Monthly Archives: February 2011

Abdul and Cleopatra

While I am sorting out the aforementioned Computer Issues, you should listen to this most excellent song.

Hunting season

I interrupt this pause in blogging (due to Computer Issues) to bring you this ridiculous scenario: bird hunting in my own house.

Yes, a bird flew into the house, and I spotted it while my mom was in the shower.  Who got it out of the house?

Not Chip, that’s for sure.  Normally an infamous foe of squirrels, moles,  chipmunks, turtles, and basically all small animals the yard over, he had no idea that a bird was flying around the house.

I’d like to think that the plastic owl and menacing youtube owl noises helped my cause, but I think in the end, blocking off a small chunk of the house and opening up the front door was the best plan of [team] action.

Oh well.  You live and you learn, right?

Also in today’s news, major congratulations to Matt, who absolutely killed it at State today.  (Kayte, I don’t know about you, but that 400 free relay took about 5 years off my life.)

…if my burglar alarm starts ringing

Beijing: Day 3

Day 3 was our trip to the Great Wall, which meant that we had to get up extra early to book it to a hostel located in one of the more famous hutongs because that’s where the bus was waiting. We thought we’d be really smart and buy bottles of water at the hostel so that we could stay hydrated during the hike. Everyone else had the same idea. We all climbed into the small bus with our newly-acquired water bottles, and the guide gets on. She has a bag of water bottles, the same ones that we had just bought, and starts handing out water. Everyone groaned. At least we were extra-prepared, though. She also gave us king-sized Snickers bars (for energy?).

A funny story: She handed out Snickers to everyone except two French girls, who got on the bus after everyone else. When they sat down, she tried to hand them the candy bars. They said no thanks, they didn’t want them. Our guide did not understand that: “But…they’re free.” They still declined. “But they’re FREE. No? But. They’re free.” Lesson: Chinese people don’t turn down free stuff, no matter what it is.

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They were FREE.

I couldn’t fall asleep to the dulcet tones of the Canadians behind me or of the Germans in front of me, so I just stared out the window and then started drawing characters in the fake suede of the seat in front of me for D to identify. I learned a lot of Chinese that day.

The first glimpse of the Great Wall was really strange because we were driving on a highway through some town when we saw it. I guess I hadn’t expected there to be much of anything near the wall. I was still excited though. D had been in charge of planning the Great Wall trip, and he specifically booked us a hike on the unrestored section, so I knew that there wouldn’t be too much development wherever our end destination was.

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First glimpse of the wall.

The wall ended up being a really hard hike, and I didn’t have great shoes for it, but I still ended up scrambling up in front everyone else. That is, until the Swiss guy told me not to go in front of him because he was sick of having me in his pictures. Do you ever wonder why I hate Switzerland? There’s one minute part of the answer for you. So for the rest of the time, I was stuck climbing stairs behind really slow people, and if you’ve done any hiking, you know that tires you out pretty quickly. No matter: the views were excellent, and I managed to make it up and down the 22 watchtowers at a relatively good pace overall.

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We climbed those.
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I was also really moved to contemplate the famous Snickers tagline, “Hungry? Grab a Snickers.” As it turned out, I was hungry; the hike spanned the lunching hours, from 11:30-2:30, and D and I wanted to keep moving rather than stop, get out our pre-packed McDonalds lunch, and subsequently have to put on more layers. Hungrily, then, I grabbed my Snickers. It was frozen. (Did I mention just how cold it was up there?) I am here before you today testifying that a Snickers, even while frozen and consumed mid-hike and inappropriately (because it was pretty much the most historic setting ever), is pretty damn satisfying when you’re hungry.

I think pictures are more descriptive than my words can be for the Great Wall, so proverbially feast your literal eyes:

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Roof detail.
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Unrestored–see?
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This was not even the worst part.
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D climbs down.
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The wall casts a huge shadow, which, on a clear day, is what can be seen from space.
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The pop star on this box in one of the guard towers is the most famous graduate of my college, a household name in Asia.

I couldn’t get warm again after we hopped back in the bus, and dinner upon returning to Beijing was goooood, but I was really cold and kind of sick. Speaking of sick, D hiked the Great Wall with a respiratory infection. Gold star for him! Anyway, dinner was Yunnanese food, which is closer to Thai food than it is to archetypal ‘Chinese food.’ It was fantastic, and I ate as much as I could, but D again was forced to take the lion’s share:

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Just a fraction of what we got (the meat and fish hadn’t come out yet).

Then–bedtime. And that was Day 3.

Super Southern Weekend

I just spent the weekend housesitting/babysitting my really Southern cousins. Before that, I went to a bar with friends and had beer and funnel cake.  It’s pretty good to get a good injection of the South every once in a while.

funnel cake and lambic
festive taxidermy
general store
moon pie

Last night, my major advisor (for Southern history, let’s remember) popped up in a dream about me hanging out with wolves, and explained to me the ancient way of rating grad schools (a spinning top and something similar to a Ouija board). I also think my best friend from elementary school was there, explaining that China is referred to as the Middle Kingdom. Later, I was living in a beach house with D’s friend and his girlfriend, the latter of whom had a promising career as a backup dancer on American Idol. Well, that got off-topic pretty fast. Welcome to my brain.

Beijing: Day 2

Before I start into the recapping, I do want to mention that I have a wealth of photos over at my photostream on flickr. The few photos I include in these blog posts are definitely not the best representatives of anything I saw, did, or ate, so mosey on over to get a better idea.  I am working on tagging everything and writing captions, which may take a while, but the photos themselves are posted through Hong Kong at this point.

***

Day 2 was a little more productive. By “a little,” I mean “infinitely.” We set out for Tiananmen Square, which was just a few blocks away from the hotel. Tiananmen is massive and impressive. It’s the total Communist package, and it’s one of those places that looks fairly boring in pictures but blows you away in person. The sheer size of the buildings and the color red everywhere, as well as the mandatory security screening before entering, really impress the Communist Way unto you. I’m not sure how else to describe it. And of course Mao is looking down upon you wherever you turn.

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First view of the square. Photobombing is the norm in China.

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Demonstrating the size of these buildings.

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Since we hadn’t gotten breakfast, Dan and I were both pretty frantic to find food. We went on what seemed at the time like an epic journey, finally finding a hidden Yoshinoya-knockoff fast food restaurant. We settled in, got some food, and the nausea hit me again. That’s when I encountered my old friend/nemesis/frenemy…

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THE SQUAT TOILET

This one was, at least, very clean. All said and done, I was sort of amused to be reunited with the squat toilet, as it is one of my favorite topics for jokes. Ask my mother. I also like watching unsuspecting Westerners ahead of me in line at the bathroom venture in and then wander out a few minutes later, horrified, with a glazed look in their eyes, as if the squat toilet has taken a chunk of their soul and left in its place a black hole, devoid of matter and above all, of basic human happiness. I’m pretty sure that this happened to me last January in Tbilisi; it explains a lot.

I came out of the bathroom smiling. People looked at me funny.

We left the restaurant and realized that our epic journey to find food had really been about a block and a half long. We also realized that we’re both a lot more talkative when we’re not hungry. We headed back past Tiananmen to get to the Forbidden City.

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me and Mao

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First glimpse of Fobidden City. We thought that China hired people to stand on top of the gate in fancy dress all day, but surprisingly they were mannequins.

The Forbidden City is, like most Chinese tourist attractions, overly restored. It’s been scrubbed and painted over, as well as rebuilt in some places. (This is also a huge issue with the Great Wall: it’s hard to find public-access original bits.) I think that the government just has a different idea of what restoration is and what tourists like. We may not have seen these halls as the abandoned buildings that they are now, but I guess we do get a pretty good idea of what they looked like back in the [imperial] day, and the buildings will definitely last longer, even if they’re not made of the original materials anymore. It was interesting to notice that the further we got from the gate, the less restored everything was.

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Restored paint detail.

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Unrestored (or less restored) paint detail.

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Picture of me with a dragon (nothing to do with paint details).

The Forbidden City is also where I started to notice the intricate roof details that seem to be characteristic of old Chinese buildings. On every corner are tiny ceramic figures in a procession, sort of like tiny, decorative Chinese gargoyles (Dad, take note! And sign up for a pottery class!).

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Forbidden City roof detail.

All bitching about restoration aside, I loved the Forbidden City. I’m a history nut, and I love imagining historical places in their original context. I was trying really hard to do that among the hordes of Chinese tourists, but I actually think that the sweeping view of modern Beijing juxtaposed with the incredibly anachronistic buildings was even better.

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After the Forbidden City, we walked back to the hotel (a bit of a hike) and got a dose of that modern Beijing I just mentioned.

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I needed a nap, so we hurried home, detained only by a quick snack run. I wasn’t feeling too great, so I took more of those anti-nausea shoe polish balls. I also took some silly pictures because the sight of me in bed, freezing, nauseous and surrounded by junk food, was too good to pass up, I guess. Who can fathom the minds of the unwell?

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Mango pocky. Mmm.

Dan woke me up for dinner. I was not thrilled. If you’ve never had to wake me up from a nap, this next picture will give you a pretty good idea of the wrath you will incur. Now multiply this x1000 because in person, you get angry sound effects and attempts to sneak back to sleep.

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In all my unretouched glory.

I’m pretty glad I dragged my sorry self out of bed, though, because we had an incredibly posh dinner. It began with fruit served over dry ice (I kid you not) and continued on to Peking duck, which the waitress wrapped up and served to us. This latter bit was, I think, more a display of her utter lack of confidence in us–we had been wrapping the duck taco-style, which obviously does not fly with sassy waitresses–than it was a luxury. We also got a million other condiments and side dishes. Regrettably, Dan had the duty of finishing most of the food, since I was still cold and nauseous.

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Dan doing work.

I fell asleep to the sounds of Chinese television and Dan shuffling around preparing for our big day the next day. And that was Day 2.

Beijing: Day 1

My first day in Beijing was a little rough: having reached the hotel at 2 a.m., after taking a local bus from the airport because the trains had closed for the night, I had gotten not quite as much sleep as I had hoped for. Armed with store-brand Imodium and Trumpet-brand little balls of what seem like shoe polish (a Japanese remedy for nausea), we set out for a restaurant in a hutong. Hutongs are the back alleys of Beijing, some more residential, some way more touristy and commercial. This one was pretty residential. The restaurant’s sign proclaimed a health rating of C, but I was too hungry to care. Besides, it seemed pretty popular with the locals.

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The hutong in question

Dan ordered pork with garlic and something that looked like egg rolls.

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I really liked the pork, and it got devoured pretty quickly. That’s when the nausea set in. I’m not sure if it was the C-grade food or the fact that I hadn’t eaten in ages, or the fact that I was still so jetlagged, but I started feeling decidedly sick. You can see that in the picture I took in front of the restaurant:

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You can also see the hair hat that Dan bought me. It’s not made out of hair, silly–it just looks like hair.

I slept off the nausea and jet lag for the rest of the afternoon, and then Dan and I ventured out into the bracing cold for some hotpot. I think hotpot (in addition to chicken feet–more on these later) may be my food nemesis. I always lose the meat somewhere at the bottom, and I never get the veggies to cook properly. That said, it’s still pretty tasty, and it’s a good choice if you’re really cold, since the steam coming off the pot will settle on your face, turning your enviably matte complexion into that of a drunk, red-faced German Businessman who has just closed an Important Business Deal with the Japanese (‘Abgemacht!’).

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Then we went back to the hotel and I passed out. And that was Day 1.