Rachael and I arrived in China about 3 days ago and the time has flown so far. We've both been really jet lagged, and have probably been trying to pack too many things into too little time to start this trip. However, we've already done some very fun things and have a lot more to look forward to!
We started in Beijing for just a day where my dad's friend Ying and her daughter Yuan met us and treated us to a fantastic feast. We had Peking duck that first night, they gave us a driving tour of Beijing, and we walked through a park until Rachael and I were falling asleep. We stayed in a super nice hotel, and then walked around that area the next morning where Rachael and I tried mystery food from a bunch of different street vendors. All of it was delicious, by the way. Ying and Yuan took us out to lunch where we had a fancy meal of authentic Beijing food. The restaurant we went to was famous for its cow stomache, but Rachael was definitely not a fan. Ying and Yuan were extremely gracious hosts, and helped us out with tons of stuff including buying us a sim card and our train tickets to Luoyang.
On Thursday we spent 8 hours in the train to Luoyang and enjoyed a nice nap in our sleeper car, further prolonging our jetlag. We then stayed at a hostel that a couchsurfer recommended. That night we went out and ate a bunch more food from street vendors in a lively area that stayed up well into the night. It was really fun to be in Luoyang because it is clearly a city without much tourism.
Yesterday we met up with Kevin and went to a place just outside Luoyang called the Longmen grottoes where there a bunch of giant Buddhist statues carved into the rocks. What was really fun about this adventure was that a couple of 10 year old kids came up to us to practice their English. Soon after, a Chinese college student named Cassie also started talking to us, and from that point these three were our English speaking tour guides for the grottoes. Cassie then took us around to neighboring places where we saw a really old temple, ate a nice lunch, and then walked around a park in Luoyang. She then had to go home, but not before recommending Luoyang's most popular restaurant to us for dinner. After she took us there, we met up with our couch surfing friend who goes by the name Lovelush and he was a blast. He read us the entire menu like a story book, explaining every dish and even describing how some of them are cooked. He was extremely enthusiastic about everything and was a ton of fun to be around. After our 3 hours at the restaurant, he took us to a massage parlor that he said he visits every day. We got some inexpensive massages and then called it a day. Lovelush was the first couchsurfer that we met, and so far we're really glad we joined that community!
Today we took a train from Luoyang to Hua Shan because we are going to hike up a mountain here. We arrived at about 2pm, but Kevin was pretty exhausted from trying to bargain prices and make sure we did not get ripped off. One taxi driver was clearly breaking our agreement with him to try and squeeze 10 extra yuan out of us and by refusing to pay him that, we wasted at least an hour and added a lot of stress to our journey. Personally, I would rather get ripped off $0.50 each to save that time, energy, and headache, but I can see where Kevin is coming from in terms of principles. Anyway, we arrived here a bit tired and frustrated, and largely because of this we decided to book a room at a hostel and just hike the mountain tomorrow instead of today. So tomorrow we're going to wake up really early, climb to the top for about 6 hours, and then decide if we want to hike back down or just take the cable car down. We'll then move onto Xi'an tomorrow night where we'll meet up with our second couch surfing friend!
It's nice to be on this vacation right now, but it feels really weird not working. The week before I left, I was getting 4 hours of sleep a night, finalizing my thesis/research, preparing for & helping run the Wisconsin Swiss Ultimate tournament, finishing up some things with EWB, preparing to move, and preparing for this trip. So now I feel really lazy. I'm sure this will be just like the Kenya trips where it just takes me a few days to get into the mindset of moving slowly and not worrying about anything. Once I get to that point, I know this trip will be very theraputic, and will be a great transition between finishing grad school and starting up a business in August.
I'm a bit tired and thus didn't go into many details, but Rachael is currently writing a much longer email to friends & family that I might post to this blog as well. She doesn't feel very comfortable with the world seeing all her thoughts, so it might not happen. Regardless, I'll be sure to write a lot more as the trip progresses.
Lastly, I should note that Twitter and Facebook are blocked here, along with a bunch of other services I usually use like Google Docs and Posterous. Thus, these blog posts will likely be my only media outlet over the next month. I can't see posterous right now so I can't tell if comments are enabled. If they are, your comments show up in my email, but if they aren't you'll have to email me to get ahold of me. I hope everything is going well for you all in the U.S.!