Archive for December, 2009

Home

Monday, December 14th, 2009

The day is finally here, I’m coming home for the holidays! Woo-hoo!! I can’t believe how fast my time in China flew by. After a month in Tri-Cities I’m sure I’ll be ready to come back to China. I’m glad I decided to extend my stay here. There is so much to see. I’m not ready to move back to the US.

Last night I crammed three months of my life into two suitcases and a backpack. My apartment seems so empty. The only things I’m leaving behind are dishes, food and a pair of Nike’s.

Today at work I gave everyone Blaise© headbands as an early Christmas gift. Everyone seemed shocked that “such a sporty girl could make something like this.” People were excited.

Well that’s all from me. I’m heading home to eat, do yoga, shower, clean my apartment and pack my last few things. I fly out tomorrow morning at 9:15 am. I touch down in Portland Tuesday morning at 7:45. Who said time travel isn’t possible? My iPhone will be charged and ready for calls, texts, Twitter and Facebook. I cannot wait to see my family, friends and cats. Get ready America, I’m bringing the Asian invasion!

♥ BB

The Great Wall

Saturday, December 5th, 2009

I’m trying to come up with an introduction to this blog, but I think my pictures are pretty self-explanatory. Yesterday, to live up Mom’s last day in China, we climbed the Great Wall at Mutianyu.

The drive to the Great Wall is about an hour outside of Beijing. No, we did not drive there ourselves. Do you think we’re nuts? Luckily, Mev lent us her driver Lu, to take us to the Great Wall. Lu picked us up at my apartment around 9:30 am. We made a coffee run at Starbucks before hitting the road. Traffic wasn’t as bad as I anticipated and once we were on the highway we mobbed. For readers unfamiliar with this terminology, “mobbed” or “mobbing” means “to go somewhere” or “to move quickly.” (UrbanDictionary.com) Lu is an excellent driver, he speeds and passes. Like I said, excellent driver.

I hoped once we were outside of Beijing the air would clear up. Well the smog cleared up, but the sky was still gray. Not bad, but not a gorgeous clear day. Pictures turned out alright, so I’m not complaining.

The Great Wall has so much history it would be impossible for me to write about it all. The building of the Great Wall took hundreds of years and thousands of men. During the Warring States Period, the states of Qi, Yan and Zhao built walls for protection from small arms such as swords and spears. Many dynasties built, rebuilt and extended the Great Wall. The final construction came during the Ming Dynasty. The Ming Dynasty revived the concept of a Great Wall to protect against Manchurian and Mongolian invaders. The Great Wall is over 6,400 kilometers (4,000 miles). However, if you connect all the walls built in different dynasties, the Great Wall’s length exceeds 50,000 kilometers. As for the rumor you can see the Great Wall from space, you can. Sort of. The Wall is visible from low earth orbit (100 miles). NASA claims it is barely visible and only under near perfect conditions. Aaaaaannnndddd, now I sound like a textbook. If you’re dying to know more about The Great Wall, there is plenty of information on Google.

In Beijing, there are three different locations to visit the Great Wall: Badaling, Mutianyu and Simatai. Badaling is closest to Beijing and is popular among tourists. When presidents, royalty or anyone of importance comes to Beijing, they usually see the Great Wall at Badaling. Obama visited the Great Wall at Badaling, one more reason we decided to go to Mutianyu. Joking to all those liberal readers! We chose to see Mutianyu because it is farther away from Beijing. There are less tourists. Simatai is the farthest Great Wall site from Beijing. It also includes unrestored sections of the Wall. The Great Wall at Simatai is said to be a challenging hike. After climbing Mutianyu I was exhausted. I can’t imagine climbing Simatai.

If you’re a tourist it would be easy to say you’re “going to see the Great Wall.” True, you are going to see the Wall. However, many Chinese say they “climb or hike the Great Wall.” Trust me, you do not just look at the Great Wall. It is a climb. There is a steep incline. Stairs are uneven so climbers must watch their footing. Like Mom kept saying, “What goes down, must come up.” The walk down the Wall wasn’t bad, it was the walk back that killed our calves. What did we expect? The Wall is built along mountains. This isn’t a walk in the park, or better yet, a walk in the mall.

Although the Great Wall is a tough climb, I can see myself spending a week or two climbing it. I would love to come in the spring or summer and backpack along the Wall. Naturally I would have my camera in tow. A few people have hiked the entire wall. Knowing me, when I set my mind to something, I want to do it and do it best. Besides, if I climbed the entire wall my legs and butt would be banging (in extremely good shape). That’s like doing a Stairmaster across America! Hmmm…

All our climbing worked up an appetite. Mev suggested a good restaurant at Mutianyu called The School House. It’s an old school purchased by American’s. They serve delicious American food. Aside from food, The School House also has a glass art museum and a terrace for nice weather. My favorite part of The School House was the placemats and oil crayons. The School House is decorated with drawings done by guests. People from the US, Brazil, Italy, Egypt, Korea and numerous other countries drew pictures hanging on the wall. I drew a picture of the Space Needle and a cow. Yeah, I don’t know. I’m a horrible artist. I also wrote 华洲美国 (Washington State, America) so everyone knew we were American’s. Like always, I included my website address. You never know who is going to see that. Mom drew a lovely portrait of me wearing my WSU hoodie.

As for our meals at The School House… 好吃!For appetizers we ate warm cornbread with an artichoke dip. So good! Seeing all the American food on the menu, I didn’t know what to get. My taste buds were overwhelmed. Everything sounded good. In the end, I ordered a bacon burger with cheese and french fries. I haven’t eaten a hamburger since coming to China. Sure there is McDonald’s, but that’s not a hamburger, that’s fast food. Yuck. Mom ordered a club sandwich and fries. We figured after all our climbing we could splurge on desert. We ordered an apple crisp with extra ice cream. For a split second I felt like I was back in America.

Lu drove us back to Beijing. China doesn’t have daylight savings time, so around 3:30 pm the sun starts to set. When we arrived in Beijing the sun had already set. Christmas lights lit up bars, shopping centers and sidewalks. Lu dropped us off at the tailor so Mom could pick up her new pants. They look good Mom!

We walked to the subway station arm in arm, sad that our last night together is finally here. What happened to the time? It seemed like just yesterday Mom arrived. We’ve had so much fun together. But Mom’s trip wasn’t over yet.

I never go to the clubs or bars in Beijing. I should, but I a) don’t go to bars alone like I’m some alcoholic looking to get kidnapped and b) I don’t want to pay for a cab, drinks and cover. In my two months in China, I’ve been out once and that was on Halloween. In The Beijinger, a magazine for expats, Mom read about a new bar called Chocolate. The magazine voted it as the best new bar/dance club. Mom and I decided to check it out.

When the cab dropped us off, we realized we were in the Russian district of town. No surprise, the owner is a Russian woman. Mom and I walked into the bar and it was completely empty. Turns out Chocolate is also a restaurant during the day. We were in the restaurant, not the club. We went around back and heard dance music blaring. Yep, exactly what I hoped for.

There is no cover at this bar (one more reason to love it) so we walked right in. We took an escalator downstairs and found ourself in a massive dance club. Renaissance art decorated the ceiling. A giant screen behind the DJ illuminated the dance floor. Between cuts a live band played Russian dance music. Other times dancers would come out in costumes and perform routines. Some guests smoked hookah at their tables. The bathrooms had gold toilets! A waiter quickly seated us at our own table. Mom ordered a vodka tonic and I ordered an Absinth and grenadine. Little did I know the waiter would bring a cup of Absinth, light it on fire then mix my drink!

Mom and I really lived up our last night together. We danced until 2 am. I met so many different people at Chocolate. A group of middle eastern guys started a dance circle that I somehow got pulled into. They asked where I was from, I said, “America! You?” They all shouted, “Iran!” Political differences aside, they were a fun bunch. I also met a Russian guy, who works for Sinopec, on business in Beijing. He came over to dance with me and started talking in Russian. I asked him, in Chinese, if he speaks English. He didn’t speak Chinese, but he did English. He said he thought I was Russian! We both had a good laugh. Maybe I’m more exotic looking than “white.”

Around 2 am we caught a cab home. I could’ve danced all night (Chocolate is open until 6 am) but I didn’t want Mom to miss her flight. We got home and crashed.

This morning Mom and I woke up sad, knowing she flies home. We ran a few last minute errands and ordered Chinese food to-go before taking the subway to the airport. At customs we parted ways. We waved to each other until she disappeared behind the customs walls.

It’s weird to be home alone again. My apartment seems so empty. I miss having someone to talk to. I guess it’s time to get back into Chinese mode.

Having my Mom in China was so much fun. She is a great travel partner (Dad she read the maps fine!) and totally went with the flow of things. Before Mom arrived I worried she might be overwhelmed by all the people. Not the case. Mom adapted and in no time was shoving her way onto rush hour subways. Thank you Mom for all the yummy meals, nice clothes and priceless memories. You are the best. I love you!!

♥ BB

Über Tourists

Thursday, December 3rd, 2009

Today I started to hate Mom’s Starbucks map… Ok, not really but by the end of the day I could not walk any farther. I could not see any more sites. If I took one more picture my index finger would fall off. Ok that’s an exaggeration. What I’m trying to say is, today mom and I did a lot of sightseeing. With our face masks, cameras and maps, we were über tourists.

We started our morning bright and early. For almost two weeks Mom begged me to take pictures of her in front of the famous silver statues. Today as we walked past them for the 50th time I said, “If we don’t take the pictures now, we probably won’t do it.” I took pictures while mom mimicked the various statues.

To save time, we took a cab to the Zoom market. Mom wanted another $12 dress and to stock up on tights. You never plan to purchase tons of stuff at Zoom, it just kind of happens. And that’s what happened to Mom. I can’t go into detail, but I will say she practically finished her Christmas shopping at Zoom. I got a pair of thick, velour lined leggings. They will be perfect for snowboarding. Mom bought her dress and at least ten pairs of tights.

Next we took a cab to Beihai Park. I imagine in the spring, summer or fall Beihai Park would be a beautiful place. However, in the winter it looks pretty bland. The smog didn’t help pictures either. The highlight of Beihai Park was dressing up in traditional Chinese clothes and taking pictures. I also liked the wild cats in the park. Like I said, Beihai Park in the winter is blah.

Mom and I walked out of the park and found ourselves in a very traditional and non-touristy part of town. Old men gathered around tables playing Chinese games. Little alley shops sold homemade jiaozi. Vendors sold nuts and dried shrimp in bulk. Mom and I bought some cashews and pistachios. The cashews we bought had a unique flavor. They were not as salty as expected, but good none the less. The price was nice too.

Mom and I walked some more. We unsure of our location. We just kept walking. Mom suggested walking through an old 胡同 (hutong) or alleyway. Some of these alleys are 800 years old and are great photo opportunities. Beijing’s hutongs are slowly disappearing because of expanding urbanization. The government pays the people to relocate and they do. The government does not see the historical significance of preserving the hutongs. Hopefully someone will do something before it is too late. The hutongs are amazing and so historic. They are a reminder of China before its rapid growth.

Mom and I reached the end of the hutong unaware of our location. The only thing we knew is we were hungry. We found a restaurant and I ordered food. Like usual, I ordered too much food.

During our meal Mom insisted on taking my picture. She noticed there were not a lot of pictures of me during her trip to China. Why? Well I still do not have a hair straightener. I am in dire need of a haircut. Makeup? Naw, I don’t wear it. This awful combination means I look like crap in most my pictures. Anyways, back to my story. The lighting in the restaurant required the use of a camera flash. The bright flash about three feet across from me resulted in atrocious photos. I either blinked or had a lazy eye in 99.9% of the pictures. Mom kept taking pictures and I kept having a wonky Paris Hilton eye. I tried opening my eyes as wide as possible and they still looked weird. By the end of our “photo shoot” Mom and I were laughing so hard we had tears in our eyes. The locals probably thought we were crazy American tourists. I felt like I was 22 going on 12.

After lunch the waitress gave us directions to the nearest subway station. While Mom and I walked to the station we passed an old alley. Mom said, “What is that?” It was the oldest Hutong in Beijing, Mao’er Hutong. I was so happy we stumbled on such a historic part of the city. This Hutong has been around since the Yuan Dynasty (1271 to 1368). Mao’er Hutong got its name from a workshop making hats in the Hutong. The Hutong is 585 meters long and seven meters wide. We walked from Nan Lougu Lane to Di’anmenwai Street. Mom couldn’t get enough of all the cute shops. I wish the weather had been warmer. Last time I came to Mao’er Hutong the bars had windows open, music played and flowers were everywhere. Mom got the gist of it. Luckily the weather will be nicer when Teresa and Adam visit in April. I can’t wait to take them here.

Next on our Starbucks map was Wangfujing Street. Walking down Wangfujing Street Mom and I passed the only Catholic church in Beijing, a site she’d been dying to see. Of the 20 million residents in Beijing, there are only 3,000 Catholics. The Church burned down twice in it’s almost 300 year history. About 150 years ago a candle fell on a bible and the church caught fire, another time armed forces burnt the church to the ground. In the early 1900’s the church was rebuilt. Today it is a beautiful and historic structure that still holds daily mass. Masses are held in both Chinese and Latin. Another interesting tidbit of information, the Chinese government appointed the bishop, not the Catholic church. As you can imagine, this did not go over well.

Wangfujing Street is another massive shopping street. We could’ve spend hours looking for clothes. We didn’t come for shopping though, we came for exotic foods. On a back alley of Wangfujing Street you can buy scorpions on sticks that are so fresh, they are still moving! Vendors also sold starfish (how would you eat that!?), lizards, silkworms and seahorses on sticks. Luckily these weren’t alive. Rows and rows of vendors packed the tiny back alleys. Mom and I shared one of my favorite treats, candied fruit on a stick. In my opinion, the best fruit is the mandarin oranges.

Mom and I walked a little more, taking in the sites, smells and sounds of Wangfujing Street. We needed to make one more stop before heading home for the day. Mom and I took a cab to the tailor so she could pick up her custom made suits. Considering how picky Mom is when it comes to clothes, I’m proud of her for just going with the flow and having suits made. One pair of pants was too big so the tailor is fixing it. We’ll have to come back tomorrow to pick them up. Mom keeps joking that with her luck, the pants will be too small. I guess we’ll see.

By the end of the day we were so exhausted we didn’t want to walk any more. Mom decided to take a cab, which seemed like a great idea at first. We forgot that rush hour in Beijing is anywhere from 5 pm to 8 pm. It took us over half an hour to travel five kilometers (about three miles). Just our luck.

Mom and I arrived at my apartment absolutely exhausted. Each day we’re together time flies by. There is not enough time for us to do everything. I can’t believe we only have one last full day together. Boo!

Tomorrow we’re getting up early to see The Great Wall. Hopefully the weather will be nice. Having Mom here is so much fun. I love China, but sightseeing by yourself isn’t very fun. In fact, I’ve probably done more sightseeing with Mom in two weeks than in the two months I’ve lived here. Thanks Mom!

I encourage everyone to visit China at least once in their lifetime. There is so much history here. It is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. The United States is 300 years old. China is 3,000 years old! It does not compare. This is something you must see to believe. And to all my friends and family reading this… COME VISIT ME!!

♥ BB

Mom’s Adventures in Beijing

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2009

Obviously I could not take off two weeks of work while Mom stayed in China. Thanks to Mom’s trusty Starbucks tourist map, she can see the sites, use common Chinese phrases and navigate the city. Too bad we didn’t have a Starbucks map to navigate Germany circa 1995… Mom quickly learned the subway system and in no time was traveling around Beijing by herself.

On Monday Mom met up with Mev to do more sightseeing. Together they toured The Forbidden City. I’m surprised how well mom’s pictures turned out using my old point and shoot camera. After seeing her pictures, I wish I’d been there myself. Hardly any tourists were in the city, light perfectly reflected off the old yellow rooftops and minimal smog made pictures pop. I still haven’t been to The Forbidden City. It’s a very prominent landmark in Beijing, so I should probably see that before I leave. I’ll blog about it.

Tuesday Mom and Mev met up for more sightseeing. Mom and Mev visited the Lama Temples, ate at a yummy Thai restaurant (the leftovers were so good!) and went to the tailor for Mom’s suit fitting. Mom bought a few souvenirs for friends and family. In my opinion, she should’ve waited to make her purchases. She got ripped off. I’ve been giving her a hard time for this. I’m only kidding with her though. Well, sort of…

Mev had plans today so Mom traveled on her own. She took the subway to Summer Palace. I visited Summer Palace during the national holiday and loved it. It’s one of the sites you must see if you’re in Beijing. You can even dress up in traditional Chinese clothing and have your picture taken in front of the palace. I got a good laugh out of Mom’s picture in the traditional clothing.

After work tonight Mom and I went to one of the best Hot Pot restaurants in Beijing. Hot pot is one of my favorite Chinese dishes. I insisted Mom try it before returning home. The restaurant we ate at is in the mall but it’s certainly not “mall food.” Actually, this is anything but your typical mall. Just a few stores include Chanel, Gucci, Fendi, Prada, Salvatore Ferragamo, Hugo Boss, Valentino and Juicy Couture. All seven floors are this stocked. Men, do not bring your wives/girlfriends/daughters here!

Mom didn’t know what to expect and left all the ordering to me. I ordered beef, lamb, tofu, sweet potatoes, veggie noodles and glass noodles. For our broth, we took the servers advice and ordered “什么好吃” or “whatever’s good.” Unlike other restaurants, this restaurant gave you your own pot of broth. This is more sanitary than everyone digging into one pot of broth with the chopsticks that were just in their mouth.

Mom and I also splurged and got drinks, something I never do. We assumed the drinks menu was a drinks menu, not a bottle menu. When the server brought a bottle of wine and a bottle of 白酒 (white liquor) we were caught off guard. My 白酒 was 88 RMB, or $12, and tasted like it. Imagine Monarch, only worse.

The Chinese know a lot about work, but they know nothing about wine. The server tried to open Mom’s bottle of wine turing the corkscrew counterclockwise. When that didn’t work, he just kind of dug it into the cork. This butchered the cork. To top it off, the boy then laid the bottle across the table and tried again. Did he realize he was opening a bottle of wine? If he had actually gotten the bottle open, wine would’ve poured all over the floor. Thankfully a British man at the table next to us intervened and got the cork out.

As with every meal, we ate until we couldn’t eat anymore. I swear, I am a bottomless pit. I can’t stop eating.

Mom has only two more full days in China. Her trip is going by too fast. I feel like Mom got here yesterday. I guess this means she’ll have to come back again soon!

♥ BB