Thursday, September 1, 2011

$12 Massage

One thing almost any one who's been to China can tell you: Massages are dirt cheap.* My roommate, Emily, and I frequented a local place in Wuhu (3 times total).

The first time, our coworker and friend, Linda, brought us, plus our friends Helene and Henry, to her favorite massage place. This would end up being a terrifying experience for Henry. I would like to share that experience with you now.**

We arrived in fashion (and by fashion, I mean an every day taxi), driving up to a very sketchy looking building. Luckily, Linda was standing right inside the door so she caught us before we could stand outside too long wondering if this was the right place.

We were ushered in and provided sanitized flip flops and food (noodles), and then we were separated into our gender-specified changing rooms to change into the very flattering pink pajamas you see up there in the picture.

We opted out of the shower. (We would have had to shower in front of each other, which was a bit much.) So we head to the sauna and wait for Henry to join us. And we waited. And we waited. Until finally he stumbled through the door, disheveled and looking way more stressed than when we entered. (Given that this was a place designed to do the exact opposite, we had cause for concern.)

Unlike us, who had the benefit of a translator, Henry had been alone in the male dressing room. He didn't know what the protocol was, only what the man in the changing room was able to mime to him.

So he took off his shirt. The man shook his head and gestured down. Henry took of his shorts. Man shook his head, gestured down. Soon Henry was standing alone in a room with a Chinese man and only one of them had any clothes on. Awkward levels rising.

Then he gets escorted to this jacuzzi/bath thing. Luckily no one else was in there, but Henry sat in the tub until the man told him (or rather, gestured to him) to get out of the tub and was promptly handed a washcloth to dry himself.

And, with credit to the institution, the man in the locker room was willing to go beyond the call of duty and started helping Henry dry himself by patting down his back... all the way down to his bum.

Now some of you might be going, why didn't Henry do anything? Well, there's this thing that happens when you're in another country where you don't know what's going to offend people, what's appropriate/inappropriate, and (arguably the most important factor) unable to eloquently express yourself in their language.

Henry ended up using five of these "towels".

So, not unfairly, he was pretty shaken up by the time he got to the sauna.

The massage was... painful. We requested women masseurs. We would later request men and be perfectly satisfied.***

One of the girls was completely in love with Henry, but lost interest once she learned she was older than him.

All in all, it makes for a good story.

*If you know where to go. I recommend having a Chinese friend/local recommend a place, especially in Beijing or Shanghai, where people can recognize foreigners and promptly rip them off. OR you might be signing up for more than a massage. (Just saying.)

**Don't worry, he's more or less given me permission to share this story. I'm not sure if he meant the entire internet, but that's what you get for not reading the fine print.

***Yes, I realize that could be taken in a completely different way.

(Thank you to Henry for a good blog story.)

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.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Suzhou, Zhouzhang & Hangzhou (or Where I Rediscover How Awesome Trains Are)

I think I'm just falling in love with China a little more each day. Honestly, before my adventure set out I was terrified that every horrifying thing I've heard about China would have me running back to America for familiar ground. And while there are some things that I dearly miss (certain foods, amenities, Western toilets, dancing) and am counting the days until I can take a nice, warm shower, I absolutely am falling in love with this country.

I wish I could just sit down and talk about everything about where I'm staying and what I'm doing, but once again I find myself positively ready to explode about my latest trip. So, before it gets messy, I think I'll do that.

The traveling itself made this trip special. I made the decision practically the day before and left it up to my travel mates (Jason and Armando, yes, that Armando) to book the tickets (as I spent most of Friday at a spa (story coming soon)). After agreeing on the two cities of Suzhou and Hangzhou and deciding to head to Suzhou first, we soon found out that there was only on train per day... at 12:14 a.m.

This did not excite me. I have never pulled an all nighter, but what I experienced was something very close to what I think an all nighter would be like. The train ride was five to six hours long and extremely uncomfortable. (I attempted to use Jason as a pillow, but he was too fidgety. Later he would tell me my elbows are like knives.)

So after one of the most uncomfortable nights of my life, we arrived in Suzhou, haggard-looking and silent. We stumbled into the hostel with nary a problem and aside from them accidentally confusing my passport for Jason's. (The salt on the wound is that he isn't even blond, so there really was no excuse for it.)

We took a much needed two hour nap and then struck out at 10 a.m.... or really 11 a.m. since it took us an hour to decide what we were going to do. We walked to the North Pagoda, which was relatively cheap (25 RMB). It had this amazing Buddah statue and offered some gorgeous views of the city.

After that we went to the Humble Administrator's garden (拙政园) which offered more beautiful Chinese landscape. But it was hot and humid. I was quick to take out my umbrella for shade. But it didn't stop me from getting soaked from the moisture.

We sought shelter in a museum. I can't tell you what museum. Just that it had amazing air conditioner.

Dazed, we wandered back to our hostel for a quick shower and nap and then we sought out sustenance. We ended up finding a Korean restaurant and I found some good bubble tea. The main walking street in Suzhou, Guan Qian Jie (观前街), was an impressive site. The neon and the crowds gave the street a vibrant sheen in the night, but the crowd was perfect for people watching.

The next day had us up early, breakfast at 7 a.m. and meeting the lobby at 8:10 to go on a tour to Zhouzhang (州长), the Venice of China. We hopped on a Chinese tour because it was honestly cheaper than going ourselves. (We were actually able to haggle down so we basically paid 20 RMB for the bus and 100 RMB for the entrance. The bus without the tour would have been 70+ RMB.)

Zhouzhang earns its nickname in spades. It was a Chinese Venice, complete with boats not unlike gondolas drifting through the canals. (We didn't get in one, but should you choose to enjoy a relaxing boat ride, you are given a small table for tea and if you get a woman to push you around, she'll more than likely serenade you.)

After lunch we were given a choice between two "towers". Of course, not really understanding, we just asked which was the most interesting, took their word for it and bought the tickets. This ended up being the best decision of the trip. They took us to this house that looked pretty shabby on the outside, but inside was the most amazing illusion/fun house I've ever been in.

The rooms were so impressive, as well as the paintings and the optical illusions. There was an upside down room, a sideways room, a room that made you really small and/or really big, a hall of mirrors, and the scariest haunted house I've ever been in.

We went into this room with these tables with headphones. We put on a pair each and then the room went pitch black. You could not see a centimeter in front your face and the audio through the headphones was so frightening. At first it was just something walking around, and you could feel someone walking around. And then it would whisper in your ear, and it really felt like someone was whispering. It was in Chinese, but some how that made it scarier. Haunted houses are usually pretty easy for me to laugh at... this one was really good.

That night we hopped on a bus to the near by Hangzhou (杭州) to meet Emily and Michael O. The hostel they booked our reservations at was probably one of the cutest things I've ever seen in my life. While a bit more expensive than our usual hostel by twenty yuan, it was a really charming place. Past visitors wrote on the walls in bright colors, English, Chinese, French, all over! And when we had breakfast, we got silverware! It was amazing.

The morning was spent at Yingling temple, which was honestly the most impressive temple I've been to in China. While a bit expensive (45 RMB to enter the mountain park and another 30 for the temple) the statues and the scenery were absolutely breathtaking.

After that and wandering around a bit, we ended up renting bikes and going over West Lake. A gorgeous, picturesque lake, but soooo humid!

Armando, Jason and I headed back to Wuhu that night on a train, experiencing one of the sleeper cars for the first time. It was a blast! And extremely comfortable. Only fifteen yuan more expensive, I really recommend this to get around, especially if you're traveling at night. (Though if you want to read, bring your own book light.)

My next trip is to Shanghai where I hope to find some lindy hoppers. Until then, I'll be roaming!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Nanjing Part II (or How I Became a TV Celebrity)

So, last minute, I decided to go to Nanjing again, this time with a larger group (and without Henry, though he was sorely missed). And it just deepened my love for the city.

Out of the three major cities I have visited, Nanjing is easily my favorite. (the other two being Shanghai and Hong Kong (though arguably that is not China, and I would agree with that)). Though it certainly does it's best to discourage me every time I visit.

This time, though I didn't lose my brand new camera (thank goodness), almost everything else seemed a challenge. Still, it will probably be one of the most memorable experiences of my life.

While the first trip to Nanjing was laid back, even restful, this one was a lot more hectic. I acted as a tour guide, since I kind of knew my way around. I ended up going to the Nanjing Massacre Museum again, though it offered a chance to take note on some things I miss and it's honestly the #1 site to see in Nanjing.

I really wanted to show them the top of the mountain, which had been gorgeous the first time around, but it was so foggy we could barely see the tops of the buildings. So, we looked for an antique market (which we didn't find) but I haggled for two gorgeous jade pieces, which I got down to 30% the asking price! I probably could have gotten down more, but I was so excited I just agreed. (All in all, ended up being less than $5 USD, so I call that a win.)

The shopkeepers absolutely loved haggling with us foreigners. Every time I exclaimed "tài guìle (very expensive)!" the woman seemed really excited and happy to haggle.

(Granted, not all the shopkeepers shared her enthusiasm. I tried haggling at a much more expensive place and the woman might as well have been stone.)

After a quick shower and rest, we went to the Fuzi temple, which was closed but the area surrounding it offered beautiful, colorful sites and shops.

The next day, I visited my favorite place in all of Nanjing and probably one of the most beautiful parks I have ever been to in my life.

So many people came up to my fellow teacher Emmanuel and me, it was like we were celebrities. Emmanuel got more than me and I had at least seven people approach me to take pictures.

And then the TV camera came. So there were like nine of us walking around the park and this guy and his camera man approached us asking for a boy and a girl to be boyfriend and girlfriend on camera. One of the guys immediately agreed whereas I kind of volunteered by just staying in the forefront of the group. (Not to say that I didn't want to do it, but I also didn't want to be like "MEMEMEMEME!")

We were given pieces of paper, were made to stand back to back and told to write down our favorite thing about the our significant other. Seeing as how we weren't actually a couple, this was a bit of a challenge. Finally, Hélène shouts to me what would be my dream boyfriend.

So we turn around, I showed him what I wrote ("He takes me dancing."). Now this is supposed to be a very touching moment where we (as a couple) are all lovey dovey, and guess what he says. "She's blond." Apparently that's my defining factor as person. Had he actually been my boyfriend, it would not have been a touching moment.

But then the TV guy told Armando that he had to say something else, that a lot of girls were blond, and he said that I was a nice person and that was pretty, etc. So yeah, got a good compliment or two out of it. ;)

All things considered, he wasn't my boyfriend and (as far as I know) I got to be on China TV. If I ever find the clip I will definitely post it here.

The rest of the day consisted of us trying to go to the Dr. Sun Yatsen Mausoleum (but due to an afternoon thunderstorm was closed), the adventure trying to get there in a taxi, drying off at the hostel before getting caught in the middle of flood trying to get to the bus station. The water was literally up past my knees. We tried to take one of the city buses but the traffic stopped because of the flood and we had to trek there.

We ended up missing our bus but were able to get tickets to the last bus to Wuhu (which ended up being a rest stop half way to another destination) that was supposed to leave at 7:30 p.m. but because of the flooding, the bus schedule was backed up for hours. Eventually we left around 8:30~9 and arrived safe and sound in Wuhu.

And that was Nanjing Part II.