Friday, December 11, 2009

Shang Hai so nice to meet you

Though we flew out of Hong Kong to Beijing, our return was to Shanghai, within the country of China.  While it was about 78 degrees the day we left Hong Kong, and a cold blustery average of 35 while we were in Beijing, it was a wet and overcast 50 or so degrees in Shanghai, we would have only one short day in Shanghai so we decided to make the best of it.

Once again some colleagues and I decided to venture out into Shanghai to see what it had to offer.  We walked for hours in the rain our first mission was to find a post office and perhaps visit a museum.  Well we found the museum and also found it closed so on to our next mission the post office.  Just then we received a FB message courtesy of my blackberry informing us that we had more time in Shanghai; due to an ocean storm our captain had delayed our departure until the next day.  Now we had a few more hours to burn in Shanghai.  So without being deterred we decided to seek out a post office, but first a side trip to McDonald’s.  We entered Mickey D’s and sat and waited a while as we were still a little early for lunch.  As we sat there waiting we noticed that this McDonald's had delivery.  YES DELIVERY!  The delivery men would pack up their McDonald’s delivery boxes and get on their mo-ped scooters and head out to deliver lunches to those that had ordered them, we thought it was a riot, so of course we took pictures.

Once that was out of the way on we were with our mission – to the Post office.  While walking we came across a Dunkin Donuts.  I was truly excited.  This was a little bit of home so far away from home.  On the other side of the world to be exact.

Im supposed to be pointing at "Providence", my home town right above where I am pointing "Sacramento"

Though we had just had a cup of coffee at Starbucks less than 2 hours before, PL and I were about to go in when the Becker’s joined us; the four of us strolled into D&D and ordered our coffee and donuts.  Now I am not a huge fan of donuts and typically will not eat them, though here I had to have a French Cruller (sp), it was very disappointing.  While trying to decide on which donuts we would ultimately have LB came across a sea weed and bacon option to which we all took a pass.  We sat there and enjoyed our coffee and donuts for what it was and then continued back on our search for the post office.   As we continued our walk we were detoured around (Shanghai is the host of the 2010 World Expo and doing a major over haul of parts of their city) and finally stumbled upon the post office, however I did not get stamps because they had run out.  We decided to continue searching and then walk towards the Pearl, one of the major skyline buildings that Shanghai was known for.   After a brief stop in what can only be described as an indoor flea market, we made a pit stop in the Renaissance Hotel to use their facilities and to ask directions.  While there the valet/concierge asked me if I wanted to mail the postcards (I had taken them out for a visual in the event the person we encountered for directions did not speak English), I informed him that they were not ready to be mailed out as they did not have stamps.  He then offered to put stamps on them and that he would make sure they were mailed out (note to those reading this, if you did not receive your postcard from my trip to China the valet/concierge at the Renaissance Hotel in China is the one to blame).  I gladly handed him the postcard and money to pay for the stamps and quickly we were once again on our way.  We arrived to the pearl and made the decision not to pay the money to go up for the non-existent view since it was overcast and rainy.

We took a few pictures at the base when 2 of our international students (the Columbian guys) happened upon us and informed us of how to get a great free view of the city and the Bottle Opener (another of the world famous sky line buildings in Shanghai, this one is one of the tallest buildings in the world).  PL and I were all over it, we decided we were going to go for it, leaving the Becker’s behind we were now on our way.  As we were detoured through a park and around a crossing we came within feet of the base of the building without finding a way to get to it and finally we succumb to the cold and rainy day.

this is as close as we got to one of the tallest buildings in the world, due to detours and traffic and mostly weather

We gave up and decided to call it a loss.  We then took a subway back to the pier area and thought we would be close enough to walk to our ship.  We arrived to our subway stop and started what we thought would be a short walk.  We walked for about 45 minutes and stopped at a convenience store to spend the last of our money on chips and beer.  We finally arrived to our ship and were pleased with the events of our day, I mean after all we had chips and beer.

this was the view Shang Hai harbor from my cabin window

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Great experience of a lifetime

With my visit to the Great Wall of China I am able to check another item off the bucket list, the 2nd of the Wonders of the World I would visit on my voyage around the world.  I walked, hiked, fell, but mostly climbed the Juyongguan Pass of The Great Wall China on Friday, November 13, 2009.  

As we arrived we were quite excited about what we were about to embark upon, I along with about 30 students and two colleagues dismounted our bus in about 30 degree weather, and though there was snow on the ground we started straight away to the entry way of The Great Wall.  We stopped only to take pictures as we started up the STEEP staircase, it was then that it occurred to me that I was in no Disney movie and this Great Wall hike was actually going to be more of a climb than a hike.  

The steps were in no way uniform not one step was the same height as the next but the one thing they did have in common was that they were all very steep.   Also due to the snow that had fallen just days before our arrival they were covered in snow and ice which made the hike up much more treacherous.

Though I started my climb with 4 layers (2 outer and 2 inner layers) I was down to my 2 inner layers as the first 20 minutes of the hike had me quite warm.

About an hour into the hike, I could hear some of our students yelling “Here comes Ana the LLC, Here comes Ana” I then realized it was our international student from the Basque region and he along with another student.  They had commandeered one of the forts of the wall and were dropping snowballs, throwing them on all the passers-by yelling “in the name of the Basque country, go home you filthy Mongols”

It was a bit funny, he and his snowball throwing partner were throwing snowballs at everyone, even if they weren’t with our group; everyone enjoying this break from the serious climbing and joining in the impromptu snowball fight.  I managed to keep walking by unscathed.    Though how he and got ahead of me without my noticing is beyond me.  But up on the next tower were my colleagues the Becker’s with some students who had commandeered another fort.  They had an arsenal of snowballs and were just getting everyone as they came up the hill towards their tower.  I was grazed once or twice.  I entered the ground floor of their fort and I could hear them plotting.  As I crept up the stairs and around corners.  Then I heard a small commotion, it seems that LB lost control of a snowball and ended up pegging a Chinese man that was on the fort with them. He realized it was all in fun, then he and his friend joined the Becker’s and our students and engaged our students on the ground in an International snow ball fight on the Great Wall of China.  The students on the ground were the International student from the Basque region joined by some French folk and other Semester at Sea students.  It was so much fun.  Later on the bus on the way back to our hotel I thanked the student from the Basque region, telling him the snowball fight indeed made my Great wall experience a different experience. 

After the break we finished hiking the wall, it was steep everywhere, just as we thought the worst was over because we had reached the tallest part of our section of the wall and we would start our descend, it occurred to us, we have to climb down this thing, and the part that we descended on was not easy.  On our descend we remarked just what a marvel of engineering this wall is, the angles and slopes on the side of these mountains literally made you feel as if you were about to fall off the mountain.  We came to the realization that even climbing the stairs up you had to look down at your steps because they were uneven in nature, is it any wonder the Mongols were kept out of China, and if they tried to cross in the winter as we experienced, at times this would make them sitting ducks because the snow would only dampen their effort.   Most of the time we were literally walking backwards as we held on to the hand rails, as if we were repelling off a mountain side, It was more snowy and icy on the climb down than it had been on the hike up.  It was treacherous.  

We descended for about an hour when we started to see that the end of our hike was nearing.  As we arrived to the platform on the bottom we saw just how steep the Wall had been.  Our Great Wall experience was over and it had been Great, it felt like an accomplishment.  

Thursday, December 3, 2009

A whirlwind tour of Beijing

In the early hours of November 13, 2009 a group of 30 or so members of the Semester at Sea community woke up at 4am to meet and head out to Beijing, China from Hong Kong.  

We boarded our flight by 730am and were delayed due to weather, in my usual form as I do on airplanes, I immediately fell asleep and was only awaken by one of my colleagues a few rows away telling me to make sure I ate the meal they were about to serve since we would miss lunch due to us being late.  Yes we were served a hot meal aboard this China Air flight, it was pretty good.  We were about to be on a 4 day excursion to Beijing sponsored by Peking University.  In the next 3 nights and 4 days we would visit the Summer Palace, the Ming Dynasty Tombs, the Great Wall, Tienanmen Square, The Forbidden City, and the Temple of Heaven. 

First stop the Summer Palace (in winter)

 where we had to come back through the gates and announce that we were back (among the living) so that our spirit would not remain with the dead.  A superstition

I would also partake of some of the best Chinese food I have ever had (of course it’s the best since Im in China), though I am not a fan of Chinese food.  Including the adventurous visit to Ghost street, (rightly named because the restaurants that line it are open into the wee hours of the morning) where we ate Hot Pot, literally a pot of soup that had everything in it including 4 whole frogs and was so spicy it made us sweat.  

 It would be a whirlwind tour and truly amazing.  The only one of these visits that I will blog about separately is The Great Wall.  For the rest I hope you enjoyed the pictures.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Hong Kong in less than 24 hours

Thank God I can’t drive to Hong Kong on a whim, because I would be there all the time.  I would describe this magnificent country (it’s a special administrative region of China) as a mixture of Miami, Las Vegas, New York, and New Orleans, with a little Rodeo Drive and Madison Avenue thrown in for good measure.  By far the most magnificent sky line of any I have ever seen, and as metropolitan as any major US city, with a great sense of history and culture thrown in. 

We knew when we arrived that we were only going to be in Hong Kong for less than 24 hours and would have to plan wisely in order to make the best of it.  So after coming into the magnificent harbor and doing our usual morning responsibilities joined by 4 of my colleagues we decided to go out and see what Hong Kong had to offer.  In leaving the port area we had to walk through a mall to exit, this was the most high end mall I had ever been to;  Armani exchange, Dolce and Gobana, Burberry, Chloe and other boutique stores, all for children.  We knew we weren’t in Kansas anymore.  As we walked out of the exit we were encountered by Christmas decorations, they were everywhere outside this mall it was a winter wonderland, it made us actually remember that the Christmas season was upon us.  We asked for some quick directions and thought were on our way when in mid stride we were immediately stopped by a small group of school children that wanted to survey us on what we thought of Hong Kong, of course having just arrived we couldn’t answer many of their questions though GH did answer as much as he could.

Of we went to discover the city.  Walking into what seemed like the downtown area past 5 star hotels and more A-list name stores.  It really felt like we were in any major city in the US, with the exception of all the Chinese writing on the buildings of course.   We had to run a quick errand with AH who needed a stamp on her passport and while she ran off with PL to take care of that me, ED, and GH went to Starbucks to get real coffee.  We had been missing “real” coffee (the ship coffee is made from a paste, and taste like it).  We enjoyed every sip of the coffee.  Having our errand done, we now did our usual first day in port things:

1.       Exchange money
2.       Get stamps
3.       Get postcards

After we had finished that we decided it was time to figure out how we would spend the next few hours.  There were so many options and so little time.  Should we hop on the tram and get a guided tour of the area, or would Hong Kong Disney be our next stop, or Victoria Peak.  Instead I convinced the group that we should take the subway and head to Lantau Island and see the Tian Tan Buddha.   You might be thinking what’s the big deal about seeing a Buddah, you seen one you seen them all, no?  Well not so my friend.  The Tian Tan Buddha is the 2nd largest outdoor seated Buddha in the world and a magnificent sight.  Since none of us had any real plans for our day and everyone was game, off we went.   A subway ride and 360 degree view cable car ride later we found ourselves on Lantau Island walking towards the Big Buddha, but not before stopping to watch a kite demonstration.

We watched as 5 men shifted around this huge kite which looked like nothing in particular on the ground and as soon as it was airborne we could see that it was an octopus.  We stood around and watched until that kite crashed and then they put up these diamond shaped kites with long tails that made ripping sounds.  After a few minutes we kept walking towards the Buddha.  At the foot of the steps to the Buddha we noticed there was a monastery across the way, so we decided to visit that first and then circle around to walk up the many stairs to visit the Buddha.

We walked over to the monastery and walked through the entry way, which was more lake an ante room, to reveal a quiet courtyard and a beautifully ornate temple.  Incense had been burning outside the temple entryway but not beyond its doorways.  Everything was so beautiful.  We walked around a bit taking pictures and being reflective before we headed back towards the Buddha.

Once at the bottom of the stairs again we started our ascent to visit with the sitting Buddha.  As the clouds rolled in around him it seemed like he was moving at times.  The closer we got the more details we noticed and the more interesting he became.  Finally at the summit just below the lotus throne he sits on we walked around wondering how he had come to be, sitting atop this mountain.  He was immense and amazing.  We walked around a bit and then descended from his throne.

Having enjoyed our visit with the Big Buddha we were pleased that we had selected this way to spend the little time we had in Hong Kong.  We boarded our crystal cabin cable car to take us back, we enjoyed the 25 minute ride as we watched planes take off and land from nearby Hong Kong international airport, we watched other empty cable cars swaying in the wind as well as other magnificent views as we lost view of the Buddha in the distances.  We arrived to the ground safely and after a brief stop at the post office walked back to our subway station and took the subway back to the center of Hong Kong.   By the time we reached our ship it was dark and the magic of the city was all aglow.  The light show in the harbor would begin shortly as buildings flashed their neon lights while others stood hovering above just glowing. 

Our day was well spent.  Next time I'm in Hong Kong perhaps I will do the city tour.