Stories from China!
(written largely by Brian)
Click here for pictures
Friday, September 20, 2002
So today began at a very early hour. At approximately 0230 hours, we were awoken to the ships horn alerting everyone that we had entered the river leading into Shanghai. Since our room is right below the ships horn, it was pretty loud! Brian decided to get up and check things out while Shelley decided to sleep (since she had just gone to bed an hour earlier due to having to wrap up the first accounting cycle). The first impressions of China were quite bold. On either side of the river were industrial parks for as far as you could see. It was an endless expanse of light from the factories and docks all working throughout the night. You could not tell what they were making, but the industrialization was stunning. The next immediate observation was the pollution. There was a foul stench throughout the air and the water of the river was a dark brown. As we entered the river delta earlier in the night, some passengers complained of "brown" water in their toilets, which had made it appear that the sewer was backed up. It turns out that it was just the water from the river! The toilet system on the ship uses sea water (or river water in this case) directly from the source. The water in the river was so polluted that the water was visibly brown. It was quite sad.
We finally pulled into port early around 0800 that morning. The first daylight sight was of a city larger than I had ever seen. As we slowly pulled into the docks, we were completely engulfed by the skyscrapers of the city. Shanghai is definitely a sight to be seen with high-rise buildings as far as you can see. The pollution impact continued to be evident as trash could commonly be seen floating freely in the river and the air pollution was so bad that some people's eyes began to water and sting.
After we docked, several of the staff and us ventured into town to explore the city. Our dock was not in the best part of town so our first impressions of the city were quite interesting. We passed through some very poor and rundown sections of town that were basically third-world living conditions. Gutted-out buildings, trash in the street, piles (huge piles) of trash along the street were some of the immediate signs. People's laundry could be seen drying outside from building after building. It was very different from the modern skyscrapers that could be seen a few blocks away. This was also our first introduction to bicycles and motor scooters! With cars being too expensive, emphasizing the fact that there are 13 million people in Shanghai, these two-wheeled vehicles are the desired method of transportation. They zip down the roads weaving in and out of traffic. In certain places where the sidewalks were so damaged that you had to walk on the street, you really had to be extremely cautious of everything around you or you might end up in a collision with one of the scooters/bikes!
As we approached the new downtown area, the living conditions were like night and day. Modern skyscrapers and new buildings were everywhere and stores and restaurants could be seen on every corner. Our group proceeded down the area next to the river where much of the new construction was taking place. The new TV Tower and the Space Building were the newest additions to the skyline located on an island within the river. We decided to go to the Space Building and check out the views of the city from high above. Our second interesting experience was crossing the river on the ferry…this means of transportation consisted of a broken-down old ferry in which people on bikes, motor-scooters and pedestrians all piled in together in one big area. It was here that we also began to feel the stares. We were warned that China is a very homogenous country and that we would be stared at a lot. As we crossed the ferry we definitely felt that strange feeling of being one of the only people of your race in sight. In was quite weird but very educational.
After crossing the river, we headed over to the Oriental Pearl Tower (or the "Space Tower"). We took the elevator to the observation level, which allowed you to get a 360-degree view of the city. It was from here that you could really see how big the city was. Even our friend Melissa, who is from New York, found the sight of the city to be amazing! We walked around the observation floor for a while overlooking the entire city and then decided to have lunch at the "Revolving Restaurant" in the building. While it was not truly authentic Chinese food, it was pretty close - there were plenty of new things to try. Some of the interesting foods that we tried were pigs tongue, tossed jelly-fish and octopus. Even Shelley tried at least a small bite of everything (although I don't think she cared for them)! After lunch, we attempted to make it over to the museum but got another lesson in communication barriers. After attempting to hail a taxi and being refused (since the taxis didn't want to drive us off the island) we wandered around looking for the tunnel that ran under the river (pretty much an underground subway - just with lots of flashing lights). After finally getting back across, we went back to the ship to meet some friends for the evening.
Our evening was planned to go to the main strip of downtown to walk around, do a little shopping, and get some dinner. Since we had a large group again, taxis were of no use (since there was go guarantee that two taxi's would take you to the same place!). The dock attendant finally convinced us that the bus was the way to go. So we figured out through a series of simple English words (not many people spoke English) and hand gestures where the bus would pick us up. After wandering for a while, we saw our desired bus and actually got on. This was another one of those interesting experiences, as the bus resembled something out of the Beverly Hillbillies show! The seats were all broken and the concept of room between seats is foreign to the Chinese. It was a great time though as we finally started to feel as if we were getting a taste of everyday life!
After reaching our destination, we hopped off the bus and walked along Nanjing road (a shopping and eating center for Shanghai). Jewelry, clothing and every other type of store lined the streets. The crowds were amazing - there were a ton of people everywhere you looked. Our goal was to find the "open market" where price haggling was expected. If someone started out with a price of 100 Yuan (the local currency - approx 8 Yuan equaled one US dollar) you could come back with a price as low as twenty - and then haggle from there. These markets were geared mainly towards tourists with an assortment of Chinese goods. Shelley excelled at these places as her expert negotiating skills came into play. I on the other hand hate haggling, so I left most of the work up to her. She was a "hard sell", which saved us some money! Although our one main purchase for the evening, a fake North Face bag turned out to be a waste. The next day when we went to pack it, one of the zippers broke and then as soon I went to pick it up, the shoulder strap ripped. Oh well, at least we only spent the equivalent of $12 on it.
We found a small place to eat that was like a Chinese "Denny's". You got in, ordered your food and it was out before you knew it. The food was actually quite good as it was our first true taste of authentic Chinese food. After dinner we went to the market and bought a few things. Shelley successfully haggled our way to buying a few cool gifts.
(Note from Shelley: I can't let Brian continue without first telling you the bathroom experience! I don't mean to gross anyone out, but I just can't resist! After "Denny's", I was dying for a bathroom. Thinking there would, of course, be a restroom in the restaurant, I gestured for a bathroom to one of the waitresses. She was so kind to walk us from the restaurant, around the corner, through a shop, out to the open market and then FINALLY to a public restroom. I was very appreciative of the direct assistance, but couldn't believe our little tour. After Japan, I was pretty used to seeing "interesting" looking toilets, but this just floored me. I walked into a very dirty restroom, then into a very dirty stall only to find an incredibly smelly, gross environment. There was seriously a "trough", about a foot deep and a foot wide, going through the stalls (about three stalls side-by-side). You had to squat over this trough (trying very hard not to splash all over yourself) while looking at a huge pile of waste products (some very feminine!) in the corner (no trash can, just a pile of trash!). Before I knew it, someone had either flushed this "thing" or an automatic flush occurred and a flood of water ran through the tunnel washing everything away (ok-everything but the pile of trash). Let's just say you're all lucky I didn't get the camera out for this experience!!! ;) )
After the market, we decided to head home. Again, the taxi's refused to take us where we needed to go (not sure why this time) so we figured we would take the bus again. This decision provided probably the best entertainment of the night. After waiting at the bus stop, our desired bus drove up already very overcrowded. As the bus doors opened, a mass of people rushed onto the bus. People were shoving back and forth trying to get on the bus. One man tried to get it at the last minute. The bus driver got up and was trying to push him out of the bus and he was pushing back. Other passengers started pushing and shoving. The bus driver finally got back in and just closed the door on the man and started to drive off. The man was literally still trying to squeeze his way onto the bus as the bus drove away. At this point we decided to walk home!
Saturday, September 21, 2002
Friday was our day to fly from Shanghai to Beijing. This would be our first attempt to lead a group of college students through a foreign country that we had never even experienced ourselves. Our trip was actually a student exchange with Peking University in Beijing. We would be interacting with many of university students as well as seeing some of the major sights of Beijing.
We organized on the ship at 9:00 am and were bused to the airport for our two-hour flight to Beijing. Once we arrived at the airport the fun of China really began. We had 48 students with us and we were all on a group visa and had pre-purchased tickets on China Air. Shelley went with our local guide to get the tickets and I stayed with the group to keep them organized. After getting all of our boarding passes, we realized that the tickets got mixed up with one of the other Semester at Sea groups going to Beijing as well. We had about half of their tickets and vice versa. With no help from our guide (who we later determined was of very little help throughout this entire saga), we finally determined that the name on your boarding pass didn't matter - you just needed to have a boarding pass (go figure!). At first we were lined up in several different lines to go through security. At one point, a student was yelling for Shelley. As it turns out, we all had to be in the same line due to our group visa. So, we managed to get all 48 students back into a single file line (and of course, alphabetically due to our order on our visa) and hopefully without irritating too many Chinese! We continued to proceed through security, where of course, EVERY SINGLE ONE of us had to take off our shoes. Finally, we managed to get everyone through security, to the gate and successfully boarded the plane…and we were off! Well, our next little episode was on the plane. In the row behind several students and myself, a man had a seizure and nearly had to be revived. Several of the students watched the whole thing. Needless to say this brought a great deal of commotion to our area for the rest of the flight! China air, however, was a very nice airline. It definitely felt similar to being on any American airplane. During a portion of the flight, an outside camera showed ground footage of our takeoff and landing as well as views from the airplane, which was really neat to watch.
Once we landed, we got off the plane and tried to find our guides from the University. The other group's leader decided to try and find them assuming the university reps would all be together. To find the guides, she ended up having to go past the security gate, so after about 15 minutes we started to look around for her. We soon found her trying to yell up the stairs to us since she was not allowed back through. Nonetheless, we finally met up with our guides from Peking University and got on the buses to our hotel. Our tour guides (Samuel, Julie and Zoray - their English names) turned out to be incredible people and wonderful guides. Samuel especially provided some invaluable assistance, which you'll hear about in the days to come! Talking and getting to know them was one of the highlights of the trip.
We arrived at our hotel probably around 4:30 pm. The You Dian Hotel, in Beijing, was very nice. It was a new hotel so it was in very good shape (the beds are quite firm though). Our first tour was of Peking University. Peking University was founded in 1898, has approximately 20,000 students and is one of the two most prestigious universities in China. It is a very beautiful campus with a mixture of traditional and modern architecture. The central lake was perhaps the most beautiful part of the campus. After a tour, we had dinner in the International student dormitory. The food was pretty good, especially for "dorm" food. Food was brought out at a constant pace (12 courses!) and placed on a revolving plate in the middle of the table. You simply moved the serving tray to get something you wanted. We already knew this, but this meal enforced the idea that real Chinese food is NOTHING like Chinese food we get in the states. Most of the dishes were pork, beef or fish, but the way they were fixed was very different. Everyone enjoyed dinner and definitely learned a lot about Chinese cuisine.
After dinner, some of the Chinese students came to meet our students. There were not as many students as we had hoped, but after an awkward introduction, the students grouped together and ventured off for a couple of hours. Shell and I talked with a few students from the US who were studying at Peking University. It was very interesting hearing their experiences. They had only been there for a few weeks so everything was pretty new for them as well. After a while we went with our guide, Julie, to a local café and had a few beers and talked. It was wonderful to talk with Julie as she talked very openly about her life as a student (the three guides were all just one to two years out of college) and other things going on in China. We learned so much through these conversations with Julie and the international students from the US! One of many topics we discussed was the dorm situation at the university (as well as hearing student reports of what they saw on their student tours). Here we were at one of the most prestigious universities and the dorm situations were on very poor standards…US standards, that is. For undergraduates, generally six to eight students share a room. Graduate students have four to a room and doctoral students have two students per room! The rooms are extremely small and are very basic, with bunk beds and thin mattresses. Many bunk beds had small "desks" nailed to the end of their beds as there was no other room. Students even had to buy tickets for showers. They were only allowed 40 tickets per semester (we were told there were approx 19 weeks in a semester) and, on top of this, the shower areas were in separate buildings from the dorms. After hearing this, it was just another constant reminder of how lucky we are to live in America!
Around 9pm, we all gathered again and headed back to the hotel. As we were all exhausted from the long day, I believe most of us headed to bed.
Sunday, September 22, 2002
We had been really looking forward to Sunday as this was the day in which we would be climbing the Great Wall of China! The busses got rolling around 8:30 am and we headed out to our first stop of the day, which was a "cloisonné factory". This was supposed to be a "real" factory in which we saw the process for making vases and other traditional items that are made out of brightly colored brass. The factory turned out to be a front for a huge cloisonné store. The "factory" was a few rooms with women working meticulously on cloisonné, weaving, as well as other arts and crafts. It would take them 100 years to make all of the items in the store! Shelley took a picture of one of the women working and they even asked for a dollar for the picture! We walked around the store a little while and then headed back to the bus.
Our next stop was the Imperial Tombs. This was the place where all but three of the Emperors of the Ming dynasty were buried. They had excavated one of the tombs (opened in 1956) so people could walk down and see how these tombs were constructed. The Emperor would design the tomb for him and the Empress and have it built while he was still alive (the tomb we saw took approx six years to build).
Seeing the tombs was cool. While there was limited things to see, the thrones, which were hand-carved and set in the tomb, were quite impressive, thus giving you a little glimpse into the extravagance of the time period. It was kind to see the halls and everything below the ground.
After the tombs, we headed for lunch before the Great Wall. When we arrived at the lunch stop (Dayi Restaurant), the parking lot was filled with tour busses and people. This was obviously a common stop for tours. They told us we had an hour and a half for lunch, which seemed odd to us. Once we got into the "restaurant" we understood the long break. Before you got to the restaurant, you had to walk through a HUGE store filled with every kind of souvenir/artwork/jewelry etc. that you could imagine. After eating, the students decided that the Great Wall was much more interesting than shopping so we headed out early to the Great Wall.
I think the Great Wall was everyone's highlight of the trip! It is one of those places that is just somewhat mystical. We started at one of the main points of the wall that is easily accessible from the road. We hopped of the bus and soon began our ascent of this particular section of the wall. The section had about a 400-500 vertical foot rise and was quite beautiful. The first sight of the wall was amazing. You see it twist and turn for miles. In the distance, it does not appear that imposing but once you are next to it, it becomes quite ominous. The wall is like one constant, giant staircase with guard towers set approximately every 100 meters or so. We started climbing the stairs, which are not evenly spaced, with great energy. After the first hundred or so, we realized a little bit of pace would be required. We climbed the wall with many of our students, making sure to stop for pictures (a lot of them!) along the way. There were people from a number of countries all there to do the same thing we were.
After a couple of extended breaks, we finally made it to the top of that section. The views were spectacular as you could see the wall extend for miles throughout the mountains and well as the section we had just completed. The terrain was actually quite mountainous and reminded me of the foothills back in Colorado. After some more pictures and a climb up one of the guard towers, we started our descent. By this point, our legs were shot and walking down the steps didn't help much. We finally made it back down. We had just climbed The Great Wall of China!!!
After the wall, we headed back to Peking University for dinner with the Chinese students followed by a party afterwards. Dinner was again in one of the campus restaurants and was very similar to the previous meals. We enjoyed talking with the students during dinner as all of them seemed to be very nice and interesting people. After dinner, we went to the party, in which we were supposed to sing, dance or do something that showed American culture. The only problem was that we did not know about this until the night before. Also, trying to define and relay American culture in song and dance is not that easy. The good thing though about traveling with 48 college students is that you are bound to have some talent in the "pool" or if nothing else, there is bound to be at least a couple students who have no problem making complete fools out of themselves for entertainment purposes!
Our two MC's (Rusty and Mike) did a great job breaking the ice with the Chinese host students and getting things going. One of our students grabbed a guitar and sang "American Music" by the Violent Femmes and then one theater major did quite a comical performance that had everyone laughing! The Chinese students did Karaoke with some favorite songs as well as some "Boy Band" American tunes. We played some games for "mixers" and the night ended with our student from Columbia trying to give everyone Salsa dancing lessons (that story is a little hard to explain!).
After the party, Shelley and I joined a large group of our students, a few Chinese students and our guide Samuel (who was staying with us at the hotel) at a local bar. As we were the only patrons of the bar, we basically created our own entertainment. We really enjoyed hanging out and having a few drinks with the students. It was the first time we had a chance to really get to know them on a personal level. They were such a great group of students! We danced the night away and even did a few rounds of shots with the students! Everyone made it home safely though!
Monday, September 23, 2002
Monday morning was a little rough getting up, but not too bad. Today was our day to visit Tiananmen Square and the Imperial Palace at the Forbidden City. The entire morning was allotted for free time at Tiananmen Square. Shell and I were a little tired of shopping so we decided just to hang around the square. As we missed breakfast this morning, Shell opted for McDonalds's again to try and cure the small hangover. I think this round was better (can't mess up fried foods)! After that we walked around the square and saw all of the monuments and people. Tiananmen Square is a huge place that spans several city blocks. At one end of the square is an old section of a temple - the traditional Chinese architecture that acts as an entrance to the square.
Just past the initial entrance is the building that contains the tomb of Mao Tse Tung, the leader of the communist party revolution of 1949. The tomb is heavily guarded with young Chinese soldiers doing their best to look imposing (while only being about 5'7" and weighing 160 pounds). Outside of the tomb are several statues that represent the "Common Workers" or those people in which the revolution was for. Unfortunately, the tomb is closed on Monday's so we were unable to go inside and see the casket made of crystal in which Mao resides.
Next to the tomb is a war memorial dedicated to all those who died in support of the revolution. It's a simple memorial, a single stone pillar with writing on it. As we were looking at this memorial a funny thing happened to Shell. There was a very colorful garden next to the memorial that we were taking a picture of Shelley in front of. As we finished with the picture, an Asian woman ran up to Shelley and motioned for her to be in a picture with her. So Shelley, being courteous, sat down next to the women in front of the garden. The women proceeded to move very close to Shell and grab her hands and strike a very happy pose as her husband snapped the picture. The women seemed ecstatic to have Shelley in her picture. The women was nodding thank you and Shelley was smiling and starting to walk back towards me, when ANOTHER women came over and motioned for her to be in her picture as well. Shelley agreed and the women seemed just as excited to have Shelley in her picture. After the second one we hurried up and got out of there. We probably could have made some money renting Shelley out for pictures though, but we would have had to give all our money to the Chinese government. :)
After that we just walked around the square for a while. On the other sides of the square are the Chinese history museum and the official government building of "the Party". As I mentioned earlier, the square is a huge place. As we were walking around I kept thinking back to 1989 when the Tiananmen Square massacre took place. One of our faculty was actually there that night and he talked about how the square was packed solid with people. I couldn't imagine so many people there and what it must have been like to witness those events. We walked down to the other side of the square where the entrance to the Forbidden City was and from there just sat and people watched for a while. There were military guards everywhere walking around the square in formation with the same cadence. Again, it was quite amusing as they were trying to portray such a rigid image.
After our walk around the square we headed for lunch. Thank God that we went to an actual restaurant and not a front for a souvenir store. We had acquired a couple of students from another trip that got separated at the square so they decided to join us for lunch. Unfortunately, that meant we were two seats short for lunch so Shell and another student who had both just had their McDonalds fix volunteered to sit out lunch and hang out with the guides.
After lunch we headed to the Forbidden City for the tour. We walked through some external gardens at first that had many trees and various small buildings. We then got to the main walls of the palace. The palace itself is a massive compound that contains hundreds of buildings and is completely enclosed in a huge wall. It was said that only a few people could even enter through the outside wall. It turns out that after the revolution in 1949, the British and the exiting government took a great deal of the palace valuables with them. We had been warned that this took away from some of the magnificence of the palace (inside the buildings) but that the outside was still a site to be seen. The palace itself is an amazing place. When you first enter, there are a series of courtyards that are too big to try and explain. Each courtyard is separated by a huge building that is either a temple or a special room. The few rooms that did have furniture in them were quite beautiful. We walked around the palace for several hours. Our friend Samuel was our own personal guide while we walked through the palace, which was so nice. As it probably would have taken a full day to walk through the entire palace, our group just walked through the main center section of the palace. In the back of the palace, there were beautiful rock gardens! The rock formations almost looked volcanic.
After we left the palace, we went to the Imperial Gardens that were directly behind the palace. The gardens were set on a large hill with a building at the very top. While the building was now home to a large Buddha, it was once the cooks' house. The large hill gave a spectacular view of the entire palace and the city of Beijing. We snapped a few photos with the Samuel, Julie and Zoray and then headed back down the hill to go to dinner.
One of the things about China that we have not touched upon yet is the number of people all over town trying to sell you things. You can't describe the craziness that takes place. Throughout China all you here is "Hello, Hello" as people are trying to get your attention. That followed by "One dollar, one dollar" becomes implanted in your head. People selling postcards, water, souvenirs, or whatever are constantly bombarding you! The pinnacle of it occurred as we tried to get back on our busses from the gardens. In order to cross the road, you had to go through an underground tunnel. As we walked through the tunnel people were actually grabbing your arm trying to get you to see whatever they were selling. As we got to the parking lot we realized that one of our busses was still trying to get to us. We then realized that there were about 20 people trying to sell things and were being quite invasive about it. A few students were haggling with them, which made them even more determined to sell to us. Then these people began trying to get on the bus. Shelley and I seriously had to physically push them back from the bus to get them to stay off. One man who was trying to sell massages grabbed one of our female students and started rubbing her shoulders! For about 10 minutes it was pure chaos as we tried to fend these vendors off. The second bus finally arrived and we got the heck out of there. As the trip went on we became increasingly frustrated with the street vendors as it was beginning to take away from our visit. On the other hand though, it makes you realize that these people are trying to do anything they can to make money. Our guides say most of them come from the rural sections of the country and have little to no money. They come to the city because they can create a better life for themselves and their families by being a street vendor. It tends to underlie the contradiction of the Chinese economy. While there is obviously a huge amount of money flowing into the country there is no evidence, besides new tall business buildings, that the money is making its way to a majority of the people of China. Several of the students we talked to, including our guides, seemed to be very frustrated will several aspects of China today. It will be very interesting to see what happens with China over the next 10 years. Anyway, enough socio-political rambling.
After the gardens we went directly to dinner. We said we were going to an "ethnic" restaurant that specialized in Thai food and from the looks of it, it was different, but the food was basically the same. We ran out of seats again so I sat at the vegetarian table…now I know why I'm not a vegetarian! The highlight of the night was actually what we witnessed at one of the other tables. At one point as Shelley and I were walking around making sure everyone was seated, we saw all the students at one of the tables with these stunned looks on their faces…like they could not believe what they were witnessing. Shelley and I got there just after the process had started in which the waiter had brought out a live snake, held the head with his hand and pinned the other end to the floor with his foot. He then proceeded to slit the LIVE snakes throat and drain the snakes' blood into a cup. He then handed the cup of blood and in addition to what we believe were a few organs including the pounding heart to the patrons at the table. We believe they poured the blood into their soup and we heard that eventually the snake was cooked and served to the table. Now that's something you don't see everyday back in the good old USA!
After our dinner experience we went to a "Chinese Acrobatics Show" that proved to be quite enjoyable! The show was at an old theatre in downtown Beijing. The acrobats were amazing in the stunts they performed. People would balance a platform on their heads while other people stood on the platform and juggled. In one scene, two adults while using their feet juggled two small children! It's difficult to try and describe the acrobatic stunts these people performed, but they were both amazing and very entertaining!!
After the acrobatic show we headed back to the hotel. Shell and I were beat so we decided to go to bed early. I didn't get to bed quite on time as I spent an hour with our guide down in the lobby as he very frustratingly tried to confirm our plane reservations. He was trying to fix the problem with our boarding tickets that had started on our flight to Beijing and was having no luck. Finally I convinced him that we would be ok and for him to go out with some of the students. Around 11:30 pm, he finally agreed and went out and Shell and I went to bed. Little did we know that our sleep would be much less than what we had expected.
Tuesday, September 24, 2002
Shelley and I were awoken to a pounding on our door about 2:50 am. Shelley instantly jumped out of bed and started running around the room while I was still trying to figure out what the hell was going on. We got to the door and opened it to find two of our female students who had apparently been crying and were still very shaken up. They said that one of the students had cut themselves and was bleeding. I threw on some shorts and a shirt, grabbed our handy-dandy med kit and went with the girls to the room where the student was. There was already about six students in the room. Once I got there they saw the med kit and one of them said "No med kit, we need a hospital". I unwrapped the towel around the students foot to discover a tear in the students heel about three inches long and deep enough to see tissue. It turns out that the student decided to jump off the second story mezzanine, which overlooks the hotel lobby. The hotel lobby has a tile floor and the student had on Birkenstocks…the two obviously didn't mix. He had literally ripped the hell out of one side of his foot. Both Shell and I were very surprised that it turned out to be this student, as he is really a great "kid"! At this point, Shelley went to wake up his stepsister who was on the trip also, and I went to wake up our guide to call the ambulance. The next half an hour seemed to never end. Shelley stayed with the students as Samuel and I went to call and then wait for the ambulance. The ambulance seemed to take forever to come! The injured student was doing well, however, he was definitely still in shock. Before we had arrived in the room, we were told he went through shock systems - shaking, eyes rolling back, etc. We were very worried about him, but knew he would be ok. The ambulance finally got to the hotel and up to the room. They had with them a very flimsy gurney, which had to be extended as far as it could go. Our injured student was fairly big and tall, so getting him from the room to the ambulance was a chore and took all of our help! As there was only enough room for two people plus the injured student on the ambulance, we sent his stepsister and the guide to translate, as up to this point, no one spoke English. We would wait for their immediate call from the hospital and I would join them by taxi.
The rest of the story is too long to write down so I'll summarize it by saying I wound up going to two Chinese hospitals before the event was over (that is, after I finally caught a taxi in a seemingly deserted area) and Shelley wound up packing our stuff as well as the two student's belongings, calling the Executive Dean back at the ship with the news, checking everyone out of the hotel (Samuel had made it back to the hotel for this process - thank goodness) and then leading the entire group in the morning. As you can tell, none of us got any sleep past our abrupt wake up call at 2:50 am!! In the end, the student ended up with 50 - 75 stitches from the second hospital before we rejoined Shelley and the rest of the group that morning around 10:00 am. At this time, the group was at the Summer Palace, a very large and beautiful area that used to be a vacation/relaxation spot for the Emperor and his family. At this point, we had one more incident that caused a little stress. For the first time on the trip, we were missing a student. She had not shown up to our 11:15 meeting spot. Several students and guides took turns looking for her with no success as the rest of us proceeded to the restaurant for lunch. At the very end of lunch, the Director of the Peking University exchange program was able to locate her. She was very freaked out and very relieved to rejoin the group…as well as very apologetic. Finally…off to the airport.
We successfully navigated through the Chinese airport this time, however, due to the inefficiency of the airport we still almost missed our flight as it took FOREVER to get through customs and security. We caught the plane and actually had an uneventful flight to Hong Kong. As sad as we were to say goodbye to our newfound friends (our guides) in China, we were never so relieved to be back to the ship…"home"!
Fun facts/differences we've noticed about China