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I had a really awesome trip—saw so many places and hung out with family. I’ll get right to the point:

L.A.

Saw the cousins, uncles & grandparents. Saw Return of the King for a second time and ate a lot of good food. Hope my uncle’s family can make it up to Seattle so that we can go on a ski trip to Whistler together.

TRIP TO CHINA

Dec 28-29

One 12-hour flight and I was in Beijing. Soon learned that our entire group was made up of about 60 people spread across 2 buses. Tour guide Andrew whisked us off to the hotel for a free evening–some of us ate, some of us slept. I passed out fortunately and got a decent night of sleep unlike most other people. In the morning, we headed off to the former imperial palace–Forbidden City–which was massive…only to walk into Tiananmen Square which can accommodate up to one million people. The population in this country is insane. There’s one city that has a population of 31 million. Sheesh. After eating a so-so lunch, we went to the Temple of Heaven and then to the breathtaking Summer Palace. The majority of the Kunming Lake was frozen and people were walking all over it and ice skating. This was by far one of the most scenic places that I saw. The next day, we headed straight to the Great Wall which was as magnificent as I expected. I dressed really warmly thinking that winds would be blowing me off…but I got so hot just walking up the huge steps–quite a workout! At one point, there was a camel that tourists could take pictures with, which I did of course. Funny animal. Climbed as far as I possibly could where I found Mark, a Canadian boy from New Brunswick that I befriended on the tour. We met up with my brother and took silly touristy pictures in ancient Chinese garb. We probably spent 45 minutes doing that alone! oh, but it was fun. Seeing that we had 10 minutes to get down to the bus where everyone was waiting for us, we ran down and stopped halfway where they have a makeshift slide that cost us 10 RMB to go down. We sat in little go-karts and slid all the way down–very fun. The day ended with a short trip to the Ming Tombs, one of my dad’s favorites with all of the rock and marble.

Dec 30-31

In the morning, we flew to Xi’an—what was supposed to be a short 1 hr 40 min. flight turned into 5 hours. There was so much fog (er…pollution is what it looked like to me) that the plane had to land in a city in between, stay on the runway for about an hour and a half and then take off again. I swear, there is SO much pollution in all of China. Xi’an was pretty bad—you know how China is usually shown with a haze…it’s just pollution. Somehow, though, it gives it this mystical quality…especially with the sun and the mountains just slightly peaking through the clouds of dirt. Anyhow, with us arriving so late in Xi’an, everyone was so tired—so right after eating lunch in the airport (we were hungry), we headed straight to the hotel to rest for about an hour. After that, got back on the bus to see the Big Wild Goose Pagoda, which was more beautiful than you could imagine. I can’t believe it was built in 589…the whole area surrounding it made it a very peaceful location. We came in the evening and had the opportunity to see it lit up at night which was also breathtaking. Later on that evening, we came to have probably the best meal on the entire trip: a dumpling feast at a T’ang Dynasty dinner show. We were served probably about 20 different types of dumplings from your basic pork, vegetables and beef to shrimp, fish, pumpkin, duck & walnut! The show itself was full of music and dancing and colorful custumes—quite enjoyable.

The next day, we got up early as usual (our wake up calls were, on average, at 6:30am), jumped on the bus and headed to one of the ancient city walls. Xi’an is surrounded by these huge walls. From there, we went to Huaquing Hot Springs—no longer in use, it was built thousands of years ago for use by emperors and empresses. The water is still there and there’s even a small spot where people can pay .50 RMB to rub their hands in the natural hot water.

No visit to Xi’an is complete without visiting the Museum of the Qin Terra-Cotta Warriors and Horses. I’ve been looking forward to seeing this since I first learned about them in Art History 100. The vaults were massive and spectacular. I even got a chance to meet the farmer that discovered the clay figures from digging a well on his farmland. I have a feeling that’s all he does now—sits at the museum and signs books. What a huge excavation there is—who knows how many more years it will take to dig out and restore the rest of the thousands of warriors & horses buried underneath there.

That night was New Year’s eve—Aaron and I gathered with all of the “kids” from the trip–ranging in age from 16 to 28. In the end, a few worried parents had us head to the karaoke club located in the hotel for some singing; however, anxious to party with the locals, Mark & I headed out to the Bell Tower Square at about 11:40pm…just in time to catch the celebration. For the most part, people had their own fireworks, lighting it up with no sense of where it might go. Some people would light up fireworks and attach it to 3 balloons and let it float up….not knowing that it’d come back down at some point, breaking up the crowd. Mark and I had to toast to the New Year and found a street vendor and ordered 2 bottles of beer. Now, this isn’t just 2 small bottles of beer that you typically find in a 6-pack–these were 2 really big bottles of beer. And the cost for both? Just 3 RMB! ($1 US = 8 RMB) We were so shocked that we gave the lady 10 RMB and said Happy New Year much to her delight. Eventually, we moseyed our way into a Disco which was quite a scene. The bartenders seemed drunk themselves. At one point, after ordering a beer, the bartender brought his own glass, took my beer, poured himself a bit and toasted with me! How odd. Eventually we had to call it a night since we still had to wake up at 6 the next morning to catch a flight…

Jan 1

In the morning, we flew to Shanghai . This was the first time our group really broke up as half of the group was staying in Shanghai and the other half was going on an extended tour to other cities. My family was in the latter half. Shanghai is like the New York City of China. Lots of big buildings and lots of people. The buildings were really cool—an high-rise architecture’s dream I’m sure. We parked our bus on Old Shanghai Street and made our way through the crowd as vendors tried to sell everything for ridiculously cheap prices. Eventually, we arrived at the Yuyuan Gardens, one of the most beautiful Chinese gardens I’ve ever seen. Chinese gardens consist of 4 elements: rock, water, plants & buildings….and this place was so rich in color and beauty. The visit was shortlived as we had to jump on the bus for the ride down to Suzhou. Arriving in Suzhou, we had dinner and then a number of us headed to a massage parlor where I got a foot massage for an hour!

Jan 2

We started off our day in Suzhou by going to Tiger Hill, the site of a leaning pagoda, much like the one in Pisa—but this one is much much older (built in 959). Beautiful beautiful. Then we hopped over to the Lingering Gardens which were also beautiful (though, admittedly, I think the Yuyuan gardens in Shanghai were nicer). The best part about these gardens was a section where they grew bonzai trees. There were so many of all different sizes and styles. The last stop in Suzhou was a silk factory. I haven’t mentioned—we stopped at several factories on this entire tour—of course so that we tourists could buy buy buy. This was probably the most enjoyable place. I’ve never gotten a chance to see how silk was made. They showed how workers pull out a single thread from the silk cocoon and a machine basically unravels it and spins it into a big reel of silk. The coolest was watching how they make silk comforters. Essentially, instead of pulling out the threads, the workers just take out the worms and stretch the cocoon until it’s about a foot wide. After airdrying in that state, they take the dried cocoons and stretch it out to the size of a comforter–single, queen or king. For a queen sized comforter, they use about 7000 cocoons! My whole family bought a bunch—I got 2 for myself. Very light and very warm.

Back on the bus to head to Hangzhou—on the way, we made a brief stop at Tongli, the “Venice of the Orient” as it’s a town that’s full of canals.

Jan 3

Now we were in Hangzhou. By now, many of us were so tired from traveling so much. Jefferson, our tour guide, bought a pirated vcd of Return of the King to watch on the bus because we were on the bus for so long. There was a feeble attempt to cut our day short in Hangzhou to head back to Shanghai earlier as the majority of us were on the flights for the next day to head back to the U.S….but that didn’t happen. We really only spent the morning and part of the early afternoon in Hangzhou—but they were all fun places to see:

First stop: the Mausoleum of General Yue Fei, a former great general who was murdered unjustly—and as a result, now has a great mausoleum in his honor. I learned that there is a tasty snack that I love named after the traitors that betrayed Yue Fei and caused him to die: “devil’s snack” or “yeow tsa guay”—the long chinese donuts that we usually eat for breakfast with jook. Afterwards, we took a scenic cruise along the Westlake, a lake that Hangzhou is known for. We then went to the Dragon Well Tea Plantation, the national tea of China where we got a demonstration and an opportunity to sample some of their finest green teas. My family, of course, went crazy and bought several cans. After lunch, we went to Ling yin Temple, the site of the largest sitting buddha in all of China (the one in Hong Kong is much larger though). Just outside of the temple there are mountains with buddhas carved into it—mind blowing. While we were there, we were entertained by a dragon dance performance. I just admit, although many of us wanted to head back to Shanghai early (I included), the extra hours spent in Hangzhou were worth it—everything we visited there was spectacular.

That evening, we sat on the bus for 3 hours to go back to Shanghai where the tour guide dropped us off on Nanjing Street for some exploring on our own. This is a famous shopping district. I’ll have to admit–I was a bit disappointed. Nathan Road in Hong Kong is much better. I so wanted to go back to the area that we were in when we first arrived in Shanghai–the old Shanghai Street—that’s more for locals…whereas Nanjing Street was just comprised of big department stores. At the end of Nanjing Street, we all met up again to walk along “the Bund”, or the waterfront to capture the harbor view of Shanghai—which was just gorgeous. The TV tower there is magnificent.

So that was that—my entire trip to China summarized as much as I could. The next day was a full 24 hours of traveling as I still had to head back to Seattle. I came home to a very cold city–it was just 20 degrees!!! I had my heat turned off while I was gone and walked in to find my condo only 50 degrees and poor Misha sneezing up a storm!

But it’s good to be back home.

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