Testing PhotoBucket.com to see if China will let 'em through:
Someone email me & tell me if this worked, since I can't view my blog from here.
My blog has become a casualty of China....apparently "they" (i.e. Chinese censors) have it blocked so I have limited upload access. I can post text, not pictures. I can't view my blog from here anymore, either. I can go through a proxy server (maybe), but haven't had time to research that. So I'll have to upload more pics when I get home.
Today we went to the Great Wall and the Ming Tombs. All the usual superlatives apply. The Wall is impressive, albeit a bit touristy and crowded. If you're ever in China, it'd be worth it to skip Ba da Ling and go to one of the lesser-frequented wall sites. Still, got some great pictures & walked a small distance. Didn't make it to any of the unrestored sections of the wall...had neither time nor stamina on our side.
Had lunch & went to the Ming Tombs. Nice, but slightly unimpressive compared to the Summer Palace and the Forbidden City.
Resting now & going to head to Otto's for dinner again. Otto's is a restuarant in the hutong near the hotel, and the food is tremendous. We went there couple of days ago, and can't wait to go again tonight. Spicy food full of flavor. I love the thin potatoes (long thin shreds, really) cooked with shreds of hot chili pepper.
Had a great time today shopping in the Silk Street market. Lots of stuff (fake everything), lots of haggling. I have to say I'm pretty proud of our haggling skills...even the Chinese we were with said we got good prices on things. We got a kick out of it & got some good stuff.
I still can't post pictures and it's driving me nuts. Haven't heard anything from Typepad yet.
Tomorrow we go to the Great Wall!
Oh, my aching feet. We walked miles & miles today, but it was enjoyable. Got up this a.m. & left the hotel to have breakfast at McDonald's (prices in the hotel are ridiculous, especially considering everything outside the realm of this hotel is so inexpensive). Anyway, had what would be an eggmcmuffin in the states, but there was no muffin...it was on a hamburger bun. And it had ketchup on it. It was kinda gross.
Albert from Lucent Beijing met us in the lobby, and we headed to the Summer Palace. Thoroughly enjoyed it--in fact, I'd love to go back there an explore more. You could spend a day there, we only spent a few hours. Gorgeous place...expansive, beautiful. I took hundreds of pictures today. One odd thing...I was taking pics there and a Chinese woman asked me if she could have her picture taken with me. LOL!!
Okay, for some reason I can't upload any pics to Typepad. I tried last night & this morning, it's not working. I'll contact customer service & see what's up. Stay tuned, folks. I know that Typepad is moving their service to new servers this week, so that could be the problem.
Anywho...after the summer palace, Albert took us to a famous duck restaurant (Beijing Duck, aka Peking Duck). It took us a long time to find it. When we got there, the wait was long and they wanted to charge us 300 RMB per person (just under $40). So we said no thanks & went and ate at a dumpling place. Good stuff, so inexpensive. We got 78 dumplings for only $9.
Then we walked through Tiananmen Square to the Forbidden Palace. Got approached by the "art student" scam in the square, so I was glad I had read about it before hand (a student approaches you to "practice english," tells you they are an art student, leads you away to view paintings for purchase). Lots of Chinese military presence in the square. Walked by Mao's mausoleum, will have to go back to view him.
The Forbidden City was impressive...such a massive complex. We were there a few hours, and again, a whole day could be spent there. I read later that there's a museum somewhere in there with a lot of the relics from the City, but we never did run across it. They don't pass out maps at the gate, so it would be wise to enter with one.
The City closed at 4:30 p.m....as we walked out we were stopped by policemen. The famous Tiananmen Square flag ceremony was about to happen. So we saw the military lower the Chinese flag in the square & march it into the Mao building.
Both sites today were very, very crowded with Chinese tourists. Think Disneyland on a crowded day...that's how crowded it was. That's why we're going to the Great Wall on Monday...hopefully the crowds will be smaller.
We ate dinner at Otto's, a restaurant recommended by my guide book. It was DIVINELY good. Inexpensive (dinner for 4 cost $83 RMB, so about $10). We got spicy potatoes & chili (it's potatoes cut into thin strips, thinner than a shoestring potato, then cooked with shreds of chili. Sooo good), beef & potato clay pot curry (hot & delicious), and a friend beef tenderloin with black beans & onions. (Again, sooo flavorful.) I'll never be able to eat Chinese food in the the states again.
Today we're going to go shopping...should be interesting!! :)
We're in Beijing! We arrived without any problems. There's a stiff breeze blowing, so it's not as smoggy today. This city is so massive...over 20 million residents. Qingdao has about 7 million.
Today was just an "arrive and get situated" day. Checked in to the hotel (the Grand Hyatt), had lunch, and took a taxi to Carrefore (grocery store) to get some stuff (soda, bananas, cookies, water, and this drinkable yogurt that I'm addicted to). The store looked pretty close to here on the map, but it was a 30 minute taxi ride away. The taxis here are so inexpensive...that taxi ride cost less than $3. The traffic here is a sight to behold. All the rumors you've heard are true. The rule is "me first"...and I think the road markings & traffic signs are taken only as suggestions. The world "yield" is definitely not in the vocabulary. The taxi ride from the airport was a little harrowing, but it doesn't top the one we took last night to the restaurant for dinner. OH MY GOODNESS, I thought we were going to die. Imagine that you're on Bell Rd and you need to turn left onto 51st Ave. There is no break in traffic coming toward you. You turn anyway....that's what the driver did, among other violations. Even the Chinese coworker that was with us said that was one of the worst taxi rides he's had. Driving here is like one massive game of Chicken.
Didn't take many pictures today. Tomorrow an employee from Lucent Beijing is going to escort us on some sightseeing (Summer Palace, Forbidden City, Tiannamen (sp?) Square). I think that's too much to do in one day, but we'll see. I'm glad we'll have a native speaker with us. We don't encounter too many people who are able or willing to speak English.
I think Westerners are more common here in Beijing than we are in Qingdao, because I'm not being stared at like a freak show here. LOL!!!!!!!
Woke up today tired & achey. I wasn't sure how I was going to spend my day, so I took two Excedrin & sat downstairs in the lobby until they kicked in. I had the concierge write the Chinese names for Jusco (a shopping center, kind of like Mervyn's) and WalMart on a piece of paper so I could tell the taxi driver where I wanted to go. Headed to Jusco first...looked around briefly. Enjoyed the office supply aisle (thought of you, Lulu!!) and purchased some paper things for future collage work. Also went to a bookstore & bought some postcards & stuff.
Then I caught another taxi & went to WalMart. I just had to see what a Chinese WalMart is like, and Reed told me that there are lots of shops in the area, too. He was right. Here's just a small section of what the streets look like: [Note: all my pics today are a tad overexposed. I'll have to fix 'em in Photoshop. It's hard to take a good pic b/c of the smog & mist, and today I overcompensated and let in too much light. Oops, live & learn.]
The advertisments & billboards are enormous & colorful. They all compete for attention and clash in an oddly beautiful way. Saw McD's:
I didn't go in...I don't like it enough in the U.S. to eat it here in China. LOL!!
WalMart was familiar yet so, so foreign. LOL! It's a lot smaller than our WalMarts, but the store is laid out in a similar fashion and the signs are similar. Lots of different food products, it was fun to look around. It was hot in there, though. It's hot in every store here...no A/C inside, I guess. I go in & just start to sweat. Ugh.
Sat outside for a bit & wrote in my journal. A gal was watching me & approached me to talk. She was excited to talk English, and we tried to converse. Guess what her job is? Amway!! LOL!!!! Anyway, she was kind. She said she could "feel my beauty." Not sure if that's a sales pitch, a polite custom, or a genuine compliment.
Went back to the hotel & then decided to go to Zhanshan Temple. It's a Buddhist temple that was built in 1945. I really enjoyed my experience there. It was a beautiful, peaceful place. People there were kind & didn't stare as much.
I was really impressed by the Great Hall, the building with the largest Buddha shrine (there were other halls, as well). I wasn't sure whether to go in...I didn't want to be disrespectful to those who were there praying and worshipping. But a woman gestured to me that I could go in. There was a monk quietly chanting in the corner and lots of sculptures with offerings before them (mostly fresh fruit, some fruit juice...I even saw a sleeve of crackers there as an offering). Being inside the hall was a lovely experience. I took no pictures inside the hall as a sign of respect, but here is the outside:
I took lots of other pics, here are just a couple more:
I enjoyed my day today...it's nice not being at the mercy of psycho-shady tour guides. LOL!!!
We leave for Beijing in the morning...not sure about the internet capabilities at the new hotel. If I don't post, it's because I don't have access.
Today we got taken for a ride, in more ways than one.
It was a good day, overall. Just some frustrations. Last night I told the concierge that I wanted to go to Mt. Laoshan, and I asked him how to get there. He said he would arrange a tour. I told him I just wanted the bus number, but he insisted on the tour.
The "tour" stunk. Big time. I talked another wife here into going with me, and we got picked up at around 8:30 a.m. The tour guides spoke not a lick of English. There was one other poor soul in the van who spoke very little English, but if wouldn't have been there we would have really been in trouble.
Anyway, then the typical "tourist-trap tour" stuff happened. Instead of taking us to straight to Mt. Laoshan, they took us to several other landmarks which we had no idea we were going to. At first it seemed kind of adventurous that we were headed off into parts unknown. We went down tiny alley ways in old Qingdao, narrowly escaping car crashes and head-through-the-windshield wounds. Here's a view from the front of the van:
They took us to the Qingdao harbor, where we took a boat tour:
Next we endured some more China-driving (i.e. driving in the wrong lane, never ever yielding, etc.) and were ushered into the TV Tower. It was one big advertisement for the Beijing 2008 Olympics.
As you leave the tower, they usher you through tourist shops full of crap. Sorry about the word, but that's whats there. They had us draw a number out of a box...I drew a zero. My travel partner drew a 3, and they rushed her into a room where they told her that because she drew a 3 she was eligible to buy a painting. HUH?? Good thing I drew a zero. LOL!!
Back into the van...and the next stop was the red alien sculpture (see previous blog entry). I said nope, not getting out, we've seen this. So back on the road we go. We finally start to head towards Mt. Laoshan, but after a few miles the van turns into a run-down section of buildings. They were seriously odd buildings...some were vacant, some were occupied with people cooking weird things. All of them were filthy. Well, guess what was there? A pearl vendor...the guide ushered us in:
We said NO thanks & walked out. Obviously the guide gets some sort of kick-back if his guests buy the crud at all the markets they stop at.
Sorry, I should have given you a gag-reflex warning (be glad I'm not posting the pic I took of the squat toilets!). We protested enough that the hostess showed us some vegetables. We pointed at the tomatoes, and this is what we got:
Eggs & tomatoes in fish sauce. It didn't have a bad flavor, but I didn't eat much of it...I'm not a big fan of runny eggs. Plus I kept thinking "bird flu bird flu bird flu"--UGH! Good thing I had a PayDay bar in my backpack.
Saw these cool fishing boats on the way. There are miles & miles of fish nets in the ocean off the coast, all maintained by men in these boats:
Finally we made it to Mt. Laoshan, but the guides didn't take us to Taiqing Palace, which is where I wanted to go. Instead we went to the tram & took it up the mountain. From the top station we had a short hike up to a small temple. Pics:
We enjoyed the mountain & the temple. Beautiful surroundings & weather, less pollution. Very interesting landscape...mystical. Of course, all the way up we passed by vendors:
Which made this sign near the top all the more ironic:
Never did get to see Taiqing... :( By the time we got down from the tram, it was 3:30 p.m. and I had pretty much had it. We headed back...but not before we stopped at yet another vendor (this time one selling seafood, seawood, and other unrecognizable things shrink-wrapped and vacuum sealed).
Moral of the story: DO NOT take the "tour", even if it is arranged by a 5-star hotel.
I'm 6000 miles away from my home! I made it here without any trouble. The traveling was exhausting. I learned that I aboslutely cannot sleep sitting up. AARGH...so by the time I finally got here, I had been awake for 27 hours.
We left San Francisco and flew north near Juneau, over the Beiring Straits, over Siberia, north of Korea, and then down into Beijing. This is what Siberia looks like from 35000 feet (I don't have Photoshop here so I can't "fix" any of these pics):
The flight to Beijing was so long. The plane was full and conditions were so cramped. Food was disgusting (not a surprise). The headhpone jack on my seat was broken so I watched but not heard the five in-flight movies they played. My restless leg syndrome was making my legs crawl...miserable. Once I got to Beijing, I cleared customs without any problems.
I tell ya, Beijing isn't the place for asthma sufferers. The pollution is so heavy in the air that it seemed very dark, and it was only 5:00 p.m. There is a faint industrial/chemical smell, and you can even see the pollution in the air. My sinuses started burning immediately. I did bring my nasal sprays, but my Zyrtec prescription was out...darn, I knew I should have had it filled before I left.
You know the saying that a smile is the universal language? Well, they must have missed that memo here. Everyone stares at me....I guess they've never seen a 5'10" chubby American before...and when I smile at them, they keep staring. It's weird feeling like a circus sideshow. I've seen a few soul sisters (i.e. chubby gals), but most people are thin & tiny, so I'm like the Pillsbury Doughboy walking around here.
The pollution in Qingdao isn't much better than in Beijing. I wonder if they ever see the sky here? Our hotel, the Shang-ri-la, is nice, ritzy. Here's the view from our hotel window (note the haze--that ain't fog, folks):
Beijing will host the Olympics in 2008, the sailing events will be here in Qingdao. You see lots of Olympic signs and construction going on here.
I spent the morning exploring the area by the hotel. Went into a ritzy dept. store (Sunshine, reminded me of Dillard's), into a local discount store (Carrefour), and into some haggle-for-it type markets. Took this pic at a haggle market:
That was the only stall that had miscellaneous dry goods/food/unknown weird stuff like what's in the picture. All the other stalls had clothing (lots & lots of men's sweaters & trousers), women's underwear & socks, and other soft goods.
I had a great time at Carrefore. Bought some inexpensive books/papers for future artwork. There was an aisle there like our "$1 section" at Target. Except here it was a "1 RMB" aisle...that's only about 12 cents. Got a kick out that. Guess what the number-one bestelling book in China is right now?
Noooo...I won't go with the aliens:
Got some take-out for lunch from a noodle place...delicious! It was a deep fried porkchop, noodles, cabbage, and creamy mustard sauce. I have no idea what the white stuff in the bowl is (hot soy milk, maybe?). Two bugs landed in it right after I took this picture, and I dumped it out.
After I ate lunch, a young man came & sat down near me. I asked him if he spoke English, and he did (first one who has out of quite a few who I've asked). His name is Richi. We talked about where I'm from, what there is to do in Qingdao (which, according to him, is not much..."boring" he calls it). Then Richi told me that I look Russian. I asked him why he thought so, and he said it's because of my "big bones." I think that's the Chinese way of saying, "You've had one too many french fries, lady."
Time for a little rest...
I was 2 feet away from Gavin DeGraw tonight:
The concert was outstanding. Stellar. Perfect, soulful vocals. Our seats were really close to the stage...so close that we could feel the bass line in our bones. During Chemical Party, Gavin ran around the audience (brave man), and since we were on the end of the row he was only about 2 feet away from us as he ran up & down. I personally witnessed some interesting groupie groping as he was making his rounds...those girls copped one heck of a feel.
It felt SOOOOOO good to hear music LIVE. To feel it viscerally. To see someone perform who has pure talent...the real deal. I need to do this way, way more often.
The fabulous Kaleidascopic Kris tagged me to do the following meme:
The 5th sentence in my 23rd post is: "He posts new secrets every Sunday."
I read that sentence out of context and it strikes me as odd....that a secret gets posted and inherent in that act becomes a secret no longer. I don't like secrets...I'm a person who wants to KNOW everything. I don't like someone hiding information from me. Some of the greatest hurts I've suffered have been when I've discovered things people have hidden from me.
Yet, I understand the need to hide secrets. And I can keep a secret.
What a week. I've felt like crud, and it's not good for the momma to feel like crud. The baby chicks always need the mother hen, if ya know what I mean.
Found this cool site: The Perception Laboratory's Face Transformer. You can upload a digital pic & use their software to alter it in different styles (styles of famous artists, other ethnicities, etc.). Some of the alterations are cool (Botticelli) and some are the stuff of nightmares (LOL!!). I couldn't get a pic to upload due to our firewall...but if you try it & it works, let me know! I found the link on the Insurgent Muse blog. Scroll down a bit & check out the photos she altered with it...pretty sweet.
Cool places to shop for cool stuff (I need a new adjective to replace "cool"...anyone????)
My artful day yesterday turned into artful wishes...but I did manage some artful spending.
Found these impossible to resist star/constellation cards at Barnes & Noble. Anyone wanna do an altering challenge?? Anyone? Notice that I love you enough to let you see my desk as it usually is...a mess. I've given up any pretense of organization.
Found this great little journal at TJMaxx for my China trip. Small enough to not be a burden, but cool enough to make me happy.
The search continues for the perfect pen....
Reasons why Mondays stink:
1. Clogged disposal drains that take 90 minutes of plunging, 3 boxes of baking soda, a carton of salt, and a gallon of vinegar to unclog. Oh, and about a gallon of boiling water.
3. Kids who take an hour to do homework that they could do in 10 minutes if they'd just buckle down and get it done.
4. Being out of milk. And realizing it at 8:00 p.m.
5. Did I mention the clogged drain??
Tomorrow will be artful so I can regain my sanity.