Darrick's Diary

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

No More Cake!

It’s not every day that I get to have my 30th birthday in China, but that is exactly what happened on Wednesday.

After work, a few my boss took me to dinner at the restaurant we typically eat at on Wednesdays. I filled up on appetizers and a meal that included enchiladas, rice, and refried beans. Afterwards, the restaurant surprised me with a piece of chocolate cake. It was a nice, filling meal.

When dinner was finished we went to my favorite bar, an English pub, for a drink. All of the girls that worked there knew about my birthday and had bought a cake for me. The whole bar sang Happy Birthday. Afterwards, the girls sang a birthday song for me in Chinese. It was a lot of fun and by the end of the evening I was completely stuffed from so much food. Meanwhile, my refrigerator contains an ice cream cake from Dairy Queen, and I have another cake coming on Friday night for my company Birthday/Going Away Party.

I think I’m going to be coming home fat and diabetic after so many sweets.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

From Dalian to Xi’an to Beijing (Day 5)

The last and final day of the trip involved a morning at the Temple of Heaven. Really, it was more than one single structure. The whole area was more like a park with a cover to get in. In random places, people would be practicing yoga or taking group dance lessons. Such a large, green area in the middle of the city reminded me of Central Park in New York.

Several different locations in the middle of the grounds were the hot spots to see and had their own fee to enter. Each sight generally involved some kind of ritual in hopes of achieving a good harvest or some other need. Key areas where constructed, for priests and other orators, that had special auditory properties.

While wandering around, I was again stopped for more pictures. This time, however, I had to take 4 or 5 pictures. Apparently stopping for one picture allowed a couple groups to take advantage of it. If people formed lines in China, I guarantee there would have been one. Talk about unexpected.

The afternoon was spent as spent shopping (or at least looking around) at the pearl market and silk market. If there was something you wanted whether it was clothing, electronics, jewelry or anything else, you could find it here. Even if somebody didn’t have what you were looking for, I know they could find it somewhere else for you. Literally, entire floors would be filled with as many venders as they could possibly fit inside. Each vender would, of course, cram as much inventory into their areas as possible.

Besides the massively overwhelming amount of goods for sale, I also had to tolerate the vendors themselves. They certainly weren’t shy about trying to make a sale. Everybody would approach my group, sometimes even stopping us by grabbing an arm, and numerous times somebody tried to sell me a watch even when the watch I was wearing was clearly visible. I was very happy to leave both places. Obviously, the day couldn’t end though without our taxi driver get lost on the way back to the hotel.

After a quick flight back to Dalian and a taxi ride home, the trip was over. There was so much more to see and do that I really needed another week at least. It doesn’t matter though; it was still a great experience. I guess I simply have an excuse to come back in the future now.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

From Dalian to Xi’an and Beijing (Day 4)

The second day in Beijing started off with a trip to the Great Wall. It’s definitely peak tourist season. The wall was completed packed. Our tour guide commented on how it was actually a great wall of people.

Choosing the least crowded direction, I worked my way up the stairs and inclines of the wall. The views were pretty amazing. However, some sections of the wall were incredibly step and didn’t have any stairs. Even on a hot, dry day people were slipping. I can’t imagine what it would be like trying to navigate the structures in the rain or snow.

Although I’m very familiar with the phrase “It’s a small world”, I actually experienced just how small of a world it really is at the wall. I was going up the wall one direction when I encountered some Americans going down the wall. These people weren’t just Americans, they were Iowans. Wait, it gets even better. These Iowans also happened to live in Cedar Falls AND were students at UNI. What are the odds of that? I don’t recall all of the details, but they were in China for weightlifting and should be back home sometime this week.

After the Great Wall, we went to the Ming Tombs. The tomb that we had the opportunity to enter was 20+ meters below ground and very damp. Although the structure was impressive since it was so far below ground, it was pretty plain. The walls weren’t decorated at all and there were side chambers that were entirely empty. Apparently most things rotted quickly once the tomb was unearthed and open to the fresh air.

The evening was spent at the hotel watching some kind of traditional Chinese theater. The singing portions were horrid. The actress’ voice was so high pitch that it hurt my ears. Fortunately, that was only a smaller portion of the show. Before and after the singing, fight scenes took place. These scenes involved a mix of martial arts and tumbling. The physical abilities displayed were impressive.

Once the show was over, a few people wanted to get some authentic Beijing hot pot. I was full from an earlier meal and didn’t partake in the late evening dinning, but still tagged along. One of the hotel staff suggested a close by place that took us down some dark, unlit alleyways. Eventually, we did make it to the restaurant. Like the alley it was on, the restaurant was dirty and normally the kind of place that I wouldn’t even have glanced at.

The interesting thing about the hot pot here was that a metallic tube rose up out of the water and inside sat a piece of coal. The top of the tube could be opened or closed to control the temperature. The service was good, but that could have been because we were the only customers. Overall, a fun experience.

Monday, August 2, 2010

From Dalian to Xi’an and Beijing (Day 3)

Everyone talks about Beijing being dirty. Personally, I thought it was a very clean city. Granted, the sky is a little hazy, but that isn’t any different than Dalian. There wasn’t any bad or smoky smells and the ground was almost entirely free of litter. Much of the city and subway are modern and well maintained as well. Beijing has definitely been move favorite city in China so far.

The hotel where my group stayed was filled almost entirely with foreigners. There was lots of blonde hair and blue eyes, so my guess is that most travelers were from Scandinavian countries. Even better, by the time we checked in the night before, the hotel had run out of standard rooms, so I got a free upgrade to a suite.

The first sightseeing stop on this day was a quick walk through of Tiananmen Square on the way to the Forbidden City. Basically, the square is just a big open area with long lines of Chinese tourists waiting to see Chairman Mao’s body in state. It was, however, still worth seeing since it’s something I’ve always heard about (mostly for negative reasons though).
By the time I reached the Forbidden City, my group got separated which left me and two others standing outside the city walls waiting for the others. This rather lengthy stop led to a couple more random photos with Chinese tourists. One girl was so nervous to have her picture taken with me and my boss that she was trembling badly. I’d be very surprised if the picture she took of her friend turned out since the camera was shaking so badly.

Inside of the Forbidden City, it’s very easy to get lost. The area is absolutely huge, and the middle is packed with buildings so that it’s almost maze-like. Sculptures of phoenixes and dragons are everywhere and with representations of the number nine. Nine is a very lucky number that only the emperor was allowed to use.

After the Forbidden City, we went to the Summer Palace. It was also very large and unique. However, only one building (which was actually made of bronze) was original. Everything else had been rebuilt after the palace had been burnt down in the 1800s during the Opium Wars. That seems to have been the fate for most of China’s cultural landmarks. If things weren’t burnt down by the Chinese people themselves during some random uprising, then other countries like England, France, etc. were more than happy to help out.

The palace grounds did boast some very beautiful views as we worked our way up the hill/mountain that the palace sat next to. There was even a small secluded area where the emperor would go and pretend to shop. Here the eunuchs and concubines would pretend to be store workers and other regular city people.

After a long hot day of sightseeing, we had dinner at Hooters, because it’s a Hooters….in China!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Airlines: There’s No Good, Just Bad and Ugly

I’m going to take short break in my vacation storytelling to rant about my current situation.

So, about a week and a half ago, I was told that Korean Air from Seoul to Chicago changed their flight time so that it departed sooner than previously scheduled. Based on my original arrival time I had from Dalian to Seoul, I didn’t have enough time scheduled between the two flights to make the connecting flight valid. I was given the option of going on the waitlist or take my chances and try to make the original flight. Since I didn’t want to risk being stranded in Seoul I opted for the waitlist, a decision I’ve come to regret.

My new flight itinerary has me set to fly out of Dalian on August 16th instead of the 15th. Instead of traveling from Dalian through Seoul and Chicago on my way to Cedar Rapids, I’ll need to go From Dalian through Seoul, LA(where I’ll have to clear customs now), Dallas/Ft. Worth and then to Cedar Rapids. If I’m lucky, I’ll get back to Postville around 11:00pm.

When it’s all said and done, I’ll arrive home a day and a half later than originally scheduled and spend approximately 28 combined hours in planes and at airports. I’ll be amazed if my baggage isn’t lost. If it wasn’t for the fact that all of the sleeper cars where full on a three day train ride from LA to LaCrosse, WI I would have taken Amtrak. I’m extremely disappointed, especially since I thought that Korean Air was such a wonder flight in February.

Additional news involves my first experience at a modeling competition. The competition was just ok. It was mostly a bunch of tall, underweight girls walking around in strange looking clothing. Unfortunately, the most excitement came when an obviously very heavy prop wall fell over and flattened at least 3-4 back ground dancers who where then taken away by ambulance. I was disappointed to see that once the wall was lifted off of the injured the security officers felt that they would be most useful standing shoulder to shoulder on stage in an effort to block the audience from watching. Maybe I’m wrong, but I think that possessing knowledge of and implementing first aid should also be included in their job descriptions. Let’s hope that everyone is OK.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

From Dalian to Xi’an and Beijing (Day 2)

During the hottest, driest time of year in Xi’an, it just happened to rain. Go figure. We made the best of it though.

To start the day off, we went to the historical museum. Tickets are free if you choose to stand in the lengthy line outside. However, for a small fee you can purchase tickets and immediately go inside. Due to the weather, and the fact that nobody wanted to spend their last day in Xi’an standing in line, we went with the latter option.

Obviously, it wasn’t any different than any other museum. There were many displays of pots, jewelry, and coins. The most impressive item was a map that showed the evolution of the silk trade routes to Europe and the importance of Xi’an.

After the museum, we went to the Big Goose Pagoda. This was one of the first Buddhist temples built in China. While impressive, the really beauty was the surrounding park and structures. There were several fountains and all of the buildings were a beautiful blend of modern and traditional architecture.

By now, we needed to go back to the hotel for check out. First, we couldn’t find a taxi because it was time for the shift change. Then when we found a ride, we got lost……again. They those hotel reviews I read earlier where absolutely correct. Nobody could find the hotel. At least I the driver took us by the Drum Tower and Bell Tower for a few pictures.

After a quick dinner we were off to the airport and to our next destination, Beijing.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

From Dalian to Xi’an and Beijing (Day 1)

I finally took the opportunity to do a little traveling outside of Dalian. This city is fine, but it’s very young and modern. However, Xi’an and Beijing are so culturally rich that I simply couldn’t do everything. It was a great time and I guess I’ll have to go back.

Thursday morning I left Dalian with a few coworkers for Xi’an. The flight went well, but the taxi took us to the wrong hotel. This really wasn’t a surprise since I had read reviews about how hard the hotel was to locate.

Once at the hotel, I was surprised to find out that a deposit three times larger than the room rate was required. Fortunately, I could cover this temporary cost, but it certainly wasn’t something I had planned for. The room was nice, but we were only in Xi’an for 2 days. Without delay, everyone regrouped in the lobby, and we went sightseeing. First stop, the Terracotta Warriors.

Before we even got inside the building someone approached me asking for a picture. I was definitely surprised. I figured that at a tourist trap like this, no one would think twice about seeing a foreigner. It never crossed my mind Chinese people from more remote places might be vacationing in Xi’an also. It was a unique experience, but definitely not the last time this would happen during the trip.

The warriors were definitely amazing. Apparently only one of them had been found undamaged. The others had been pieced back together like a giant jigsaw puzzle. I can’t imagine how time consuming that would be. What had happened, unfortunately, was after the emperor that commissioned these statues had died, there was a farmers rebellion. A group of people intentionally broke the statues and burned down the structures that housed them. I can only imagine how impressive the site would have been back then.

After taking many pictures and buying a few souvenirs, we hurried to the Huaqing Hot Springs. Here, Emperor Xuanzong and his concubine (along with other nobles) would bathe in pools filled with water from the hot springs. The area was also a residence of Chiang Kai-shek, the leader of the Chinese Nationalist Party in 1936.

After a long day, we indirectly went back to the hotel (the taxi got lost again), cleaned up, and went out to one of the small nearby restaurants. Apparently, Xi’an is known for its noodles, and I admit they were very good and very filling.

It was definitely a busy day, but a great one.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Excel – Terrorizing Users Since 1985

Yesterday was a good day at work. I had spent about a week working in excel creating a payroll program. Sure, this sounds like it should be easy, but the hang up come with a more advanced application. I actually had to use an additional program called Visual Basic for Applications to create a user form that would perform all of the functions that I wanted done. The process of creating one of these user forms boils down to computer programming. Now, if I liked this type of work I would have chosen to major in it instead of accounting. Slowly I searched the internet for the desired coding and then modified it accordingly. Let me just say that I wanted to bang my head against the wall more than a few times. However, it’s finally done and works!

Outside of work, the weather has been hot and very humid. Normally, I was a couple loads of clothes at my boss’s apartment and then hang it up to dry at my apartment. Because of the humidity, the last time I did laundry it was still wet three days later and smelled even worse than when it was dirty. So, I did two things to try and remedy the problem. First, I bought a fan. Hopefully the air flow will help things dry faster. Second, I’ve resorted to washing socks and underwear by hand. This way I can keep the amount of laundry needing to dry at any given time to a minimum. I never thought that I would ever buy a bar of laundry soap, so this is definitely a unique experience.

Finally, I bought plane tickets for a trip to Xian and Beijing. It’ll be a short trip lasting only five days, so I’ll really have to hit the ground running in order to see even a fraction of all the tourist traps. My boss will also travel with me since he hasn’t been to Xian either. It should be an exciting “vacation.”

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

No Raincoat Needed.

Over the weekend I went to Discoveryland amusement park. It wasn’t a big place, but still, I enjoyed myself for what it was. Most of the rides certainly lacked the thrill that I would expect from something similar back in the US, but considering that I haven’t been to an amusement park since I was 16 it didn’t take too much to make me dizzy. Fortunately (or unfortunately depending on how you look at it), I didn’t even have the opportunity to try the hand full of big rides. Apparently, if the weather is too windy they have to shut down the rollercoasters. The go-carts where the big attraction even though they lasted only two slow laps.

The end of the day involved a log ride, one of my favorites. Before hand, ponchos could be purchased for a few yuan. However, what’s the point of a poncho on a water ride. My past experiences involved very little water actually coming into contact with my person. So, my friend and I climbed aboard the boat (I know I said log initially. It was the same kind of ride). Meanwhile, everyone one else aboard had purchased a poncho. The ride twisted around a few banks and climbed the hill that would lead to the big descent. The only water at this point was under the boat. Then came the plunge. All I could see was what appeared to be a giant tidal wave in front of me and I actually thought we might under up under water. Actually, from the feel of things, I may have even thought we were under water. I was completely soaked and the sun was starting to go down. The obvious thing to do at this point was to get in line for the bumper cars and make the next poor soul to use my car completely miserable because of the puddle I was sure to leave.

On the way home, my friend and I had to take the bus because we had missed the last train back to Kaifachu. If it was at all possible to squeeze anymore bodies into a vehicle, I would like to see how. There was no sitting or standing room in sight and the guy collecting fare kept trying to put more passengers on. Fortunately the closer we got to home, the more the bus thinned out.

Tuesday, I took the day off from work and hung out with the other UNI students here in China. It was there last day before heading back to the States. While some of them went to Discoveryland, the rest of us hiked up the hill to the weird looking space ship that overlooks all of Kaifachu. There, we had a small picnic with some of the other Chinese students and one of the Polish girls also involved in the same trip/class. We ended the day with a little last minute shopping as they tried to burn up the rest of their yuan. Sooner, rather than later, I’ll be doing the same thing with my money.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

How much rice does it take to make a fish full?

After having been in Dalian for the past 3 months, it was my turn to show off the city. A group of students from UNI, Colombia, and Poland have been in China for the past couple of weeks. They’re here taking a capstone course. Occasionally, I’ll take time off from work to visit other companies with my classmates, but during the evenings and weekends I’ve been able to show everyone some of my favorite places. I don’t think I’ve seen a group of people more excited to see an American restaurant. I guess everyone was so tired of rice that something familiar was a nice change. I also took them to a nice English style pub for a few drinks. Overall, I think everyone had a great time and they have all gone back to those places again. They also have blogs and probably due a much better job of keeping them updated so I encourage everyone to read a few of those entries.

Unfortunately, I think my classmates brought the rain with them. Every day has been rainy or foggy, which is been quite unfortunate since this week was Dragon Boat Festival. I inquired about the meaning of this holiday, but had to ask several people before anyone could offer an explanation. One version is in remembrance of a very patriotic scholar and poet that drowned himself in a river after being exiled from his homeland. Many people started to through rice into the river to feed the patriot. Other versions have different people, reasons for the suicide, or why rice is thrown into the river. For example, the rice was used to feed the fish so that they didn’t eat the drowned patriot. I guess it really just depends on where you’re from as to what this holiday really means.

I did manage to snag one day where the weather wasn’t too bad. I ended up going into Dalian city and visiting my friend Angie again. She’s going back to Omaha for another visit so I won’t have another chance to see her until I’m back home in Iowa. This time, we went to the smaller aquarium that’s in the city. Afterwards, we just walked around so I could simply look at things, which was probably the most fun. I ended the evening by having dinner with her father and a couple of cousins. Being able to actually meet the local people is what makes this trip worth it.