Saturday, April 13, 2013

Day 30: 2/8 Only One Day in Hong Kong

                Today I had a field lab for my Global Lens course called Health Promotion and Behavior.  I wasn’t totally sure if we were still going to have this field lab since the woman teaching it was the wife of the professor who passed away, and she had left to go back to the States to have a funeral service.  Some other staff members helped cover the chaperone position though, so at 9 in the morning we all met in the Union.  From there, we walked through the town to Kowloon Park which was a sizable park in the middle of the city.  It was kind of cool that this spot which was filled with all of these natural elements was in the middle of all of the skyscrapers of Hong Kong.  On a side note, the city of Hong Kong is basically built upwards rather than outwards, so the skyscrapers in Hong Kong are extremely tall.  I feel like their skyscrapers put all of the skyscrapers in the United States to shame.  Kowloon Park was pretty cool though.  It was pretty big and had all these different parts to it.  There was this one part that had a covered area wrapping around this pond, another part had a maze built out of bushes, another part had all sorts of sculptures, another part had a fountain, another part had a swimming pool, and another part had an aviary.  We were allowed time to just wander around the park and observe the healthy behaviors being practiced.  There were a bunch of people doing Tai Chi and many of them were elderly people, but they were still kicking it!  I don’t really know too many people in that class, so I decided to just wander around by myself.  I have to admit I actually really enjoyed just being on my own because I was able to go where I wanted and spend as much or as little time as I wanted at each place and I had no one to answer to or cater to but myself.  There are times when I wish I could actually do travels on my own in port, but I had to be born a tiny girl… thanks a lot Mom and Dad! Just kidding, but in all seriousness I have come to find that I kind of like doing my own thing but I like having other people plan out the major logistics like transportation and housing and stuff.  Anyway, I wandered around for a while and then met up with the group again. 

We then walked back toward the ship but instead went onto the Star Ferry which is this ferry that has been running for a long time and goes between Kowloon Island and Hong Kong Island.  When we got to Hong Kong Island we got onto some buses and traveled to another park.  This one was called Hong Kong Park (creative huh?).  We did the same thing at this park, but this park seemed to be bigger in size than Kowloon.  In this park there was a large pond with lots of fish, there was a little waterfall that you could walk behind/under, an observation tower that you could climb up and get a cool view of the whole city, a memorial for doctors and health care workers who died during the SARS outbreak in Hong Kong, an Olympic Square thing, an aviary, and a playground that was three different levels that catered to different age groups.  It was really cool to walk around this park, but there were so many stairs that I climbed up and down that I felt like I really got a good workout in.  After we explored this park we went to a dim sum restaurant that was in this huge room and was pretty much full of businessmen on their lunch break.  We got rice dishes, noodle dishes, like four different kinds of dumplings, some veggies, and plenty of tea.  I ate as much as I could at my own table without looking like a complete pig, and even though I probably ate the most at my table of about 12 people, I could have eaten so much more.  It was delicious! 

After lunch we got in the buses and were taken to Hong Kong University where we were going to listen to some professors and guest speakers talk about health in Hong Kong.  Parts of it were interesting, but I think a slight food coma was also starting to set in.  Until the last speaker, the mood in the room was just bleh.  The last speaker was this older man who had a good sense of humor and was just kind of crazy.  Maybe it was a mixture of what he was saying with his age, but it was hilarious and really seemed to pick up the mood and the engagement of the students.  After all of the speakers, we got back on the buses and drove back to the ship.  I kind of dozed off on the bus ride back, and it felt wonderful.

We got back to the ship a little earlier than on ship time (the time we’re required to be on the ship on the last day in port), and my friend Mike and I were both starving.  We decided to go to the bar on the 7th deck and get a burger.  I had been trying to put off buying any food from the 7th deck bar since I knew I would want to get it more often after I started, but in that moment it sounded so good that I gave into temptation.  We ate our burgers (which were just as delicious as I thought it would be) and then we went our separate ways for the night.  Later in the evening Jillian, Alexa, and I went to deck 7 aft (the back part of the ship) to watch the 8 o’clock light show that goes on every night.  From what I have heard from other people it is much better with the music that is supposed to accompany it, but we didn’t get to have that combo.  We watched as the lights on the buildings lit up the sky in deliberate patterns.  As the light show was coming to an end, our ship started to pull away from the port.  The city of Hong Kong at night was amazing to look at, and even though the pictures I have don’t quite capture all of its awesomeness it is pretty apparent how spectacular it really was to see.

Day 29: 2/7 Sad to Say Goodbye

                We got everything all packed up and ready to go for the car that was going to pick us up at 9:15.  Allie and I needed some more cash and needed something to eat, so we sped-walked to the ATM and stopped by this bakery which had all sorts of goodies.  I got a few pastries and a thing of cookies (yeah Mom and Dad I eat cookies for breakfast and there isn’t anything you can do to stop me… well I’m sure there is but oh well) and paid with one of the bills I got from the ATM.  I ended up getting 78 Yuan back in change, but I stuffed it into my pocket because we were starting to push it on time.  We got outside and started to jog a bit because we were getting close to the scheduled pick-up time.  When we got to the hostel the car hadn’t arrived yet, so we basically ran for nothing.  The car finally showed up and we packed ourselves in.  About two minutes into the ride I reached into my pocket and only grabbed air.  I checked my other pocket partly because I wasn’t sure if I just blanked on which pocket I put my money but partly because I was freaking out and didn’t know what else to do.  Somehow on our way back to the hostel my 78 Yuan had fallen out of my pocket, so some lucky person found about $12 on the street.  The car picked up two other people on the way who were from the Beijing area.  The man asked Allie where she was from and she said the United States, and then he said something to me in Chinese and I said “huh?” and he repeated it, and then I said I don’t speak Chinese.  He was taken aback and then said, “Oh sorry, I thought you were Chinese.”  I didn’t try to explain.  The rest of the ride was pretty silent; most people were asleep, and the rest of us were too tired to talk.  I’m not sure how, but the two plus hour ride that we took out to Yangshuo from the airport only took 30-45 minutes when we used another route. 

                We got to the airport and checked in.  Bryson, who had missed two of his flights out to Guilin (one he was late for and then the other one he missed because he underestimated how long it would take to get to another gate), found out that he was scheduled for a flight earlier in the day.  He went with a worker to try to figure out if he could get on our flight.  Meanwhile, the rest of us went to the gate to wait to board the plane.  We finally got on and this time I had a window seat!  Bryson ended up getting on our flight for those of you who were curious.  I couldn’t tell you if anything exciting happened during that flight because I was out cold, so the window seat was kind of wasted on me.  We got to Guangzhou and had a three hour layover.  Allie, Braden, and I went to a restaurant to get some lunch and then we made our way to the gate.  What I don’t think any of us anticipated was that we had to go to the part of the airport where international flights were.  We had to go through immigration and customs to get to our gate which took a decent amount of time, so we lucked out by going to the gate early.  When we got on the plane I realized I had a window seat again!  I felt like I was lucking out but then realized the plane was so empty that eventually the other people in my row went to their own set of seats; nonetheless having a whole row all to myself was nice.  We got to Hong Kong and had to take a train to Kowloon which was the island our ship was docked on.  We rode the train and when we got off we found fellow SASers getting off the train as well.  We all tried to figure out how to get to the ship when we decided to just start walking.  We were walking through various construction sites and taking detours to get to what looked like the main part of town.  We continued to walk until we came across the area that the ship was supposed to be docked.  The terminal of the port was basically a shopping mall with very high end type of shops; the part of the mall we walked by to get to the ship consisted of clothing for children, but I’m guessing it was crazy expensive.  We finally got to where the terminal was (which was at the very back of the terminal mall thing) and, as I was going through ship security, Sawyer and Kyle passed by and asked if I wanted to go grab something to eat.  I quickly rushed to my room to change and then went back out to meet up with them.  We walked around the terminal a while trying to find something appealing and affordable.  Some other SASers suggested some restaurant that they went to, and at this point the three of us were trying to hush the growls coming from our stomachs and just went there.  We got some pizza (which I have found to be quite the comforting food and have found myself craving pizza more and more) and some nasty carbonated water.  After dinner we were all pretty worn out and we all had field labs the next morning, so we decided to just go to bed.

Day 28: 2/6 Biking Through the Countryside

                Today Braden, Allie, Emily, and I planned to meet up with Wendy at the restaurant that we originally met her at (which worked out nicely since we were probably going to eat breakfast there again no matter what).  Braden wasn’t feeling well, so Emily, Allie, and I headed to breakfast to meet up with Rachel (who we invited to join us on the bike tour).  A little after we got our food, Braden joined us.  As we were eating, there was this little wedding party that appeared and then we saw the groom walking to the colorfully decorated car with his bride hoisted over his shoulder.  The wedding party set off confetti cannons as they said their goodbyes to the newlyweds.  As the car pulled away, we spotted Wendy across the street. 

                We went over to her where we got the bikes we were going to rent for the day.  I haven’t really ridden a bicycle in probably like seven years, so I was kind of nervous to try it again but it really is true what they say about never forgetting how to ride a bike.  We started riding and it wasn’t too bad, but then we got to the main street.  You know how I said that the streets and driving were crazy and scary?  Well it got even worse when you’re actually riding through it yourself.  There were so many cars and motorcycles and everything was just chaotic.  There were numerous times that I felt like I was going to crash into something or I didn’t feel comfortable enough on the bike that I stepped off and walked the bike.  I felt so bad for Braden, because if you take how I felt and multiplied it by 20 that’s probably how he was feeling because he had never learned how to ride a bike.  I can’t even imagine how scary it would be if that was your first experience riding a bike, which is probably part of the reason why he called it quits after trying to get through the town.

                The rest of us continued to follow Wendy as she went down what seemed to be very random streets and paths.  We eventually ended up going on a dirt/rock path that was very bumpy and kind of like mountain biking terrain (I don’t really know what mountain biking terrain is like, but I would imagine that this was pretty close or at least a beginner version of mountain biking).  The entire time we were biking I had no clue where we were going, but it was fun to just be in the outskirts of the town where I hardly saw other people.  We even randomly stopped and Wendy went and picked us some mandarin oranges from a tree of some farm (which were amazingly delicious).  We then continued our bike tour until we got to the “highway” (I only put them in quotes because it isn’t like the highways I think of back home where they are like 3 lanes across, rather it was like highway 93 in Colorado where it was one/sometimes two lanes). 

                We then rode up toward the Goldwater Cave which is this big cave (like three levels deep) that has hot springs and a mud bath thing inside.  The cave walls were lit up with all sorts of different colored lights which made it look pretty cool and would accentuate the formation of the stalagmites and stalactites.  There was also a name for practically every inch of the caves.  It was almost like someone was looking at the caves, like they would look at clouds, and just come up with a name for some weird, abstract formation that they would see.  Many of them were very obvious like one was called broccoli because it looked like broccoli (and was lit up green) and one was called the frog prince because it looked like a giant frog kind of puckering its lips. There were times when I would not understand where the name came from; it would be like me looking at the wall and saying to myself, “I don’t see the upside down unicorn on a pogo stick.”  There was one that was called the “Rebirth Hole” which you could crawl through.  Allie, Rachel, and I decided we wanted to crawl through it and found that it was a lot tighter than we were anticipating, but it was still pretty fun to climb around in the caves.  We then continued our tour through the caves and walked by the hot springs and mud bath but didn’t get in (now I kind of wish I had brought a bathing suit to try it out). 

                We got out to the bikes and started to ride again.  As soon as my butt hit the bicycle seat I could feel that my butt was starting to get tender from the seat, so I knew that the rest of the day had the potential to be really rough.  We headed down the highway a bit until we reached a little restaurant on the side of the road.  When we dismounted our bikes and went to go sit down we saw Moon Hill which is basically a rock formation where there is a half circle missing from the middle and it makes it look like a moon… fancy that! We ate lunch at the little restaurant and then Wendy asked if we wanted to visit her home.  I, being a kind of paranoid person, was just imagining some sort of story like Taken playing out where she takes us to her house and then these men jump out from behind the door and kidnap us.  I figured that wouldn’t happen but the imagination is a powerful thing. 

We biked to her house which was this cement building.  We walked in and the first thing I see is a chicken walking around.  For those of you who know me, you can just imagine how I reacted to that thing, but I made it safely into the house.  The first room was just an open space with a refrigerator, table, TV, pictures on the wall, and a beat up couch.  Wendy gave us some more mandarin oranges that she had picked from her backyard earlier, and I’m not exaggerating when I say that there were probably 40-50 oranges in the bag she handed us, so I felt no shame in eating multiple oranges.  As we were indulging in the sweet fruit, she pulled out this funkily-shaped thing.  It looked kind of like a giant pear but at the same time I have never seen any fruit like it before.  Apparently it’s called pomadoro fruit or something like that.  Wendy used this huge machete looking knife to cut through the extremely thick skin of the fruit, and then she took the skin and wore it around as a hat which looked goofy.  After some effort we finally got to the center where the good stuff was.  The fruit didn’t have too much taste to it, but the texture was weird because it had these thick stringy parts to it.  It was weird.  As we were eating the fruit the chicken decided to walk inside the house and I swear it was staring me down.  It walked around the outskirts of the group and I made sure to stay on the opposite side of the cluster of people to avoid the demon bird.  Right when I was near the door and the bird was on the other side of the room, Wendy then decided to try to shoo the bird outside the door… right toward me.  Needless to say I had a slight freak out moment when the bird flew in my direction.

We left Wendy’s house with full bellies and fresh legs.  We rode toward this place called Butterfly Caves which is notorious for a giant butterfly sculpture thing on the side of the cave.  We went through the caves until we got to this stretch that was lined with numerous bells of all different sizes.  As people walked through they would hit the bells with a mallet.  After the path of bells there was this suspended bridge that we had to cross.  On the other side there was a path of stairs we could take to get to a scenic spot.  At this point I was extremely hot and tired, but I slowly made it up all of the stairs to the top which provided a pretty awesome view of the surrounding area.  We took some pictures and then made our way down toward this performance area.  In this area some of the locals that were part of a minority Dong group would put on shows of their traditional dances and singing.  The outfits of the performers were very extravagant.  The women would have these huge crown-like head pieces and necklace things that would be completely silver, and the dresses that were worn were vibrantly colored.  There were many dancers and singers, but my favorite performance was this young man who walked out carrying a little branch with a few leaves on it.  He got to the center of the stage where he plucked a single leaf off the branch and strategically placed it in his hands.  He brought his hands to his mouth and started to play the leaf like an instrument matching the pitches of the background music and playing the melody with perfect precision.  It was quite impressive how he could hit all of the notes with a stinkin’ leaf.  At the very end we were allowed to get on the stage with all of the dancers and do a dance.  The dance reminded me of the Jewish dance where you hold hands with your neighbors and walk in a circle.  It was pretty fun.  After that we got back on our bikes to head back to town.

We got back to the hostel and met up with Braden to get some dinner.  We wandered around the town and chose a random restaurant to eat at.  I decided to try some sort of duck dish since I figured it would probably be decent, but when I got it every chunk of duck had more bones than meat.  It was very difficult to eat any of the dish, so I was slightly disappointed.  Braden said that I got “river shrimped,” so I guess we have a new term for getting gypped with food.

Day 27: 2/5 Floating on Air...Well, Technically Water

                I woke up this morning and went straight up to the roof to look at Yangshuo in proper lighting, and let me tell you it was beyond any words I could say.  The entire area was probably the most beautiful place I have ever been.  Through the hostel, we booked a 1:30 bamboo boat tour, so in the mean time we just planned to walk around town and explore.  We first went to this little restaurant/cafĂ© that had an awesome breakfast menu.  I got the “Special Breakfast” (I think that’s what it was called) which included a fried egg, steak, French fries, a banana pancake, coffee, and orange juice.  The French fries weren’t the best but they were much better than river shrimp! The banana pancake was delicious! It was basically a crepe with bananas in it, but it tasted so good.  And I am not an OJ fan, but the orange juice was fresh squeezed and extremely tasty.  I was so happy to have something substantial in my belly.  During breakfast we were approached by this Chinese woman, Wendy, who spoke English well and asked if we would like to take a bicycle tour with her the next day.  We all decided that it would be fun and set up a time to meet up with her the next day.  We then walked around town wasting some time, looking around, and trying not to die crossing the hectic streets.  After enough time had passed we headed back to the hostel where we would leave to go to the bamboo raft rides. 

We were picked up by this van which had about four rows of seating behind the driver.  We picked up many other groups of people and happened to pick up a life-long learner, Rachel, from SAS.  The van drove for about an hour or so, much of which was on a small dirt road which had several large dips and bumps.  On top of the not-so-great road, we had a pretty crazy driver.  I’m not sure if it is just the culture, but many of the drivers here seem to regard the lines in the road as mere suggestions rather than something to follow.  I think our driver spent just as much time in the center of the road or on the other side of the road passing others as he did on the side of the road he was supposed to be on.  Also, honking here is something used about every ten seconds by one driver, so add all the other drivers and you have a pretty constant tune of honks.  The honking here is used to inform other drivers that you are there, or you are passing them, or whatever it may be, rather than what I’m used to where we use our horns to tell someone to pay attention because the light is green or to tell them how big of a jerk they are and where they can stick it.  After my life had flashed before my eyes more times than I would have liked, we finally made it to where the boats were.  These boats each held four people and were (to my disappointment) motorized.  I was imagining and hoping for a boat that was paddled by a person with a stick similar to the gondolas in Italy, but there was no such luck.  As we were herded onto the boats by a Chinese man who sounded like he wasn’t very happy, we were handed life vests and were motioned at to put them on.  We then set off to the river.  My boat was unfortunately attached to another boat, so I wasn’t able to see some parts of the mountains that we passed but it was still amazing.  The boats traveled at a decent pace, but everywhere you looked there were these astounding mountain formations that seemed to just jut out of the ground.  I was in complete awe for the entire boat ride.  I couldn’t even wrap my mind around the fact that I was in China in this beautiful, majestic place.  It blew my mind.  I think I took a ton of pictures because I wanted to capture the beauty of the region, but no matter how much I try to describe it or try to capture a picture to depict it there is no way to do it justice.  It is one of those places that you have to see to be able to understand what I’m talking about.  Don’t get me wrong…the pictures help, but seeing these things in person is 1000 times better than any picture.  During the boat tour, we stopped at two “scenic” spots where they would take your picture and you could buy a copy.  We took pictures in both spots but with our own cameras.  After those stops we headed back to where we started.  At this point, if you looked toward a certain direction it was the exact scene that is pictured on the back of the 20 Yuan bill!  Cool huh?

After another heart-stopping van ride, we arrived back on familiar ground.  We went back to the hostel for some good down time.  We sat around the hostel’s common area drinking a big bottle of beer that cost 6 Yuan (approximately $1) and talking to the other travelers staying in the hostel.  It was really cool just talking to these people and hearing about their travels and what had brought them to the No Kidd Inn; some were backpackers travelling all over the world, others were in China teaching English to children, and others were just there on vacation.  After a while, a SAS student, Bryson, came into the hostel who knew Braden and Emily.  The five of us then went out to try to find some dinner (preferably not river shrimp).  We ended up at this restaurant right off of the river.  Allie and I decided to play it safe and split a lemon chicken (which turned out to be delicious!) and some noodles which very well could have just been ramen noodles.  While we were sitting there, fireworks were going off in the distance and reflecting off the river which was pretty cool to watch.  We then ventured down this street of little market stands where people were bargaining left and right for miscellaneous items.  As we were walking, everyone seemed to get a hankering for some ice cream and I also realized that I had to pee really badly (yeah that’s probably too much information, but this leads to quite a personal accomplishment so bear with me).  We then came across a McDonalds, so I thought that I’d be able to kill two birds with one stone.  When I got into the bathroom, it was a squatty-potty which have been everywhere in both China and Japan, but I had avoided using one up until this point.  I won’t go into any more details, but it was definitely a different experience.  Anyway, we all got McFlurries and headed back to the hostel.

When we got back, I decided that I should probably take a shower and be a little hygienic.  The bathroom in our room at the hostel was basically a room with a toilet, a sink, a shower head attached to the wall, and a drain on the floor, so if you wanted to take a shower the entire bathroom would turn into your shower.  It was kind of nice not having a confined space that was covered by a curtain to shower in, but the entire bathroom was wet and flooded after my shower. 

The group then decided to check out the night life of Yangshuo, so we went to the busy street of the town and found many different “clubs” bumpin’ music and packed with people (and smoke).  We went into this one place after paying a set price; I wasn’t sure if that was for a certain amount of beer or more like a cover charge to get in.  When we got in, we noticed that there was this little stage in the middle of the room with a lit floor and a pole on one side.  We sat in this booth and were drinking beer when the “MC” (the guy that was dancing around on the stage with a mic in hand) motioned for us (the only non-locals) to go dance on the stage with him.  All of us were compliant with his request and made our way through the people around the stage.  We started dancing a little bit when the people around the stage (most likely intoxicated) were taking pictures like teenage girls seeing Justin Bieber and then were getting pictures with Braden and Bryson.  The locals were having a great time watching and dancing with all of us, and it was really fun for us as well. 

Day 26: 2/4 Guilin is Calling My Name

                Yesterday I had received two sticky notes on my door, one from each person who I would be traveling with to Guilin.  Apparently I didn’t read both of them too carefully because in the morning I went to the Garden Lounge (the 6th deck dining hall) to meet the group at 8, because I knew that’s what one sticky note said and I assumed the other one said the same thing… wrong-o.  I ate some breakfast and waited for the group to show up; 15 minutes passed before I saw Braden (who wrote the sticky note I followed).  It wasn’t for another 10 or so minutes that we realized that Emily (the other person in our group) said to meet in Tymitz Square at 8… apparently she wasn’t very happy there was a miscommunication.  While we were now waiting for her in Tymitz Square, we came across a sign that read, “In loving memory of Wade Lancaster…”  Wade Lancaster was a professor who taught on the ship.  I had heard the night before that he had a heart attack on the bus after a field program, but I had no clue that he had passed away.  We found out he had passed the night before from a stroke.  This news struck me like a slap in the face.  I didn’t know him personally, but his wife teaches one of my classes.  He was there every class walking around with the attendance sheet for everyone to sign in during class.  I knew that deaths have happened on Semester at Sea and it was a possibility, but, no matter what, you don’t expect it to happen.  The fact that I had encountered him and seen him every other day, and now he was gone, made my mind race with thoughts and emotions of life and death.

Back to our adventure, to add to Emily being mad that we were “running late,” I had to go to an ATM because I didn't have any cash on me to help pay for a taxi. I stopped at the ATM across the street, but neither machine would accept my card. Emily was getting really irritated that we hadn't left yet (note: it was about 8:30-9 am and our flight was at 12:20). We got in a taxi and arrived at the airport at about 9:30, so we were 3 HOURS early for our flight. I know it's better to be safe than sorry, but seriously?  The airport felt super empty which for some reason kind of made me feel uneasy, but because it was so empty we went through security and everything very quickly which was nice. We then got some lunch and Emily wanted to find a battery for some water filter thing she had. She asked if we would be sitting in the restaurant for a little longer while she went to look for a battery.  We said that was fine and just sat there talking for 15 minutes… 30 minutes… an hour… no sign of her.  We waited a little longer because we figured she’d be coming back to where we were, but she just went to the terminal at some point and didn’t inform us.  This is a good start to a five day trip, huh?  However, as we were waiting and Braden went to search for Emily, he ran into this girl, Allie, who was traveling to Guilin without a group, so she joined our group. 

We finally started to board our plane just before noon.  As we flew on our 2.5 hour flight, we were served beverages (water and a drink of our choice) as well as a meal.  I can’t remember the last time I had a meal during a flight, and even though it wasn’t the greatest meal it was still nice to have.  As we started to land, I could see hints of the hills of the gorgeous Guilin out the window.  After we landed, I found out that we would actually be staying in a nearby town to Guilin called Yangshuo.  As we were trying to figure out all of the things we wanted to do while in the area we were also trying to figure out how we were going to get to Yangshuo.  We ended up hopping on a bus that took us to the actual city of Guilin, and then we planned to change buses to go to Yangshuo.  As the bus drove through the city, we realized how crazy and chaotic the roads seemed.  There were so many motor bikes, bicycles, vehicles, and people crossing this huge intersection with, what seemed to me, very little organization.  We got to the bus station and were trying to figure out what bus we needed to get on when these two young Chinese girls (probably middle school or early high school age), who were completely gaga over Braden, started to help us find our way to the correct bus.  We got on this bus that cost us 18 Yuan (about 3 dollars) to get to Yangshuo; we later found out this wasn’t a legit bus from the actual bus system but rather a bus that was more independently run and would make more stops… kind of sketch if you ask me.  On the bright side, as we drove into town we were gradually surrounded by the amazing hills/mountains that make the area famous.  It was breathtakingly beautiful out there and, during the drive, the sun was setting giving the wondrous mountains a beautiful backdrop.  In that moment I knew I had made the right decision to skip on the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, and the Terracotta soldiers and come to this area.

When we finally made it to Yangshuo, we ran into another road block.  We didn’t know exactly where the hostel we planned to stay in was located.  We walked up and down the street that we knew it was on without a clue of where it could be.  We asked many different people who would point us in the direction we just came, and then we would walk a little bit back the way we came and would ask someone else who would point us back the other way.  It took us a good 30 minutes to actually find the place, which made sense because it was kind of tucked away in a back street.  The hostel was called the No Kidd Inn and was this cute, colorful five story hostel with a roof top “bar” (which actually had a great view of the area surrounding the hostel which included beautiful hills and a river, but the bar wasn’t much of a bar) and very friendly staff.  The best parts of the hostel though were the fact that it only cost about $7 a night to stay there and that there was this little puppy that lived there who was one of the cutest little things! We got the keys to our rooms and dropped our stuff off before going out to get something to fill our empty stomachs.  We walked around a bit but then got to the point where we were so hungry that we just wanted to get food, so we ate at the next restaurant we came across.  We perused over the menu a bit before deciding what to get (mostly based on the pictures they offered since very little was in English).  One of the things we got was fried shrimp which didn’t look terrible in the picture, but when they brought out the dish we were less than pleased with the outcome.  They were these little one inch long shrimps that were caught in the nearby river; they were then lightly battered and deep fried whole, eyes, antenna things, shell and all.  When put in the mouth your tongue was greeted by either a taste of cardboard or poop… appetizing huh?  Not much of that dish really got consumed.  We then stopped by a little convenience store to get some snacks since our dinner wasn’t very filling.  We went back to the hostel, and Allie (who I was sharing a room with) and I spent a good amount of time just talking about random things.  It was a nice ending to an interesting day.

Day 25: 2/3 Visiting Half of My Roots

                This morning I woke up and looked out my window to see land not far from the ship.  We weren’t quite docked yet, but rather we were navigating through a river to where our ship would be docked in Shanghai.  Jillian and I, again, went up to try to see the sunrise, but it was so gloomy out that there really wasn’t a sunrise to see.  When we finally docked, I noticed that my room had a fantastic view of the Pearl Tower across the river from our ship, which made me excited even though I would only be there for that one night.  Jillian had a field lab today, so I planned to venture into town with Sawyer, Kyle, and Alexa.  Before we could go anywhere though Kyle, Sawyer, and Alexa needed to exchange some cash.  As we walked to a nearby bank I realized that I was still wearing my moccasins instead of actual shoes… whoops!  I was planning on just dealing with the mistake since it would take a while for everyone to get off the ship (since we couldn’t get back on the ship until everyone got off and the ship was “cleared”), but we found out that in order for them to exchange money they had to go through an extensive amount of paperwork.  I saw my window of opportunity!  As they were waiting in line I was waiting to be able to get back on the ship to change my shoes.  After about 20 minutes or so I was able to board the ship.  I raced (well more like sped-walked) to my room, changed into my Merrells, and raced back to the gangway (where we get on and off the ship while it is docked).  There really was no need to practice my speed-walking abilities (even though I’ll probably be training for the Olympics pretty soon since I’m that good) because they were still waiting to get their money exchanged.  It probably took an hour or so for them to exchange their money.  Once they did we headed towards town.  We walked a pretty good distance to get into town and then walked down a street where some shops were.  We were looking for some underground shopping to be able to get a good, cheap deal and be able to haggle with people for items.  There was no such luck as we walked down this street.  We found a mall and decided to get something to eat. 

After we were refueled we decided to walk to another part of town.  On our way we wandered into a little souvenir shop and there it was.  An escalator, going down under the building, dwelled in the back of this random store.  We went down the moving staircase to find a bunch of vendors dealing and bargaining with customers.  We found one!  We spent the next hour or so walking around haggling and buying little things that we wanted or got for gifts for those back home.  Even though I’m not very good at haggling, I have to admit it was kind of fun.  There was this sort of rush that went along with bargaining; it almost turned into a sort of game.  We left the underground area with a sense of energy and joy at getting some good deals.  We then continued to the area we planned to go to when we got distracted by the underground market.

We went to what we thought was supposed to be “Old Town,” but I’m not 100% sure that’s where we actually ended up.  We stumbled upon this area with tons of vendors similar to the ones at the previous underground market.  If we were impressed by the market we came across earlier, our minds were blown when we came to this place.  There was a building about seven stories tall filled with vendors, and on the streets there were more filling every nook and cranny of the area.  It was pretty amazing how many people were trying to sell things.  It was fun at times, but at the same time it got kind of scary when the people would push so hard for you to buy something from them and to have people all up in your grill trying to show you what they have for you to buy.  I felt very overwhelmed in this area.  There was one moment when a man was trying to sell Kyle a North Face jacket, but in order to get to his “store” we had to go through this little alley and go into this little room that had jackets and sunglasses and other “brand name” items.  I know it sounds sketchy. I thought the exact same thing when we were going there, but I guess it is kind of the norm to do that if you want those kinds of items.  It still seems sketch to me though.  We left the chaotic market area and headed to get some dinner.  We ended up at a Canadian restaurant/bar… yes Canadian.  I don’t know why there is a Canadian restaurant in China when I have never heard of Canadian food.  We walked back toward the ship and got to see a gorgeous view of the city at night.  We got back to the ship and I was going to go out to some bars with Shelley and some of her friends.  We started to walk back into town, but didn’t really end up going anywhere.  We walked and walked and walked some more until we made a funny-shaped loop.  At that point Shelley and I decided that we’d just go back to the ship and go to bed because we both had to pack for our trips the next day and get some sleep.  We got back and I took off my shoes to find some lovely blisters that had formed on the bottom of my pinky toes… seriously, who gets blisters there?  I grabbed some of my lovely Band-Aids that Keenan so kindly gave me for Christmas and wrapped my injured toes before going to bed.

Day 24: 2/2 Being a Good Student

                Since I’m on the ship in the middle of the ocean on my way to so many different and amazing countries the last thing I want to do is school work, but today I finally buckled down a bit to catch up on school work.  My motivation for doing school work is practically nonexistent now, so to muster up the will to do this was extremely difficult but most definitely necessary.  I spent the day going to class and then doing work in between classes.  Are you proud mom?  I bet you are!  Later that night we had pre-port which I realize I didn’t talk about in any of my previous blog entries.  Pre-port is a mandatory session they have the night before we arrive in every port.  The pre-port includes information like what kind of currency the country uses, where to get money, what to watch out for and be cautious of, what is safe to eat/drink, and other information they think we should know before we get into the country.  This one also included statistics from Japan like how many people were drugged, pickpocketed, subjected to credit card fraud, or injured.  Unfortunately, I forget the numbers, but it is surprisingly more than I thought it would be.  Most of the things that happened occurred because people were being stupid and careless with how they carried themselves, so there’s no need for you all back home to worry excessively about my safety.