Emily is M.I.A. (yes, just like the Sri Lankan electro-pop star)

The reason I haven’t been posting/commenting/liking/responding to anybody is because I’ve been busy doing this:

Jumping for freedom at the Forbidden City,

getting my exercise on at the Great Wall,

curing my sweet tooth at the Summer Palace,

(not) getting lost with my best NYU-comrade (Lucia's visiting from Americuh),

and crowd-surfing at Chinese "rock" concerts. Just kidding. That's not me, but next time it will be.

A picture says a million words. I gave you a 5 million word explanation for my absence. I can get really, really, really, really wordy.

Anyhow, Lucia and I will be off to Hong Kong (29 hour train ride) tomorrow, then to Guilin (23 hours back), my momma’s birthplace. We’ll be back in 9 days, simultaneously pooped and refreshed!

Until then, my friends, as the 13 year-old-boy I used to AIM chat with said, “Love, peace, and hair grease”.

(Like my new shades? Got ’em today during our crazy shopping escapades which I’ll get into later!)


Ode to Pandas

Dearest pandas

you big fat lazy beasts

cloaked in heavy suits of black and white

who hang from tree limbs like dislocated joints

who chew on bamboo like its animal flesh

who mosey around because thats your life

to represent your country because you’re its gem

protected and pampered like China’s sons

as others toil the earth and starve

but that’s not your concern

and we love you regardless

because we can.

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If I could choose what to be in my next life, and this isn’t it already, I would be a panda bear. Why? Because they live the simple life: eat, sleep and play. They have little to worry about because everything is taken care of for them. They are like little princes, pampered from head to toe (although they could use a bath). They roll around in the food that they eat (did you know that they were carnivores centuries ago??). They get to hang with their homies all day, chewin’ on bamboo, hangin’ from trees, rollin’ down hills, spreadin’ out under the sun. They’re also incredibly lazy without a worry or care in the world. Some may argue that they lead unfortunate lives, trapped and exploited, but they are becoming extinct. And therefore need human protection! Anyway, if I could be a panda who didn’t know any better than the life I was living, I would be happy camper.

I fell in love with these great balls of fur when I visited them at the Giant Panda Breeding Research Base in Chengdu (I’ll tell you more about this trip later). Here are some photos for you to see so you can fall in love with them too. (Notice that the pandas and I have the same dark circles around our eyes..it’s a clear sign of our souls’ connection.)



Are they not just the most lovable, huggable, adorable living things on this planet?!

Finally, remember:


Ancient Chongqing

Two hours outside the city center is Mount Baoding, one of two mountains in Dazu County (I wrote this incorrectly in my last post), a World Heritage Site (checkin’ it off my bucket list, oh yeah!). On the mountain are Dazu Rock Carvings of Buddhist, Taoist and Confucian influence from the days way before yore. People back then obviously had a lot of time, patience and unmatched artistic abilities as they were able to produce these magnificent sculptures and carvings. Here’s what I’m talking about:



Guanyin and the Thousand Arms

The rock carvings are some of the most unbelievable things I’ve ever laid eyes on. It’s amazing to me that something from centuries ago (7th century AD to be exact, thanks Wiki) can still exist.

Dazu county, besides the mountains, is known for its quality knives. Many modern rock sculptures–lions that guard banks for example–are also made here. I guess the skills from sculptors of the Dazu Rock Carvings were inherited by today’s Dazu residents; it’s in their blood.

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Not quite as old as the Dazu Rock Carvings is Longxing Ancient Town, which I dub “Mahjong Heaven.” Despite it being a tourist attraction, fortunately still a minor one, my walk through the old alleys felt more like a stroll through the locals’ neighborhood. People hung out everywhere–a girl washing her hair in a bucket on her doorstep, kids running around being kids, all the cafes filled with people playing mahjong, clothes drying outside, the elderly on break from mahjong resting on benches chatting away, vendors selling goods at their front door. It is the friendliest, most bustling and homey town I’ve come across in a long time, perhaps because it is small. But actually, in general Chongqing gives off a friendlier vibe than Beijing. Maybe it has to do with the climate. Colder weather, colder people? Warm sunshine, warmer people?

Mahjong Madness!

 

Longxing used to be farmland, but the Chongqing government in its endeavor to develop the city bought the land (I believe for a fair price) and began building it up. My aunt says the reason people there have so much time to play mahjong (aside from it being Spring Festival) is because these former farmers have no more land to cultivate, and also because they are much better off than when they were farmers (they now run all the small businesses in town). My aunt also says in 10 years this part of Chongqing will become the next most developed area of the city. If this is so, I’m glad I got to visit Longxing before the streets become crowded with tourists.

We bought two chickens from him. (Is that a beer in his hand?! I just noticed this! I've been noticing a lot of new things in my photographs since this new WP theme displays HUGE photos!)

Here they are! (Sorry chickens, but you are guaranteed fresh. I hope you have a better afterlife.)


This little one's got the blues.

and this little one is pooping in the street hehehehe (I didn't notice the poo under her butt until I uploaded this photo!!)

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I’m Back!

For the past 2 weeks I have been visiting Grandma He and paternal family in Chongqing to celebrate 春節 (Chūnjié), Spring  Festival/Chinese New Year  (Year of the Dragon!). This was my first Spring Festival, a 15-day celebration (1/15-2/6), in the motherland. In the States, this holiday meant little to me but huge potlucks with our Chinese family friends in Boston, an annual event that sadly diminished as I got older.

Grandma He, the cutest most grandma-ey-ist grandma on earth!

The spirit of Spring Festival is equivalent to the entire holiday season back home which explains why the spirit I was missing around Christmas was far but made up for. Red lanterns hung everywhere, businesses offered special 春節 discounts, train tickets sold out, a week off from work, traffic cleared up (AMAZING), bags packed and most everybody was back home with their families, and I with mine.

Spring Festival has a lot of traditions that I don’t think my family keeps to. But the ones we did maintain this year included eating a Reunion Dinner,  cringing as we watched the annual Spring Festival Evening Broadcast (6 hours of flashy, cheesy music, dance, and comedy) on TV, exchanging red envelopes ($$$!), eating “rice dumplings” filled with black sesame (nom nom), and setting off fireworks (terrifying). I read in the China Daily that at least 70% Chinese people gain weight over this break, and according to my scale, this is accurate.

Right next to our balcony!

We did a whole lot of sitting around this holiday, but that’s part of the tradition: being at home. However, when I wasn’t at home learning how to knit socks with my grandma, stifling her dogs with my love and affection, munching on snacks, playing games on my phone, sniffling because of my cold, and freezing my buttocks off because there’s no indoor heating in the south, I was out and about with my parents, throwing ourselves in the mix of massive crowds. My uncle, a Chinese history professor turned businessman, took us to several awesome places I never knew existed including Dazu Mountain, Longxing Ancient Town, the former Communist Party headquarters in Chongqing, and Baigongguan (Kuomintang’s cruel prison for Communists in the 1940s). We even took a 2 hour train ride to Chengdu, the city with the best food–and pandas–in the world! Don’t you worry, I’ll write more about that trip in another post.

If there were a sudden natural disaster, we would all be doomed. (Photo taken at Ciqikou)

Sakyamuni Entering State of Nirvana at Dazu Mountain

Longxing Ancient Town: Mahjohng Haven

A room in the Communist Party headquarters (photographs were not allowed so don't tell!)

Cave for Interrogation at Baigongguan

Me and Yoshitomo Nara's Little Red Riding Hood at Chongqing's Three Gorges Museum

I’m back in Beijing now, 10 degrees colder outside but infinitely warmer and more comfortable indoors, and fireworks are still exploding (quite an annoyance). I have many, many more photos to show you but I’ll post them in installments to keep you comin’ back for more!! I will, however, leave you with this:

My dad.


High Rolling in Macau

I just gambled away a small fortune (in Yuan, so divide that by 6.2 and you’ll have an even smaller fortune in $$) in Macau. Don’t judge me. I’m just trying to assimilate.

My 90 days were up on my visiting visa so I had to make a reentry into China. Macau, one of China’s two “special administrative regions” in Southeastern China (the other is Hong Kong), was a close getaway so there I went for two nights with my parents. We stayed at The Venetian, a fancy hotel casino for a fancy lady.

It was pretty astounding to drive around this little city on a peninsula scattered with towering casinos. It was also pretty bizarre. Macau was a Portuguese colony until 1999, when it was handed over to China, but most people speak Cantonese. I couldn’t figure out who were ethnic Macanese (Portuguese descendants) because the city was overrun with tourists, mostly from the mainland. There were also a few Russians, several Indians, some Europeans and groups of young Americans–the most diverse atmosphere I have encountered since my trip to the Maldives. I’m not talking ethnically diverse, though, because if I were, mainland China is definitely most diverse.

The historic centre of Macau is a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its symbol of an east-west relationship as it is the oldest international trading port. The city’s architecture is a blend of Portuguese, Chinese and contemporary Western influence (huge-ass casinos), with Chinese and Portuguese on every street sign. Walking through Largo do Senado (Senado Square), I was actually quite reminiscent of my days in Europe where buildings are small, pathways are narrow and cobblestone, and windows have shutters. If there hadn’t been so many Asian faces, people in general, Chinese store signs and undergarments hanging from windows, I would’ve thought I was in Europe. Sort of.


Near Largo do Senado rests the Ruins of St. Paul’s, a 16th century Portuguese cathedral, the largest in Asia at the time but one of several churches throughout the city. Aside from the casinos, this area around Largo do Senado was all I saw in my day and a half in Macau.

One thing I did enjoy immensely about Macau, besides the multicultural architecture, was the food. I tried Portuguese oxtail which was okay–too sweet–and their most popular pork chop sandwich–a thin filet of deep fried pork chop tucked between two buttered toasted buns. But Chinese-Macau food, I believe similar to Hong Kong cuisine, was the bomb, and thanks to my uncle’s superb connections, I got to try some of Macau’s best and most authentic cuisine. With seafood so fresh I forgot I had allergies. From meaty sauteed crab with bitter melon and Hong Kong style dim sum, to salt and pepper prawns and Macau’s special hot pot, it was an Asian gastronomer’s dream come true.

If you asked me to visit Macau again, I would definitely go just for the food. As for gambling? I can do without.


Cruising Down the Yangtze

Another highlight of my trip to Chongqing a couple of weeks ago was the boat ride along the cityscape. The port at which the boats are anchored is where two great rivers of China–Yangtze and Jialing–intersect.

The boats are quite extravagant, and so is the lady who runs the boat above.

My parents and I were tricked into paying more money for a fancier boat (should it be called something else? Yacht? Ship? Chitanic?). The smaller one docked next to ours looked far more exciting.

My family is Chinese, but we’re a gullible bunch and fall for tourist traps all the time. Oh well, so our boat had chandeliers and spiral staircases and 80 yuan kettles of tea, at least it was a peaceful cruise.

Irony, or perhaps I should use the term disparity, runs this country. Here’s just one example:

Can you guess which boat I was on?

I’ll give you a clue, I was not on the same boat as this lady who was cooking up a small storm. Though I would’ve gladly given her a hand if I got something delicious to eat in return. I’d do anything for food, except light the stove with a match–I’m afraid of fire.

Anyhow, it was a short ride up and down upstream Yangtze, but I had a pleasant journey.


Goal: Quit My New Job and Travel

I was looking through old photos from my travels while I was studying abroad in college, and it made me miss my independence. In my second year at Ithaca College (I later transferred to NYU), I decided the town was too small for a gal like me and signed up for a semester in Spain. Little did I know, I would never return to Ithaca.

When I first arrived in Barcelona, I was excited for a change of scenery. I stayed with a senora, her cat Deraymon and her wonderful boyfriend Armand (they were an old couple, so it was exceptionally sweet). I also couldn’t have asked for better roommates; the four of us were completely different but we got along like sisters and are still in touch today even though we’re each on a different continent (Hannah is in Guatemala with the Peace Corps. Check out her blog!).

Hannah (Guatemala), Me (China), Deanna (New York), Ashley (London)

At the very beginning of this trip, everything was new and exciting, especially the night life. As the first weeks went by however, it started to get a little bit lonely and I spent hours upon hours getting lost and people-watching in cafes–that is how I became addicted to coffee. But gradually I started to cherish all the alone time I never had in college. At such a small school like Ithaca, it was impossible to escape, even for a moment. In Barcelona, I felt like I had all the space in the world and it was freeing.


On weekends and breaks from classes, I visited surrounding countries like Portugal and Italy, both of which I traveled to alone. That’s what brought me to write this post; I realized while going through my photos that some of my best memories have been during trips that I’d taken by myself.

Me at Parque Guell in Barcelona

Sure, it got lonely at times–like the 23 hour “cruise” from Italy to Spain, during which I just had to dream about Titanic–but the majority of my time was spent gawking over Europe’s beauty both in landscape and in people. All that space and time also made me think, about anything and everything. I remember sitting at the front of the boat, staring into the endlessness of the sea thinking that if I were to die in that moment, I would’ve died happy,  and my life would’ve been a good one. Of course I didn’t die, in fact I’m alive and kickin’, but the point is I was happy, and I was alone then.

I wasn’t always alone though. Making friends was easy as everyone in hostels seemed to need a friend–I still keep in touch with some of them. Some of my best friends from the States also came to visit and traveled with me as well while I was in Spain.  I also went to Morocco with friends and had the most amazing

experience of my life driving through the desert with Berbers and sleeping under the stars.

Mohamed headed to the depths of the sand dunes where life is good.

I miss that independence terribly, and wish I could explore China the same way–just me and my backpack, although a friend wouldn’t hurt. My situation is different now though; I live with my mom and I have a full-time job. What I’m living now is life, but not the life I have in mind. It sounds silly to complain about my job while millions of people can’t even find one, but I’m not one to stick with something I’m not happy with (my ex-boyfriend was an exception). I realize that I am so lucky to have the privilege to say, “I’m not happy here. I’m quitting.” But that’s exactly what I plan on doing, because my time here (in China) is short (give or take a few years, but compared to a lifetime it’s not a long time). I want to make sure I take the time to explore the country in which my ancestors  who I know absolutely nothing about are from, to learn about my heritage, this language, and my family (I didn’t even know what my grandparents’ did for a living until recently, and I still can’t remember my grandma’s Chinese name).

Portugal

Lonely Planet: China is already collecting dust on my bookshelf (Beijing is an exceptionally dusty city) and waiting for its pages to be flipped through. I am getting antsy at my job thinking about all the places that await me, food that has yet to be tasted, people I have yet to meet. It helps that I read so many amazing accounts of people’s travels through WordPress that inspire me to quit my job. Therefore, whether or not my parents will allow me–yes, after years of living on my own, I am back to curfews–to travel by myself, I will think of some way to find the space and those alone moments I once cherished.

Free!