Sunday, August 2, 2009

Our Trip to China

Poly provides their teachers with two weeks of vacation a year, the last week of July and the last week of December. Kim and I decided to head on over to China and visit Emily, SangKwun and Mr. Kim. Kim's birth father organized most of the trip and provided with an itinerary of Beijing, Ching Dao, Guangzhou, and Hong Kong. That is four cities in 7 days so we did not end up getting that much rest, but it was worth it.

We flew with Asiana airlines to Beijing on Saturday. Our flight was at 1:40 PM and we got in Beijing (which is one hour behind Seoul) around 3:00 PM. We sat in the economy section but there was more than enough leg room, so I was happy.

The airport in Beijing was only 1 years old, having been built for the previous summer's Olympics. You could definitely tell that it was new because the entire place was spic and span. China, as well as the rest of Asia, is still scared to death of the "Swine Flu" which is called H1N1 over here. We were greeted by a swarm of people wearing masks looking for people that might be sick.

SangKwun and Emily were there to pick us up at the airport. Emily drives a Honda SUV. The traffic in Beijing is pretty bad, but I still do not think it was worse then Seoul. I did see my first Ford vehicle (not pictured below) since last December.

On our way to our hotel we passed by the "Bird's Nest". You may remember it from last year's summer Olympics. Unfortunately, we were not able to make it back to see it more closely.

Our hosts found us a nice hotel that was located not too far from their apartment and shops. There was a lot going on in the surrounding neighborhood, especially at night when an outdoor market seemed to pop up out of nowhere. Kim and I have not really gotten used to Asian breakfast, so we usually opted for the McDonalds down the street. Their food is alright but I was mainly after the coffee. No one seems to drink coffee in China, only tea. I know it is probably healthier, but if I am going to walk around all day sightseeing, I need my morning caffeine fix.

Emily took us to a local restaurant that specializes in Peking Duck after we checked into the hotel and dropped our bags off.  I had been craving this meal ever since we decided to visit China and I wasn't disappointed.  We filled our bellies with some unbelievable food which all cost less then $50 for five people.  This included a bottle of liquor and tons of left overs.  

Afterwards, SangKwun drove us around Beijing and showed us some of the sites.

Later on that night, Emily took us to Wang Fu Jing Street, which is a night market that sells various Chinese products, including souvenirs and novelty food products.  The streets were jammed packed.  It was exciting walking through the streets and hearing the people barter over prices.

Below is one of the novelty foods items I was referring to.  Can you guess what they are?  Probably not since no one (at least in the US) thinks of a scorpion kebob as a tasty snack.  The scorpions are still squirming on the sticks before they get rolled in batter and plunged into the deep fryer.  They are actually extremely popular.  Even though SangKwun tried his best, I was too scared to order one.  I doubt it will be something that I will regret anytime soon.

Both Kim and I were fascinated by the lights and lanterns dangling over our heads.  To us it was how we imagined China would be.

This is a picture of some more food vendors offering a little less adventurous fare.  There was chicken, squid, corn, and beef all of which can be grilled and served on a stick at a reasonable price.  

Our next stop was Hou Hai, which is a lake front bar area consisting of over 300 bars and restaurants wrapping all around the lake.  This location has to rank as one of the coolest places to drink in the world.  Once again, the street was crowded but there were so many options for places to go, finding a table was not difficult.  You might notice in the picture below that the gentleman in the turquoise shirt has his t-shirt rolled up above his belly button.  This is a very common sight in China and no one could explain how or when this phenomenon began.  We were just told that they are hot and it is a logical way to cool themselves off.  Over the span of 7 days, I resisted the urge to partake.  

We chose a bar called Alpha & Omega which had outdoor seating right by the lake.  We split a bottle of wine and some appetizers.  The weather was perfect, with the temperature in the 70s and a nice breeze coming off the water.  The pictures below show what the view was like from our table.  The lake offers boat rides that will taxi you around to different locations.  Like I said before, Hou Hai was the most unique party environments I have ever experienced.  

The rest of our stay in Beijing included tours of the Summer Palace, Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, and the Great Wall.  We also finally got to see Emily and SangKwun's store, K&C Studio.  There will be separate blog posts to follow.  That will allow us to show more pictures and provide more details without putting anyone to sleep.

Below are some of our favorite pictures of sights from our travels around Beijing.

On Wednesday, we had dinner with Emily's family before our flight to Quing Dao.  Sitting from left to right are: Kim, myself, Emily's father, SangKwun's friend (who accompanied us most of the trip but we never got his name),  Emily's younger brother and older sister, Emily's mother, and Emily.  No one besides Emily could speak English but they were all extremely nice to us.

Our next stop was Quing Dao where Birth Father's factory is located.  We will also include a separate post on this later on.  We did get to enjoy a massage during our stay.  You can get a massage for around $10.  

We were placed in this room with four comfortable chairs and they started us off with a foot bath.

The water was very hot but you got used to it after a few minutes.

They also provide you with gum and cigarettes to help you relax.  Obviously, China, like Korea, has a big smoking culture.  After the bath, our masseuses came in and gave us a thorough foot and leg massage followed by a back massage.  There was a lot of giggling about the size of my feet.

Our last night there, Mr. Kim took us out to a Chinese Hot Pot restaurant with two of his friends/co-workers.  Below is a picture of the group.

The next day (Friday), Kim, SangKwun, and I were off to Guangzhou, where K&C Studio's other stores are located.  SangKwun is living here until he can get these stores running on their own.  

Below is a picture of SangKwun's office/apartment.  He has four girls working there for him as well as a "house mom" who does his cooking and cleaning.  I envy his life.  (Just joking.)  

This was the view from one of his balconies.  Pretty nice, huh?

This is a picture of his dog Sam Sam, which translates into 3-3.  I am not sure what the significance of the name is if there is any at all. My best guess is that 3 is considered a lucky number in Asia. (Just an interesting fact... 4 is an unlucky number and most buildings either skip the number altogether or replace 4 with F.)

Sam Sam is kind of cute, but in my humble opinion, is nothing compared to Riley. :)

Here are the siblings during the trip. It was great getting to spend the entire trip with SangKwun. He really was the ultimate host.

In Guangzhou, we didn't really do much. We mostly just visited SangKwun's stores and relaxed. In the evening, we took a nice walk along the riverfront, which was awesome. China does a great job utilizing their riverfront property. It's definitely a lesson St. Louis could benefit from!

As we strolled along the riverfront, we came across this large group of women doing some sort of synchronized exercise routine to music. SangKwun and Kim briefly joined in, while I pretended not to know them.

Finally, on Saturday, we began our last leg of the trip. We took an hour and a half train ride from Guangzhou to Hong Kong. When we arrived in Hong Kong, we had to pass through customs and get tested for the H1N1 virus by having our temperature read. Fortunately, we were all healthy and allowed to proceed.

There will be a big Hong Kong post to come, as just a few pictures wouldn't give the experience the credit it deserves.  One quick story about Hong Kong that I think most of you will like.  Kim and Sang Kwun were looking around in the Marc Jacobs store.  SangKwun noticed a purse that he thought would be good for Kim and immediately proceeded to the register.  When Kim initially refused such a lavish gift, SangKwun replied, "You do not know how happy this makes me to be able to take my little sister shopping.  I am more than happy to buy this for you."  When they came back to meet me, he had a grin on his face from ear to ear.  I thought it was a nice story.  Let me just say that Hong Kong was one of our favorite stops of this trip.

Here's a quick picture of Kim and her brother in the middle of the action to tide you over.

All in all, this was an amazing trip. We felt very lucky to be able to see so many parts of China in such a short amount of time. (We definitely wished we could've had more time to see an experience more!) I'd definitely recommend that anyone who has an opportunity to visit this country takes it! It's such a unique culture, much different than any other I've experienced. (And for the record, Panda Express and Chinatowns don't do it justice!)


Jennelle said...

My friend Karen just spent three weeks in China teaching English, and she wasn't even allowed to take pictures in the airport! They yelled at her. She almost got quarantined for swine flu when she first landed, too. I think she enjoyed it, but apparently the smog was horrible, and there aren't really traditional toilets?

hannah said...

I'm so glad you guys had a good time. I can't wait to see the pics of K&C Studios and BF's factory. I miss you guys!

Maggie said...

Sounds like an awesome trip! You should have gone for the scorpion skewers Mark! Miss you guys!

steve said...

Hong Kong, no way! I'm jealous. I've always wanted to go there. Looking forward to the next post.

(And yes, for the record, I'm missing you guys, too).