Guilin – 桂林

So this post is a long time coming. I think the reason I hadn’t posted until now is because this is one of those trips that I know I’ll never forget. There aren’t words to describe how unbelievably awesome this trip was, but I’ll try my best to capture it here. It’s been almost 2 months since traveling to Guilin, yet I can remember the whole experience vividly.

I went on this trip with one other person. Matt and I had briefly talked about visiting here, but we hadn’t commited to anything.By shear luck, we found really cheap tickets. It’s probably the most impulsive purchase I’ve ever made. It took me about 2 minutes from seeing the flight deal to Guilin to actually purchasing a flight there. Oh yeah, did I mention I skipped class to go here. When I told my teacher I’d be missing a Friday class, she was thrilled about my excuse. She even gave me pointers about what sites to see!

One of the main attractions of Guilin is taking a raft down the famous Li River. If you read the travel guides, everyone says to avoid the large tourist ferries leaving from the city center. It recommends taking a small PVC pipe raft from a small village. To get to the village, we hopped on a local bus. To be more precise, we actually chased this bus down a 4 lane highway behind a beckoning Chinese lady. She must have been in cohorts with the bus because the driver handed her some cash after we boarded the bus. The bus driver kicked us off the bus at an intersection in the middle of nowhere. I repeat, in the MIDDLE OF NOWHERE. We spent a few minutes pondering how we were going to have to hitchhike back to Guilin, but soon another small van pulled up and showed us pictures of the Li River and raft dock. Clearly we weren’t the first tourists searching for this hidden gem. We climbed aboard and headed towards what we thought would lead to the river.

Ok, time for a disclaimer. Normally, I wouldn’t recommend getting in a strange vehicle in a foreign country with limited language skills and have no clear idea where you are going. Nor would I recommend sprinting down a highway after a crazy lady to catch a bus. Actually, I highly discourage it. Looking back at it, those choices were actually pretty stupid. At the time, it made sense. Maybe it was the fact we were caught up in the hype for adventure or we were lost puppies in this foreign land. But most likely, we were just being plain dumb (Sorry Mom). Thankfully, nothing bad happened.

Now that’s cleared up, back to the good stuff. We got to the raft dock and were bombarded by the local women trying to sell flower headbands. Suffice to say, I was not interested. We purchased our tickets and climbed aboard the raft. You might be sensing a trend with my trips in China, but words cannot describe how breathtaking the views along the river were. I mean it this time! The river was surrounded by tall limestone bluffs shrouded in mist with the peaks disappearing into the clouds. You can look at the pictures below, but those pictures aren’t that good. Honestly, even the world’s highest resolution camera couldn’t capture how magical the river was.

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Li River

The raft trip flew by and we were dropped off at a junction on the side of the river. Women sat along the roadside trying to sell dried fish and craft goods. There was one elderly woman in particular who caught my attention. Actually, she demanded my attention. She must have sensed my hunger or, more likely, heard my stomach rumbling. In response, she came running up to me with a bunch of bananas. I politely declined her and she scurried away. Within a few seconds she returned with a grapefruit. Once again, I said I wasn’t interested. She must have been embracing the concept that the third time is the charm because she returned with a bag of peanuts. After declining once again, she made a futile last attempt and opened the bag of peanuts. If showing the items to me wasn’t going to work, surely throwing individual peanuts at me was going to sway my decision! I wasn’t mad. The whole experience was quite comical.

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Li River

Matt and I decided to continue to follow the river and walked along the bank. It is not a common method to see the Li River, but walking gave us a chance to experience the countryside. Small farmhouses lined the bank and locals passed us by. The tourists riding on the boats were also fascinated by us. We must have been more exciting than the scenery because Matt and I must have been in hundreds of photographs. By walking along the river, we got to see the view that is on the back of the 20 yuan bill. Also, we saw a local stall selling honey cubes. The shopkeeper hacked these golden sugar cubes off of a large brick covered in bees. It was so good!

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20 yuan spot

After the river, we made our way to Yangshuo. It is one of the famous towns in the region and is a booming tourist spot. The landscape is similar to that of the Li River. Buildings are built in between the mountainous peaks. It is quite surreal. We took a cab out to the trail-head for Moon Hill. We climbed to the underside of the arch and had the opportunity to look out over the vast countryside. Small villages dotted the horizon. As we were taking in the scenery, it began to rain. We made our way down the slippery trail and found the cab waiting for us at the bottom even though we hadn’t told the driver to wait for us. It was a nice surprise. After a long day of adventure, we had a local dinner in Yangshuo that included river snails.

We woke up the next morning and walked along the roads outside of Yangshuo. Most people opted to ride bikes, but our lack of planning led us to walk 10+ miles to take in the scenery. Every turn in the road led to more outstanding views of greenery. Amazing. After spending the morning taking in the sites, we hopped on a bus back to Guilin.

In Guilin, we had a cheap meal of Guilin rice noodles. They tasted so good. This local dish can be found on nearly every every street corner in the city. Basically, it’s more common than finding a Walgreens in the States. Bonus: it’s super cheap! As I write this, I find myself wishing I had a bowl of the deliciousness right now…. We also visited the Sun and Moon Pagodas in Fir Lake. At night, they are lit up and it makes the site even more impressive. A local band was playing by the lake. It was fun to observe, however people didn’t clap when the songs ended. Rather, the audience clapped when someone went to place a donation in the musicians’ cases. It must have been cultural.

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Sun and Moon Pagodas

Going to the bathroom in China is always an adventure, but Guilin took the craziness of using the toilet to a whole new level. When my small bladder couldn’t take it anymore, I opted to use the bathrooms at the local bus station. You usually hear horror stories about Chinese bathrooms being unsanitary. Yes, I had run into a few of these gems, but this bathroom was actually very well kept, with the exception of the surplus of grandmothers running up and down the isles.I kid you not, there had to have been 20+ elderly Chinese women running up and down the isles of the bathrooms. Every time a stall opened up, the stampede of grandmothers raced for the open doors. Clearly, these women did not understand the concept of efficiency. Craziest part was the pack kept growing in size. It was like “monkey see, monkey do”. After watching this circus for 15 minutes, I gave up and decided to stand in front of an occupied stall. When it opened and its inhabitant vacated the stall I braced myself for the charging herd. One lady sneaked past me, however out of frustration, I picked her up by the shoulders and placed her outside the stall doors. It helped that I was at least 6 inches taller than any of the women in the bathroom. Finally, I was able to relieve myself, however escaping the stall was a whole other challenge!

We boarded a bus for the famed Longsheng Rice Terraces. On the bus, I sat next to a cage of chickens. Yep, you heard that right. A local boarded the bus, dropped the chickens in the seat and walked off the bus. The bus ride led us to the Longsheng rice terraces. We arrived in a local village surrounded by rice patties carved into the hillside. Talk about an engineering feat. The water filled terraces stretched for miles. In deciding our hiking route, we decided to take the road less traveled. We set out to hike between two neighboring villages. With no map, we chose to trust our gut and began the 4+ hour walk. Along the way, we passed through abandoned fields and many grave sites. We took a few wrongs turns here and there, but the locals were often quick to steer us in the right direction. We made it to the final village by nightfall and chose to stay the night in a hostel situated in the middle of the rice terraces.

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Rice Terraces
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Rice Terraces
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Rice Terraces

It was the best feeling to wake up surrounded by the endless fields of green. We spent the remainder of the morning exploring the village and terraces. Unfortunately, our plane was leaving that night and we had to leave. I could have easily stayed another day or two in the Longsheng area.

The trip to Guilin was, by far, the best trip I took in China. It is one that won’t be easy to forget. This trip alone, made the study abroad trip well worth it.

 

 

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常熟 – Changshu Revisited

To the parents I have yet to meet,

I visited Changshu this past weekend. Changshu wasn’t high on my priority list to go visit, but how could I not? If I didn’t make a trip out there during my study abroad experience, I guarantee I’d regret not going.

It’s a different world than the one I know. I’ve never seen so many people lining the streets.The standard of living is low compared to all of the other places I have visited in China during my study abroad this semester. It was like stepping back in time. I took the time to explore the area and walked through one of the poorer sections of town. It was a hard sight to see.

Don’t get me wrong though. Changshu has a lot of natural beauty as well. The Shajiabang and Yushan scenic areas were wonderful. It makes me proud to know I come from a place with so much beautiful and unique scenery.

I looked for your faces on the streets while I was there. I’d scan the streets trying to see as many faces as possible in the hopes that I might have caught a glimpse of you. Maybe I did. Maybe I didn’t. That’s okay. There’s no way I’d be able to recognize you anyway. Just knowing we were likely in the same city is enough for me.

For as long as I can remember, something has always crossed my mind from time to time. I sometimes wonder what the reasons are that I ended up in an orphanage. I want to believe it is because you wanted to give me the best life possible. I hope that is true and will continue to believe it. I want you to know that I don’t hold any grudges against you. I don’t and will never dislike you. I can’t.

Actually, I want to thank you. You gave me one of the best gifts anyone has ever given me. You gave me a second chance. Being placed in the orphanage was one of the best things that could have possibly happened to me. Because of you, I have had so many opportunities in the past 21 years and will continue to have many more. Because of you, I got to meet two of the best people on the planet. They introduced me to the world as I know it. I became part of a family and I wouldn’t change it for the world. There’s nothing I could possibly do that would be enough to repay the favor. So, thank you for everything.

Don’t worry. I assure you I will be back to visit again. And I promise, I will make you proud.

Until we meet,

Your daughter

臭豆腐-Stinky Tofu

By now, I’m sure you are all quite aware of my sense of adventure when it comes to food. Up until this point, I have eaten a wide range of foods classified as unique to the typical American palate. And I can honestly say that I have enjoyed almost all of the foods. They have all gone down very smoothly. Well, I regret to inform you that I have finally met my match. To the friend back home (not to be named), thank you so much for telling me how wonderful stinky tofu tastes. You had me quite convinced. I was gullible and actually believed you that it would taste fantastic. But really, what should I have expected from something called fermented tofu? Even my Chinese friends admit it is unpleasant.If it’s any consolation, it tastes better than it smells! To anyone who hasn’t tried it, I recommend you give it a shot. Just don’t blame me if it doesn’t quite live up to your expectations.

Beijing – 北京

It’s not a trip to China without making a visit to the current capital city. Since SJTU was celebrating its 120 year anniversary, the school canceled all classes for a Friday. Rather than sticking around for the festivities, a group of us decided to take advantage of yet another long weekend to see 北京。 We took a 5 hour bullet train from the Shanghai train station to Beijing. The train can go up to 450 kph! We arrived with little hassle and thankfully, the hostel didn’t overbook like in Xi’an.

On our first full day, we decided to visit the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall. We took a local bus about 90 minutes out of the city. Towards the end of the line, local cab drivers kept trying to get us off the bus so we would have to pay them high prices to get to the wall. Since we did research ahead of time, we knew that it was best to take the bus to the last stop so we kept our butts firmly planted in the seats. After disembarking from the bus, we were quickly greeted by an overly persistent cab driver who wanted to take us to the main gate of the Mutianyu section. Even after turning him down multiple times, he kept following us. One of my fellow travelers got fed up and began yelling at the driver. I completely disagreed with his approach. I firmly believe that you treat people with respect, no matter what. Yelling at someone is only going to create new problems, especially when there’s already a language barrier. Rather than engaging in the argument, I went to a local store and asked the shopkeeper for advice on how to get to the wall. She spoke quick Chinese and I had great difficulty deciphering the information. I could make out a few sentences, but had no idea what her last sentences meant. I eventually resorted to using a translator to try to figure out what she was saying. The electronic translator claimed she was saying something about “tigers eating her mother’s chicken pants” which I’m pretty confident was not what she was trying to tell me. Hey, Google translate can’t always get it right! Nonetheless, I was able to understand enough to know where to find a trustworthy cab.

Once we arrived at the main gate and paid the entry fees, we looked at a map and decided to walk to the Great Wall, rather than take a shuttle bus. Clearly, the map was not to scale. The walk to the base of the mountain took us a good hour and we hadn’t even begun the ascent at that point. Maybe we should have taken the hint when we didn’t see anyone else walking up the long road. Nope, everyone else was zooming by in buses looking at us like we were crazy.  That’s what we got for trying to be cheap. After getting to the base, we began the climb up. My legs were still sore from Hua shan the previous weekend, but we managed to get to the top.

I remember the Great Wall when I visited with my parents. I remember it being pretty fantastic, despite only spending a short 30 minutes on the wall. Seeing it again was breathtaking! Better yet, there were very few tourists on the wall that day. We walked the entire section, taking time to enjoy all the views. It’s a great scene when you look out and see the wall snaking endlessly through the surrounding mountains. It’s even more amazing when you consider the technology available during the time the wall was built. The entire wall was built by hard manual labor. The durability of modern day buildings can’t even compare to the Great Wall. After exploring the wall all day long, we took the toboggan slide down the side of the mountain. It was so much fun!

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The Great Wall

The following day, we went to the Summer Palace. There were a lot of domestic tourists at the sight. We walked through the famous long corridor and into the Buddhist temple. The views were fantastic. Blue skies made it even better. Being pressed for time, we were forced to end the visit quickly. More time could have been spent wandering through the large park.

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Summer Palace

After the Summer Palace, we traveled back into the city to see the Temple of Heaven. The Temple of Heaven is known as one of the great architectural achievements. Reading some of the signs, the iconic building of the Temple of Heaven is well regarded for it’s symmetry and symbolism. I remember seeing this special place with my parents, but I forgot how large the site was. There are multiple buildings that are not closely situated to one another. It is a sight well worth seeing. It’s probably my favorite structure within the city.

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Temple of Heaven

Our group split up later that night. I went to the Peking Opera. Some of the group decided not to attend because of the shrill singing that occurs during the performance. One of the acts was about a girl who found a jade bracelet. The other was about a female warrior. I enjoyed the martial arts in the warrior performance. It was also helpful that there were English subtitles to follow along with the story. Actually, the native Chinese speakers also require subtitles due to the difficulty of being able to decipher the singing in the performances.

The following day, we went to the Forbidden City and Tienanmen Square. It was packed! Being the weekend, it was difficult to see inside the many rooms scattered about the imperial city. The Asian grannies were at it again and were shoving everyone to get the best view. Their short stature is very beneficial to their tactics. Despite the crowds, it was still an impressive sight. The large courtyards and religious temples make it evident as to why the Forbidden City is such a highly regarded tourist attraction and one of the main symbols of China. My favorite part of the visit was when we diverted off of the main tourist route and went into some side courtyards. There were fewer people making it much easier to enjoy the beauty of the palace. Also, behind the Forbidden City is a large park with a hill. If you climb to the top of the hill,you reach the center point of all of Beijing. From this vantage point, you can look over the entire Forbidden City. This view makes it very evident about just how large the Forbidden City actually is. It’s well worth the extra few minutes just to see the view.

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Forbidden City
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View of the Forbidden City from the Park

One of Beijing’s most famous dishes is the Peking roast duck. Knowing it would be an expensive dinner, our group was prepared to pay a hefty amount. We found one of the highly recommended restaurants in the city and ordered the specialties off of the menu. Let me tell you, it did not disappoint. I’ve had duck before, but this dish was one of the best I’ve ever had.

After the duck, the rest of the group headed to Olympic Park to see the Bird Nest. I decided to head back to the hostel because of other commitments. Being elected to an officer position for the Society of Women Engineers back at Purdue required that I conducted interviews for the remaining board positions. You really begin to appreciate the value of being on the same timezone as others when you are 12 hours off.Technology is a wonderful thing when it comes to long distance communication, but it is also less than desirable. Late night meetings are frequent, and that night was no exception. I ended up staying up for interviews from midnight to six in the morning. Suffice to say, it was a long night and I was looking forward to getting some sleep.

Despite the lack of sleep, I decided to make the most of my remaining time in Beijing. Some of my other traveling companions decided to wake up early and we set out to find some exotic food to eat. We found the famous WangFuJing Street in Beijing. The small stalls displayed a plethora of strange foods including grubs, seahorses and tarantulas. The one food that caught my eye was the skewered scorpions. I ordered a stick and hesitantly began to build my confidence to take the first bite. After a bit of a mental debate, I began eating. Actually, it was pretty good, so I ordered another! If you are curious, I have a great video of my reaction. The other strange foods I decided to try that day was the donkey meat burger and the starfish. Each snack was memorable in it’s own way. With a full stomach, I was content and ready to return back to Shanghai.

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Scorpions on a Stick

Beijing is a memorable place. Of three of the big cities in China, it is said that Xi’an is the past, Beijing is the present, and Shanghai is the future. After seeing all three of these cities, I can confidently say, that I can see why this claim is made. I enjoyed Beijing, and would go back there if given another opportunity.

Hope all is well back home. I’m looking forward to catching up with some of you very soon. 再见!

Xi’an – 西安

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted, but I’ve been busy traveling China. It’s about time I get you all caught up to speed on my adventures.

We recently had a 3 day weekend and a group of 10 of us decided to go to Xi’an. We took a plane and arrived in the city around dinner time. To avoid the heavy taxi fees, we took an airport bus into the city center. The last bus stop was about 2 miles away from our hostel location, so we trekked the rest of it by foot. It was a great decision since we got to see the nightlife in the city. Multiple dance groups could be found on a single stretch of the road. To take a break, we set our bags down and joined in! Once arriving at the hostel, we found out that they had canceled our reservation and given our beds to other travelers. That’s not the information you want to hear at 10 pm after a day of traveling. Rather than complaining, we set out walking looking for another location to spend the night. Luckily, we found another hostel down the road with enough space to house our entire group.

Once settling in, we went out looking for food. The Muslim district was a few short blocks away from our hostel location. The smells were unbelievable. Street food was everywhere and it tasted great. The fried bananas were a particular favorite of mine. That and the stir-fried potatoes. Great food attracts great crowds. Great crowds create a ton of trash. And that trash was everywhere to be seen. It was scattered in giant piles in the middle of the street. It was in that moment that I became convinced that the trash can was a great invention. Despite the mountains of trash, the street is well worth the visit for any food lover. Be forewarned, you’ll have to risk getting food poisoning if you want to enjoy any of these local delicacies. Luckily no one in our group got very sick.

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Muslim District

Xi’an is most well known for the famous Terra Cotta Warriors. I went there with my parents when we last visited China. I remember the large airplane hangars covering the excavation sites, but that was about it. Being 10 years down the road, I expected a lot to have changed. However, walking into the first hangar, it was apparent that little progress had been made in the excavation process. It looked nearly identical to what I had seen before. I guess when a site is bringing in large profits from tourism, it isn’t crucial to continue the excavation process. Despite the little progress made in uncovering the buried soldiers, the site was still as impressive as I last remember. The most eventful part was cramming back onto the local bus to head back into the city. It was definitely filled beyond its max capacity and I got to know my neighbors really well. A 90 minute ride standing with absolutely no wiggle room feels a lot longer, but considering the ride only cost us 5 yuan, it’s a great deal.

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Terra Cotta Warriors
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Yes, we took one of those cheesy tourist photos…

After returning from the soldiers, we took a train to the town of 华山 (Hua shan), home of the famous Hua shan mountains. After arriving in the train station late at night, the only option to reach our hostel was by taxi. Up until this point, I’ve felt pretty safe in China. It wasn’t until the cab drivers started getting into an argument after a group of us had gotten into one of the cabs that I got unsettling feelings. We locked the doors and hoped the feud would pass. Thankfully, no fists flew and we eventually arrived at our destination. I think bad luck was on our side when it came to hostels this trip. The hostel in Hua shan overbooked and no longer had beds when we showed up. For the second night in a row, we were forced to go searching for a place to stay. It all worked out in the end.

After a short 4 hours of sleep, seven of us woke up early to start the ascent up Hua shan. The remaining three decided to take a cable car to the top, rather than hike for four hours to the peak. About halfway up the ascent, the seven of us began to think the other three took the smarter option. To put it in perspective, the hike to the peaks is rated as the “deadliest hike in the world”. There were certain sections where we were hiking up stairs that were barely 4 inches wide up a 70 degree incline. It was necessary to use the thick iron chains to pull yourself up the steps. Oh and the wet stone surfaces didn’t help. Let me tell you, it’s quite a humbling experience when you have old Chinese grannies speeding past you on the upwards ascent of a mountain.

After tackling the steep inclines with nothing but a chain to hold onto, the plank walk in the sky was easy. This section of the trail consists of wooden planks that are fastened to the side of the mountain with small iron pegs. Luckily, you are harnessed and attached to a cable. The scariest part was looking down and seeing nothing below you, especially on the ladder section. The makeshift ladder was composed of thin iron rails that were laid horizontally across a vertical crack in the face of the mountain. Those rungs were most definitely loose…. Although the safety standards were definitely sub par, it was a fantastic experience. Probably my favorite so far in China.

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The long way down.
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The Plank Walk

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The Plank Walk
20/20 hindsight, Hua shan was best hike I’ve ever been on. Despite the sore legs and arms that persisted for days after, it was worth it.  And the views at the top were absolutely breathtaking (once the clouds cleared)! Pictures cannot possibly capture the beauty of this place. If you are ever in the area, go there! Do the plank walk! You won’t regret it, I promise.

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View from the Top

 

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Hua Shan

Finishing up Hua shan, we took a train back into the city that very night. We went back to the Muslim district in search of good food. Once again it did not disappoint. After eating, we continued to walk the strip. One store in particular caught our attention. The store was offering foot massages for 30 yuan. But it wasn’t your typical foot massage. It was a fish massage. You stick your feet into a fish tank and let the fish nibble the dead skin off. Looking back on it, I was essentially being eaten by fish. Warning: if you are ticklish, prepare to laugh until it hurts. Best 30 yuan I’ve ever spent on a massage. Believe it or not, my feet felt great after!

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Fish Foot Massage

The next day was a much more low key day. We rode bikes across the Xi’an city wall. Along the way, we got to see some of the old districts within the city and view a stunning Tibetan Buddhist temple. After the wall, we went to a nice restaurant to eat the famous dumpling meal. They brought out 16 types of dumplings that were shaped to look like the filling. If it had duck filling, the dumpling looked like a duck! Not only was the presentation great, they tasted good too. After the meal, we went to the Wild Goose Pagoda. Outside the pagoda was a large park with a huge fountain. We must have timed our arrival perfectly, because a free water show was occurring. They synced the fountains to Chinese music. We watched the show with a large crowd of locals. Some of my favorite moments in China happen when we’ve stumbled across something completely unexpected. That’s when you really get to experience life in China. Those are undoubtedly the best.

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We survived!

Some might question my sanity after this trip. I even question it myself. I did some crazy things that are classified far beyond dangerous. However, I had an absolute blast! It was one of those trips I will never forget. I’d do it again in a heartbeat. By far, the best trip with the best group of guys I’ve taken so far in China!

常熟-Changshu (1/13/2016)

This entry was written back in January, but I hadn’t gotten around to putting it up. Guess it’s about time I did. 

Things sometimes sneak up on you when you least expect it. I spent the first five months in an orphanage in Changshu City. Ten years later, I returned with my parents during our family vacation. This time around, it wasn’t on my list as a place to visit. Yet, less than a week into my trip, I returned.

As a whole class, we went to American Axle to take a plant tour. We took a bus ride 2.5 hours out of the city. I knew we were going to an industrialized area. Little did I know the plant was located in Changshu. The plant was extremely well kept. The plant manager was an Expat. An Expat is someone who used to be an American citizen and moved to another country. It was interesting to learn about their products and which standards they adhered to. The plant was located in the Changshu Economic Development Area. These locations are specifically targeted to spur positive economic activity in the surrounding area. Despite the well maintained and regulated plant, I assure you, there are plants throughout China that are not in this good of condition. However, it was refreshing to see that there was some positive change occurring in the region.

Learning about the plant was interesting, but what was more important was what I took away while driving through the city. Despite the economic growth, many people remained in poor living conditions. Those who get jobs in the plants such as American Axle are primarily educated individuals. Not all people in that area are fortunate to have access to education. Along the streets, people hung tarps to use as make-shift shelters. Changshu really hasn’t changed much in ten years. To this day, it remains one of the poorest places I have seen. It’s heartbreaking to see, especially since I feel that I have a connection with the people of this city, despite not knowing a single one of them. I truly am one of the lucky few.

Here I am 21 years later, sitting in a manufacturing plant, in the place of my birth. I guess this unexpected homecoming is just a reminder that this place is of significant importance. Sometimes that is easy to forget, but shouldn’t be.

It really is amazing when you stop and think about it. 21 years ago, I was in an orphanage in this very city. And trust me, if you seen it, you’d know it is a far less than desirable place to be. But now, I’m back. And this time around, I got to take a tour of a factory because I chose a study abroad program through one of the best engineering schools in the world. It’s definitely not something that should ever be taken for granted.

Drunken Shrimp

Coming to China, I had anticipated eating foods that could be classified as unusual to the typical American palate. Embarking on this adventure, I wasn’t sure what I would be eating, but I told myself that whenever I was presented an opportunity to eat unique foods, I would not hesitate in trying it out. What does Andrew Zimmerman say? Oh yeah, “If it looks good, eat it!” If you’ve been following along, you are well aware that I have not been shy in trying the local foods. Up to this point, my list of exotic foods includes bullfrog, pig intestine and jellyfish to name a few. Yet ,nothing was as unique as the food I consumed tonight: drunken shrimp.

Drunken shrimp: a local Shanghai dish that’s not for the faint of heart. Actually, most restaurants will not allow 老外 (foreigners) to order the dish. If foreigners wish to try this dish, they have to bring along a local to place the order. I brought along a student who was willing to help us out. Why are there such obstacles in place to ordering this dish? Simple. Because they don’t want foreigners to order it and make a spectacle out of the dish. Now you’re probably wondering what on Earth i got myself into. Drunken shrimp is actually a really basic dish. It consists of a bowl of live shrimp swimming in a pool of alcohol and vinegar. Yep, you read that right. LIVE shrimp. “Live” as in still flopping around as you pick them up to eat them “live”.

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Drunken Shrimp

When they brought out the dishes, the shrimp were crawling around. A few of them launched themselves out of the bowl as a last effort to escape. It was actually pretty cruel to watch them in the bowl. Being an animal lover, I quickly began to second guess my decision to eat this delicacy. It seems pretty awful. To eat this dish you are literally taking a living creature and biting its head off as you consume the rest of the body. For a good few minutes, I questioned my ability to overcome the mental hurdle. After some encouragement from my friends, I closed my eyes and bit down on the poor shrimp. I will not go into further details, but I’ll say it was an experience. It tasted decent. It’s not something I would jump at to eat again, but I am glad I did it. If a local friend invited me to have another meal of drunken shrimp, I would most certainly not turn it down.  If you are feeling adventurous, I’d suggest giving it a shot.

 

Being in China, I have tried to be open to the experiences. It is rare that I will get a chance to immerse myself in a foreign culture; therefore, I wholeheartedly believe that it is worth taking advantage of every opportunity that arises.  Some of my decisions, such as eating live shrimp, might be questionable. And yes, not all of my experiences have been fantastic, but at least I know I will end my journey in China knowing I embraced my time here. I do not want to walk away wishing I had done something, but decided to back down because I was too afraid to try. I came to China to learn and live the culture. That includes the good and the bad. I came to experience China. And that is exactly what I’m doing.

再见!

Shanghai Study Abroad