Thursday, June 26, 2008

Back Home

Well, for those of you who haven't heard, I've made it back to sunny Denver, Colorado. Getting a solid internet connection in Hong Kong was just as difficult as it was in Shanghai. And to be honest with you, I'd grown a bit lazy as this trip came to an end. Still I've added a few pictures from Hong Kong which I enjoyed immensely. From Victoria Peak to the Star Ferry, I was glad that I got a chance to see it.

Anyways, It's been a very exciting trip, but I'm glad to be back home. I hope everyone enjoyed reading and I hope to keep posting stories and pictures as I have more summer fun (this weekend: hiking up Mt. Massive).

Until then, take care.
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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Shopping in Shanghai

Well, today was my first free day in Shanghai as the class that I was with ended last night. There was dinner, a group reflection where we each shared our reflections for the trip, and a slide show of some of the best photos. It's gone by very fast and I was surprised to see all that we have done over the past ten days. After dinner about a third of us went out to a bar near our hotel and enjoyed each others company before we had to go our separate ways.

This morning, it was nice to sleep in and have a leisurely breakfast without having to worry about getting on a bus to go somewhere. After breakfast I relaxed in my room until going out to market. There with my friends we haggled over the price of shirts, watches, and belts. It was the first time I haggled on the trip and I was very much out of practice. Good thing my friends were better at it. What's more, as a pair or in a group, we were able to get better prices.

After we were done there two of us tried our hand at the subway system in route to a silk market. While it was incredibly easy for us to use the subway and get to the right station, the directions we had for the silk market were wrong and we ended up spending our time walking the street. By the time we were in a cab to the market, most of the stalls were closed so we had to head back to the hotel.

Now we're getting ready to head out to dinner. I'm not sure how late we'll stay out since my friends have an early flight to Hong Kong. I got mine here and made it a little later so I'll meet up with them sometime tomorrow afternoon once I fly in. I've enjoyed Shanghai and I'm looking forward to Hong Kong, but I can tell I'm starting to miss home. As we're deciding where to go for dinner tonight, we don't want Chinese food again but can't decide where to go.

I'm sure we'll figure it out. There are plenty of choices here...for the right price.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

New China

Hi All,

I'm in Shanghai and enjoying the modernness of the city. Ironically though, my hotel room here doesn't have a working internet connection, so I'm writing this from the business center of the hotel and there are people waiting. Because of this I'm going to have to cut this post short saying that we toured around the city today with a few of us finishing for a wonderful dinner at Papa John's (we were getting a little tired of Chinese food). Anyways, I hope to have fuller posts and more pictures in a few days when I go to Hong Kong.


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Friday, June 13, 2008

Of Rice and Wine

The day started late as we were allowed to sleep in on Friday. After a simple breakfast at the hotel, we were back on the bus heading down the mountain over the same bumpy road that we had gone over the night before. After a while we made it to the parking lot for an ancient mountain village of a minority population in China. Apparently China is made up of 56 different cultures with the Han people making up 90%. The culture we visited lived far up in the hills creating terraces for growing rice and corn.

After hiking around and learning more about the culture it was time to head back to Guilin. After another long bus ride we arrived back at the city. To show us their appreciation for putting up and being supportive during all of the delays over the past few days, our guides decided to take us out to dinner (instead of the free time that was scheduled). At a tea house in Guilin we had a meal that was made up entirely of dishes made with tea. To finish it off we had a bottle of wine made with local area flowers.

All in all, it was a long two days on the bus and some beautiful countryside. Still, I'm looking forward to traveling on to Shanghai tomorrow night.

Water Adventures

Thursday was the start of the Guilin portion of our trip as we packed up a day pack and boarded the bus. Our first stop was the tour boat on the Li river. I wasn't sure about the views we would get since it was raining so heavily, but once we started down the river I was happily surprised. The area around Guilin is full of limestone deposits that have eroded over the years leaving massive karst hills that reach up into the sky like fingers. The rain clouds added to the atmosphere as they drifted between the tree covered hills.

After a few hours of drifting and a nice lunch, we reached the town of Yangshuo which was dominated by West street and its many vendors selling tourist goods. My friends and I enjoyed an inexpensive Gin & Tonic as most of the group bought pictures and bootleg DVDs. It wasn't long before we were back on the bus with the rain pouring down.

It wasn't until about 30 minutes into the ride when we came to our first adventure. A levy had broken and the street we were on was knee deep with brown flood water. After a slight traffic delay, our excellent bus driver was able to push through and get us on our way. The second adventure took much longer as we reached an even larger traffic jam. As we sat in rush hour traffic and the pouring rain our tour guide realized we were near a great noodle place. The guides asked for volunteers to go get noodles for the entire bus since we were way past our schedule and wouldn't arrive at our destination until late at night.

Me and nine others volunteered to go out in the rain and bring back noodles for the class. It was only after we had gotten out and down the street a ways when we noticed the cause of the traffic jam; an even larger flood then we had seen before. As we waded in, first to our ankles and then to our knees, we saw how all the rain had turned the street into a brown river with people in cars, trucks, buses, scooters, bikes, and on foot try to make their way through. Each time a truck with drive through quickly it would cause waves that would go up above our knees. We were relieved to get to the noodle place and enjoyed a meal before making our way back to the bus. We even joked that maybe the bus would catch up to us so we wouldn't have to go back through the flooded streets.

The traffic was not so forgiving and we soon found ourselves trekking back through the water and onto the bus. After spending an hour or two in traffic, we were moving again; up to a mountain retreat. Along the way we encountered our third adventure as we switched from one large bus to two smaller ones. Apparently the road up to the retreat was too small for the big bus. As we bounced and jostled along the way, there were several instances when we came face to face with vehicles coming down on the narrow road. After an hour and a half of this broken, bumpy road, we finally made it to our destination: a spa retreat right above one of the rivers.

After checking in and having a very late dinner we went out to the spas in the pouring rain. There were four spas in a row that got progressively hotter (with a bar down by the first one). After making my way up to spa after spa, I was still only able to stay in the top, hottest spa for only the briefest of moments. It was so hot, my skin couldn't tell if it was hot or cold, just that it was uncomfortable. After that I went to a pool that had little fish in it. Called, “Doctor Fish”, they would come up to you if you lay very still and suck away dead skin and debris. It was one of the weirdest things I've felt this trip. At first, it's hard to keep from jerking away as they tickle. Then, as more come my arms and legs felt like they were in a giant pool of soda. After a brief rinse off, I was definitely ready to call it a night.
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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Future of China

Today we started early as we were checking out of our hotel. This would be our last day in Beijing. We piled into the bus and headed out to the suburbs where we were to meet with a company called the “Sound Group.” They're in the water purification business with several plants for industrial and municipal water treatment throughout the country. With a large degree of the water in the country un-drinkable (and some even unsuitable for industry) it's certain that the country needs it. After a presentation that nearly put me to sleep we had a chance to tour their factory. It looked much like a factory in America except for the lack of safety equipment. No hardhats were worn around heavy-lifting cranes and protective eye-ware was only worn by a few people doing welding. Guess OSHA isn't as stringent over here.

After Sound Group and a lunch of Subway sandwiches on the bus, we traveled to a high school in the suburbs of Beijing. Part of the itinerary was for us to give a presentation to the students. While our professor insists that someone had said back in America that they would play piano, there was no one that would agree to do it while we talked about it on the bus to the school. It was at that time that I mentioned that I played the guitar to our professor (half hoping that they wouldn't have a guitar for me to play).

The high school was devoted to communication which we saw as we looked in on classes of art, music, and photography classes. After a tour of the grounds came a presentation by the students. It was truly impressive the amount of work they had put into the readings, poetry, songs and play that they gave. The interesting point in the afternoon came when their script called for a piano and guitar solo from Daniels students. As the rest of the class looked around at each other somewhat panicked I got up and headed to the stage. I let them know that there wouldn't be a piano solo, but that I would play their guitar. With a couple of miss-played chords and some missed lines I was able to perform “Hotel California” while the crowd clapped and sang along. I was glad that I could save our school's face and be the hero in the situation, but I was also glad to get off the stage.

We finished the afternoon with a bit of group time with the students where we split into groups of five Daniels students and five Chinese students to a room. There we would ask questions of each other and try to communicate as best we could. Overall, there seemed to be a great interest in American culture and basketball. And while most of the students could carry on a simple conversation, it wasn't long before I ran out of questions that I could ask (and that would be understood).

We eventually finished our high school visit and left for dinner and the airport. Check-in was relatively easy and I'm now sitting in the terminal getting ready to go. Our next stop will be Guilin.

Business in a Communist State

We started Tuesday with a meeting at the US Embassy Commercial Office. After telling us that he wouldn't talk just from the standard slides that he had, our host proceeded to talk about the statistics and slides that he had for us. Unfortunately much of it covered a lot of the material that we had already studied for the class. It was interesting to have a brief discussion about the danger of China in relying exclusively on nationalism and economic growth to support their country. It was also interesting to talk about the sustainability of China's production of cheap material products while without doing anything about the environmental and social externalities.
Our following presentation was at the Bank of China with an alumni of Daniels College of Business. Though his English had suffered a little in returning to Beijing, his knowledge of business seemed much greater than the American representative we met earlier. He expertly answered our questions about banking in China in general and The Bank of China specifically.

After our business visits we had a quick change on the bus before going to lunch at a delicious Beijing noodle place. Though we were stuffed and I was ready for nap, we pushed on to The Forbidden City and Tienanmen Square. While the structures were beautiful and the courtyards were intricate, it was starting to become more of the same. Tienanmen Square was closed off for some Olympic ceremony, but it looked just as impressive from the side, bordered by imposing government buildings. Whether it was the ancient city or the Communist-era square, the role of big government was obvious.

After having problems meeting up with a reception we were to have with future incoming students back at the hotel, I went off to join my friends at the silk market. Talk about pressure sales. Every few feet brought a fresh round of sellers trying to get you to look at their merchandise. Walking down a row of shops was like going through a gauntlet. It really put me out of the mood to buy.

For dinner my friends and I had a wonderful hot pot meal far from the beaten path of most tourists. Each of us sat around a table with a burner, pot of mushroom-vegetable broth, bowl of delicious sauce, and plate. In the middle of the table were plates of thinly sliced beef and mutton. We would dish the meat into our boiling hot pots, wait a few seconds for it to cook, dip it in the sauce, and then eat it. It was the best meal of the trip so far.

The night ended with a walk down a street of food vendors near our hotel. It was there that we found fried scorpions and had to see what they were like. They tasted mostly crunchy and salty with a little bit of chewy meat inside. Altogether it was a day that truly demonstrated the juxtaposition of Communism and the new market society in China.

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Monday, June 9, 2008

On the Tour Bandwagon

Monday was the first full day of our tour of China and quite a contrast to the smaller travel group that my friends and I were in over the weekend. We woke up at 7am in the morning to be on the bus by 8am. Once there we took an hour or so to ride out to the Great Wall of China while passing by the new Olympic “Bird's Nest” Stadium (with the requisite photo taking from the bus.

The Great Wall is actually a series of walls that were built over the ages and we went to the section near Badaling. Seeing the different wall sections and the turrets and pagodas was quite a treat, but would have been better had it not been for the haze and the smog. Still, we soon found a place to park and were out among the masses. We had a choice to go left or right and I decided to take the path with the fewest people (which also happened to be the steepest). After a short time I was able to get in a nice jog out to where the wall was closed for construction. While it was interesting, I definitely preferred the Summer Palace to the Great Wall.

After the Great Wall we went to a jade production facility for lunch. Basically, we learned how they carved the jade and the different types of jade before we were served lunch in the back. After lunch we were free to wander around the different jade items and shop. A similar experience greeted us as we got back into Beijing when we visited a traditional tea house. We learned about a variety of teas before being presented with a selection to purchase.

The tour bus then took us to the Hutong as we all paired up in the back of a series of tricycles. The Hutong is a traditional neighborhood of narrow streets and one-story buildings. It's right near the Houhai lakes that my group of friends had visited the first night we arrived. It felt a little silly at first, but became fun after we cruised around for a little bit. After this we were free to travel around on our own, but a few of us wanted to go to a silk market and the tour guide agreed to take us.

The silk shop that we visited was similar to the jade and tea places we had been earlier. A brief history and description about how they prepare the silk followed by the “opportunity” to purchase. By the time we left I was starting to feel like it had been the day of tourist traps with the amount of pressure selling at each place. After such a day my friends and I were happy to get dinner and a beer before to going to bed early in anticipation of an early start on Tuesday.

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Sunday, June 8, 2008

Another Big Day in Beijing

Woke up with a hangover this morning just in time to make it to the hotel's breakfast buffet. While I had considered sleeping in a little bit, my friends were up and getting ready to leave, so I tossed on the same clothes from yesterday and joined them. We took a short walk over to a nearby mall for breakfast and some window shopping. The mall looked a lot like malls in America except that the stores seemed to be grouped per floor based on store type (e.g. apparel, electronics, etc.) We had some food and then went to get a SIM card so that we could make phone calls without connecting through the US.

With breakfast, water, and a new Chinese telephone number I was quickly getting over my hangover and ready for another day in China. By chance the group that I was with (that I flew with) met up with the three guys we were out with the night before and we were all ready to do some more exploring. After some consideration we decided to head out to the Summer Palace. After a half-hour ride through town and a wonderful display of Beijing's expansive architecture we made it to the palace.

The Summer Palace has been the highlight of my trip so far. I hope you can see from the pictures how beautiful it is. Built on a hill overlooking a lake, the temple is actually made up of a variety of temples, halls, and walls. A person could spend days exploring the hidden paths and passageways through the forests and temples. With the hills and forests, someone in our group commented that it was Chinarado (a combination of China and Colorado).

After we had been up and down the hill, we went over to the art district called "987". In this once-industrial complex we found a variety of art galleries and cafes. The art was definitely different and I may have some strange dreams tonight, but it was mostly enjoyable. Our time was cut short though by the need to get back to the hotel and meet all of the other class students. Our opening dinner for the trip (with almost everyone from class there) was a full-course Chinese meal with Peking Duck and duck soup.A Quanjude chef slicing roasted Peking Duck.It was good to see everyone else from class and hear about all of their tales about their travel over to China. I'm not quite sure how I'll do with such a big group that needs to stay together and stick to a tight schedule. I guess we'll see. I'm writing this while sitting on my bed with a full belly of duck and I'm getting ready to call it quits and go to sleep. Tomorrow, the great wall.

First Day in China

Inside the Hall of Prayer for Good HarvestsImage via WikipediaWell, my first day in China has been a very full one. My friends and I arrived at Beijing's new international airport around 6am in the morning after a very long flight. It was amazingly easy getting through the border, getting our bags and then going through customs.

Our first difficulty of the day though was when we got to get taxis to our hotel. Since there's five of us, there was this middle-aged guy from Los Angeles that asked if we wanted to share a cab into town. Thinking that this would be a good way to save on the fare I agreed to ride with him while the others got into two other cabs. I think I would have preferred not to ride with this guy. An obnoxious kind of creep, he got upset with the cab driver for not understanding English as he tried to explain that he was going to a different hotel and trying to make sure that the driver understood where it was. Even though the cab drivers charged us far more than normal for the ride (170RMB per cab), I would have been okay paying that alone to not have to had dealt with this guy (who also argued vehemently about his half of the price).

Anyways, once inside the hotel things greatly improved as we were allowed to check into our rooms, get cleaned up, and make it to the buffet breakfast. We met up with two other students who had arrived the day before and after breakfast all took a walk down to the Temple of Heaven. As we watched traffic move about it seemed a little more chaotic than in the US, but not at all like what we were led to believe. There are plenty of crossing lights and the traffic obeys the lights.

The Temple of Heaven sits on a massive garden including rose gardens and a variety of temples. There were a variety of activities taking place. Many people were out dancing in various styles to different music. Some people were playing hackey sack, but with a rubber circle attached to some feathers. We even took part in some of the fun. The temple itself was very beautiful with swallows darting in and out of the windows. Once we had our fill, we walked over to the Pearl Market so one of my friends could purchase pearls for the women in his life.

By this time it was around 1pm and we were getting hungry. We stopped briefly at the hotel before heading out to the Hutai back lakes, an active bar and restaurant scene. We had a late (and very spicy) lunch along the lake before taking a walk around the lake. As we passed bars, people would come out and try to entice us to enter the bars offering rooftop seating and happy hour specials. By playing different bars off of each other we were able to get a deal on beers at one bar. While enjoying our beers another friend from the class who had been in town for a week joined us.

After another bar, the friends I had flown over with were tired and ready to sleep. However, I wanted to keep going, so the guy who had been here for a week took us to the embassy district which has many businesses that cater to expatriates. We had some wonderful pizzas in a hole-in-the-wall place called "The Tree" followed by drinks at a bar called "The Kokomo". I hadn't even had a chance to finish my drink when the other guys came over to me saying that there were a group of local English teachers that wanted us to join them at yet another bar/club. After some searching around and some failed attempts we got drinks at a place whose name I don't even remember.

By about 1:30am I was ready to call it a day. One of my friends and I got a cab back to the hotel where I instantly passed out. Not bad for a first day in China.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Air Travel

Well, it was a mad dash day of packing, printing business cards, and getting to the airport. I kissed my beautiful girlfriend goodbye and began the torturous endeavor known as modern air travel. Denver to LA wasn't bad, it was when me and the other four classmates that I was traveling with got to the Air China ticket desk at LAX.

It was at this point that we learned of the difficulty in translating the e-tickets we had purchased through an American travel agent with the paper tickets that Air China still seems to be using. It was here that I noted my first surprise - not that the process was much more chaotic than the United ticket desk I had been at only hours before - but what they told us was a small problem took close to an hour to resolve. During that time I noticed something interesting as I was watching one of the ticket agents with our itineraries (just having our confirmation number wasn't enough). I noticed a man hand the ticket agent a stack of dollars, which the agent immediately placed in his jacket pocket. The agent then filled out a paper ticket for the man, wrote $110 on the boarding pass, and handed it to the man.

It just seemed so sketchy at the time as there was no cash register; no printed receipt; just a wad of bills in the agent's pocket. Something tells me I'll me seeing more of this type of behavior over the next two weeks.

Fortunately the flight was smooth and without any difficulties. Aside from spending 12 hours in a plane, it really wasn't bad at all. We arrived at the new China airport and were instantly amazed at the size of it. Here are some photos:

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Thursday, June 5, 2008

Leaving for China

Well, I'm getting on a plane and flying off to China today. I'll be there for two weeks starting in Beijing, going to Guilin, then Shanghai and finally Hong Kong. The first three cities will be part of a comparative markets class that I've been taking this quarter. We will be going to different businesses and comparing how they do business with how business is done in the US. After that we'll me and a few friends will be going on to Hong Kong to explore the city on our own.

I'll be doing my best to upload images and the days events to this site so that everyone who wants to can follow along. I've added weather to the side panel and my schedule is down at the bottom. Please feel free to log in and add comments with suggestions on where to go or what to do. Thank you.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Bridal Veil Falls

Over the weekend I took a camping trip with my girlfriend, her sister, and brother in-law up to Bridal Veil Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park. We left on Saturday morning meeting in Estes Park and having lunch at Sweet Basilico Cafe. It was a beautiful weekend and two wonderful days to be up in the mountains.

After a short hike by a group of deer we set up camp near a rock formation that looked like a pair of rabbit ears. We then continued on to Bridal Veil Falls. It was a good hike which left us all ready to get back for dinner and s'mores. We had a fun dinner of macaroni and cheese along with a boxed wine that our local wine merchant recommended.

After dinner, s'mores, and a few games of Uno we were ready for bed. It was a cold night (40F), but at least it didn't rain. The next morning we woke up, made oatmeal with peanut butter and honey, and packed up camp. After a short hike back out we were down the road. It wasn't until after a walk around Estes Park, lunch, a stop in Boulder for a nap along Boulder creek, and margaritas out in the sun that we got home.

All in all it was a fun weekend up in the mountains.