Thursday, October 27, 2011

Suzhou

The second destination on our ten day vacation was Suzhou. This is one of my favorite places in China. It has a more old, historic feel than Changzhou.

Suzhou is known for its silk and I made everyone go to the silk museum that was there. I wanted to see the real silk worms, even if they were a little creepy.

I think it might have been the awesome food we found that made me love Suzhou so much. When you eat cafeteria food everyday there is nothing better than a street of food vendors. This is a weird fruit we found.

(PS-- remember how I had three link taken off this watch before I left and now it slides down my arm again...)

And the most glorious restaurant that provided forks with their pasta! When I tasted these beautiful noodles, I realized Italy might need to be my next study abroad trip.

I love street performers. I love when they play in dim subway stations, on street corners, outside museusms, in the middle of parks. I could stand there for hours listening. I think I’m just fascinated with people who love their instrument and their own talent enough to stand on a corner and play for anyone passing by. We found these two guys singing on the corner of Bei Ta Road.

They gathered quite a crowd. I never knew I loved Chinese music until I came here. Some of it is screechy but most of it really soothing, elevator type music. I feel like I’m heading to the beach or yoga class when I listen to it.

Lorilei carried her guitar on the plane all the way here. She loves playing and performing so she ended up borrowing their guitar and playing in front of that big crowd. Everyone loved it. It’s funny because doing something like that would never go over well at home. They love Americans here, or maybe just foreigners in general. I don’t even think about it anymore when we walk down the street and passing cars slow down, roll down car their windows and yell “Hello. Hello. Hello.” They always laugh when we say hello back. Dayna always waves at people when they’re staring at us. It’s so funny to watch them light up when they realize we’ve noticed them staring at us and we’re waving at them. Sometimes we wave at people in buses in the lanes next to us when we’re on the bus—they look out the windows so dully but they always laugh when they see us waving at them.

We found a shop where they have all these beautiful hand-painted fans. You better believe I bought one! Dayna bought one that spreads across a wall and is probably close to 3 feet tall. Here is the man sitting next to the window painting.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Scavenger Hunting

I know I haven’t finished posting about the 10 day vacation but I wanted to write about the crazy adventure of today.

I’ve been stressed all week long about contacting the branch president here so I could get the ecclesiastical endorsement signed for the Jerusalem Center application. No one was responding to any of my emails, I tried calling the branch president and the line was always busy… I’m going to Nanjing next weekend and Beijing the weekend after that which is when the application opens for two weeks and I would have to go on the waiting list if I missed it. Katie, Dayna, and I went on a last minute trip this weekend to Suzhou and Zhouzhuang and decided to see if we could find the branch in Suzhou while we were there. We found an address on lds.org but someone had said that the branch location and time were changing—but we decided we would see if we could find it anyway.

At the bus station, we tried asking the customer service desk to write the address in Chinese characters but they could only write the street name in characters not the full address. But we met the cutest Chinese girl at our hostel. She helped us find the area where the church was located in Suzhou on the map and that bus. No. 2 would get us to the road we had written in character. I don’t know what we would have done without her help and the name of the bus station and stop in Chinese character. Church started at 9:30 am and we checked out of our hostel at 8 am. The bus station was supposed to be right up the street. We knew we were supposed to turn down one street we just didn’t which one. The first street we went down a guy told us to get a taxi, which was completely unhelpful. So we went down another street and found a hotel guard who pointed back the way we came then pointed both left and right. We weren’t sure how to interpret that. Then we asked someone at a bus stop who spoke a little English. They pointed back the way we came and said something about a bridge. It was around 8:30 at this point and we knew the bus ride was supposed to be around 40 minutes long. We were getting frustrated and were about to just give up and go to the train station to go home when a girl came up to us and asked if she could help us. She led us down the street and after she asked a few more Chinese people directions we finally found this tiny bus stop in a middle of this huge construction zone. The bridge was a construction bridge. We would never have found it without her help. She was so worried about us that she walked us to the bus stop and made sure that the bus stopped at the stop we needed.

The bus was very, very crowded but I was able to work my way to a seat by the bus driver so I could show him the Chinese characters again for the stop we needed and he could direct us off. The girl next to me saw the paper and she and the bus driver made sure we got off at the right stop. We knew we would probably have to wander around trying to find the address and it was 9:25. This cute Chinese family pointed us down the right road. There were guards standing at the gate of this big apartment complex and we knew the “church” was in an apartment complex. When they looked at the address and nodded their heads yes we were so happy that we were screaming and laughing and dancing all at once. I don’t think any of us have ever been so happy to hear “Be Still my Soul” as we were when the door opened and we saw that little room of LDS members. I felt like I wanted to cry and laugh at the same time for the entire three hours. I loved that we had to walk to the front of the room because we were late to sacrament meeting, that babies were crying, that everyone stopped listening during the youth speaker’s talk, that the chorister used a little white stick—it was just like going to church at home, just the mini version. The women in Relief Society told us about making chocolate chip cookies in a toaster oven (which we’ll have to try before we leave). They were holding a baby shower for someone in the ward. It was so familiar. The first speaker talked about how happy we looked when we first walked in. But I don’t think anyone understood the awe that we were feeling that we actually had made it-- all of us knew that some hand besides our own had taken us to that church and put all those people in our path to help us. I guess we needed to be at church today.

After church, I was able to get the ecclesiastical endorsement signed. Even now it seems impossible that there is a signature on that dotted line! We had to wait for “branch council” to be over (that sounds so weird) and so I got to hold this young couples’ 5-week old baby while we waited. He was so tiny! It was fun to compare travel stories with fellow—Mormons. There were two girls from Mapleton and one girl from Springville. The Mapleton girls knew a couple of my friends from BYU, which made the world seem really small. It’s been hard being away from church for two months. I’ve missed singing the hymns, taking the sacrament, even visiting teaching…..maybe haha. I’ve missed feeling like you belong in a ward and that people need you. I hope we will have a chance to go back, especially around Christmas time.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Huang Shan Part Two

We took a cable car up the mountain and then hiked for 8 kilometers (about 4 ish miles) to the hotel on the top of the mountain. What we didn’t know was how long the line would be to the cable car.

I forgot to take a picture of the first sign we passed which was the three hour wait sign. Chinese people don’t stand calmly in line either. It was three hours of a constant push to the cable cars. We were pressed body to body fighting to stay together in our group. But when you have nothing to do for that long you have entertain yourselves somehow. Lorilei pulled out her ipod and we sang and danced along to all her music. In America everyone would want to kill you if you did that. In China everyone loves it. People were bobbing their heads and singing along. We found some friends with these Korean women. They started requesting songs, such as Mama Mia.

Dayna shared three sour patch kids with them and they pulled out snicker bars and oranges for us. It was so nice.

I have this awesome video of this "performance" and I waited for an hour for it to upload to the blog and when it was 92% of the way done it said there was an error and didn't work. I am so angry! So a picture is all I can do. Please request a viewing of this video when I get home okay?

The cable cars were fun too.

It was really misty at the top of the mountain and there was a lot of people.

We saw the famous Welcoming Willow .

We had 8 kilometers to go and we started hiking at about 4pm. It’s dark here by 5:30 so we hiked most of the hike in the dark and in the mist. It took over three hours to get to the hotel. The path was paved but it was steps all the way up. I loved it though. It feels like forever since I’ve been hiking and it felt like being back home in the mountains again. It was a little unnerving being in all the mist and not being able to see the top of the mountain when you looked up or see too far beyond the edge of the path. It was a real back packing adventure. I literally carried everything I brought with me on the trip on my back up the mountain. Most of the other people hated the hike. There was a lot of complaining the entire way up the mountain. But I liked it-- I’m really glad I had a chance to hike the mountain and not just see it from the cable car.

The next day though we hiked down and it was much better. It was all down hill and it was warm and sunny and beautiful. These pictures of me aren’t as beautiful.

Someone told us that all food and everything on the top of the mountain has to be carried up by men. We passed so many of these men carrying crazy heavy loads. It was pretty amazing to watch. They look so skinny but these men are incredibly strong.


Sunday, October 16, 2011

Huang Shan Part One



We had a ten day vacation the first of October. That’s the week of the China National Holiday so that meant the entire country was out traveling. Our first stop was Huang Shan. Huang means “Yellow” and Shan means “Mountain.” Because getting trains tickets was ridiculously hard to get this week we decided to go on a bus tour to Huang Shan with a Chinese tour group. It ended up being kind of hilarious.

The tour was in Chinese but our tour guide did speak English. However, he would give these forever long speeches in Chinese over the microphone but then never translate them into English afterward. We never knew what was really going on, we’d just follow whatever our fellow Chinese tour bus members were doing when we got off the bus. I had a secret crush on our tour guide but then I realized he was kind of orney. I think it was his nice jeans that got me. He wore them the entire three days. I stopped liking him when he got out these lovely things and told us we had to wear them during the tour.

If we ever asked him a question he would say, “Okay, okay, okay, okay” really fast like I do when my kids are pulling on me and I’m in the middle of something else. I don’t think he liked being in charge of a group of 14 American college kids.

The blue visors were really annonying to wear but it was kind of nice following the crowd of blue visors around when you don’t speak a lick of Chinese.

Before we went to Huang Shan we stopped in this old Chinese village. It was beautiful.

There were painters everywhere which was fun to watch.

Here’s a taste though of what Chinese crowds were like during the week.