A Travellerspoint blog

China, Part 4

The Great Wall

This post is gonna be religious, so be forewarned.

The main reason I wanted to go to Beijing, and to China in the first place, was to see the Great Wall of China.

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After hours upon hours of researching the Great Wall, I learned that:

  • It is not one Great Wall, but rather, multiple Great Walls. This is because some parts have been corroded over the years and are closed to tourism. Of the sections that are open to visitors, some are restored and others are not.
  • The restored sections of the Great Wall are closer to Beijing, and like everywhere in China, they are very crowded. It is sometimes known as not the "Great Wall of China" but the "Great Wall of Tourists".

Keeping this in mind, I found the best alternative to the crowded Great Wall; a section that was wild, unrestored, and most of all, had no tourists. It was called Jiankou. To get to Jiankou, you have to take the subway to the bus station, take two buses, and then take a taxi to a small village, from where you hike for one hour until you finally reach the wall. Getting there is pretty complicated - that's probably why no one goes there.

I spent days researching this, because I really wanted to have an authentic Great Wall experience without tourists ruining my pictures. I had everything planned, I even knew the bus numbers, the name of the village, and everything. Furthermore, the weather for the day of our Great Wall visit was supposed to be sunny. Perfect!

...BUT...

I awoke at 5 am the morning of our Great Wall trip to the horrible noise of rain against the hostel window.

WHAT? Nooooooooooo!

I got up and went to the hostel lobby to use the free computers to check the weather. Yup, rain. And it didn't say until what time. I began to use that time alone in the lobby to pray. I knew that God, of all people, knew how much I wanted to visit the Great Wall, how many hours I had put into researching, and how much I had my heart set on it.

Soon, my friends also woke up and joined me in the lobby. All of us had our hearts set on visiting the Wild Wall and had no backup plan. As we waited, we notice the rain begin let up. YES! It seemed as though the rain was beginning to stop, so we quickly got ready and started walking toward the subway station.

As we walked, I began to think. What if something happens on the Wild Wall? It isn't restored, there isn't anyone to help you, and plus, it just rained. What if something happens to me or my friends? Although I really wanted to go, I guess I would have preferred safety.

I prayed to God as we walked and told him to send a sign. We had a two hour journey ahead of us, and I would have rather have been stopped now than to have gone halfway, or to even arrive at the Wild Wall, only to realize that we couldn't climb on it. I needed a sign. If it wasn't God's will for us to go to Jiankou, then I prayed for an obstacle now, before we got any further.

As soon as I prayed that, the rain began to pick up. We reached the station, but we were drenched in rainwater, so we decided to turn back to our hostel. At the hostel, I prayed again. I thanked God for answering my prayer by making the rain pick up, sending a clear sign not to go to Jiankou. BUT, my sinful nature still really wanted to go to the Wild Wall. One sign wasn't enough.

We now had three options:

  • Go to the Wild Wall (my #1 desire.)
  • Go to the crowded, touristy wall closer to Beijing (Boo.)
  • Not go to the Wall at all (Boooooooooooooooooooo.)

Even though God had sent a sign once, I didn't want all my research to go to waste. I told God that we were going to try for Jiankou again and that if he didn't want us to go, to send yet another obstacle. I apologized for asking for another sign, after he had so clearly sent one already. But, I reminded him that Gideon in the Bible asked for a sign twice, first by making the sheep skin wet and the grass dry, and then by making the sheep skin dry and the grass wet.

As soon as the rain would let down, we were going to try for Jiankou again. Hopefully, God would send another obsticle to make it clearer for us not to go. Before leaving, however, my friend asked to see a photo of the Wild Wall. I pulled it up on Google, and after seeing it, he said that maybe it would be better to avoid it, because the Wild Wall after rainfall would be dangerous.

I took that as my second sign. Although I was the motivator of the Wild Wall trip, my friend was now convincing me not to go. If my friend was trying to talk me out of it, I knew that we shouldn't be going.

We discussed our options, and decided that the only thing to do was to go to the restored and crowded wall near Beijing. As soon as the rain stopped, we got ready and left for the touristy wall. Obstacle-free.

Although I didn't want to go the touristy section, I was at total peace along the way. I was even smiling. I knew I was going to where God wanted me to be - which was not the Wild Wall. There is no better consolidation than to know you are where God wants you to be. Furthermore, my God is a God of love. He knows exactly how much I wanted to go to Jiankou and all the effort had I put into it. He respects my desires and takes them into consideration. I believe that because I listened to his voice, he will grant me the opportunity to visit the Wild Wall someday in the future.

Although I didn't want to go the restored section, it was all that bad. Probably because it had rained in the morning, there weren't as many tourists (although it was still pretty crowded at the entrance, which is in the middle of the wall). However, the further you go away from the entrance, toward the edges of the section, the less people you see. I guess because people are generally lazy and don't wanna walk a lot. Because of this, I was able to get my tourist-free photos like I wanted :)

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Posted by DanPan 13:06 Archived in China Comments (0)

China, Part 3

Beijing

Once Shanghai Camp was over, 2 friends and I (one friend being my host sister with whom I went to Seijinshiki in January) took a trip to Beijing!

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Like I said in my previous post, although I had a great time at Shanghai Camp with my 25 Japanese friends, I was left feeling Japanese-mute when they would get together to talk in groups. Although I speak Japanese, I can't speak it as fast as my native Japanese friends, who chatter away at 100 mph. I need only one or two people to talk with, at my tempo, to not feel Japanese-muted. That's why a three person group was perfect!

We got on an overnight train from Shanghai that would arrive in Beijing the next morning.

At the Shanghai train station. I've never been surrounded by so many Asians before!

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It's quite an experience to take an overnight train with friends, especially in China. I recommend it! Your stuck doing everything together in a small, cramped space. That is, of course, if you like your friends. If you don't like your friends then spending time in a small, cramped space could be hellish.

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There was one Chinese guy in the compartment next to us, who kept looking in our direction, clearly wanting to ignite a friendship with our party. I asked him, "Hey! Do you speak English?" To which he replied "yes", but he wasn't very good. No bother. We are friendly travelers who are more than happy to ignite friendships with everyone, regardless of English level.

I asked his name, to which he replied in Chinese. I don't understand Chinese, so it just sounded like sounds to me. I imagine it would be pretty hard to ignite a friendship with someone whose name you cannot pronounce.
"What is you English name?" I asked, knowing that everyone in China also has an English name. But, to our surprise, he didn't have one. Well, I can't just call him random Chinese sounds, so I gave him a list of English names to choose from, including David, Terry, Mark, etc.

Finally, he chose Mike, so that's how our friendship with Mike was ignited.

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Mike was a nice guy, very quirky. He stuttered when he spoke English, and the three of us agreed that it was pretty cute. When we finally arrived in Beijing, he went with us to the subway station of our hostel, and even gave us his phone number, in case anything were to happen. What a nice guy, right? I was very impressed with the kindness of the Chinese people we had met, not just Mike, but others as well. Although China is a poor country, the kindness and openness between it's people to us was astounding.

The first thing we did upon our arrival in Beijing was satisfy our hunger. Time for Peking Duck!

Master Chef preparing our Peking Duck

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Although Peking Duck is expensive, it's relatively cheap if split three ways. We bought the duck, headed across the street to a cheaper Chinese restaurant, bought side dishes, and enjoyed our Beijing Cuisine.

What kind of face do you make when you're eating Peking Duck? Simple! Peking Duck-face! :)

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After Peking Duck, we headed over to the the Forbidden City, China's imperial palace, in the heart of Beijing.

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Crowded. Just like everywhere in China.

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And finally, our hostel had a deal to see a Chinese acrobatic show. We decided to buy four tickets, and give the last one to Mike, for being so kind. SInce he gave us his contact info, I gave him a call and we took him to see the show.

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The acrobatic show that we watched in China was the most impressive one that I've seen in my entire life, even though I don't watch many acrobatic shows. Mike enjoyed it too :) The fitness, the balance, and the precision with which they did their tricks was awe-inspiring. I can't imagine how hard they must have worked to be able to do such things. Unfortunately, this being China, you know that they get paid in pennies for their work. This isn't America, so these people don't receive labor restrictions, safety requirements, or insurance. Being an acrobat in China must be a very dangerous job indeed.

Lastly, before going home, we decided to check the night market for some interesting Chinese foods. We were warned before coming to China not to eat street food. But, our time in China was almost over. We decided that if if we got sick, we could cure ourselves back in Japan:)

The most interesting food we could find was fried scorpions, so that's what we decided to eat!

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Mike tried to tell us NOT to eat it. He said it was dangerous, and that Chinese people themselves don't eat it. But, we still bought the scorpions, ate them, and then made Mike eat them too :)

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That was our first day in Beijing. Pretty active, right? Thanks Mike, for making our first day so spectacular.

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Posted by DanPan 22:01 Archived in China Comments (0)

China, Part 2

Wujiang Taihu International School

Once in China, we had a day to settle down, a day for an orientation, and then we were off to Shanghai camp!

The camp took place at Wujiang Taihu International School, located on a 200 acre plot of land an hour away from Shanghai. The Hippo Family Club and Wujiang Taihu International School have maintained a close partnership, so this was the 6th year that Hippo has organized a camp on this property.

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I think that the Chinese students, as well as the Chinese staff at the school were very surprised with me -- a big, white American guy who acts and speaks just like the Japanese students he came with. By this time, I had already been in Japan for almost a year, so acting Japanese was second nature.

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Actually, most of the Chinese students who came to the camp also spoke some Japanese, too. So you have me, an American, and Chinese students communicating in our common language - Japanese. How interesting!

The purpose of our camp was to be international, to open our eyes to the world around us, especially Chinese and Japanese cultures. As a result, our four-day camp was full of international games, a campfire, Kung-Fu and meditation lessons, as well as an international fashion show.

But my favorite part of the camp was building rafts! The entire camp was split into three teams with the instructions for each team building a raft; one team to build a raft of bamboo and water bottles, one team to build a raft of bamboo and styrofoam, and the last team to build a raft of only bamboo. Once the rafts were complete, we would have a raft race.

My team was the bamboo only team, which was a difficult feat, but we had a very experienced bamboo-building leader to help us.

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It just so happened that more than half of our team consisted of girls. So, when it came time to build the raft, the girls went indoors to make the flag, leaving us four boys (plus leader) to build the raft in the intense outside heat.

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The entire raft-building process took about 2 days. During these two days, I worked my hardest to make the best raft possible. Not because I am very competitive, but because, even though I had stayed in Japan for almost a year, my Japanese wasn't at the level of my native Japanese friends. So, as they talked and joked around in groups, I couldn't really say anything because the tempo of their conversations was too fast. The rhythm was too quick for me to add anything - even though I understood everything and what I wanted to add was really interesting.

So, because I was left practically mute for a large part of camp, I decided to put my all into raft-building.

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After 2 days, our raft was finished! Even though it was made by five guys, I couldn't help but feel like it was my masterpiece. My Japanese muteness lead me to work my hardest and I was very pleased with the result.

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Finally, the girls came out with the flag. It was a huge flag that said "Oppa Shanghai Style", with a panda instead of Psy doing the Gungnam Style dance.

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TEAM PHOTO

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Okay! Now it's finally time to push the raft into the water, where it belongs!

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With two people on the raft, we were able to float fine. However, once the race started and 13 people got on...we sank. Kinda. Instead of floating, we were down to our waists in water.

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BUT, all of us had worked so hard on making that raft, that we were determined to at least try to get to the finish line. The bamboo oars he had made weren't helping, however. For all of the effort we exerted in rowing, we would only move a couple of inches.

Therefore, the rescue boat had to come out and pull us all the way toward the finish line.

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There were times where our fatty raft would get caught on weeds and underbrush, which left us boys getting out and into the murky water to push and pull the boat free. The water was really dirty and smelled really bad - every time I had to get in I was afraid that I would get sick.

After 3 hours of rowing, pushing, and pulling our raft to the finish line, were all wet, dirty, and exhausted. BUT, even with all the trouble we encountered - were still able to finish in second place! YEAH!

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We all agreed at the camp debrief that the raft experience was the most difficult. But, I loved it! Were else do you have the opportunity to build a raft yourself and then race it? Only at Shanghai camp!

Shanghai camp was awesome!

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Posted by DanPan 17:36 Archived in China Comments (0)

China, Part 1

Shanghai

I WENT TO CHINA!

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I know, I haven't written in a long time. BUT, I've spoken and presented about my time in China so many times that I've memorized everything that happened. LET'S GO!

HIPPO organizes a summer camp in Shanghai, China every year for Japanese and Chinese high school and university students. The point of the camp is for Chinese and Japanese youth to get to know one another, as well as the cultures and lifestyles of each country. Japan and China have always had tense relations, so this is a good eye-opening program for them.

The camp took place in August, so yes; I know, a long time ago. This blog post (and the next three) are gonna be short and quick.

Somewhere around 25 Japanese teenagers and I set out for Shanghai camp on a ferry from Osaka to Shanghai. The entire boat ride took 3 days and 2 nights. 3 days and 2 nights of free time! That's a lot of free time. We spent most of it playing lots and lots of games.

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A cool thing about spending three days on a boat was the scenery! It was amazing!

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The most beautiful sunrise that I've ever seen was on a boat, completely surrounded by the Sea of Japan.

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After three nights and two days of boat riding, we were finally in CHINA!

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Shanghai is China's largest city and a major world financial center. Shanghai is full of high-tech ginormous skyscrapers and is in the top five of the world's tallest cities. But even with it's technological advancement, Shanghai can't cover up the fact that it's still in China.

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What surprised me most about Shanghai, and China in general, was that behind the facade of an ultra-modern country, it cannot hide the fact that many of its people live in poverty. What I first noticed once I arrived in China was that people hang up their laundry anywhere. People disregard traffic lights and cross whenever they please. Streets are covered with people cooking food and selling rip-off brands. People sleep on dirty cardboard in subway stations and anywhere else they can find shelter.

True, China is far from my clean, safe, and ultra-organized Japan. But even still, I LOVED China. It was like going on a safari through a concrete jungle. A really, really cheap and delicious concrete jungle! Chinese food is an explosion of tastes. And it's cheap! Here's a photo of my friends and me eating a huge bowl of 3-dollar noodles.

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BTW, did you know that there is no Panda Express or orange chicken in China? American Chinese food, which is deep-fried and unhealthy, is nothing like real Chinese food, which is always served with vegetables and is relatively healthy. How else can American companies sell such unhealthy food? By blaming it on the Chinese, of course!

Posted by DanPan 12:40 Archived in China Comments (0)

Korea, Part 2

The Demilitarized Zone (DMZ)

A long time ago, a girl in my high school history class raised her hand and said that visiting the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea) was on her bucket list. It wasn't on my bucket list, but because I was already in Korea, I decided to pay the most dangerous border in the world a visit.

Ever since 1945, the DMZ has divided the Korean Peninsula into North and South Korea. It is an armistice line, which generally means that the two countries are still at war even today.

It is possible to visit the DMZ from South Korea, so two Hippo members and I did just that.

I look like a kid going to Disneyland instead of a war zone...

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The DMZ tour started from Imjingang Station in the north of South Korea. A grand total of 11 passengers boarded the train and were accompanied by 3 South Korean soldiers for protection. The soldiers wouldn't take a picture with me, so I photographed one of them through the window of the train.

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Once the train started moving, it wasn't surprising that not much life was in the DMZ. The area has remained untouched for over 50 years since the fighting stopped. Everything besides the road was closed off with barbed wire with warnings of mines behind the fence.

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BUT. All of these conditions didn't stop us from putting smiles on our faces - as if we were going to Disneyland instead of a war zone.

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Once arriving at the DMZ's Observation Deck, I was able to look through the binoculars into North Korea. I mostly saw nature - many mountains and trees. However, I could also see a city with a really tall flag pole and the North Korean flag on top. I later learned that it was a propaganda village, built to encourage defection of South Koreans to North Korea.

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The Demilitarized Zone also has multiple souvenir shops, where you could buy miscellaneous DMZ paraphernalia; including DMZ shirts, DMZ action figures, and DMZ chocolates.

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I decided to surprise my host mom, and bought her some DMZ rice.

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Beside all else, you could see South Korean soldiers all over the South side of the DMZ. Their presence made me realize the severity that comes with war and national conflict. I hear about war all the time, but this DMZ trip allowed me to feel the uneasiness that comes with it. I realized a lot on this trip - especially how fortunate I am to live somewhere safe and secure.

I really did learn a lot at the DMZ, much more than I would have if I actually went to Disneyland.

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Posted by DanPan 22:46 Archived in South Korea Comments (1)

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