more Beijing

Yesterday the internet was being flaky so we couldn't post, but here is an overview.

We got up at the crack of dawn (5:30am) so that we would be able to have breakfast and be ready at 7 to leave on our guided tour to the Ming Tombs and the Badaling (Badabing!) Great Wall. The tour bus drove around picking people up from other hotels for like an hour and a half, before we finally headed out. The "English-speaking" tourguide had a really thick accent so we could hardly understand him. We were kind of disgruntled because in addition to foreign tourists, the bus picked up this load of Chinese tourists, who in typical middle-aged person Beijing fashion had no sense of personal space. These two women sat down behind us and leaned all over our seats, and even though I kept shoving this woman's elbows off my head, she kept putting them back. Argh! These guys had cell phones that were constantly going off really loudly, and for some reason they all have to shout into their phones instead of just speaking normally. Another guy was picking his nose and flicking boogers all over. Gross! We're trying to be culturally accepting, but it's still kind of nast (in T's words). Throughout the rest of the day we kept moving seats around because the people who got stuck sitting in front of the two women once we moved didn't want to sit there again either.

The first stop on the tour bus was a jade factory (read: tourist trap), where we got to peek at people making jade carvings for a couple seconds, then got a while to browse their overpriced jade store. I couldn't resist buying a little jade turtle though.

After that, we headed to the Great Wall at Badaling. This stretch of the wall is the most accessible, which means it's the most crowded (blah!). It was pretty impressive to see the wall and stand on top of it, but we decided not to go all the way to the top of this mountain peak. Also, after squishing through the crowd at the first tower, we didn't want to think about what the other towers would be like! The strange thing is that near the Great Wall they had these like zoo enclosures with bears in them. Strange! Also, people were constantly trying to sell us stuff, but the only English they know is "hello" and the name of what they're selling, so people kept yelling "Hello T-Shirt! Hello! Hello! Hello post card! Hello!" It got pretty irritating after a while.

The next stop was lunch (thankfully, as we were totally starving) at a "tourist restaurant." I thought it was pretty tasty, T thought it was "unauthentic."

After that we went to the Ming Tombs. We got to see this tower and a little museum place with a big statue of Emperor Yongle (pronounced Yong Le, not like 'dongle'), and the mountain that the underground palace is inside of, but we didn't actually get to go into the excavated sites or anything.

The last stop (once we were all falling asleep on the bus) was a Chinese medicine academy. Here, someone talked about how Chinese traditional doctors determine your balance of yin and yang by taking your pulse with three fingers on each wrist, then they got to take our pulses and tell us what was wrong with us and why we should waste our tourist money on their medicines. They told me I'm too fat and so my liver function must be bad, and they told T she's too skinny so she must have chronic gastritis.

Finally we got to go home after that. The bus breathed a sigh of relief when we stopped to let off the Chinese tourists. I was saying that it seems like everyone over 35 here is really rude and nasty, and T says it's because they lived through the Cultural Revolution (I'm still not totally clear on what that was).

We got back to the hotel at like 7, where we had for dinner: a mini-muffin with strawberry filling, a banana, one corn puff (I bought a bag of "sweet corn puffs" but they were more MSG than sweet), and chocolate milk for me, and a bag of Chips Ahoy, one corn puff, and water for T. We were exhausted so we just went to sleep.

This morning T's cousin came to pick us up, and we went to his apartment. He and his girlfriend took us out to lunch, which T claims was "pretty authentic." (I don't see what's more authentic than eating at a restaurant *in* China, but whatever.) The scary part was getting to the restaurant -- T's cousin drove us on the back of his motorcycle! If I haven't mentioned already, traffic in Beijing is really, REALLY scary. It's scarier on a motorcycle (which scares me even at home). At least we were only going like two blocks and we were going about 10mph, if that. Anyway, lunch was HUGE and very tasty. T is always making fun of "unauthentic" foods like mushu pork, but we had Peking Duck, which was basically like mushu duck (I'm failing to see how changing duck to pork makes something less authentic).

[T: Let me clarify my beef with "unauthentic": I just don't like it when people's only conception of Chinese food is Panda Express.]

[J: Of course the "unauthentic" food at the tourist restaurant was nothing like what they serve at Panda Express, especially the whole fish.]

We had a "true Chinese experience" (T's term) paying for lunch, where we threw money back and forth across the table until her cousin relented and took it.

T's cousin is a medical student, and since T was curious, he took us to the hospital to look around. It was really depressing. The hospital is in this beat up old building, and it's really dirty, and all the equipment looks like it's at least 20 years old. There were also surprisingly few people there.

After that we went back to the subway and made our way back to the hotel. T laughed at people on the subway who were trying to understand what we were saying, because they assumed she didn't speak Chinese. We grabbed some ice cream at the store downstairs, and headed up to relax. I sent 10 more postcards today, hopefully they will get to their destinations before I get home. I know I still owe a couple people postcards, but they will probably arrive after me.

Tomorrow we have to wake up REALLY at the crack of dawn (like 4am) to get to the airport for our flight to Bangkok. Our main plan for Thailand is to relax in our hotel, and avoid being broiled alive outside or choking on polluted air (according to T's guidebook, Bangkok is really polluted like Beijing).

I've been in Asia over a month now, which is kind of scary. Happy Independence Day, by the way! Anyway, I think we'll be ready to go home ten days from now. [T: I concur.] (and she's only been in Asia for two weeks!)

--Jessica

Beijing, Day One

We made it safely to Beijing! We were so pooped last night that we decided to wait to post, and this morning we wanted to get moving. But here we are!

hotelCollapse )

Beijing is nastyCollapse )

today's activities!Collapse )

I have postcards and stamps, so I'll try to send some tomorrow. I still haven't sent the postcards from Taipei! Oops. At least Beijing is cheap!

For reference -- only 13 days until we come home. [Valley-ism: Dude.] Actually, speaking of the Valley, while we were at the Forbidden city, this guy heard us talking and asked what part of the US we were from, and we said Los Angeles, and he asked where in LA, and we said the Valley, and he said, "Dude! We're from the Valley too! Where do you live, Northridge?" T told him she used to live there. Pretty weird, running into Valley people in Beijing! Or, as one might say, duuuuuuude.

--Jessica

Tokyo, last day

Today we went first to Tokyo station to buy tickets for the airport express train (and to see how long it would take us to get there). We're hoping that the subways start running at 6am, or else we won't make it to the 6:30 am airport train. Of course, we had breakfast first -- baked goods and Starbucks.

After that, we went to the Bridgestone art museum, which has a surprising collection. First, they have all these strange random really old things, like part of a statue from Mesopotamia in the 24th century BC, and pieces of an Egyptian sarcophagos and such. After that, they have an impressive collection of impressionist and modern art (Monet, Rousseau, Picasso, and many others we can't think of right now). They had "The Thinker", which we were surprised to see because for some reason we thought it was in Europe somewhere or something! We sat around in the museum (it was raining outside so we didn't want to spend much time outside) for a while chatting, then it stopped raining and we went to go find the Kite Museum (supposedly has lots of kites and such). On the way, we exchanged our Taiwan money to yen, so we would be able to have dinner. To celebrate, we had lunch (bento boxes from a department store basement, and Starbucks in the subway station).

After much searching, we couldn't find the kite museum! We have no idea where it went, because I swear we walked past its marked spot on the map like five times. Eventually we gave up because it was 4:30 and it supposedly closes at 5. We found a nice courtyard where we sat and chatted some more (like all the museums and gardens and everything close at 4 or 5), then headed back to the hostel.

Our flight to Beijing (via Hong Kong :P) is at 10 tomorrow morning, so unfortunately we need to get up majorly early. We'll be in Beijing for three full days, so our plans are to see the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, and the Emperor's Summer Palace. Not sure if we'll have internet, but we probably will.

Goodnight!

--Jessica

Tokyo, day 2

We actually got up before 10 today and had a cheap, artery-clogging breakfast at McDonalds before heading out to the Imperial Palace Gardens, where we wandered around for a while ("wandered around" means "walked for five-minute intervals stopping at air-conditioned rest houses along the way"). But it was still pretty.

Then we made our way to the Ueno Park area, where there was a bakery. Bread was consumed in the Tokyo National Museum, which has lots of Asian art and artifacts, along with an Egyptian mummy. We spent most of the afternoon at the museum though we only saw half of it.

We had dinner at a conveyor-belt/monorail restaurant and came back here with a quick stop for juice (for J) and ice cream (for me). The discerning reader will note that our daily diet consists mainly of bread, ice cream, and water.

I have about 6 bug bites. And a centipede fell on me yesterday. Also yesterday while eating dinner we saw a ghetto-chic store called "Da Clothing."

-- Tiffany

Tokyo, day 1

After sleeping far too long, we finally got up this morning and had breakfast at Starbucks (which was overpriced, and the hot chocolate, like the hot chocolate in Taipei, was not really chocolate but some other thing that was not doing a very good job as a substitute).

Tokyo is not nearly as hot as Taipei, Hong Kong, and Singapore were, so we're wallowing in the coolness. We tried to go to the Imperial Palace, but apparently like everything is closed on Mondays in Japan, so our attempt was thwarted!

Instead, we took the subway to Shibuya (a downtown-ish area), where we wandered around and walked to Meiji-jinguu, which is a Shinto shrine built to honor Emperor Meiji in like 1920 or something. It had a nice garden, and was (like all the Shinto shrines) a nice building.

After that we walked to Harajuku, where we sat around people-watching for a while. Harajuku is the prime people-watching spot in Tokyo, because young people go there to parade around in their unique fashions. We saw some pretty interesting stuff, along with quite a bit of Engrish. There were some people going for the Rastafarian look, which was interesting, as well as some Gothic Lolita girls (search google) and lots of random other stuff. After that, we wandered around the shops in Harajuku, which was kind of funny because there were a lot of "ghetto chic" stores. Once again, they had hired black people to stand outside their stores and say "Yo, whassup? Yo, Yo." I heard one of them speaking Japanese, and his Japanese had a pretty strong non-English accent, so I think they must be from like Africa or somewhere instead of the US. There were also a lot of Japanese pseudo-gangstas, wearing hugely oversized basketball jerseys and such.

We had dinner at a little cafe (spaghetti, Japanese style), then headed back. After a quick stop at Ministop (convenience store) for ice cream (for me) and candy bars (for T), we came back to the hostel, and here we are.

Tomorrow: Imperial Palace, attempt number two, and hopefully Ueno park.

--Jessica

Made it to Tokyo

Well, we made it to Tokyo. It was a pain to find all the trains to get to the guest house we're staying at, but here we are. Tiffany says, get me out of this city! The trains were pretty wacky and confusing, and the guest house is what she terms a "hippie den." We're in a dorm with 6 other girls, and they like live here full time because it's cheaper than renting an apartment.

Anyway, it certainly is budget. Compared to the place Ben and I stayed at in Kyoto, it's pretty depressing. Well, hopefully we can just sleep here and stay out the rest of the time.

The point of the entry is we made it here safe. Hopefully seeing cool stuff in the city will make up for the poor accomodations.

--Jessica

taipei, last day

T's one interjection before J writes the entry (because people don't like my writing, tear): last night we went to cashbox in taipei, which was mad expensive but WORTH IT BECAUSE THEY ACTUALLY HAD LEON LAI'S 'ZHONG AI QING YOU' which I have been absolutely unable to locate in any U.S. karaoke place. and MC Hotdog! (Mark, are you reading this?!?!)

Okay, my turn now (I tried to make T write the whole entry but she refuses!). Today we bummed around for a little while, then went to lunch with T's relatives at Din Tai Fung (apparently a famous dim sum place) - yum! Of course, when I bit into a juicy dumpling, it squirted juice down the front of my shirt. At least today I had the sense to wear a black shirt! After that, we went to Ice Monster (another well-known place I had never heard of) and had this dessert which consists of shaved ice topped with mango and mango ice cream. Pretty tasty!

We made a stop at T's grandparents' place and had some sliced fruit, then headed to the Taipei Municipal Art Museum. The art museum was all modern art, and had some interesting stuff (all by Asian artists, which was interesting considering how little of the art in the US is). I bought some postcards, so if I can find a mailbox and a stamp vending machine tomorrow I might send them (otherwise they'll get sent from Tokyo).

After that, T's aunt drove us up this crazy mountain to a hot springs, where I got to take pictures of scenery! It was incredibly stinky though. I don't understand how people can bathe in something when the smell from quite a ways away makes me sick. Anyway, it was pretty and interesting, if smelly.

We drove from there to this area up in this mountain where they have all these flower gardens (Mom, I bet you would have liked it). We had dinner at a little place under a covered thingy (pseudo-outside) [T's interjection: you know you're eating authentic food when there are ants in the noodles and aphids in the sauce], which was pretty tasty. T's relatives ordered three desserts (sweet potato soup, sweet potato on shaved ice, and some sort of jelly boba tapioca ice thing)! I am so a fan of sweet potatoes. Yum.

After getting lost driving down the mountain, we finally made it back, and here we are. Tomorrow we're off to Tokyo! Not sure what the internet situation will be, but it's a hostel so it will probably have internet there.

I've been in Asia for over 3 weeks! :-O [T: O.O @.@] [J: o_O;] [T: now I am le tired.]

--Jessica

Taipei, another day

Today we slept in way too late (we were up late doing laundry last night), then putted around T's aunt's apartment for a while eating baked goods and watching music videos. It was raining so we didn't really want to go out. Eventually it appeared to be dying down, and we though maybe we'd go browse some stores and hit up a museum (so that we wouldn't be outdoors too much).

After browsing the Sogo department store and a stop at Starbucks for salad and people watching, we headed toward the subway. Another quick stop was made at a music store, where I bought Japanese CDs at reasonable prices for once (like $20 for an album, instead of like $40). After that, we made it to the subway. The rain had stopped! So we decided to go to Danshui, which T said was a more scenic area. Good choice! There was some nice scenery around the harbor, and we wandered around a bunch of shops at a night-market like place (though it wasn't quite night yet, but whatever). I bought a bunch of souvenirs for people, finally! We also saw such interesting things as squid on a stick (it looked really gross, but I guess it must taste good), and I managed to order ice cream at McDonald's by pointing at it on the menu and smiling and nodding a lot.

After coming back, we had dinner at the food court under Sogo, then made our way over here to check our email.

We're thinking of maybe karaoke for tonight, and then no idea what we're doing tomorrow.

This internet cafe is kind of funny because it's full of all these guys playing like warcraft or whatever, and then like all the girls in the place are checking their email or livejournal or something. My only goal for tomorrow: find postcards somewhere. I still owe like 10 people postcards.

--Jessica

Taipei day one

Today we woke up at like ten. After dragging ourselves out of bed, we had some baked goods for breakfast and then found an Internet cafe (hence previous post). We headed over to the National Palace museum after that, which included several stressful conversations in Mandarin between taxi driver, random museum guy, and yours truly. The museum itself is being renovated and has a lot of soothing Chinese paintings and a lot of ancient pottery from like 4000 BC. And a jade cabbage! Unfortunately, they do not sell umbrellas, which we desperately needed upon looking outside at the pouring rain. Oh yeah, for lunch I had a Haagen-Dazs ice cream bar, and J had meat and rice and a Haagen-Dazs ice cream bar. Anyway, we ended up getting soaked to the bone trying to get back to the taxi stand, and I nearly slipped and fell on my ass like 10 times (damned frictionless flip-flops). J bought a cheery blue umbrella at the Shilin subway station. (But she hasn't used it yet, and if it doesn't rain tomorrow she's going to be kind of annoyed).

Then we made our way to the Taipei 101 mall, which is located by the tallest building in the world (that is still under construction, as we found out by getting into an elevator and discovering that the buttons were impotent). J bought some lemony handmade soap (with sand in it) from Lush -- awesome British soap store. Then we swung by the Japanese bakery and consumed more baked goods. Then I tried on some shoes from Benneton's new Formula One line, which were very cute on the stands but not so cute on my feet (J is not a fan of pink polka dots -- which look like bubble gum stuck to the shoe -- or green polka dots -- which look like a frog got sick).

Then we went home. Food tally up to now: baked goods + ice cream (and some meat and rice).

We just had dinner and are now suffering from food coma and Starbucks withdrawal. Next stop: Starbucks.

-- creator of pretentious drivel, Tiffany

made it to Taiwan

We made it to Taipei last night, and had dinner (yum!) with T's grandparents.

Not much else to report yet -- we slept a whole lot, and then came out to an internet cafe to check email and such. Plans for today are to visit the National Palace Museum and check out the Taipei 101 tower (currently the tallest building in the world).

More later!

--Jessica