Tuesday, August 6, 2013

When in Changchun...go to the World Sculpture Park!

So, I'm like five minutes from leaving China, but I'll probably post a few more posts I wanted to get in when I go back home. But as I sit in the airport, I thought I'd put up a few photos from the sculpture park in Changchun, which is seriously the only tourist-y thing I did while I was there for 6 weeks (and about the only thing there is to do, actually). It's actually a pretty fantastic park, and it consists of a huge grounds covered in walking paths that I couldn't finish cause my feet got too tired, and two museums of which I only made it to one cause the other was all the way on the other side. Large sculptures dotted the landscape and smaller ones were in the museums. I liked them all, though the inside had my favorites. It's also an international sculpture park, so along with several Chinese works of art, there were a lot of international ones. For instance, the first sculpture I saw was of Will Shakespeare:

I really liked the concept of this one too. I think it was olympic themed--there were a lot of olympic themed sculptures.

My favorite! It was called 'The Kiss'. I loved how the silhouette looked.

There was a cool exhibit about this story in stone that an artist reinscribed in stone, one chapter per slab. The writing is so small you have to read it with a microscope, and there's a beautiful carving on each one too. The rock is all different from several different parts of China.

One of the many possible paths.
Dementors! Or, I don't know what they are but now they are 'Fencing Dementors' and 'Dementor: The Thinker', respectively.

I'll return back in the States! Goodbye China! :) It's been fun! (tho much too hot).

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

When in Changchun...construction can make traffic a nightmare!

I've taken the train from Changchun to elsewhere a few times now. To avoid the uncertainty of traffic, I take the tram near my hotel directly to the train station south building. However, all of the trains leave from the north building, which is a super long underground tunnel away (like ten to fifteen minute walk underground).

This was super convenient my first train ride, but by the second, they closed the tunnel for construction, so you had to make your own way from the south building to the north building. The options are:

1. The free shuttle bus! I took this 2-3 times until I learned the error of my ways. It's not that bad, except for two things. First, people stuff themselves into the bus, so it's super super full. Still, windows are open so it's not that bad unless the second thing comes into play: TRAFFIC. The route is literally down the road, under a freeway, and turn right at the next street, about a five minute drive with no traffic. However, I have never seen this road not filled with traffic, and the last time I went to catch a train, I waited in line, watched a bus try to leave and then sit in front of me another five minutes, turned my head and saw that the previous free bus was sitting about a 2 minute walk from me and likely had moved about 50 meters in the last 15 minutes, and decided I'd follow the crowds and see if I could walk there. And it was an easy 15-20 minute walk! It is sort of muddy and dust filled and with high potential of getting hit by a car, but it was sooo much easier. Here's a photo of the stuffed bus:
Full of ppl in the bus!
And another one!

At least the windows are open...
2. So two was walking, the only other one I tried out. And I already described it all to you. So uh, on to the other ones that I saw and thought were funny!

There's the classic taxi as shown above. Probably unlikely to let you in unless you're going in a different direction though...
Or drop a wheel for one of these tiny taxis? This was the first time I ever saw three wheel cars...the sign says '南站' or 'nanzhan', which means 'South stop' for the southern train station building

Or one of these bike golf course-esque style things. Tiny with shade and some siding?
Or forget about the siding and grab one of these. Take at your own risk!
7. Or finally...
Just scooter it! At least the driver's wearing something for safety?
Anyways, these are some of the typical types of transportation in Chinese cities, though I've never seen so many at once as at this train station. 

Monday, July 8, 2013

When in China...omg EAT (post 1)

It's about time I get to food in China, since it's so delicious (though sometimes weird and sometimes much too hard on my poor stomach). I call this (post 1) cause I feel pretty confident I'll revisit this topic again. And again. And maybe again. :P

What inspired me to finally start working on this post is BING ZI (饼子) or...flatbread? slightly fried rolled out bread? delicious bread? Think green onion pancakes and just about any variation thereof--with meat inside, with no green onions, with sesame seeds, literally any delicious version you can think of for a flat slightly (or extremely) oily pancake-esque thing of dough that you can find just about anywhere you turn your head.

The best part of this is not just how tasty it is (which was what I was anticipating when I arrived), but also the fact that they use this bread to make wraps, burritoes, etc. They use this bread to do their version of hotdogs. Literally all over the place, there are little carts manned by people selling this delicious concoction. Ok, I don't trust the hot dog part of it, but if you get the works, they'll fry up a 'bing zi', put a fried egg, piece of lettuce, a hot dog, and some ketchup-ish stuff and wrap it all up for 5 YUAN. So less than a dollar, essentially. Or if you're like me, I just get the fried egg and 'bing zi' and YUM. Here's a photo (finally!) showing an example of a dude making one sandwich for someone (I snuck a photo because I feel incredibly weird taking photos of what everyone here thinks of as utterly mundane).

Notice the hot dog, lettuce, and fried egg? There were about five other such carts right next to this one!

At the supermarket, I get another version about every other morning for breakfast from a person who's making them fresh. She makes versions that are much less greasy (thank goodness) stuffed with red bean, plain ones, stuffed with a pork and mushroom mix (all 1 yuan each), and finally this hash brown patty held together by a fried egg on top (2 yuan). The latter I needed to make myself stop getting because a fried egg and potatoes was delicious but probably a heart attack waiting to happen if I kept eating them. But yummm, the plain ones are so delicious and bread-y and like what I can make but better

Another bingzi variety is a burrito or crepe, essentially. I had one for lunch today, as there's a place to make them at the north gate at my campus. On a total aside, the north gate has an area filled with little places for students to eat at or get a quick meal. My lab mates regularly get food from here, and it's been an experience trying the different foods and trying to order. Everything goes really fast and there's very few photos and so many options that I'm often overwhelmed. 

 The 'cafeteria style' section by the North gate. There's about 20-30 little stalls here where you can order anything from baozi (steamed buns) to a rice dish to hand pulled fresh noodles for super cheap prices (most expensive thing I've gotten so far was 9 yuan). 

Anyways, back to Chinese burritoes. Outside of the North gate area, there's a little stall you can walk up to and ask for...well, my lab has ordered it for me every time, but if I said something like (饼子卷白菜不要啦 or bingzijuanbaicai buyaola or 'wrap with napa cabbage, not spicy'), I think they'd understand what I want. Essentially, it's a really flat bread thing (but still a good chewy texture), where they put a egg on to fry into the bread, and then put napa cabbage, potato slivers, and this glass noodle mix, which they cover up and let cook on their stove thing until the cabbage on the inside is basically steamed all the way through and soft and delicious. The grocery store near my place also does a version of this (though cold), where I pick what I want, so I get it with tofu skin strips, potatoes, a noodle-y thing, and green onions. 6 yuan, max. 

A terrible photo that does not do justice to the napa cabbage burrito that I scarfed down for lunch today. 

So, basically, I'm in love with bingzi and don't know what I'm going to do when I can't immediately go get it somewhere five minutes after I start craving it. 

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

When in China...train system rocks!

I had my first experience on the high speed rail in China last Friday. I went from Changchun (where my lab is) to Shenyang for a 4th of July party the US consulate threw. (Random aside--ran into a fellow Swattie there; talk about coincidences!).

First, tickets. I'm still not sure how to get them online, though I know you can. However, they have lots of little shops where you can buy train tickets, and conveniently, one is a five minute walk from my hotel, en route to school. One of my labmates led me there to help me get tickets. One way was 142 RMB, or about $24, for the 'gaotie' 高铁 (high speed rail).

The train station was easy to get to when I took the trolley, and it's really big and clean looking. You end up in one giant waiting space for all the trains, with a lot of chairs and little shops (it was the same style in Shenyang), and when they called your train about 10 mins before boarding, you line up and show them your ticket to go down to the platform.

The seats were comfy and the cars were air-conditioned, so the 'gaotie' was a pretty comfortable ride. BUT, the best part is how fast it is. The distance from Changchun to Shenyang is about a 3-4 hr drive. I think that's about the same distance as New York City to Boston. The train ride was ONE HOUR AND FIFTEEN MINUTES. And it made two stops along the way. The party was at noon, so I left Changchun on a 9:30 am train and I got back to Changchun that night around 6:30 pm. That's like going from NYC to Boston in one day and having several hours of fun in between. As one person at the consulate put it, when I was chatting with him, "we went and had dinner in Changchun one evening just for kicks and then realized that it was actually doable". Can you imagine living in NYC and then thinking 'oh I'm going to go to Boston for dinner and then come back home'??? Or you could actually pull off a commute, since it took me 1.25 hrs on the train, and that's the regular distance or even shorter that many ppl in the US commute every day! If the US had a high speed rail, I can't imagine how the dynamics would change. A trip from San Francisco to LA, normally a 6-7 hr drive that could easily be longer with the amount of traffic there is could turn into a 2 hr train ride. Shorter distances between NYC and Philly or DC would probably be 45 minutes at most.

And the best part in China was that it was really cheap--$24. I guess that's not considered cheap in China, but for that technology and to go that far in such little time, I would expect a lot more. If a high speed rail does ever open in the US, I wouldn't be surprised if tickets were $50-$75 at the cheapest. Someone suggested to me that the US doesn't have the population levels needed to to sustain the high speed rail system. I think if such a thing existed, people would start using it. People don't now because it's expensive and slow, so sometimes driving a car is just as easy. If it was as fast as the high speed rail in China, I think many Americans would prefer it to cars or planes for traveling between cities. No more crazy security checks, ban on electronics for half an hr at the beginning and end of the trip, much comfier and less crowded, and no more crazy transfers halfway in the wrong direction to get to where you need to go. I want the 'gaotie' in the States!!!

Monday, July 1, 2013

When in China...keep your umbrellas and electronics easy access as you go through security!

Ok, maybe nobody cares about this, but I just wanted to exclaim a bit about their airport security.

I used to think the shoes off policy was the most exasperating rule, but Beijing has one that's much more frustrating. On my way from Beijing to Shanghai, when I arrived here June 2, I was stopped at the security check and held up for about 5 minutes because I had an umbrella in my carry-on suitcase. It took me a bit to even realize they were referring to an umbrella, and then another while because it was stuck in my suitcase at the very bottom because I didn't even think that would be an issue. 

Also, any and all electronics (including cameras, cell phones, hard drives, etc) have to be removed from your carry-on and placed in a separate bin. I thought this wouldn't be a problem until I was stopped again on my way from Beijing to Changchun two weeks later because I forgot my camera was shoved in my bag. 

Another difference was that they have very little table space for prepping stuff to go through security. About one person at a time can start putting their carry-on through the security check, so I thought it would be incredibly inefficient. However, consistently, I am surprised by how quickly I go through the security check. I think the longest I've waited was about 5-7 minutes (at least on the domestic side). Maybe the shoe removal is the limiting factor? Or Chinese people have less stuff to take out of their bags? Or they are just remarkably fast about going through security though they can be ridiculously slow at several other things?

It's not limited to airport security. Though they are less vigilant, they also require every person getting on the subway to place their bags through security. I was continuously surprised by the lack of a bottleneck occurring at the entrance of a subway station. Likewise train stations also have remarkably fast baggage security checks. For the amount of people walking into train and subway stations at any one point in time, the efficiency of their process is pretty impressive. 

Ok, high speed rail next, cause that was AMAZING and I tried it the first time last week, and I need to rave (and then complain about the lack in the States)!

Monday, June 24, 2013

When in China...I blend in REALLY WELL...until I open my mouth.

June 25, 2013
      My aversion to blogging (largely due to laziness, I will sadly admit) has finally been trumped by my ‘bursting at the seams’ urge to discuss various points of Chinese culture with my fellow Americans (or like-minded Western cultured ppls), which has been greatly limited by a time zone difference of 9-12 hrs and failure to have internet (which is hopefully now forever remedied). In other words, friends—I’m missing you guys and my regular daily conversations/discussions/debates in person and on chat and so have convinced myself to blog again.
     This was for my study abroad in England (it took a while to unearth the password again), so I guess it’s appropriate to continue with my ‘research’ abroad in China. For those of you not in the know, I am currently living in China for 10 weeks (6/1/13 – 8/7/13) under the East Asia Pacific Summer Institute Program through the US National Science Foundation. I have visited family in ShenZe and Nanning the first week, participated in orientation with my 29 fellow EAPSI-ers in China in Beijing for another week, and just began last week in Changchun, China (NE China) at my lab, where I’m learning how to extract and amplify ancient human DNA.
BUT, over the next few weeks, I will focus on various things that have caught my eye since being here. As a sort of prelude, here’s the topics I plan to write something about, and feel free to let me know if you have any topics you want me to start observing or asking about. I might oblige you. This is wholly based on what I’ve observed and is in no way systematically researched. So, feel free to go ‘Just who have you been talking to??? I’ve NEVER seen or heard that!’

Anyways, topics (in no particular order):

  1.           Transportation—I have so much to say on this topic! Weirdly, one of the ones I’m most excited about rambling about.
    1.      Taxis
    2.            Airport Security
    3.            Trains
  2.           Food—yummmm
  3.      Expatriate lifestyle
  4.      Academia
  5.      Environmental Issues/Sustainability
  6.      Economic Growth
  7.      Housing Development
  8.      So Many People!
  9.      Shopping Areas
  10.      Anything else that comes to mind…
Glad to be re-entering the blogosphere!

Random fact of the day!post!whatever!: In Chinese the first character of Jon Stewart's name is 'jiong', which looks like 囧 which means 'awkward' and looks like an awkward face!!!! :D:D And 'jiong' is pronounced 'jee-yohng' which is about as close as you can get to 'jon'! In my Chinese character typing program, if I type in 'jiong', I can also put down o(╯□╰)o as an option! 'jiong' 囧 is totally my new fave character!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

When in England...buy drinks in rounds--I suppose it all evens out at some point.

So, final night here in London, and what a fine night it was! With one last meal at Hare and Tortoise (Brunswick Sq, near Russell Sq Tube Stn), which I highly recommend-- it's a cheap Asian fusion restaurant, and the best dish is the roast duck and rice! I've eaten that far too many times while here, and two rounds of drinks with my friends here, and some sad goodbyes, I'm now in my room trying to figure out how to turn my mess into two packed suitcases.

I meant to write a few posts between my previous one and this final one, with titles such as:
When in Wales...sheep! to detail my trip up Mt. Snowdon;
When at Stonehenge...try to feel the energy in the stones, on my trip there for the Summer solstice, when we spent the night under its stones, listening to wild partying and watching quiet reflection somehow sit side by side;
When in France...le carafe d'eau is tap water, to discuss my mom's and my trip to Paris and Arles;
When in Italy...bring sunlotion--it gets really sunny, where we went to Rome and Venice;
When in Cambridge...punt!, where we went punting down Cam River;

but those posts never happened, and likely, they never will. If you'd like to know about them, just ask!

There was to be one more about London, and the arts scene--a post I meant to put up in the first weeks of June, but I'll pretend like I meant it to go here, at the end. I saw three plays (Waiting for Godot, Hamlet, and Arcadia), two musicals (Wicked and Les Mis), a taiko concert, and a bunch of different gigs. If you are ever in London, take the time to check out the theatre on West End, and any gigs if you can. The arts is so easy to see in London, and it's so enjoyable and worth it.

To end this post, people have been asking me what I'll miss most about London, and I've mainly replied the free museums and the tube system. But, it's so hard to say, because what I'll miss is much more than that--it's the living in London part I'll miss the most--a meal at Hare and Tortoise, walking by Leicester Sq and catching the premiere of yet another movie, watching the streets fill with people around pubs as the workday ends, feeling accomplished about figuring out the best bus route to where I need to go. It's the Archaeology library at UCL and the cozy, messy, small feel to it, the accents--of course the accents!, but noting the multitude of different British accents there are, and realizing I'm not really hearing the accent anymore because I've been here for long enough, a sunny day in London, Pimm's. It's all of these things and so much more I can't put to words because I'm not a good writer.

Thank you, London, for a fantastic half year making myself feel at home.