Saturday, October 11, 2008
I’ve been waiting to go to China for years. I’ve been fascinated with the language, art and culture for as long as I can remember and now is a particularly fascinating time to visit as the Olympics just took place in Beijing.
My impression of Beijing was short and specific but I loved what I saw. The city was clean and well organized, the people were friendly, and getting around was enjoyable. I’m sure that coming from Ulan Bator helped me appreciate Beijing, but I appreciated the contrast between the two cities. Our group stayed in the second ring road which is a very central location. The city is organized in these ring roads and the first ring road is the Forbidden City, the ancient capital. Because of this organization, the city is relatively easy to navigate.
Of course, my Chinese practice did come in handy – generally people were very impressed when I could say something in Chinese. (Perhaps they have low expectations of westerners after the Olympics). I asked a waitress where the bathroom was (Qing wen, xi shou jian zai nar?) and she practically peed in excitement.
My time in Beijing was a three-day whirlwind: we saw the great wall, Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, Wanfujing shopping area, Temple of Heaven, the bird’s nest stadium, the water cube and it seemed like a million other things.
Our next stop was “small town” China in Datong (population 3.3 million). Datong is inland from Beijing and is a primarily industrial city with some ancient Buddhist landmarks preserved within the city limits. I’m not going to lie – sometimes it seems like you’ve seen one Buddha, you’ve seen them all – but the devotion to preserving 3,000 year old ruins is astounding.
Tomorrow we are on the road again and I am excited for the journey to continue. I have updated my photo page for the first time on the trip so please take a look. Also, there is a new Pacific Rim Program website which is excellent and you should check out as well!
Zai jian! Good-bye!
Mongolia right now is in a state of change. This beautifully complicated country has been simultaneously challenging and joyful to live in. My thoughts about Mongolia have not completely crystallized so instead of leaving the country with heavy thoughts, I’ll instead highlight the things that I will miss and those that I will not.
Things I will miss:
- Fathers holding their bundled babies
- Braving the Mongolian traffic, especially the intersection by the State Department Store
- Soviet architecture
- Tiled sidewalks
- Traditional throat singing where one man can simultaneously make two notes with his throat
- Candy and cigarette vendors who charge $0.08 for a local phone call
- The surpsing warmth of the ger
- Taking class at Lam Rim monastery and the intoxicating smell of incense when you walk in
- School children yelling “hello!” to us from across the street in their matching school unforms
Things I will not miss:
- Trash everywhere
- Pollution (worse than Beijing, in my opinion)
- Strange dairy: airag, fermented mare’s milk, is ubiquitous in the country and it tastes like a strange mix of vodka, goat cheese and sweat
Saturday, September 20, 2008
Our trip was run by a fantastic group of Mongolians who toured us around the desert. Tourism is an up incoming industry in Mongolia and our guides showed us a great time in the Gobi. We traveled by bus and we were driving anywhere from four to eight hours every day. Besides leading into the capital city, there are not very many paved roads in Mongolia, especially in the Gobi. As a result Dramamine or an Asian substitute was a daily necessity to combat the severe motion sickness caused by our large buses attempting to traverse sand and rocks. Our route took us south into the Gobi, west towards the more mountainous regions and back north to Ulan Bator: a total of about 1,000 km.
We primarily had class in the morning, drove into the afternoon and camped at night. The landscape was incredible. We were technically in mostly steppe, which is sand with a small amount of vegetation, and our view would often be completely unobstructed in all directions. There was literally not a hill or rock or human which stood in the way of seeing the full horizon in all directions. Actually, there was the occasional yurt (pronounced “gear”) speckled across the landscape but these stout houses often added to the beautiful landscape.
We stayed in tents primarily but our plans had to change after we got caught in a sand storm! That’s right, I have survived a sandstorm in the Gobi. I shouldn’t accept too many bragging rights; our crew mainly helped us out of the pickle. Many tents collapsed in the wind and those who were without shelter slept on the bus. I shared my tent with my three friends Tara, Anna and Jessica and after reinforcing our tent stakes we decided to ride out the storm. I guess those years of Girl Scouts have paid off after all! The event was not as traumatizing as it could have been, the biggest trauma was some of our belongings blew away.
Unfortunately, the night did leave some of the tents broken and for the rest of the time we stayed in yurt camps, which are amazingly comfortable. Post-sandstorm, the highlights of the trip included riding camels (twice!) and hiking up a dizzyingly large sand dune. Camels get a bad rep. Sure they smell and have a tendency towards excessive flatulence but they are also gentle and intelligent creatures who just like to have their nose scratched. We rode the two-humped variety which are the norm in Asia and it is similar to riding a taller, slower horse with a swagger. Another animal which we encountered on our trip but did not have the fortune to ride was yaks. Yes, they exist and yes they are fabulous! Picture a shaggy, docile cow. The males have large horns and are always separate from the females and babies. The yaks were overall very shy, probably because they are sometimes used for food.
The last event worth noting on my desert excursion was our day trip to a sand dune. This particular sand dune was about 300 miles long, several hundred feet tall and was formed by a small mountain chain which trapped the sand at its base. Climbing this big boy was one of the most difficult workouts I’ve had in my recent years however, the view from the top was worth it. By far the most euphoric feeling I’ve ever felt was running down the dune, our group’s preferred method of descent. Since falling and getting hurt were virtually impossible, bounding down the hill was possible and amazing.
That about wraps it up for our Gobi adventure. We are back in UB now and my days are spent going to class, exploring the different culinary treasures that Mongolia has to offer, doing homework, and occasionally going out at night. I absolutely love all of the comments that a large number of you have been leaving – please keep ‘em coming! For those in Tacoma, I hope the first few weeks of school have been enjoyable and not too stressful. Daniel leaves very soon for Asia so don’t forget to keep up to date with his travels and photography through www.adlerography.com. Bye for now!
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
Tuesday, September 2, 2008
I must let you all know something before I begin this post. Because of the nature of the large group that I am traveling in, I have to be wary about how I blog. Our director has asked us to not post about a specific location until we have moved on to a different place. For this reason, I am going to talk about Mongolia in general instead of the specific area where I am staying.
Mongolia is a fascinating country of contrasts. The capital city is Ulan Bataar (UB) and it is the only major city in the whole country. The previous Russian influence has resulted in architecture and city planning that one could find in Eastern Europe. Buildings have relatively plain facades and nondescript signs speckle the exterior of businesses. However the city is bustling! Mongolia has a population of about 2.7 million and more than half live in this one city. UB is an overcrowded city that fits in with any other city in Asia.
For me this means sacrificing taking a lot of pictures around the city. When I cart around my huge Nikon, I feel more conspicuous so I've decided to limit how much I bring my camera around. Hopefully before the week is over I'll have some pictures up!
We have started our Paleontology and Developmental Biology class. We meet in a monastery across town and endure four hours of class on the most uncomfortable benches my butt has ever known. However, we do go on field trips often which helps to spice up monotonous geology lecture.
I'll post again later this week so until then hope everyone is well!
Friday, August 29, 2008
Going to the DMZ was an amazing experience, to say the least. The very north of South Korea is beautiful: rolling hills, green grass, vast skies. It is a very interesting setting for one of the most politically unstable places in the world. Our tour included going to the actual DMZ, which is basically a military base. We saw the layout of the whole area, watched a film briefing us on some of the regular highlights of the Korean War, and stared down some N. Korean soldiers. There is essentially a little line that separates the two countries and the two groups of soldiers stand on the opposite side of the line and stare each other down. When our tour group came down to take pictures, a guard from one of the towers got out his binoculars and checked us out. CREEPY. The second part of the tour was fascinating. Apparently in the 1970's N. Korea built a series of tunnels under the DMZ with the purpose of invading S. Korea. The tunnels were discovered and we got a tour of one. From inside the tunnel the dynamite holes are still visible and the whole experience is really eerie.
After our DMZ tour, we wandered Seoul for a short while. Because I didn't sleep the night before, I was a zombie so I opted to retire to the hostel after briefly walking around Seoul. I was rewarded with a restful nights sleep! We then flew from S. Korea to Mongolia on the 29th.
Thanks for all of the support these last few days! I am feeling happy, healthy and very excited to be here so thank you for all of your kind words! Bye for now!