January, 2007: Post Card from China

January, 2007: Post Card from China
"Nee how" everybody and greetings! China was awesome, and we feel very refreshed from our vacation.

Trivia Question 1: What was the first thing we saw upon arriving in China?
a. The Great Wall
b. The Forbidden City
c. Starbucks

Trivia Question 2: What were we offered on top of the Great Wall?
a. A camel ride
b. A roller coaster ride
c. A Rolex watch

The answers will be at the end.

China couldn’t have been a friendlier or more interesting place. We didn’t have to learn a word of Chinese and even those that didn’t speak English were very eager to help. Some got a tad overzealous, as the waitress who tried to help Amy pick up her beef dumplings with a spoon when Amy failed the first time with the chopsticks. That was very confusing for everyone with Amy and the waitress both trying to pick up a dumpling at the same time using different utensils.

The sights were incredible. The Great Wall is indeed, as Richard Nixon observed, “great.” Actually for me it wasn’t so much the scope of the wall as they fact that they built it straight up and down the sides of mountains. The Forbidden Palace was very impressive despite all the restoration work, as were the Temple of Heaven and Summer Palace. I also found the Lama Temple and its gigantic 55 foot tall Buddha (carved out of a single sandalwood tree) surprisingly interesting. Of course we had to go see the Pandas (both giant and red). The giant one was eating bamboo, the red one was sleeping.

The amenities were rather good too— they had ESPN world and we got to watch the Rose Bowl! Jack got up at 6 AM to do it (Amy peeked at it through sleepy eyes). Now, the less said about the actual game the better but at least I got to watch live football for the first time in two years.

Everywhere else we have been we’ve had to try to blend into the background and try not to look like tourists, but in China it was much more relaxed because there wasn’t any chance that we weren’t tourists. As a result, people would just come up to us and start chatting so they could practice their English (it seems everyone wants to learn English in preparation for the Olympics.) This was somewhat alarming at times because it was often hard to tell if they were selling something. Amy and I took to speaking Russian to avoid the most obvious ones. Coming to that, then, the touts were a bit annoying. They were absolutely relentless, although I suppose that’s not uniquely Chinese—the men with the flowers in Rome are both as present and as annoying.

China is incredibly cheap. Jack got a Great Wall book and 20 postcards for about $3.10. Eating in normal restaurants for dinner, with beer, tea, mains, and appetizers was usually no more than $7 or $8 for both of us. Even room service was only $7-$10 for a meal. If you were willing to bargain you could get souvenir items on the street for between twenty five cents and a dollar. They may not have been genuine, strictly speaking, but you get what you pay for.

Translations seem to be difficult between Chinese and English. Our favorite sign was on the Great Wall which said “steep incline in frontage slow the walk.” One woman asked Amy if she was Chinese, which was confusing (she may have meant “spoke” Chinese?) Another time, which they found amusing was when we had to pay 80 Yuan to get into the Forbidden City. I was looking amongst my smaller bills and saw that I didn’t quite have 80 Y, that we’d have to break a larger bill. So I handed a 100 to the girl and said “there’s eighty,” meaning 80 was in there. But she said, “No, this one hundred. This your language! Ha Ha Ha!”

All in all it was a wonderful trip and we recommend it to everyone. In answer to the trivia questions above:

1. The first thing we saw in China was Starbucks. There was one waiting for us as we collected our luggage. There was also one near the entrance to the Great Wall and inside the Forbidden City. Apparently it isn’t so forbidden anymore. We never did make it to Starbucks, but coming from Kazakhstan the American name brands were extremely temping. We ate Chinese food every day as well as Japanese and amazing Thai, but I admit we did happen to slip into the Dairy Queen once or twice too.

2. What we were offered on top of the Great Wall was…all of the above. You could have your picture taken on a camel or horse or take a roller coaster ride for the “wild” Wall experience. But what really took the cake was the woman selling the Rolex watches. That would be a great story though—I bought this watch on the Great Wall of China! Most people hate all these sellers and think it detracts from the experience. I admit they were annoying, but come on, it was the Great Wall of China, you’d have to do a whole lot to diminish that experience.

Tonight we get on the train—38 hours, arriving in Pavlodar at 6 AM, where we will connect with our 7:30 bus back to work land. We hope you all had a wonderful New Years Eve spent with friends and family. We were thinking of you as always and wish you all the best.
Jack & Amy