So first and foremost here are some more Great Wall pictures for you Zach.
Now, last time I wrote I was still at Peking University departing for Taizhou. Since then I enjoyed my last walk around campus, my last dollar burrito (best food ever), and my last trip to Wu Mei (the Walmart of China that was located next to our dorms). We also went back to the Olympic Village at night, which was so beautiful. It ended up being a weird night because it was sunny, then rainy, then it started thuderstormming, but in the end we got some cool pictures. It was kind of sad leaving Beijing, but the past couple of days have been quite fun here in Taizhou. We left the university at 7:30 to catch our 10:00 speed train ride to Nanjing. Again, there is no other way to describe this adventure then to reference Harry Potter; it was exactly like the Hogwarts Express. There was four of us in a cabin and we all had these little bunks and ALL of our luggage in there, which reminds me… it was an extremely good idea to bring an empty suitcase because it is already pretty full and I still have a week of China and Australia to go. But anyways, the train was quite the experience, and then we had to depart from the train in less than two minutes at 5:30 in the morning. That was fun. The second we walked outside in Nanjing we could tell we were further south because it had to at least be 100 degrees and it was only 6:00 in the morning. We then took a two hour bus ride to our current location at the Hui Bin Lou Hotel in Taizhou.
Our new hotel is amazing; huge rooms with big beds, nice new TV, a bathtub, walk in shower, free breakfast, and even a hair dryer (which is now a luxury because our hair stuff doesn’t plug into the outlets here in China.) After we explored our room and hotel we got to sleep a little and then get ready for our welcome dinner with some of the Chinese government officials. Now, we were truly grateful for the opportunity to meet new people, while enjoying the finest Chinese cuisine… for free, but I honestly could not bring myself to eat 2/3 of the dishes that got brought out to our table. First there were shrimp, straight from the ocean with eyes and whiskers and shell and all, then pork and liver gelatin, a whole fish, followed by some chicken… the WHOLE chicken; the head was also placed right on the center of the plate looking at everyone. The only thing I managed to eat was the bamboo, which was super good actually, and the steamed veggie dumplings. We also got watermelon juice, which was basically watermelon puree, but it was also pretty good. Wei says that chicken, pork and beef are all too humble of foods for government officials to serve to their guests, but we would have been just fine with it. Overall, it was a very interesting meal and start to our stay in Taizhou.
After dinner we got to go on a complimentary night boat ride, thanks again to our new Chinese government friends. The boat itself was really interesting; it was like a floating restaurant and there was tea and some snacks for us to enjoy on our cruise. The scenery was beautiful and it was so relaxing and calming being out there on the river. My favorite part was the “flower boats” that occasionally passed by. The whole boat was filled with huge lit flowers and decorations, along with traditional Chinese performance. The whole experience was much appreciated and enjoyed.
The past couple days we have been exploring with Wei and going to a museums and gardens that are all very cool. The most interesting was an Ancient Chinese Examination Site that we went to. The education system here is based off of some older customs called Keju. It was an extremely difficult tri-system, where if you passed your first test you moved on to the county level, then state, then federal. In the end only a few out of all Chinese students made it. We got to see the examination “rooms” that were really just cubicles that they took their tests in. Wei told us that a long time ago students had to sit in these cubicles for three days straight without any breaks taking these exams (and we think finals are bad.) Since then they have gotten more flexible and you can now take them at home in smaller intervals, but they are still extremely difficult and selective. In the museum we got to walk over these three steps that are supposed to help you gain luck in your education, career and fortune, so fingers crossed that it isn’t just a superstition and that it really does work. We also got to learn about some of the Ancient rules and customs of the tests. The most interesting was definitely the rules about students who cheated; they were cut in half. Literally. In front of everyone. It was only until one time when a student who, after being cut in half, managed to write cruelty in their own blood just before dying, that the rule got changed to a less harsh punishment. Rough Right?
On a lighter note the gardens we have been seeing are GORGEOUS. Wei is really stressing the differences between Western and Eastern design. Here, every small detail is taken into account and the layering of different elements is so prominent. The result is beautifully designed gardens with waterfalls, bridges, flowers, fish, lily pads, small pavilions, and tons of interesting and intriguing pathways. From a design perspective, they are amazing. We also got to go to a museum that Wei had a hand in creating and building; The Feng Shui Planning Museum. After the Cultural Revolution in China, studying ancient culture and design was prohibited, and it still is a touchy issue, so even getting the museum built was a challenge. The whole area reflects perfect Feng Shui design and the inside of the museum has tons of interactive games and exhibits that really intrigues people to learn more about the ancient customs. It was super cool just to see something Wei actually had a hand in creating. He is so passionate about what he does and what he teaches and I am honored to be able to have him as a professor and a guide on this trip. I feel like my design knowledge and creativity has tenfold since I have been here, and that is all thanks to Wei.
Taizhou has been super fun and we even got to spend some time with Chung Chung, a former graduate from the Interior Design Program at UW-Madison who lives here. She has been very helpful and her family treated us to dinner yesterday at their restaurant, which has proved to be one of the BEST meals I have had here in China. There were these sticky fried rice triangle things that are like my new favorite food.
Tonight, we had our farewell dinner… I know we just got here right? But we are leaving tomorrow morning for Shanghai, which is the last city we will visit here in China. It is definitely bittersweet leaving because I am super excited to see Shanghai… and go to Australia… but I am sad that the trip is nearing an end. It seems like yesterday I was making that paper chain countdown until the day we left for China and now I’m sitting here thinking about the trip being over? When did that happen? Next time I write I’ll be giving you my LAST blog from China. WOW. Let’s just not think about that… heck I still have about 4 more pages to write for my paper due in three days…opps.