Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Bye Bye Busan

Our bags are all packed, last lessons have been taught, the new teachers have come, as well as Jen Nash. Amy and I both feel so much love and gratitude for the chance at this experience and most of all at being able to know these wonderful people here. We will be writing more on our last few days here in Busan sometime in the future.....but for now, we're going on vacation.
So, goodbye to Busan, hello to Bangkok, and Texas....you better get ready.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Here and There: Beijing

Snapshots from Beijing...


A Chinese Snickers!

A shot from the Chinese Acrobatic Show we went to one night, SO cool actually!

We saw this a lot in Beijing. Instead of diapers (im assuming), little kids all have a big hole cut in their pants (or they just pull them down), and go to the bathroom...anywhere! It was pretty funny.

Souvenirs galore!!

This was a street full of food vendors selling CRAZY food! (bugs, starfish, seahouse, fried...everything!)

Bryan ate 2 scorpions!!!

Yummy Chinese beer and fried rice

This was at the Beijing airport: a squatter toilet with a motion sensor flusher...

Love and miss yall!

798 Art District, Beijing

On our last full day in Beijing, Bryan and I went to explore the 798 Art District. It was AWESOME. I think this was my second favorite thing we did while in China (1st being the Great Wall :)). I pulled this description of the area off of 798space.com:

"798" is located in the Dashanzi area, to the northeast of central Beijing.It is the site of state-owned factories including Factory 798, which originally produced electronics.
Beginning in 2002, artists and cultural organizations began to divide, rent out, and re-make the factory spaces, gradually developing them into galleries, art centers, artists' studios, design companies, restaurants, and bars.
It became a "Soho-esque" area of international character, replete with "loft living," attracting attention from all around. Bringing together contemporary art, architecture, and culture with a historically interesting location and an urban lifestyle, "798" has evolved into a cultural concept, of interest to experts and normal folk alike, influential on our concepts of both urban culture and living space

Wonderful, wonderful place. Thank you 798 for a lovely day :)!


Peking Youth Hostel, Beijing

I know this might come across as a bit 'commercial'-ish, but I want to do a quick post on how much we LOVED our hostel in Beijing. Being young travels on a budget, staying in hostels is really the only way to go, and the Peking Youth Hostel in Beijing was by far the best hostel I have ever stayed in.
Clean. Relaxing. Cheap. Fun. Pretty.

Traveling in Asia (and especially China), can be a very intense experience. The sounds, smells, heat (in the summer), and crowds can be extremely overwhelming. The minute we walked into Peking Hostel, all things were calm, cool, and quiet: perfect :). It was a very much needed oasis from the 'outside world'.

Another HUGE plus was that they had their own cafe. They made the most delicious food and drinks (even a good Margarita!), for very cheap prices. The "Peking Breakfast" was one of our favorites..and we ordered it a few mornings in a row :).

The had both private rooms, and bunk rooms for bigger groups. All were located around the central courtyard. We had a private room with a private bathroom, and it was just right. Small and simple. I was in love with the bathroom sinks. So pretty!

So, if you find yourself in Beijing, and need a good place to stay for cheap- I highly recommend this place!
More pics/stories from Beijing coming soon!


Friday, August 5, 2011

Tiananmen Square and The Forbidden City

For Day 2 of our adventures in Beijing, we decided to stay in the neighborhood and go see The Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square, with a little bit of rumbling in between.

Hint #1: When visiting Beijing, see Tiananmen first then walk through the Forbidden City, not the other way around....they're across the street from each other.

After another fantastic breakfast at the Peking Hostel, we walked over to the entrance to the city. I will start with letting you know that the Forbidden City is appropriately named (like the Great Wall)....it is an entire city in the middle of another city.
Construction on the FC started in 1406 and lasted until 1420ish. The final layout of the grounds includes more than 900 buildings. Many of them are the size of cathedrals. It was the imperial palace to the Qing and Ming Dynasties...the greatest and last two royal families of China. The 'Forbidden' part comes in because no commoners or uninvited guests of the emperor were permitted within the walls for 500 years.

A giant moat and 40 ft. wall encloses the entire palace.

I recommend either reading up on the structures and history of the palace before you go, or getting one of their electronic, GPS-activated, guides to the city. It was well worth the $6 to get information about the wonderful things we were seeing and what they were used for.

The architecture was like nothing I've ever witnessed before. The detail and scale of these buildings that were made for the service of one person is still hard to comprehend. I love the names of the different halls. The "Hall of Supreme Harmony" was probably my favorite.

Here's a diagram of the Forbidden City's layout.

Plan of the Forbidden City. Labels in red are used to refer to locations throughout the article.
- – - Approximate dividing line between Inner (north) and Outer (south) Courts.
A. Meridian Gate
B. Gate of Divine Might
C. West Glorious Gate
D. East Glorious Gate
E. Corner towers
F. Gate of Supreme Harmony
G. Hall of Supreme Harmony
H. Hall of Military Eminence
J. Hall of Literary Glory
K. Southern Three Places
L. Palace of Heavenly Purity
M. Imperial garden
N. Hall of Mental Cultivation
O. Palace of Tranquil Longevity

A white stone walkway leads from each main hall to the next. During imperial times, the emperor alone was allowed to step foot on them.
The emperor's walk probably looked something like this.

Adjacent to the main halls are hundreds of smaller buildings that were used for wives, friends of the emperor, and servants. They are now a maze of little museums with artifacts from all of China's ages.

The rear of the city includes a gorgeous garden. This is where the emperor would spend much of his time reading and writing poetry. There is also a cave among some gnarly limestone. Some of the trees in the emperor's garden are 400+ years old.

After the walk through the Forbidden City, we decided to try taking one of the numerous pedicabs back around to Tiananmen Square. As soon as we stepped into the street, a pedicab came over to us and offered a ride, saying that it was '3' a minute, holding up 3 fingers. 3 yuan is about 50 cents, so it seemed like an alright deal for a 5-10 minute ride. Rather than taking the main street, which I knew led directly to the square, he went into some back alleys, or 'hutongs.' He told us a bit about the hutongs on the ride.

He took us for about a 5 minute ride, winding around behind the main street. Then suddenly, he stopped in an alley with another pedicabber there with him and said "Ok, Tiananmen Square!" I knew almost exactly where we were, which was now about a 15 minute walk from the square. We got out and he then demanded 300 yuan....not 3 a minute. When I got angry that he was clearly taking advantage of us and told him I would give him a generous 20 yuan, he started yelling with his buddy was right there with him. Fortunately, I was about as big as both of those dudes put together. It got intense when he started pushing me for more money. I pushed him away, threw his 20 at him and we walked away as they yelled.

Hint #2: Don't get in a pedicab in Beijing. Take the taxis. They're great, and the most expensive one we took in the city was about...20 yuan.
Luckily, nothing bad happened, but that 15 minute walk to the square was much needed to cool down after that escapade.

The beauty of the palace is equally balanced by the eeriness of Tiananmen Square. A GIANT portrait of Mao Zedong sits in front of the square. It is mirrored across the square by a GIANT hammer and sickle. Thousands of people littered the grounds taking pictures. I understand that there are plenty of portraits and statues of heroes in other nations, but the brainwashing of Mao, Mao..Dearest Chairman Mao is creepy.

Just after we took this photo with Mao, a middle-aged woman collapsed in hysterics at the foot of the entrance. She screamed and cried like I've never heard. Her body was both limp with sorrow, yet fierce with rage, pounding against the ground under Mao's painting. Hearing and seeing this grief was horrible. After just about a minute, police came in a dragged the woman away to......
Another Chinese woman came up to us and said nonchalantly that "Many people come here to voice their disapproval about court cases with the government." I do not know the stricken woman's story, but I do know that it had nothing to do with a divorce or a speeding ticket.

That was one of the most unique days of my life.