather, warm sunshine, no clouds, and hanging out with Tim, his wife, and their friend who was visiting.

Today I did some shopping, first for gifts and then for clothes. My first stop was buying a set of chopsticks for Kevin. For this I braved the Xiangyang Market, located near my place at the Shanghai S&T Museum subway stop.

Have you ever seen Minority Report? Do you remember that scene where Tom Cruise is on the lam and he's running through a shopping mall? As he walks by store windows, eye scanners pick up his image and start blaring their ads at him. That's what it's like for me walking through the Xiangyang Market here. I walk by, there are shops on both sides with barkers standing out front, like three or four per shop, and my passage triggers a chorus of "Hello watch! Hello bag! DVD! Video game! Want buy shirt? Nice shoes! Cheap! Sale! BEST QUALITY!!!!!!"

I'm not joking - that actually happened, like five girls shouting simultaneously at me as I moved through the market's corridors. I stared straight ahead and ignored them, although the ridiculousness of the situation was too much, so I smiled and said Ni men hen hao wan ("You all are very funny.").

If that weren't enough, the place is literally a maze, and after I did manage to buy some chopsticks, it took me 20 minutes to find my way out again. Finally I asked a security guard (Yay for being able to speak Chinese a little bit) who pointed me in the right direction.

Being shouted at like this, not to mention having to negotiate for a sale, is really stressful for me. Which is why, as I walked down Dingxiang Rd towards the market earlier, I thought of Obi Wan Kenobi's famous description of Mos Eisley. Which is probably an overstatement in this case, but still, I did feel like I had to prepare for battle, haha.

After that I headed out to read at Garden Books and do some clothes shopping on Changle Lu. On the subway I tried to make conversation with a tall Chinese guy by asking which one of us was the most tall, but he wasn't having any of it. Either that or my Chinese sucks -- I think it's a combination of the two, actually, haha.

That's why I'm nervous about taking pictures of people, or doing things like this -- because I fear I can't speak well enough, and also, I don't want people to feel like I'm on some safari hunt for Chinese people. You know? I think maybe he felt that way. His girlfriend managed a bit of English though, which she said "You're a little bit taller." But still, it was weird.

The saving grace was seeing a teenage boy on the train reading A Catcher in the Rye. Very very cool. Makes me wish I hadn't left my copy in Austin. I couldn't see if he was reading it in English or if he'd obtained a Chinese translation. But just the fact that he was reading it made me very happy :-)

I didn't really like any of the stores on Changle Lu, specifically, not the one I set out to patronize, which is eno. Along the road I ran into Jeremy and Amy, and they told me about a sale that Uniqlo (which is basically, the clothes section of Target) was having. There's a location at the Super Brand Mall near my apartment, so I hopped back on the train and went there. I didn't find anything there; however I did find some worthwhile things at the H&M. So it's true, I can buy jeans in China :-) They just have to be European, haha.

That's all, pretty much. I leave for Beijing at noon on Wednesday. I'll try and post an update when I land :-)

April 26, 2008


I just found this web site Hanzillion, in which one girl attempts to categorize the Hanzi (Chinese characters) by finding signs and artwork of each character. She categorizes them by subject (of meaning) and number of strokes. This is brilliant, amazing, and useful all rolled into one.

Here is the entry for "hua" - meaning flower, blossom.

What's great is that I can subscribe to the RSS feed and get a free vocabulary lesson right in my RSS reader. She doesn't have a lot of them just yet, but still, it's a really great idea. Art and information all rolled into one -- artformation? Infart? Yes ... infart. That's the one.

April 25, 2008

Hangzhou: Day 1, Part 2

Okay, when we last left off, Charles and Adeline and I had just arrived at the hotel. We relaxed there for a couple hours and thought about what we'd like to do next. Adeline suggest a boat ride or climbing Baoshi Shan (Gemstone Hill), a small mountain/hill directly behind/next to our hotel. No one could really decide, so finally I was like "mountain!" and off we went.

We started off leaving the hotel and going through one of the small alleyways on Beishan Lu onto one of the back roads. We passed by a temple or two and some other alleyways on this road:

Baoshi Shan

hangzhou 102

I'm not even sure there was like an official entrance to the mountain or anything like that. All I know is after about 20 minutes, we turned a corner and were confronted with this:

Baoshi Shan

Awesome :-)

There's not much to tell about the climb itself. I mean, it wasn't really a "climb." There were stairs and beaten paths and everything, so we just walked uphill. As we climbed, we encountered fewer and fewer people. The woods became thick and really, just really really beautiful. I ran out of words, so I'll let my camera do the talking.

Baoshi Shan

Baoshi Shan

Baoshi Shan

You have to understand that Shanghai is a megalopolis, a sprawling, flat, dirty mess of concrete, glass, and neon where a blue sky is a rarity and the greenest thing you ever see is maybe some advertisement for tea on the side of a bus as it whizzes by. So the contrast between my daily life and what I was seeing on Baoshi Shan, and had seen thus far around Xihu, is immense.

Eventually we reached a sort of clearing, kind of a midpoint up the mountain I suppose, with an insane view of the lake, the city, and Baochu Pagoda.We stopped for a bit to take some pictures:

Baoshi Shan

Baoshi Shan

Baoshi Shan

Baoshi Shan

That's Baochu Pagoda there on the right, with the Hangzhou skyline in the distance.

From here we just kept on going up, walkingwalkingwalking. I had a Snickers bar (or two). Eventually we reached was Adeline described as "the top". It was a flat expanse of ground overlooking the city. There were lots of wide, flat rocks on which a couple people were sitting, either quietly by themselves or quietly while chatting with friends.

Baoshi Shan

Baoshi Shan

Baoshi Shan

It was very idyllic and peaceful, and a great way to end (or so we thought at the time) our climb. There were a couple people thwacking around a shuttlecock and a guy walking around clapping his hands for no apparent reason:

The Clapper

We realized the sun was beginning to set, so I was like "hey let's stay here and get some pictures of the sun setting!" The day was pretty cloudy, and Hangzhou is polluted, so we didn't end up getting fantastic pics, although we did get some. But more importantly, we sat down and rested for awhile. Charles and I laughed because there were trees all around us, blocking the great view down into the city and different parts of Xihu. We were like, "damn nature, always getting in the way of photography!" Haha.

If you look at the picture of the pagoda above, you'll see some people standing in it. They were singing. After about 5 minutes of sitting there and resting, their tune all of a sudden popped into my head. I did a double-take (well, an auditory one, if that's possible) before realizing they were singing "Silent Night" in Chinese. I confirmed the tune with Charles, and then Adeline also confirmed it (I had to do this because, as we all know, I am not Christian :-) Anyway I thought it was great, just a perfect little unexpected thing to hear on Baoshi Shan, so I took a video:

We stayed up there a little while longer until the sun was about halfway down. Then we decided to move on and try and make it to Baochu Pagoda. This is where the fun part begins. immediately after we left the pagoda area, we encountered some more stairs that led up to these huge boulders. I immediately clambered up them, while Charles and Adeline stayed behind perhaps out of safety concerns. (It wasn't really that bad, I swear!)

And this is where I felt the true feeling of being on a mountaintop. Because in the previous "top" area, with trees all around, I felt really hemmed in, like I was still on the side of the mountain. However, once we got up on top of the rocks and boulders, we were above the treeline -- so there was nothing around us but sky:

Baoshi Shan

Baoshi Shan

Baoshi Shan

Baoshi Shan

I felt moved to take a little video, which should give you a sense of how large Xihu is:

From there, we walked along the tops of the rocks some more, all the while getting closer to Baochu Pagoda:

Baoshi Shan

Baoshi Shan

The following shot is a great one of Adeline, I think:
Baoshi Shan

Baoshi Shan

Baoshi Shan

Night started to fall, and the lights hidden in the trees began to turn on:

Baoshi Shan

Baoshi Shan

Baoshi Shan

And then all of a sudden, we entered this small enclosed wooded area, and there it was: Baochu Pagoda. A little anticlimactic, but the journey was the point here. It was dark by this point, so I had to lengthen my exposure times, which resulted in some unsteady pictures. I tried to post some of the least blurry ones:

Baoshi Shan

Baoshi Shan

To get that last pic I actually lay down on the ground, on my back, with my camera pointed skyward, just to steady my elbows and hands on the ground :-)

We stayed around that area for a little bit, then headed down the mountain in a different direction. As we went, Charles noticed a really awesome photo op of Baoshi Shan surrouned by lit trees:

Baoshi Shan

We wandered down through Baoshishanxia Yilong ("Lower Gemsone Hill Lane"), which we realized was the more tourist-y way to see the mountain. It's lined with souvenir stalls, small eateries, and even some apartments. There were definitely none of those on the route we took up, for which I am eternally grateful.

We got down to the bottom, hailed a cab, and headed over to Grandma's Kitchen for dinner with some of Adeline's friends. It's a really popular Hangzhou place, with like 7 locations in the city. However we went to the original one, which was mobbed, so we had to wait outside for like half an hour. While we were there, a little kid, maybe like 10 years old, came up to me and asked if he could take his picture with me. Of course I said yes :-) I don't have the picture, Charles does, but hopefully I can steal it from him at some point and post it here.

I was really amused that someone wanted to take their picture with me. But apparently there aren't that many lao wai in Hangzhou, even though it's a hot tourist spot. Adeline said it's more for Chinese people, they are more apt to know about it than lao wai. I find that unlikely, given that it's been ranked as the #1 tourist destination in China, but who knows. Anyway, I was approached for more photo ops on day two -- which I'll write about tomorrow maybe :-)

This was the dinner where I ate jitou (chicken head/brains) because I thought it would be funny and, you know, adventurous, and possibly tasty. It wasn't very good, and it was really tough to get the meat out of the neck and skull (not to mention I had to spit out pieces of skull), and I didn't much feel like cracking the damn thing open like an egg, so I gave up after a couple bites.

I felt like the Highlander, haha. Like the bees, there's a video somewhere that Charles took - again, I'll make sure to get it from him and post it online.

After dinner, which was nice to chat with Adeline's friends, we left back to the hotel. Charles fell asleep in the cab because he was still jet-lagged: he'd arrived from Austin only the day before. Back in our room, I tried to get the TV to work, but gave up after like 20 minutes. The menu system was in English, so that was easy enough to understand, it's just that I couldn't get a movie-on-demand to play. But then I remembered I had my iPod. So I watched two episodes of The Simpsons and then passed out.

More on day two tomorrow!

We interrupt this Hangzhou broadcast for some baseball

So tomorrow I'm going to see the Beijing Tigers come play the Shanghai Eagles in some, you guessed it, baseball. I invited my Chinese co-workers to come watch, only to have some of them tell me that they have no idea what baseball's about. Understandable. So today I held a small meeting and explained the game to a couple of them. I wish I'd videoed it, because I think I did a good job. The best part came when I explained the infield fly rule :-)

Who knows if they'll show up tomorrow, but even if they don't, I know a couple expats will. I plan to take many pictures myself :-)

Re: Hangzhou: I 've been working late most nights this week so I haven't felt like posting much, especially not the long entries I know that Hanghzhou will require. But I want to document the trip in textual form, and give ya'll something to appreciate what it was like besides the pictures, so I'll probably finish it up tomorrow before the ball game, as I'm digesting fried matzah :-)

April 23, 2008

Hangzhou: Day 1, Part 1

Saturday morning I get up bright and early, at the ass-crack of dawn (as the saying goes) at 4:50 AM. I shower and meet Charles at the Renaissance Hotel at 5:30. From there we walk to the subway and take it two stops to Dongchang Lu, where we meet Adeline.

From there we go to People's Square, transfer to Line 1, and go to the Shanghai South Railway station. I realize that this is the first time, I think I've been on a non-metro train. I may have taken one back in the DC/MD area: but if so, I can't remember. I mean, in America, first you get the bikes, then you get the cars, then you get the airplane. (Women are always there, though.) So no trains, at least not for my life. So this will be an adventure :-)

We mill around the station for a little bit and buy snacks and some drinks. I eat the first of many Snickers bars. (Actually I've been doing that a lot lately. It's like my only source of sugar in this country besides my morning coffee, hah.) Adeline informs us that we're taking the 'D' train, which is the nicest and fastest of the trains. Below that is the 'T' train (which we take on the return trip) and some others I can't remember. Ah yes, only the best.

We board around 7:20 and take off at 7:40 AM. I've had a little coffee (they sell cappuccino in plastic bottles, like soda, over here) so I'm not as tired.

The trip takes just over an hour, which is great. Adeline sleeps, and Charles and I talk most of the way. It's like an airplane, only on the ground (duh) which, surprisingly, removes much of the anxiety of the trip, although I still feel like I should feel I'm on an airplane. Does that make sense? Probably not. But that's how it is :-) The best part is seeing an "Airsickness bag" in the back pocket of the seat in front of me. So I know I'm not alone in equating this trip with an airplane ride ;-)

We arrive at Hangzhou just after 9 AM. We trek through the train station to the cab stand and get in a long line. We're still underground in a tunnel, so we're wondering what the weather is like. Not for long though -- after about 20 minutes we start seeing cabs come through the tunnel spattered with rainwater. D'oh! Well, we don't control the weather so it doesn't make sense to complain. We'll just do whatever.

We catch a cab and get out into the downtown area. I don't feel it's any different from Shanghai. In fact, the traffic might be worse! There are lots of signs advertising "Harmonious West Lake". I love Chinese. Adeline points out landmarks as we go by, including a restaurant she wants us to eat at and the China Academy of Art:

China Academy of Art

As we get closer to the lake, the streets become lined with trees that form an archway over the road; it's very scenic and beautiful.

The driver lets us out on the southern edge of the lake, along Nanshan Lu (South Mountain Road). From there we walk through a small park with the lake just ahead, seeing the first of many pagodas:


Even though it's drizzling a bit, I can tell we're in for a treat. Soon enough, we're at the lake itself:


Um, I don't have a panoramic lens or anything, and I didn't have the presence of mind to take multiple sequential shots and then stitch them together in software, but let me just say, Xihu is BIG. Haha. Certainly it looks even bigger after being in Shanghai, the urban jungle, for three and a half months. I suppose any body of water would look large under those conditions, but I think Xihu's pretty big. It's certainly the most famous of all the "West Lakes" in China.

There are people everywhere, but it's not too crowded. We walk along Nanshan Lu for a bit, westwards, then turn off the main path and enter a small series of parks:




It's so beautiful. I realize that I can smell the woods -- you know, like freshly cut grass -- and simultaneously realize I haven't smelled that in a long time. It was pretty awesome. I begin to understand why so many people come here all the time :-)



The rain is going on and off now, but it gets a little heavier as we exit the park back onto Nanshan Lu. Then it actually begins pouring. We walk back eastwards a little bit and come across the Qian Wang Si (King Qian Temple). We pay the 15 RMB each and go inside:

Qian Wang Temple

Qian Wang Temple

Qian Wang Temple

Qian Wang Temple

Here I actually sit down and relax for a bit, because we've been walking for something like two+ hours. Being in the temple, with the tapering off rain and fewer tourists wandering around, is very relaxing.

After a little while, we're starting to get hungry, so we go off in search of lunch. As we near Xihutiandi, the uber-slick version of Xintiandi in Shanghai. I really don't want to eat there, as they don't need my money, but the rain is coming down in buckets now so we decide to go inside. We end up in Butterfly Laguna which is, strangely enough, a Thai restaurant. The place is your typical 'luxury' set-up: small, expensive dishes that aren't very good, although the restaurant is beautiful. Again, I would rather have spent my money at a less hoity-toity place, but I don't know how possible that is in the Xihu area :-)

We head back out and I take a few more pictures around the lake:



We decide to walk around the China Academy of Art campus next:

China Academy of Art

China Academy of Art

China Academy of Art

China Academy of Art

After this, we got hungry again! Surprise surprise. Plus, Adeline wanted me to eat some durian, which I'd had in Shanghai but which is supposed to be way better in Hangzhou. So we stopped by a place that's known for serving good durian and just had a couple of snacks. I have to admit it was really, really good -- even if it did stink a little bit. Hehe. It's making me look forward to eating some chou dofu in Suzhou :-)

We also orderd some mango pudding, which came annointed with a little Hangzhou-style umbrella, made out of paper. I took this and put it in my pocket -- it's one of two souveneirs I got from the trip. For me, something like this has way more meaning than buying something plastic at one of the kajillions of souveneir stalls around the lake.

Now it's getting to be 2 or 3 PM, so we decide to check into the hotel. I can't remember what the name of it is, but it's up on Beishan Lu (North Mountain Road). So, we walk half the distance of Nanshan Lu to get to the east edge of the lake, all the way north to Beishan Lu, and then halfway west on Beishan Lu to actually get to the hotel. This is about an hour of straight walking around the edge of the lake, all while dodging people coming in the other direction because the lake is super crowded. But it's nice and cool out, and there's a breeze, and I am full from lunch, and I get some of the best photographs of the trip:





We arrive at the hotel, and I'm pretty exhausted, so we check in and relax for a little bit.

... And, that's where I'm going to stop here. I'll continue tomorrow with the rest of Saturday's adventures :-)