31st January - 13th February: Back in Beijing after 6 months! Hurray!!

After some amazing weeks of travelling all around China, it was time to return to Beijing to sort out the visa extension and also meet up with friends. I have decided to stay on for another semester until the end of July. However, I will stop updating my blog with this as its last entry, as I simply don't have the time to keep up with it all the events anymore.

Beijing is a fantastic city. I have now been to all the biggest cities in China, and in my eyes, nothing really compares to the feel of Beijing. Traffic is relatively safe, streets relatively clean and subway is really cheap, and let's not forget all the lame tourist attractions. Actually, Matthias and I after meeting up in Beijing again, went to see Mao Zedong's preserved body ? no talking allowed! Mao is looked upon as a god through chinese eyes, no cameras allowed and we had to keep moving the entire time.

Beijing in short:

  • Sorted out a visa extension

  • Studied chinese to the point of dreaming in the lingo

  • Met Happy again and his friend, his friend was a chinese teacher who was great for practising chinese with.

  • Went to a cinema and saw Avatar

  • More drum games in the arcade

  • Met up with wayyy too many people I had forgotten the names of

  • Went to the World Chocolate Wonderland, which was really crap!

  • Ate 27 bags of instant noodles

  • Went out dancing


The great wall 'chang cheng' made entirely out of chocolate


A parade in preparation of the chinese new year, which marks the beginning
of the spring festival - the biggest event of the year

27th January - Arrival in Harbin: The City of Ice

During all of January, Harbin is host to one of the world's four winter festivals. Parks are transformed into snow and ice sculpture exibitions, and on the frozen song river you can choose between dog sleighs, horse carriages and various form of local slides and games to pass the time. Harbin is known for many things, the most obvious being the ice festival and russian immigrants, the Harbin beer brand, the biting cold, with temperatures sometimes dropping to more than 30 degrees below zero. However, I was in luck and only had to put up with negative 20.

 

Harbin in short:

 

  • Visited sun island's snow sculpture park and Harbin snow and ice world.

  • Visited the 731 Japanese military museum

  • Went on more slides while in Harbin then any kids in town

  • Drank Harbin beer from a fancy glass I was very tempted to bring with me home

  • Visited the St. Sofies church which is russian built

  • Tried to keep my cold in check, great success

  • Decided not to visit the siberian tigers purely out of an act of protest

  • Wore 7 layers of clothes whenever I went outside


The main attraction in Sun Island Snow Sculpture park


The city of ice


Pink castle


One out of many sculptures cut by laser into true artwork

25-27th January - The train to Harbin

One thing I have barely mentioned this far in my blog, are the train journeys themselves. Here comes the remedy.

 

The train between Shanghai and Harbin takes around 34 hours and I would spend two full nights aboard the train, seemingly being the only foreigner in my carriage, as I was travelling by myself this time. Train stations in China resemble much what airports look like in the west, they're simply huge constructions, with luggage scans, waiting rooms, escalators and KFC's everywhere. That being said, it's simple enough to find your train as english signs always accompany the chinese ones.

 

On the train I would share a compartment with 5 other chinese, 4 of them being family. I had brought enough food for the first day, and when I eventually would run out, food and drink sold on the train is a relatively cheap alternative. I think travelling by train gives an amazing insight into the average chinese daily life and interaction inbetween families. During my trip to Harbin they would teach me chinese, share their food with me, we would play cards and they would tell me what was worth seeing and eating in Harbin, seeing as they were all local people of Harbin, working in Shanghai and returning to their homecity for the duration of the spring festival. I also learnt a chinese word on the train, which has an amazing effect on people. When you say this one word, they will be laughing from the bottom of their hearts, supporting their weight on your shoulders while attempting to stand erect again. If you learn only one word before going to China, let it be this: niubi (english pronunciation aid: knee-o-be), this works particulary well if you give them a thumbs up while saying it.

20th January - Shanghai baby!

For our 5 days in Shanghai, Matthias and I would stay in the very same hostel I had stayed at during my interview in November. Later that week, friends we hadn't seen in ages would also join up with us, Fabian, Ellen and Laura, to mention a few. In Shanghai there are a couple of major tourist attractions, the bund which is a long road by the river in european style being the biggest. As the world expo is scheduled to be held in Shanghai May 2010, the whole city is now under construction, and the bund was no exception. Wherever we went, we were coughing on dust and pollution. Matthias would get a sore throat and I would catch a cold later that week.

 

Shanghai in short;

 

  • Spent some time in the arcades

  • Went out clubbing and picked up some dance moves

  • Ate German chocolate

  • Met a crazy Norwegian travelling the world in 6 months

  • Spent time with a friend of a friend we met in Wuhan who showed us Shanghai's art district and Fudan university

  • Met up with our friends from Beijing

  • Took the fastest train in the world to the airport and back again just for the heck of it.

  • Learnt a chinese poem by heart and bought a smashing pair of shoes

  • Explored Shanghai by foot and ate cereal and french toast with jam every morning!

The Shanghai skyline and TV tower shrouded in smog


Matthias and Sven hitting the drums in an arcade


The Maglev, fastest train in the world with a top speed of 431 km/h. From the left: Matthias, Espen, me, Fabian, Ellen, He Chen and Laura

January 17th - Wuhan and re-gan-mian

After an amazing stay in Xi'an Matthias and I boarded a train to Wuhan while Andreas who had accepted a holiday job offer in Yantai headed for the east coast of China. Our stay in Wuhan would be short, and a nice timeout from the busy pace of our holiday in Xi'an. The thing about Wuhan is that as a tourist, it really isn't much to do. Wuhan is located on both side of the Yangtze river, over looking this river known as 'chang jiang' is the majestic yellow crane tower which was first built year 206 AD and then razed, looted and burned a dozen times since then. The actual building there today is only 20 years old and is my most chinese looked upon as a fake heritage building.

 

What gave us the best time in Wuhan however was not chang jiang or this fake tower, but our trip to Wuhan university. We went there, following the recommendation of a freelance writer we met on top of the Mount Hua, and we were not dissapointed. We ended up playing football with a couple of students who after the game became our personal tourist guides around campus. Wuhan university is huge and the campus is host to many old buildings with unique architecture. Afterwards we went out to dinner all four of us which marked the end of a great day.

I'll also briefly mention that Wuhan has lots of delicous snacks and local treats, re-gan-mian which means hot-dry-noodles was by far the best noodles we've had in china. Propably due to the unusual combination of noodles, chili and peanut butter.



The old library of Wuhan University


Chocolate waffel fish in the making


The finished product, hot dripping chocolat mmmmm...

Huashan 华山

More than an hour by bus from Xi'an lies Mount Hua, one of China's five sacred taoist mountains. Huashan as the mountain is known as to the chinese has become a major tourist attraction with its five great peaks, the tallest towering impressive 2160 metres above sea level!

 

There are many paths leading up the mountain, from the dangers of the soldier's trail to the cushioned cable car ride which we agreed upon would only be acceptable for girls and old people. Seeing as we were two incredibly fit laowais, the choice would be an obvious one. The only thing was that Matthias and I would spend most of the morning and early afternoon patiently waiting for the busdriver to be satisfied with the number of people on the bus, who undoubtedly were also hoping to have a go at reaching one of the peaks before dusk turned the icy serpentine paths leading up the mountain into scary slides.

 

You guessed it, three hours later we were sitting in comfy cablecar chairs trying to remember the chinese word for 'cablecar' that we had been told moments before, and trying to forget about what was acceptable or not.

 

Moving on to the actual climb. We sat out from the northpeak which is the final and only destination of the cablecar, backpacks filled with enough fruit and nuts to make generous donations to the thousands of wildcats scratching a living between rocky slopes. The path we would follow to the west peak was mostly made up of narrow stairs cut into solid rock with the exception of a few nearly vertical climbs. As twilight was drawing near we met fewer and fewer people heading down the mountain, and those we met strongly advised us to head down as well before sunset made the mountain cold and unfriendly. Through our combined efforts we managed to tell them through broken chinese and gestures that we really wanted to see the sunset from the west peak, then hike to the east peak where we would spend the night and rise early in the morning to see the sun set the mountain ablaze. We said goodbye and bao zhong (take care) and soon found ourselves alone on the mountain, give or take a few hermits, monks and cats.

 

As luck would have it, we reached the west peak at nearly 2100 metres just as the sun was making its descent. It made for a spectacular view which again inspired Matthias to perform the song 'zhan qi lai' by Jackie Chan, hand motions and all, recorded by yours truly. After singing, screaming and posing to our hearts content, we hiked to the south peak which is the highest of the five where we came across an odd sculpture resembling a giant penis, but then again what do I know about traditional taoist style and architecture...anyway, the sun had now set and we were beginning to feel the chill of the altitude for real, fortunately the south peak is only 5-10 min away from the east peak where a hostel provides smelly toilets and rooms without heating for tired travellers.

 

5.50 AM, what must have been four alarm clocks went off inside our little freezing dorm, rise and shine, it was time to see the sunrise. No need to waste time getting dressed, seeing as we never took our clothes off in the first place. Outside we joined up with a shivering group of chinese, patiently waiting for the sunrise using their cheeks to warm camera batteries in preparation of what was to come. When the sun's rays made themselves visible over the horizon, it became obvious that the trip had been worth every yuan. I can't think of anything during my travels in China that compares to the sense of profound peacefulness found watching the sun rise, feeling the sun's rays give warmth to cold limbs, watching the mountain blush in its presence, cats huddled up against bare rock in an attempt to get their share of energy in a otherwise unfriendly environment that makes up the roof of Shaanxi province.

 

Back down at the foot of the mountain we were given our second treat of the day; we met an authentic taoist monk living on the mountain and convinced him to share a cab with us ? nice! Our only regret was that we forgot to ask for a picture... now if your looking for a great place to take your girlfriend or just want to explore China's scenic side, look no further! I know for sure that I will return someday and maybe see if I can find that monk again, who knows ;)



Matthias and I posing on the west peak at sunset


Qinling mountain range in winter


The blazing sunrise seen from the east peak AM 6:20

January 12-16th: Xi'an

In Xi'an Andreas and I met up with Matthias, a good friend that has been teaching in Beijing. We hadn't seen eachother for 5 months, so it was great finally being able to catch up properly! As the chinese say, hao jiu bu jian ? long time no see. We stayed in an awesome hostel close to the south gate of the city wall that surrounds the inner city of xi'an. This hostel is probabely the best one in all of China! For 20 yuan a night, you get a bed in a mixed 6 person dorm, with heating and lockers supplied in the room. When you arrive, the hostel pick you up for free on the trainstation, you are given a welcome coffee in the cafe, a free nightly beer in the bar and every friday, free make-your-own-dumpling-parties are held. The staff are so helpful and friendly, all of them speak english, the hostel has a great bar on the premises, the atmosphere and interior is welcoming and cozy. And did I mention 24/7 hot water showers and free wireless? All this for 20 yuan which equals around 18 NOK a night. In this hostel we shared our room with two girls named Barbara and Jill, from Germany and Hong Kong.

 

In Xi'an we would also meet a friend of Matthias who studies in Beijing, and for the holiday she had returned to Xi'an, her hometown, to celebrate chinese new year with her friends and family. We also met her childhood friend Robert and together we would walk on the ancient wall under the setting sun.

 

To sum up the highlights of our time Xi'an;

 

  • Walked and froze on the city wall

  • Visited the famous terracotta warriors, which was in fact quite dull

  • We had nearly every meal in the muslim quarter, an islamic part of the city with an abundance of snacks, food and drinks. Ingrediant number one being mutton - yumm!

  • Spilled my drink in a spanish club with live music

  • Ate dinner with the family of our chinese friends

  • Climbed one of China's five great mountains; Huashan.

 

The latter I will post as a separate entry as this was for me the ulimate highlight of my experiences in Xi'an.



In the muslim quarter, from the left: Andreas, Robe, me, Grace and Matthias


The drum tower in Xi'an at night


A terracotta warrior

January 11th - Departure day

The time is 11.15 am and I'm already fifthteen minutes late for the school bus that will take us to Chang an bus terminal. I just realised I have so much stuff, I have been living here now for nearly 5 months and packing my bags and moving out is not done in the turn of an hourglass. I had to leave, shoes, t-shirts, an umbrella and a room looking like someone left in a hurry (my sincere apologies to the next foreign teacher). So at last we reached Chang an bus termnial, accompanied by our supervisor, head of the english department, who is in fact the same person that met us at guangzhou airport nearly 5 months earlier ? in a way, marking the beginning and end of my time walking in the shade of palmtrees.

 

The journey to Xi'an would take a full rotation of the earth and was mostly spent sleeping and revising mandarin. Today's phrase was: 'laji xiang zai nar?' which means, where can i find a trash bin? Very useful if I may say so myself. Xi an turn out to be an amazing city, unfortunately I only have time to briefly cover how we spent our 4 days in this ancient city, which I learned used to be the former capital of China, but at that time under a different name; Chang 'an. Which is by coincidence the same name as the town I've been exploring in guangdong province. The name means lasting security and translates into eternal peace.

January 8th - Last day at Boya Foreign Language School

It's been nearly a month since my last entry in this blog. I remember how I first felt when I came to this school and started teaching, I was thinking primary school would have been my last choice together with kindergarten. Every day the first weeks I kept telling myself how much easier it would be if I only had older students who could at least understand some basic english. Then as it always is with time, things started to smoothen out, what used to be difficult and less than enjoyable, all of a sudden felt like walking. And then came the change where walking felt like flying, add some turbulance and a few angry mosquitos and you have before you a pretty accurate description of my last months at Boya.


The last two weeks however didn't turn out the way I would have liked them to. I would have wanted to spend those weeks revising, trying out some new activities as well as rounding up the semester by playing games and having fun ? not so. The last two weeks would be spent preparing, executing and correcting the oral examination of more than 350 students. As faith would have it, this actually wasn't a bad thing at all. I found it to be great practise in terms of helping the individual student express themselves, which is really one of the most important qualities of a good teacher the way I see it.


The last day at school I just barely finished the individual examination, and I had to use my own periods to so, meaning I would have no time for a fun goodbye lesson. So instead, on the last day I brought my camera and took pictures during breaks in the hallway and also visited some of my classes. When they understood I was leaving, they asked me something that surprised me a bit; 'teacher, what's your QQ number?' QQ is similar to the western msn hotmail, and even though they are only between 7-10 years old, they all seemed to be chatting online with they're QQ friends already. Well I guess you can say, the last day at school put me quite a sentimental state of mind. It's been challenging, educational (for me in particular), fun and truly enjoyable and I know I will miss the whole school environment when I recall those boiling hot days sweating away in a classroom, fans blowing my lesson plans off the desk, quickly diving underneath the table to fetch it before the students attention span fades, then resurfacing with a triumphant smile, continuing as if nothing at all had disturbed the smooth flow of the lesson.


I know I promised a review from new years eve in Guangzhou, but time has not been on my side lately, I have far too much catching up to do in terms of writing my blog. Today is February 11th and I'm writing about things that happended more than a month ago. In the next series of posts I will tell about my travel experiences, beginning when I left Boya on the 11th February and lasting until my airplane takes off from beijing international airport in two days, on the 13th of February.



My favourite class, 3A. I will miss them for sure

December 12th - the adventure becomes a habit

The last weeks has dissapeared from my memory somehow and left only a gap in time, or at least so it seems. Perhaps something will come to me as I keep typing, who knows..lets see, we're now halfway to christmas eve, which will be a completely normal working day, same goes for christmas day...actually that's not completely true. On the 25th the school has something called open day for parents, meaning parents will come to school in the afternoon and watch their children during class. So for the teachers that mean we have to prepare for a demonstration class where we incorporate everything the children have learned this semester. Actually this is not a very difficult thing at all, thing is that when every child is under the eyes of their parents during this lesson, they will all be on their best behaviour and at least, if nothing else, try to pretend that they're learning :P Although classroom management isn't really a problem anymore, it's always nice with a walk in the park at times.

 

Also, I regret to announce that we have cancelled the play I've mentioned earlier 'the wizard of oz', simply due to attendance issues. This school has too many extra curricluar activities and exams, performances and the likes, on far too many occasions have the cast either been late, reduced in number, or simply unable to attend rehearsals at all. Now time is running out and it's become obvious to us that we simply won't have the time (or the cast?) to do even the simplified play. With little support from above, it's simply impossible to go through with. At least it makes sense now, why no foreign teachers ever attempt to pull a stunt like this. This is how china works, last minute changes, fear of attempting new things, and everything circles around their own affairs. Anyhow, it's been a useful experience as I now know what needs to be done to set up a play.

 

As for after school time, we've been exploring different towns, villages, streets and trying out new eateries by the dozens. Also I've really stepped up by efforts in mandarin, I can now finally express myself in chinese, on a basic level of course, but the real difficulty lies in listening, this is made no easier by living in south of china, as here they speak a lot more sloppy and with tons of different dialects, they will make no attempt to slow down when speaking to you, some sounds are pronounced differently or not all compared to the the offical chinese way of speaking. In beijing and the north they speak a lot clearer which just makes it lots and lots easier to grasp the funny syllable salvas coming out of their mouths.

 

Right now we're planning what to do on new years eve, we will get new years day off, so with an extended weekend the possibilities are many. The plan is to head over to Guangzhou which is the capital of this province, on my way back from Shanghai I spent a couple of hours there. Andreas and me will meet up with Fabian from Germany and Love from Sweden. I'll probably make some sort of blog post about Guangzhou afterwards, so stay tuned ;)

 

It seems my memory is returning after all as this has turned into quite a wall of text, and just to seal the deal I'll mention what we did yesterday (friday night).

Around dinner time we thought let's do something different...so we ended up going into Chang an again...yes I know that's something we've never done before, but hear me out..the bus ride is usually around 20 min, but we didn't ride the bus, we walked in instead! No idea how long it took, but that's besides the point. Some part of the footwalk was under construction, so the only alternative route was IN the traffic lanes of an 8 lane highway, it should be said here though that most vehicles showed care, apart from this one truck that swooshed past us only missing us by 30 centimetres. Now even though this is a highway, bicycles and mopeds are as much part of the clientel as anything else, so it seems, anything goes. After finally reaching Chang an, we had dinner and then strolled off to the closest KTV, actually first we swooped into the closest supermarket and bought some baijiu for later, baijiu is chinese spirit with or without flavour. At KTV (which is a karaoke place) we rented a mini room, got some additional beverages and snacks brought up and started singing joyful tunes. (Yes...they did have english songs too..!)

Les mer i arkivet February 2010 December 2009 November 2009
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