掰掰 Twenty-Ten!

I decided over the break that I should have a “farewell last year!” post, in the grand tradition of various ways to celebrate a new year. I realized that I only lived in the U.S. for two weeks of 2010! Crazy, huh? And I was out of the country for a grand total of 14 months, twelve in China and two in Europe. Woo! But now I’m back in school and…oh wait, that’s something else. But now I’m back at home and trying to find out what to do with my life. To celebrate, let’s take a trip down memory lane…
I landed in Qingdao, China on September 27th, 2009. This is a picture of the mountain that was right behind the first apartment I lived in (I know, “in which I lived,” so sue me).

Then there was my first trip to Beijing back in February ’10 for Chinese New Year…(to read through the entire trip, click the “Liveblogging Beijing: Day 2,” etc. links at the bottom of the post)

My trip to Hong Kong, a place I loved, but two of my friends came away unimpressed…

The start of my fashion editor career for Redstar…(and the middle…and the middle part 2…and the end)

The ups of teaching in China, and the downs

Hanging out with friends (I can’t find this post, haha oops…)

Hanging out in 青岛 (that’s Qingdao, fyi)…

My trip to Hangzhou

More fun in Qingdao and time spent with students

Going back to Beijing to visit the Great Wall

Seeing the Terracotta Warriors in Xi’an…

And seeing pandas and the giant buddha in Chengdu…and, of course, seeing the Bund in Shanghai and visiting the World Expo there.

Yeah, so wow. That was a lot. I can’t really believe this year included visits to the Forbidden City and Summer Palace as well as contemporary architectural icon the National Center for Performing Arts (the egg-shaped building). Also climbing the Great Wall, seeing the Terracotta Warriors, clubbing in Shanghai and Berlin, shopping in Hong Kong and Florence, getting stupidly lost, learning basic Chinese, making friends all around the world…I did all this and…and I’m still completely dependent on my mom and dad. Joke! Well, I mean, not really, but I’m not as bitter as that sounds! In all seriousness, this past year, now that I look back on it, was pretty spectacular. As long-term followers know and as you can find out by clicking on the “downs of teaching in China” link, this was easily the most emotionally, psychologically and physically trying experience of my life. BUT…I have to say, I’m pretty sure it was all worth it. It wasn’t perfect, but it didn’t need to be. Blah blah blah “moral of the story.” Uplifting anecdote, emotions, tears, sunshine. Unicorns for everyone!

Haha, happy new year, everybody!

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Three’s Not a Crowd, It’s a Posse

Agh! A post all the way from Shanghai. So delayed! Well anyway, this post is about me meeting up with two Asian bastions of bossness, Aron and Dennis from Lookbook. As soon as I knew I was going to be in the city I sent Aron a message in the hopes we could meet up for a coffee and talk about why he’s the coolest person I’ve never met (well, until I did meet him…er, would be meeting him…?) It turns out Dennis is his cousin and so the three of us met up to walk around the city and talk for a bit about style, China, and being chronically single. (I was the chronically single one. They were the ones who didn’t understand. I don’t know if explaining, “Ok, you know Tina Fey? Right, now you know the character she plays mocking herself, Liz Lemon? Yeah, there’s a starting point” would’ve helped…no 30 Rock in China.) Anyway, the first place they took me was this leather goods store that I’d actually stopped in the day before, Yamado. Yamado had some great stuff that I really wanted, but couldn’t afford. One bag in particular reminded me of this Prada number and made me all lustful inside. They had some other great travel accesories like camera cases and wallets…but I held off (Florence was right around the corner!) Aron and Dennis and I talked some more about what they do (Aron = student, Dennis = Interior designer…if I remember correctly?) and we probably talked about other style stuff but now I’m all emotional because I forget what. I wanted this to be like when Garance Dore interviews some gorgeous Parisian girl who’s like “I have all of Ali McGraw’s wardrobe from Love Story for some reason and I’m best friends with everyone sexy ever,” but instead, ha! It’s really not. I’m gonna go talk to some butter about this.

The World Expo 2010

my entry ticket!

the Russian pavilion...

Poland...

this was one of several funny poses children struck...

oh, Hillary...

the UK's really did seem like it was coming at you...

the Italian pavilion was pretty...

the Latvian one...

...and this sign in the bathroom, to show you how it's done.

The Expo I sort of treated like a giant sculpture garden because the lines were alllll about four hours long. That’s a bit of an exaggeration, but still. I ended up seeing Chile, the Netherlands, Brazil, Colombia, Denmark and the US. Our pavilion was sort of like being eaten alive by everything that’s wrong with the world. It consisted of three videos, the first one of which featured employees from the various corporate sponsors talking about why they liked children and what children can do for the future and investing in them blah blah blah and also remember to invest in McDonalds and crude oil because they paid for this video. Then there was another video and then I died. But I didn’t have to wait in line to see it because if you had your passport on you you could cut the queue to your home country, so no harm done. Denmark’s was awesome and now I wanna live in Copenhagen and just bike everywhere and recycle. Chile’s pavilion had empanadas and red wine for me when I was really hungry so I also wouldn’t mind living there, although I should learn some real things about the country first…

Hi! from Hangzhou: Getting There

I didn’t plan my trip to Hangzhou so much as decide, “that sounds nice” and do it. At 11:30 on Sunday night I booked the cheapest flight I could find to Shanghai’s Hongqiao airport and with the help of Google found some information about getting from Shanghai to Hangzhou by train. After my class the next morning I ran home to pack (my one bag), which didn’t go well. I’m the kind of traveler who needs to have everything laid out in neat piles with little color-coded post-its on them so that nothing’s forgotten, but I can never get around to being that organized. Instead I ran around my room muttering in f*ck patois, throwing things from one end of the room to the other and all but trying to summon the antichrist.

Half an hour later I was anxiously awaiting my bus, one of the regular routes my roommate had suggested I take rather than an airport shuttle. It was cheaper and took the same amount of time, he said, so I figured I’d try something new. As long as I was at the airport bus stop by 3:00 I could walk the rest of the way to the airport in time. I needed to pick up my ticket by 3:35 – ticket desks shut down a half hour before the flight time in China. This was at 2:05pm.

Almost an hour and a half later I arrived a few blocks away from the airport. I was sure I’d miss my flight, but another part of me was confident that inwardly chanting, “I will not miss my flight” would work. I started running straight off the bus, but quickly realized my efforts would be futile. Panicking, I hailed a cab coming up the street and told him I had five minutes to make it to the airport. At 3:32 I ran inside and checked the departure board. By 3:33 I had my ticket. I’ve never been so stressed out in my entire life.

The actual check-in process and flight went smoothly. No one else sat in my row so I got to stretch out and enjoy the majesty of the clouds from my window. Finding the Shanghai metro once we landed wasn’t particularly difficult either, although my carefully jotted down notes were wrong. A nice lady redirected me and off I was!

The Shanghai metro, like Hong Kong’s, is easy to navigate and relatively clean and new. I liked it a lot more than New York City’s. The actual train system, on the other hand, confused the hell out of me. I arrived in Shanghai South Railway station a little before 7:30, thinking there was a CRH (high-speed train) to Hangzhou that left at 8:47. I walked around in circles for a bit then asked someone to help me find the ticket counter – which was packed. Worse, I saw a sign with the day’s date and underneath it, no trains were listed. Had I missed the train? Did I get it all wrong? I was so not prepared to spend the night in Shanghai. A man’s voice came over the loudspeaker saying something abut going to Hangzhou and then people started running to form a line. I watched them, wondering if I should be running too, but not wanting to give up my place in line in case he’d said, “Only an idiot who had no hope of getting to Hangzhou would get out of line right now and run to this line over here.” I asked the woman next to me, “He say what? Go Hangzhou over there?” She nodded and tried to tell me things, of which I understood enough to know to get over to that other line, where the gentleman in front of me confirmed that I was in the right place.

When I came up to the ticket window the train man (official title) held up a ticket and said “One.” I don’t know if he was asking if I wanted one ticket or telling me it was the last available, but getting it felt fittingly dramatic. I handed over my money and as I walked away, realized that I’d only paid 29RMB (roughly 4USD). This was not what I’d wanted. This ticket was for the slow train, not the CRH – and was I going to be standing? I started looking for my train’s waiting area and asked at a book kiosk where it might be. A random passerby wanted to look at my ticket so I thought he might be trying to help as well, but then he tried to sell me a folding stool. I laughed and walked away right before it hit me – I was definitely standing.

In the waiting lounge I met a nice young lady named Lucy who spoke a little English, but mostly talked to me in Chinese while I tried to make sense of it all. She was standing too, a few cars ahead of me. “How long will it take?” I asked. She didn’t know – she’d only ever taken the CRH. Great. We were set to take off at 9:30 and I feared the worst – three hours, maybe? But once on the train, good luck struck again. Lucy couldn’t find room to stand in her car so she came back to mine, where I’d found an empty seat. As the train departed still no one had claimed our spots*, so we sat and chatted the entire way. Plus, she found out we’d be in Hangzhou by 11:15, so the journey clocked in at just under two hours.

As I emerged from the train station I was of course besieged by insistent taxi drivers, whose mastery of the word, “Hello” emboldened them to a degree I wish I’d see in my students – people in possession of a far more extensive vocabulary. They tried to convince me to pay a set price off the meter, but I held out until one guy agreed not to con me (and I paid half what the other guys had wanted – make sure to pay attention to stuff like that in China – if they’re quoting you a price it means they want to charge you more than you should be paying).

At a little after midnight I rolled up to Wushanyi hostel and asked for a room. I didn’t have a reservation (their website required an American credit card and I wanted to pay RMB), but they had an extra triple room available, which they let me at the twin room rate. I was in bed a little after 1am. In one day I’d taken a bus, a taxi, a plane, a subway, a train and another taxi. If I’d found the time to ride a bike and a horse I think I would’ve set a world record for most forms of transport used in one day.

*P.S. The cheapest ticket on a Chinese train is standing room only. If you find a seat and no one comes by with a ticket for it, then it’s all yours. Or that’s how it worked for me. And no, f.y.i, there is no room to stand. The thin aisles become cramped and clogged with passengers with just as much luggage as everyone who bought a seat.