Monday, August 29, 2011

China Is Over, But Not Done

First day of classes, freshmen swarming the campus, I'm caught up in Presidential duties to FSU's swing dance club, classes, annoying hoops that advisers make you jump through. And all I can think about it how much I want to go back to China.

I was told by my mom that apparently people outside of my three friends on Facebook. So I just want to take this moment and say "Hi" and "I'm not done yet."

There's still so much I want to tell you about, so much that I just didn't allow myself time and think of what words I wanted to say. So if you're not bored of my ramblings, I'll still post here. Plus, there's a reason why this website is called "thegirlroaming". I plan on keeping up this blog on future adventures (not to jinx anything, but hopefully next summer...).

So stick around, who knows, maybe I'll even upgrade to my own website. ;)

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Climb Every Mountain! Or at least Yellow Mountain...

Yup, I climbed a mountain. And it was no small feat. In fact, it was around 5,900 ft.

A while back, my fellow teachers and I had white water rafted very close to this mountain, and ever since it has been a "must see" for us. Due to different schedules, however, we've been forced to visit in small groups. Mine was the second to Huangshan (黄山), so we got a lot feedback from the first group on what to expect, what to bring and what to see.

We were told to bring our own food and drink, because even though several stalls made both readily available, it was very expensive in comparison. Also, buy ponchos. Rest and drink water often, basically anything anyone who has ever hiked knew.

In terms of what to see, I was given a map with several attractions circled, but the NUMBER ONE thing we had to see was Ying Ke Song, or the Welcoming-Guest Pine. I'll get to that later

So our trip's beginning was less than stellar. Emily, Michael and I were supposed to leave around 7:40 p.m. by train on Sunday, but due to some unfortunate events, Michael ended up having to catch the next train... but still got to Huangshan City before Emily and I! (We were less than thrilled.) Emily and I, expecting to arrive at ~11:30, actually arrived at 1 a.m. and blearily stumbled to our hostel, luckily close to the train station.

After a very tired discussion, we agreed to skip the hostel's bus to the mountain (which left at 6 a.m.) and instead catch a later bus at the train station. That at least gave us two more hours.

We arrived exhausted and sore and maybe a little cranky with an entire mountain looming over us. Once we got our tickets (160元 with a student card) and got to the mountain with the help of a helpful and bilingual tour guide, we began our ascent.

It took ten minutes until the complaining started.

The amount of stairs was staggering. Even now as I remember them, it's a very different feeling, being at the bottom of the steps. The food went quickly and we lamented on not bringing more fruit.

Although, it was a lot of fun and we offered many of the Chinese visitors some entertainment. Emily, in a fit of frustration, sat down and exclaimed "I have no motivation to climb any more! I hate mountains!". At first everything was silent, and then the Chinese man sitting next to Emily started chuckling, followed by his wife. Michael just burst out laughing and soon everyone was in a fit of giggles. (Lesson: It is never safe to assume you are around non-English speaking natives.)

As we continued the treacherous climb, at one point I resorted to crawling up a particularly long flight of stairs, entertaining natives and tourists alike.

So after what seemed like hours and hours, we finally arrived to Ying Ke Song. The tree that we absolutely HAD to see. Was dead. And held together with cables to keep the picturesque scene you often see if you Google Huangshan. We were so non-pulsed by this tree, that we entertained everyone around who seemed genuinely excited to take pictures with this tree.

We had to take our pictures with this tree, and we had to look like we were having fun, and all of the natives thought our attitude towards the tree was hilarious. At one point, I felt the need to double check if this was the right tree, because I had been expecting something amazing, like an amazingly huge tree or this breathtakingly gorgeous tree. Not to say that it wasn't gorgeous, but the tree just couldn't hold up to our expectations.

So after that, we continued to the very, very top. It was a harrowing climb, and at times dizzying to look down. But we made it, and promptly awarded ourselves with snickers (an essential supply for a long hike), we also got medals with our names and the date engraved to commemorate our accomplishment. All in all, despite being a test of will and endurance, it felt amazing to stand on top of that mountain in the clouds. And for a moment everything was serene.

We found our hostel with relative ease, though once we arrived we were roughed up and exhausted and running pretty low on energy and enthusiasm. The hostel, despite not having keys, was extremely comfortable and we welcomed a nice warm shower.

The plan then was to wake up at an ungodly hour (4:30 a.m.) to see the sunrise, but as the alarms went off and everyone in the hostel peaked outside, we saw black rain. And instead of getting our ponchos and most likely being cold, wet, miserable and tired, we all just curled back up in our warm beds and waited for the sun.

The rain, though making us miss what probably would have been an amazing sunrise, gave way to a gorgeous day. Blue skies, light winds. And I wasn't even sore!

However, due to ill planning, our group made for home. The way back wasn't terrible, in fact, we had to take the cable car down on the east side, which made for a pleasant end.

The way back was a little stressful, as our train would wait a good thirty minutes to an hour at two of the stations we passed through. (Though one stop, we sat by this train with adorable girls who were thrilled to be across from Westerners.)

All in all, it was a fantastic experience and I would greatly recommend it should you ever be in the area. Though it is not a task to be taken lightly and one should prepare for it as best one can.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Dear Mr. Potter,

You and I have been through a lot. There are times when I fondly remember where we met, The Sorcerer's Stone was wrapped up neatly under my Christmas tree, a present that I could not fathom how much it would change my life.

I grew up with you, Harry. I met you when I was eight and graduated with you when I was seventeen. I was angry with you, I was lonely with you, I was happy with you. Some of the friends that I hold very close to my heart, you were our common bond.

I know it isn't over; that's the whole point of Deathly Hallows isn't it? Those who we have loved never leave us.

You have often been described as people's childhood, Mr. Potter. Well, I am happy to say you are more to me than my childhood, you are my friend.

Thank you, Harry. For everything.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Swing Dancers are Universally Awesome

I'm not dead yet! Shanghai definitely left me exhausted, even gave me a little cold, but it takes more than that to keep a good traveler down.

I mentioned a few entries ago how I had this itch to lindy hop. My dancing feet needed a dance floor and so they took me all the way to Shanghai, where the Internet had led me to believe that there was some sort of swing scene. Of course, these can be pretty hard to find.

I took the sleeper train from Wuhu to Shanghai, arrived pretty bleary-eyed to my hostel. The day was spent kind of wandering around, no real plan. And soon enough, it was time for a quest.

The website had pretty good instructions, and being some what proficient in being able to point at an address I copied in Chinese and then follow wherever the finger pointed, I was able to find the general area of where the website said... but then I couldn't find the place immediately. And I was about thirty-forty minutes late (than the time the website said the dance started) and I found this bar that was completely deserted save for the staff.

And at first I didn't even want to ask.

A million questions were going through my head, "Was it an old site?" "Did the scene ever even exist?" "What if it was a ploy for this jazz bar?" "What if I missed them?" "What if this was an off week?"

I mean, I came all the way to Shanghai especially for swing dancing, otherwise I would have gone somewhere else, or even take a weekend off from traveling. (Save for the first weekend, I have been out of Wuhu for every single one.) And for a moment, I wanted to just get back on the metro, go back to the hostel and cry into my pillow.

But that is not what I came to Shanghai to do! So, I got up my courage for what seemed the umpteenth time (by this point I have traveled to Shanghai by myself, slept on a train by myself, navigated Shanghai by myself (and then with my new roommate/friend from the hostel), and sought out this location by myself), I asked the managers of the restaurant that I had found and then they directed me to the CORRECT restaurant. (Lesson Learned: Never give up when you think it's hopeless, you may just be looking in the wrong places.)

I heard the music before I saw the place, but I immediately quickened my steps. When I walked in, it was like seeing a friend I hadn't seen in ages. We were both hesitant, eyeing each other, seeing how much we changed. Do we hug? Do we kiss? Do we immediately pick up where we left off?

At first it was really intimidating, as it is when you walk into a new scene without knowing a soul. But one thing that I absolutely love about the Lindy community is that once you establish that you swing dance, you have friends.

And it was amazing to dance again.

The basic, the shim sham, the swivels! To unintentionally quote Celine Dion, it was all coming back to me. I wasn't as rusty as I feared, in fact after I warmed up, I was close to where I was when I left off. (Or so I like to think.)

Some old bad habits came out in full force, like my inability to wait. (But to be fair, I hadn't danced in over a month. How could anyone expect me to be patient?)

The scene was incredibly small. It was run by Orchid, an energetic woman who was extremely passionate about swing dancing. She had learn from a Western follow who had asked a lead to come to Shanghai for the sole purpose of starting a scene. They had left a while ago, but Orchid kept the scene alive through what she's learned by youtube and what few exchanges she's been able to attend. (One of them being Franky's 95th, which I am eternally jealous for.)

They had just that day learned the shim sham, so I got to dust off the ol' routine, helped lead and even got the honor of making the calls of "freeze", "dance", etc. during the general dance.

Everyone was just so welcoming and reminded me so much of fellow lindy hoppers in the states. We talked about lindy hop, So You Think You Can Dance, different exchanges that they've heard of (though aside from Orchid, none have danced outside of China). One girl even asked how I did my styling (though I was hesitant to teach anything because I didn't want to mess with their basic). But I did get to teach scissor kicks outside of the basic, so that was fun.

Over view: good people + good dancing = amazing night in Shanghai.