HOME!!!

The arrival back into the U.S was a completely different experience! This time, I had my mom and my boyfriend waiting for me with a PB and J sandwich, apples, and some chips! I had put in this request weeks ago! I was so excited to be home to see my family! No more late night talks on Skype, no more missed emails, and no more asking to borrow someones international phone! I could actually talk to these people and touch them! When I finally made it through customs, my family was no where to be seen! This was their first time picking someone up from an international flight, so they were waiting close to the gate where the plane actually arrived. When I saw them, I ran to give them each a hug and a kiss! I finally felt a sense of being home! I really appreciate getting to talk to my family members, touch them, and having that ability to get in the car and go and visit them whenever I want!

What I miss the most about China… Everything but the frog! I especially miss the friends that I had made! Staying up late and having girls night, laughing, and playing games! Learning about England from our new friends! Paul, who I really bonded with taught us about pressure points on our bodies to help us remember things, get rid of headaches, and to help with foot pains (we had lots of those)! I also miss all the adventures we had! We would wake up and would hit the ground running! We wouldn’t stop until it was time for our heads to hit the pillow! With this, we got to see so much and do so much! I don’t regret a single thing we did while we were there!

If the opportunity ever arises again, I will jump on it so fast! I had so much fun learning new things, seeing so many sights that I never thought I would, and creating memories that will last forever!

Going Home

I have mixed feelings about going home. I’m ready to head home to see my family and friends again, but I’m not ready to leave the amazing group I’ve been apart of! We have all become so close in such a short time! It’s going to be sad to leave these wonderful people!

I took the train a day earlier than the rest of the group. I was all alone and was scared to see who I was going to be sharing a room with and were things going to okay? How was I going to know when to get off the train and what am I going to do when someone asks me a question? I was slowly freaking out! I got on the train with no problem. got all comfortable in my bed, and was ready for a 18 hour long train ride of silence. Boy was I wrong! A couple got into the same car as me, got all settled and started talking to each other in Chineses. I knew this was going to a long trip.

What started out as a quiet train ride, turned into a loud and adventurous one! It turned out that the woman from the couple knew how to speak English! She offered me food– have you ever peeled a Pomegranate?, helped me buy dinner, and even let me join in and play a game that resembled Monopoly! Even though I had never met these people in my life, they were so helpful and wanted to please me at any moment, even though I felt like I should have been the one to please them! Once we got back in Beijing, we exchanged emails and I told her to find me on Facebook!

Sara was waiting for me at the train station platform and I have never been so excited to see someone I barely even knew! I invited her out for lunch before I had to say my final goodbye. I knew it was going to be hard to see her leave;  when you put so much trust and have a sense of security with a person, it makes it hard to see them leave. Over lunch we shared pictures of our animals and talked about each others culture. She then promised that she would come and visit us in America within the next year or so! She has always wanted to visit, but never has had the time to, even with her family living in Canada! It was then time to say goodbye… she helped me buy some snacks for dinner, got the bus to the airport situated, and then we said goodbye.

After Sara left, I felt so alone. I had no one to talk to, no place to go, and was left there to cry. So that’s what I did! All these emotions came fluttering in from nowhere! The stress of getting to China, being tired from all the activities had finally caught up with me, I was alone for the first time on this trip, and I was ready to leave, but I also felt like I wanted more. So, I cried. I cried a lot! It was pathetic, but I was going to miss this culture that I had grown to love in just three short weeks!

I’m really going to miss the friends that I have made who helped enrich my cultural experience! Like Victor, Liming, Brian, and Michael! They helped us get everywhere and helped us get out of a few sticky situations. I can’t express how grateful for all these men who made me appreciate their culture! Thank you guys for everything you did for us!

I’m looking forward to waking up and getting on the plane to go home, but I just don’t think I’m ready to leave. I just want to say thank you to those who made the trip so enjoyable! I never could have had this experience without everyone that was apart of this trip, so thank you!

Almost all of our group!

Almost all of our group!

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)

Before leaving for China I knew a little bit about TCM, but that was only because I had asked Patty about it. I was curious about the use of origins and what they actually meant. I was also a little hesitant– sticking needles into a person will provide relief? How is that even possible? I just had to see it before I could believe it!

TCM Hospital

TCM Hospital

My suspicions disintegrated once I had TCM done on me! When Teri and Simon were placing needles in my back and then they twisted them– my world was twisted! The needles Simon had placed earlier in my arm started to twitch from the energy that was moving! It was crazy! I then became a believer, but man my back was sore after the needles came out!

Needles in my back!

Needles in my back!

Even before I became a human push-pin, I had the most amazing experience I’ve had thus far in my life! While in a nearby village, the TCM students were practicing and offering up the skills they have learned. This was composed of one TCM doctor prescribing herbs for teas while the students practiced acupuncture, cupping, and moxibustion. Sitting next to the doctor, TCM students were practicing taking blood pressure. One of the students then asked us Americans if any of us knew how to take blood pressure… (this is my favorite part)… that is when I opened up my mouth to say, “I do!” I had taken a Certified Nursing Assistant class back in high school and that’s where I learned how to take blood pressure. Once they found out, I was strapped in with a stethoscope and a blood pressure cuff and I hit the ground running!

Taking Blood Pressure

Taking Blood Pressure

Getting to help people who have no access to health care and not knowing the last time they received care; you could see how excited they were and that someone was taking care of them. The experience was so moving– I had an overwhelming sense of joy and I couldn’t get over the fact at how privileged we are as Americans with health care. I loved helping provide people with such small care!

 

“It Takes A Great Man (or Woman!), To Climb A Great Wall”

I’ve been to a lot of historical places in America, went to Anne Franks house while I was in Amsterdam, visited Nurnberg while in Germany, and I went to Paris, but you can’t compare them to how massive the Great Wall really is! The wall stretches on for miles and miles! When the rest of the group was flying into China they could see the Wall from the plane! How amazing is that? You can even see it from SPACE!! But the most amazing thing is getting to walk, okay so more like climb stairs that are about a foot tall, on this breathtaking wall!

So many people walking the wall!

So many people walking the wall!

A little background about The Wall; it is the most recognizable symbol of China due to it’s long and vivid history. The Wall was constructed by  Emperor Qin Shi Huang in the third century B.C as hopeful deterrent from barbarians getting into the Chinese Empire. The most well know section of the Great Wall was built in the 14th through the 17th centuries. Even though the Great Wall never effectively prevented invaders from entering China, it became a psychological barrier for those outside of Chinese civilization, and today, it remains as the most powerful symbol of the country’s strength.

Group photo before we start the climb!

Group photo before we start the climb!

When we reached the third and final tier of The Wall; through a small little peep hole, we could see sections of The Old Wall. That itself was just unreal! That was a section that could have been thousands or millions of years old! It was then time to walk back down to the beginning of The Wall. Courtney and I saw a group of men lining up to have their pictures taken in front of a stone statue with writing etched into it. We then asked Pluto what it meant and instantly got in line! Pluto told us that it translated to, “It takes a great man to climb a great wall”. We figured that we had just climbed this amazing monument, why couldn’t we have our picture taken with this statue?!

It Takes A Great Man To Climb A Great Wall!

It Takes A Great Man To Climb A Great Wall!

Showing how steep the wall is!

Showing how steep the wall is!

“Good Morning China!” Okay, so it’s really good night… :)

I took this picture while up in the air... I was leaving Seattle!

I took this picture while up in the air… I was leaving Seattle!

While waiting in the wonderful airport in Seattle, I frantically ate my last “American” meal, called all my loved ones about 200 more times… What can I say? I’m really going to miss these people! Then waited until I got to get on the plane to do one of my biggest fears… I was going to do this all alone, besides having my Pooh Bear with me! He’s like my little security blanket/ a little piece of home. He’s been all around the US, but this was his first time out of the country (when I went to Europe he was replaced by a much smaller one… I didn’t want to lose the special one!)

Anyway, now that I have embarrassed myself, lets talk about what I saw at the airport! Imagine a backwards “L” shape, I’m sitting in the corner and a 40 something year old Chinese woman is sitting in the long part of the backwards “L” shape, but really there are two seats in between us, which is just enough room for a little Indian girl. This little girl was so adorable! She would point out the window and would just say, “Plane! Plane! We ride on that plane!” she would then smile and giggle a little. This went on until the Chinese woman started asking her all sorts of questions; which entailed of, questions that any three year old should know. The Chinese woman then went on to touch her hair! I was expecting the girls parents to RUN over and take their daughter away! So, did they? Of course not! They saw nothing wrong with this at all! It was so strange, being in America still and having a stranger touch your daughters hair, interact with her, and tell her how beautiful she is I couldn’t believe that this was happening right in front of me and the parents were fine with it! That’s when I started talking to the little girl. Before we got on the plane, she ended up snatching up my phone, almost sitting on my lap, watching “rhymes” on YouTube and playing Angry Birds.

The plane ride wasn’t bad at all! I upgraded myself to sitting in a seat that reclined 25% more and had two more inches of legroom, that happened to be the best idea I’ve ever had! The flight was a total of 10 hours long, I slept for 6 of it, and then the other 4 I spent watching movies and I tried talking to the guy who was sitting next to me. This was the my first encounter of a language barrier. When I got off the plane, I immediately began to sweat; what I don’t know is if it was from being glad I just got out of a metal box, that it was HOT EVEN WHEN THE SUN WAS DOWN!!!!, or if I was nervous about my suitcase making it and how was I going to find Sara?

 

I made it through customs, got my bag, and found Sara all under an hour! We got into the Taxi, that’s what should have made me the most scared, but really I was too busy looking out the window and asking WAY more questions than I should have! The sky wasn’t anything I’ve ever seen before, but because of the “wonderful” layer of smog in the air and all the light pollution, the night sky looked like it was a brown color. Sara then said that it was going to rain later that night; being from Oregon, I wasn’t really looking forward to MORE rain, but I knew how to be in the rain and not melt! The thing that shocked me the most; besides all the skyscrapers, on every city block (there’s are like 4 of ours… no joke!) you could go without seeing a fast food restaurant!

Once we made it to the hotel, traffic made the trip longer than it should have and it was 11:30 PM! I got to meet Master Liming Yue in the lobby, say goodbye to Sara for now, and meet my roommate Courtney, oh and I guess finally go to sleep! I wish I could say that when my head hit the pillow I got a restful eight hours, but sadly I only got about three. I wasn’t used to the boards they call a mattress or the overly fluffy pillows. I then turned my trusty friend Mr.Kindle. I was in the process of reading, “Pretty Woman Spitting”, it’s about a woman who spends a year teaching English at a University in a rural area of China. She talks about the squatty potty and how it’s almost best to wait until you get back to the hotel, how not to eat anything off the street– the venders, learn some of the language, and to just enjoy all the sites China has to offer.

The book that gave be insight to China before I actually got to China

The book that gave be insight to China before arriving.

Well, I guess I should get some sleep before we start our adventures! Good Night!

Week 3 Change and Goodbyes

A view along a hike at Zhangjiajie as the fog is lifting after an afternoon thunderstorm.

A view along a hike at Zhangjiajie as the fog is lifting after an afternoon thunderstorm.

This week contained two of my favorite days of hiking and also two of the most emotional days of the trip.  Our last days at the Zhangjiajie National Park with the Tai Chi masters and British group were great. The hikes were beautiful and the geologist in me was astounded at the surrounding formations.  There were massive cliffs, long, skinny ridges, glass walkways and tall pagodas to catch 360° views of the area.  

A tall tower in Zhanjiajie from the top floor of a pagoda.

A tall tower in Zhanjiajie from the top floor of a pagoda.

But after Zhangjiajie we had to say goodbye to the British group and the Tai Chi masters so that the group from our school could go study Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for almost a week. Suddenly we went from a large, tight nit group of about 20 people to just the 7 of us for the first time on this journey.  It felt like the 20 of us had been traveling together for months, not just a couple of weeks, and the goodbye was a little difficult. Some were very excited to be heading to the TCM hospital, and I was interested, but for me the best days of the trip were hiking around the mountains with a large, very diverse group of friends.

Most of our group, after morning Tai Chi practice on our last day all together in Zhangjiajie

Most of our group, after morning Tai Chi practice on our last day all together in Zhangjiajie

We had most of a day’s travel on the train before arriving at the TCM hospital. Upon arriving at the hospital we noticed that everything operated very differently than the previous part of our journey.  Where before we were busy busy busy all the time, suddenly at the hospital we had down time to relax.  We had hours in between meetings and meals and classes that we had to fill by ourselves instead of a planned or recommended adventure ahead.  Meals were no longer as soon as we got back to the hotel after a long day of exploring or a buffet style breakfast right after Tai Chi practice in the morning but at set times throughout the day. It was almost as if being in a whirlwind for two weeks and suddenly we were out of the frenzy and didn’t know what to do with ourselves.

Our mornings seemed very slow while waiting for the consultations with patients, touring the TCM pharmacy or going on rounds to the patients to begin.  There was a 2-3 hour break for lunch and in the afternoons we had classes on acupuncture, cupping, moxibustion, how to do these techniques and what they are good for.  Then a free evening to explore the hospital workout stations outside, play games similar to hacky sack and volleyball with a group of people from at least 5 different countries or just to relax and hang out.

This was our last week in China and as such it was full of feelings of excitement to go home but also of wanting to fill as much into the remaining time as possible. Talk increased about what American foods we were looking forward to and what were our favorite parts about the journey. One person of our group left a day early. This felt really weird to be losing one of our own but it also was a big reminder that our journey was almost over and brought many mixed feelings.   After an all day train ride the next day we said goodbye to two more of our group that headed off on another adventure.  Then after a tumultuous evening of weather delays and rearranging tickets and meeting up with 3 of the people we’d parted ways with earlier in the week I had two more rounds of goodbyes before I was the last one left in Beijing alone. 

Luckily, one of the Tai Chi masters we’d traveled with happened to be in Beijing for a business meeting. He helped me get to the hotel, get some dinner and a room then told me how to get on the shuttle to the airport the next morning.  For the first time in nearly a month I had my own room.  In the Capitol city of China I was finally able to find somewhere completely private with no one else in my room.  I’d had a great time getting to know my roommate over the last 3 weeks and it was very nice to finally be alone. Quil

Anticipating the End of the Journey

As the adventure in China is coming to a close I’m finding that I’m less excited to go home than expected.  Nearly everyone else in the group is extremely excited to be going home to see loved ones and friends soon, yet I’m wishing the trip could continue for at least a few more weeks. There are friends we’ve met that I’d enjoy hanging out with more, places I’d like to explore more, plus an entirely different language I need to learn. I’m also beginning to feel like we didn’t explore their new culture enough. We ate popular and traditional Chinese dishes with chopsticks but we always ate at a restaurant or the hotels, thus not in the average way to eat meals at home.  We were tourists for most of the trip thus seeing only prominent sites. As if someone coming to America and only seeing the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone National Park, the Grand Tetons and New York City than might try to understand the American Culture.

Transportation, crossing the road, sidewalk vendors and smelly markets were all unexpected aspects of the culture I'll miss learning about.

Transportation, crossing the road, sidewalk vendors and smelly markets were all unexpected aspects of the culture I’ll miss learning about.

A new Shaolin Temple. Beautiful and a fantastic memory, yet only tells a small piece of the Chinese culture

A new Shaolin Temple. Beautiful and a fantastic memory, yet only tells a small piece of the Chinese culture

A view from the Wudang Temple overlooking a hazy sky and farming in the notch between mountain peaks.  Just another small piece of the Chinese culture.

A view from the Wudang Temple overlooking a hazy sky and farming in the notch between mountain peaks. Just another small piece of the Chinese culture.

Anticipating this trip I expected to see a lot more of the historic architecture, more dragons, ceremonies and martial arts.  The understanding I’ve gotten from reading about China since returning from this journey is that much of the traditional architecture was destroyed in the mid 1900’s and religions were attacked as the new government came in “to strengthen China from its weak past”. I even anticipated most people wearing kimonos or other traditional clothing but instead they were wearing very Western styles of clothes such as jeans and a tee shirt or dresses.  Many of their shirts even had English words and phrases on them instead of intricate designs. The main difference they had from Western styles was that the women wore mostly high-heeled shoes. The individual shoes were often of the same style but different color within the same pair.

Tai Chi master Kuang and I wearing "traditional" Tai Chi clothing after a morning training session. An attempt at learning the culture.

Tai Chi master Kuang and I wearing “traditional” Tai Chi clothing after a morning training session. An attempt at learning the culture.

I had few expectations about their food but what they did serve was not any Chinese food I’d had in America.  Dishes such as lemon chicken, sweet and sour food, and even rice weren’t as prominent as I’d expected.  Often we had to call many times for the waitresses to deliver the rice and it was always the last dish set on the table, after we’d had a plethora of other dishes to fill ourselves on.  I suppose I may as well comment on one of the main preconceived notions: Chinese height. The population as a whole was not as short as the tales say.  Our group was average height among them. Sure we didn’t see many individuals above 6ft tall and the majority of women wore high heels but we definitely weren’t taller than most of the people.

A typical dining experience along our journey. Often the dishes on the rotating glass would be piled on top of each other as we made room for more food.

A typical dining experience along our journey. Often the dishes on the rotating glass would be piled on top of each other as we made room for more food.

Most things in China were not as I’d expected but I went over there with an open mind, wanting to learn all I could while over there. Some experiences were better than others and overall the trip was a great success, tons of fun and absolutely an amazing opportunity. I tried very hard to not pass any judgment, simply to keep a mindset that they have a different lifestyle that I was curious to explore the differences and similarities with the lifestyle I’ve been raised to know. Traveling to China was probably the best experience I’ve had in life thus far and I’m not looking forward to the journey being over.  Sure I look forward to eating foods and talking to people I know but I will surely miss China. I feel as if a door of opportunity has been opened wide and I must find a way to continue to explore Chinese culture and many other cultures around the globe.

Life back in the States

How I felt breathing Pac. Northwest air upon exiting the plane from China. Picture credit to opwellness.com.

How I felt breathing Pac. Northwest air upon exiting the plane from China. Picture credit to opwellness.com.

That first breath of fresh, good smelling air as I stepped off the plane was fantastic.  That glorious fresh air really helped to make it sink in that I had just been in China and that I was home, in the Pacific Northwest.  Noticing the expanse of short houses spread for mile after mile helped release the crowded feeling that the giant concrete skyscrapers and dense crowds of people had instilled in me while in China. No longer were sites blocked by skyscraper after skyscraper but mountains could be seen many miles in the distance.

 

The 4 hour layover at the airport was spent going through customs, baggage claim, then going back through security and getting a boarding pass to my connecting flight. This process took at least an hour but when I finally made my way to my gate I was so exhausted that I couldn’t keep my eyes open and passed out for about an hour.  Upon boarding that last plane I was excited that the long journey back from China was nearly over and soon I would eat an American meal followed by falling asleep in a comfortable bed in a house, not hotel.

 

Once I fell asleep that night, I didn’t really wake up until 16 hours later.  It was already 2:00 in the afternoon, which is extremely sleeping in for me, before I crawled out of bed and after only 5 hours of being awake I was ready to go back to sleep.  This pattern of sleeping much more than being awake continued for at least 2 days upon which I realized I was getting sick and continued to sleep more than wake for another 3 days.  Eventually I was able to watch movies all day without taking a nap, finally signifying that I’d caught up on sleep and the cold was receding.   Unfortunately with becoming functional again it meant that I had to go back to work and paying bills (aka reality).

 

2 weeks after arriving back in the United states I’m finally back to eating American meals, not talking about China continually, sleeping at regular hours of the night and trying to instill those great memories of China into my mind forever. It was a journey of a lifetime. I learned a lot about myself and the world around me and think I’ve become a better person for it.  Life is a journey in improving oneself and I greatly think that a journey out of your home country is an irreplaceable adventure.

An American burger, one of the few foods I craved upon returning to America.

An American burger, one of the few foods I craved upon returning to America.

Week 2 Tons of travel and extraordinary places

Traveling from Beijing on a Bullet Train. We hit a top speed of 295 km/h before getting stuck for 5 hours due to heavy rain.

Traveling from Beijing on a Bullet Train. We hit a top speed of 295 km/h before getting stuck for 5 hours due to heavy rain.

The end of the long, beautiful hike along the quartzite cliffs at Shaolin Temple was a new building

The end of the long, beautiful hike along the quartzite cliffs at Shaolin Temple was a new building

 

This week we had at least one full day of traveling on a bus and one over night train. Luckily on the train we had sleeper cars so that we could get some rest.  This was especially nice for me because if there’s one thing I learned on the trip it’s that I can’t sleep in a sitting position even if I have a pillow.  Between naps (lying down on the seats) we kept ourselves entertained on these trips by doing Tai Chi push hands and application, and palm readings.  All three Tai Chi masters we traveled with can read palms (though at least one was biased in his translation of the reading).  We also spent a lot of time chatting and getting to know each other, including our own group, the group of British that we were traveling with and the Tai Chi masters.

Fun times while traveling to another fantastic site (Tai Chi Village) via coach.

Fun times while traveling to another fantastic site (Tai Chi Village) via coach.

Nearly every time we arrived at a new hotel after these long travels, it was evening and we would wake up to a fantastic new view from the hotel.  Especially the views from the hotel near the Shaolin Kung Fu schools and the hotel outside Zhangjiajie Park had fantastic views of the surrounding mountains.

Mountains near our hotel at the Shaolin Temple

Mountains near our hotel at the Shaolin Temple

After leaving Beijing we explored the Tai Chi village near Zhengzhou, the birthplace of Tai Chi. We were also supposed to explore the Shaolin Temple but instead we spent the day hiking along a trail built along the sides of the cliffs.  It is the most beautiful hike that I have ever been on with absolutely amazing geology.  By the time we had reached the end of the trail and returned to the temple we were too exhausted to really tour the temple.  Now we have an excuse to go back to that beautiful land so that we can also view the temple.

Matching Tai Chi poses at the Tai Chi Village.

Matching Tai Chi poses at the Tai Chi Village.

The giant Yin Yang symbol at Tai Chi Village.

The giant Yin Yang symbol at Tai Chi Village.    

The trail we hiked to a new Shaolin Temple. The rocks are 2.5 billion year old uplifted seafloor.

The trail we hiked to a new Shaolin Temple. The rocks are 2.5 billion year old uplifted seafloor.

Other sites we saw this week were Wudang Mountain which was gorgeous and packed full of people.  We smartly chose to ride the cable car to the near top and hike up the rest of the stairs.  Though I had been feeling sick early in the morning and bought a return cable car ride back down, I was feeling better by the time we had to choose hiking or cable car down.  I practically ran down that mountain with Patty and a Tai Chi master. The journey turned out to be much longer than we expected but it was very beautiful with much fewer people than at the top of the mountain (and most other sites). We got caught in a thunderstorm once we’d arrived at the bus station to ride back down the mountain and had to wait for buses to start driving once the storm calmed down.  Luckily we’d made it to shelter before the rain and lightening started.

A Wudang monk performing a Tai Chi form as a thunder storm rolls in behind him.

A Wudang monk performing a Tai Chi form as a thunder storm rolls in behind him.

We then made our way back up to Zhengzhou because the Tai Chi masters had been invited to a photo with the head of Chen Style Tai Chi with other renowned Chen style masters.

Our group stands out well in the purple shirts at the ceremony picture for elite Chen style Tai Chi masters.

Our group stands out well in the purple shirts at the ceremony picture for elite Chen style Tai Chi masters.

I’m not sure the total distance we traveled but I’m sure it was close to the equivalent of traveling all across the Western states in the U.S. It was a long distance and much of our time was in buses, or trains but it was completely worth it for the sites we got to see. And it was extremely rewarding when we would get to stay at a place for a more than one or two nights.  Quil

 

 

Week 1 Adjusting and inquiring

In this first week we hiked Earth’s Great Wonder, the Great Wall.  This was our first encounter with the forewarned crowds of people.   To ease into the experience we chose to hike in the less crowded direction (which still contained thousands of people). We quickly learned how to weave around those who suddenly stop in their tracks to take photos or talk to people or in the occasional event of us avoiding being spat upon. We were definitely the loudest group and clumped together we stood out like a sore thumb. Which added to the fun, at least we were easy to find when we got separated by impenetrable clusters of tourist. Along with the touristy nature of the Great Wall, we each had our first attempt at buying items, whether souvenirs or refreshments for ourselves.  Some had better luck than others. I definitely paid too much for cheap souvenirs, which was a lesson in which I learned to look, not buy and when buying, only pay a reasonable amount.

a lull in the crowd on the less crowded path and very steep stairs.

A lull in the crowd on the less crowded path and very steep stairs.

We also toured the Summer Palace, built a long time ago by workers digging out a lake and piling the sediment into a hill on which much of the palace buildings were constructed. The large crowds here made it very difficult for me to enjoy the sites as I was busy trying to keep from getting lost in the crowd.  Luckily we were able to escape the dense crowds by taking a paddle boat ride around the lake for an hour.  The paddle boat was great for relaxing, fun conversation, picture taking and cheering on the paddlers. As time went on through the trip I eventually relaxed and realized that it was ok to wander a few feet away from the group if you kept track of where they are and where they’re headed.

Summer Palace and the boats we eventually paddled around the lake on.

Summer Palace and the boats we eventually paddled around the lake on.

Even on the lake there was tons of people that we had to avoid running into.

Even on the lake there was tons of people that we had to avoid running into.

Art along the walkway ceiling at Summer Palace.

Art along the walkway ceiling at Summer Palace.

After wandering through the Summer Palace for many hours we rushed over to the Forbidden City before it closed its doors for the evening.  I’m still slightly confused on what’s so forbidden about it.  We were told that the public is forbidden from entering, only the governmental elite were allowed in.  But this must be truth from the past because the place was teeming with thousands of tourists including ourselves and no governmental elite were spotted (though we did see some military personnel).

Giant wall at Forbidden City entrance.

Giant wall at Forbidden City entrance.

A big courtyard and building at Forbidden City.

A big courtyard and building at Forbidden City.

A huge building along the side of Tienanmen Square

A huge building along the side of Tienanmen Square

This first week required a lot of adjustments for us to slide into some of the cultural aspects of being in a new country and not speaking the local language.  We had to adjust to a very different time zone (Beijing is 15 hours ahead of Oregon), a different look, value and price for money spending.  Even crossing the street is different! Cars aren’t likely to stop for pedestrians, you must wait for an opening and often you can only cross one lane or half way at a time. Of course we also had to adjust to using chopsticks, even for slippery items such as noodles.  This we luckily had a little ease into because the hotel still laid out silverware for breakfasts.  We quickly adjusted to our new roommates, which turned out to be great pairings after a few minor tweaks the first afternoon. And possibly the most difficult adjustment was that of not being able to clearly communicate with the majority of people around us. No longer could we read a menu and order food we wanted, we couldn’t even ask for a table!  We couldn’t ask what things were and asking the price of things was occasionally quite difficult. Even asking where the bathroom was or directions to a meeting place if we’d gotten lost could have proven extremely difficult. We were very grateful that many signs and a few people were bilingual and that numbers are often written as numbers instead of characters. We also lucked out on having a great guide, assistant, organizer, translator and tai chi master leading the combined group of Americans and British. We survived these adjustments and often had fun with them or at least found a way to laugh about them.

Most signs are in characters. Some were luckily in English, especially KFC and Pizza Hut.

Most signs are in characters. Some were luckily in English, especially KFC and Pizza Hut.

 

Another important aspect of this week was inquiring about everything. We had thousands of questions about everything around us such as: What does this sign mean?  What are they saying? What are we doing next? What is this we are eating?.  Many of these questions were answered but I quickly gave up on asking questions about the cultural sites and items we were seeing as it was becoming apparent that we were wearing down the translators within our group very quickly. Eventually I also stopped asking about what we were eating, it was easier to just taste it and determine whether or not I enjoyed it before figuring out what the food was.

A food vendor with lots of possible foods to attempt. Of the foods pictured here we only tried the shark and squid (or octopus).

A food vendor with lots of possible foods to attempt. Of the foods pictured here we only tried the shark and squid (or octopus).

This first week was full of adventures.  Our eyes were opened to an entirely new environment, culture, economy, transport system, and to new friends traveling as our group.  Much of my thoughts were of pondering the differences yet similarities between the Chinese and American lifestyles that we were able to see and experience. Occasionally I had to pinch myself and remind myself that I really was in China on a very amazing, life changing adventure. Quil