Saturday, March 25, 2017

The Tianning Temple: A Day Trip

This morning Kimmy was going to take Bailey and I to his "village" to eat with him and see the sights.  Unfortunately his wife got sick, so we were left with a day of no plans!  Not sure what to do, we looked up Changzhou's top attractions, and decided that it was finally time to check out the famous Tianning Temple, along with it's GIGANTIC wooden pagoda.

Of course, we needed some serious food before such an undertaking, and Summer's seemed like just the place.  2 giant hamburgers later (along with some fear of getting sick - our stomachs already can't handle these American foods like they used to) we were ready for the temple grounds!


To add to my list of "wonderful things about China" is the fact that everywhere we go there is a student discount for admissions.  Our admission was half price just because we flashed those green UVU cards!  We entered the grounds and were instantly transported to a different time and place.  We left the busy downtown Changzhou, and were on the peaceful grounds of a working temple.  We could see monks, we could hear traditional Chinese music (which always seems to be playing everywhere), and we could smell incense burning.


There was so much to see everywhere we turned, but we headed straight for the pagoda!  Being a little short on time before closing, we thought we'd make sure to get the main thing done.



We entered the temple and were greeted by some giant gold buddhas.  We were happy to find an elevator and went straight for the top to check out the view!  With 13 different levels, I'm grateful for that lift.  The view from the top was amazing!  We could see pretty far.  It was very hazy because of the pollution, but beautiful if we thought of it as fog.



Almost every floor was like it's own museum, so we took the stairs down to check out each floor.  There were some crazy things!  Like this crystal buddha (white thing near the top) that was found somewhere kind of random.


I loved to see all of the carvings, there were quite a few floors of them.  There were some INSANE carvings that just took our breath away.  I didn't remember to take pictures, I was so astonished by the art.  Some of the carvings were very low reliefs and were beautiful, but the high reliefs were crazy.  I can't even explain.  You'll just have to go there!  We also enjoyed the carvings of chubby men carved right into tree stumps.

The only picture you get is this one of me by a cool wood statue.


After the pagoda we checked out some of the other buildings on the grounds, and a few little shops which each sold the same thing as their neighbor.


We ended up just sitting down and enjoying the peace.


Right in front of where we were sitting was a fountain-like structure.  Not really a fountain, though, because there wasn't any water.  Anyway, some little tiny kid came up to it and tried to throw a coin into the top section!  He just tried and tried and couldn't get it.  Eventually his little sister, his grandma, and his mom joined him.  We watched them for a while because they were just a cute little family, all throwing coins!  After they left we of course had to throw in some of our own coins.



After that we grabbed some noodles and called it a day.  I don't think we will ever really understand the layout of this city, we always seem to find ourselves in unexplored territory here!  As we walked through a worn down alleyway, which doubled as apartment housing for the poor, we thought about how grateful we are to currently live in such a safe place.  An identical alleyway in any other country would be terrifying, but for the most part, we are safe here in China.  Don't worry moms, we are still careful as we always should be - but we are just grateful that we don't have to fear for our lives.  We love this place!

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Some Extra Things

It is hard to know what to do with the pictures that I randomly take on usual days.  Weekend blog posts are easy because I can clump all of the pictures together and it makes sense.  But, I don't want to write a whole blog post just about Women's Day or little things like that.  So, here is a mish mash of random things that have gone on the past few weeks, don't mind the fact that they aren't really related!

I guess I can't say Women's Day was a little thing.  It is a huge holiday in China!  Apparently it is huge in most parts of the world.  Kathy, one of our coordinators, told everyone about it and told the boys to get the women flowers to celebrate.  Of course the married guys had to listen, and surprised us lucky girls with treats!  Bailey really went all out, buying me pens, cute notebooks, washi tape (I'm obsessed with stationary things!) lychee, and a plant.  He figured I'd like a little live plant more than flowers that would just die, which was thoughtful of him.


He bought some flowers for Kathy too, which I think was sweet!  At the end of the day we asked her if she had a good Women's Day, and she said, "no... I had lessons in the morning and meetings in the evening... on Women's Day it should be a rest, and we should go shopping!"  I'd have to agree with her about resting and shopping... but as for me, it was a great Women's Day!  We should celebrate it in America!  Even Kimmy, the other coordinator, gave us girls chocolate!


I'm still loving my little first graders and working on loving my second graders!  It's crazy how much difference a year can make.  The second graders are getting better though, but I'm thinking that it is just because I'm in charge of the "kitchen" rotation.  Kids are very well behaved when there is a snack at stake!

The first graders are just so sweet!  I had just my class make lion masks last week, and one of my students wanted to give me hers, and all of a sudden, I was surrounded by kids giving me their masks!  Every single one of them gave me theirs, haha.  I didn't really know what to do with them, so I thought they could be a cute decoration in our classroom.


Even though it is a while away, I'm starting to get a little sad thinking about leaving these kids and moving back to my side of the world, never seeing them again...


Every Tuesday we have a culture class where someone from the school teaches us about language or tai chi or something.  This week we learned about tea!  I'm not a huge tea person and the language barrier made it difficult to know what would be breaking the word of wisdom... but I did love that rose tea!  Literally just hot water poured on a dry rose.  It tasted like the gardens at Thanksgiving Point!


I'm going crazy or something, and starting to like the cafeteria food.  But obviously I'd skip a night of cafeteria food (ok dinner is gross there, I just like breakfast and lunch) for some homemade fajitas!  Our friends at the Muslim noodle place gifted us a serious supply of chicken breasts, which is apparently a sign of friendship.  We made chicken dumpling soup a couple of weeks ago, and finished off the supply last night with fajitas.  They were good, but it was the tortillas that I couldn't get enough of!  Mitch and Katey are some seriously good cooks.


Yesterday was a little bit emotional for me as I missed my dearest cousin Allie's wedding!  I'm so happy for her and Austin though, and am excited to come home to some more married friends!  My mom Facetimed me for the ring ceremony, so I loved watching that.  But when she showed me this display it was a little hard to keep it together!


Here is a picture I've been waiting to share since a few days before we left!  Haha, I went with Allie to a dress fitting so that I could get a picture with her looking like a bride.  Isn't she gorgeous?!


Anyway, life is good and I'm happy.  I think I'm getting a little bit lazy, though, as working only 4 hours a day will do to you.  I love the time I have to blog and chat with my mom in the mornings, and I don't think it will be an easy transition back to full time school and work later this year!

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Taoism World

It was only a rumor at first, but last night it was confirmed that there would be no classes today!  Just a school wide field trip to "Oriental Salt Lake Resort Taoism World"!  That's quite the name, but it was also quite the place!

We took an hour and a half bus ride (and STILL were in Changzhou, these cities are insane) and entered the park along with all of our students.  Wow!  It was gorgeous!  To walk to the main section of the park, you pass through gardens that made me think of Thanksgiving Point (I obviously miss that place).  We used the bathroom which had clean western toilets, toilet paper, soap, and hand dryers!  It was like we were in heaven!  We proceeded to a little "village" that was perfectly clean and still so historic and cultural.  Kimmy, who happens to be Bailey's good friend, took us to get these Chinese snacks which were basically Chinese pupusas.  They were so good!

I'm kicking myself for not bringing my camera today!  They told us we were going to an amusement park.  I knew there were quite a few big ones in Changzhou, and I was thinking like roller coasters and stuff, so I didn't want to deal with my camera.  Well I was wrong!  So I don't have lots of pictures, you'll just have to believe me that it was beautiful!


For the first part of the day, Bailey and I checked out all of the little shops.  In China, you find pretty much the same things at every tourist stop.  But there were completely new things at this place!  And still amazing prices!  We bought some stuff for ourselves (I bought a little hand painted ocarina!) and some birthday presents for our nieces that they will just have to open late (late is better than never right?)

Soon enough it was time to meet with our group for lunch!  We met at Tai Chi Square.  Kimmy was nowhere to be found, so we took the time to find and say hi to our students.  Oh my gosh it was the funniest thing, every single one of our students gave us parts of their lunches!  Gift giving is a huge thing in Chinese culture, and they were all so excited to give us what they could and it would be rude to not accept.  And it wasn't even the gross stuff - they gave us the best they had!  Little Esmee (holding the pink backpack) tried giving me her whole slice of bread and I didn't accept it, but she was persistent.  Finally we agreed on me just taking the crust haha.


It was the craziest thing, walking through that crowd of kids.  Even kids that I didn't know gave us food!  By the time we were done saying hi to each of our kids, my hoodie pocket was overflowing with snacks.  It made me feel better when I noticed that kids were sent with ridiculous amounts of snacks, I'm sure their parents planned on their kids giving lots away!  Best snack award goes to my little Jake, who gave me vacuum sealed chicken feet.

SO MANY CHILDREN.

Kimmy eventually found us all and took us to a restaurant that I liked well enough.  It was a lot like what we ate on the China tour I went on a few years ago - a whole bunch of family style Chinese food.  Not my favorite but I like food in general so I got my fill!  After that we headed to the one ride they had at this place.  I'm not sure what it was called, but it is like Rattlesnake Rapids.  You know, where you are on a tube in water and you get soaked!  Yay for 5 kuai ponchos!


It was actually a really good ride!  There was one part where you go through a cave and it is actually pretty scary.  We liked it so much that at the end we all said, "ONE MORE TIME!" and the manager just laughed and let us stay on to ride once more.

We wandered around a little bit after that.  It was a really peaceful place and it was fun to just be there to see the sights and occasionally our students (though EVERY student still says "HELLO TEACHA!" whenever they see us.)  We bought some soft serve which was SO good!  I guess it was milk flavored.  It was a little bit coconutty.  But it was the texture that was so good!  It was frothy!  Bailey said it was like butter.  It was really soft and melty, but that didn't matter because we ate it up quick!


I wish we had a little bit longer in Taoism world, but the busses were there by 3 to pick us up!  What a fun day.  Probably one of my favorite days I've had in China!  It was nice to have a leisurely day and not be in charge of figuring out busses and stuff, haha.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

This Weekend

On Friday night we, as in Monica, Andrew, Rachel, Spencer, Petro, Shey, Bailey, and I, went to Andrew's favorite fried dumpling place for dinner.  It was insanely delicious!  I have really started to love Chinese food and we are getting to a point where we have found some seriously delicious stuff.  Dumplings are my favorite (especially fried!) and I just crave hot pot all the days!

After dinner we went to the movie theater to see Beauty and the Beast which was just released that day!  The theater was practically empty, and it was only 3 American dollars per ticket.  Can you believe that?!  Not to mention it was 3D!  And in English!

We LOVED the movie.  Every single one of us - even Bailey was gushing about it!  It is probably one of my very favorite movies now.  I already want to go back and see it!


We had big plans for Saturday - we were going to get up early and head to Wuxi.  But, Petro came down with something horrible, so we decided we should go another week.  Left with a Saturday to kill, Bailey and I decided to go to the market!  You know, after getting some lunch.  We went to a typical Chinese fast food place that had dumplings, meat on sticks, and soup.  It was all so good!  Except for the fact that my soup was full of tripe.  Picture menus are not the best way to get what you want (or don't want).


The market in Changzhou is great because vendors don't attack you and things are cheaper because tourists don't go there.  We spent hours there, picking up souvenirs for family and some fun things for ourselves.

That night we headed to Shanghai because we had already booked a hostel there so why not use it?  We got to Shanghai at about 10:30pm and Bailey was starving!  For being the biggest city in the world, you'd think more restaurants would be open a little later than 10:30.  The only place we could find that was open was an expensive Italian place on The Bund.

Oh my goodness, you'd think we'd just walked into a restaurant in Europe!  No Asians to be seen except for the waiter who approached us with a perfect Italian accent.  Still confused about that one.  Everywhere there were fancy people in their stilettos and fur scarves, sipping their wine and laughing with their equally classy friends.  We were a little nervous to see the prices, but Bailey's stomach (actually his hangriness, to be honest) could not wait a moment longer.  We were seated and were happy to find that each dish would be about $20-$25 - a lot cheaper than an American restaurant of that class would be!

Oh my goodness that food was worth every penny.  They first brought out bread, which was the best bread I've ever eaten and I really don't think I'm saying that because of my current bread deficiency.  There was bread with a cooked tomato on top, some garlic breadsticks, and some bread with chopped cucumber and tomato or something.  Each piece was perfectly toasted, and with that herb oil they gave us... oh my goodness.  And our pasta!  I got truffle cream ravioli and Bailey got penne with truffles and sausage.  It was handmade pasta and the best we've ever had.  To finish off our meal they brought us little handmade chocolate truffles, and offered us shots on the house.  Of course, we didn't take the shots but should have asked if our water could be on the house - we got the receipt and they had charged us $10 for the water!

So, the dinner was definitely more expensive than we like to spend in China (when you could get a giant wrap at the night market for less than $1!) but what an experience.  I mean, I didn't even take a picture, I was so into the food.  Honestly, I'd go back!

We hit the hostel after that and spent the night, getting up in the morning to head to district conference.  While I was getting ready, a Chinese guy at the sink in the bathroom mistook me as his classmate.  So that's a new one.

We went to conference and it was amazing.  There were some really good talks!  After that we promptly broke the Sabbath (still trying to figure out how to keep the Sabbath day holy and travel at the same time...) and got some lunch at a place Monica and Andrew recommended.  We ate spaghetti which wasn't really like spaghetti but still good, and some pizza that I loved!  You know, I think combination pizza should always have squid on it!

After that we went to the fabric market to pick up Bailey's suits and order a couple more shirts for him.  He just loves the fabric market, and I love seeing him so excited!  We made sure that his suits were perfect, and then got a bullet train back home.


Once home I had Bailey try on his suits.  Isn't he handsome!?  Don't mind our mess...



Though it wasn't as eventful of a weekend as usual, it was very good for us to take it a little slower.  We get pretty tired these days!  But we are learning so much about traveling like - make sure you have lots of snacks and eat lots every meal because hangriness is a true issue - and - do your transportation during the day even though it seems like a waste of travel time.  Because getting to your destination after dark causes a lot more anxiety than it needs to!  We are a month and a week into our adventures, and we hope that by the time we return home we will be expert travelers!

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Wulong Karst

Today we visited Wulong Karst.  For a country filled with cities, China sure has some beautiful national parks.

The bus stopped and it was cold, so we immediately bought some super fashionable rain ponchos.  We bought our tickets, and were off to see some natural bridges!  Apparently some of the largest in the world!


To get to the hike we took a glass elevator going down.  We then climbed down a bunch of steps to a post where you can walk around and check out the old buildings



A little off the beaten track we saw a little waterfall.  It was coming from so high up - by the time the water reached the ground it was all separated into little sprinkles that looked like rain!  Without even hesitating, Bailey handed me his backpack, buttoned up his poncho, and stepped under the water.  I'm not sure why - I was so cold!


After he got his poncho all wet, we found a place where the two of us could stand for a picture without getting wet at all.


The hike was just gorgeous!  We stopped all the time to take pictures and admire the views.  Check out this natural bridge:




There was also some water in rivers and pools.  At one point there was a larger body of water, and all of it was completely jade green!  I don't know how that happens, but it was gorgeous.




Near the end of our hike we found some goats which were so cute!  Mitch whipped out his camera and went after them for some quality nature shots.


Katey handed Bailey one of their nice lenses, so Bailey attached it to our camera body and joined Mitch!  Bailey is a pretty good goat photographer, it turns out!



After that it was a tram ride, a couple of busses, a subway, a plane, and then a taxi and we were back at our home in Changzhou, China.  What a fun trip we had!

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Carvings and Cable Cars

The other rock carvings were cool too.  It would also be cool if I knew the name of them - I apologize that I don't remember.  But visiting this second part was included in the ticket price (which we got half off for for being students) so of course we had to check them out!  They weren't as mindblowing as the first part, but of course we still enjoyed them.  They were a bit older than Baodingshan's, so that was impressive.



The area we were in was so pretty!  In addition to the carvings, there were pagodas and beautiful paths.  We got some good pictures.  This one is one of my favorite pictures of all time!


We were about to head back to to taxi stop when we saw a sign that said "Pagoda and 2 Large Buddhas".  Pagodas are cool and all, but 2 big buddhas?!  Of course we had to climb up the hundreds of steps to get to that kind of thing.

It was exhausting but we finally made it to the pagoda... which we couldn't even get in!  I'm not so sure about the all white pagoda look anyway.


We looked around us for the buddhas and saw nothing, so we went down some random stairs towards some vendors.  We got to the bottom and alas!  The buddhas were right under us!



Wow!  I had never seen such large buddhas!  It's the kind of thing travelers dream about - finding gigantic buddhas.  At least this traveler does.  We spent a while there staring at those guys.  It was seriously unbelievable.



After that we took a taxi and a couple of busses and found ourselves back in Chongqing City.  We decided to do the cable cars that go across the river!  It was a long wait in line, but we bought some pineapple to pass the time.  They have a fancy way of cutting pineapple here that looks so pretty and appealing.  I've never tried it because it is super sketchy - street vendors cut the pineapples and stick them in bowls of water which is probably not very clean.  It looked so good so I caved and ate it tonight.  And hey, I'm still alive!


The cable car... was probably not worth it.  I don't know.  It was a long wait and a short ride.  The shortness of the ride isn't the problem though - it is how many people they shove into that car!  We had a 2 way ticket, and on our first way we couldn't see anything.


The boys were pretty aggressive on our way back, sprinting to the cable car the second the doors opened to save spots for us ladies.  It was kind of awkward, but I am glad they did that.  The view was amazing!  Bailey and I tried to be thoughtful, though, and did give up our spots halfway through for the ladies stuck in the middle.


After that we went to a hot pot restaurant that Rachel had read about in a travel guide.  Chongqing is THE place for hot pot, if you didn't know.  It was difficult ordering until another sweet girl saw us and helped us through the whole thing with her English knowledge.  This place is full of wonderful people!  Soon enough we were brought out bowls and bowls of meat and vegetables to cook in the mild soup or the very spicy soup.  I liked to cook my food in the mild soup and just dip it in the spicy soup.  I can't even begin to explain how delicious it all was!  Once again my favorite were the quail eggs, but they had some pretty killer beef too.  I think I'm kind of obsessed with hot pot!  We ate lots of food and were so full... we thought the bill was going to be a big one, but in the end we had only spent $6.50 per person!

We love Chongqing!  After some ice cream, it was back to the hostel for us.