Suzhou

Today was yet another adventure in the crazy country of China. A few of the study abroaders decided to take a day trip to Suzhou, a city near Shanghai. A few late birds and unplanned pit stops caused us to run behind schedule… At about 20 minutes before our train would leave for Suzhou, we were still on the metro, many stops away from the train station. We decided to grab a taxi in hopes that we would make it in time.

We got into the taxi, and told the driver that we were running late for the train. He expertly weaved in and out of traffic, and I could tell he was trying his best to get us there on time. Every 5 seconds we would all check our phones to see the minutes quickly pass by. When we reached the train station, we BOOKED it out of that cab without even waiting for change because we still had to get through security and find our gate. At this point, it was about 9:05 and our train left at 9:10. My roommate led the pack as we ran to the front of the security gate and told the guard that we were about to miss our train. It surprised us all when he stared at us, gave us a look of disapproval, but let us cut in front of about 50 + people. It was fucking crazy. After that, we began running again, although none of us knew which direction to go. What a funny scene it must have been for the hundreds of people in that train station. From afar, I suddenly spot the gate so I yelled out “IT’S OVER THERE!” as I started sprinting in that direction, almost running over a kid in the process. 2 other girls followed me while the other 5 ran the complete opposite direction. “WHERE ARE YOU GOING!?!” I remembered yelling, but at that point it was too late. The 3 of us dashed to the gate where the guard hurried us through without really checking our tickets. We bolted down the stairs, ran into the train, and when the three of us looked back, no one else was there. Not quite sure whether we should get off or stay on the train, we all stared at each other for someone to make a decision. Then, the doors closed and the decision was made for us. Thankfully, the five others were able to catch the next train and arrived only an hour after us. My morning felt like an episode of The Amazing Race. My two buddies and I were the victors.

When we finally found the right bus into the old Water Village of Suzhou, we walked around a bit, exploring the cute street shops before paying about 20 RMB to enter one of Suzhou’s famous gardens. Pictures don’t really do it justice; there was an amazing rock garden which felt like an adult playground with its caves and stairs and places for climbing and a beautiful coy pond next to a patch of lily pads. If it were not for the ample amount of tourists, that garden would surely be a place of relaxation.

IMG_2751

IMG_2795

While the garden was great, the highlight of the visit was definitely the boat ride through the canal, basically China’s version of Venice. A cute old man sailed the boat for us, singing songs and telling us the history of the canal. He also told us a little about his life and how he made only 1000 RMB every month as a sailor and lived an extremely simple life. It was a very enjoyable ride, and most of us drifted in and out of sleep because the rocking of the boat was so calming.

Processed with VSCOcam with m5 preset

IMG_2824 IMG_2826

We finally returned home around 9PM after being up since 6AM. Our day had been filled with nonstop walking besides our short 40 minute boat ride. It was such a long and tiring day, but totally worth it. I can’t wait for more day trips to nearby cities in China.

#firstworldproblems

It’s been a little over a week since I have arrived in Shanghai. People say that the city is very similar to Hong Kong and maybe it is true to some extent, but things are definitely different than what I am used to.

Everything here is an adventure to me, and the source to almost all of my random stories is my Mandarin incompetency along with the lack of English translations on almost everything.

Struggle #1: Buying shampoo and conditioner at Walmart

All the bottles looked the same! If not for all of the Mandarin fluent individuals in my program, my hair would surely have had to suffer.

Struggle #2: No free Wi-Fi in the dorms

At the international apartments, Wi-Fi isn’t provided, so I had to set up my own router. Easy enough right? Well, the tricky part was that all of the instructions in simplified Chinese. I decided to treat it like a puzzle. I studied the diagrams in the instructions and clicked on random things on the screen. After several failed attempts and over an hour of my time spent, I managed to get the internet working. It was definitely one of my prouder moments in life.

Struggle #3: Laundry

Inside my apartment is a laundry machine that I am sure has been there for decades. As with everything else, all the buttons were in Chinese. I was smart enough to wait and ask one of my Chinese literate friends to see what all the buttons meant, and was even warned to NOT put my clothes through high water. I thought I had covered all the bases. Somehow, my clothing still came out COMPLETELY soaked. It was to the point where I was able to wring it and have a substantial amount of water drip out of it. Since people don’t use driers in Shanghai, I didn’t even have that to save me. It took me an hour of manual labor to squeeze as much water as I could from each piece of clothing I washed, and to scrounge up enough hangers and balcony ledges to hang them up to dry.

Lesson learned: Don’t put the washing machine on high OR medium water. Use low water. Also, invest in more hangers.

I’m treating these as signs that I need to improve my Chinese. It is now my goal to be able to speak Mandarin somewhat conversationally by the end of these 3 months. Reading might still be an issue, but at least by that point I won’t be too afraid to ask for help by locals when I can’t read something.

My other issues are also just small inconveniences. There is my gritty bathroom that randomly has no hot water, my dial up speed Wi-Fi + sketchy VPN that only allows me to access Facebook and WordPress on rare occasions, and my inability to rely on Google maps to load up instantly on my phone (or at all) when I am lost. But honestly, it’s really not too bad. I’m treating all of these things as new life experiences. I have taken so many things for granted in the US. My complaints are definitely #firstworldproblems at its finest.

Lamma Island

Lamma Island is so beautiful. If you are looking for a place in Hong Kong that isn’t infested with tourists, this is your spot.

Although I love Hong Kong, one of the problems I have with it is that it is just too small and too densely populated. It is pretty cool sometimes being in the middle of a bustling city, but visiting Lamma Island reminded me the beauty of peace, quite, and calm every now and then.

I went to Lamma Island with Amy because we both wanted to spend an afternoon on a hike. Neither of us had ever been to this island, so everything was an adventure. I was tour guide of course, and I have always been so used to relying on my local friends or family to take me around. With me being slightly more familiar with Hong Kong than Amy, I had to assume the new role.

It started off pretty rocky, first because the Hong Kong weather channel said that rain and thunderstorms were likely, and it was drizzling when we left my Aunt’s house. When we got to the island, I had no idea which direction the hike was, so we walked one way, only to turn back because we felt that it seemed sketchy and incorrect. There were a bunch of small cars that kept driving up beside us, and there was barely room on the road for us to share the road. All we could see to our left and right was construction. Once we turned back, I asked a local shop owner, and she told me that it was, indeed, the right way. By this time we had wasted a good 15 minutes, but back we went.

We followed signs and eventually found the mountain. To reach the top, we saw what seemed like a never ending set of stairs. There was zero shade too (the Hong Kong weather channel was so wrong about the rain and thunder), so it was fucking tough. It was probably the hardest hike I’ve been on just because of the mixture of stairs, humidity, and heat. I was so afraid that we were gonna pass out up there, because all we had for breakfast was pineapple buns and we had only brought two small water bottles each.

The trail started off with abandoned homes scattered everywhere, some with old furniture and even clothing still inside. It was as if the previous owners had left in a hurry. It was extremely cool walking into them, although I was constantly frightened of huge spiders and critters dropping onto my head. Below is a photo of an abandoned school that used to exist on the island.

IMG_2654

After many stops, we finally reached the top. It was so worth the struggle; the sense of accomplishment along with the beauty from that high altitude made the struggle worthwhile.

IMG_2681On the way down, we were once again faced with the fear of the unknown. I constantly had fears that we would be led to a dead end, because we went down the mountain the opposite way from where we went up. By the time we had gotten to the top, we had already drank most of our water.

Thankfully, an old woman passed by and I worked up the courage to ask her for directions. I started asking her questions about her life, and she began to tell me her story. She told me about how she was in her 80s, and that she had moved onto the island when she was in her 20s. She told me about how she made money as a farmer, and how her mom died when she was young. She did all this while walking faster than Amy and I along the trail, without even breaking much of a sweat. She seemed so healthy for her age, and I wonder if it is the fresher air and less stressful lifestyle of Lamma Island. Soon, she arrived at her home which was along the trail and Amy and I continued our hike.

IMG_2684

About 10 minutes later, we arrive in front of another person’s home, where 2 middle aged men were lounging around shirtless. We bought some Pocari Sweat from them, and I noticed that one of them spoke English very well, which is especially surprising in a place like Lamma Island. I complimented him about that, and he started telling me about how he had lived in New Zealand for over 20 years and had come back to retire. We left soon after that only to turn back around because Amy wanted to take a picture of this man, something like a “Humans of Hong Kong” thing. I took up that opportunity as well. The two men were so nice about it, and even smiled for the camera. Then, they started talking more about their lives. I found out the guy who lived in New Zealand had been born in the house right behind us, about how his family had lived on Lamma Island before the British took over, and how the waters near their place used to be teeming with lobster, shrimp, fish, ect. The other man told me about how he lived a short hike away, but in his village only 4 people, including himself, lived there. It’s so sad that so many people have since slowly left the island to emigrate to other countries, or to join the more industrialized Hong Kong island, and we talked about that too.

IMG_2687

Soon, we left and continued on our hike. About 45 minutes later, we finished and caught the ferry JUST in time. The next one would have been 2.5 hrs later.

There were so many small problems along the way… but what I have learned is that all you gotta do is go with it and things will eventually work out.