The Layover


Everything was duty free and nothing hurt
I am: legend, groot, your father, duty free
Riding in cars with duty free saleswomen
When Harry met a duty free saleswoman

Clearly, arriving in Seoul after 20 or so cumulative travel hours has left me with many wit and much brainpower. So it seems like a good time to restart the blog.

Status: ICN smells like sweat, duty free perfume, and the distinct aroma of an Asian market’s mix of dried up critters that are sure to increase virility tenfold. Of the snacks that departed with me from Columbus, half a bag of peanuts and a five hour energy remain - the situation has become dire. In the jungle of duty free Fendi/Louis/Prada a lone cafe is spotted. I am parched. Stranded without Korean money, clearly the only solution is to buy “4000 units” of Korean currency worth of evian water on my BoA card with absolutely no idea what the conversion rates might be. Bold move. I HAVE NO IDEA WHATS GOING ON. This is compounded as I try to swerve around a Korean cultural center reenactment of some kind of royal family parade. It may be a duty free jungle/trap but ICN has style. Between the melatonin mixed with airplane coffee and perplexing lack of any actual night time atmospheres, my body is extremely confused. I’m probably tired?

Here’s hoping I don’t fall asleep in the terminal…

See ya soon Shanghai!

One Week

Even as I write this blog post, I can’t believe I only have one week left in China. There’s still so much I haven’t seen or done. Instead of dwelling on the wish-I-could’ves for this blog post I want to look back on all the things I have done!

1. I’ve traveled in 6 provinces through more than 10 cities and seen countless beautiful scenic spots and cultural landmarks. 

2. I’ve tasted almost every kind of meat you can think of: beef, chicken, pork, fish, rabbit, pigeon, goose, duck, yak, mutton, cat, dog, horse, bullfrog…and a lot of strange vegetables too.

3. I’ve mastered the “asian squat” …Anyone who’s used a squatty-potty knows what I’m talking about.

4. In addition to being able to read and write Chinese fairly well, I can ask for directions and understand them to some extent, order dinner or drinks, and casually converse with my teachers and roommate. On that note, I placed pretty well in a Chinese speech competition and performed a miniature play with my classmates. 

5. I’ve pretty successfully taken care of myself living on my own in a foreign country for 1/3 of a year. 

6. I successfully avoided dying in a tragic traffic accident! I know I’ve written about Chinese traffic before, but being one of three people jammed into the back of two-seater rickshaw (basically a motorcycle with a seating area strapped onto the back of it) has given me an entirely new perspective on the dangers of Chinese traffic. 

7. I’ve made a lot of friends and memories I will never forget, and fallen in love with a foreign place and it’s people. 

Compared with the first few entries I made on this blog, its hard to image myself as the same person who left America all those months ago. I still miss real American desserts (and good ol’ American cheese), though I found some pretty decent cookies at a bakery in Dali, and coffee has proved to be more readily available here than I though it would be, though it’s fairly expensive by Chinese standards. Despite all of this, I’ve found that I like eating giant family-style dishes made with questionable ingredients off of tiny dishes that have been washed and repackaged a thousand times by factories for use in restaurants. I even kind of like the terrible-tasting, cheap beer as long as I’m surrounded by good people.

One week left! Look forward to: final exam, closing ceremony, KTV, saying goodbye, and returning to ‘MERICA. 

Baby Butts, TCM, and Giving Thanks in China

There are few things cuter than a chubby little Chinese baby so bundled up in poofy coats and pants they can hardly walk or put their arms down. At least, there would be few things cuter if that poor baby’s butt wasn’t hanging out of it’s “split pants”. Something I think I’ve yet to really touch on from my time in Shanghai (which is quickly coming to an end), is the prevalence of “split pants” on babies and toddlers in China. The idea itself is pretty practical, you know, split the baby’s pants down the behind and they can “go” whenever they need to, no problem. But in practice, this concept is slightly more than disturbing. You haven’t truly been weirded out by Chinese people until you see a grandma holding a little boy up over the gutter and poking at his bits and pieces to try and make him pee…or poop…or whatever she was going for. Its safe to say this is one Chinese custom I will never be used to. 

A couple weeks ago, Alliance took us on a field trip to experience a bit of traditional Chinese medicine culture. A doctor specializing in Chinese medicine taught us about “balanced” bodies, meridians of energy within ourselves, hot and cold food and their effects on our bodies, and the differences between how Chinese and Western doctors examine and treat patients. Which was neat and all, but then we got to hit each other and needles were brought out, and that’s when the cool stuff started to happen. Apparently, in traditional Chinese medicine culture, if it hurts when you massage something, that’s great! Hit it harder and more often! I would not recommend a traditional Chinese massage. Those of you reading this that know me, know that my knees are…a bit odd. As in, they snap, crackle, and pop like rice crispies every time I bend. I chatted with the good doctor about my problem, and he did his best to fix it. By sticking a needle in my hand, in that fleshy place between your thumb and pointer finger, right where its joining the hand. I’m still not sure exactly how that was supposed to fix it, but I can say that acupuncture is weird. And a little painful. 

Just over a week ago, Thanksgiving came and went in Shanghai without much fuss. Oh, other than meeting the boyfriend’s parents for the first time. In a foreign country. Which was pleasant! Not surprisingly (surprisingly?), they’re a lot like him. We took a jaunt out to an Italian restaurant downtown, ate pizza and pasta and gave thanks in the most out of the ordinary way I’ve ever done it.

With only a couple weeks left here in Shanghai, I’m half thankful its almost over and half depressed about it. I’ve said it before, but I like China so much more than I ever thought I would. The people are friendly, the scenery is beautiful, and the food is cheap. What more could a hungry Midwestern girl want? (cheese, cookies, and coffee, but you can’t be too picky, right?)

I know my blog has been eerily silent through the holiday week, but rest assured dear readers, I was busy doing blog-worthy things. Look forward to a post about our program outing to a traditional Chinese medicine workshop (I got acupunctured), meeting the boyfriend’s parents and celebrating Thanksgiving in China. This past weekend Alliance took all of us out to Hangzhou to experience a little bit of paradise. It was a bit rainy and cold, but still pretty beautiful.

Chinese people love “old” stuff

Something I’ve noticed since coming to China is that China’s domestic tourism industry is BOOMIN’. Which is great for the Chinese, but the really puzzling thing is that despite all of the truly beautiful scenery and historic things China does have to offer, Chinese people tend to flock to the recently renovated made-to-look-old places that have been completely commercialized and no longer hold any semblance of cultural heritage. I know this isn’t the same across the board, but from what I’ve seen for every 1000 Chinese tourists, you’ll find 1 or 2 off the beaten path. 

I can’t figure out why, but this love of “old” places full of shops that all sell the same goods and fully equipped with every fast food option possible has held true in most of the places I’ve been able to check out in China. The prime example of this is Lijiang’s “Old Town”, a place full of hokey antique-style architecture where every shop sells the same goods and even the “ethnic dancers” have a boom box blasting synth-heavy music. Shanghai has a similar “Old Town” full of tourist attractions and Dairy Queens. Even in Qinghai, one of China’s poorer provinces, the most crowded place we went was a temple outside of Xining, one of Qinghai’s largest cities, where the monks drove BMWs and texted each other with iPhones. The “out of the way” temples we visited were all basically deserted. 

I’m not sure what it is about “old” stuff Chinese people seem to like so much, but they sure do love visiting these kinds of places.