Saturday, April 30, 2011

End of School

Hello again!  I hope this finds you all doing well.  I haven't written for a while, but this will probably be the last update that I write in China!  Not a ton has happened since the last time I wrote, so this will be pretty short as well.

Last weekend was pretty chill here on campus.  A few of us went to an expat restaurant and when shopping at Pearl City.  The restaurant had a really good salad bar and roasted chicken.  I never thought I miss a good salad as much as I do now.  We've all gotten to the point where we don't have much interest in trying new things, we're all ready to be back.  I guess that's a good thing because we have a little more than two weeks left here.

This last week of school was pretty uneventful as well.  We only had two days of class before our finals.  So we took that time to get a grip on some of the newer concepts that we had learned and some intricacies of our professors.  For whatever reason, asking my thermodynamics professor to see my current grade before the final caused him to laugh at me, and say that there was no way that he would do that.  And before you think it, there was not a communication breakdown here, he was just laughing.  Several of us spent several minutes explaining what we wanted.  All our approaches got us the same result, laughter.

Since then, we've finished our exams for our Chinese classes.  This Tuesday the rest of us will finish out the semester the final for our online class from Purdue.  I'm hoping to do really good on it since it's the only thing I really have to do in the next few days.  The good news is that immediately following our final on Tuesday, eight of us will be getting on a train for 50 hours as we head to Tibet for a week.  We're all really looking forward to getting out there and seeing all there is to see.  I'm not really sure what our itinerary is, but I do know that we'll be making a stop by the base camp of Everest!  The other good news is that we'll be getting back to Shanghai on Sunday the 15th, and flying back home on the 16th!  I'm so excited to be back in the land of unlimited ketchup and free refills on drinks!  Hopefully I'll find some time after I get back to write about everything we did on our way and back from Tibet, as well as what we did there.  I'll be taking lots of pictures too!

That's all for now.  To all my friends at Purdue and at other schools, good luck with finals!  I'm looking forward to seeing all of you really soon!  Peace.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Trip to Xi'an 西安

Hello all.  I hope this finds you doing well.  It's been a little while since I've written an update, mainly because of exams and an awesome trip to Xi'an I went on last weekend.  To make up for that, this will be a really log post.  So get some snacks!

Since I wrote last not much has happened on campus, mainly just school work that we wanted no part of.  Last week we had two exams and a quiz.  By far the most work we've had at any one given point this whole semester.  And boy, let me tell you, this was rough for us.  Because of that, I have no idea how I'm going to survive next semester at Purdue.

This last weekend was the last weekend that allowed us to travel, so we decided to head up to Xi'an to check out the Terracotta Warriors and see some mountains.  For the most part, this trip went smoothly and the people I went with were awesome.  We started off by leaving the train station on Thursday afternoon in the "hard sleeper" section for a 16 hour ride.  None of us had used the hard sleepers yet, so we really didn't know what to think of them.  As it turns out, they were pretty comfortable.  I think this might be because we've gotten used to sleeping on much harder beds that what we have in the States (we're going to sleep on clouds when we get back).  These did allow us to get a decent amount of sleep and be ready to go when we got the Xi'an the next morning.

Besides having a little hiccup finding the city bus station by the train station, we got to our hostel without any trouble.  It turned out that this hostel was in prime location for a lot of things in the city.  We got a meal right when we arrived and checked in right after that.  When we went up to our room, there was one guy still sleeping in there (around 11 am).  He would still be there when we got back from our adventures that evening.  We still had a lot of time that day though, so we got showered and went off into the city to check some things out.  We went to the Bell and Drum Tower, both of which were nearby.  Then we walked a few blocks south to the city gate.  We had heard that you can rent bikes to bike around the wall, so we did that and enjoyed the beautiful day outside while we got to look at the city.  After biking we stopped at a Baskin Robbins to cool off and relax.  After getting ice cream we just wandered through the city on our way back to the hostel.  This was when we ran into the first Wal-Mart that I've seen since arriving here, and for the most part, it looked just like any normal Wal-Mart.  Except for the part where we kept getting weird looks and the abundance of Chinese food.  It was around 5 pm when we made it back to the hostel.  We were expecting our stranger roommate to be gone by this point.  But unfortunately for us, he had just rolled over from his previous position.  We finished off the evening by getting dinner, playing pool, and enjoying each other's company.  We decided to get up early the next day so we could get an early start on getting to the Huashan Mountain.

Pretty much from the moment the day started, everything went wrong.  We started off by assuming that the hostel would serve breakfast at 7.  They didn't open until 8.  Because we were already up and ready to go we went over to a McDonald's and got breakfast quickly.  By the time we left it was roughly 8 am.  We did not arrive to the top of the mountain until 4 pm, eight hours later.  To start this off, our hostel gave us bad directions and we wound up going 30 minutes out of our way on the city bus.  When we finally got to the bus station that would take us to the mountain about an hour and a half had passed.  Our time at the bus station was ridiculous.  We got in the back of the line where we thought most newcomers would go.  As it turns out, when tickets for the next bus started to be sold, it turned into a free for all.  Tori and Mike tried blocking for me as I moved forward in an attempt to get us seats on three different buses.  It wasn't until the fourth bus, when I had to pull a man's arm out of the ticket seller's face, that we were finally able to get on the bus.  Now it was time for a 2 hour what turned out to be the wrong place.  We got there and walked around for a little while until we realized that there wasn't a cable car to take us to the top of the mountain.  We remedied this by playing with charades with some people at a restaurant.  We eventually were able to communicate that we needed a ride to another entrance and it turned out that they were willing to help us.  When we first got into the van we realized that there was something lost in translation when we wound up at a junky train station.  We got this figured out and we finally wound up at the entrance we needed.  Unfortunately from this entrance we needed to take another bus ride farther into the park so that we could take the tram up.  We finally made it to the tram queue line around 2 pm.  Next we had a 2 hour wait for the tram.  This wait was made a little better by the man that just happened to be in front of us in line.  He was a Purdue Aero-Astro engineer who had returned to China after graduation.  We got to talk to him about all sorts of things and without his help, we probably wouldn't have made it to the plank walk in time.

The top of the mountain was pretty different from Huangshan (where we went a couple weeks earlier).  There was much less real estate and a lot more narrow ridges.  Most of our time was spent hiking up or down stairs that were chiseled out of the rock that were so steep that chain hand rails were very necessary.  After booking it across the mountain, we finally made it to the main attraction, the plank walk.  This was a section of the park that was essentially a path built into the side of a sheer rock face.  Most of the path was made with three 4x4's nailed together, but other sections were chiseled out of the mountain.  We had to rent harnesses as the drop off the dangerous path was one that would definitely kill you.  The only information that I can find estimates the drop at about 1000 meters (3200 feet).  I enjoyed the hike thoroughly as most of our group was freaking out.  It will definitely be one of my favorite experiences from China.

When we got done with the plank walk, we realized that we only had half an hour to get back to the cable car station before it closed and we would have to walk down the mountain in the dark.  It had taken us a couple hours to get to where we were on the mountain at that point and we weren't really sure if we'd make it.  Fortunately we did and were about 50ish people from the end of the line when the tram closed.  At the end of a day where everything was going wrong, it was good to see something go right for once.  We made our way back to the park entrance while trying to avoid an unnerving fact.  We were two hours outside Xi'an with only a vague idea how to get back.  When we got back to the entrance and found out it would be 450 rmb per taxi to get us back to Xi'an we got a little worried.  Fortunately the taxi drivers were really nice and offered to take us to a train station where we thought we might have a little more luck.  We were able to get a train back to Xi'an for the same price as the bus out there, but with the transit time being 30 minutes instead of 2 hours.  The only hiccup here was when we got the tickets 7 minutes before the train was supposed to arrive.  With how things were going that day we were really worried about missing the train.  So we sprinted through the terminal only to get to the platform with plenty of time to stare at each other and laugh about how worried we were.  We finally made it back to our hostel around 10:30 pm.  It had been a very long, but exciting day.

The next day we went to see the Terracotta Warriors.  This trip turned out to be a lot less eventful, but a lot of fun nonetheless.  Getting on the bus to head there was a lot better experience as we got on the 2nd one that was leaving.  Tori and I made a human wall and let our compadres file onto the bus fairly easily.  The Terracotta warriors were really cool to see, but I don't have a ton to say about them.  You'll just have to look at the pictures I took.  It really was amazing to see all the work that went into making them, and then hiding it all from people for a really long time.

After we got done at the Warriors we headed back and got ready for our train ride back.  We weren't able to get hard sleepers for the return trip so we got stuck in hard seats for 16 hours.  Hard seats translate to a three person bench with a vertical back rest.  Which means really uncomfortable after a little while, let along an entire night.  It did turn out to be a really good trip with a lot of laughs.  We wagered bunnies playing poker, listened to a hilarious story from Tori and Emily about a fox named Blade who hunted vampire bears (we were all laughing through tears at the end of that one), and trying to get some sleep.  It was a great end to the trip.

That's pretty much all for now.  We just have a week and half of classes left here and then I'll be heading off for my trip to Tibet.  I'll try to get an update included sometime in between.  I have some pictures and a video or two linked below.  Have a great week and take care!

Pictures from Xi'an
Mountain Video
Traffic Video

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Mount Huangshan

Hello everyone!  I hope this finds you doing well.  It's been a little while since I've updated this so I'll warn you that I'm going to have a lot to say!

I'll start off by quickly talking about my most recent kite flying experience.  Thankfully this one ended much better than the last one (Bagewell).  We had a picnic with some Chinese students from the Chinese/English club I frequent and they brought some kites along.  We only had luck flying the giant squid though.  Besides that, last week was pretty much school as normal.  The real fun started on Thursday when we set off for the Yellow Mountains!

The left the bus station around 10:30 am and fortunately this trip didn't have near as much excitement at the departure as our Beijing trip did.  We met up with Simon Cheng, the man we planned pretty much everything through.  A couple guys were fortunate enough to meet him earlier this semester when going to Huangshan.  Needless to say, he was awesome.  If anyone plans on going out there, let me know and I'll get you his contact info.  The first night we were there we went to a small park where Dan and Tori jumped into a freezing river, had an amazing meal that Simon and his wife made, and went to bed early.

The next day (Friday) we got up early, had breakfast at Simon's, and got started on our trek.  We decided to hike up the whole mountain since it was a little cheaper than taking the cable car and we felt like we could handle it.  This hike turned out to be one of the hardest things that I've done.  Even though the path was paved with stone, the combination of stairs, and packs we took left us all exhausted.  The scenery was so beautiful, and the company was great.  I wouldn't trade the experience for anything else.  While going up we also encountered men that were hauling things down the mountain.  They had bamboo yokes with huge packs hanging on either side that they were carrying around.  We also passed a guy carrying up tofu in buckets of water.  Regardless, these guys, and what they carried, were amazing.

The first night on top of the mountain was pretty uneventful.  We were just too exhausted to do anything.  We had convinced Simon that we wanted to sleep in a tent the first night.  We thought this would be in the woods or something like that, it turned out to be on a patio in front of a restaurant.  And besides everyone around us being loud and annoying, it was a pretty good experience.  We had also decided to get up early to watch the sun rise.  This mean getting up around 4 am to head up one of the peaks in the dark.  Fortunately Daniel Flavin had a head lamp and several of us had our handy phone flashlights to light the way.  In the end we just saw the sky go from dark to light because it was too cloudy to see the sun.  Being up so early did have it's perks though.  While the rest of our group went back to sleep, Dan and I hiked around in a fairly empty park and found a cliff with a great view of a large ravine.  This turned out to be really handy later.

Saturday turned out to be a lot better than we expected.  The forecast called for snow and rain all day so we packed warm clothes.  It turned out to be a great spring day with the perfect mixture of sun, shade, and temperature.  We couldn't have asked for better weather.  The rest of the day we just hiked around and lounged at a couple of the peaks.  On our way back from towards our hostel we noticed mist forming in one of the valleys.  It turned out that the cliff that Dan and I were sitting on had a perfect view of the mist coming into the ravine.  It was amazing to see the mountains look like they were just floating there in the mist.  It was by far one of the most beautiful things that I've ever seen.  The best way I can describe it is like the mountains in Avatar...except real...and right in front of me.  The pictures I have just don't do it justice.  Dan and I also went back after dinner to try to watch the sun set.  Unfortunately the angle wasn't right and we wound up running up one of the peaks to try to catch it.  We weren't able to, but we did see mist envelope the main area where our hostel was the night before.  That in itself was pretty amazing.

We got to spend that night in a hostel with five other Chinese people.  I was amazed by the cell phone charger one of them used.  It was some mixture of a strobe light and rainbow that lit up an entire corner of the room.  I have no idea why anyone would want one of those, it was just so obnoxious!  The hostel was also located in the drop off zone for one of the cable ways to the top of the mountain.  This resulted in a bunch of screaming tour groups right outside our door.  And when our Chinese roommates managed to leave the door to our room open, it got even louder.  Needless to say, we didn't sleep as well as we would have liked to.  When we finally crawled out of bed, we realized how bad the weather was outside.  It was foggy, misty, rainy, cold and all around nasty.  After we got all packed up we started our four hour hike down the mountain.  It was really cool to descend down into the mist as we headed down.

The rest of the trip was pretty chill.  We had a couple more meals at Simon's and rested our weary legs.  We also got to wander around in the town and check some things out.  I would up buying some cheap sunglasses and some candied kiwi.  I don't know if I've just been missing it in the States, but it's very good!  By my estimates, we hiked about 35ish kilometers or around 20 miles.  Most of it on some sort of incline.  I wouldn't have changed any of it though.

That's pretty much all for now.  As of this afternoon I have six weeks left in China.  We're getting geared up for another round of exams and quizzes.  But after that I'll be planning a trip to Xi'an while Tori and Dan finalize our plans for Tibet.  Both of these look to be amazing trips and I'm looking forward to telling you about them!  Anyway, have a great week back in the States!

Huangshan Pictures
Blurry Video
Minhang Photos