May 26, 2006

Tokyo - wow

Well, today was the first day that I saw my blog for the first time this month. As many of you know already, China filters out blogs from computers - it supposidly spreads democracy, which is not good in a communist country. But now that I'm in Japan, I can finally read people's comments and see how boring my blog is without pictures. Trust me, as soon as I get back, I will post a ton.

The other day we got into Tokyo, and for me, it could have been a lot better. As soon as I got to the airport, I went to an ATM to get out some Yen. I put in my card, punched in how much I need, and it was processing. It gave me my card back and my receipt as it was counting the money. All of a sudden, the money didn't come out, and the ATM experienced a fatal error and shut down. So, my bank account was charged for 20,000 yen, and I got squat. So, I'm trying to work it out with PNC bank trying to tell them that I didn't receive this money.

But that wasn't the worst part. As soon as I got into the bus leaving towards the hotel, I realized I forgot something. I forgot my iPod on the plane. I placed it into the back of the seat in front of me. I contacted the woman who was with us that new Japanese, and she called Northwest Airlines. After about 15 minutes, she delivered good news to me. The cleaning staff found the iPod. They were able to send the iPod to the hotel, which I just got a couple of hours ago. Sure the postage was a lot, but hey... it's either that or no iPod. Thank you staff of Northwest Airlines!

So we settled in, and met with some of the Japanese students at a local university here in Toyko. We gave a presentation that we worked on for this trip, and they presented theirs as well. Then I met the student (her name is Yui) who will be taking me around Tokyo tomorrow. It should be a lot of fun... we are going bowling as well :-)

We traveled by ourselves around Toyko by the Metro, which is a lot of fun. The subway system in Tokyo is sooooo massive... it is impossible to get around unless you have a map. And that can get confusing at many times. So, we went to many local places, saw the sites and sounds, and had a lot of fun. I actually just came back from the Tokyo City View, which is an observation floor on top of a large building... man Tokyo is huge. I can understand why they say it's the largest city in the world.

However, I have to keep this short, because like everything in Tokyo, everything is expensive, including the internet. This probably is gonna be my last post during the trip, because I'm coming back on Monday, which... is approaching quickly. I'll cya all soon...

Mark

May 22, 2006

Good ol' Xian...

So we are winding down our trip in China. Tomorrow, we are heading to Beijing for a day, then off to Tokyo till the 29th. I can't belive there is only about a week left in this trip. Although it seems that I have been with this group of students for forever, it'll be sad not to wake up to the same 23 students.

Yesterday we visited the Tera Cotta solders (probably misspelled) which was quite interesting. I'm sure not many people are familiar with the story behind it, but it is facinating that a tomb of an ancient chinese emperor was unearthed in the 1970s.

And then last night we hit the local clubs in Xian, but that's another story...

Today we were allowed to sleep in (w00t - first time during the trip) and visited a local temple. These past 2 days have been fairly relaxing, and we have had a lot of free time to ourselves, which is nice.

So this evening I was shopping in the local market, and I saw someone who looked familiar approaching. Sure enough, it was one of my professors at Duquesne. Dr. Gal-Or, who teaches object oriented programming and database management. So... he didn't come with us on the trip - he was just shopping too. Very bizarre. And what are the odds? He knew that we were in China at the time, but he didn't expect to see anyone. So, that was very cool.

And about an hour ago, we hit up the DVD store in Xian, and we got a lot of new DVDs. So... The Da Vinci Code came out 2 days ago, and it has already surfaced on DVD. So it's not the best quality or anything, but for 7 yuan, why the hell not (less than $1). I also picked up Mission Impossible 3 and V for Vendetta. w00t

Later ya'll

May 20, 2006

More traveling...

Hello everyone,

So here I am sitting in an internet cafe with about 200 chinese people in this large room in Xian. For the past 2 days, we have been in the city of Chengdu though. Chengdu is a very large city (probably bigger than NYC) with about 10 million + people. And you can definitely feel their presence. The first day we were there, the noticed all of the smog and pollution filling the skies. Even though the sun was out, we couldn't really see it. However, I still feel it was cleaner than Beijing though.

The first day we were there we kept it easy and visited Do Fu's thatched cottage (a famous Chinese poet back in the day). We took a lot of pictures of the scenery, and then went back to the hotel. We found a bar close to the hotel, so we chillaxed for a bit. The next day we drove over two hours south of Chengdu to visit the largest Buddha statue. It was about 71m high, carved into the earth. It wasn't bad, but there were so many people there, combined with the 90 degree weather and humidity, it could have been better. Afterwards, we have a special "hot pot" dinner, where we basically cook our food in a hot pot right in front of us on our table. It sounds like a cool idea, but all of the food came out wrong and didn't taste very good. Plus, being as Chengdu is part of the Sichuan providence, everything was extremely spicy, even though they called it "mild". I couldn't imagine anything hotter than that.

So basically, everyone was pretty bummed out over the crappy dinner we have, but that's when we saw the Golden Arches on our horizon. Our savior. McDonalds. We buckled down and ate there for the first time on the trip, even though our professors didn't want us to eat there (they made a rule with us at the beginning of the trip - no one eats McDonalds... you should experience the local food). Well, yeah, we didn't take that rule seriously. But it was funny though... as soon as we walked in, everyone was staring at us. Everyone. I couldn't tell if they never saw a white westerner before, or it was because us typical Americans are eating in McDonalds. We experienced a couple of people taking pictures of us while we were standing in line. Sure, it was very awkward, but the food made it worth while. It tasted exactly like in the States. Yumm. So a Big Mac Meal costs about 15.5 yuan, which equates to under $2. Nice...

Today, we woke up early as usual and hit up the Panda Adventure. This is the largest place in China where you can see pandas. So we saw all of the cute little pandas eating bamboo and lounging around... they don't do much besides eat and sleep. That pretty much makes up their day, and I'm not joking. They are even too lazy to have sex, so we've been told.

After that, we flew over to Xian, where I am now. And our hotel that we are staying at has a McDonalds and a KFC within walking distance. Whew. Although, we have a enjoyable local dinner here though... I haven't hit up that place yet. But give it time.

Oh... so one more thing about the whole "crash" that we had at Everest. The company that we drove with apologized to our group, presented us with a nice dinner and a show, and gave us some gifts to take home. They really felt horrible and ashamed. So, I would say that everything is back to normal now.

Talk to yinz later...

May 17, 2006

Well, we are Alive...

Well, the past few days sure have been interesting. One day we traveled from Lhasa to Shigatze, then the next day Shigatze to Tingri, then the next day Tingri to Everest base camp. I must say that it was an exhausting trip. We had a convoy of about 7 jeeps, so we all piled into them and headed on our way. The past few days have been nothing but jeep rides... I'm sick on sitting in a jeep.

But our jeep rides were interesting. From Shigatze on, there wasn't any paved roads. So, we traveled by dirt roads. These roads were long, narrow, and very bumpy. And often we road on the side of a steep cliff, without a guard rail to protect us from a 150 foot drop.

And the weather here in Tibet is insane too. It literally changes every hour. One hour it could be rainy, then snowy, then foggy, then dry as hell. Traveling on dirt roads when it is dry really sucks - all the dirt from the previous jeep kicks up into your jeep. Bleh

Ok... so I just want to tell everyone - we are all ok, and we are not injured. This is key for my next paragraph. And I don't want anyone to worry about us, because we are doing fine.

So we were about an hour away from base camp, traveling down a dirt road on the side of the mountain. The road was windy, and there were many switchbacks going down the mountain. All of a sudden, our driver starts yelling something in Chinese and stops the car. We thought we had a flat tire or something, so we came outside to take a look. But it wasn't a flat tire. The jeep immediately behind us flipped down an embankment. LUCKILY, the jeep fell down a part where there was just a 2-4 foot drop. It could have been a part where there was a 20+ foot drop. Anyway, we saw the flipped jeep and ran towards it. Since it was flipped over, we pulled our fellow groupmates from the shattered windows. Our professors were obviously pissed at the driver, because it wasn't really a dangerous curve. The curve that we had the accident on was one of the most timid curves we saw. It sure was scary at that moment - we didn't know if anyone was injured or hurt. But, thank god, everyone walked away from the accident. We were shook up from that, but we fought through.

We didn't know whether to scratch the rest of the Everest trip or not. But we had enough room in the other jeeps for everyone else tho. So... our trip went on.

-----

We got to Everest base camp, and wow... what a site. The mountain was amazing - and we came on a fairly good day. There were just a couple of clouds in the sky. I took a ton of pictures, and then we went to our little hostel we stayed at for the night. It was probably the worst place I've ever stayed at... well actually, it was. There were 9 of us to a single room, sleeping on old matresses. There was no running water, electricity, or heat. It was a miserable night.

Also, at that altitude, the simplest things can tire you out. We climbed a flight of stairs, and we were winded after we were done. There is just not enough oxygen up here, and we definitely felt it. Plus, since it was so dry, everyone including myself got nosebleeds, because we just aren't used to this. So, breathing was a definitely a chore.

The morning after we were all thrilled to leave base camp, because we were all miserable. But the 11 hour jeep ride that followed didn't really help either. But, we are over this hump, and ready to continue on our trip.

I'm pretty exhausted at the moment, so I'm gonna get going... hope everyone is doing well!

May 12, 2006

Yak Yak Yak

So right now I'm sitting in Lhasa, trying to aclimatize to the altitude. I don't remember how high we are, but I'm thinking it's higher than anything in the continental United States. But, we are going to go higher in the next few days, so I hope I'll be alright. Some students are getting sick from it, but right now, it's nothing major. Although, it can worsen. The altitude is my biggest problem currently. I believe we are at 13,000 ft, and climbing to about 17,000 ft at Everest.

I just got back strolling around on the streets in Lhasa and saw a lot of local flavor. A truck was loading yak carcases on a truck by hand - pretty disgusting. One fell of the truck, and he through it back on. And I had yak for dinner, so... I hope its alright.

Tomorrow we are visiting the local sites, and then the day after I believe we are heading out on a convoy of jeeps heading toward Everest. I really don't know what that is going to be like. It will be rough getting there, and rough when we are there. The hostel we are staying at doesn't have running water, eletricity, or running water. It should be interesting. And we are only allowed to bring a large backpack on this excursion (not my regular suitcase). And of course, it's going to be friggen cold. Below freezing temperatures is common even in May. I can already see snow on the mountain tops, so it'll probably get a lot worse. So, we'll see how it goes.

Today we visited the Potala Palace here in Lhasa. It's a huuuuuuge palace, built for the dhali llama. But now he's in exile, so he's not there anymore. The palace has about 1,000 rooms, and built on top of a mountain. Quite cool. I believe there is a picture of us on the Duquesne blog.

It seems like every dish here has some sort of Yak in it. I've given up looking for other dishes. Steamed Yak, spicy Yak, fried Yak, Yak butter... bleh. It's just too much Yak. It doesn't taste so bad... but it's YAK. It's just weird saying that.

Afterwards we hit the Backor market (I think I spelled that wrong) where we got a lot of shopping done, Tibetian style. Quite fun. I enjoyed spening time at the market.

So bright and early tomorrow we are on our way toward the city of Shigatze and Everest base camp. Wish me luck, because I'll be in a Jeep for 7 hours tomorrow. Not fun.

May 10, 2006

Last day in Beijing

Well, it has been a great past 2 days here in Beijing. Our tour guides are very friendly and they love to spend time with us. Yesterday, we had a caligraphy class in the morning, and toured a China steel plant in the evening. Pretty lackluster I thought, but oh well. We had an interesting lunch though. We were fed these local dishes that are pretty popular, and it didn't go well with us. The food was way to exotic, and not very enjoyable. We were greatful when they served us a bunch of food that resembled chicken wings. It was finally something that we could relate too. Although, at the time, we didn't know that we were eating frog legs. BLEHH. Although, it did taste like chicken. Another group at the restaurant had cow penis for lunch. I guess by comparison, it wasn't so bad.

Later that night we went to see a Chinese acrobat show, which was quite good. I have no idea how those people do what they do. We saw 12 people pile on to one bike while riding it around the stage. Pretty good!

Late last night we hit up the KTV, which was the local karoke bar. Although everyone was shy at first, the unlimited supply of beer helped the situation a bit. Sure enough, I lost my voice for the rest of the night. haha

Today, we went to see a guy whose name rhymes with Dao. Well, we saw his mosuleum. After that quick visit in T. Square, we went onward to lunch and shopping. We were VERY greatful when the place that we stopped at to shop had a Pizza Hut next door. Needless to say... it was one of the best lunches! Later, we hit up Silk Street. This is a large shop were we can get some things by haggling. I bought a few items, but it was a lot of fun to negociate with the sellers. Although, they are really trying to sell you the product, and will literally pull you into their little booth when you pass by. I have a video of them pulling me into one. I was just shooting around, and then BAM - I apparently was going to buy shoes. Although I could have gotten a fake pair of Nike Shox for about 150 yuan (about 17ish bucks), I decided to pass on that offer.

We ended the night by enjoying a dinner at a revolving restaurant situated at a top of a building. Great food. Oh, and they had birds nest soup there... but it didn't look too appitizing.

Tomorrow morning we are up bright and early (catch the bus by 6am) to Lhasa. We'll be on our way to western china, so, maybe in about 5 days I can post another post. The one night we are at everest base camp, the hotel doesn't have electricity or running water. Fun....

Hope everyone is doing well - talk to you later!!

May 08, 2006

Stayin Alive

Well, I'm still alive here in Beijing, and I'm having a blast.

I don't know if anyone is leaving comments on my blog... I can't access it. It is very weird... I can post on my blog, but I can't access it. Basically, a certain govt doesn't take too kindly to blogs, so it forbids it. But I guess I'm lucky I can access it.

Yesterday, we had a class on politics of China, then visited the Summer Palace here in Beijing. It's quite large, and resembles a national forest inside a city. It is quite a getaway for the emporer of China. Last night, we hit the "Kitty" bar and for roughly $5, we had all you can drink beer and danced the night away. Well, not much of the night. We had to be up early for Today's excursion.

Today we visited the Great Wall. The weather was less than perfect - slight rain and overcast. Our visibility was limited. I wish the weather was better, because it really is quite a site. Also, it's quite a hike. I don't remember how many steps there were, but trust me... it wore our group out. It was worth it though to get to the top section of the wall we were at.

After we got down, we browsed the shops. This is where the fun began. There were many street vendors that we haggled the prices with. And we have to be careful how we haggle too. For example, if we were quoted a price of 80 yuan (about $10) for an item, we should bargain with them as much as possible. A good idea was to start at about 15-20 yuan. The people say "
no no no you are crazy not enough money no no no". Then, you have to pretend that you are not interested, and start walking away. They will quote you a price lower (50 yuan), and you slowly push them aside and start walking again. If you get to the door, they will scream at you, and they will finally cave in, and get it for around that price. They are still making alot of money off of it though if you think about it.

I purchased a shirt, which the lady started at 250 yuan. We were negociating on a calculator, because she didn't know much english (and I sure as hell don't know chinese). I punched in "20" in the calculator, and she went bezerk. About 5 minutes later, I got it for 25 yuan. Although I thought I had a good deal, she offered me something else after I bought it. A classic sign that you got ripped off and they want to sell you more. Oh well. We are visiting the famous Silk Street soon, so some major shopping will occur. I need to work on my negociating skills.

The food here is great and exotic, but it's always exciting to see an American company around Beijing. Yesterday, we saw a Starbucks in the middle of Forbidden City - a ancient shrine. I couldn't believe it was there, and it made some caffine addicts in our group very happy. We saw another Starbucks at the base of the Great Wall. We also peered into a McDonalds here, but I didn't order anything. I took a lot of interesting pictures tho.

I'd love to share some pictures, but I suppose the Duquesne blog has some up. I don't have a laptop, and I'm just using public computers. I can't check the blog obviously, so... I hope some are up.

That's all for now... I hope to get another post up before we get to Tibet. There will be no internet access there, yet alone electricity or running water.

Hope everyone is doing well... you can email me, and I'll post your answers on this blog - it's a lot easier than to respond to about 10 emails.

p.s. - mom: I barely got any sleep on the plane... it was quite uncomfortable and loooooooong.

May 06, 2006

Greetings!

Greetings from Beijing. Our group is all doing very well, after an extremely long travel period. We must have spent 24 hours traveling, including layovers, waits, and just plain ol' confusion. We are here staying at Jiaotong University in a hotel on campus. When I say "hotel", it's basically a dorm room. It has a working toilet and shower, so it's all good.

We spent our first day learning the campus and the surounding area. Beijing is quite large, so there is still a lot left to explore. I would really like to show some pictures that I took, but, I'm lucky enough to be on a computer. I'm in an internet cafe here typing away, which is close to the University.

We traveled to the forbidden city today. The forbidden city is the area where China's emporers stay. It's quite large and breathtaking. Once again, I wish I could show the pictures, but maybe at a later time.

We enjoyed lunch at a local restuarant, which was quite good. The food was delicious. I think the highlight of the meal was my first LEGAL beer. haha. It was great.
Another great thing about China is how cheap everything is. I mean, very cheap. A meal at this restaurant (which is exactly like Seseme Inn in the States) cost about 30 yuan each, which included alcohol. That's roughly $4. I got stuffffffffed. Man that was good food.
Well, I'm being pressed for time again, so I'll keep in touch. We are all doing well, and I have many stories to share.

May 03, 2006

Follow my trip

FYI - I'm unsure if I'll be able to blog overseas, but our professor has an official one for our group tho.


CHECK OUT http://duq2006.blogspot.com while I'm gone!


cyaaa