When Mothers Invade China: Remember That Time in Beijing …

So I know its been a few weeks since my spring break, but I know that I needed to catch you all up on the rest of our vacation.

Qibao is always a fun spot to go to (if you’re in Shanghai and haven’t gone yet, please do!) and the day that we went had beautiful weather. Upon entrance, my mom and I took the usual tourist-y pic (with the awesome lion!). It was early in the day, but already getting packed. I’ve never gone to a tourist spot in Shanghai when it isn’t busy. You could go on a workday morning, and it would still be packed to the gills with people. In Chinese, there’s a saying “仁山仁海” which literally means for a large open space to be completely packed with people. That did not deter us, however.

My mom needed to get some presents for people at work and family (FOR THOSE OF YOU READING THIS, ITS A SURPRISE :)), so we got those right off the bat. Then my mother spotted a Qipao (different than Qibao) store. Qipaos are the traditional Chinese women’s dresses with the semi-high collar, beautiful silk patterns, and high slits. This store had very beautiful dresses, but my mother decided on getting a very nice purple Qipao jacket (she’s probably worn it to work a few times). And we didn’t even need to bargain about the price!

After a long day in Qibao, the next day was a travel day. On to Beijing! I was excited to see China’s capital, and to see the differences between Beijing and Shanghai. People always told me that Beijing was “more Chinese” than Shanghai, so I had to see it for myself. And of course, one of my mom’s dreams has been to see the Great Wall. So, we hopped on a train for about 5 hours and landed in Beijing. It was a little colder than I expected, but we lucked out and had beautiful weather while we were there. The pollution was not as bad as people said it would be, but we bought masks just in case it got worse (it didn’t).

After arriving at our hotel, we were both so exhausted that we didn’t want to do a big tourist-y thing that afternoon, so we just walked around our neighborhood. Our hotel was in a “胡同”, or alleyway. Beijing’s 胡同 are actually quite famous; they are definitely one-way streets with little houses on both sides. It was nice to be located in a quieter section of Beijing, coming from living in a very busy section of Shanghai.

The next day was the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square. I obviously had not done my homework before coming to Beijing, because I had no idea they were right across the street from each other! My bad. However, that made it very convenient for us. We started off in the Forbidden City early, hoping to escape most of the tourists. That failed. But the human traffic wasn’t as bad as we thought it would be.

Walking into the first entrance of the Forbidden City you can feel the history around you. I was just trying to imagine the sheer number of people that not only lived there, but also worked and served. The first few buildings are absolutely colossal.  As we walked through (I have to be honest, I have no idea what some of the buildings we went in were called) we passed by private quarters of past emporers, concubines, servants, advisors, the list goes on and on. It isn’t just called the Forbidden City, it is an actual CITY. I don’t know how long it would take someone to actually go into every single building. No idea.

After a few hours in the Forbidden City, my mom and I were both getting a little tired and getting run over/shoved by school children and little old ladies (they are FIERCE). So we decided to leave the city and go see Tiananmen Square. Now it is simply used as headquarters for a lot of government officials and people walk through it everyday. However, it was still important for us to go and see it. It wasn’t very special to look at, but still definitely necessary.

The next day was THE GREAT WALL OF CHINA DAY!!!! All the excitement. We got up very early so we could, once again, get there before all the tourists, and we were actually somewhat successful. We went to the section called Mutianyu. We rode cable cars up (you can also hike up, but we decided against it) to the top; the ride was about 10 or so minutes, maybe not even. Once at the top, we could finally admire the INCREDIBLE view. Breathtaking. I don’t actually think I’ve seen something as magnificent. I’ve also never felt smaller in my entire life. As we stood on the wall, Mom and I slowly started to take in the actual age of the wall, the huge effort that it took to actually build, all of the people that died on the wall (and are still there, EW) and the fact that you can see it from space. AWESOME. The air was also so pure and fresh, you would never even know about pollution. After a few hours there, we took pictures, ooo’ed and aaaahhh’ed, and took the cable car back down. Mom and I bought the mandatory Great Wall and “I <3北京” shirts. We finally arrived at our hotel early afternoon and decided we definitely needed a nap.

The next day we came back to Shanghai. We got back to our hotel at around 2ish (I think?) and decided to do a little shopping. With East Nanjing Road right next to us, how could we not? That night we went out for some AMAZING hot pot right across the street from our hotel. That’s one of the things I love about Shanghai; good food is always right there. The food coma after good hot pot is also very necessary to the hot pot experience.

Mom unfortunately left the next day. We were luck enough to squeeze in Yu Garden before she left. Yu Garden is so beautiful, very peaceful and has a decent shopping district outside of it, if you’re looking for pearls, silk, tea, or any China knick-knacks. I dropped Mom off at the airport, a little tearful, and headed back to school. Luckily I still had a few days before classes started again, so I took the opportunity to relax and just hang out.

 

Next Blog Posting: The epic Strawberry Music Festival!!

When Mothers Invade China!!: Introducing my Mother to Shanghai

Hello Everyone. First off, sorry that its been a month since my last blog post. Things came up, I got busy and all of the sudden I left you out to dry. My bad. But I promise that these next few blog posts about my spring break, MY MOTHER IN CHINA, and exploring Beijing are going to make up for it :)

So starting on April 4th, it was officially spring break. You know, flying papers up in the air, students running out of the building with ear-to-ear grins, the usual. All of us CET students were thrilled to finally have a decent break. Some of us traveled around China, some of us went off to Bali, and some of us were fortunate enough to have our parents come visit us. For me, I was more than ecstatic to have my mother come to China. At first I was a little concerned, just because my mom had never been to Asia and knows NO Chinese other than how to say “Hello” and “Thank You”. However, this is when my Chinese SUDDENLY decided to kick in. Thank God.

Before meeting my mom at the airport, I was kind of imagining something along the lines of the opening part of Love Actually: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cUoxXpqof8A. However, it mostly just looked like a lot of bored people waiting around. And important westerners meeting their drivers holding signs. Oh well. But when I saw my mom, it kind of took me by surprise. My mother. In Shanghai. Other than looking a bit lost and tired, she looked great! We immediately found a taxi driver and head off to our hotel. I wanted to take a taxi instead of the boring subway because:

1. The subway is boring.

2. I had just spent about 1 1/2 hours on it getting to the airport.

3. I wanted my mom to see what its like coming into Shanghai; the old houses, the insane amount of construction, and of course, the crazy drivers.

We stayed at the Grand Central Hotel , which was an AWESOME hotel, for anyone looking for a place to stay in Shanghai. It’s huge, and makes great Cosmopolitans (sorry Meme, but its true). I was hoping that the hotel was a little more Eastern and looked less like a typical New York hotel, but after spending about 2 months in a true Chinese college, I was ready for a little pampering. That first day all we actually did was sit at the lounge in the hotel and drink, to be quite honest. But we were both pretty exhausted.

Day 2: Introduced to the roommate and “true” Shanghai

The next day I knew exactly where I wanted to take my mom: to meet my roommate. Fu Jie, my precious roommate, is one of the people who has kept me the most sane since I’ve been here. When I forgot my shoes at home, she took me shoe shopping, gave me directions to my internship, gets me food in the morning when I don’t get up early enough, forces me to speak Chinese even when I REALLY DON’T FEEL LIKE IT, and makes sure I do my homework every night. Her not meeting my mother would be tragic.

After seeing my mom and Fu Jie meet for the first time, it was obvious how well they got along. It was great to see two important women in my life, from two completely different ends of the Earth, come together. My mother also met the awesome, awesome people at the CET office and she saw where I spend most of my day. It was also where I told her the secret to using an Asian toilet (which is definitely tricky for first time users, let me tell you).

CLIFFHANGER ENDING!!! If you want to read about my mother’s first experience in a traditional Chinese town and what she thought of chaunr, wait for the next installment!!

Part Two: Hiking Adventures and Hangzhou!

Part Two has arrived.
So we left off at me not-so-gracefully getting back down the mountain. After having dinner with Farmer Chen’s family, including an adorable little baby boy, we got back on the bus. Fortunately, we knew that the ride was only going to be about an hour and a half. I fell asleep probably as soon as I sat down. When I woke up, we were back to civilization. Hangzhou looked gorgeous at night. But I couldn’t really appreciate it as much as I could. All I could think about was a comfy bed and the hottest shower possible.
The hotel we stayed at was very nice (western toilet, thank God) and it didn’t take me very long before I was in my pajamas and in bed. The next morning we walked to a bakery close by. A French bakery. I took a moment to realize that I was globalization in action: An American in Hongzhou, China eating at a French bakery holding a Japanese made phone. But it was really good French pastry. We took our breakfast in little baggies so we could continue to walk around the city. After a few blocks we turned the corner to find a lake. That’s right, a HUGE lake right in the middle of a bustling city. After some bargaining and arguing, we were able to get a boat ride on the lake for apparently a lot cheaper than they usually give. A mid-morning boat ride on a lake was exactly what we needed. It was still a cultural experience and still being relaxing.

After walking around a little bit more, we decided to go to Lingyin Temple, which is a famous Buddhist Temple right in downtown Hangzhou. I had never been to a temple before, so I had no idea what to expect. Maybe some big Buddha statues? We walked in to find all different kinds of hill engravings into rock. Most of them were different gods, some depicted stories, some depicted warriors. What was the most beautiful was how people reacted to the engravings. Buddhists would go up to an engraving, light incense, put a hand on the engraving and start into deep prayer. All around the hills and little caves were piles upon piles of incense. We moved onto the first temple. Of course taking pictures was strictly forbidden, but I will definitely remember what I saw for the rest of my life. There was an ENORMOUS golden statue of Buddha surrounded with what looked like golden flowers, boxes, and different gifts. It was amazing. I’ve never seen anything like it before. We continued onto three more smaller temples; all full of huge statues of different gods and deities.  Thousands upon thousands of people were there, worshipping, praying, burning incense, or simply staring at the awesome symbol in front of them.

As we were walking out, there was a small store with little trinkets and tourist-y type things. There was a counter with all different kinds of bracelets, some with little charms and Buddhas on them, others just plain. There was one that stuck out to me; it was a bracelet that you wrap multiple times around your wrist with two little yellow stones and a charm on the end. Even though it is now two weeks later, people always comment on it and say “You know that means good luck and serenity? Its very pretty.” I plan on treasuring it always :)

Part One: Hiking Adventures and Hangzhou!

I know its a week late, I’m sorry.
So last weekend there was a CET-arranged trip to a small village (which I forgot the name of) and the city of Hangzhou. Now, for those of you who know me well, I don’t hike. Like ever. The closest I ever got to camping was when I would visit my grandparents in North Carolina and we would set up a tent on the porch for a night. I am definitely not an outdoors-y type person. However, I don’t know the next time I’m going to be able to say “Yeah, I hiked a mountain in China and it was pretty freaking awesome.” So I got up at the crack of dawn (like before the crack of the crack of the crack of dawn) to get up to go climb this here mountain. Jeremy, our director, said that it was supposed to take around 3 1/2 to 4 hours to get there. Well, since we all got up at some ungodly hour, we passed out before we left Donghua’s campus. When I awoke to the bus not moving, I assumed we were at some form of rest stop or maybe even at our destination. Boy, was I wrong.
We were currently experiencing our first traffic jam. In the states, we’ve all been in traffic jams. They’re noisy, irritating, but usually don’t last that long. Yeah, not in China. Let me set the scene: The fog was so bad that the highways were being shut down. Well, for the badrillions of people ALREADY ON THE HIGHWAY this proved to be a problem. So what did we do? Got out of the bus because by this time we had been stuck inside for about 3 hours. We were going a little stir crazy. And needed a bathroom. So everybody was out of their cars, just hanging out, smoking, chatting, like this happens everyday. After a bit of searching, someone finally found a spot where the girls could pee. Well, just as the first girl in line was about to go, traffic started moving. So we dashed back to the bus (without being hit, surprisingly) and continued on our journey. But because of the fog, we were only able to move about 3km every hour. By about 11am the fog had lifted somewhat and the roadways became normal.
The next part of the journey that I remember was waking up to a gorgeous blue skies and mountains surrounding the little two line highway. Now I’ve been to North Carolina and seen part of the Appalachian Mountains, driven up and down the PCH in California along cliffs, and hiked in the Vermont mountains. Nothing compared to this. It was beautiful. We finally started driving through a small city, which was a good sign that we were close to our destination. 45 minutes later, and a harrowing drive in a HUGE bus on teeny tiny roads, we arrived at Farmer Chen’s house.
If I were ever to live in the country, I would have Farmer Chen’s house. His backyard is a mountain. With his own personal trail to the top. And a small bridge going over a brook. Yes. Lunch with Farmer Chen was insanely delicious. But I haven’t had a dish I haven’t liked. We ate as much as we all could, and started on this hike. Now, at first we walked up a road, so I thought it wouldn’t be that bad. And then we started it started to get steeper. And steeper. And steeper. The hike pretty much went from a nicely cleared but steep road to a foot wide “trail” on the side of a mountain. It was an experience for sure. But once in a while, we could get a clear view of the scenery up in the mountains, and that was what made us keep going.
When we finally got to the top we were covered in mud and sweat. But the view. We all stood amazed at the beauty of the scenery around us. Some decided to continue on up to another peak, while some of us stayed where we were. A couple friends and I took a walk down to a dam. Saying this place was beautiful is such an understatement. The air was the cleanest and purest, and the silence was truly silent. I know that sounds weird, but there is hardly a moment during the day when there is truly no noise. It was perfection.
But unfortunately, we had to go back down. If I thought getting UP the mountain was hard enough, getting DOWN was even worse. Instead of taking the paths we came up on, we took a road for some part, and then made our own short cuts back down. It was scary because it was getting dark. By the time we reached Farmer Chen’s house again, it was pitch black dark out. And since we were in the middle of nowhere, we could see the stars. I didn’t realize how much I’ve missed seeing the stars at night until I saw them again.

Part Two: Hiking Adventures and Hangzhou coming soon!

Starting my Internship! Woo!

Today I started my internship at Habitat for Humanity China at their Shanghai campus. Its the newest branch of HFH in China. The main branch is in Hong Kong, but they also have more offices in the south and a Beijing office. I was definitely nervous about starting today. You know how when you wake up to an important day and you have this gut feeling like everything was going to go wrong? Yeah, I had that. Definitely. Like when you have those naked dreams where you walk through your old high school without pants and everybody notices except you. Like you went to China for a semester and forgot to bring your black flats that you were going to wear to work everyday. That was me. I tore my room apart this morning looking for the essential shoes I’D SWORN I’D BROUGHT but instead I had to hustle to class in regular grubby clothes, completely frustrated and angry. Needless to say, my morning did not start off the way I wanted to. Thank sweet baby Jesus that I have an amazing roommate who not only understood my predicament, but also looked up the closest cheap shoe store, my subway route back from work, and picked me up lunch so I could quickly eat in the cab to work. I honestly don’t know what I would do without Fu Jie. Actually, I do know. I would probably have accidentally eaten meat several times, gotten insanely lost, and also would have gone to work barefoot.

So fast forward to after class (about 12:20) when I had to throw my work clothes on and Fu Jie and I went on an adventure to the shoe store so I could find these adorable (and cheap!) shoes for work. After Fu Jie throwing me in a cab, I was off to work. Unfortunately the taxi driver assumed I spoke no Mandarin, so he didn’t really say anything. But that gave me the option of observing my surroundings and a new area of Shanghai that I definitely need to explore. In the neighborhood where my work is, the streets are lined with trees. I can’t wait for them to bloom! And all the houses look like they’re from the English countryside. Very traditional with ivy growing all over them. We also passed all these little boutiques, bakeries, restaurants and other places where I will be definitely be visiting :)

So I get to work and automatically the guards are like “HEY, WHITE LADY! WHO ARE YOU?” except they didn’t actually say that, just yelled at me to show them where I was going. I showed them my directions and they lead me to my office. I wasn’t surprised that the office was extremely small and only had three people working in it. And they’re all named Rachel. Its fine. Non-profits usually don’t have very lavish offices. I can’t really say what I’m working on (non-disclosure agreement) but what I can say is that I’m really excited to be working for such an awesome organization with such good history doing such good work.
On the way to the subway, I noticed that the neighborhood is so cute, very ex-pat-esque. But I still want to explore, as usual :)

I will hopefully keep updating everyone with my work at HFH, and my explorations around new neighborhoods!

All the om noms.

“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” —-Virginia Woolf

Well Virginia, you might have been a tad on the crazy side, but you definitely were right about food. Personally, I can’t function without good food. In the United States, we usually equate good food to an expensive restaurant, or maybe those one-in-a-million little places that serves the best whatever. However, in China good food is everywhere. Literally, the streets are lined with little street vendors serving the weirdest, most delicious food. When I say weird, I mean by American or Western standards. For example, you can get octopus on kebabs. Octopus. Little tentacles being grilled in some sweet, spicy concoction over an open flame. And wicked cheap.
The CET Shanghai director Jeremy Friedlin told us during orientation that we will find “our food”. He said it would be the one food you will tell all your friends about back home, the one you will try to replicate and fail horribly (or maybe succeed?), the one that you will travel miles and miles for just to get another taste. Well, I might have found mine. A few days ago, the CET students went to Qibao, which is one of the oldest villages in/near Shanghai (i’m not really sure where it was…). Other than the gorgeous architecture and historical buildings, the food. The food, the food, the food. The NARROW streets were lined with little tea shops, tourist-y shops, and most importantly: vendors making/selling the most delicious smelling food. Some of it was mouth-watering, some was questionable, and some I wouldn’t go near with a ten-foot pole.
A lot of people have asked me if being a vegetarian would be a restriction while I was in China. Let me make this clear: It doesn’t. Not one bit. Being adventurous with eating doesn’t have to include eating meat. Trust me; there’s a lot of weird vegetarian stuff, too.
Anyway, back to Qibao. It got to be about lunchtime, and we were looking for some place to eat. We ended up eating at this little old restaurant. As usual, the group of white kids got stares from pretty much everyone. We went upstairs to this small little room where we waited for lunch, which happened to be a soup with rice paste dumplings. Very, very yummy. After we finished we continued walking and smelling so many delicious things. Even though we all just ate, it was obviously we still had room for more. I got a little hesitant when my roommate went up to a cart vendor, because they are notorious for giving the lovely present of food poisoning. She handed me a small pint full of tofu squares covered in a red spice. It definitely captured my attention. Right after taking a bite, I knew I had found “it”. So.good. And I can’t even tell you what it was about the cart vendor tofu stuff that made me eat the whole pint and then want more. And a lot of my friends/family will tell you that I am not the biggest tofu person. But after eating that, I would have no problem traveling to Qibao again just to have some of that amazing food.
So wherever you are, try and find “your food”. It doesn’t have to be expensive, you don’t have to be able to make it yourself, or even know all of the ingredients. But you do need to go out there and find it.

- RHG

First few days in Shanghai!

Hey Everyone!

So I successfully landed in Pudong International Airport on February 13th after an insanely long journey. It started at about 3am on February 12th, with me and my incredible mother grumpily getting up so I could get to my 7am flight at Bradley International Airport to Chicago O’Hare. From there I went to Tokyo, and then onto Shanghai. Although the journey was rough, with not too much sleep, the excitement of the light at the end of the tunnel kept me going. I have to say that leaving home was one of the hardest things I’ve done. There was a mix of sadness because I knew that I wouldn’t see home for  about four months with the sheer thrill that today I would be leaving for my big adventure. I did my best to pack, although I wanted to bring more clothes, but my suitcase wouldn’t allow it :( So I brought the essentials and hoped for the best. Armed with my knitting needles, a good book, sleeping pills and a neck support I was ready to go.
I knew I was supposed to meet my roommate at the airport, but did I know where? No. Did my phone work? No. Great. I officially had my first panic attack because not only did I barely know the language that was being spoken around me, but I had no idea where my roommate was. Luckily, as I walked out into the main exit area, I saw a semi-familiar face holding a sign with my name. Yay! After an adventure (missing our bus, getting on another bus, then getting in a taxi) of about an hour, we finally arrived at Donghua University. I didn’t mind getting into Donghua so late because of one fact: China is still in the middle of New Year’s celebrations, which means fireworks! They were going off all around us. People were throwing firecrackers in the middle of the street, shooting off huge fireworks right next to buildings. It was like the Fourth of July, with fireworks displays all over the city. What a way to experience the city for the first time.
I have to be honest; the next day was rough. Getting up was the worst. We had orientation starting at 9am, so we got up at 7:30 so we could have some breakfast before starting the day. Breakfast consisted of soup with long noodles and vegetables. I can’t remember the last time I actually had soup for breakfast. In any case, it was delicious and just what I needed to get going for the first day. Then about one hour later, during orientation (when I was supposed to be paying attention) jet lag kicked in. Hard. However, I wasn’t the only jet-lagged person. Pretty much everyone else was, too. After listening to a morning full of rules, regulations and past stories of CET-Shanghai students, we were allowed to go have lunch with our roommates.
My roommate’s name is FuJie, although I don’t know what her name means. I really like how Chinese names all have meanings. She’s from the Hunan province and is an animation major. She gave me two little postcards with her drawings on them, which are actually amazing. Since my artistic talent doesn’t go above stick figures, I was pretty impressed.

I’m truly excited for what the next days will bring. Weird food? Interacting with locals? Learning more Chinese? Bring.It.On.

25.

Dear World,

Hi. In 25 days I will be traveling half way around the world. Although I’d like to say that I am fully prepared for this experience that will forever change me, I’m not. At all. Have I even thought about packing? No. Have I printed off my airline tickets? Looked at all the requirements I have to hand in for customs? Found out my classes? Not in the slightest. By now, I thought that I would be so mentally/physically/emotionally prepared. Less than 30 days. That’s all I have.

I don’t come from a large town. There’s about 30,000 people. Sometimes when I’m driving around, it seems huge, and then other times, when I can’t go anywhere without seeing someone I know, it seems so small. I left my town because I thought it was too small, so I went to Worcester. I thought that being in a city with 3 million people would be so overwhelming. Shanghai has approximately 22 million. More than 7 times bigger than Worcester. Holy.Jesus. How am I going to fit in? Will I be lost in the shuffle? I can barely find my shoes in the morning, how am I going to be able to navigate Shanghai?

Okay, enough with being nervous. Something I have realized in the past few weeks is the opportunity I have been presented with. Neither of my parents of millionaires, but we aren’t broke either. I thought I was extremely lucky, especially as a woman, to be going to Clark University and study what I want. Now, two and a half years later, I am presented with the opportunity of a lifetime. In high school I never thought I would be able to travel half way around the world. I didn’t even think I would be studying something that would allow me to travel. But because of the support of my professors, parents, and friends, I have decided to take on this new adventure. And I couldn’t be doing it without them.

What is the one thing I am looking forward to most in Shanghai? New people. Of course I will miss my friends like crazy cakes and my family even more. But who doesn’t like meeting new people and their perspectives? If I’ve learned one thing at Clark, its that everyone has their own experiences and opinions that they bring to the table. I can’t wait to meet the people I’ll be working with, be studying with, and being exploring Shanghai with. I’m ready to dive deep into Shanghai’s history, culture, food, nightlife, and anything else it has to offer.

I might not be prepared to leave tomorrow, but in 25 days, I will be prepared to explore a brave new world.

- RHG