Monday, June 1, 2015

The Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square

On Saturday, I had the chance to explore a little bit of Beijing, and decided to head to the center of the city to see a little bit of history and culture.

My first task was to figure out how to get from the apartment to the subway station, and how to navigate the subway. I figured that out with relatively little trouble, although the transfers are not quite as well marked as I've seen on other subway systems. However, I made it without any trouble.

The square and the palace were both really huge, and I spent several hours walking around and exploring. It was quite hot in Beijing on Saturday, so I kept buying water and trying to stay cool. After I'd explored for awhile, I was feeling really hot and still kinda jet lagged, so I decided to call it a day and head back to the apartment.

As I said, the Forbidden City is really huge, and they have it set up so that you enter at one end, walk all the way through, then exit at the other end. I hadn't realized that before, so I hadn't figured out the best way to get back to the subway system. The only thing I could figure out to do was walk all the way around the palace complex and hope I'd eventually end up at the spot where I started.

I'm still not quite used to the heat here, because it isn't this hot in Indiana yet, so I'd been struggling to stay hydrated all day long. I wasn't feeling well, and something I'd eaten or drank wasn't sitting well with me. It was a rapidly deteriorating situation as I started on my trek. I did finally find the subway, but I was approached by a number of people wanting to sell me things, wanting to take me to their art gallery, or doing other things that are known to be scams around the Forbidden City. I was so exhausted and felt really poorly by the time I got on the train.

The subway was really crowded, and it was really hot. There wasn't a lot of air flow on the train. I thought I was going to faint or something, so I decided that today was one of those days where a taxi was just the best solution. I got off of the train and went up to the street to try to find a taxi, but there were no taxis to be found.

I ended up wandering around for nearly an hour trying to figure out how to get home, or how to find someplace that was cool or had a bathroom. I saw someone carrying a cup from Starbucks, so thought I should give that a try. As I was looking for the Starbucks, I found a Korean cafe chain that I loved, so I went there and things were better! After hanging out for awhile at the cafe, I decided to start my search for a means of transportation back home again. I went back to the street, and was able to find a taxi. I showed him the apartment address written in Chinese, and off we went!

I thought this was the end of my adventure, but it wasn't quite. We got up to the general part of the city where I'm staying, and the driver stopped and made me get out of the cab. I wasn't entirely sure where I was, so I said a quick prayer, picked a direction and started walking.

Thankfully, after about a block, I recognized a store and was able to find my way back to the apartment. It has been quite some time since I've had an adventure of this sort. There are so many things I love about cross-cultural experiences, especially ones that are a bit more long-term, but sometimes I forget just how stressful it can be trying to get your bearings in a new city.

Here are a few of my favorite pictures from the day. Enjoy!

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Hello from Beijing!

After all these years of trying, I've finally made it to China. I survived the flight, saw movies of varying quality, managed to not lose my luggage, and made it through my first Beijing taxi ride.

The last few days have been full of settling in kinds of things. I now have a Chinese phone number and data on my phone. My suitcases are all unpacked. I've figured out how to navigate public transportation. I am staying with a family, so I haven't had to do any shopping for food yet, but I'm looking forward to that in the coming weeks. 

I've already started doing a bit of teaching. The student population is a little bit younger than I was expecting, but the kids seem mostly sweet and well-behaved. I'm just going to have to reach way, way back into the Camp Chazon days and early months in Korea to remember tricks for entertaining groups of children. 

I didn't have any students today, so I ventured out to see the Forbidden City and Tienanmen Square. It's always an amazing experience to see something in real life that you have read about for years. The sky was blue today, which was exciting, but it was quite hot. The temperature was around 90F/33C, so it was pretty awful to be out in. There is lots of shade in the Forbidden City, but Tienanmen Square was brutal. I didn't stay there very long. 

I did lots and lots of walking today, and I'm really regretting the one thing on my packing list that I forgot to put in my suitcase -- my tennis shoes.... I'm going to have to try and figure something out, although I am in the Land of Tiny Feet where it is always challenging to buy shoes. 

I managed to navigate the subway without getting lost, and I also made it to the entrance of the Forbidden City without getting lost. After I finished my tour of the palace, I discovered that I couldn't get out the way I had come in. I wandered around for awhile, managed to get myself lost, then managed to find my way home. It is all a great adventure! I'm just thankful for GPS enabled phones and map apps!

It has been hard to form a real opinion of Beijing so far. The part of the city where I'm living is far more residential than anything else, so it is quiet and not very crowded. There are loads of trees, and lots of rose gardens and other flower beds throughout the neighborhood. It's nice and calm up here, but there's also not much to do or see. I had a chance to see a bit more of the city today, and it was much more consistent with my experiences in Asian cities. I'm excited to continue to explore the city. I'm trying hard to no compare everything here to everything in Seoul. 

The school situation will be good, I think. And the apartment where I'm staying is quite nice. But neither of these things are what I thought they would be based on conversations and emails before I left. It has been a little bit hard trying to deal with all of the change, miscommunication and adjusting expectations as I'm going through the worst of jet lag, but the jet lag is getting much better, so I hope that my adventurous spirit will revive itself soon!

I'll try to post some pictures from my outing today sometime soon, but my unrestricted internet access is a little sketchy sometimes, so I'm not sure how long it will take to upload photos on here. I did manage to get them on facebook, so you can check there if you would like!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The calm after the storm

<Insert obligatory apology for falling off the face of the blogging world. Things got really busy with finals, summer intensives and camps. Hopefully things will resume their normal schedule.>

I know much of the United States is following the progress of Hurricane Isaac, wondering if it will wreak the same havoc as Hurricane Katrina did a few years ago. While I certainly hope that the strength of the storm diminished considerably, I've had other things on my mind. Namely, Typhoon Bolaven.

It's Typhoon Season here in Northeastern Asia. I've experienced several typhoons in my time in Korea. Generally, they've just been a little bit windier and a little bit wetter than a normal monsoon season day. Given the general geography of the peninsula, we tend to be pretty sheltered in Seoul. But this one was different. It was supposed to be The Big One. The storm itself was absolutely massive -- it was around 2000 kilometers (1,250 miles), so the predictions were that the wind and rain would last a long time. It was also supposed to be pretty powerful.

Bolaven (which is a plateau in southern Laos, in case you were wondering) gave the Japanese island of Okinawa a pretty rough time of it. Apparently it was the worst typhoon to hit in the last 50 years or so. Everyone in Korea was bracing for a rough storm. The government cancelled school (although strangely, many of the teachers were still expected to brave the storm to go sit at their desks in an empty school). The military bases went black. It was pretty crazy. The storm was supposed to hit sometime on Tuesday, but we weren't sure exactly when.

I stayed up until the wee hours following radars, reading about typhoons and generally waiting for something to happen. Sometime around 4am, I gave up. According to the radar, we were supposed to be getting something. But when I looked out my window, I didn't see much. There were some gusts of wind, but not anything too crazy. So, I made sure that all of my windows were securely fastened, my flashlight was handy, and I went to bed.

I woke up the next morning around 10, fully prepared to see that I had no electricity and a scene outside of my window that could be used for hurricane stock footage. But things were in pretty much the same condition they had been in the night before. I went about my day, continuing to follow the radar and keep an eye on what was happening outside. Only it didn't ever seem like anything happened.

I read my Bible, drank tea, chatted with friends, worked on stuff for the upcoming semester, made a new iTunes playlist... And still, nothing happened. The storm moved on the radar, but that was really the only thing that changed. From what I've read, things were much worse elsewhere in South Korea. Last I heard, there were 9 people who had been killed. There were some Chinese fishermen who ran into trouble. I think that somewhere around 10 of them are still missing. But it certainly wasn't the horrible, terrible storm that everyone was expecting. No word yet on how North Korea fared, but they've been having a lot of flooding problems to start with, so it probably isn't a good situation.

In Central Seoul, things were pretty quiet. The wind got quite strong toward the end of the day. I saw some trees do some pretty spectacular acrobatics. But I never lost power, there's no damage to my apartment, and it seems like life will move on as normal today.

For me, the worst part was that I'm from the Midwest. I'm used to tornado weather. With tornado weather, if there's a lot of wind and storm weather and it suddenly gets really quiet and calm, this is generally bad news. I've watched a lot of thunderstorms and tornado cells in Indiana. This is as ingrained in me as my childhood phone number and address. But with typhoons, these wind gusts and moments of calm are quiet common. So all day long, I kept having to remind myself of this meteorological fact and resist the urge to go to my non-existent bathtub and hide. But I'm thankful that mental wear and tear is the worst thing I came away with from this typhoon. Apparently there is another one that is gearing up to hit us on Thursday night (Typhoon Tembin) but I suspect that it will be a tropical storm or less when it gets here. 

This morning, I found myself unable to sleep. So I went up to my rooftop about 15 minutes before the official sunrise time and took a few pictures of the city waking itself up in a post-Bolaven world.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Cherry Blossoms

It's been a busier than usual past few weeks between midterms looming and the refrigerator drama... I promise I'll tell the story of the fridge drama, but I need a few more days to develop a sense of humor about it first :)

In the meantime, I thought I'd share some pictures from Tuesday. On my day off, I decided to climb up the mountain that I live on and check out the park and cherry blossoms. They aren't quite at their peak, but they are certainly beautiful.

There are lots of cherry blossoms, but there are also lots of magnolias in bloom this time of year. 

I was in the park, and there was this couple. I'm not sure if they are actually getting married, or if there is some sort of drama/advert type thing going on here. 

There were so many beautiful flowers. 

I wasn't the only one who came out to enjoy the flowers and warm weather. There were lots of kids in matching uniforms from a kindergarten or daycare. 

This little boy was lagging behind the group a bit. It's clearly a universal thing for little boys to enjoy playing in the dirt. 

The cherry blossoms are just getting ready to make an appearance. 

One of my favorite things about this city is pretty much everywhere you look, you can see mountains.  

I saw this bag sitting on a bench. There weren't any other people around, so I don't know what its history was. 

There is a circular road that runs along the mountain. This couple were enjoying a leisurely stroll along the path. 

I laughed a bit when I saw this sign. Isn't EVERY sale a happy sale??

This says "South Mountain Park". The mountain is called "Namsan", which translates into "South Mountain", but everyone calls it "Namsan". Trivia fact for the day: "Namsan" was the first Korean word I was able to literally translate without any help. 

Near the park entrance was this great outdoor library. I wish I knew more Korean so I could read some of the books there. Maybe someday I'll bring my own book and read there. 

These four men didn't say a single word the whole time I was in this section of the park. They just sat there, surveyed everything and acted super cool. 

I love this tower. You can get amazing city views from the top. At night, it is lit in different colors. I live within site of this tower, so when I walk home from work at night, I'm able to see it. It's probably my favorite Seoul landmark. 

These men were sitting at the other end of the garden. They were talking and laughing. It made me happy just to be around them, even though I couldn't understand much of what they were saying.