The Final Week

Well, it’s been one hell of a week. I’ve been through some ups and downs in these final couple weeks. Struggling with really wanting to be home as well as not wanting to leave. But a wise man once told me, if you can no longer resist something, accept it. And that is what I have been doing this past week. Accepting that I can no longer act like I have more time he here. I’m really leaving and there is nothing that I can do about it other than make the most of the time that I do have left here. After my final thermodynamics exam on Tuesday, it was truly just me and an entire city to say goodbye to.

William and I took off early Wednesday morning and headed toward Xujiahui and the French Concession. I wanted to get lost in there one final time. No plan, nothing I wanted to see, no direction I wanted to go. All I wanted was to walk along the narrow, tree lined streets and soak it in. That is exactly what I did. For more than three hours, just walking and breathing in all the memories that I had in this place.

We then made our way back to our old downtown campus in Xuhui to meet up with David and Mo. There is something wonderful about meeting friends in the city. We don’t have cell service so there is no way to communicate. We just tell each other that we will meet in a certain area at a specific time and then part of the adventure and excitement is finding them. I think I will actually miss the simplicity that comes with not always being connected. It’s been good for me. From there, we made our way to People’s Square. Walking around the park one final time. A place where I have done much reading, sitting, watching, and thinking. Then it was down Nanjing Lu to the Bund. A walk that I have made dozens of times in my Shanghai stay but one that is always special. Sitting on the Bund and seeing the skyline is something special every time and a place that I will miss dearly.

The sun was beginning to set so we decided to get checked into the hostel downtown Shanghai and put on our ‘out on the town’ clothes. We had to be the sharpest group in all the city. I love this city but what has really made it special has been the friends I have had the honor of sharing it with. The move for the night was Bar Rouge. When I saw that the address was ‘Bund 18’ I knew that it was going to be a special evening. One of our friends knew someone who knew someone who got us a table right in the heart of it all. It was a rooftop bar on 7th floor right across from the Peace Hotel with a one of a kind view of the Bund and city skyline. We were the youngest people in the place by about 10 years. It was filled with the young hip professionals of the city and the old wealthy bourgeoisie. We were a little out of our element but didn’t really mind because were more concerned with the people right with us. The friends sitting to my left and my right. The friends who I have gotten to know over these past 4.5 months. There is nowhere and no one I would have rather spent my final night out in the city with.

The next morning, I was up early, checked out of the hostel, and took off by myself to say my own goodbyes to the city. I walked from the hostel in People’s Square to Xintiandi. That’s about a 5 mile walk. I do things like that all the time and don’t even notice it. That’s the only thing that has kept me in shape this semester. Well that and climbing 4 mountains. My next stop was to Xujiahui Cathedral for the final time. I said my daily rosary and just about cried my eyes out in the process. This is the one place that has really been home for me in my time here. I’ve turned here in times of sadness, in times of helplessness, and in times of uncertainty. But also in times of joy, hope, and thankfulness. It’s the one place in this entire country that gave me strength that I could rely on. There have been few things harder than walking out of that cathedral for the final time and not looking back.

After that, it was back to campus. Packing, more goodbyes to friends I’ve made and places I have come to know, and preparing for the final departure. I don’t think anyone will ever fully understand just how hard these goodbyes are. They’re not just, ‘goodbye, I’ll be a few states away.’ It’s more that I will be half a world away from these places and people and most likely never see the majority of them again. But who really knows. I could be back here another time I’m sure. For whatever reason. So maybe this isn’t a ‘goodbye’ at all, but rather a ‘see you soon.’ Yeah, I like that much more. See you soon.

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Main intersection in Xujiahui. I can't even count the number of times I've almost been hit by a car here but for some reason it's one of my favorite.

Main intersection in Xujiahui. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve almost been hit by a car here but for some reason it’s one of my favorite.

Entrance to the downtown campus

Entrance to the downtown campus

Sights of the French Concession

Sights of the French Concession

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Breathing in the Bund

Breathing in the Bund

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The cathedral

The cathedral

Streets of Xintiandi

Streets of Xintiandi

Line 10 Jiao Tong metro station. A place I frequented while downtown. Just something special about it.

Line 10 Jiao Tong metro station. A place I frequented while downtown. Just something special about it.

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My prayer, thinking, breathing spot on the Xuhui campus.

My prayer, thinking, breathing spot on the Xuhui campus.

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Floors of the cathedral

Floors of the cathedral

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French Concession

French Concession

French Concession

French Concession

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The group at Bar Rouge

The group at Bar Rouge

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Roommates and friends.

Roommates and friends.

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May Day Part 4: Zhangjiejie National Forest Park

Well it was the final day in the mountains and I was up at the crack of dawn and ready to go after another spectacular breakfast. Well I had been up at the crack of dawn every day while here because of the rooster out front. I couldn’t even be mad at it. It was actually pretty darn nice to be risen up in the morning to the sound of a rooster. That’s not something that you get every day. I said my final goodbyes to the inn keeper and we set out. Our plan was to follow the Golden Whip from the far west side of the park where we were to the far east side and into a small town, Wulingyuan, where a beautiful lake awaited.

We were in luck because our final day ended up being the most beautiful of them all. The sun was out, perfect clouds were in the sky, and we all were breathing easy and ready to see some more mountain! As we hiked we continued to look up and see all the natural beauty we were surrounded by. I have to say that I prefer being surrounded by these natural pillars of stone rather than the skyscrapers of Pudong. There is just something about them that is so much more powerful.

Now the night before it had rained pretty heavy so the water of the stream was running pretty high. The one thing that I knew I would regret would be if I never got to dip my feet in the water and take a swim on this perfect day. And boy did I end up getting more than I asked for. Ben, William, and I stripped down and did more than dip our feet. We dove into the stream and were greeted by some freezing cold water but it was well worth it. Nothing wakes you up and soothes your soul quite like some fresh mountain water. We were tucked away in a corner of the stream but some of the Chinese tourists must have heard us and before long there was a group of about 50 Chinese men, women, and children snapping pictures of the crazy Americans swimming in the stream. It was as if they had never seen anything so absurd in their life.

I let myself air dry as we continued east. It felt amazing. When we made it out of the part and to the lake we did not realize that we had yet another climb in front of us before we could see the actual lake. Most people were taking the bus up but we were not about to be deprived of a final hike so we all turned off and made our way up the side of an old stone stairway with flowing water coming down on every step. We quickly lost sight of any other human other than our group and realized that this was probably going to be another one of those paths that no one took. And very soon we were happy to find out that indeed it was. The stairs seemed to be never ending. And they were for about 2 hours as we pushed on to the top of the outlook. The blood, sweat, and tears were well worth it however as the view was one that few souls get to take in. Complete isolation and unseen undeveloped land, full of trees and peaks in every direction that you looked.
While we were hiking, we ran into an old abandoned Buddhist temple and monastery. It was damn creepy. Dark, devilish idols surrounded the inner walls of the temple and the boarded up monastery didn’t help too much either. I couldn’t help but think that we were turning into the plotline of yet another movie where some adventurous young kids make their way into the uninhabited woods only to be picked off one by one by some creature or demented man. Luckily, the temple offered no demonic spirits and we made it to the lake where we took a spectacular boat ride all along the pillars. We were over 2 hours outside the heart of the park yet we were still surrounded by these pillars in every direction. More so, we were next to them on a boat. It was the perfect way to end a perfect trip.

When the time came, Mike and I departed ways from the rest of the group so we could get to Shanghai with enough time to put in some studies for our exam the next week. But before we took our taxi back to the airport, we couldn’t help but stop for some foot and leg massages. For 20 yuan (about $3.20) my feet got the love they had been asking for. They had put up with 4 tough days of hiking and held up strong through it all. It was the first massage I had ever had in my life and it was absolutely wonderful. I sat outside and watched the sun move across the sky and tried not to be too ticklish.

Before long, it was back up in the air and to the big city. I cannot help but emphasize how blessed I am to have these sort of opportunities. It has truly opened my eyes to this world. I have a perspective that few people will ever be able to understand but I know that I am a better man because of it.
Only 12 days before it is back to America and time to plant my roots in a new home.

~KG

 The valley

The valley

Foot massages on the streets of Wulingyuan

Foot massages on the streets of Wulingyuan

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Abandoned temple...what's inside? Nobody knows.

Abandoned temple…what’s inside? Nobody knows.

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Chillin back and sippin beers as the night sets in

Chillin back and sippin beers as the night sets in

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The group and our inn mom

The group and our inn mom

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Pig face anyone?

Pig face anyone?

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Fried noodles on the mountain

Fried noodles on the mountain

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Natural spring and some of the best water I've had in China (not too big of an accomplishment)

Natural spring and some of the best water I’ve had in China (not too big of an accomplishment)

May Day Part 3: Zhangjiejie National Forest Park

Four of our friends had spent the first two days a few hundred miles south of us in Guilin. They took the overnight train and met up with us in the morning to see Zhangjiajie. This national forest was is so big that it takes more than a single day to explore. Although I was a little disappointed at first that it was cloudy and raining, my disappointment soon turned into excitement as we made it to the top of yet another outlook on the northern side of the park. We were in awe as we realized that it was no longer raining or cloudy because we were above the clouds. The dense white clouds had completely set in and sunk into the valleys of the pillars and peaks. It was apparent why these mountains were nicknamed The Avatar Mountains after they were used as the inspiration for the setting of the movie. The peaks of every pillar appeared to be floating in thin air, nothing holding them up but thin air.

We hiked all day. Up and down. In and out of the forest. I could write for house about the day, describing every detail of every sight but even that would be insufficient to fully capture all that I saw. I could tell that it was going to be hard to leave this place. But we still had one day left before it was back to the city and I intended to make the most of it.

~KG

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Look out below.

Look out below.

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Soaking it all in

Soaking it all in

The group. I'm so lucky to have such wonderful friends.

The group. I’m so lucky to have such wonderful friends.

'Kevin Boy' He wasn't too thrilled

‘Kevin Boy’
He wasn’t too thrilled

May Day Part 2: Zhangjiejie National Forest Park

From the base of Tienmen we negotiated for a cab to our inn on the North West side of Zhangjiajie National Forest. It was about a 1.5 hour long ride through the heart of China. If I thought I was in remote China while I was in Zhangjiajie City, I was gravely mistaken. While driving even further into the heart of China, my eyes were opened to the reality of rural life. Everywhere I looked, there were men walking along the side of the road with their cattle, tending to their rice patties, or chopping wood outside on the dirt roads. The simple life. Everything that was done in this area was done for survival.

We got to our place just as it was getting dark and were greeted by the inn owner. She showed us our room which ended up being one of the nicest I have stayed in during my whole time in China. But I wasn’t going to waste a beautiful evening sitting in a room. I found a nice Chinese beer, went outside, and spent the evening gazing up at the stars through the clear night sky. Living in the city, I have not been able to see that too often. They’re always drown out by the bright lights. But not here. The only thing illuminating this night sky were crystal clear stars. I was surrounded by the mountain.

The next morning we arose early and had breakfast where we were staying. Noodles. I know it seems odd but it’s a typical breakfast food here and nothing gets you moving in the morning quite like they do. But we were off and going very soon after with full stomachs and hearts ready for hiking. It was just a short distance to the entrance of China’s first national park. There is a saying, ‘you haven’t been to the Avatar Mountains unless you have taken a cable car through the pillars’ and that was exactly what we aimed to do. You really can’t believe your eyes until you are surrounded by layers of rock shooting up in every direction and you are ascending directly next to them. This was like no other mountain range I had ever been to. When we made it to the top of one of the outlooks we hiked around the top platform for a few hours. Every 50 meters or so, there would be a scenic outlook where we could step out and see exactly where we were and what we were surrounded by. This mountain range quickly became the most beautiful place I had been and my favorite hike.

To top it off, while we were rounding the back corner of the outlook, we were greeted by some unexpected friends. Well to be more specific, Mike was greeted by a special friend. A wild monkey that was swinging from branch to branch above us decided to give him the proper welcome to the mountain and shower him with its love. We quickly realized that we were absolutely surrounded by wild monkeys. Everywhere we looked, there was a monkey watching us. It was a feeling that was very distinctly different that being at any zoo. And these monkeys were undoubtedly not comfortable with humans. They walked within a few feet of us but they were still very curious as to what we were doing up in their home. I couldn’t help but just stand, cautiously, and observe. It was pretty amazing.

We hiked down from the peak and to the Golden Whip Stream. Once down we spent many hours just wandering along the stream and allowing it to take us where it pleased. It is one thing to be on top of the mountain, looking down at every pillar and peak. But what I found even more impressive was walking at the base of the pillars and feeling just how small and surrounded I was by them. There are few experiences that humble a human quite like realizing just how small you are.

We kept walking for a few hours and soon we were in complete isolation. Not another single soul to be found. That’s when I realized that we were indeed lost. We stopped at a map that was posted but were not in much luck as it was pretty faded and didn’t make much sense. We were pretty sure we knew which direction to go so we went for it. I soon realized that this would be quite the adventure. Our slow and peaceful hike along the river soon turned into a brutal uphill hike that was filled with switchback staircases going vertically up the side of a mountain. The path was old, filled with moss and the forest was beginning to take it back. I could tell that another soul had not taken this trail for quite some time. We continued to venture deeper and deeper into the unknown.

I was pretty concerned when I realized that we only had a few more hours of daylight left and we all were running low on water, food, and energy. We picked up our ascent and were fully committed to getting back out of the park. Suddenly being so remote no longer felt so liberating. I was a little concerned but I knew that we would eventually make it out and things would turn out. After over an hour of climbing we finally made it to the summit of the peak we had been hiking and began the descent. My heart finally began to slow its pace from the accelerated hiking up and I was able to catch my breath. Another 2 hours of descending and we finally emerged from the forest at the entrance. The sun was beginning to set but we had made it. A little unsettling? Yes. But the most beautiful hike I have ever been on? Absolutely!

Walking back to the inn I felt victorious. I had made it through another mountain and lived to talk about it. We got cleaned up and came downstairs for what may have been the best meal that I have ever had while in China. Hunan food is some of the most flavorful yet simple food and it really hit the spot. The one word that I can use to describe this food is fresh! Every part of the meal was fresh. The rice was grown out back, the potatoes and vegetables in the garden out front, the chicken had been wondering around out front just a few hours ago. Every part of the meal was from this place and it was wonderful. Mhhhh! I wish I could have it now.

Day two was quite the day and I was just getting warm. The three of us spent the night sipping beers on our patio and taking in every second of this wonderful place.

~KG

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Made some new friends

Made some new friends

View from the inn

View from the inn

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Cable car into Heaven

Cable car into Heaven

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Boiler Up!

Boiler Up!

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The inn

The inn

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Traditional smoked Hunan Tofu and greens

Traditional smoked Hunan Tofu and greens

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Crouching tiger

Crouching tiger

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The Golden Whip

The Golden Whip

We found a cave

We found a cave

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May Day Part 1: Tienmen Mountain

This past week was quite the time. My final adventure in China before it’s back to America. It’s so hard to believe but I’ve been here 16 weeks now. 114 days. And only 12 more to go. Well enough with the sappy emotions and feelings. I’ll save those for a later post. Back to the story. May Day in China. We got a few days off of class and were able to turn it into a long weekend. So two of my friends, Ben and Mike, and I made our way to the airport took off for Zhangjiajie. Well…I use the term take off very loosely because when I say that we just got to the airport and took off for south west China I of course mean that our flight was delayed for about 10 hours to the next morning then we jetted across the country. No big deal though. The trip was off to a rocky start but we were well on our way and ready for anything that stood in our way.
When we arrived at the airport I could defiantly tell that we were in remote China. We had flown out of one of the largest airports in the entire world to one that had a single runway, 2 other planes on the tarmac, and some old rickety stairs for us to walk down from the plane onto the runway and into the terminal. Pretty darn cool if you ask me. This is exactly what I had been wanting to experience in China; a place that is truly the heart of China. No western influence. Just real China! And I had found it.

Wasting no time we made our way to the cable way but before I got in I couldn’t resist getting some fresh pineapple from a street vendor. This is one thing that I will miss dearly when I leave. There is fruit everywhere. Around every corner someone is waiting to chop up a fresh pineapple, coconut, dragon fruit, or any fruit you could think of. Juice dripping down my mouth I hopped in the cable car and was on my way up Tienmen Mountain on the longest cable way in the world, over 30 mins. The trip took us over the small city, homes in the rural part of town, and then vertically up into the sky. I’m usually a little uneasy with heights (you probably would not guess that if you have been following along with my past posts) but the views on this ride were so thrilling that I could do nothing but speechlessly take everything in. We made our way up so high that we even passed through a cloud and couldn’t see anything around us. It was a pretty surreal moment when we emerged from the cloud and were on the top of a mountain.

If we thought that the ride to the top were impressive, the views from the top greatly outweighed everything that preceded it. Firstly, the entire path around the outside of the peak was a path that hung over the side of the side of the mountain. Now this was no plank walk but it sure put you out on the ledge and the views were well worth it. There were even a few sections that were glass paths where you could see nothing but the thousands of feet of air directly below your step. It was a bit of a gut check. Many more hours were spent on the mountain taking in all of the views and soaking in all the fresh air that we could.

The highlight of this mountain, however, was a natural land bridge called Heaven’s Gate. Two peaks of the mountain had moved together and formed quite the spectacular ‘gate’ that has come to be the main sight of the mountain. It’s yet another one of those places in China that words can’t really describe. From there we took a bus ride down the mountain that I thought would be my last. The switchback road all the way down the mountain on a road that was at most 1.5 lanes wide but somehow they managed to fit 2 buses speeding in opposite directions on it without killing me.

~KG

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Fresh pineapple off the street. Eat it up!

Fresh pineapple off the street. Eat it up!

View of the Zhangjiajie farms from the cable car

View of the Zhangjiajie farms from the cable car

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Emerging from the clouds

Emerging from the clouds

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Examining the critical stress level of a cantilever beam.

Examining the critical stress level of a cantilever beam.

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The other side of Heaven's Gate

The other side of Heaven’s Gate

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Stopped to soak up some sun in a waterfall

Stopped to soak up some sun in a waterfall

Heaven's Gate

Heaven’s Gate

The craziest road I've been on

The craziest road I’ve been on

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When it gets hot in China, the bellies come out

When it gets hot in China, the bellies come out

Off we go

Off we go

Traveling with great friends!

Traveling with great friends!

Wait…Where Am I?

One of the more interesting destinations during my 107 days in China thus far was visited last week. The Shanghai Propaganda Poster Art Museum. First off, the existence of this place struck me as very shocking. I mean, I’m in China. And there is a ‘propaganda’ museum? Maybe that is why it was in the basement of an apartment building tucked away in the outskirts of the French Concession. Anyway, the museum itself was very interesting. The collection was vast and as you can imagine, filled with some negative opinions of specific countries that I will left unstated. That’s all I’ll say about that. I’ll let the pictures do most of the talking because I have to realize that I still have 19 days and 2 exams to complete before I head back home.

After the museum, I was off to Century Park. Century Ave is one of the main arteries that runs through Pudong and this park lies at the very end of it, about 5 miles from heart of the most beautiful skyline. It was a beautiful day so I found a nice green area (the first spot of nice grass I have found in all of China) and posted up for a few hours. Finally, I was able to relax, soak up some sun, and have just the perfect view of the city. I’ve never been to Central Park in New York City but I’m sure that this place gives it a run for its money. The scene was just picturesque. Mothers with their children running around, couples flying kites, flowers filling every square meter of the ground. It was one of those spots that most travelers don’t get to visit while they are in town but luckily I have been here for such a long time that I have been able to find all the local spots.

From there, it was a 5 mile walk to Lujiazui and the heart of the city. One of those sights that never gets old is approaching the skyline from a distance and seeing it grow right before your eyes into the tallest skyline in the world. I think Shanghai has ruined every other city in the world for me. I mean nothing is going to compare to all that this city has. Plain and simple.

From there William, Mohammed, and I decided to find a nice spot to have dinner at. For the most part, I have been eating pretty low budget throughout my time here. I mean its a splurge when I pay over $5 for a meal and that is not a joke. But tonight I was living large. Shanghai is known for its international cuisine. It’s the melting pot of the East. Cultures from all over the world flock to Shanghai and bring their amazing food with them. We had our eyes set on one specific place, Efes Shanghai. A Turkish restaurant that was voted to be one of the top restaurants in the city. You know you’re in a good place when they speak English when you walk in because they are not Chinese. That meant that we were going to get some authentic food. We were the only people in the restaurant so they were taking care of us. The owner sent some appetizers our way. The most flavorful eggplant pure and naan. I’ve never tasted anything so smooth and full. It made me think that maybe us Italians are doing eggplant the wrong way. Maybe it’s time to reconsider…sorry Nana. After that it was time for the main course and it did not disappoint. The three of us split a chicken kebab platter, a pita plate, as well as my favorite, the Adana Kebab. This minced lamb and beef is a specialty from the Adana region of Turkey close to the Syrian boarder where the owner was from. I would take this over any fat American steak, any way of the week. I mean every bite was filled with a combination of flavors that left you looking for words to describe it. I mean my mouth is watering as I’m writing this right now. Mmmmmmmmh! Now we thought we were finished up when the owner sent us out some traditional Turkish dessert, Kunefe. I have tasted nothing like this in my entire dessert life and believe me I’ve been around the track a couple times. This Levantine cheese pastry soaked in sweet sugar-based syrup just perfect. But wait, whats Kunefe without some Turkish coffee? I’ve had Italian espresso but this trumped that and some. It was the strongest and smoothest shot of coffee I have ever had. The pixel sized coffee grains were filled with flavor that complemented the Kunefe without flaw. After finishing all that was in front of us we all sat in our seats enjoying the beautiful view and feeling absolutely satisfied. I can think of no meal that has topped this one and something tells me that I will not for a long while.

The metro ride back to our campus on the outskirts of the city is always pretty depressing but it makes the time we spend in the city that much sweeter. Tomorrow I leave for Zhangjiajie. It’s May Day in China. A celebration of the working class and peasants during the cultural revolution and now. More or less the Chinese version of Labor Day. But we have a few days off of class so were hopping on a jet and flying to south west to Hunan province for our final trip of what has been one hell of a semester. I’m sure we’re going to to out with a bang! 19 Days until it’s back to Mieguo (America)! I’m counting down but also holding on to all that I have here. I’m trying not to think about leaving but I know I have to go. I love you all and I miss each of you dearly. I’ll be seeing you soon enough.

~KG

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Sad metro attendant/flag waver.

Sad metro attendant/flag waver.

Old men being old men. Somethings travel beyond cultural boarders.

Old men being old men. Somethings travel beyond cultural boarders.

Just something about the French Concession

Just something about the French Concession

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Hmmmmmmm...

Hmmmmmmm…

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Play nice now

Play nice now

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Doing my best

Doing my best

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Some R&R in Century Park

Some R&R in Century Park

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Chinese children are always just adorable

Chinese children are always just adorable

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Shanghai in bloom!

Shanghai in bloom!

Contrary to what you may be thinking, there was no rain while this picture was taken. Just sun.

Contrary to what you may be thinking, there was no rain while this picture was taken. Just sun.

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Century Ave. folks

Century Ave. folks

View from the dorm

View from the dorm

Back at Xujiahui campus. Saturday in the park.

Back at Xujiahui campus. Saturday in the park.

I will forever remember this walk through our old campus. I made it every day and it is always so beautiful and peaceful

I will forever remember this walk through our old campus. I made it every day and it is always so beautiful and peaceful

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Tick Tock…Tick To

So today marks 101 days in China. Step back and think about that and it’s crazy! That’s over 3 months of my life that I have been away from everything that I used to know. All that I held dear. And all that I was comfortable with. Milestones are always times for reflection and this is undoubtedly one of those times. Coming to China I have been stripped down to the basics of survival. A mattress, a couple outfits, food, and water. No car, no television, no clean shower, no kitchen. Just the basics. I’ve got to be honest, however, it’s not the lack of the luxuries of life that has been difficult. Putting up with a little discomfort here and there is no problem for me. I can do without all those material things back home. Honestly, I prefer life without them. They simply complicate things. What has been most difficult has been my time away from those that I hold dear. When I’m away at school I may only come home once or twice at most a semester, but there is something to be said for only being a single state away. Being a half a world away is a whole new monster. The time difference doesn’t help either. It’s made staying in contact with people difficult and put a strain on things. But there is something that I have gained from this difficulty. I have grown in my appreciation for the people that I have back home and also the people that I am with here. I have relied on them and grown with them. And I look forward to reuniting with all that I have back home more than anything!

In the meantime, I have been making the most of my final 25 days in China! So Ben, Trevor, and I went into town last week to book our flights to Zhangjiajie and the Avatar Mountains. We are going to have a few days of break for May Day (a celebration of the working class of the People’s Republic). It’s about a 3 hour flight away and from the pictures I have seen it’s going to be one of the most beautiful mountains I have seen while in China. Side note: It’s hard to believe that I have been to 4 mountains here. Guess that makes me a true mountain man now. Not wanting to let a wonderful trip to town go to waste we made our way from People’s Square down Nanjing Lu toward the Bund. I have made this walk countless times and somehow it never gets old. Every time there is a new spectacle that I did not notice the previous time and some amazing side street to wander down. And that’s exactly what we did. We found a tightly packed alley and went for it. A few blocks in we found a woman with a large wok frying up some street noodles so we couldn’t resist stopping and having some dinner. There is nothing back home that will compare to the street noodles here. After you get over your fear of the possibility of food-born illness you can really appreciate the beauty and the art that is the street noodle. On one side, you have the fresh ingredients, probably picked and killed this morning. Throw in some cabbage, bean sprouts, peppers. Mmmmmmmh! Now if that’s not good enough, you have the pageantry of the cooking of the noodle. I mean sure, you could simply fry it up in a boring pan but where is the showmanship in that? You have to love the noodle, care for it, toss the noodle in the air a couple times, spray some oil on the noodle. Only then is it ready to be eaten. And believe me, it’s HEN HAO CHI (very good taste = delicious).

After dinner we picked up some walking around beers for the rest of our walk. Tsingtao’s! One of the wonderful things about China is the lack of any open container laws. There’s absolutely no problem with walking around with a beer and enjoying all that China has to show. It’s wonderful.

We made our way to the Bund and posted up there for a few hours before heading back to campus. It may have been the clearest night on the Bund I have had since I have been in Shanghai. It never gets old. On one side of the Huangpu is stand the buildings from the turn of the 20th century. Old, French influenced structures that are illuminated with soft, warm lighting. For all you know, you could be an expat taking a step back in history. But then you are shot quickly into the 21st century when you make a 180 and are greeted by the grandest skyline you have ever seen. Bright neon shoot across the river and captivates. It’s simply amazing! Pictures will never do the entire scene justice. I wish I could take all of you here and show you all that I have seen, all that I know, all that I have come to call my own. Maybe one day I will. Until then, I love you all and I can’t wait to be back but I am going to make every second I have here count!

~KG

Doing my best Mao impression

Doing my best Mao impression

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Doing my best Mao impression

Doing my best Mao impression

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Beers and Buddies

Beers and Buddies

M&M World on Nanjing Lu

M&M World on Nanjing Lu

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Breathe. It. In.

Breathe. It. In.

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I <3 Shang Hai

I ❤ Shang Hai

Just look at it! Look at it with your two eyes!

Just look at it! Look at it with your two eyes!

Checking Items Off the China List

So one of my goals before I got to China was to visit every former and current capital of the country. Honestly I didn’t think this would be a realistic goal. I mean Beijing, Xi’an, Hangzhou, and Nanjing? Even I thought it was pretty bold. But this past weekend, I was able to cross that goal off of my China Bucket List. Did I mention that I love traveling in China! After thermodynamics on Friday, Jon, Jeb, and I hopped on the metro and made our way to the rail station. Yet again we had no tickets in hand and very few plans. Just a list of places we wanted to see and our youth and energy to guide us! It’s really just so wonderful! We lucked out and when we got to the rail station there were plenty of tickets available. Less than two hours later we were stepping off the train in a brand new city. You can make some serious ground when you’re speeding through the country at over 300kph.

Our first spot of the trip was the Purple Mountain. Don’t get your hopes too high. It was not actually purple…or a mountain, but what it lacked in color and height, it made up for in beauty. We ascended a couple thousand steps and made it to the memorial at the summit where a memorial to Sun Yat Sen, a Chinese revolutionary and the first president of the Republic of China, was present. As with most Chinese attractions and parks, it was filled with people from all over the country. I guess you kind of get used to it but it would always be more enjoyable if I was able to experience some of these sights in silence and peacefulness. But I guess I have to remember that I’m in a country with over 1.4 billion citizen and silence simply does not come too often. After taking in the view for a while, we made our way down the ‘mountain’ and to the base where the tombs of the Ming Dynasty were located. This dynasty led the country from the 14th to 17th centuries and is one of the most powerful dynasties. From the tombs we were able to watch the sun set over the city skyline that was in the distance. It was a very beautiful sight. The only thing that would have made it better would have been if the smog wasn’t filling every bit of air.

We checked into our hostel and crashed for the evening. Eight plus hours of walking and being on your feet can make you pretty worn out. The next morning I was up early and out the door. Our hostel was within walking distance to the Confucius Temple of Nanjing so we started our morning there and that could not have been a better decision. Nestled within the dirty city streets and sidewalks packed with people and mopeds was the most peaceful garden that I have been in. Finally we found a place that was not packed with people. We got there as the sun was rising and were greeted by a collection of old men and women practicing Kong Fu. Now this was not your average water aerobics class that you’re used to seeing the old folks taking part in in the States. These people were serious. Every single one of them were breaking a sweat and moving their body in positions that I would have struggled to emulate. Even more, they were led by a woman who had to be pushing 80. And I’m being quite honest when I say that she probably could have kicked my ass. She was running, jumping, kicking, punching, yelling, swooping down close to the ground before rising up and throwing her body every which way. And she did all of this with a smile on her face and sweat pouring down her face. I couldn’t help but sit and watch for over 30 mins. It was mesmerizing. And she is not the exception in China but rather the rule. It’s so common to see the elderly doing anything but what we Americans would expect to see the elderly doing. It has really made me reconsider what aging means. Stagnation or life? Now I have to be honest, every single elderly person in this country probably has lung cancer from a lifetime of smoking and breathing in pollution filled air but other than that, they’re getting after it every day. The Yin and the Yang.

Next up was the Nanjing Massacre Museum. I’m sure many of you are probably like me and have never before heard of this event. Maybe I wasn’t paying too close attention in high school history on this day or maybe Western culture simply does not pay too much mind to the happenings in the East. Regardless, this was one of the most moving memorials that I have ever been to. In 1937 in the midst of WWII, Japanese forces invaded China. They entered in through Shanghai and after taking the city they moved north to Nanjing. It was here where over 300,000 Chinese women, children, and civilians were brutally killed and treated like animals by the Japanese invaders. The memorial was within one of the many mass graves that were spread throughout the city. It was sobering to know that right here, on the ground that I was walking one was the location of the killing of 10s of thousands of innocent people. There were pictures and history about the events all over. I have never felt more sick to my stomach as I saw the terrible atrocities that took place and the complete disregard for life. You read about history but you can not really wrap your head around what it means and what 300,000 people dying really looks like. This was quite clear by the pit of bones and skulls. You really can not walk away from this place with the same viewpoint. But what made this entire memorial so moving was not that it was a reason hold hate and anger inside ones heart. One of the quotes that stuck with me that was throughout the memorial was, “Forgive but never forget.”

The rest of the day was spent seeing some other popular locations throughout the city and taking in the culture of yet another Chinese city. Before long we were back on the train and speeding back South. It always feels good to be back home in Shanghai.

~KG

They guys at the top of Purple Mountain

They guys at the top of Purple Mountain

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Path to the Ming Tombs

Path to the Ming Tombs

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Teas leaves on the side of the mountain. Women were all over harvesting them.

Teas leaves on the side of the mountain. Women were all over harvesting them.

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Sunset at the Ming Tombs

Sunset at the Ming Tombs

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Entrance to the Confucius Temple

Entrance to the Confucius Temple

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Confucius Temple

Confucius Temple

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The form...

The form…

The concentration

The concentration

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Fast as a bullet

Fast as a bullet

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"Peace" The monument at the exit of the massacre memorial

“Peace”
The monument at the exit of the massacre memorial

The cherry blossoms are in full bloom all across China

The cherry blossoms are in full bloom all across China

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Mounments at the Nanjing Massacre Memorial

Mounments at the Nanjing Massacre Memorial