Thinking of a "ch" adjective to describe China was difficult, and I even skimmed most of that section of the dictionary before settling on "chilly" which was definitely fitting for my whole experience there. We had all gotten used to super hot weather ever since Namibia, so the cold was refreshing, but also a bit shocking. It was literally freezing on the Great Wall and we were all wearing most of the clothes we had brought on the whole trip.
Bust first we were in Hong Kong for a day. The ship was docked on Kowloon in Hong Kong and the next day my trip left for Beijing and the Great Wall. That day, the ship also left to travel to Shanghai, where we picked it up at the end of our trip. My friends Jill, Conor, Ben, Emily and I decided to go to one of the less populated islands, called Lantau Island, and see the world's largest sitting Buddha. The ship's gangway went right into a fancy mall, so we had to walk through that, then take a ferry from Kowloon to Hong Kong Island, take the subway to Lantau island, and then we got on a gondola to go up to the little mountain village and up to the Buddha. The gondola went over a lake and then up through the mountains and into the clouds.
We had ramen (but 1000X better than the stuff with the packet) in this really touristy little village and then walked up to the Buddha. We had to climb over 250 stairs, and you could hardly see him at the bottom in the fog, but it was really cool, and he was definitely big. Then we wandered over to a monastery near by that was also very pretty. Then we walked and took the gondola back down. We got back to Hong Kong island and found in a little travel guide that the world's longest escalator was there, so of course we had to go and find it. It isn't the longest continuous escalator; there were breaks to get off or cross streets, but the whole thing went up and around this huge hill. It took us about 25 minutes to go up the whole thing
Every night at 8pm many of the big buildings on the waterfront participate in a light show. The lights on the sides of the buildings and coming off the top blink and flash to music on a radio station. Here is a picture of the skyline from the back of the ship, right before the light show began. this has been the best view of a city from the ship we have had so far.
The next morning was my flight to Beijing. A bunch of my friends and I were going on an independently organized trip to Beijing and the Great Wall with about 150 other SAS students. Our flight was very smooth and we finally got to our hotel in a bunch of busses around dinner time that day. We had the rest of the evening free before our tour really started the next day. My friends and I ended up at a restaurant where no one really spoke English, so it was an adventure, but it turned out delicious. I really enjoy the communal style of Chinese eating where all of the dishes are on a lazy susan and everyone takes a little bit of all of them.
The next morning we had breakfast and organized into busses of 35 that would be fairly separate for the rest of the trip. My friends and I all ended up together with a few other groups of friends on the "Green Team." Our tour guide's English name was Robert and he was really nice and very informative the whole trip. He carried around a green flag, which he loved, that we followed around whenever we were at some location. It was pretty funny, but at least we didn't have to wear all the same hats like the other Asian tour groups because we all have different colored hair, so Robert can keep track of us easily.
The first place we went were the Ming Tombs, which is where 13 of the 16 Ming Emporers are buried, each in their own separate tomb. We walked around the grounds a bit and then got to go down into the one tomb that has been excavated. It was really cool just to think about all of the history that is there. After a traditional Chinese lunch (though they never gave us anything too weird that you always hear about), we started driving up to the Great Wall. We got there around 4:30 and hiked a bit to a spot to watch the sunset. Here is a picture of our view; you can see that it seems to go on forever all across the mountains.
After sunset we went back down to have dinner, which was another family style Chinese meal. People throughout the day had been buying all sorts of hats and gloves and sweatshirts, because it was literally freezing outside. We then hiked up for a bit and got to the watchtower that was designated for our group. My friends and I decided to sleep out on the wall in a row so that we could all spoon to keep warm. After hanging out for a bit and watching the stars, I tried to go to sleep. I ended up on the end, and I just couldn't warm up enough to fall asleep, so I got to lie and watch the Big Dipper move across the sky. At about 3:30 am, I moved in between two boys and was eventually able to warm up enough to sleep for about 2 hours before we were woken up by a friendly "Robert is here!"
After breakfast and cleaning up our area, we started our six mile hike along the wall. I was expecting everything to still be in tact, but much of our hike, the wall was starting to fall apart. Many of the steps were just slopes with rubble, so there was a lot more rough terrain than I expected, but it was still awesome. The first two hours were really tough, with a lot of up, but then it got easier toward the end. I mostly hiked with just Jill because we were going at about the same pace. Here we are a little more than half way.
At the end we had to cross a gorge on a sort of suspended wood bridge, and then we got to zipline across and down the gorge to get to the little village for lunch which was really fun. Then we headed back toward Beijing and the entire bus passed out as soon as we started moving. We stopped at the Bird's Nest and Water cube, which was really cool to walk around and see. Here is a picture of Jill and I and our friend Meghan in front of the Bird's Nest.
That evening my friends and I went shopping at the Silk Market, which sells all sorts of jackets and scarves and jewelry. Then we went out to dinner and saw the Olympic stuff lit up at night, and then just called it a night. The next day was our tour of Old Beijing. First was the Forbidden City, which is where the Emperors used to live. It is hard to describe how enormous it is. In one of the big courtyards near the end, my girlfriends and I took a jumping picture. We have been doing these pictures all around the world and they are a lot of fun. We have gotten good with poses and getting everyone in the air at the same time, for the most part. From left to right are Jillian, Meghan, Jill, Laura, Emily, and me.
Next we walked into Tiananmen Square, which was huge, and I think is the largest square in the world. It was interesting to be there, and we got a feel for the Chinese government and their level of censorship. All Robert said was, "something happened here in 1989" and when we asked him more about it, he said that it was dangerous for him to talk about and that he can't find anything about it when he tries to research it on the internet anyway. Also, right before we got there, the Chinese government decided to block Youtube, which is interesting. The 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Massacre is this June.
Then we went up to the Bell Tower which overlooked a lot of the city. After, we got into bike rickshaws and were driven around an old Beijing neighborhood for a bit and then stopped at a hutong, a traditional stone quadrangle house and met the owner and got a tour. They had a really cute dog, which made us all miss our own puppies. After lunch, our last stop was the Summer Palace, which was one of my favorite places. Here is a picture of Jill and I with the palace in the background. We always call pictures like this "mommy pictures" because both of our moms (and most people's) love picture of the kids standing in front of different things, so here is one for our mommies.
After walking along the lake and by the palace, we clambered into the bus and headed for the Pearl Market (which has pearls and everything else you could possibly imagine) for some last minute shopping before heading to the train station to catch our sleeper train to Shanghai. The train station was insanely crowded, but we all made it. My friend Conor and I had the top bunks in a compartment with Chinese men on the bottom bunks, which was fine until one of them started snoring in the middle of the night. The sleeper train was fun and it was nice to be able to just sleep through the 12 hour ride.
The next morning we eventually made it back to the ship from the train station and Jill, Ben and I wandered around. We wanted to go to the science museum, but for some reason our cab dropped us off two subway stations past the museum even though we had shown him a map and had someone who spoke some english helping us, but we got there eventually. We didn't go into the museum because it was kind of expensive and more geared towards kids, so we just wandered around that area and then took a subway back to the main area of Shanghai before walking back to the ship.
So that's about all for China, I think. Sorry that this was later than I said it would be... our internet on the ship didn't really work in Japan because of two much interference or something. I will update about Japan hopefully soon along this super long stretch across the Pacific to Hawaii.