Xi’an

Weekend Trip, November 3-5, 2017

Advertisements

On Friday, November 3rd, Louisa, Maria, Shosho, Lilith, and I departed for Xi’an, in the Shaanxi Province, in Northwestern China for a weekend of history and eating. Alexane, Sarah, and Justus left the day before us because they don’t have Friday classes in law school. They hiked a mountain on Friday, and went up stairs for literally three hours to reach the summit, totally worth it, they said. Meanwhile, the rest of us went about our day in Xiamen, then jumped on a late night plane. Little did we know that you cannot use your phone at all on domestic flights within China, which was annoying since the flight was 3 hours, but since we had a midterm on Monday, Maria and I were productive and studied. When we got off the plane, we headed to the bus counter, to catch a bus into the city center, a 70 km journey. As we got to the front of the line, Maria realized she had lost her passport receipt (what you get when you surrender your passport to get a residence permit). Luckily, we found the passport fairly quickly, and since it was 1 am and we were lazy, we decided to take a taxi to the hostel. Since we were 5, we either had to get 2 taxis, or take an illegal one together. Obviously, we chose to take an illegal taxi together, and we made sure to send the license plate to others, in case it went poorly. We finally arrived at the hostel at 3 am and fell into bed since we had to get up at 8 am the next morning.

Saturday we saw the major site in Xi’an: the Terracotta Army, sometimes referred to as the Eighth Wonder of the World. The warriors are about an hour’s bus ride away from the city center, where we were staying.  The bus ride was rather uneventful, and although the stops are only announced in Chinese, it was very obvious where to get off, though getting from the bus to the entrance is slightly confusing, but we made it and paid the half-price entry. Once inside the park, it is still a walk to the pits and the museum, and the signage is poor at best. The first pit we entered was the smallest, and very few warriors were on display. The same was true for the second pit, and we were quite disappointed, leading Justus to muse that “they’re just rocks.” Finally, the third pit we entered was what you see in photos of the Terracotta Army. It was incredible, but there were so many people and you couldn’t get that close to the warriors. Overall, I am definitely glad that I saw the Terracotta Army, but it wasn’t as spectacular in person as I expected it to be. They are definitely worth a visit, since the concept that they were buried for so long and only found fairly recently is absolutely fascinating.

Next, we took the bus back to the city, this time heading to the Muslim Quarter, another must-see in Xi’an. The Muslim Quarter is a large street market, where the minority Muslim population is traditionally located, there even is a Mosque that is beautifully decorated. In the Muslim Quarter we sampled a lot of delicious, traditional food, and shopped around for souvenirs. After food, we headed back to the hostel and stopped to take some pictures of the old buildings with beautiful lights, pictured below. When we returned to the hostel,  the eight of us decided to play a game of Cards Against Humanity. This was an eventful game for many reasons. First, only Shosho, Lilith, and I live in countries where English is spoken, so some of the more colloquial cards required explanation. Also, I did not realize how Americentric the game is, for example, one of the black cards was “My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of _____.” Lilith explained to the others that ’tis and thee were just old English, at the same time I broke in to the song, ‘America (My Country ‘Tis of Thee),’ which led to more confusion where we eventually chose a different black card. Second, we were joined by a Chinese man who did not understand social cues, who was pretty creepy and required the German speakers to converse in German about the best way to get rid of him, and me (attempting) to explain to Maria in Spanish what some of the more ~provocative~ things he said meant. Lilith finally explained to him that he needed to go, for which I and everyone else will be forever thankful.

On Sunday, we woke up to see the Xi’an City Walls. I thought they were spectacular, the others, being from Europe, were not as impressed as they could see city walls in or near their hometowns. Xi’an was an ancient capital of China, and the walls are some of the oldest in China. Unfortunately, the pollution and smog was the worst I have experienced in China, and you couldn’t see much. It was so bad that I was out of breath from taking the stairs to the top of the wall, and no, Mom and Dad, I am not out of shape, I live in a 6th floor walkup! I finally understand why people wear masks in China! Had there been less pollution, we had more time, and I had two working arms, I would have enjoyed biking around the wall, which makes up about 13 km in total. Finally, we headed to the Big Goose Pagoda before the airport, which was built in the year 652. What was notable about it was that it did not look like a typical pagoda to me, since the roof corners were not curved as they originally are. We didn’t get too close, but it was nice to see some different architecture, even if it was from afar.

Overall, the weekend trip to Xi’an was much worth it, though the Terracotta Warriors were slightly disappointing, the City Walls and food in Muslim Quarter were exceptional.

Chinese Hospitals Are…Interesting

Hiking & Halloween

It’s November – no idea how that happened so quickly! I have planned most of my trips for the remainder of the semester, which I am excited about: I leave for Xi’an tonight, Beijing next week, and Chengdu the first weekend in December. It is crazy to think about how few weekends I have left in China.

Since I last posted, Maria, Louisa, Sophie, and I began our private Chinese lessons, which are super helpful. We take classes through university as well, but they are difficult since the professor doesn’t understand that 95% of the class cannot read characters. Luckily, our tutor is really good and we learn 2x the material in 2 hours than we have in class. I can now count in Chinese, which essentially means I can shop more effectively! We have our lessons on Tuesday mornings, and Louisa and I do not have class after, so we explore Xiamen in the afternoons. This week, we hiked Nanputuo Temple right next to the university to see the view from above.

Everything was going great until we made our way down the mountain, where there was a tree branch across the path right at forehead level. Naturally, I walked into it quite quickly, which made a loud thunk. Now I have a large bruise on my forehead that hurts a lot. I was a little worried that I may have a minor concussion as well since I was also feeling slightly nauseous, another symptom of a concussion. I decided to lay low until the next day when I have class with Professor Long, who used to teach at Colgate. Ultimately, I ended up going to the hospital with a Chinese student to translate. They took me for a head CT scan, which was fine. However, I knew from playing 8 years of field hockey that you cannot diagnose a minor concussion with a CT scan, but I had no way of expressing this to the Chinese doctors. This incident made me really miss the USA, since doctors see many concussions and know the best ways to treat them.

Also on Tuesday was Halloween! The exchange students kept it low-key, but we did dress up and go out!

Now it is off to Xi’an!

It’s a Party (Congress)!

Xiamen: the most chill city in China

I am horrible at updating this blog! However, in my defense, the past week was the twice a decade Communist Party Congress, which put strict restrictions on foreigners, and I didn’t want to post publically. Their number one concern was large groups of foreigners congregating together, which is seen as conspiring. Naturally, we had a lot of gatherings this week! Coming back to Xiamen after Golden Week was greatly appreciated, the city is extremely calm by Chinese standards.  No one tries to rip you off so badly, and the taxi drivers are much calmer. In my opinion, it is way more likely to get grazed by a taxi in New York than in Xiamen! Not too much has happened since I last posted, but I will run through some of the big events:

  • The US Consulate came to Xiamen for a meet and greet at a Tex-Mex restaurant, which was great to connect with other Americans! Another exchange student from the law school and I went and we met degree students and teachers at the International School. The food was great, and I may have found a physical therapist which is even better!
  • We’re going to Xi’an! Next weekend we venture to Xi’an to see the Terracotta Warriors and city walls. Funny story, I was bored in one of my classes and researched flights, and roundtrip tickets were about $150 each! Eight of us quickly booked and are excited to see another Chinese city.
  • This past Saturday was a great adventure. Korby, another American, invited me to a Hash. What is a Hash? It is a mix of a run, hike, and scavenger hunt. It began at 2 pm, and ended up a mountain. We got extremely lost on the way around the path, so we didn’t get to make it to the top since the sun was setting and it gets dark super quickly. However, we did walk about 11 km, and hike up half a mountain, get lost in a farmer’s field with a horse, so it was a great way to experience a different side of Xiamen, outside the XiaDa bubble.
  • 5 of us have preliminarily planned a trip to Beijing soon! We plan to see the Great Wall, Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, and other important landmarks in the city. I will definitely post more about the trip when we plan more.
  • We had our first cockroaches in the apartment, and I managed to kill all of the ones I came across first!

Now that the Communist Party Congress is over, we have a bit more freedom to roam around. Hopefully, the government will unblock WhatsApp, so we can use that to communicate without a VPN (which seem to be getting blocked as well!). You can always reach me on WeChat!

Suzhou & Hangzhou

Part 2 of Golden Week in Suzhou & Hangzhou

After boarding a 6 am train to Suzhou, we made it there less than 30 minutes later, which was not good for sleeping patterns. We hung out in the train station’s McDonald’s for breakfast before heading to our hotel – who knew Chinese MickeyD’s serves corn for breakfast? We grabbed taxis to the hotel and dropped our bags off before heading out to explore the area around our hotel quickly, since we could check in at 12 and planned to take a quick nap. Suzhou is known as the “Venice of the East,” because of its canals and waterways. We enjoyed the views for a short while but were very excited to take a 3 hour nap.

 

Feeling refreshed, we ventured to the old part of the city that feels most like Venice, to do a little shopping. We fell in love with a store that sold embroidery hangings of scenes of Suzhou. We all bought at least one, and decorated the backs with musings about the trip and each others’ signatures. Then, we found this amazing pedestrian street along one of the canals with all kinds of kitschy shops. I found an amazing silk scarf that I just HAD to have, luckily it was on sale and only 35 yuan (about $10). Since it had been a weird day for sleeping, we resolved to return the next day to explore more in the daylight.

 

The biggest tourist site in Suzhou is the Humble Administrator’s Garden, a traditional Chinese garden. Naturally, it was swarmed with other tourists, and made it hard to explore. We still had a lot of fun walking around, taking silly pictures and taking in the many pagodas. Next, we headed to an already-closed temple, but it was ok since on the way back we stopped for egg waffles. I was annoying everyone because of my nonstop talk of them, after eating too many this summer at Smorgasburg in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Egg waffles are originally from Hong Kong, and there are many places to get them in mainland China as well. Luckily, the waffles lived up to the hype, and I successfully converted 6 people to the egg waffle life. We finished the night back on our favorite canal street, soaking up the culture, before boarding our 2:30 am train to Hangzhou.

 

For the train from Suzhou to Hangzhou, we selected the Hard Sleeper since it was the cheapest option. What we didn’t know was that each compartment slept 6 people in 3 levels, and the train would be bumpy. The train was only about 3 hours in total, and I did not sleep at all because of motion sickness, which I have never experienced before. If anyone ever travels on a Chinese train, I would highly suggest splurging for the Soft Sleeper, which has private cabins and only 4 in a room, as well as Western toilets, which are VERY KEY on a moving train (300 km/hr + hole in the ground = unclean peeing experience). I have no pictures of this experience, thank god.

 

Unfortunately, when we arrived at the hostel, we were told we could not check in until 2 pm, but we could hang out in the common room. Luckily, I grabbed a bean bag and passed out for 2 hours, apparently we got a lot of funny looks from other guests, but it was so worth it after not sleeping all night. When we finally made it out of the hostel, it was already dark, but luckily we were staying on the tourist street, so we all split up to try some street food. My go to was meat on a stick, everything tastes better on a stick, according to iCarly, and dumplings, my lifeblood in China. It was so delicious, and made me wish we had something similar in Xiamen. Unfortunately, people would not stop taking our picture, that we almost started charging people for our photo just to make a little money.

 

The next day, we explored the major sight of Hangzhou, the West Lake, a large lake next to the city. We began walking around, and jumped on a boat that would take us to Fairy Island. On Fairy Island, are the Three Pools Reflecting the Moon, which is actually found on the back of the 1 yuan notes, which we realized later. The lake was not too crowded, because it was so large, and the pollution was not so bad that you could not see anything. For dinner, we returned to the street food, but we were all determined to eat something exotic. I had a scorpion, and it was not as bad as I expected! Pictured is the progression of eating it! Most of us also had the same, and Sarah tried a sea horse; we all did not expect that the exotic food tasted inoffensive, almost like potato chips.

 

 

On Sunday, our last day, we made one last trip to the temple, so we could see the lake from above, before boarding the train home. The temple was about an hour walk from our hostel, which most of us did not expect. Luckily, the innovative Chinese had retrofitted the 700-year-old temple with elevators, which was amazing since it was 6 stories! We headed back to the hostel and jumped on the train and wrote some postcards. Now, we are back in the swing of things in Xiamen, and I have already turned in a few homework assignments. However, it is nice to be back in a routine and I look forward to my next trip in China!

Shanghai

Part 1 of Golden Week in Shanghai

The second week of class was pretty standard, the other exchange students and I did not plan too much besides school since we knew we were taking a big trip the next week. October 1 is the Chinese National Holiday, and it commences a week of holidays known as Golden Week, when everyone in the country is off work. Naturally, everyone travels. A group of six girls and I decided to take the train to Shanghai, Suzhou, and Hangzhou, for a tour of the sites. Our group was me, from the US, Sophie from Germany, who is also my roommate, Louisa and Sarah, from Germany as well, Maria from Spain, and Emily and Shosho from Ireland. It was a really great group, and we were lucky since we could get entire rooms in our hostels.

IMG_7178
The group: Emily, Louisa, Shosho, Sophie, me, Sarah, and Maria

Early on Saturday morning, we departed the train station for Shanghai on a 6 hour high-speed train, travelling 310 km/hr at its peak. Unfortunately, when we arrived in Shanghai, our hostel was an hour away from the station and it was pouring rain. We jumped into taxis and had a lazy night eating in the Pudong area, where the hostel was located.

IMG_6988
Bullet Train

We had an early start on Sunday, which was October 1, so the official holiday, which is a little similar to July 4th. We started walking towards the Financial District, where the most iconic tall buildings were located, and took many pictures of the whole city. As we were walking around, we stumbled upon Shanghai Tower, and it only cost 120 yuan to go up to the 118th floor. Little did we know, this is the second tallest building in the world! Luckily, the smog was under control that day, and we could see a 360 degree view of the entire city — it is amazing to see how many tall buildings there are; Shanghai really dwarfs Manhattan.

Next, we headed across the river to the Bund, the famous walk that lets you overlook the Financial District. We arrived at dusk, and had another lucky moment. An old Chinese man that spoke perfect English told us that the buildings would light up red in celebration of 68 years of the Peoples’ Republic of China in just 20 minutes. We stayed, and the lights were beautiful and definitely worth it, though we did have the downside of everyone taking our photo because we were a group of 7 western women.

We slept in on Monday, since we tried out the Shanghai club scene, and took the subway to the French Concession area of Shanghai  and the shops on Nanjing Road. Our ultimate destination was the Propaganda Museum, which is tucked in the basement of an apartment building. It is a pretty sketchy location, and though it is authorized by the government, it feels like it isn’t. There is a great gift shop where I got some postcards and a shirt picturing a Chinese propaganda ballet, one of only eight shows allowed to be performed during the Cultural Revolution. After, we made it to AP Plaza for some shopping a few minutes before it closed, and we were determined to return the next day. One the way back to the hostel, we stopped at a Chinese restaurant, with a menu solely in Chinese, we perservered with Google Translate, and we are all still raving about dish 101. Sophie said that “the fried lettuce was on fleek.” That night, we travelled to a rooftop bar to overlook the skyline for overpriced cocktails, but the view was worth it. The city lights turn off fairly early, and it was eerie to look over the nearly dark city skyline.

On Tuesday we decided to combine highbrow and lowbrow culture. We travelled to the City God Temple and Yu Gardens, with what felt like half of the population of China! The architecture was beautiful, and very Chinese, with pagoda-style roofs, but it was hard to enjoy with so many people around. The entrance to Yu Garden was fairly expensive (for China), so most of us split off, heading over to AP Plaza again. This time we were very successful; I purchased Beats headphones, a Longchamp backpack, and a Chloe purse all for $60 USD. We then collected our purchases and headed back to the hostel for an early rest since we had to catch a 6am train to Suzhou the next day.

Our trip to Suzhou and Hangzhou to be continued!

First Week of Classes

Classes: the same and very different.

The first week of classes is in the books! From what I have observed so far, Xiamen University (XMU) is not that much different than Colgate, but only in terms of academics. Just about everything else is very, very different. Classes began on Monday, and all three of my economics courses meet that day, so I have class from 10:10 am until 8:50 pm. The XMU schedule is a little different since they have scheduled breaks in the day, for example, no class is held from 11:50 am until 2:30 pm. Also, the way the classes work is different: classes meet for 45 minutes, break for 10 minutes, then for another 45 minutes, which takes some getting used to. On Monday, the other international students and I did not have work yet and did not want to go home, so we looked for a place to just sit down and relax, like the Coop at Colgate. No such place exists at XMU, which is a little weird; I asked Chinese students what they do, and most go to the library. Now, since the breaks are so long, we usually go back to our apartments for airconditioning and wifi.

 

This semester I am taking Law and Economics, which is taught by Professor Long, who used to teach at Colgate. This is so far a great course, and I know exactly what is expected of me as a student. I am also taking Urban Economics, which looks at the economics of geography, which I enjoy because of my geography minor. The final course I am taking is Game Theory, which is a requirement for my major, and so far is interesting because we play the games in class. I will also take a Chinese course, but those do not begin until the fourth week of class, for an unknown reason.

 

Tuesday and Wednesday were pretty quiet, I just attended classes and got settled in my apartment. Thursday however, was jam-packed. Professor Long assigned some Xiamen students to show me around campus, and Thursday I was scheduled to meet Wei. Wei took me to a traditional Chinese tea ceremony, which was broadcast live on the radio. I had to introduce myself in Chinese (wo jiao Claire is the extent of my Chinese right now), which was embarrassing on live radio, but I got to try 2 different teas. They were both red teas, and one was 60 years old and the other was 40 years old. There was much more information given, but again, all in Chinese.

Wei also taught me how to use the library, since at XMU you reserve your seat outside the library. I think this is a great system that needs to be implemented at Case Library during exam weeks, but it does make the library quite unfriendly. The whole system is only in Chinese characters, so I am very glad Wei showed me how to use it. Next, she took me to the giant Buddhist temple right next to the University, which is beautiful. We fed the fish in the pond outside, but it was dusk and still hot outside, so we didn’t climb to the top of the mountain.

To conclude the night, my roommate, Sophie, joined Wei and me at a live music bar near the sea, where I had a cocktail that looked and tasted exactly like Pepto-Bismol. However, the musicians were students at XiaDa (the local name of XMU), so it was cool to see what other Chinese students are involved with outside of classes.

IMG_6856
Live music at Breeze!

On Friday, Sophie and I shopped on Zhongshan Lu, a famous pedestrian-only shopping street in Xiamen, which is about a 15-minute walk from our apartment. It is reminiscent of European shopping streets because the island of Xiamen was the basis of the European presence in China for a long time. We were disappointed to find out that it is mostly a tourist trap, with many food stands and souvenir shops. We were looking for clothes for our upcoming trip to Shanghai, which we did not find. However, we both enjoyed fruit popsicles, which are refreshing and found all over Xiamen.

meat
Fantastic meat combo in Shapowei.

Friday night, two XMU students, Mengting and Shuo, gave Sophie and I a food tour of Xiamen. They both studied at Colgate last semester, so I had met them before, and we chatted on WeChat during the summer. They took us to a restaurant I can only describe as ‘super hipster,’ but the dish I had was amazing; it was a combo pork and beef dish with purple radish rice. Mengting and Shuo pointed out their favorite restaurants in Shapowei, an area near the university. My favorite find was the ice cream shop, which serves only one flavor a day. Friday’s flavor was butter, which tasted like a creamy vanilla for the skeptics out there. I, on the other hand, cannot think of a better combination than butter and ice cream!

Saturday was a lazy day, which I spent shopping with Sarah, Shosho, Emily, and Louisa, some of the girls I will travel with to Shanghai, Suzhuo, and Hangzhuo. I found a wonderful dessert similar to a cream puff, which I plan on eating at least once a week :). Sunday, six exchange students traveled to nearby Gulangyu Island, which is where the Europeans based their colonies back in the early 20th Century. The island does not allow cars, making it very different than the typical Chinese city. Because of the European influence, it feels more Western than Chinese, and walking around it felt to me very similar to San Juan or Mexico City.

Arrival Part 2

So much to do upon arrival.

On Sunday, we were scheduled to have registration from nine am until noon, so I staked out the Economics building to try to meet other students. I must have looked so lost because a Ph.D. student took pity on me, and treated me to coffee in the café in the Economics building, and used my map to point out places of note and helped ease my anxieties. Luckily, I ran into 3 girls also on my program, all from University College Dublin in Ireland. They took pity on me and let me join them on their activities, and we got wifi set up in their apartment and made a Wal-Mart run (thanks, Emily, Shosho, and Lily!). We headed home early since we had to be on campus early Monday morning for our health examinations.

Bright and early Monday morning, we boarded buses with other international students from all over the world (every continent was represented!) to go to the hospital to get our very intense health inspection. This was the weirdest experience thus far in China, but I met all the other international students on my program and we added each other on WeChat (basically iMessage, Snapchat, Facebook all in one). This semester, the School of Economics has three students from Ireland, five from Germany, two from Spain, and me from the US.

IMG_6663
The room where they took a chest x-ray, which looked straight out of the 1950s.

The medical exam itself was wild – we needed a blood and urine sample, an EKG, an ultrasound, a chest x-ray, an eye test, blood pressure, basically more medical care than I have received in my entire life in about two hours. The blood test was especially unnerving since I had taken narcotic painkillers after surgery and knew they were still in my bloodstream, and I had to sign that I wasn’t a drug addict. When I picked up the results later in the week, there were no abnormal findings, much to my relief! After the exam was over, we all hung out the rest of the day and planned a dinner for the WISE undergrads (Wang Yanan Institute for the Study of Economics), our program.

All the other international students made plans to meet at a few bars near campus, so we joined them. The best part is that Mojito serves free beer every day from 8:00-9:00 pm, and on Mondays a nearby bar, Phoebe, has 1 yuan beers (about 15 cents) from 9:00-11:00 pm, which is always crawling with international students. Others continued to the club but I retired early because of the whole jetlag/sling/medication combo is not ideal for hitting the club!

Also at the dinner, I found roommates to move into an apartment with – no more dorms! So on Tuesday, we found an English speaking realtor and looked at apartments. We saw one on the 30th floor with views of the Mainland (Xiamen is an island) and the sea, it was too expensive, but the views were difficult to pass up. We ended up renting a sixth-floor walk-up, that still has great views of the sea and can only be described as palatial, for a really good price. Seriously, I will not live in an apartment this large until I’m like 50 if I stay in NYC; my room here is larger than my room at home. I am living with Sophie, a German girl in my program, and Timpa, a Dutchman studying in the graduate school.

IMG_6796
My new room…there’s even a balcony where you can see the sea

On Friday, we got to move into our apartment! We have already made three runs to Carrefour, a French Wal-Mart but better, to get sheets and other supplies for our apartment. Luckily, it’s a quick 10-15 minute walk away in an air-conditioned mall so it’s always fun to go. We’re still getting settled in, waiting for wifi to be installed and other things to be fixed, but the apartment has been great so far and is a 25-minute walk to the university, and a 15-minute bus ride.