It’s only our second week back at school, and Justin and I are already bored with being “back in the grind.” It’s silly, and it can hardly be termed “the grind” when I’m working like fifteen hours a week for full-time (China) pay, but that’s what you get when you give someone a six week break to travel! It just makes them want to travel some more! And there is honestly not much to do in Huzhou that doesn’t involve being outdoors–not pleasant with the very cold constant rain we’ve been having. (Trust me, we’ve tried asking people what they do for fun in the winter time, and they say things like “sleep.” And then we say, “Well, other than sleep?” And they respond with, “Eat.” And believe it or not, I’ve ALREADY discovered both of those indoor activities–drat!) So in between watching episodes of the Gilmore Girls on DVD (I brought five of the seven seasons with me to China), planning our next weekend getaway, sleeping, and eating, I’ve been reminiscing about our lovely winter holiday. Join me, won’t you?
It was really nice being able to stay with our friend Haley in Seoul. We will miss the warm, heated floors of her apartment in Incheon, and the refrigerator perpetually stocked with snacks, leftovers, and of course, kimchee. We tried a lot of traditional Korean food while we stayed with her.
She also took us to a place called Aiins World, a theme park full of miniature world-famous landmarks. It made us feel even more like world travelers (and it also made us feel very tall).
Also in Seoul, we were (along with our taste buds) really thrilled to have the chance to eat Mexican food at one of my favorite chains, On the Border! Oh, my stomach is growling just thinking about it. I ordered way too much food and stuffed my face with chips and salsa while I waited for it to arrive. In fact, we were so into our meals that we forgot to take a picture until after we were finished eating. Here it is:
As I may have mentioned before, our friend Young Song works for KBS Television Network, which is like the NBC of Korea. He is the executive producer of the series “Scandals of Art,” a documentary-style show that finds the stories behind famous works of art. It also gives Young an amazing chance to travel all over the globe, visit world-famous museums with his camera crew, and interview art curators about what they know. What a job! He gave us a tour of the studio, including the set with the anchor desk where they broadcast morning and evening news! He also allowed us to peek into the editing room where a team was busy working on the latest episode of “Scandals of Art,” making it ready for broadcast. We did a lot of cool things in Seoul, but this was definitely one of the coolest!
We also got to meet up with our friend Joonghyun Jang who we originally met in Tallahassee while he was attending Florida State. He was a little nervous that his English had gotten too rusty, but he did just fine and showed us all around an older, more historical part of Seoul. He also took us to his giant mega-church (one of hundreds of Christian churches that we saw while riding around Seoul) for a Wednesday night production of Jesus Christ Superstar. They had ornate costumes, lighting, and fog effects—it was pretty epic! Here’s a picture of us on the balcony after the show; you may even be able to see the cast posing for pictures on the stage behind us. It was the first time I’d ever seen an Asian Jesus!
While we were in Hong Kong, we visited several islands and beaches and had the chance to sample some delicious seafood. The food in these fishing towns is very fresh (as in, still swimming). In China, people need to see their fish alive and wiggling before they are willing to pay to take it home—no frozen seafood here!
Speaking of “fresh” food, Justin got to sample some interesting delicacies when we made a brief stop in Guangzhou (on the way to Guilin). Our friend Joel was staying there, and we couldn’t resist the opportunity to visit with him one last time in China before he headed back to the United States. In honor of his final days in China, he decided to cross some “to eat” items off of his bucket list, and Justin whole-heartedly joined in while I sat back and watched, horrified. What was on the menu for dinner that night? Steamed snake (which was incredibly expensive…according to the sign it cost 200 RMB per kilogram. Good thing I wasn’t the one footing the bill!), turtle stew, and a plate of crisp scorpions. Luckily for me, there was also cabbage, which I somehow always seemed to have a mouthful of when the bowl of turtle stew was passed my way. They washed it all down with a glass of Baijiu, which translates into “white wine.” I took a sip and nearly spit it out, realizing that it’s not white wine at all; it’s actually something more akin to whiskey. I’m not sure what the percentage of alcohol was in that drink, but it was enough to leave my throat burning like fire long after I’d had my sip, and I had to pass my glass along to Joel.
We saw some breathtaking scenery when we went to Guilin, and every Chinese person we’ve told about the trip cannot stress enough how famous the Guilin scenery is. Apparently, a trip to Guilin is an unfulfilled dream that many Chinese people harbor. Many of them, for example, get very excited when we show them this picture of Elephant Trunk Hill:
“I know! I know!” they sputter excitedly after seeing the photograph. This hill has been featured in every child’s school textbook, on television shows, and in art museums. It’s tied to the very identity of the Chinese people almost as much as the Great Wall. I feel very lucky that we had the chance to go see it. And thanks to Justin, we didn’t even have to pay full price for our ticket in—we found a man using a raft he made out of PVC pipes who was illegally rowing people across the boundary river to the edge of the park for only 10 RMB a person ($1.50). That’s one-third of the entry fee! Hey—don’t you judge us!
We also made a visit to the Longji Rice Terraces, which are located a couple of hours outside of Guilin. I would really rather have gone in the spring, to see the rice paddies in all their glory. The place is nicknamed “The Dragon’s Backbone” because when the paddies are filled with water and the sun gleams down on them, they reflect with a dazzling silver shimmer like the scales of a dragon. Here is what they are supposed to look like:
And this is what they looked like when we visited:
Even though the fog obscured the view, I still found the rice terraces to be incredibly peaceful. They’ve worked out some sort of drainage/irrigation system that runs alongside the walking path, so while we scaled the mountain, we heard the soothing sounds of running water like a babbling brook. There was no traffic or honking to be heard—not really a proper road suitable for cars for miles around. Strange as it sounds, with that thick blanket of fog and silence surrounding me, I felt like I was on the edge of the earth, far away from civilization and the rest of the world. The quiet of it was almost overwhelming; it made me want to whisper to Justin instead of speaking at a normal volume. And I know that when springtime arrives, the rice paddies will be packed with tourists and children crying and people shouting and snapping pictures …so maybe it’s better that we visited during the off-season. I don’t have a great visual image to take away from Longji, but I will remember that quiet tranquility that I felt there for a long time.
Well, that concludes the highlight reel from our vacation. I’m not sure what our next great adventure will be, but I hope it will come soon! In the meantime, I must leave you with this shocking image:
While we were in Korea, we met a girl who told Justin that he reminded her of a Hasidic Jew because of his beard! I doubt she realized that it was a really horrible thing to say, and I know Justin was feeling down about it for a while afterward. But he still will not relent with the beard! I patiently waited for him to get tired of it and trim it (or shave it off!), and then I resorted to begging him to trim it. But he’s not budging! He seems to enjoy looking like something has crawled onto his face and died there. In fact, I heard him making plans the other day on Skype with another bearded friend to attend some sort of National Beard Convention once we get back into the States! I’ve actually contemplated trimming it in his sleep, but unfortunately, Justin is a very light sleeper. If I come within two feet of him with the scissors, his eyes snap open and he somehow becomes fully awake. I’m thinking we all need to work together on this and stage some sort of “beard intervention”….what do you think? Are you with me?