Zhangye’s Warm Welcomes and Striped Mountains

The Silk Road Adventure, Part II

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My traveling companions and I shared sleeping quarters on our train to Zhangye with an adorable, young Chinese couple and an old woman. The elderly woman repeatedly informed us that she and her husband were 86 years old and insisted on revealing her identification to prove it. Ivy shared conversation about the area with these new roommates who were native to Zhangye. We gained useful insight on the town and once we were off the train, the young couple was offering us space in their little shop to store our heavy backpacks and phone numbers to use if ever we needed a cab. It was heartwarming to see such generosity from people who were strangers to us just hours before.

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Zhangye served as an important location in the Silk Road during the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD) and is now known for a series of mountains laced with layers of reddish sandstone called the China Danxia. I scrolled through jaw-dropping photos online that served as a huge reason I chose to take the whole trip so my expectations were high.

Although the tour within the mountains was set up with transportation, there was plenty of walking involved. It was difficult to mask my astonishment at the two giggly Chinese women who decided it was a good idea to wear their highest heels and shortest skirts to tour wobble through the landscape while clutching their boyfriends for stability.

After unsuccessfully attempting to catch the sunset against the crimson mountains, we scarfed dumplings and street food at what seemed to be a nightly community gathering in the city center. As we wandered past squealing kids and I fell victim to obvious stares, Ivy declared that she would begin charging people for gawking at me. We ourselves did some people watching that resulted in a man approaching me with a loud, “HELLO!” and taking my hand to declare that he loved me. It was definitely the only English phrase he knew, but amused me to see how a city like this was so fascinated by foreigners.

Sadly I had to part from the local man who had fallen for my charm as we headed to the train station to continue along the Silk Road to Dunhuang.

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Claw machine containing an eclectic mix of teddy bears, chewing gum and cigarettes

Claw machine containing an eclectic mix of teddy bears, chewing gum and cigarettes

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The Terra Cotta Warriors in Xi’an

The Silk Road Adventure Part I

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April 25, 2013

A friend I met in Beijing introduced me to his friend, Bow, who is working in Shanghai and was planning an ambitious trip to travel various places along The Silk Road of China. I had never met Bow, but her plan included impressively scenic locations that I would probably never get a chance to see if I weren’t already in China. Last week, I ventured nervously onto this very trip, unsure of the overnight trains and arduous hiking that lay ahead of me with people who would turn out to become three awesome friends. One of them, Ivy, is a friend who I already knew from living in Beijing, while the two others are expats in Shanghai.

Throughout the entire trip the Chinese people local to each area often asked Ivy where we were all from (Ivy was the only member of our group who was fluent in Chinese). This is how almost every conversation went:

Ivy: “Erdem is from Turkey”
Reaction: “Turkey? Turkey, huh? Turkey (repeated several times in Chinese).”

Ivy: “Bow is from Thailand.”
Reaction: “No, no she’s Chinese! She looks Chinese!”
Bow: *Responds in broken Chinese*
Reaction: “Oh, I guess you’re really from Thailand…”

Ivy: “Melanie is from the U.S.”
Reaction: “You’re not from Russia? You look Russian!”

Ivy: “I’m from Guanzhou, China”
Reaction: “Are you their tour guide?”

Xi’an was our first stop after a 12-hour, overnight train from Beijing. The six bunk beds crammed into one tiny sleeping quarter offered minimal privacy from the aisle of the train and left me without much rest the next day. The bathrooms were severely less glamourous than what I had already experienced in China. We arrived early that morning to a city similar in appearance to Beijing and brimming with other backpackers wandering about. Ivy and I met Bow at her hostel and filled our breakfast cravings with fresh mango smoothies on our way to meet Erdem. We all wandered onto the first of what would be many bus rides to venture toward the Terra Cotta Warriors. The steep entrance price simply to see the soldiers was a little surprising, but ultimately worth the opportunity to see the statues.

The Terra Cotta Warriors were discovered just in 1974, by a local farmer and workers were still unearthing statues as we visited. It was interesting to learn each soldier is unique in its appearance and life-sized, but other than that, they were rather lifeless.

After wandering a local street market and bargaining a bit, we broke our attempt to only eat local food and had Dico’s (Chinese fast food) for dinner on our way to board the next overnight train for Zhangye.

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Ivy, Erdem, and Bow

 

Sleeping Beauties

Happy Friday everyone! As I heard about snow blanketing the midwest as we approach the month of May, I thanked the Lord that I’m not there. Not to rub it in, but the 70ºF weather here was so enjoyable, that these local Beijingers found any and every location suitable for some outdoor, mid-afternoon naps…

At the bottom of some stairs...

At the bottom of some stairs…

A pile of bricks...

A pile of bricks…

...or my favorite: a cart of tomatoes.

…or my favorite: a cart of tomatoes.

All Work And No Play

My parents have mentioned a few times during Skype chats that my grandpa doesn’t believe I’m actually working in Beijing. He thinks, after reading my blog posts, that it can’t be possible for me to work full time and experience the things that I have written about. For those of you that share his concern, I am working. I promise. I just don’t want to bore anyone with the mundane details that coincide with a 9 to 5 job, therefore I stick to broadcasting events that are (I hope) interesting.

So, for those of you wanting to see my office environment…

My boss trying out the new office pogo stick

My boss trying out the new office pogo stick

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…and the company’s new roller shoes

See? Hard at work 🙂

Sage Wisdom From A Man Named Bruno

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This past weekend I relished the opportunity to enjoy one of the most gloriously spring-like days we’ve had in a while. I know Beijing is not alone in this seemingly endless dismal weather, but I must say; the fact that every building’s heat was mandated to be turned off the day before a blanket of snow enveloped the city was simply cruel.

To say that I welcomed Saturday’s sunshine with open arms would be an understatement. It was one of those days where you couldn’t walk outside without smiling a little.

I met a few friends in the park with not much more on my agenda than soaking in as much sunshine as possible. Among one of the several new people I met was a guy from Uruguay named Bruno. We only had a brief conversation, but something he said stuck in my mind even a few days later. He was describing how he had lived in Beijing for a year and was planning on staying for a longer, undetermined amount of time. Someone joked about him wanting to learn more about why Chinese people spit on the ground the way they do and he smiled and responded, “no, I really just want to learn more of the Chinese language and get a grasp on the culture. I feel as though we are visitors here. It’s easy to think that something someone does is odd, but who are we to judge? It may be different to us, but I want to learn more about it.”

The way he said it was so free of judgement–of either the Chinese culture or the person mocking that spit is a common occurrence in public. It was one of the most open-minded statements I’ve heard since being here and sometimes I just need an obvious statement like that to remind me to be grateful of where I am and how much I get to experience while here.

My friends saving a kite from a tree

My friends saving a kite from a tree

Crazy Canadians

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Chinese shot girls and two crazy Canadians

Back in February while I was visiting Hong Kong I had met two goofy lads from Canada. They had told me they were about to embark on a four-month-long journey, beginning in Hong Kong and ending in Russia. After spending a couple hours, a few beers, and a traditional Hong Kong dim sum meal with them, we said our farewells and went our separate ways.

Fast forward a few months and I found myself meeting up with Alan and Geoff after they emailed announcing their arrival in the capital city. When we met up in Beijing, they were a little worn out from the hustle and bustle of Shanghai, but nonetheless enthusiastic to be in traveling. It seemed like just the other day I was giving them advice in Hong Kong on how to order food in Chinese and to beware of the bathrooms.

If you couldn’t tell by my lack of blog postings, the month of March has been a little dull and centered around work. It was definitely a nice break from my everyday schedule to meet up with people that had new and exciting stories from their experience in China. Specifically rabid dog stories.

I’ve found that some of the most interesting people you’ll meet while abroad are only with you for a fleeting moment, but you’ll remember them and hold the impression they made on you for even longer.

That Time I Got Excited About Toilet Paper…

Parkview Green Mall--one of the coolest and most luxurious malls I've ever seen

Parkview Green Mall–one of the coolest and most luxurious malls I’ve ever seen

Last week my office building installed something that will change the future of my time spent in the office. Something that made me jump up and down and clap my hands. Literally. And then I thought, why the hell am I so thrilled about this? You’re probably thinking, hmm this girl is in China. This thing must be some cutting-edge technological device. Oddly enough, this thing is something that would be absolutely required in every single stall of a bathroom in the U.S., but here I am finding myself overtly excited about it.

The addition I was so enthusiastic about was a toilet paper dispenser that my office building’s maintenance workers had slapped right onto the middle of the bathroom wall. It wasn’t even in the individual stalls or anything (just think how elated I would be about that).

Basically, in public restrooms here, there is a ceramic hole in the ground that flushes. If you’re really lucky there’s an “above ground” toilet. If you have really hit the bathroom jackpot, there’s a toilet paper dispenser in the stall. Because of the lack of toilet paper, women are always carrying packs of kleenex with them…and it’s slightly awkward when men take toilet rolls with them.

This place that has some of the most up-to-date technology, but still hasn’t quite gotten down the whole toilet thing goes in hand with the vast contrast of Chinese culture. The smart phone loving, forward thinking side of China is represented with glittering skyscrapers and shopping malls filled with luxury goods while the traditional side is still glaringly evident. The hunched over, arthritis ridden man grilling your chicken kebab just outside of his hutong home still must walk outside each morning to use a public bathroom. A bathroom that doesn’t even provide toilet paper.

This is what remains so fascinating and, at times, frustrating. Beijing is a city of polarity and it’s compelling to see the culturally advanced part mix in with the traditional. Even if it does mean that I have to carry my own toilet paper.