Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Today the Great Wall, Tomorrow the view from Phinney Ridge

I will discuss the Wall in a minute...I have been involved in a haze of touring ever since we departed from our sleeper train (best night of sleep I have had in five weeks!) on Sunday morning and we have to leave for the airport at 4:15 tomorrow morning (what do you think I am doing after this? getting a hair wash and massage!).
Haze is the correct word. I feel I have been living in Batman's world for the past week - Beijing is SMOGGY! I have heard a few ACT people try to trick themselves into believing it is "fog"; it is not. It is most definitely smog and the sun is trying so hard to shine. The good part about this is that it isn't as hot here. The bad part is that I feel so claustrophobic and my throat hurts. Beijing is just SO BIG and there are SO MANY PEOPLE and the TRAFFIC IS SO BAD! I hear they are trying to clean up the air to present a good face at the Olympics; I will be impressed if they pull it off. This is not a pretty city.

Anyway, I will say that meeting up with the other ACT people that we met so briefly in the beginning was a lot of fun. Most had pretty good experiences, but out of the 7 groups, I think we got pretty lucky. Maybe part of my lackluster response to Beijing is that we had such a great setting in Keqiao...we keep saying that we were spoiled by Keqiao and that we miss Stir Fry Street and the waterfront. But as the groups arrived, we heard many stories similar to ours: changed schedules, more changed schedules, nothing as it seemed, duck beaks on a stick, the "boys in the back of the room" phenomenon, etc. But one girl, Chandra, a pre-MEd student from Portland who is taking three years off to travel before committing to the rest of her schooling, had the most unbelievable story. When we were at The Forbidden City, she approached me quite casually and said, "So, do you want to hear the weirdest thing that happened to me?" Here it is:

The others in her group were teaching night school so she decided to have dinner by herself at a restaurant she had frequented during her time there. She sat down to a dinner of noodles and vegetables (a popular entree among the ACT people) and was almost done when she and everyone else in the restaurant heard a huge BANG on the roof right above Chandra. Everyone looked up and this is what they saw: blood coming through the roof - lots of blood, pouring from the cracks - right onto Chandra and her meal. Shocked and confused, she just stared as blood splattered all over her. A waitress ran over and helped her up, trying to redirect her to another table and said "I will get you another dinner!" Chandra said "No, thanks...I don't want any more dinner, I think I will go home now..." As she was walking home, she saw the ambulance come. What had happened, a man had fallen from his high story apartment and landed on the roof of the restaurant and DIED. She was covered in his blood.

We all agreed that she won the prize for the "weirdest story." I can't believe she is still a normal person.
OK, so because THAT did not happen to me, I will tell you the worst thing to happen to ME. And because this is the worst thing, I have to say it is not SO bad but it is bad. I lost my camera the first day in Beijing (sorry Brian, this will hit you the hardest next to me). My camera that I had learned to love in the six weeks I had it...the one my whole group coveted and wanted to buy upon their return home. We had just gotten to Beijing and had seen the Temple of Heaven and got into the hottest cab ride ever. I was sitting behind the plastic barrier, sweating to death, feeling I would pass out. I had gotten into the habbit of checking my bag every time I left a cab and did so again to see my camera CASE in there. A half hour later when I went to take pictures of the hutong (ancient neighborhoods of Beijing) I realized that my camera was missing from its case and that cab had of course disappeared into 14.9 million people. Wow that was depressing. But everyone has been so nice about it...Miguel took pictures for me up until today and then today one of the other group members, Joey, let me use his extra camera for the wall. But I don't want to talk about it anymore except to ask my brother if he will check NewEgg for another good deal on the exact camera. And, thank God, I had transferred EVERY single picture up until that morning onto my laptop, so all of my memories remain intact.

So we have been, like I said, zipping around the city in a tour bus. I expected (and wanted) to feel really small in Tiananmen Square but did is broken up into sections (obstructed by a museum and a masoleum holding Chairman Mao's body) so what I had in my imagination...standing there and feeling the history of China and that bloody square course through me just didn't happen. The Forbidden City was forebodingly crowded and our very difficult to understand, yet very enthusiastic tour guide, Jessie, drug us to every single crack to tell us a long story that sounded like this" Hu ha wu shi wa, Emporer, Concubine" (sped up five million times and ongoing for 5 minutes) until she got to the end with her "OK! OK! Let's go!" It was hot and we were hungry and really, the Temple of Heaven was more interesting. But what the Temple of Heaven did NOT have was a STARBUCKS right in the middle of it. That's right, there was a Starbucks Coffee right in the middle of this city that was forbidden to outsiders for 500 years; corporate America, corporate Seattle for that matter, has now been invited right in to the bossom of the most sacred place of the oldest continuous civilization on earth. I didn't like that at all but I did have a tuna sandwich and an icy chocolate chip frapaccino that tasted really good and prevented me from slipping into a food coma. I am conflicted! And Jeff, I have a picture of a sign describing an ancient ruin with the message below "Made possible by American Express." If that is not PI material...

The Wall today did not disappoint, except for the vendors giving fake money in change for their cheap souvenirs. It was massive and windy and glimpsing it was truly exciting, walking on it surprisingly steep and challenging, the height of it (only about two stories) was quite shocking. I mean, what kind of wimpy army can't scale a short little wall like that? We climbed the "hard" part to the south where there were half as many people. I will not try to describe what it is like, it is truly fabluous. There is a huge sign next to the most well traveled section that reads "One World, One Dream, Beijing 2008." You know that will be on The Today Show every day!
So I am ready to be on my comfortable couch for a while. It has been a great experience, but I want normalcy to return. I don't know if I mentioned this, but I have earned five credits through Heritage University for doing this trip and writing this blog, so a "reflection" will follow upon my return and if it's OK with Mary Ann, my advisor, I will just do it on the blog (Mary Ann?). Thanks to everyone who kept in tune; especially to those who wrote messages that were so fun to receive. And mom and dad, can't wait to eat from your garden tomorrow and to smell that fresh CLEAN Seattle air!


Dad said...

It's good to hear from you again. I hope you are ready to eat a ton of zucchini and cucumber with corn to follow in a couple of weeks. It's not Stir Fry Street, but it tastes good.

Brian Bowker said...


I'm so glad you have had a great trip and have truly enjoyed all of your stories. It has been really fun to work on the blog with you and I will miss it. I can't wait for you to be home!

I am sad to hear about the loss of your camera, but not overwhelmingly so. When I was reading your post I had a deep sense of dread and loss creep over me - fearing that I would never get to see the videos of your kids and all the memories from your pictures.

That dissipated immediately when I read that you had transferred all of your pictures off if it safely before the loss. Those are the far more valuable part of the package because, although it is very sad to loose, the camera is totally replaceable.

I will find you another deal (probably even a better deal then the original one).

I can't wait to see all your photos and videos from the trip!


Preston said...

Hey, I have a great idea. When you get back, let's get some Chinese food... just kidding! It was fun to follow your adventures through the Glob. Thanks for sharing your many stories with us!

Anonymous said...

So, uou won "The Best Globber of the Summer" Writer's Award.
I just heard!!
And thanks for all the travellin' thrills!