America, Asia, Culture, Travel

Oh Say, Can You See? 

For Halloween, I thought I’d be an annoying American tourist until I realized that I already am.

We went to see a big Buddha up on a mountain. I’m sure it has a better name than that, but I don’t know what it is. So, that’s what I’m calling it.

Anyway, I didn’t know what to expect when we got there but it was actually a really neat little area, complete with a bunch of shops and places to take pictures.


I was so impressed with it, that I exclaimed loudly, this is way better than the Wall of China! Then, I realized that we are technically in China and that Wall is the pinnacle symbol of their national pride. Oops. Probably should’ve kept that observation to myself.

Me in a sea of Chinese tourists

 

To get up to this mountain with the Buddha, we had to ride a cable car. And Jake was feeling extra special since it’s his birthday, so he booked us the “crystal cabin”. Sounds fancy, right? I’ll break it down for you. He booked us a glass box to ride up a mountain in. It was precarious to say the least.

Not a fan of heights? Don’t go anywhere with him. It was like zip lining in a box. For thirty minutes.

 

Waterfall under my feet

On our way up, we shared the cabin with two couples from Venezuela. But on our way back, we got one all to ourselves. So, we Skyped with our parents so they could enjoy the view too.

 

Family photo

 

Then, after that, we took some goofy pictures and waved at the others going up in their boxes.

 

This was funny at the time, trust me

 

Then, I was so overcome with national pride for our own country that I decided to sing our national anthem. And a medley of other patriotic songs. Which was really funny to both of us. Until we were coming back in to the cable car station and realized that our windows were open and everyone waiting in line to get on a cable car was able to hear my rousing rendition of “You’re A Grand Old Flag.”

Annoying American tourist? Yep, nailed it.

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Asia, Culture, Food, Travel

No Soup For You: Hong Kong Edition

Let me be honest for a second: going to Hong Kong was never a dream destination for me. But it isn’t my birthday and sometimes you just wake up and a plane ticket is booked for you.

Like my senior year Spring Break when my brother announced to me that he had booked us tickets to Liberia (cue mini heart attack)… Costa Rica (not Africa: cue minor calm down)… and he had booked a zip lining excursion through the rainforest (cue major heart attack) and white water rafting (more my speed)

 

Second day of ziplining, the first resulted in a tearful meltdown on my part


The scary thing about Jake is when he says he wants to do something, we actually do it. Like remodeling a rent house or buying a huge embroidery machine while I was on a fishing trip to Canada. If he talks about it, it’s basically already a done deal.


Which is why when he said he wanted to go to Hong Kong last Spring, I was just waiting for him to tell me where I’d be sitting on the plane.

And here I am, four months later, in downtown Hong Kong. Jet lag doesn’t even begin to describe what I’m feeling. That flight was pretty miserable. I kept thinking the whole time, this feels like the longest flight of my life. Then, I kept remembering that it literally was. Nearly 17 hours. In one plane. No sleep and sheer exhaustion.

When we got to the hotel, I had a quick cup of yogurt for “dinner” then fell asleep before the lights were out.

I woke up at 4:30 with a raging headache and craving soup and rice. And after wandering the dark Hong Kong streets for a few minutes, we stumbled upon “Modern Cafe”.

 

The outdoor menu

I love when I go in a restaurant, check the menu, see that it’s all in Mandarin. Never attempt to ask, don’t ask, it’ll just confuse them. Just wait and watch.

Yep, two seconds later, the waitress looks at me, raises her eyebrows and goes digging through the menus and brings it over. The one English menu in the place.

 

Note: these prices are in Hong Kong dollars. Our whole breakfast meal together including drinks cost $6.75 USD

I ask if they have soup. Nope. (Even though I see everyone around me eating it) Okay.. I just order the “chicken fillet” instead and pray whatever comes out is good. I’m pretty sure that is the most vague description you could give. I can think of about a million dishes that you could label chicken fillet. However, I was not expecting this.

 

My chicken fillet

Someone must’ve read my mind. Maybe Hong Kong isn’t so bad after all.

 

Jet lag soup

 

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Asia, Food, Travel

Tea & Tongues

I’m finally coming out of the fog that is jet lag. I have been on a time zone that is nearly 12 hours our opposite for about three weeks now, so it’s a little difficult to switch back over. People always ask me what jet lag feels like. So, let me explain it. Right now, in Cambodia/Laos/Thailand, it is 1 in the morning (in Beijing, it’s midnight). So, imagine eating a meal like you would have for lunch (today, mine was chilaquiles. Think: chicken, tortillas, enchilada sauce, and eggs) at midnight, then staying up all night and eating a dinner meal for breakfast, then going to sleep and trying to sleep for 8 hours (which would be daytime there/nighttime here). I’m confused. And, so are you. So, jet lag feels like confusion. Which it is. It is your body’s response to flip-flopping your schedule. You are mentally wrestling with your physiological responses. Your body says it’s time to sleep and you have to make your brain say: I’m not sleeping now.

So, did I mention I found something “Made in America” in China? Glad to know they import something from us.

It said: A True American Tradition

It said: A True American Tradition

China is weird. I didn’t tell many stories from there mostly because I didn’t have good access to a lot of the sites I frequent. The VPN allowed a little bit of access, but connections were difficult. The government censorship is crazy there. There were microphones in all the taxis, monitoring what you were saying. Secret police are common and there are cameras everywhere. I know this all sounds hyper-paranoid. But, it is real. So, we had to watch what we said and did. I didn’t really believe that was true before I went, but once you are there, the truth of it kinda sits on you. It’s a silent restraint and you can feel it. That’s the best way I can describe it.

But, enough of that, let’s talk about the duck tongues. Having dinner with friends is fun. I really like it when they order and I don’t have to choose because I dislike decisions and because you always end up getting something more authentic that way. Peking duck is famous in Beijing, so it was a must. My friend, Sammy, took us to have it and unbeknownst to us, ordered an appetizer. Sometimes, I’ve learned you just shouldn’t ask questions. Just eat it and enjoy it and move on. But, I can never do that. We were presented what looked like meat with cucumbers. So, I asked what it was. A pile of duck tongues. I was, then, told how to eat them (because there is a small bone to navigate around and delicately spit out).

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I ate a bunch of them, because I could tell she had ordered these very specifically and wanted us to have them. They really weren’t that bad. Except I kept thinking of the Aflac commercials and it kinda gave me the heebies. But, if you could get around the fact of what it was, the taste was pretty good.

As we were dining, Sammy imparted some knowledge about Chinese cuisine. She said: in America, you can afford to eat only the choice pieces of meat. But, in China, we have to utilize every part of the animal. To me, this makes it easier to appreciate eating these dishes. I’ve never given any thought to the fact that for my whole life, I’ve eaten only the “best” parts of the animal and discarded the rest. I’ve never appreciated the fact that I can choose what I eat. Until now, when I’ve sat and eaten a dozen duck tongues with a girl who has eaten things like this out of necessity for her whole life.

Sammy also treated us to afternoon tea. With the prettiest tea set I’ve ever seen in my whole life. Kinda makes you forget about all the tongues you just ate. Kinda.

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Asia, History, Travel

Strawberries & Strangers

I’m over this whole censorship thing. No access to Facebook. Instagram: nope. Snapchat: that’s out too. But, ever heard of a VPN? Yeah, me either. I have no idea what it stands for, all I know is it allows me to break through the Great Firewall. So, I’m currently binge watching Gilmore Girls on Netflix while enjoying the very best strawberries I’ve ever tasted, picked fresh at a strawberry farm yesterday. Take that, China!

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So, let me do a Brittney highlight of China for you. These strawberries are amazing. I’m so serious. I didn’t even know strawberries could taste this way. I’ve been going on about them for about a day and a half now, so I’m just slightly obsessed. They’re grown in a greenhouse, totally organic and grown to their peak ripeness. Which we never get in the stores. Don’t even get me started on that though.

You cannot imagine what this place smelled like. Glorious!

You cannot imagine what this place smelled like. Glorious!

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We went out to the Great Wall, which was quite a feat. We went to take a train, but that was sold out. So we had to find the bus station and rely only on the occasional English sign to tell us where to go. I expected there to be a lot of tourists. And there were. They were just tourists from elsewhere in China. So, on our bus, you guessed it. I’m the only white girl. I’m getting kinda used to the staring.

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There were a few other “western” looking tourists once we got out to the Wall. But, still not many. We got lost again, then I had to find a bathroom. Not so glamorous as my last bathroom post, right?

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After my bathroom break, we continued down a path to find a bus back where we came from. And on the way, we ran into a group of four Chinese people trying to hand Jake their camera. We were confused at first. The guy was motioning like he wanted Jake to take a picture. So, Jake took the camera and the guy proceeded to come stand by me. For a picture. He didn’t want pictures with his friends. He wanted a picture with me. A stranger. Not only on his camera, but his friends wanted to take our picture with theirs too. After that, they decided since Jake was already set, they’d all gather around me for a group shot.

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But wait, it wasn’t over yet. The girl in the group wanted a single shot of just me and her. Because you don’t go to the Great Wall to get a picture of the Great Wall. You go to get a picture with an American tourist. Yeah, I’m still trying to figure that one out too.

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Asia, Travel

Blonde Beijinger

Jake hired us a race car driver to take us to the airport. I mean, I don’t know if Thailand has NASCAR, but if they did, he’d be qualified. I was sitting happily in the backseat, eating my fruit (you can get a bag of cut, ready to eat fruit for around 60 cents), when Jake starts questioning the cab driver about taking the expressway. I (as usual) have no idea where we are or what time our flight leaves, so I gave this zero thought. But, Jake apparently thought the driver was trying to get out of paying the toll on the highway and taking the longer route through the city. After some arguing about him making us late, the faster route was settled on. And when I say faster, I mean much faster. This guy was taking corners and changing across three lanes of traffic at the same time. I’m thinking Jake’s arguing brought this situation on us and he was just trying to prove a point. Needless to say, we got there with time to spare.

Now we’re in China. And I have yet to see another blonde person. I got on the subway this morning and a girl looked at me, whispered something to her friend, who then gawked around another passenger to get a look. I’m wondering what the Mandarin word for white girl is? And also, how to pronounce where we’re going.

Say that five times fast

Say that five times fast

Actually, when we got here last night, I was getting quite a few stares too. But, I’m thinking that was because I was wearing yoga pant capris, a mint green long sleeve shirt under a Navajo inspired red and cream cardigan, with moccasins and a bright pink headband. It was classy, let me assure you. (In my defense, when we got to the airport, it was cold, so I grabbed the first things I came to in my bag and put them on)

After we got to our hotel room, we went out in search of food and found this little noodle bar. I went in and asked if they spoke English or had an English menu. To which I got a response in Mandarin. I’ll take that as a no. But, they had a menu with pictures (next best thing), so I got a big bowl of beef noodle soup for $4. Which I messily slopped down with chopsticks. And I wonder why people stare.

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