Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Twilight... Finally!

I have finally started listening to Twilight on CD. With everything about the book and movie bombarding me from every angle, I felt that it was time. I had purchased the book on CD to listen to while on my trip to China, but wasn't really in to it, so I passed it over while on the trip.

I would say that I am more than half way finished and while it is entertaining, it is not very well written and perhaps I am just to old, but as much as I love the whole vampire thing (read: Sookie Stackhouse obsessed), this book is just a wee bit cheesy.

I have heard mixed reviews on the movie and it seems that people who liked the book are not liking the movie, but people who have not read the book are saying that the movie is fine. A nice love story!

I wonder if it is that my ideas of vampires are pretty set or if I have issues with a 90 year old vampire dating a 17 year old child, or maybe that the whole vampire thing is, in my mind, synonymous with a lot of sex and there is no sex.

I think that I will be glad when it is finished, because I felt the need to see what all the fuss was about, but I don't think that I have any interest in reading the rest of the series. At least not at this point in the story.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Death of my Grandfather

I have not blogged about my grandfather's death since the small mentions made during the recounting of my trip to China, but I was sent something today that has prompted me.

This blog was written by my aunt's friend and since I was not able to attend the funeral since I was in China, it was the first real accounting of what I missed. I should have known better than to read it at work, but I did and could not stop the tears. It is a good thing that I have a door that closes, because I don't want to explain my tears to anyone right now.

I am glad that he is free of his body, I am glad that he is resting with my grandmother, but I miss his laugh, the cakes we was so proud of making (from the boxed mix), and all the wacky odd things he would pick up at yard sales.

This has been a rough year for me, so much loss, but so much good as well. I have to be thankful for all the good things that have come to be this year, but I also have to allow myself the time to grieve everything that has been taken from me as well.

We tend to scold ourselves for feeling sorry about our situation, knowing that others have it so much worse, but our sadness is still valid and still deserves to be honored.

Me-Me and Pa-Pa I love you and I miss you and I hope that you enjoying whatever it is that happens after you leave this world!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

10-26-08 – Hotel, Airport, Home

I woke up at 1am with my stomach hurting so maybe the Hutong lunch did not sit as well with me as I thought. I was able to go back to sleep until about 6am, so I watched the sunrise and then a little TV until 8am when I thought it was late enough for a room call. I went down to Rosemary’s room and told her about the 45 minute cab ride to Wal-Mart, which happens to be right across the street from the Catholic Church. I told her that I was thinking that we would be cutting it very close to make it to mass and back to the hotel before the bus would be leaving for the airport. I told her that if she really was set on going I would still go with her, but I was leaning against it.

She was fine with this and as I was leaving we ran into Inez who had the “Thank you” scrolls for Gao, our driver, and Lei so we all signed them and then I brought them back to our room for Ann to sign. We then went down to breakfast, where we passed the scroll on to the other students to sign, ate our last full meal in China and headed back to the room to pack, shower and get ready to head to the airport.

We presented Lei and Gao with a scroll with their name in Chinese and we all signed a personal message on the back for them. We also gave them the tip money we collected. The same few students who had been whining and complaining the whole trip refused to pitch in any money for the tips, I am not surprised at all.

Everyone got off the bus, collected their luggage, hugged Lei and lined up at the ticket counter to get boarding passes. Everything for me went very smoothly, which was great, because I was worried that my bag would be over the weight limit, but they did not even check it. Ann, on the other hand, had a rough time because they said that her bag was too big to be a carry on. She had all her valuables in that bag and they showed her it was too big, by about 2 inches. She tried to explain to them that this bag held all her breakable purchases and begged them to allow her to take her bag as a carry on. At first they said that they would check it for free, but as she pressed them further to allow her to carry the bag on, they rescinded that offer and made her pay $128 US to check this third bag, she elected to insure her bag for $5,000 US for another $100 US. She was steaming mad and really almost hoping that they damaged her bag so she could sue them. I was really mad for her as well, even offering to share my carry on space with Ann since my bag was smaller than the requirements, but they would not allow it.

We could not help but notice all the white men with huge carry on luggage getting on the plane without issue. When we relayed the incident to Dr. Wally he mentioned that it might have been racially motivated since Ann is of Indian decent and the Chinese have a long history of disliking the Indians. Ann said she was going to put that in her complaint to United!

We met up with most of the group at a pizza and pasta place and had some food, fairly uneventful and we left there in time for the boarding to begin for our flight to Dulles. I ended up being in the aisle seat next to Ann and she curled up and slept almost the entire 14 hours! She was so lucky; my seat would not recline at all so every time I started to fall asleep my neck would jerk and I would be back awake. I watched “Get Smart” and “The Hulk” about 6 times each, and tried desperately to find a comfortable position. I also washed my face and brushed my teeth a few times too. A cold sore started about the time we got to the airport in Beijing and by the time we landed in Dulles it had totally exploded across my bottom lip! Needless to say I was feeling really sorry for myself by the time we landed.

Getting through customs was fairly straight forward, except for the officer who yelled at me for helping little 4 feet 7 inch Ann with her luggage, but hey, what’s America without some rude government official who gets a rush from all the power of his position! We met up with Dr. Wally at our gate with about 2 hours to wait before we left for home. I called my husband and mom and then called Smug-Sister, who filled me in on all the details of my grandfather’s death and funeral. I was crying and suddenly a man appeared in front of me holding a little package of tissues, he handed them to me and walked away. This act of kindness caused me to cry even harder, because I was so tired and sore and emotional from holding this pain in for the last several days. I was homesick and so happy to be back home in the states.

After I got off the phone and Ann got back from lodging her complaint with United, we got some pizza and talked until time to board the plane for the final flight home.

We landed safely about 10 minutes early and Ann and I both rushed off the plane in an effort to get to our loved ones. No one was there to meet us as we got off the plane, but after we made our way to baggage claim and I was checking messages to see if something had happened to make Smug-Hub late, when Ann called to me. She saw Smug-Hub coming through the door, and she recognized him from the wedding pictures I had on my computer. I dropped everything and ran to him trying really hard not to burst into tears. My dad was with him and I hugged him too. We gathered up all of our luggage and helped Ann outside where her loved one was just pulling up.

We had to take dad home before we could get to the house, but when we finally drove up the driveway and into the garage I felt so much love for my home and my life. Smug-Hub was very sick with the flu, but he had spent the whole day cleaning the house so it was spotless. I took a long hot shower and we fell into bed, happy just to be back in each others arms.

Final Thoughts:

This trip was one of the most extraordinary experiences of my entire life. While I am extremely happy to be home I would not have traded this trip for the world and I hope that I can excite my fellow cluster-mates into taking the trip with Dr. Wally next year.

I hope that Dr. Wally will continue to offer this opportunity to others and not let the small group of immature whiners color his impression of the whole trip! I do have some suggestions that may make the trip even better. Such as, having a student who has already been on the trip, such as myself, be available to answer any questions for the students either contemplating the trip or those already signed up.

I also think that some better guidelines on the prices of things and the possible fluctuation in prices for the additional activities would be helpful to future travelers, as well as miscellaneous items that people may not think about, like the credit card that I brought for the trip was a Discover and Discover is hardly taken anywhere and was useless to me. I would also send out a reminder about possible stomach issues and advise people to bring the necessary medications. Lastly, I would be sure to tell people about the bathrooms and the lack of provided paper products, but I would probably wait until everyone is already on the plane heading for China before telling them, otherwise you might have some people backing out!!

10-24-08 – Temple of Heaven, Carpet Factory, Hutong Tour, Lunch, Cricket Man, Tea Ceremony, Silk Market

I had another bad night; I ended up falling asleep a little after 7pm and then woke up about 1am. I ended up falling back asleep eventually, but woke up for good about 4am. We did not have to meet the bus for the day until 8:30am, so we had a nice breakfast, got showered and ready to go and then talked about the plan on how to accomplish the last few things that we wanted to do before leaving.

We got on the bus and headed for the Temple of Heaven. This temple was a place for the emperor to go a few times a year to pray for good harvest, but now is a place where the local people, mostly the retired, go to exercise, play cards, sing, dance, and generally have a wonderful time out in the fresh air and sunshine. The first group we came across we all dancing; ballroom style and just getting down.
A few members of our group joined the dancing, some dancing with the locals and some dancing with each other. When the steps and cadence of the local dances became too difficult for our group to follow, they just started doing the electric slide!

I think that we should institute this in the US, what a lovely way to greet the morning!
As we moved through the temple grounds we came upon people playing hacky-sack, a form of badmitten, playing cards, playing a game with what looked to be dominos, knitting and crocheting, singing, playing instruments, and generally having a nice time together.
On the far end of the gardens, we moved into the temple area itself. This is a large rounded building with three tiers, surrounded by three layers of steps leading up to the temple from the garden. We took pictures of the amazing beauty of it all and then headed back to the bus.

When we were leaving the Temple, Dr. Wally asked Ann and I if we were upset that we had not had a corporate visit at Wal-Mart and then told us that there were about 5 students who were very unhappy with the fact that some of the items on the syllabus changed during this trip. I feel really badly for him on this point, because this is a really wonderful experience and so what if it was not exactly what we expected, how could a foreign culture be? Ann and I assured him that we were having a wonderful time and so grateful to him for taking us on this trip. I know that he spent the rest of the day feeling badly about the situation. I know that he wants this to be a wonderful experience for everyone and it probably hurts him to know that people are unhappy.

Several of our group had been working on a gift for Dr. Wally, a scroll with his name written in Chinese. We had been talking a few days earlier about how the term “Lama” is used for a highly revered and respected teacher who has reached the status of a God, that conversation turned to talk of the Dali Lama and someone realized that Wally rhymed with Wally and from then on we started calling Dr. Wally our Wally Lama. So the scroll with his name on it was Wally Lama! We all signed the back of the scroll with notes about how much we loved this trip. After hearing about his morning of being chewed out, we thought that this would be a good time to present him with our gift.

I am not sure how I got voted to be the presenter, but I got up in the front of the bus and took the mike. I started out by asking for everyone’s attention and that I was going to sing or dance as the afternoon’s entertainment, which earned a laugh. I then said that we were having the time of our lives and this whole experience would not have been possible without our dear Wally Lama and as such we wanted to present him with a very small token of our appreciation. We seemed really touched by the gesture and I really hope that it took some of the sting out of his day.
We drove to the Silk Carpet factory next and learned how they painstakingly, by hand weave these carpets.

It is amazing the skill and patience it takes to create even a small rug. I ended up finding a silk embroidered piece of artwork for my dad for his birthday there, but everything else was WAY out of my price range!

After leaving the carpet factory we met up with another tour guide for the Hutong tour and we all got to ride in peddle cabs throughout the whole area.

This area is very old and the only place in Beijing where a person can have a house with a yard, everywhere else in Beijing people live in high rise apartments or condos. It takes about $3 million US to purchase a home in this area and that is if you can find someone willing to sell! The homes here pass from generation to generation, so they are all owned outright. We learned about the history of the area and got to walk though the market where the local people purchase their food. This was an experience! All the meat and fish are just lying out in the open with no refrigeration or anything.

We then went to a local family home to have lunch and they were so great to us! They even made like four different vegetarian dishes just for me!

Ann had been feeling sick to her stomach all day, so she only ate a little and I think that there is a smell that does not agree with me. I think that when we first arrived I smelled both food and the bathroom smell together and now my body associates some food smells with the bathroom and that combination really does not agree with me!

After lunch the owner of the house told us that the house had been in her family for several generations and now three generations currently live here. The government at one point took control of these houses and their family had to leave, but now it is back in their hands. Then we went outside to meet “The Cricket Man”! He is totally cool and very proud of his cricket training and fighting lifestyle.

Actually cricket fighting is no longer practiced in China, but the cricket man has been featured in several books (One Night in Beijing) and newspapers and magazines. He proudly pointed out pictures of his wife and dog too. He was really sweet and moved around slowly to allow everyone to see and take pictures.

We finished the Hutong tour by climbing the drum tower. This is 69 steps straight up!

It was quite a climb, but once at the top you can see all the old and all the new areas of Beijing. There were replicas of the drums and the water clock, which is a series of graduating buckets of water in which a certain amount of water is poured in at the top and as it drips down into the other buckets and finally into a barrel where the time indicator will rise according to how much water is in the barrel.

There is a little statue holding cymbals in his hands and every 15 minutes (roughly) it claps the cymbals together to tell the villagers the time! It was very beautiful and we were able to hear a drum demonstration and take pictures before we CAREFULLY climbed back down those 69 steps.

Since we did not finish as quickly as anticipated, the tea ceremony in the bell tower was canceled and we went to another tea house that was closer to the hotel. This was they very coolest thing! I spent $271 US on tea! They showed us the different types of tea and what each one was good for; they showed us how to prepare it properly and how to drink it. The final show stopping thing they showed us was called “a pee-pee boy” and since we have been hearing odd sounding Chinese words this whole trip no one thought anything about it, but basically you soak the boy in cold water and then to test to see if your tea water is hot enough you pour some of the hot water down over the boy and if the water is hot enough – HE WILL PEE ALL OVER YOU!!!

We all squealed and laughed and told her to ring up the whole kit and caboodle! I love tea anyway and I just love the idea of having a little show and tell for my family and friends, showing them all that I did, bought, and learned in China and I can serve them tea and have the little clay boy pee all over them! It will be great!!

After we left the tea house, we came back to the hotel, dropped off our stuff and met up with a few other students that wanted to go to Wal-Mart again, so we hopped a cab for the quick drive and then spent 45 minutes stuck in traffic! There has been this big summit meeting in Beijing this week and everything was jammed up. We finally got there and picked up candy and a few other things for the trip home and hopped another cab to get back to the hotel again. We dropped that stuff off in the room and then Ann and I went back to the Silk Market to get the last few gift items we needed. We negotiated and got what we needed for the money we had left and got finished just before they closed for the evening.

On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at the french bakery and picked up some pastry and booked it back to the hotel. We spent some time trying to get all our loot packed into appropriate bags, unpacking and repacking and starting to panic about being able to get everything home! The massage ladies arrived right at 10pm for our last hooray in Beijing and we settled down to be rubbed and beaten into relaxation. They were so wonderful and worked on us until after 11:30pm. Then we showered and fell into bed. I had trouble falling asleep, my stomach was bothering me a little bit and I think that maybe I was feeling so excited about going home that I could not fully relax into sleep.

10-24-08 – Free Day, Silk Market, Mall

This morning I awoke to watch the sunrise outside the hotel room window. It was lovely to see, the smog has cleared so much due to the rain the other night, so the sky was brilliant in blues, grays, and oranges. We had opened the window before we went to bed, so the room was comfortable, and not so warm, it was a really nice way to wake up.

We decided to bum it for breakfast and just threw on a jacket and flip-flops and headed to the dining room. We ate a lovely breakfast and had a really wonderful conversation with Dr. Wally and a few other students about everything from general Averett/MBA program concerns to study group issues, to our thoughts on this trip to our thoughts on life in general. It was stimulating to have such intelligent conversation especially regarding our experiences here in China.

We came back to the room to shower and get ready for our adventures. We started out by walking to the mall, which was across from the Silk Market. This was unlike any mall that we have ever seen. There were only a few stores, and one whole floor was a department store, but unlike any department store that I have ever been to and all the clothes are laid out boutique style, no selection of sizes or anything. No one spoke English so I was not able to ask anyone about anything.

We then headed across the street to the Silk Market, where we spent about 4 hours bargaining and walking around and bargaining some more. We met a really nice jewelry vendor, who showed us about the quality of her pearls and jade and also how to tell the difference. It boils down to various levels of quality, like you can get diamonds from Penny’s and you can get diamonds from Finks, while they are both still real diamonds, you pay more for quality and for a recognized brand. She was really sweet and while we still bargained her down quite a bit on the price, we feel like we got a really great deal from her. We ended up going back to her booth a few times to get more stuff. I had her make a jade and pearl necklace and earrings for me to commemorate the feel of the whole trip.

We stopped at this little French place on the way back to the hotel and split a sandwich and a croissant. We were tired and headed back to the hotel after that where we spread out all our purchases and made lists to make sure we had gotten all the gifts that we wanted to get and, of course, we both found that we had forgotten to get a few things for some people on our lists. We decided to just chill out at the hotel the rest of the day as we really had shopped until we dropped and maybe try to go back and get those few things tomorrow night after the last tour day.
Ann was feeling a little sick to her stomach so she decided to take a nap and I watched a little TV.

Friday, November 7, 2008

10-23-08 – Tour of Incubator and XPEC, Lunch, Tour of Metallurgy Factory, Wal-Mart, and Pizza Hut

Hooray! I slept until 5am this morning and probably would have slept more but Ann got up to use the bathroom and her stirring woke me. I feel pretty good today, hungry for the first time in ages, so I ate a really nice breakfast. I think that I may have lost a tiny amount of weight, my stomach seems to fill up a lot faster with a lot less food than I am used to eating.

We came back to the room to brush our teeth and I decided to call my husband. He told me that my Grandfather, who has been in the hospital for about 6 weeks, had given up the fight and passed away. I cried for a little bit, but decided that I did not want anyone else knowing about this. I did not want anyone to pity me or give me those sympathetic looks that would make me feel like crying all over again. I know that my Grandfather was in so much pain and is now free of all the chains of his broken down body. I know that he would want me to enjoy my trip and now, perhaps, he is looking down on me, holding hands with my Grandmother, watching me have this once in a lifetime experience. I have lost so much this year, first my Grandmother is June, then the baby in September and now my Grandfather in October.

The day was full of visits to Beijing companies. We started with a tour of a local Incubator, which is a business that helps launch other businesses. The incubator helps start-ups by providing low rent and pooling administrative and payroll services among other things.

The businesses stay there for 3-5 years and there is government money to help these little businesses grow and develop. This particular incubator focuses on the field of IT, and works to help develop the creative side of China.

We visited a company within the incubator called XPEC and they develop video games. They are very proud that they partnered with DreamWorks to develop Kung Fu Panda. The lady that talked to us was so animated about her job, their products, having us there and everything.

We all had a really good time talking with her and meeting some of the other workers there. Sean in our group met a worker also named Sean, so that was lots of fun and everyone took pictures and laughed and generally had a great time. After that we took some pictures with the Kung Fu Panda sign and some of the people who worked there. Ms. How was so little and cute and her assistant, who was the English translator told us that she graduated from Virginia Tech so everyone loved talking with her.

When we were leaving, everyone waved to us and walked the bus down the drive waving the whole time. I have never met such a totally friendly people before. We have not met one person who was unfriendly or unwilling to talk with us.

We next met up with Dr. Wong who took us to a restaurant for lunch. I sat at a table with people I have not really sat with before, which was good, because I didn’t want to fall into a pattern here, I wanted to talk with all different people while here, and that includes our own students! This was actually the first meal since the first night where it has just been us without other Chinese students, but we found things to talk about. I was surprised that my table went through about 6 bottles of beer during lunch, with myself and Ann not drinking, that was about a bottle per person. I guess that most people hold alcohol better than I do, because that last thing that I would want in a foreign country would be to be drunk or feeling sick due to drinking.

After lunch we drove about an hour to a plant that takes various chemicals and turns them into Cobalt Chloride used to make the rechargeable batteries for electronics like computers.
They talked to us about their company a bit, the language barrier made it difficult to get the whole picture, but basically they are the third largest producer in the world of this product and they have only been producing it for about 6-8 years while the number one company has been producing for about 70 years. Our hosts took us in groups around their facility and we had to wear paper hats and little booties over our shoes. Each time we changed processes we changed booties. I was told later to shower really well that night because all the little particles could get imbedded in your skin and also not to eat anything until our hands were washed really well with lots of soap, and these metals could cause heavy metal poisoning. Several people, including myself, had really dry lips the rest of the day and for the rest of the trip.

I was really impressed with a couple of things regarding this plant, first of all, they take powdered chemicals and wet them and mix them and dry them into a powder, then bake the powder and crush the powder and perhaps mixed with something else for more baking and more crushing and finally package all these powdered chemicals for shipping and their facility is so clean you can hardly believe it possible. The place I work does not make anything in our warehouse, just pick, pack, and ship and it is the filthiest place ever. I was really impressed that they are so concerned with and able to keep such a clean facility.

Also, I was really impressed with our tour guide. He really took the time to show us each process and answer all our questions, again his English was not great, but he patiently kept trying to make us understand without getting frustrated when we did not get something he was trying to say. I can just imagine how difficult it would be for me to try to explain the whole shipping process at my company in another language, and having people talking at me in this other language. I am constantly impressed with the Chinese people’s patience and ability to work through the language barrier to have meaningful discussions with us.

I was unimpressed however, with some of the snide and sarcastic remarks made by some of the members of my group. I guess that they weren’t feeling like this visit was all that interesting for them and I sincerely hope that our Chinese guide did not catch the tone of these comments and took them as sincere, because I would be very embarrassed if the impression that we left on the Chinese people, who have been so kind and gracious to us was that of this kind of snide comments and sarcastic remarks.

After leaving the factory we drove to the Chinese Wal-Mart and man, is it different!!
We only had an hour to look around, but found that the prices were really good and the selection of products wasn’t anything close to what is offered at a Wal-Mart in the US. Ann found 8G memory cards for her camera for a lot less than what she could buy them for in the US. We also went in together to get a stuffed animal for Lei’s little girl as a thank you gift. We feel that he has been so great to us throughout this whole trip and we wanted to make sure that he knew how much we appreciated him.

Lei seemed really touched by the gesture. I know that everyone is going to tip him and I will too, but I bet that everyone does that and I wanted him to know that our group really, really appreciated all that he has done and continues to do for us on this trip. He has helped out in everyway possible even helping me find a Catholic church where I can attend an English mass on Sunday. I think that there are about 6 of us planning on going, but I just want to light a candle and spend some time close to my Grandparents and mass will be just the place for some inner reflection of this trip and how I feel about all the loss I have experienced this summer. It has been a hard summer for me, but I have and will continue to survive.

After we got back to the hotel, Ann and I went walking to find something for dinner. We decided that we wanted to get something to go and eat in the hotel room, as it was really cold out and we wanted to be able to eat, shower and totally relax and unwind. We ended up walking all the way back to the Silk Market before deciding on Pizza. I think that we both are feeling a little homesick and wanted to have a taste of home. The food was really good, almost better tasting than at home, which may just be that we were so anxious and so excited for something familiar, it only seemed like it was better. I really scoffed when reading someone else’s journal from a past trip when they sought out American food, but now I totally understand, it is not really about the food, but about feeling closer to home.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

10-22-08 – University visit, Lunch, Hyundai Visit, Silk Market, Acrobatics Show

I actually slept a full 6 hours straight only waking at 4:30am – this is the most hours I have slept in a row since before I left home. I felt pretty good and even tried to eat a little breakfast!

We started out by driving to the Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications, this school offers about 14 different programs of study in primarily engineering. We had a short lecture from Dr. Jianqui who gave us a history on the school and Dr. Wally gave his speech on the history of Averett and the GPS program. After that Professor Wendong talked about how China and America are really not that different, he said “we are all one global village.”

I really loved listening to him, he talked a bit fast and I had a little trouble following, but I was really impressed with him! He was very open and discussed his love of YouTube and his baby child! I was really impressed with how much he seemed to love being a husband and father.

We had another really nice lunch with the students from the University. They all took us to the student café and then to an upstairs restaurant that isn’t really used by the normal students, but might be a place to take family or other visitors to the school. They just started bringing us all these exotic dishes to try and I have been a little scared to try anything to crazy since my stomach is on shaky ground, so I ate a little bit, but stayed mostly with rice.

After lunch we took about an hour ride to get to the Beijing Hyundai plant. We did attempt to stop at a KFC on the way because a few of my classmates are still refusing to use the “squatter” toilets, but this particular KFC did not have any western style, so we moved on.

The Hyundai plant was very cool! We started out with a short video about the plant in Beijing and then a short tour of the show room. Hyundai provides all the taxis used in Beijing and produces only for the Chinese market, they don’t export anything. This was quite a surprise for me, because there appeared to be acres and acres of vehicles and we were told that they have almost one finished car each minute! The operation runs 24/7 with different shifts each taking a 10 minute break every two hours. I asked our guide about the hiring and benefit practices and they seem very similar to ours; vacation time, health insurance, housing help, etc. I am constantly noticing how similar we are to the Chinese. I guess that people are people wherever you go!

When we finished with the plant we had a little bit of time so Lei took us to the Silk Market. This is the place to buy anything and everything at really good prices! Here you can bargain for the goods that you want. The sellers can be really pushy and will grab you and try to trap you until you buy something. We found that you can’t really even look at anything without them asking you what size, don’t you want something and how much to buy. Ann did not really get the system right away, it was funny to watch as she looked excited to find “real, first quality” Oakley sunglasses. I tried to tell her that nothing here is first quality, but she has a really hard time understanding that. She did end up finding a skirt that she really liked, so we started bargaining. They started out saying that the price was 600, then immediately dropped the price to 350. When we said no, she dropped it to 275, when we said no again, she handed Ann the calculator and asked her to enter in the price she was willing to pay, I suggested that Ann offer a 100 and then she could go up from there. The lady said that we needed to offer a little bit more, so we started to walk away, and she immediately agreed to the 100. So Ann got a really cute skirt for 100 or $15 US, and she was really pleased!

After the Silk Market, Ann headed back to the hotel and I went with the others to the acrobatic show. There was a sign outside the theater announcing the show that just said “Novel, Exciting, Odd, Beautiful” I thought that this saying on the banner was a perfect way to describe this whole trip!

The acrobatic performance was the most amazing show ever! I never knew that the human body was capable of contorting into such ways! The show was a mix of lights and sounds and amazing stunts. It felt like part play, part rock concert, part laser light show, and part circus. I purposely left my money on the bus because I knew that I would want to buy the video, and I really regret that, because there is just no way to explain or describe this show to someone who wasn’t there. I hope that I will be able to get a used copy on eBay or something because I really want to share this with my husband!

I was really having issues keeping my eyes open during the show, so I was really happy to get back to the hotel. Some of the group stopped off at the Hard Rock Café, and I heard that they had a really amazing time and I am sorry that I missed it, but I would not have made it, I was so tired!

I came back to the hotel and Ann was already sleeping, so I showered and got online to send a quick e-mail home and then fell into bed about 10:30pm.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

10-21-08 – Forbidden City, Tian’an men Square, Silk factory, and University Visit

I only slept about 2 hours last night and kept waking up, so between the fatigue, lack of food, and feeling sick, all combined to make me feel queasy the whole day. We started out by visiting the Tian’an men Square.

It was really packed with other visitors, but we took lots of pictures and actually had a professional group shot taken which was placed into a book all about China for only $15 US! Everyone in the group got a copy!

After walking through the square we headed into the Forbidden City. It is called Forbidden City because in the old days only the emperor and his family were allowed to enter. The Forbidden City was surrounded by the Imperial Palace, which is where the advisors and relatives of the emperor lived. This was very beautiful, but since I was not feeling good it was not as enjoyable as perhaps it should have been.
There was lots of pushing and shoving needed to get close to see the thrones and other special areas, but it totally accepted here to push your way close and then you are pushed away again. It is kind of like a ride at an amusement park, you don’t really have any control, and you are along for the ride. It was hard to get used to not saying “excuse me” or “sorry” when you bumped into someone, and hard to feel ok about pushing someone else out of your way, but it seems totally fine to everyone here.

It was funny to watch the Chinese notice us and people kept staring at us! The most popular seem to be the African-Americans especially Monica, she is a very tall, statuesque and beautiful black woman and the Chinese seem to think that she is the rarest thing they have ever seen!! I also had a few people want to take pictures with me and several people give me the thumbs up signal, saying “USA”. It was very cool all in all!

After getting through the Forbidden City, we had some time so we went to the Silk Factory and learned all about how the silk is harvested and processed to create silk comforters and silk clothing.

Again, since I was feeling lousy, this was less enjoyable for me than it could have been. I ended up heading to the bus to close my eyes while everyone else shopped. I am starting to run out of money, so I need to try to find an ATM today. I hate passing up a good deal because I am worried about having enough cash.

I am sort of glad that I was feeling badly, because I totally would have spent more money in the silk shop, everything is such high quality and really very reasonably priced. I am having issues finding gift items for the men in my life, like Dad and my brothers-in-law. I still need to find something cool for each of them and something really special for my darling husband. I think that I am missing him really badly today, there is so much of this that I would love to share with him, not to mention that he always makes me feel safe and comforted when I feel ill.

After leaving the silk factory, we headed over to the Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics. The school was very new looking and was beautifully landscaped. They led us to a small classroom where Professor Chin gave a short speech welcoming us. Dr. Wally also gave a short speech about Averett and the GPA program. We then took a tour of some of the grounds of the University.

This tour was a little strange! Probably because we were such a large group, it was hard to make everyone hear where we were going and what we were looking at, but it was obvious that the students take a great deal of pride in their school. We were shown 5 floors of library rooms! The biggest issue with all this for me was my stomach! While I was starting to feel slightly better, the smell coming from all the bathrooms caused my stomach to do flip-flops.

We also toured the University’s museum and garden before heading to the café for a nice Chinese meal. I really enjoyed talking with all the students; I can’t believe that we have not met a single person that we have not liked a lot. All these students are so happy to have people to practice English with and are so anxious to know about the culture in the US.

I have noticed that there are many people in our group that have issues paying attention to their surroundings. This could be construed as either a good or bad thing, as they are generally so involved in talking with a Chinese student that they fail to see that the group has started moving or changed direction, but I have also noticed that they tend to be talking with each other and having the same effect.

This University visit was not what I expected at all, I thought that we were going to hear a lecture from Professor Chin. I thought it would be something to help us understand how students in China are taught differently, or how economics are different in China, so I was a little disappointed in this visit, and my feet hurt from so much walking! The one really good thing to come out of this visit was the opportunity to talk with the Chinese students! So, we may not be learning from the professors, but we are learning tons from the students!

I was feeling really lousy again by the time the bus started for the hotel, but Ann talked me into having a massage and boy am I glad she did!!!! The ladies came to our hotel room and after getting undressed and laying on the bed under a towel they started working on us. She started with my face and head and worked down the rest of my body, hitting every pressure point and sore spot. I then turned over and she worked on my back and neck until I thought that I was going to drool all over the bed I was so relaxed.
She then had me get dressed and she put my feet into a bag full of hot water and Chinese herbs. After my feet soaked for a bit, she massaged my feet, again hitting all these pressure points and helping me to relax even further! Even with a nice tip I only spent 200 Yuan or $30 US and she worked on me for over 90 minutes!! That would cost $150 or more back in the states and the experience would not have been nearly as wonderful!! I am now totally ruined for US massages!! Ann and I are thinking about having them back on Saturday night before we head home!!

I felt wonderful and just climbed under the covers and fell asleep.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

10-20-08 – Jade factory, Great Wall, Lunch, Ming Tombs

We went down to breakfast at the same time as yesterday, but it was very busy and hard to get food and eat it before time to get on the bus. So, I started out the day without much food in my stomach, which ended up not being a good thing!
Our first stop was a very fast 2 minutes to take pictures of the “Bird’s Nest”, the site of the 2008 summer Olympic games. Officially, they are not allowed to stop really, the police moved everyone along.

I guess they want people to pay to get inside and take their pictures then. After that it was off to the Jade factory! We were showed how jade goes from a dull, unremarkable looking piece of stone into some of the most intricately detailed pieces of art! It was amazing, I never knew that jade was any other color than green, but there is red, gold, blue, rose, and a copper color called Cat’s Eye. We were again let loose to shop and I spent about 1,000 Yuan or $150 US on more gifts and even a few things for myself!

After that we headed over to the Great Wall. It was very surreal and I kept looking at everything without belief, it was all just too much! We started hiking and I got to thinking right away that I was not going to make it far. It was very steep, with ramps and steps intermingled. All the steps were different depths, so much at one point it was more like rock climbing then walking up steps. I got up the first big incline and thought that this was far enough. It wasn’t how far I climbed, but just the fact that I was here! But then as I looked up at the huge climb left before reaching the top, I found myself starting to walk. I was not going to come this far and not get to the top! I just walked really slowly and steadily and before I knew it I was at the next flat area. A couple of the other students and I gave each other encouragement and we finally made it to the top.

I bought a bronze card at the top from a vendor who etched my name and the date on it to “certify” that I had made it to the top. This was such a sense of accomplishment for me because I have not pushed myself physically since I miscarried the baby a few weeks ago. This climb was really hard, but I did it and I have a renewed feeling that I can do anything! I can finish this MBA program, I can have another baby!

The climb down was tough, since it was so steep, and our legs were really shaking! I stopped to buy a painting from a guy who was sitting on the steps, painting these detailed pictures with some ink and his fingernail. I bargained with him to get the price I was willing to pay, but I saw others barter him lower as I was leaving! I don’t really care, I got what I wanted, for what I was willing to pay and I can’t fault the man for making a living!

After that we headed for lunch where again I did not eat much. I was starting to feel that “hungry sick” feeling of low blood sugar, but the rich food was not doing the job. As soon as we finished I started feeling sick to my stomach. I spent some time in the bathroom, but got nothing but dry heaves, which did not make me feel better. I had some Pepto Bismol on the bus and started feeling slightly better after I took some of that.

We drove to the Ming Tombs, which is this wonderful garden area. It is a pathway lined with weeping willows and enormous stone animals.

They played this soft music as you walk through the garden and it suddenly hit me! I am in China! I am really witnessing all this history and majesty. I started to tear up and got a lump in my throat, so I put the camera away and just basked in the wonder of this whole experience. I closed my eyes and listened to the rustle of the trees and the soft music. I let my mind float and just be happy being here and having this experience.

As soon as I got back to the bus, I started feeling worse again; I took more Pepto Bismol and tried to talk myself out of being sick. We drove to the other side of the tombs and while it was beautiful, I was concentrating so hard on not getting sick that I did not enjoy it much. Someone on the bus had Alka-Seltzer, so I sipped on that and kept my eyes closed for the hour or so that it took to get back to the city. I was feeling sort of numb and tingly all over and had to keep taking deep breaths to keep from heaving.

I was really unhappy about feeling sick, mostly because I was going to have to miss the acrobatic show planned for the evening but Lei made the call that everyone was probably too tired to fully enjoy the show so we rescheduled it for another night. Ann and I took a taxi from the restaurant back to the hotel. She was very concerned about me and made sure that I made it to the room ok. I hate that she missed dinner, but I was very glad to have someone watching my back. I took a shower and laid down for a couple of hours and started feeling better. I nibbled on a granola bar and drank some water, and while I don’t feel back to normal yet, I have a feeling that I will live!

The tailor stopped by with the suits that Ann ordered and my coat/shirt. It was a lovely, soft silk and she pinned it on me to make sure that she would sew the buttons in the right place and hem the bottom and sleeves to fit me. I have never had a piece of clothing made just for me, and even though I was feeling lousy, I was really excited about it. She will be back tomorrow with the finished product.