Saturday, December 27, 2008

Christmas Break!

So I am already two weeks into my Christmas vacation and things are going pretty well so far. I finished up the semester at Harbin well and I am looking forward to returning there in the spring. I feel like I will make a lot of progress with my Chinese next semester because I have established a pretty good foundation already. I have also decided I really want to immerse myself in the language, including not listening to english music and movies. Total immersion will probably really pay off in the end so I am going to give it a try.

I will do a little recap of what I have been up to the last few weeks. We took a train from Harbin to Beijing and the next day everyone from our program went back to America except for six of us who are returning next spring. Me and two others, Luke and Andrew, hopped on a plane to Chengdu in Sichuan province. Chengdu is a pretty cool place and we stayed there about 4 nights. The two biggest highlights included seeing the Giant Pandas in the Panda Zoo and the worlds largest Buddha statue engraved alongside a mountain in a small town called Leshan. The Pandas were pretty much what I expected, cute little animals and all that. The giant Buddha was amazing though. Built in the 8th century AD it was intended to calm the raging river. Ironically, because of all the rock that was carved out of the cliff, it did have a calming affect on the river and made it safer for shipping vessels. The carving is 233 ft. tall and is really an awesome sight, definitely one of the coolest things I have seen in China.

From Chengdu, the three of us took a train to Chongqing and spent about 4 nights there as well. A Chinese friend we had met in Chengdu recommended a place for us to stay that was really cheap and near the city center. The placed turned out not to be a hotel but an apartment building with an extra room. It was a little sketch and at first we did not want to stay more than one night. But it was only $20 a night for the 3 of us to share and it was in a really good location so we put up with it for the duration of our stay. I did not like Chongqing very much. For some reason I felt like everyone there was trying to cheat us all the time. The worst thing was when we took a bus to find some museum a little outside the city. We got off the bus too early and thought the musuem was still pretty far away. This lady told us she would drive us in her van to the museum for 20 kuai, or about 3 dollars. Since we thought it was pretty far and we were not thinking at the time, we agreed. The van driver then literally drove us for about half a kilometer and drop us off at the museum we wanted. That ride would have cost about 5 kuai in a taxi! So that really upset.

After a few days in Chongqing, Luke flew to Shanghai to visit his girlfriend there and Andrew and I stayed another night in Chongqing. We wanted to see the 3 Gorges Dam and started visiting some travel agencies to see if we could take a river cruise on the Yangtze to see the dam. It turned out to be a lot more expensive than I had envisioned. The attendant finally told us that we would have to take a bus to a city called Wanzhou, hop on a fast boat to Yichang where the actual three gorges dam is. She said she would also arrange a hotel and bus to our next destination of Wuhan. All of this for a total of 600 kuai a person, a little shy of $100. But I was very hesitant because we did not have any guarantee that all of this would work out. She did not give us any travel itinerary or confirmation that everything was as she said. Also, since I had felt that people in Chongqing were trying to cheat us all the time, I did not want to spend that much money on something and have it be a disappointing experience. But we decided to give it a shot and see what happens, at least it would be an adventure.

So we paid the lady and she told us to show up the same spot at 6:30 the next morning for our bus. We arrived the next morning and no one else was there. We wanted a little while and finally this guy out of the shadows appears, smoking a cigarette and tells us to follow him. We start to but again I have this bad feeling. After telling him we are not very comfortable about this situation, he just keeps repeating, dont worry, dont worry. So we hop on a bus for a few hours and arrive in Wanzhou and then get on the boat. The boat ride was about 5 hours long and had some pretty amazing views of the Yangtze River. I wasnt paying much attention because I was really engaged in the is books called "The Snowball Effect" by Alice Schroeder. It is basically a biography on Warren Buffet and was a very interesting read. Anyway, after a few stops we arrived in Yichang, site of the Three Gorges. When we got off the boat, another person was hurrying us into another bus to take us who knows where, we were assuming our hotel. This is the disappointing part. Our whole purpose of this trip was to see the dam and it was at the location where our boat docked at Yichang. As we were driving, we saw the dam pass by and were assuming we would be staying someplace near town where we could easily come back and get a better look at the dam. But our bus ride was over an hour long and when they dropped us off, another guy with a van was waiting for us to take us to our hotel. On the way we were asking him when we were going to see the dam and he said, "oh no problem, I can take you tomorrow for 150 kuai a person." We were not very happy. We told him our purpose of coming here was to see the dam and we had already spent 1200 kuai total. But this jerk would not budge on the price so we agreed. He then dropped us off at this crappy hotel that was freezing cold and told us to be ready at 7:15 am. That night Andrew and I would both upset and frustrated. It also sucked that it was so cold! We both wore our winter jackets and other winter stuff to bed and still was not comfortable.

The next morning, we were just too tired, and decided we did want to spend the extra money to see this stupid dam. We just wanted to get the crap out of this hell hole and hope Wuhan, our next city was better than this place. So we got our bus ticket and went on to Wuhan.

This trip was actually a good learning experience. I wont ever agree and pay a lot of money for something where the details are unclear. I also did not have a good feeling from the start and should have trusted my instincts from the start not to go along with it. But thats all in the past.

So now I am in Wuhan staying in a really nice hostel. The rooms are really nice and cheap and when we got here there was a bunch of other Americans sitting around watching a movie in the lobby. We hung out with them the next day before they left and it was cool to be around some other Americans for a change.

We leave Wuhan tomorrow for Shanghai. Our plan is to spend New Years Eve there and then move on to Nanjing. Im really looking forward to Nanjing because they have a lot of historical attractions that I am looking forward to seeing. Im also reading a book about the Taiping Rebellion in the 19th century and the rebels had made Nanjing their capital. So it will be cool to be in the actual place I am reading a history book about.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Stomach issues

I had my first experience with stomach problems this last week and it was not fun. Last Sunday two of my friends and I went to this Korean restaurant. The food was actually really good, especially this dish called haixian bing, which translates to something like seafood pancake or seafood cake, take your pick. I think I ate at least half of this dish myself because it was really good. This turned out to be a big mistake.

The next day I woke up and just felt awful. My head hurt, I was super tired and my stomach was incredibly uncomfortable. I got up to do some hw like I usually do and was planning on going to class but a few mintues before I was planning to leave I just started puking. Afterwards I began feeling even worse. I took some pepto bismol and drank a lot of water and went back to bed. But about 15 min. later I had to get up and puke the medicine and water I just ate and drank. That is basically how my morning and afternoon went. Drinking water and taking medicine and then throwing it back up. Not a whole lot of fun.

Luckily, that night I started feeling better and was able to go to class the next day. My roommate was very concerned for me when he found out about my 24 hr. illness and thought it might be a good idea to go to the hospital. I thought that was a little excessive. He also about died when I told him I had been drinking normal, room temperature water all day instead of hot water. Chinese people have a fear of cold water, they think it will make you sick and is bad for your health. He also recommended I eat this traditional Chinese porridge called zhou. Most Chinese people at the cafeteria eat this stuff every morning. It is basically hot water mixed with like slimy rice. It is not bad but it just does not have any taste so it is very difficult to eat. My teachers the next day also recommended I eat some zhou to get back on my feet.

Another interesting thing is China's view on medicine. You can get Western medicine here but I think Chinese view western medicine as a little risky. Yes, it works a lot faster than Chinese medicine and cures whats ailing you but also can harm other parts of the body. So if you have a headache and take some tylenol, your head will stop hurting but a couple months later you may have some kidney problems or something. So they do not like to take it. They say their medicine takes into account your entire body as a whole rather than treating specific places. I dont know a whole lot about Chinese medicine but it seems like it is mostly herbs, tea and other natural supplements. All the Chinese people I have talked to say it works and is good for you but Im pretty skeptical. Im not sure how much it is based on science than old wives tales.

Anyway, this was my first experience with illness in China and Im actually pretty fortunate because I have not had any other stomach or health problems. I just not going to back to that Korean place and will be wary of any more haixian bing.