Journey Into China

This is the story of a young man's trip across the world to a place he had only dreamed of.

Making It Known

Friday, May 19, 2006

Beijing - capital of the People's Republic of China in the Hebei province in northeastern China; 2nd largest Chinese city

Bejing - the shortened version, not necessarily correct, but useful for memorable blog names

Yes, I am ignorant. It's hard to hide that fact ALL of the time.

I'm going to leave the address of this journal the same for posterity's sake, but I'd like to make it known that I am aware that I should pay attention in spelling class next semester.

The Outliers

Thursday, May 18, 2006

During the day, we started at Peking University, which is both a medical school and a college. They specialize in degree programs – 5 year, 7 year, and 8 year – that prepare people for the medical field. We learned about how different the medical system is in China while there from a dean and a professor. The hospitals are owned by the government, as is the insurance. People go to the hospitals for small ailments like a common cold, because they want the best care possible, but that means the doctors’ time is basically wasted treating 5000 new patients a day (that is the actual number for their hospital). In the parking lot, I saw a glimmer of hope. Most of the cars here are not much bigger than a matchbox car, and I think if I got in one, I’d have to sit in the back seat in order to have enough leg room to drive. But, this guy or girl doesn’t buy that fuel efficiency, ability to park in small spaces, good for the environment mumbo jumbo! I salute you, kind sir or madam, for not following the crowd.

Following that, we hit up Guang An Men Hospital, and learned the intricacies of Traditional Chinese Medicine, or TCM. We learned about Yin and Yang, and how you get sick when your body is out of balance, and how ginger and hawthorn and dung beetle will cure a headache, and how too much joy will damage your heart and small intestine. We saw a demonstration of cupping, where glass jars are put on the skin with the oxygen sucked out of them by a flame. The cups have a suction that creates red whelps on the skin. This suppossedly relieves tension. We also saw a demonstration of Trina, a certain style of massage that that according to the therapist is more effective than Swedish, or other types of Chinese massage.

For dinner we went to a hotel that had a West Asian flare, although I’m not sure what country or culture the flare was from. There was a belly dancer (Persian?), there was Panjabi music (Indian?), there was pop techno (Japanese? – although that would make it East Asian), but, you see, the belly dancer didn’t move her hips at all (???), and this thoroughly confused me. Her belly stayed still while she moved her shoulders, arms and head. None of the waiters spoke English, the dancer left right after she was done, and, none of the girls here, as far as I could gather, are dancers – only doctors, apparently.

The location of the hotel defied my understanding as well. We parked out on the main road, and walked a couple of blocks (neighborhood style, not the city variety) back through some slummy apartments. I don’t know how much the people pay for apartments like that, but I hope it’s not much, because I don’t think they have any air conditioning, the windows are busted out, and the fence surrounding the buildings is in shambles. There were some guys who, in the midst of that, had class. They had themselves a pool table outdoors, and that guy in the white shirt was roasting some duck or chicken over an open flame. I could tell – they knew how to live. A little further past them was the hotel, painted white and gold. It was clean, renovated-looking, and there was not trash on the steps. It stuck out like a sore thumb. One of the guys from Texas, a different one than the one I sat next to on the plane, said, “It’s like a $50 saddle on a $10 horse.” Hahaha, I couldn’t agree more.

The acrobat show we went to last night needs only this picture to explain the sheer improbability that physics actually apply in China. There is a platform that is about 2 ½ feet tall. On top of the platform stands a 6 foot tall Chinese man who is balancing himself on a see saw with a wheel (it’s actually more like a large spool) underneath it. Two girls are hanging on to a platform on top of his head, with their feet on his hips. A smaller Chinese man is balancing himself on another board with a spool underneath. That would have been hard enough, but since gravity didn’t exist at the time, there was more. The people at the bottom threw bowls up to the guy on the top. He’d then slide them out to the end of the board he was standing on and with a flick of his legs, land them in a bowl on his head. The pinnacle was when he put three cups out on the end of the board, launched them in the air, and they landed, one after the other, in the stack of bowls on his head.

The Vibrant City

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

The no sleep plan worked out well, now that I’ve gotten a little perspective. I was able to wake up at 5:30 the past two mornings and take a morning stroll. There’s nothing better than a little Tai Chi in the morning – especially when it involves swords! After I got my dose of martial arts, I started looking around, and realized… the hotel complex is GIGANTIC. There are 7 buildings for the hotel, 4 apartment complexes (multiple buildings each), and several guard stations. Once outside of the property, the hustle of Beijing is fully visible as one of the main roads runs alongside the land.

There are 13 million people in the city. Of those, 8 million of them have bicycles. The bicycle lane here is two to three times wider than the lane in the area around San Francisco – and that’s saying something! The funny, or sad, thing was, out of all the bikes I saw, no one of them was fewer than 5 years old. Most looked as if they had been made in the 1970’s, and some were even made out of wood. Many of them also had utility beds on the rear for transporting fabric and fruit to sell on the street.

We started off the day (or should I say, the rest of our group started off their day, as I had already been up for 5 hours) with a rundown of the policies and procedures and the schedule. A well spoken Chinese man in his 30’s told us tales of the culture and quite a few funny anecdotes. For example – Why does a bike fall over without a kickstand? …because it’s two-tired. Or – A Russian man, an American man, and a Chinese man, all have the unfortunate situation of having their light bulb go out. The Russian replaces the bulb, and then takes his lost friend to the bar, and drinks vodka in his honor. The American replaces the bulb, and then boxes up the old bulb so he’ll have evidence in his civil suit against GE. The Chinese man replaces the bulb, and then builds a temple around the old one so he would be able to reflect on its years of great service.

After the informative stand-up was done, we split up into groups and were told to represent what we wanted to get out of this trip in some way. One group had a lengthy rap, complete with a beat dropped by one of their members. Others drew a yin and yang, and talked about blending Eastern and Western medicine. Some of the groups had a poster board filled with symbols. I dusted off my drawing skills, and our group came up with the image you see here. Our talking points were traditional (not modern) Chinese medicine, proper etiquette, and contrasting the two styles of medicine (Eastern vs. Western) instead of blending them into one. We felt that it was more important to understand the differences, so that we could get a better picture of why each worked apart from the other.

When I said I was excited about having buffets for meals, I never anticipated that we’d be getting, as my friend, Alisa, put it, “traditional Chinese 7-course meals” for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I may bite my tongue later, after I gain 20 pounds more, but for now, all I can say, is – these people know how to do food!!! The picture is of our APPETIZERS at lunch yesterday. The only thing that irks me is that they only give me a glass, not much bigger than a shot glass, of water, and don't like to refill it. When I go to a restaurant in the States, I usually drink no less than a pitcher of water. This will take some getting used to, but the food certainly makes up for it, so I can't complain TOO much.

Accross The Pond

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

I hopped on a plane at 8 AM Sunday morning at DFW. I arrived in LA at 8:55 local time -- less than an hour! Even fo me,that was fairly quick. ...but if you take the time zones into account (Who would want to do that?!), it turns out to be about three hours. As luck would have it, the guy sitting right accross the aisle from me was one of the people going in the trip. Don't ask me how that happened, because the people I'm traveling with are from all over the country. There are only a few from Texas. So, how we sat next next to eachother, is a mystery.

In LA, I ate, not once, but FOUR times -- breakfast at Chili's (I found the prospect to be amusing, but it actually wasn't half bad), lunch at an Itallian grill, a post-lunch dessert at McDonald's, and a pre-flight chicken croissant from a little stand by the gate. I must like Californian food. Our flight was delayed over two and a half hours, so, I suppose that aided in my grazing.

We took off around 4 PM. At this point I should mention, that I had spent the previous night packing -- by plan, on advice frommy helpful, internationally experienced friend -- and so, had not gotten a wink of sleep. Needless to say, I spent over half of the flight from LA to Shanghi asleep. Without a layover, we changed planes (pictured on the right) and headed for Beijing. We arrived around 12:45 AM, May 15th. By my calculations, that means the 18 hour flight, made us jump almost 33 hours into the future!

Customs was a breeze. There was no searching, no metal dectectors, no nothing, besides a piece of paper saying how may bags we brought into the country. Very surprising! Our tour guide, Sin, who will be with us throughout the trip gave us a quick rundown on Bejing on our way to the Friendship Hotel. Apparently, the hotel, which was built in the 1950's, is one of the most famous and is where diplomats and celebrities have stayed over the years.

When we pulled up to the hotel, I quickly ate dinner -- it was almost 2 AM at that point, and we were supposed to be up at 7 the next morning! Even, a "light meal" as they called it, was quite an ordeal, with no less than 20 choices on a buffet line. I didn't have much time to spend, but I'm not worried, as I'm sure I'll get my fair share of buffets while I'm here. ;)

Preparing For The Journey

Saturday, May 13, 2006

My bags are packed
I'm ready to go
My camera's in order
My passport's in tote
Only one more night
Until I catch the plane