This website will be pretty quiet for the next month as we are packing up and heading out while we are on holiday break from school. We’re traveling old school style which means that we won’t have a laptop so I don’t expect I’ll be able to do much updating here until we get back. (There are a few more blog posts scheduled for this and next week, but after that you’ll have to wait till I get back.) I will be checking my e-mail though, so if you want to get in touch with me, just click on the contact link. You can also leave comments on here too.
This will be our first time breaking away on our own and seeing more of the country since we got here over 4 months ago. Since it is winter we decided to focus our trip in the southern and western part of the country where it will be a little warmer. It was hard deciding exactly where we wanted to go since our usual style of travel is spontaneous. But, with the Spring Festival national holiday approaching, things only get more expensive and full the longer you wait so we booked all our hostel nights in advanced for the month. (Think of Thanksgiving and Christmas travel problems combined and then multiply it times a billion people.) We’ve also figured out all our transportation needs and we’ll be taking one flight and three 20-hour train rides all across the country.
We will be doing a lot of different types of things, but here are a few events on our itinerary that I am really looking forward to:
Seeing Giant Pandas. The first place we are traveling to is Chengdu and the main reason is because of the roly-poly black and white cuddle monsters. The Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding is home of most of the giant panda babies born today (and of course their mommies and daddies). For 1000 RMB ($146) you can actually have your picture taken while standing next to a giant panda, but considering that is about one-quarter of our monthly salary we are going to skip that. They do, however, have a picture opportunity with small and more raccoon looking red panda which I think I’m going to partake in. (For a mere 50 RMB, how could I not?!)
I’m actually sacrificing a lot to see the panda as Chengdu is located in Sichuan Province. As everyone knows, Sichuan is famous for its fiery hot cuisine. As not everyone knows, I cannot handle spicy food. I don’t mean I don’t like it, I mean my body will not allow me to eat it. The second even a hint of a pepper enters my mouth I get a major case of the hiccups which won’t go away until the food is no longer in sight. But I’m willing to suffer a 5-day case of hiccups just to see the pandas.
Walking down 1000 year-old cobbled streets. The last stop on our trip is 10 days in Guangxi Province. This is a region of (supposed) unparalleled beauty with famous rice terraces, tiny ancient villages and limestone peaks everywhere you go. We have given ourselves plenty of time to explore the small villages, and cultures of the ethnic minority groups that live there. This is also the part of the trip that I think we will have the most trouble with the language the most as getting to these small villages takes a lot of bus transfers and walking on unmarked roads. So our time in this area will really test our mettle.
Being forced to speak more Chinese. You would think living in a small city where no one (but some of the students) speak English would force us to learn Chinese. We’ve learned a little (like food words) but overall it is surprisingly easy to get by without much knowledge. But we want to learn (and will take classes next semester) and we think traveling around with no one else to rely on will force us to learn and speak more Mandarin. I’ve started filling a little pocket sized notebook with useful words like ‘Long Distance Bus Station’ and ‘Tomato and Fried Egg.’ I’m not expecting to come back semi-fluent or anything, but maybe with a slightly bigger vocabulary. Of course while Mandarin (or Putonghua as they call it in China) is the official language many people speak their own dialects that sound completely different and I’m not sure we’re good enough to tell the difference. So I might come back thinking I’ve learned some new Putonghua words but really they are dialect words. But anything is good I think when learning a new language!
Eating a hamburger. Yes, it’s true I am that pathetic a person that I am really looking forward to eating a hamburger (and maybe some Italian pasta, and possibly a burrito as well). I have not had a real hamburger for over 4 months and it is the type of western food that I want the most right now. There just isn’t much available where we live and when we go to Chengdu in particular I know there is a big expat community and the restaurants to feed them. Our Lonely Planet lists a restaurant that has burgers and it will be one of the first stops we make.
Will these things be as fun and exciting as I hope they will be? Will I find and eat an actual hamburger? Well, you’ll just have to sit tight and wait. I’ll be back in a month!
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