From 2006-2007, I studied Mandarin Chinese at Beijing Normal University as part of an exchange program through my school. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to take a number of trips both within China and throughout Southeast Asia. This is a rather rough compilation of some of those experiences, and though I'd like SO MUCH to edit them now, I'll leave the posts the way I wrote them at the time.
To give credit where credit is due, many of the pictures were taken or influenced by my travel companion, Sitt, in the Burma, Laos, and Vietnam posts. Specifically, the shot of me with the kids in Burma is not due to a particularly ingenious set-up on my part, but to a friend with a great eye for story-telling through image.
May 7th 2007
I watched as she spotted the small black strand of hair camouflaging itself as a noodle, shrugged her shoulders as she fished it out and continued to delicately manipulate another chopstick portion to her mouth. I wanted to dance but decided against it, this bowl was hard-earned. And this trip was for her. We set out from Xining on an overnight bus and I vacillated between uncontrollable giggles and exasperated sighs at my next-door bed neighbor, but not for long as he and a companion were nothing less than kicked off the bus at 4 in the morning after found to be traveling without the right papers. I wish I could say I missed him. On bathroom breaks, we bared out butts to the icy northern winds only twice, after the sun rose the next ... read more
February 24th 2007
Glancing furtively around the restaurant and discovering I remained unobserved, my hands shot to the curry dish on the table in front of me, squelching a messy mass of rice and fish into a ball, at once ravishing the freedom of juices dribbling down my chin and the explosion of spices and tang. No disapproving glances, whispers, frowns. This is acceptable? I wondered, but not for long, as I embraced this newfound dining etiquette. This was lunchtime in China Town, Rangoon. The most beautiful sunset I’ve ever seen was in Myanmar, on the return trip to land. The last fishermen hoped for a final catch and children paddled home to dinner, the sun burned in glory until swallowed by the mountains. I wondered if the fishermen had been taught the world doesn’t ever get to sleep, ... read more
February 12th 2007
I had sworn the baozi in China couldn’t be topped. For 3 kuai, and made in a street corner shack with steamy windows, I had determined to remain their loyal patron to the end. But as we walked along the night market in Luang Prabang, Sitt turned to me and challenged me to his claim that any I had before tasted would simply be inferior to those in Laos. Images of the chap-cheeked Chinese peasant husband and wife mixing dough immediately came to memory, and with an unwavering belief that their product would stand the test, I stuck out my chin and agreed. Five minutes later, with a stomach full of that sweet dough, pork and egg filling, I was a convert. This was when I began to fall in love with Laos. It would ... read more
January 30th 2007
It was like pre-Katrina New Orleans on an extra dose of speed. Replace bronze spray-painted pantomime street-corner man with hunched over orange selling lady from the country, tourist horse-carriage rides through the French Quarter with brochure hawkers advertising Halong Bay excursions, the same amount of gawking tourists and you have it: Hanoi’s Old Quarter. I really felt quite at home and, for the first time in Asia, felt an uncomfortable knawing of homesickness and a longing to once again walk those grimy New Orleans alleyways so endearingly etched into my consciousness. History explains it, the similarities in architecture and the laissez-faire attitude, but it didn’t lessen my shock to see it flourishing in Vietnam. They’re doing better than our poor little state now, I would imagine. So Southeast Asia has the street market scene, right? ... read more
January 15th 2007
Looking back on 4 months here and gather together all the bits and pieces with the hopes of telling you something interesting isn't easy, but here goes :) Christmas! I almost managed to forget about Christmas altogether, because other than at Wal-Mart and a couple of hairdressing shops and clothes stores, Santa Claus simply doesn't exist. "Well, obviously," you say, but I had observed the pull of other western influences here and thought more and more Chinese people might also celebrate Christmas. Well, we went to class as usual, but luckily, I did manage to get a picture with our foreign student dorm's very own rendition of Santa Claus, posted here for your mirth and merriment. (Believe me, we certainly enjoyed his presence - I watched one day as Korean after Korean stopped in utter shock, ... read more
January 15th 2007
I'm catching up for the past four months of not posting anything, so back we go to September/October, when I was still with my first host family (and when the weather was gloriously warm...)! Hou Lei took it upon herself to show me the Great Wall SHE thought was interesting, not the one listed in travel books overrun by tourists. Therefore, I don't know the real name of this portion, just that they call it the "wild" Great Wall, and in fact, it was astonishingly unrestored. After scrambling up a wooded path behind her husband, who had an amazing capacity to NEVER run out of breath, we reached the top and could look out across the Greal Wall stretching out across the ridges in both directions. We spent a good five or so hours crawling our ... read more
January 15th 2007
New Year's Eve was the first full-fledged snow this winter, and I woke up to Wendy and her 3 year daughter, Qian Qian, excitedly getting ready to go out and take pictures. So off the three of us trampled through the snow... here's the best of our mini-photo shoot. In the afternoon Salome and I decided to revist the Forbidden City with the hopes that, during the off-season, elbowing and brute force would not be required to catch sight of the main buildings. We were SO happy when we realized that not only were there very few other tourists, but the Forbidden City was absolutely beautiful covered in snow. ... read more