Monday, July 28, 2014

To Pass The Time

"Two more weeks! Two more weeks!" I constantly chant to myself as my time here in China slowly comes to a close. This adventure has certainly been an amazing experience but I can't seem to stop daydreaming about my beautiful campus and a bed that feels more like a mattress and less like a concrete slab. Talking with my fellow students, I don't seem to be the only one who feels this way. As much as we love China and learning Chinese, many of us are hitting a wall and are now counting the days till we can return to the states. But, to make the time go a bit faster I'm going to tell you about our Midterm trip to An'Yang and a different side of China that we got to see.

   What is An'Yang, you ask? Now, I'm not surprised that you don't know. I myself have never heard of An'Yang before my time here. An'Yang is a smaller, more typical Chinese city. It's not as developed and not as touristy as Beijing, which is why no one has heard of it. Why, then, you must be wondering did we go to An'Yang if there is nothing to see? Ah, well that is where you are wrong. Inside the city itself, An'Yang may not be much to look at, but there some truly remarkable destinations just outside the city. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's start with day one of our weekend excursion.

THURSDAY July 10th -
    Midterm completed, brains weak and limping, the students here at CET piled onto first a bus than a bullet train for a total of roughly four hours before reaching our destination. We got to the hotel around 9 at night, and immediately saw the difference between Beijing and An'Yang. An'Yang is noticeably smaller and less developed than Beijing. There were less cars and more bikes and, surprisingly, more pollution. Our hotel was...fine...comfortable, but the bed was still concrete-esque (I've come to the conclusion that the Chinese people have an aversion for soft mattresses), however we had the most important thing of all air conditioning so we were content. We spent an hour or so wandering around the neighborhood looking for a place to eat, however none of the surrounding restaurants didn't quite suit our fancy so we opted for snacks instead. Then, exhausted and rung out from our early morning test, we went to bed.

FRIDAY July 11th -
    Up at the ungodly hour of 6am, my roommate and I prepared for a day of sun and sweat. Our itinerary for the day; an early morning hike of Wang Xiangyan Mountain in Taihang Canyon than in the afternoon we were going to hike through Peach Blossom Gorge. So, we anticipated a lot of walking, sweating, and exhaustion.
   After a two hour bus ride from our hotel to the Wang Xiangyan Mountain, we piled through the gates of the Canyon and began our ascent. At first, all the CET students were clumped together, moving as one big mass through the bridges and up the stairs. But as the inclines became gradually more and more steep, and the climbing more treacherous we separated into smaller and smaller groups. I ended up in a small group of four that consisted of myself, my roommate, and my two friends Eric and Kiera.
Our first look at the mountain range after getting off the bus
The gate into the Canyon
There were a lot of gorgeous wildflowers around the gate
to the Canyon so I took a picture of one with the
mountain in the background.
 Climbing up the mountain was probably the greatest test of stamina I have experience so far in my 20 years of life. Though the climbing itself wasn't hard (we often had rickety stairs up the sides of the mountain or metal ladders with wooden planks) it was just a very long climb, which made it so challenging. However, for the most part, the most challenging section of the hike was at the very beginning. Once we were past that it was almost like a leisurely stroll through the mountainside.
Important direction on how to climb up the mountain.
Go up the climbing up path.
A shot of one of the less rickety
staircases we had to go up.

And success! We climbed up half
the mountain.

Most of the rest of the hike was like
this or just stone pathways. 

Ran into my boyfriend during the hike.
Unfortunately he's a bit of a statue when
it comes to taking pictures.

      There was one other portion of the hike that was particularly challenging. That was the ridiculous I’m-not-going-to-even-attempt-to-guess-how tall staircase we had to climb up to get to the top. Till then we had just been walking over stone paths and admiring the beauty of the canyon with its glimpses of waterfalls, and the mountain range in the distance. Then we encountered that staircase. Now, at my school (JMU!!!) we have what we like to call the Staircase of Death. It’s somewhere between 5 or 8 staircases to get from the football field to the road that goes through campus. However, in comparison with the gargantuan thing I climbed in An’Yang our Staircase of Death is a mere step stool. Despite its height and more than a handful of students refusal, my friends and I continued ever onward/upward (wells…sans my roommate). 

Ladies and Gents, the Staircase to Heaven
Also note, you can't see the bottom in this picture
because I wasn't able to get it all in one shot.
My roommate, right before she decided
she wasn't exactly keen on climbing up.

"Mind your safety"
Thank you helpful sign, because I was totally fooling around
and being careless on this staircase 20 feet above the ground
before I saw you.
      The first half of the staircase wasn't bad. I figured out a useful tactic that gave me both security and speed, however, about halfway up I started regret my decision but I had no choice other than going up just to get off the damn thing. But, never fear I (obviously) made it to the top with no problems. However, that was not the last feat I had to conquer on this epic hiking trip. Next was the (drum roll please)....zipline! That's right, there was a zipline across the entire gorge...canyon...thing and I rode it.
    Earlier, before we had climbed the staircase of the gods, I had seen the zipline from the bottom of the ridge. I had marveled at the bravery of the people I saw riding but never, for a moment, entertained the thought that I would get on it as well. However, once we got to the top we were led to believe that the only way down, other than the staircase, was to take the zipline to the other side and go down an alternate path. So, the zipline became our only option because none of us had any desire to go back down that god awful staircase. 
    The picture below can give you a taste of the expanse of the gorge and the zipline across. You can also see the staircase in the background, so it kind of hints at how high up we were. 

A shot from the other side.
I did it!
    Being on the zipline was amazing and terrifying and beautiful. With the thick orange straps wrapped around my thighs and middle attached to four thick wires as the only thing keep me aloft I whizzed across the gorge. My heart hammered in my chest and my hands clutched the straps for dear life, but I made sure to take in as much as a can with my eyes. During those few short moments across I made sure to really think about what an amazing life I have. Here I was, twenty years old, in China riding a zipline across a Mountain gorge. I'm pretty lucky. 
   So remember how I said that we took the zipline because that was the only way down? Well we were wrong. So we still had to climbed to gargantuan staircase back down. In my opion, climbing down was much worse than climbing up. It felt longer and we had many more students on at one time so I could here the creaking and clacking of the staircase as we made our decent. But, obviously, we survived and had a casual stroll down the other side of the mountain and onto our air conditioned buses.

   There isn't much to say about our next destination, the Peach Blossom Gorge, besides the fact that is probably one of the most beautiful places I've been in my life. None of my pictures can really capture it's beauty but I sure tried anyways. What you see is only a handful of the hundreds of photos I took.

     Our first day in An'Yang cam to a close after Peach Blossom Gorge. Back in the city we were able to find a good restaurant for dinner. Then I took a shower to wash off the dirt and sweat of the day and collapsed into bed. That's how you know you're really tired, when your concrete slab bed actually feels comfortable.

SATURDAY July 12th
    We woke up at the more reasonable hour of 8 o'clock and after breakfast and checking out of the hotel we headed off to An'Yang's museum. This museum is famous for housing an exhibit of what is called the Oracle Bones. The Oracle Bones are the oldest recorded form of chinese writing and from this ancient script you can trace the origins of current chinese characters. In other words, they're super cool and super old.
     Looking at these old characters is especially interesting because they look so much more like pictures than the characters we have today. For example the old version of 女, which means girl, looks a lot like a woman praying. However, my favorite character is probably 心 which means heart. Not only is it very easy to write, but if you look at it's original form (the picture below) you can distinctly see a heart and two hands. I especially like this because it reminds me a lot of an irish claddagh which is a very important symbol in irish history and culture. So seeing the similarities between what I was studying and something that's a huge part of who I am was really cool.

心 heart in ancient Chinese
       After the museum our next stop was Chenghuang Temple which is a small and very pretty temple in An'Yang. There, a local performance group of adorable old chinese women did a bunch of cool dance numbers for us and even let us dance along with them. Then they pulled out a bunch traditional chinese toys and games for us to all try. We spent a solid couple of hours just in the little temple in the middle of a random hutong just laughing and playing and dancing. It was a lot of a fun and a great way to end our time in An'Yang


Me attempting to learn their dance

We're all so confused, but still having fun.

      We left An'Yang the same way we arrived, by the bullet train! But what's interesting about the bullet train is that in less popular stops it only stays for a very brief time. So we had 2 minutes to get 60 kids from the platform and onto the train. Several minutes before the train arrived we lined up in our carriage spots ready to dash onto the train as soon as the doors opened. However, we didn't anticipate that there would be people getting off the train as well, so this severely depleted our time. So there we were, 60 kids, watching anxiously as person after person calmly gets off the train as our two minutes tick away. Thankfully the door to the carriage on down from ours was pretty empty and at literally the last minute we all dashed on and squeezed our way into the train before the doors closed. Thankfully, no one was left and we all made it back to the beautiful Beijing.
     As much fun as I had at our destinations in An'Yang I've decided that I really much prefer Beijing. Beijing is much more developed and lively, there are many more places to go and things to do and, for what ever reason, I felt safer there. So as cool as it was too see a little bit of what life was like in a less developed city, I definitely like being in Beijing better. I have to tell you, when we walked out of the train station and saw the wonderfully familiar cityscape of Beijing we were ecstatic. 

    So that was our midterm trip! It was lots of fun and a good break from the daily pressure of classes but unfortunately I am now back in the thick of homework and tests. With two weeks left to the program we are quickly coming to the peak of our classes. Next Friday is the final and it's sure to be even more brain numbing than the midterm. However, thankfully we have an entire week of review before that happens so we should have plenty of time to relearn everything...or learn everything.
    Speaking of homework, I should probably get started on mine now. I will have a new post up very soon about my adventures in a famous area of Beijing called Sanlituan very soon. 
     Until then be safe, be happy and remember


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