Not Always a Walk in the Park

Unfortunately, I was brought up speaking only one language. While you can find an array of English speakers around the world, there are still billions of people who don’t speak English at all. Chances are if you find yourself in another country where English isn’t the primary language, you will have to find some way to communicate. I’ve had my fair share of dealing with language barriers.

The more I travel, the more I learn about how important communication is and how that can connect you to people and culture. The world is becoming more globalized. There is more of a market then just in our own country. Smartling is a translation software program that helps companies bridge language barriers. It does the work of translating content. Technology is a certainly a useful tool to help you overcome language barriers, so don’t be afraid so speak.

It was my second to last day in China. I had been traveling for over two weeks with a family and sometimes on my own. For a majority of the trip, I was with someone who spoke Chinese. I was more confident about traveling and communicating in Chinese, although I had not had much practice. I was on the search for a place called Zhujiajiao. Wanting to save a bit of money, I decided not to take the tour bus from my hostel and instead go on my own. I had read a bit online about where the bus station was, so I took the train to closest to the bus stop. I walked around People’s Park looking for a sign that could possibly indicate where I wanted to go. Dictionary in hand, I proceeded to ask people where the bus stop was for Zhujiajiao. Even if I could get my point across, I could hardly understand the response I was given.

I then happened to ask a young woman where I could find the bus stop. She immediately began trying to help me. She pointed to a place in the city with a similar name. I had to tell her that it wasn’t in the city. I showed her the pinyin hoping she might read Zhujiajiao and recognize it. She had never heard of the place before. However, she continued asking people and eventually we were walking in the right direction. I followed along blindly, wishing I could read and understand a bit more Chinese. She had very limited English, probably about as much Chinese as I knew. Using her iPhone as a translator in combination with both of our limited vocabulary in each other’s languages we were able to communicate. (This was much faster than me looking up words in my dictionary.) She told me it was her day off and that she could come with me if I wanted.

We eventually found the bus stop. It was really nice that she could repeatedly ask questions for me as it would have taken me twice as long to find the place. And then we were off. She immediately pulled out her wallet and paid for both of our tickets. The bus ride was about an hour-long. We exchanged names, ages (she happened to be the same age as me, 19), and what we were doing. I listened to some of her music. She showed me some games and let me play them. I gave her my email address and told her she could visit me in the US anytime.

We spent a few hours in Zhujiajiao, which is called “China’s Venice” because you can tour the city via boats. This was my second time in a water town. It was a very different experience. I tried a few new snacks which I would never have known about. We took a boat tour, which she helped bargain for and she snapped a couple of pictures of us together. She helped me to buy souvenirs for my friends and family back home.

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I made sure to have my money out and pay for the bus ride back into town. We then got back to the train station. I was heading back to meet up with the family I was traveling with and she was meeting up with her friends to go shopping. Somewhere out there in the world are a couple of pictures of this girl and me. I regret not taking a single picture of her. I can’t even remember her name.

Shanghai Part 2

April 19th-21st

And we’ve come full circle. Back in Shanghai. At this point of the trip, I’m quite exhausted and ready to go home. Not because I don’t like China, but because I was getting physically sick and it was too much moving around. Living and being around so many people also just drained the energy out of me.

And that’s it. That was my whirlwind of an adventure in China. I got on the plane the day after visiting Zhujiajiao. All went well and I got home in the US the same day I left China. I still have a few filler posts to do about food and a couple of extra stories. In some respects I don’t feel like I had enough time to soak it all in. I hope to go back on day and live in one area for an extended period of time.

Finding the Great Wall

April 17th

Destination: Simatai Great Wall

A two-hour drive outside of Beijing. Such a refreshing change from the masses of people.

As we were approaching the turn off for the section of the Great Wall we wanted to see, we read every sign. Ended up missing the turn and had to turn around. Every time you have to turn around on the highway you end up paying an additional highway toll.

Turns out at Simatai hasn’t been open for four years (closed in 2010), even though the only information we had about it was that it was named a UNESCO World Heritage site. The high way exit ended up being a place called Water Town. We guessed it was the right area because one of the buildings said 司马台. Yes, it was only in characters not pinyin. I’m glad someone in the car could read Chinese, because it wasn’t me.

We drove to the entrance of Water Town and still weren’t exactly sure if we could get to the Great Wall. Chinese tend to be quite vague in their answers. Perhaps it seemed more vague because I had to listen to the translation?

But long story short, we were able to walk through Water Town to get to the Simatai section of the Great Wall. Water Town just opened up this spring, so there were hardly any people. It was kind of eerie. Felt like a ghost town. There were mostly empty buildings. Also, it was clearly built for tourists, so we had to pay to walk through the town as well as pay an entrance fee to the Great Wall.

Water Town was fun and beautiful, but it did not compare to the beauty and awesomeness of The Great Wall. This was one of my most memorable and favorite days in China, so I’m going to subject you to a walk through of it.

Simatai

Here’s the only sign I saw that said Simatai Great Wall. Would have been helpful to have this marked on the highway.

We walked 1300 meters from Water Town to the great wall and kept stopping to take pictures. It was my first glimpse of the wall.

We walked 1300 meters from Water Town to the great wall and kept stopping to take pictures. It was my first glimpse of the wall.

We didn't get to walk on this part of the wall, just got to see it from the distance.

We didn’t get to walk on this part of the wall, just got to see it from the distance.

The Great Wall

Water Town is just far enough away to enjoy the wall.

Water Town is just far enough away to enjoy the wall.

The great thing is that they haven't reconstructed the wall much.

Much of Simatai has not been reconstructed which makes it all the more worthwhile to visit.

Absolutely amazing. I know why The Great Wall is one of the 7 Wonders of the World.

Absolutely amazing. I know why The Great Wall is one of the 7 Wonders of the World.

I walked with some Chinese tour guides to the tenth tower. It was their first time at the wall. They were taking notes so they could take tourists.

I walked with some Chinese tour guides to the tenth tower. It was their first time at the wall. They were taking notes so they could take tourists.

The steps were so steep at some points I felt like I was going to fall backwards. It didn't help that the steps were different widths, sometimes too small for my foot.

The steps were so steep at some points I felt like I was going to fall backwards. It didn’t help that the steps were different widths, sometimes too small for my foot.

The Great Wall

A step back in time.

The Great Wall

I walked through all ten towers, which is entirety of the section that is open to the public.

I walked through all ten towers, which is entirety of the section that is open to the public.

The Great Wall

We rode the cable car down back into Water Town.

We rode the cable car down back into Water Town.

Goodbye Water Town

Goodbye Water Town and Simatai.

We discovered a gem. I’m afraid it won’t last long because once there’s momentum there will be thousands of people flocking to visit Water Town and Simatai. Somehow we lucked out and were able to be one of the first here. I’m fairly certain we’re the first (or one of the first) foreigners to visit Water Town. It was definitely worth every penny.

 

 

Beijing

April 16th-April 18th

And the fun just doesn’t stop. Beijing was filled with people, and people, and people, and more people. Here I saw the most foreign tourists. Immediately I felt like I related more to them than the Chinese faces I saw.

I didn’t have a chance to see much of Beijing. We went to Tiananmen Square and toured the Forbidden City.

Flowers and Grottoes

April 14th: A train ride and the peony flower festival

Train ride number 2 from Guilin, Guangxi, to Luoyang, Henan.

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Part of the peony flower festival in Luoyang.

peony petals peony garden peony flower festival peony peonies

April 15th: A morning at the Longmen Grottoes

misty bridge

The rain and cold weather dampened our day at the grottoes.

Longmen Grottoes

Longmen Grottoes contains over 2300 caves and niches.

Longmen Grottoes

Vairocana Buddha is over 56 feet tall. I regret not taking a picture with a person for comparison sake. Maybe next time…

Longmen Grottoes

Carving began in year 493. It continued through the Sui (581-618) and Tang (618-907) dynasties.

Ten thousand buddhas Longmen Grottoes  Longmen Grottoes

Although it was quite rainy and cold the day we went to the Longmen Grottoes, it was definitely worth seeing a part of Chinese history that has lasted so long. Pictures can’t do the carvings justice in their detail and size. The amount of work put into the site is astounding, especially considering the kind of technology that was used when they were carved. Here is more information about the caves with descriptions and stats of how big they are. The UNESCO site gives a brief history of the different phases and dynasties involved in carving the grottoes.

Luoyang was the smallest city we visited with less than 2 million people.

Goodbye Guilin

April 13

My last day in Guilin comprised of a visit to the Elephant Rock. They keep this site pretty well hidden until you pay the entrance fee to get into the park. Then a lunch of fresh noodles. Right before getting on the train, I had my feet exfoliated by fish.

Fishing

Elephant Rock

The famous elephant rock.

These felt whimsical to me.

These felt whimsical to me.

Elephant trunk the other elephant Guilin

Buildings are just a cool site to see.

Buildings are just a cool site to see.

Guilin

The beginning of a delicious bowl of noodles.

The beginning of a delicious bowl of noodles.

I watched lunch being made right in front of me. These noodles are never ending.

I watched lunch being made right in front of me. These noodles are never-ending.

Yes it was delicious as it looks. I never have quite gotten the hang of eating noodles with chopsticks though. No matter how I tried, I never could find the end of these noodles.

Yes it was delicious as it looks. I never have quite gotten the hang of eating noodles with chopsticks though. No matter how I tried, I never could find the end of these noodles.

It tickled a little in the beginning. I had to keep pulling my feet out. I did notice softer feet afterward. ¥10 for 20 minutes. It was a pretty good deal.

It tickled a little in the beginning. I had to keep pulling my feet out. I did notice softer feet afterward. 10 for 20 minutes. It was a pretty good deal.

Don’t let the bus leave you behind

April 12th

I find these kind of photos ironic because in fact there are several hundred people in places like this.

I find these kind of photos ironic because in fact there are several hundred people in places like this.

Yangshuo Big Banyan Tree

Yangshuo Big Banyan Tree

All around the old tree were people dressed up taking photos.

All around the old tree were people dressed up taking photos.

I tried to get a picture of a car driving across this road. Unfortunately this car ended up backing up and not going across. I didn't have time to wait for another one...

I tried to get a picture of a car driving across this road. Unfortunately this car ended up backing up and not going across. I didn’t have time to wait for another one…

Well you know it's chicken.

Well you know it’s chicken.

pavilion

Assembly Dragon Cave
While I don’t agree with ruining natural things like this, the lights and water do make for awesome photos.

Assembly Dragon Cave Assembly Dragon Cave DSC_0671

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Seriously you can't get away from people. This is on the boat ride we took on the Li River.

Seriously you can’t get away from people. This is on the boat ride we took on the Li River.

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The foreign tourists had more room. We waved from our boat. I was just a bit envious of the chairs and walking space they had. Although, they probably paid more for their boat ride than we did for ours.

The foreign tourists had more room. We waved from our boat. I was just a bit envious of the chairs and walking space they had. Although, they probably paid more for their boat ride than we did for ours.

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Pictures can be deceiving. Doesn’t this just look like a peaceful day. With awesome views of cool stuff? Yes, it was that. But put that in combination with we’re only at this spot for an hour. Oh where did the bus go? It’s lunch now, yay. Wait we aren’t done eating yet. Well it’s time to go.

That was a pretty neat cave. Kind of like Carlsbad…plus colorful lights, thousands of more people, and water. Now we’re going through three different shopping areas. Where’s the exit?

Now I’m sorry, but you’ll have to sit through a live infomercial of products made with bamboo. I’m sure you want to buy those products now. Check out the store. The exit is at the other end.

30 more minutes on the bus to the Li River. Enjoy this boat ride with two hundred other people. Smoking is allowed. Here’s your chance to practice taking photos without anybody in them. It’s possible if you push yourself to a spot on the railing and stick your camera out. Come on it’s time to go. Is that everyone?

But in all seriousness. It was a great day. Despite the rushed feel of it all. I did get to see and do a lot. I certainly slept well that night.

 

Dragon’s Backbone

April 11th

Barely off of the overnight train from Nanchang to Guilin and we’re off and running. I had my first taste of Chinese Tourism. It was a bit gimmicky and strange to observe. I felt like I was going through a museum. I probably would have gotten more out of the experience if I had understood the tour guide. We stopped at this Yao village, which was clearly setup for tourism.

Yao Dance

The women never cut their hair but once in their life when they enter adulthood. 18 years old.

I paid the equivalent of a little more than $4 for a 30 second ride on a zip line across the river.

Chinese do enjoy photos. It was fun to see everyone always wanting pictures of where they were and what they were doing. The peace sign is popular.

After an interesting hour and half of partaking in Chinese tourism, we headed to the rice terraces.

A lot of places worth visiting have an entrance gate.

After a little hike up a few hundred steps we had a delicious lunch on the mountain. They served and cooked the rice in bamboo stalks.

While eating lunch I observed a man taking a smoke break.

Everywhere you look they are building. This community is thriving on tourism. Chinese and foreign tourists alike.

This is why we came up here. Dragon’s Backbone Rice Terraces.

longji

All the way on top.

Every view is breathtaking.

Someone working in the rice fields.

One of my favorite afternoons in China.

I would love to come back and visit another time of year too. While you may not escape people, you do escape the city.

Another plane, another city

April 7th-April 10th

Just two days later I found myself in another city. I finally felt like I was in China. Because I was traveling with a Chinese family, we went to visit May’s hometown.

Nanchang, Jiangxi Province

Population 5,042,565

 

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Shanghai

April 5th and 6th

And the sightseeing begins.

The first two days in China felt like I was touring a massive Chinatown and city. There weren’t a lot of foreigners, but the streets were clean. The spaces felt wide open. We took a city tour on a bus. The first day everyone was kicked off of the bus after ten minutes and we proceeded to wait probably for another hour before we were able to get on another bus.

That afternoon we went to the oriental pearl tower, which is just tall interesting shaped building made for tourists. The line was long, but as we already had tickets for ¥160 ($25.50). Little did we know that we would stand in line for two hours to walk around the entirety of the building and when we finally got inside the building there was more line to wait in. After we got through the security check we ended up leaving because it would have been another hour to go up and an hour to wait to come down. We certainly learned our lesson there. We had no idea what kind of lines we would be experiencing. The experience was worsened by the fact that everyone was impatient to go up, which resulted in a few people cutting in line several times.

The second day was better, as we made sure to ask questions first. We took a nice ride around the city bus to see the bridge and skyline. We weren’t tied town by waiting in lines. Also, took taxis around in Shanghai which was quite simple.

And that’s just part one in Shanghai. More to come about navigating my way through the largest populated city in China (also in the world depending on how you define city). 24 million people, over twice as big as NYC.

taking a photo