Saturday, October 30, 2010

fantastic weekend with visitors

We have been so consumed with writing about our trip that we haven't written about Courtney and Stacy's last few days in Beijing! It was a lot of fun for Adam and me to experience new parts of the city with our visitors.

We went to Wanfujing Snack Street and ate a delicious dinner of insects, 
and pigeon kebabs.
Ok, so that was a total lie...except for the snake part, which Adam is eating in the picture above. You know me: I would rather starve than eat SNAKE. Courtney, however, was brave enough to try it:
We had a few other, more appealing, snacks and took lots of pictures of the "kebabs." We also enjoyed a standard Beijing treat: sugar-coated fruit. Delicious!

On Saturday morning, we met Sarah in old town Beijing. We went to an organization called The Hutong to take a dumpling cooking class. It was fantastic! There were about 12 of us altogether--5 Frenchies, 2 Brits, and us. We each had our own cooking station and shared the ingredients. We had a great time using carrot and spinach juice to color the dumplings, trying to figure out how to actually roll out and shape them, and of course eating!! We have the recipe, so be prepared for dumpling parties when return stateside!
Courtney and her mixed veggie ingredients.

Colored hands!
Of course we were the messiest :)

We rolled out of the class and onto the subway to the Olympic Green. The Olympic area has its own subway line, which is why Adam was able to do this on the train:
Absolutely the least crowded subway in all of Beijing; it was wonderful! Upon stepping off the train, we were in the middle of an open area with the Birds Nest stadium on one side and the Water Cube on the other. After all of 3 minutes, I decided this was my favorite part of Beijing thus far; not jam-packed, awesome buildings (did anyone else DVR 8 hours of Olympics a day, or just me and Lindsay...?), and lots of green! We took a bunch of pictures (big surprise):
Swimming at the Water Cube
Anyone else notice the Olympic rings?
We ended the day with a yummy dinner at DaDong Roast Duck, a place all visitors will try (hint hint!). A great few days sightseeing in Beijing :)

Thursday, October 28, 2010

A few tidbits:

--Last night our language teacher, Olive, told us that we each have our own learning styles. In her words, Adam is "unstable" because "sometimes he is advanced and other times he fumbles like a beginner," whereas I am "a little slower but much steadier." When we asked which way gets there faster--the Alison-direct-way or the Adam-two-steps-forward-one-step-back way--she said they both work to reach our goal of surviving China! However, not 3 minutes later, Adam interrupted Olive to ask a random question (totally unrelated to learning Mandarin) and she looked me and burst out laughing. Typical :) Bottom line: we're both really enjoying classes and are--gulp--happy that we are taking lessons.

--I find that picture of my eyeball from the previous post kind of creepy. It was taken during a "we've been driving foreeeever" moment en route to Karakul Lake.

--There is a new sign on the 2nd floor bathroom of my school. At first, I thought it was specifically for me--awkward--but turns out that the principal wants the teachers to learn English, so this is how she's going about it. If I were one of the teachers and I saw this sign, I would TOTALLY get it and go downstairs to do my smelly business...

--It has been very cold here since Courtney and Stacy left (come back!), so we've had nearly 2 weeks in thick layers with lots of hot tea. The heat does not turn on city-wide until November 15th! At school we have been given down vests to wear, but it is not a problem for the kids, as they have been wearing long underwear since it was in the 60s.

--Here are some pictures of my "Baby International Class" students, ages 2-4, for your viewing pleasure (taken on a beautiful fall day before all of this cold weather set in!):
Outdoor exercises

Not that I play favorites...but I LOVE Simon
and Andrew!!
Sarah (left) is an absolutely fearless spitfire klutz, while Molly (front) is a girly-girl.
 --A new grocery store opened up by the subway--a foreign-friendly grocery store!!! I'll still get produce from the little market, but this is aaaamazing. I walked through and immediately called Adam because I found cheddar cheese!! He laughed and was like "oh god, that's where your entire salary is going, isn't it?" Um, yes. I'm thrilled.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Last Day in Kashgar!

Well, a miracle has happened: I have time to blog! Yesterday, I finished the rough-draft of the paper and can't make more progress without I can talk with you guys about our last day in Kashgar, when we went to Shipton's Arch, the highest free-standing arch in the world (as per our guide, so take that with a grain of salt).

We started off by driving 50 minutes on a really nice road. It was quid-pro-quo Kashgar until out of nowhere, this huge convoy of Chinese military supply trucks came by.
We were really impressed until a convoy of 52 TANKS drove slowly past us (they were numbered for those of you who know how much I love to exaggerate). Each tank had huge guns and tons of soldiers inside and on top (like Indiana Jones-style)--it was a pretty terrifying show of military force made more poignant knowing that those tanks were there for a reason. (Last year, the Uighur people rioted all over Xinjiang protesting government policies.)

We then abruptly turned off the road and started driving on a river bed
with enormous rocks and no path. We were in a 1980s SUV, so we could handle it, but before we got our "sea legs," Alison and I were bouncing across the aisles. Here's a pic to show you how desolate it was where we were going.Actually, we took a ton of pictures of the desolation, but we love camels so had to choose this one. (Fun fact: we could have bought a camel instead of a rug. I think we made a good choice though.) Eventually, we arrive at the "ticket stand" where we had to pay some random man on a motorcyle 50 RMB each to continue on.

About 2 hours of being thrashed around in the car, we finally arrive to our destination, which admittedly was beautiful.

We then hiked between crevices and up sketchy ladders...
...hopping over pools of what our guide claimed was mineral water. He said we could drink it, but we politely declined. The combo of cigarette butts floating in the water and algae growing on the rocks was too much for us. 20 minutes later, we got to the arch!We thought it was pretty, but not worth the bruising car ride...especially if you've been to Moab, Utah! Our guide gave us all of 10 minutes there, so Alison took a ton of pictures of the arch and then we took a few of us before our drive back.

The drive back was much better, perhaps because we had a view that we thought best summed up Kashgar. In this picture, if you look closely, you can see 4 different mountain ranges (2 in the background!).

We returned to the airport an hour before our flight left (so 40 minutes before non-white people got there). It was a fantastic vacation, one that we will never forget. I have to say, though, that the highlight of the trip for me was getting to spend an entire week traipsing around with Alison, she of the...

...strikingly beautiful blue eyes.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Going West: Yurt Style

Monday and Tuesday of our trip was spent in the Karakoram Mountains, which connect China, Pakistan, and India. (PS: If any of you have read "Three Cups of Tea," we were on the Chinese side of the mountain range where Greg Mortenson built his first school!). We drove through the mountains on our way to Karakul Lake and the town of Tashkurgan. (Warning: another monstrous post due to pictures. Enjoy...!)

The drive was beyond spectacular. I took tons and tons of pictures, and then we would turn a corner and Adam would nudge me and say "Alison! Where is your camera?!" Bottom line: you're lucky we only chose the highlights from our 5.5 hour drive:
We also passed many grazing animals. Apparently the people who own the animals live within relative distance and use them when necessary (e.g. yak milk for breakfast and lamb for dinner). I learned this useful tidbit after passing cows and commenting that "it's weird that they don't really belong to anybody." Adam died laughing and told me that I'm "such a city girl" because obviously cattle don't just hang out--they're too dumb to take care of themselves so someone HAS to own them. (Obviously...?)
So there were yaks:
several camels:
and my personal favorite, the sheep crossing!
Instead of posting the entire the "we've been driving forever and we're slightly stir crazy" series, I'll include the ones of me and Adam with the unbelievable scenery surrounding us (notice how the layers keep piling on as we get further into the mountains):
We finally arrived at Karakul Lake, where we planned to spend the night in a Kirghiz yurt with a family. We took walked around parts of the lake for a bit, before heading off for another long drive to Tashkurgan.
The yurts next to the lake, where we spent the night:
Tashkurgan is the closest Chinese city to the Pakistani border. As we wove through the mountains, we passed what Akpar claimed was the third largest mountain in the world (apparently not when you google "3rd largest mountain," as I just did, but who knows...)
When we arrived, we ate a delicious Uygher meal and headed to the 1,400 year old "Stone Forest," which are ruins of a small town. We climbed to the top of the ruins and had a clear view of pastures and valleys between the surrounding mountains. It was gorgeous. (BIg surprise. How many adjectives can I use to describe the scenery in this post?)

Hello Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Afghanistan! (1. Thank you spell check. 2. Afghanistan is to the left, about 25-50 km away).
Hello Pakistan! (other side of the mountain, 50-100 km away)
As we drove back down to Karakul Lake, Adam and I both agreed that this is probably the closest either of us will ever get to visiting any of the --stans :)

The sun was setting (and temperature plummeting!) upon our return:
Adam and I went into "our" yurt (shared with 8 others) and bundled up--I think I had on 5 layers plus a jacket/gloves/hat. It was surprisingly much warmer inside than out, even with the hole in the roof to let out smoke from the fire (no fire for us that night). 
The night sky:
Inside is what looks like a cement block covered in rugs.
When it's time to sleep, they lay out thick blankets in a row, like sleeping bags without the zippers, and then fold them up again in the morning. Ours are the 2 furthest to the right.
We drank tea and ate rice and then made one last trip outside to enjoy the stars and use the bathroom. (I use that term veeeery loosely! This is me stepping out of the bathroom in the morning. The dark hole on the bottom right of where I'm standing is the "sewage system.")
Both of us actually slept more than we expected, considering we were shivering alongside our newest Kirghiz and Uygher friends. We woke up in time to catch the end of the sunrise and have a quick breakfast of bread and yak milk.However, after the first taste of yak milk, both of us claimed that we have bad stomachs when it comes to dairy and got out of drinking it. It tastes how sour milk smells, if that makes sense.
En route to the bathroom in the morning, we passed several piles o' human waste (the bathroom was too far in the cold?) and leftovers from the previous night's dinner, as seen below:
We left pretty early for the ride back to Kashgar. Our main stop along the way was to Oytagh Glacier Park. We turned off and drove another 35 kilometers through a curvy mountain road to get there. To get to the actual glacier, you have to walk another 20 or so minutes up a steep hill, which apparently is not a fan favorite for Chinese tourists; many of them hired people to take them up by motorcycle or by horse!
The glacier was really cool, although it was sad to see how much it has receded from global warming (Adam went glacier trekking in Patagonia with his dad and uncle and learned a little bit about was able to gauge where the original glacier had been and pointed it out to me. That's the black part in the background of the picture with him). I'm glad we were able to see it while it's still there.
We had a fantastic 2-day trip and returned to Kashgar happy and ready for our final day...and a shower :)