Monday, November 26, 2007

Never Doubt the Kindness of Strangers

Thanksgiving Weekend Day II:

We pulled into Jinghong at 6:30 am, but it looked like 5:30 because China is all on one time zone. This picture of the entry gate was taken at sunrise, so it's a bit dark. The first thing we did was to buy return tickets, since we weren't sure when we would be back in Jinghong, and if then there would be open seats on the bus. Next we went straight to a cafe for some breakfast - crazy overnight busses really take it out of you. We looked at our map of Jinghong that we had brought along and determined that the bus stop was labeled as being on the North side of town and assumed that we would find cafes in the center of town. So we pull out our handy dandy compass to figure out which was is South and set out. We quickly found that this was the incorrect decision, since the buildings started to fade away and the landscape turned into rainforest. We asked a few construction workers which way it was to the center of town. They all laughed and pointed back in the way we'd come. Now, Jinghong isn't very big, but this bus station had been moved obscenely far down, so we were in for a bit of a trek North. Silly outdated maps. We eventually settled into some muesli and discussed our next move.
According to our original plan, we were to head to the bus station on the North side of town (for real - we asked several people to confirm) and buy tickets to Damenglong, get there by 1ish, complete a 6 hour hike/tractor or elephant hitch, and then find a place to sleep. We ran our itinerary by the people who ran the cafe we were in and they agreed that it was a good plan. Fantastic! We make it to the bus station around 10 and inquire about tickets. Not only does the driver try to charge us twice as much as the Chinese people for the ride, we also discover that because of road construction our original 2 hour journey had become a 4-6 hour one. Since we still needed to do a 6 hour hike, the trip just became somewhat impossible. It's not exactly polite to ask around for a place to sleep if you arrive in town at 10ish at night. While we're sitting around in the bus station lamenting and trying to figure out another town to go to, a girl who was helping us fight for a fair ticket price asked us why we wanted to go to Damenglong in the first place. We told her that we wanted to hike in the rainforest, see some Buddhist sites, meet a bunch of minority people etc. She thought for a minute and then said (in Chinese of course) "You know, you could do all that at my place. My friends and I could show you around. I bet my parents would let you stay in the attic." Obviously this sounded like the best plan ever so we quickly agreed. Her bus was leaving in 10 minutes, and as it turned out there were only 4 seats left on the bus - and four of us. It was fate. Suddenly we found ourselves on a minibus for a five hour ride on a dirt road through some of the most beautiful tropical landscape that I've ever seen. (Kyla, if you're reading, I'm pretty sure a Chinese minibus = a Kenyan matatu). Along the way we chatted with our new friend - Zhang Xuedan - and confused the heck out of everyone who boarded the bus and did not ever in their lives expect to find waiguoren sitting in the back seat.
Xuedan lives in a small town called Xiangming. I've since tried to Google this town, and tried to find it on a map anywhere, both with no success. How crazy is that? It's a tiny Yi village, and most of the people who live there are communal farmers. There is a bit of a downtown that stretches along the main road that's comprised of a couple shops, a market and even a KTV, but it only covers a distance of a couple hundred meters. We were the first white people to visit the village in about a decade, and thus the first white people many of the children there had ever seen - it was pretty exciting stuff for them, and they lined the streets to stare and yell hello in our direction (all Chinese schools offer beginning English, so no matter where you go, you're always greeted with a hello of sorts). Xuedan's home was hand made of bamboo, you could see the sky from our attic spot. There was obviously no need for much protection from the elements - it's late November and the average temperature during our visit was about 75 degrees. Since Thursday was Thanksgiving (which we explained to our new host family), Xuedan and her mother cooked up quite the feast in the giant wok that served as the only implement in their kitchen. They wouldn't let us help, but we did observe the cooking process (and took notes on how to do it) and familiarized ourselves with the many animals that lived on their farm.
Our Thanksgiving feast was spectacular. Everything we ate was grown on the farm. The Zhangs are entirely self sufficient. They grow beans and rice and several other veggies. They have fruit trees and sugar cane in the village that are communal. They have several chickens and pigs that are used for meat. They also hunt (they shot down what they claimed was a mouse, although I'm quite sure it was not since when they showed me the head it was quite large, for a celebratory we-have-white-people-in-town meal). Everything was pretty spicy, and the beans (the Zhang farm specialty) were absolutely spectacular. Like really. Who ever would have thought I'd be blown away by beans? After dinner we met a couple of Xuedan's friends, and her father when he returned home from hunting, but since we were so tired we went to bed early with promises of rainforest hiking in the morning.
Xuedan gave us a candle to light our way to the blankets she had laid out for us in the attic, and we fell asleep looking at the moon and the stars through the spaces between the bamboo that made up the roof. It was glorious.

All in all, it was a pretty spectacular and once-in-a-lifetime Thanksgiving. How was everyone else's Thanksgivings? Please keep me posted! I'll write more about my trip when I have the time.


Sunday, November 25, 2007

Xiao Chiing in the Eternal Spring City

Thanksgiving Weekend Part I

This past weekend my program asked us to find a friend or two and arrange a long weekend for ourselves. If our itinerary proved to be educational (and if we stuck to it) they would refund us 1000 kuai (an incredibly substantial amount of money - sweet). So, I proposed that my friends and I head down to Xishuangbanna, mainly because I really like the Dai restaurant behind East Campus, and because it's tropical and has elephants and pineapples. Our proposed itinerary was something like this:
-Fly to Kunming, hang out till next flight.
-Fly to Jinghong
-Take bus to Damenglong
-Hike from Damenglong to Bulangshang over about 2 or 3 days, finding homes to stay in as we go.
-Take bus from Bulangshang back to Jinghong
(all of the above villages are Dai)
-Fly to Kunming
-Fly to Beijing.

An excellent plan if I do say so myself. However, it's not entirely how things turned out, although that's probably for the better. Here's the real story of my Thanksgiving weekend:

We flew to Kunming on Tuesday night as planned, however we did not book a connecting flight to Jinhong because it was so expensive. (It cost almost as much for the 45 minute flight to Jinhong as it did for our 3 hour flight from Beijing!) Luckily, we had heard that there was an overnight bus to Jinghong from Kunming for about 180 kuai, so we decided to wing it. So we got into Kunming at about 1:30 am, fought with a cab driver, and eventually settled into the nicest hotel I've ever stayed in for 40 kuai a night. The south is wonderfully cheap.
The next morning we woke up and went straight to the bus station. Fabulously, this rumor about an overnight bus was truth and no rumor, so we bought tickets and found ourselves with a whole unexpected day to spend in Kunming (as our bus didn't leave till 8:30. We spent the day eating (or in my case, eating and totally stressing about this bus situation - 12 hours on a bus?!). First we found a place to eat across the bridge noodles - the local Kunming specialty. The noodles were pretty good, but even better was the catfight that broke out over noodle prices while we were there. A huge crowd gathered and the police got involved. There was hair pulling and spitting and slapping and even shoving people out into traffic. I managed to snap a quick picture, but got many many disapproving looks.
We decided it would be cool to check out this temple just outside the city that is supposed to have really crazy statues, so we began our trek northward to the minibus station just as the fight was getting to be a little too intense and it felt like we should move along. On the road we ate all sorts of tropical fruits, and even found STRAWBERRIES. These wonderful berries, as far as I knew up till this point, didn't exist in China. No one I've met in Beijing has ever tasted one, or even heard of them. They were glorious.

We eventually wandered into a street of wedding candy shops, made a pengyou, and bought pounds of different candies that we either ate or handed out to small children along the rest of our journey this weekend.
Kunming was really interesting in that the south part of the city (where we started walking) felt like one of the more third-world-like cities (I realize that's not so PC) that I've been to in China, but the further north we went the more modern things
became. It wasn't quite the same juxtaposition that I found in Shanghai's old sectors, but it was a pretty quick transition from street side markets and run down buildings to impressive skyscrapers and beautifully cultivated lake districts.

After wandering around Kunming for a few more hours, eating several other kinds of specialty xiao chi, and wandering through a church and a mosque, we found ourselves at this obscenely large market. I like to refer to it as the taste testing market, since pretty much every stall allowed you a free (and substantially large) taste test of what they were selling. It was all absolutely delicious and tropical (although some of the stuff was wicked weird - but hey, this is still China). Later we wandered though another market, but this one was clothes and jewelry rather than food. Before we knew it, the sun was going down and it was clearly too late to get to this temple, so we made our new goal the vegetarian restaurant in Kunming that Lonely Planet absolutely raved about. 3 of the 4 of us are vegetarian (and the 4th willing to make the switch for the trip) so I was in good company. That restaurant turned out to be closed, so we got a recommendation from some monks for another veggie place down the block. It turned out to be quite delicious, and Terra's 21st birthday was a success.
Just after dinner we rushed off to the bus station to figure out what this whole overnight bus business was all about. These buses are pretty well designed. From the outside it looks like a regular coach bus, but the inside has been gutted and replaced with three rows of reclined, bunked, seats - the backs are at about 45 degree angles - and they all overlap each other a bit, so your legs are underneath the person in front of you from the shin down. Luckily we had all bottom bunks (I think I would have freaked out if I were on top) and my friends were kind enough to keep me out of the middle row. In general the bus was a lot less claustrophobic than the train, since it was windows all around, but it wasn't the most comfortable sleeping experience of my life. It was cleanish, however (they made you remove your shoes and put them in plastic baggies before boarding), and they made bathroom stops every 2 hours (so the on board bathroom wasn't ever used, I don't think, and thus no smelliness). I did not sleep incredibly well, although my ipod helped, and whenever I woke up I was greeted with a vision of glorious mountains or beautiful lakes. This picture is the view from my bed. I wish I was better able to capture the bus ambiance. The movie, by the way, was one of the worst movies I have ever seen. It was in English and perpetuated the worst Asian stereotypes ever.
We finally pulled into Jinghong at about 6:30 in the morning (after a bit of a rough patch where the highway was under severe construction for about 10 kilometers and reduced to a muddy, rutted road I didn't think our bus would be able to pull through). It was still wicked dark because of the whole all-of-china-is-one-timezone-phenomenon. But more on Jinghong later, when I have more time to write.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Random Beijingness

Just a quick update on what's going on in my life:

Last week I went with my econ class to tour the Lenovo headquarters. The building was gorgeous and filled with crazy electronics - as would be expected. We got free coffee (which is the height of luxury in Beijing) and VIP stickers (which paled in comparison to the coffee) and then commenced a tour of the factory. I got to see PCs being made, and going through crazy tests, like high heat and mini earthquakes. We also talked with some of the workers, who all seemed quite happy in their jobs. Awesomely, Lenovo provides them all with apartments near the building, so they only have to pay utilities. In Beijing real estate is crazy crazy expensive, so that's a pretty sweet deal. This picture is of their interior courtyard where any employee can go to "have a rest" and where office employees can choose to work, since it is equipped with wireless. This Lenovo vending machine is also the first place in China where I've seen Pepsi products.

Saturday I played around in the Hutongs for a bit, which is always a good time. The neighborhoods there are just too cute. I also found this billboard in the subway on the way over there. It's an ad for paidui - trying to convince Chinese people that lining up for the subway is cool, and that it's polite to let other people off the train first before you barrel in. Saturday night I was sitting in a cafe waiting for my friend and reading a Chinese magazine when I stumbled across some of the most glorious Chinglish ever, unfortunately it's a bit inappropriate to post on this blog. The actual Chinese was an advertisement for showerheads. Innocent enough.

Sunday I went over to my friend's host family for lunch. Since it was a celebration for her birthday, they made each of the dishes that she's ever expressed appreciation for. Meaning, there was a veritable feast before us and I was so full for the next two days it was ridiculous. All the girls in my Chinese level took our Chinese teachers out for dinner that night, and it was a bit miserable because I just couldn't think about eating more food.

Tonight I'm headed out for Xishuangbanna. I encourage you to Google this destination. It's a pretty sweet place, and I'm getting quite excited. I'll be back on Sunday.


Tuesday, November 13, 2007

In China, 11/11 is More Complicated Than a Rorschach Test or: That Day I Walked a Lot

This past Sunday was a momentous occasion for three reasons that I can think of at the moment.

1. I Circumambulated the 2nd Ring Road.

Beijing is made up of a grid system (pretty much) overlaid by a series of concentric circles. The road surrounding the forbidden city is the first ring road. I live on the 3rd ring road. Deng deng. Anyhow, I wanted to understand the city better - I've been to a lot of places, but I'm wasn't quite so sure how it all fit together - so I decided to walk the ring. The first ring road is clearly for wimps, and the third would have taken me two days, but the second seemed just right. Four legs of 8 kilometers, plus a 5ish kilometer detour through the hutongs (where Steven Spielberg has recently bought a home) and a two hour break for lunch at American food mecca Steak and Eggs = an 8am to 6:30pm journey of awesomeness.

I brought along a couple of laoshis, including the history professor, so things were definitely a lot more interesting. They clearly had all sorts of tidbits to throw in. We started at Xizhimen and in true Buddhist fashion proceeded north so we would head in a clockwise direction. That meant that the hutongs were up first. At the first lake we were confronted with this sight:

No, those are not dead bodies in the bags. A couple of questions later, it turns out that this is a Buddhist group who buys fish from restaurants (where they're often swimming happily in their aquariums on full display 'till someone orders some dinner) and then free them into the lakes. I love the idea, but I do worry that those sorts of breeds may not be best fit for these lakes. After slipping through Houhai, we ended up at this gorgeous neighborhood where the aformentioned star (as well as some other big names, including Clinton - the Chinese LOVE him) own homes. This neighborhood was so cute that I'll be returning for lunch/the afternoon tomorrow. We also broke into an old hutong converted into a psychiatric hospital and poked around for about 15 minutes before being kicked out.

We hit the lama temple and cut a corner in order to check out a Buddhist nunnery. We weren't able to stay and poke around though, since a living buddha was about to start a lecture and the place was absolutely buzzing with the devout and with women in grey robes and shaved heads.

A quick southward jaunt through Western Chaoyang and past all the olympic monuments ended at the Russian district (always a throw off - all the signs are Russian, no Chinese in sight) and a glorious lunch. The head chef/manager of Steak and Eggs was the former head chef/manager of all the restaurants in Howard Johnsons of Canada. So this guy knows his North American fare, and pancakes, pie and rootbeer have never been more welcome than after a 25 kilometer journey.

For the last leg of our trip we traveled through the area that held host to the Boxer Rebellion. It was a completely different place. I could have sworn I wasn't in Beijing. The streets were quiet, tree lined, rich looking. It was nuts. The Catholic cathedral is here (Boxers, right?) and it's gorgeous. I'll have to try and make it for a mass before I leave Beijing (SO MUCH TO DO BEFORE I LEAVE!) We also walked past Wen Jiaobao's house. The place was immense, and beautiful and in that spectacular neighborhood, as is only appropriate, the man is a baller.

Just steps from Wen's place was Tiananmen. I NEVER would have guessed we would be coming up on it if my map hadn't told me so, because that neighborhood was just so incredibly different from anything else I've ever experienced in Beijing.

After Tiananmen there wasn't much new. I went back through the market area and calligraphy street that I visited earlier this semester, and there's not too much to say about Xierhuanlu. So, back to the list, shall we?


If you read my China Rage entry, you may recall a little note on paidui day. Paidui means "to line up." Paidui day is officially recognized on the 11th of every month, because the two one's in the number eleven look like two people standing up. On this day you're supposed to line up in an orderly fashion to board the bus, subway, etc etc. This clearly does not happen, because A. it's China, B. it's one cause of my China Rage, and C. most Chinese haven't even heard of paidui day, despite the little government official in the red sash who shows up on the 11th to regulate it.

Unfortunately, because I was trekking, I was unable to use the subway on Sunday, and try as I might I never walked by a bus line that was a line and not a violent mob. So I decided (much to my chagrin) to ask my fudao laoshi about it. The conversation went like this:

Me: Shangge zhuo mou shi yi ge jie ma? (Was last weekend a holiday?)
Fudao: DUI! Ni shi hen congming! (YES! You're so smart!)
Me: Qian sui! Shi le da paidui jie, dui bu dui? (HORAY! It was big line up day, right?)
Fudao: Ni shuo shenme? (I have no idea what you're talking about).

Leads to a hopeless explination in which I explain paidui day, and then explain my assumption that II/II would be a big paidui day, since there are 4 people in line. This, in turn, leads to list item #3

3. National Singles Day!

So it actually was a holiday here on Sunday, just not paidui day (apparently, although I'm still convinced it was, just my fudao didn't know). It was national singles day, which follows the same logic as paidui, II/II looks like a bunch of single people standing around with no significant others. You celebrate this day in three ways that I have learned:
1. Eating popsicles and other foods that look like the #1 (get your minds out of the gutter - this is entirely innocent).
2. Going out to dinner with your other single friends to revel in your singleness.
3. Going to singles parties to attempt to find another single to fall in love with in order to end your singleness. (I agree, 2 and 3 contradict, but don't you really want a popcicle now?

I think that's all for now. Hope everyone is doing well!


P.S. Today I used the post office successfully. That = cause for celebration. I think I'll go eat a popcicle.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Tian Tan, Muslim District, Tea Street

On Wednesday of this week I went over to the Temple of Heaven, Tian Tan. I tried to get there early to avoid the crowds, but my hour long bus ride may have defeated that purpose. I did get there a little before 9 though, and while it was wicked crowded, I did manage to get a few pictures of the temples without millions of people in them. Unfortunately it was also quite smoggy, although I've attempted to fix both the people and pollution factors in photoshop (I like to call it the "china button.")

I didn't have too much time to walk around, since I had a meeting back on campus at noon, but I did my best to squeeze everything in. I went to the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests and it's associated halls, the Vault of Heaven and it's Echo Wall and the Circular Mound Altar. It was all wicked interesting. I learned quite a bit in the museums, and at one point acted as a translator for this American couple whose tour guide didn't speak very good English. That was a great opportunity both to practice my Chinese and to take advantage of the tour guide to ask questions.

The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests is the temple you think of when you try and picture the Temple of Heaven (which is actually a huge complex of parks and temples). One of the museums walked me through the steps to worship here. The emperor first had to fast for a few days in the Fasting Palace (the one building I was unable to visit), then he had to approve the animal sacrifices, then watch the sacrifices being made (in fire, usually 3 cows), say his prayers, then retreat to Tiananmen to announce that he had prayed. Something I'm still a bit confused about (and my Chinese just wasn't good enough for me to figure it out) is what sort of religion the Temple is for, and what religion was official at the time. I'll have to do a bit more research (unless someone could enlighten me).

The Vault of Heaven wasn't too stimulating, although I think the major draw of this place is the echo wall. You can stand on one side of the circular wall and whisper along it, and your friend on the other side will hear you quite clearly. Since I was alone I couldn't really participate in that, perhaps another time. The mound mirrors the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, except that there's no building. It's pretty cool to stand in the middle though. If there weren't such a long line, and if I weren't so pressed for time I would have asked someone to take a picture of me there, but it's probably for the best, since that would most likely have been quite tacky.

On the way home I took the new subway line! Line 5 is beautiful, and I'm quite jealous that I have no reason to take it all the time. It's designed just like the subway I took in Shanghai, except newer and more wonderful. I'm excited to keep taking it.

Today I had planned on going to Maliandao, Beijing's tea street. I recruited some friends and we decided we would grab lunch in the Muslim district on the way, since it was nearish and we're all missing Xinjiang food like crazy. I have still yet to figure out why the street is called Niujie (niurou de niu, for you Chinese speakers) Lunch was fabulous, and then we decided that while we were in the area we might as well check out the Mosque there, which we learned was built in the 900s. It was a good decision because it was crazy cool. If there was no Arabic, and if you didn't know any better, you wold most definitely think that it was a Buddhist temple. It was gorgeous though, and most certainly worth a visit. Plus, the guy we paid our entrance fee to was just so jolly. Actually, everyone in the Muslim district was quite jolly, especially our waiter at lunch. We also discovered that the Muslim district is an excellent xiao chi location, and I am now stocked for a while.

We finally made it to Maliandao around 4. It's pretty overwhelming, and after some random stuff we ended up at this tea shop tea tasting for hours and chatting it up over watermelon seeds with these random people. It was really cool, and I know a lot more about tea and the tea ceremony than I ever did before. I'm really glad we ended up staying impromptu for so long and really checking stuff out. I have a tea guy (well, actually, girl) now!

Terra had to leave to meet her soc. class (is there a proper spelling of soc. as is sociology?) so I decided to walk North until I was tired and/or had to pee after my gallons of tea. So I walked for a while and eventually made it home. It was nice to walk around a new and random part of Beijing, especially since tonight wasn't quite as hanleng as it's been lately.

I think that's about it for now. Tomorrow I'm circumambulating the 2nd ring road. I think it'll take me about 7-9 hours, depending on where I stop and such. I'll keep you posted.


Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Eating My Way Through Shanghai

This past weekend some friends and I went to Shanghai. Because I wanted to. So I made some people come with me.

We caught our train Friday evening after my harrowing experience attempting to register for classes in a sketchy wangba. Since I was in Shaolin the previous weekend, I wasn't able to be at the train station when the tickets went on sale, so I wasn't able to buy sleepers. Boo. But it was ok. I got us soft seats, which are like airplane seats but with more legroom. Granted it's not the best way to travel 12 hours overnight, but my only complaint was actually the freezing temperatures in the middle of the night. I packed for Shanghai, not the Arctic. During the trainride we drove through my roommate's hometown, which she pointed out to me. It had a giant nuclear reactor in the middle and extreme smog/pollution/death as far as the eye could see. Really, quite pleasant.

We pulled into Shanghai about 7am on Saturday. Luckily my roommate was with us to negotiate putting 3 people into rooms that were potentially meant for 2. (They had 2 towels, 2 toothbrushes, etc, but the bed was definitely big enough for 3). This was substantially cheaper, so we were quite happy (if only equivalent US hotels cost me $7 a night). The hotel was pretty funky. There was fruit in the floor, and the whole interior was done up in art deco colors. The best part, however, were the bathrooms. There were decorative white rock piles beneath the sinks, but best of all the shower had a large window that looked out over the bed. It was like this in every room. The frosted glass part of the shower really was not high enough to cover much (unless you were wicked short I suppose) and then the writing down the side totally defeated the purpose whatsoever. Please reference this picture. My words do not do it's absurdity justice. I suppose it was a nice way to get some daylight into the bathroom?

After we found a hotel and everyone showered and everything, we finally headed to brunch around 10. For brunch we went to Winter's Dad's Best Friend's restaurant. The connection is really not as ridiculous as that sounds (think about it) and its pretty cool that we've got connections. From the restaurant we went to the Old Town area. Since Shanghai is a pretty young city, Old Town has nothing on it's Kashgar equivalent, but it's still definitely worth a visit. However, the guidebooks don't lie: avoid this place on the weekends if at all possible. It was a veritable mass of people. We window shopped for a bit and tried some local delicacies, including baby squid/octapus thingy on a stick (full body - see picture), dragon's beard candies (shredded sugar stuff with peanuts) and chou dofu. For the non-chinese speakers, chou dofu means "smelly tofu." This is no lie. Every time we approached a chou dofu stand I first thought that we were approaching an overflowing sewer (not uncommon in Beijing - but would have been shocking in Shanghai) and then I thought I was going to puke. I did eat it though, and no vomit. It was pretty tasty once you added sauce - and ran away from the smell. Shanghai is most famous for it's Xiao Long Baozi. Baozi are like dumplings, but with thicker skin. This particular kind is filled with soup that you slurp through a straw before eating the baozi. See picture. We did not try, although we all sincerely wanted to, the ovaries and digestive tract of a crad.

In Old Town we also visited the famous 9 corner bridge, which crosses a pond filled with bajillions of incredibly fat koi fish. Then we went to Yu Yuan, a gorgeous gorgeous garden that some officials decided to build themselves one day. It took 18 years to cultivate the plants to perfection. I think it was destroyed twice, once during a war and once during the cultural revolution, but it's looking pretty top notch these days. The pictures were pretty much non-stop and it proved an excellent place for a rest in the sun for a bit (we were pretty tired from our journey, and Shanghai is about 70 degrees to Beijing's 40). Immediately after this rest we went back to sampling Shanghai street delicacies: tofu w/ quail eggs, black corn, glutenous rice balls with stuff on them, fruit concoctions. I was not messing around when I titled this post.

Next up: The French Concession. The French Concession is this lovely neighborhood that never actually had that many French people in it, but today still has excellent coffee, and a baguette or two if you search hard enough. This is also where Sun Yatsen hid out for a while after the whole Yuan Shikai debacle. So obviously we wandered the area for a bit and wished we lived in the neighborhood, and then settled down at a coffee shop for afternoon tea.

Post delicious tea we walked/wandered Shanghai until we reached the trendy district of Xintiandi. It was my oh-so-missed ethnic food for dinner. Indian/Malaysian/Thai. No words really. This meal was indescribable.

We wanted to see the Pudong side of the river (with all those crazy buildings) lit up at night (like you do in every media about Shanghai), so at about 10:15 we grabbed a cab over that way. We pull up, and walk down Nanjinglu (the Time's Square of Asia) which is suspiciously dead, except for creepy Chinese boys asking us where we're going and if they can come. We hit the bund, walk up the stairs all excited, and find it dark. Dark! Zhendema!? I interrogate a street vendor and learn that they TURN OFF THE LIGHTS at 10:30. It's now just after that. I'm all about energy conservation, but since when has CHINA conserved energy? It was quite dissapointing, but I'm getting over it knowing that it's on every postcard ever made, and I can look at those whenever I want. And it was just as impressive by daylight anyways.

Sunday was Ji Ah's birthday, so we went to fancy brunch. When I say fancy, I mean fancy. Like, 4 course, western silverware, attentive but not hovering waiters, NAPKINS, bread basket fancy. Since I usually go out to eat at 5 kuai (60ish cents) noodle joints, this was absolute luxury and so so so worth it. The resaurant overlooked the bund and the Pudong area, and it was gorgeous. Our table was right near the window. It was the most relaxing and wonderful and WESTERN thing I've done since arriving in China.

After lunch we strolled the Bund for a bit and then took the Tourist Tunnel across to the Pudong area. Let me say that the Tourist Tunnel is easily the best 30 kuai I've ever spent. You ride in what we fondly dubbed "Wonkavators" (after how I would imagine the great glass elevator to look) through a glorious laser tunnel a la the Chicago Airport Light Tunnel. It was amazing. There were even blown up people. I live in China, and I've never seen anything so tacky in my life.

On the other side we checked out all the crazy buildings including the tallest building in Asia, and the Pearl TV Tower (the purple and silver tripod that looks like it's the girly version of War of the Worlds - think about it, it's eerie). We wandered around the area and took in some more snackies - ice cream and smoothies and the like, before we had to take the subway to the train station and head home. The Shanghai subway, by the way, is beautiful. I highly recommend it.

So, that was pretty much my trip. I would elaborate more if I didn't have some shengzi to take care of (boo). Comment or email me your life stories!