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China! Part 1
May 22, 2008, 1:06 am
Filed under: Travel | Tags: ,

I’m sitting in the lobby of a hotel in Yangshuo – a tiny little town in Southwest China – and I’m about a week into my trip, so already there’s lots to tell. Before I get too into that though, there are a few other life events worth mentioning that happened since my last post:

1 – really fun weekend trip to Chicago with Ari. I’ve posted the photos on my Flickr site, which I would link to here but I’m using a proxy server to get around the great firewall of China, so the functionality of the wordpress editing screen is limited. The link on the left of this page should get you there though if you’re interested.

2 – My Birthday! I turned 28, but that was more than a month ago so it’s kinda old news at this point. Ari flew us down to Oregon for the weekend though, which made it extra special, and then my whole family came up to Seattle so we could go out to dinner.

3 – My dance troupe was in that crazy dance performance, Ooh La La, that I mentioned here quite a long time ago. It was loads of fun and there are photos of that too, but I’ll have to add them later – firewall and whatnot.

4 – I ran the Vancouver Half Marathon and got a new PR! I’m still pretty excited about that. I set a goal time 2 hours and 19 minutes, which I thought was pretty ambitious, but I beat it by more than 3 minutes and finished in 2:15:26! Michele totally rocked the race too, finishing in 2:07:59 (I think). My flickr page has those photos up too.

5 – This one is pretty huge – My sister had a baby!!! I have a brand new niece, and she’s completly perfect, adorable and wonderful. I would tell you more about her, but Meg’s pretty sensitive about her privacy, so you can just ask me and I’ll tell you all about her!

Okay, I think that’s everything major that went on before I left for China, so now on to the trip! I flew into Shanghai on the 11th and stayed for almost a week with my cousin who is living there. She and her husband were awesome hosts and they showed me some of their favorite spots around the city. Within walking distance of their cute little apartment (with the bathroom in the kitchen) we went to a super nice european style cafe (Amy’s a little burnt out on chinese food at this point), to a beautiful salon for pedicures, and along one of the city’s best shopping districts. It wasn’t until later that evening that we learned there had been a huge earthquake in Sichuan province. We weren’t able to learn much about it on the news that night, the only image they showed was of a news reporter standing in front of a broken pane of glass (we suspected this was the government sheltering the population). The next morning after I answered emails reassuring friends that I was unaffected by the earthquake, I was able to learn more about the damage from articles online. I reeled when I read about the growing death toll and about how high it was expected to climb. I wondered if maybe my cousin Amanda and I could change our travel plans and go volunteer to provide earthquake relief in the affected area but it sounded like the government would prefer to keep foreigners out of the region. (Since then the government declared national mourning for all the victims of the earthquake and for three days all entertainment industry businesses were closed while the country grieved.)

In spite of the tragedy, I was still in Shanghai and there was still lots I wanted to see, so on Tuesday I went to see the old town neighborhood with its amazing gardens, I made it to the top of the pearl tower and saw the layout of the whole city, and then walked along the river promenade in Pudong where we could see the famous Bund strip across the water. It was all pretty exciting, especially mixed in with all the general novelty of being in China – the crazy driving where you feel lucky to step out of a taxi still alive, all the touts in toristy areas who have no qualms getting in your face about buying something, clotheslines proudly displaying chinese underwear all over the city, and generally just a lot of weird sights, smells and noises. Amy also took me to a giant, 3-story mall where you can get the best deals on knockoffs and souvenirs. I have a real weakness for Sportsac knockoffs (so many cute patterns!) and I really feel that I exercised great self control by purchasing only 2 bags.

On my third day in Shanghai my cousin Amanda arrived, and I got to try my hand at surviving the subway system both unscathed and unrobbed. The fun part was taking the Maglev train to and from the airport – it goes about 450 km/h and you get some interesting views of the city. We spent most of Mandy’s first full day in China shopping again – better to buy stuff in shanghai so we can leave it at Amy’s house – then we took the night train up to Beijing. It was a pretty fun adventure sleeping on the train – especially when we woke up to a lightning storm in the middle of the night. Beijing was a little overwhelming at first, but we found a nice guesthouse on an awesome street in a hutong neighborhood just north of the forbidden city. We spent a couple days taking in the main sights of Beijing – Tianamen Square, the Forbidden City, Lama Temple, and a beautiful park with a big lake. We also managed to get tickets to an acrobatics show, which turned out to be an interesting display of some very impressive skills mixed in with a touristy atmosphere, some cheezy choreography, and bizarre costume choices. Our last day in Beijing we spent hiking on the great wall, which was absolutely incredible, but also exhausting. I think we covered about a 3 mile length of the wall (through 27 guard towers) and it took us a little over 4 hours. The views were spectacular, the length of the wall is just mind-boggling, and the climbs are long, steep, irregular, and frequently crumbling underfoot with no enclosing walls on the sides. The wall is also well-staffed with entreprenurial locals who don’t mind following you for hours if they think you might buy something. It gets pretty tiring after the first hour, then you learn to just ignore touts for water, books, postcards, t-shirts, and beer. By the end of the trip we were more preoccupied with the treacherous terrain than the splendor of it all, and we were seriously worn out, but it definitely made for a very memorable experience.

Alright, that’s enough rambling about the first week of my trip, I’ll write later about the adventures we’ve had since then in southwest China!

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