Monthly Archives: March 2009

Spring Break South of the Border

The view of the main beach from our hotel room balcony

Looking back on everything, I’ve decided that this year’s spring break was the best spring break I’ve ever had. I spent ten days in Mexico, the first half with friends in the beach town of Acapulco and the last half visiting family in Mexico City. After spending 7 months last year in South America, I was desperate for a beach fix.

Chelsea and me with the divers after the show

Chelsea and I chose Acapulco because it’s close to Mexico City, safe, cheap, has a great night life, wicked waves, and gorgeous views. We spent our days on the beach, drinking congas, riding jet skis, and playing in the ocean. At night we’d go clubbing. We also had a chance to visit La Quebrada to see the cliff divers. These young men risk their lives to jump off these ridiculously high cliffs (several hundred feet up) into raging waters. They have to time their dives just right so that they don’t hit the rocks and die. It’s really exciting to watch. We picked an excellent time to visit Acapulco. For most of our stay, the city was relatively empty. Just as we were leaving, the rest of the spring breakers began arriving.

I arrived Sunday afternoon to Mexico City. I was able to spend a few minutes catching up with my Abuelo. When he saw me, he asked me what I had been eating. I’ve always felt really short here in the U.S., but I’m huge by Mexican standards. All of my aunts are 4’10” and weigh 95 pounds…so I, at 5’4″, seem like a giant to them. Everyone was amazed at how tall I’ve become. After spending time at Abuelo’s house, we met up with my aunt Tita and her children for dinner.

The Pyramid of the Moon

Since Monday was a holiday, my dad organized a excursion to Teotihuacan with several of my cousins. Just an hour outside of Mexico City, Teotihuacan is home to some ancient Aztec ruins, including the Street of the Dead, the Pyramid of the Sun, and the Pyramid of the Moon. These pyramids were built in 700 BC and the Pyramid of the Sun is the third largest pyramid in the world. After we had thouroughly explored the ruins, we ate lunch at this amazing restaurant located inside a nearby cave.

Bere, Mari Jose, Sofia, and me at the convent

Tuesday I went to a pewter factory to order some formal place settings for my house next year. Later that night I went to a convent to recite the Rosary with my aunt Bere and two cousins Maria Jose and Sofia. It was a little tough saying the prayers in Spanish, but I caught on pretty quickly to Hail Mary. When I got back to Tita’s house, I was excited to see that my father had dropped by to eat dinner with us.

Wednesday I caught up with my aunt Pollo (that’s a nickname, her real name is Norma, but no one ever calls her that) and cousin Rocio for a delicious lunch in the posh district of Polanco where Rocio works. Afterwards, Pollo and I went to watch a movie at the IMAX.  Once again, my father was awaiting to eat dinner with me when I returned to Tita’s house.

Abuelo blowing us a kiss after discovering the mariachi band

Thurday was my father and my grandfather’s santo (or saint day). Your santo is the day of your saint’s feast day. For me, since Eve is short for Genevieve, it’s the feast day of Saint Genevieve on January 3rd. Because the feast day of Saint Joseph is on March 19, that’s when we celebrate my abuelo (Jose) and my father’s (also Jose) santo. In Mexico, your santo is a bigger deal than your birthday. You have a party and receive presents. It was very exciting for me to be in Mexico for this special day. A few of my aunts and I woke up early to serenade my grandfather with an 11 piece mariachi band. He loved his surprise.

My father with his sisters at the Santo celebration

A little while later, we went to the salon to get manicures, and then arrived at Pollo’s house for the celbritory lunch. Pollo is an excellent cook, and didn’t disappoint with her fabulous paella. We also had a ton of chicharron, queso fresco, the spiciest salsa I’ve ever tasted, and strawberries in cream. After the party, I went to pick up my pewter plates and hang out with my aunt Pame and my cousins Santiago and Maria.

Friday morning, my aunts, abuelo, and I went to breakfast to celebrate Pollo’s birthday. Afterwards, I had to go to the airport. My father and I enjoyed one last meal before saying goodbye, and then I was off to explore Duty Free. I was delayed several hours in Dallas, but I finally made it back to Denver late Friday night. I had the whole weekend to enjoy with my mom and catch up on sleep. The break was a perfect balance of fun in the sun with friends and catching up with family.

Mexico

I spent my spring break in Mexico, having an amazing reunion with my high school friends from Singapore. At our high school graduation, we’d talked tentatively about having a reunion in the United States (where we all chose to come for school) but never though it would happen so soon — and neither did our friend Valeria, originally from Mexico City, who hosted us and showed us around! The week preceding the trip was full of frantic facebook messages from her in the line of “I can’t believe this is actually happening!” And it was unbelievable to see all of my friends again so soon.

We spent the first day of vacation exploring Mexico City, seeing many of the tourist attractions and getting adjusted to the heat. My Albanian friend Ira, who is attending Macalester, also spent most of the day trying to tell me how much she spent on her plane ticket, but after I found out it was significantly less (and she lives further away than CC) I refused to hear it. I knew there must have been cheap tickets somewhere!

Waiting for the bus on the street in Mexico City

Waiting for the bus on the street in Mexico City

One of the most amazing places we visited in Mexico City was Teotihuacan, known as the “birthplace of the gods”, an archeological site built around 500 BC. There were several large pyramids such as the Pyramid of the Sun and the Pyramid of the Moon, and our english speaking guide told us that Teotihuacan had been laid out in the shape of the universe.

Climbing the steps at Teotihuacan

Climbing the steps at Teotihuacan

We climbed both pyramids, and because it was extremely hot (even in Mexico’s winter!) we were wrung out by the time we got to the top and sat for a while to enjoy the scenery.

Finally we reached the top

Finally we reached the top

After we descended, our guide took us to some nearby caves to do a little exploration. We were each given a large white candle as our light, and a funny dance ensued after we entered the cave, as we tried to not bang our heads on the ceiling while not dripping hot wax onto our feet. I wasn’t too thrilled by the caving, especially after twenty minutes of crawling the guide told us that he’d taken us inside the cave to simulate the feeling of being inside the Pyramid of the Sun.

Inside the cave with our candles

Inside the cave with our candles

After the first couple days in Mexico City, we were off to Puerto Escondido for some sun and relaxation. We spent the hottest part of the day by the pool, and in the morning and evening when it had cooled off ventured to the beach. Puerto Escondido has massive waves, and while I wasn’t brave enough to try surfing, I did rent a bodyboard for several days. Trying to use the board on the waves was like riding a rollercoaster — or, often as not, like being pounded in  a washing machine! But when it got too much we’d retreat to the beach for some cool drinks, and often watched the hammock sellers and horses pass back and forth as the sun went down.

The beach at Puerto Escondido

The beach at Puerto Escondido

When we returned to Mexico City to catch the plane home, we first went to go see the National Museum of Anthropology — one of the most famous in the world. It had an amazing array of artifacts from all different periods of Mexican history, among which my favorite exhibits were the Mayan and Mexica. I felt like I could have spent three more days in that museum without running out of new things to see! On our way home we passed by Frida Kahlo and Diego Riviera’s Blue House, and popped in for a chance to see some of their artwork and the beautiful garden at the center of their house.

In the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City

In the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City

It was amazing to be reunited with my closest friends from high school so soon after graduation, and in such a beautiful place. It was also fun to practice my Spanish after just completing two blocks of Spanish 101 at CC, and I found that most people were really pleased when I tried to talk to them in Spanish (except for the storeowners on the beach, who were quite nonplussed by my poor attempts to very slowly and badly bargain with them.)

And the next reunion? Well, the 2010 Winter Olympics are on the Horizon for Vancouver, B.C., which is 45 minutes away from my house, so, I think Canada’s next!

Pingguo or Pingyao (Part II)

continued…

A view from the top part of a temple - you can see the city wall and a church

A view from the top part of a temple - you can see the city wall and a church

…We dropped our things and went exploring. The day was filled with sightseeing and enjoying the new place. We walked streets that were mostly emptied of motor vehicles but filled with shops, street food stands, and street vendors. This city felt like one large hutong really. It was exciting, but not like Beijing. The road and vehicle noise was gone, but the lively food and vending scene made it feel like China still. We perused the stores and ended up at a local restaurant. We tried some local food that we all agreed was not entirely appetizing.

After our somewhat disappointing lunch, we split up. The majority of us decided to rent bicycles to explore the city, which turned out to be a lot of fun. After some exploring and getting great pictures, we purchased a ticket that allowed us entrance to all of the local temples and attractions. We walked the city wall, explored some interesting temples, and bartered with some street vendors. We even found a woman with a small monkey who let my friend Harry hold him for 5RMB. We captured a great little video of them together.

Juan and me trying the tandem bike - we didn't rent this one...

Juan and me trying the tandem bike - we didn't rent this one...

Trying on local accessories

Trying on local accessories

 

While the city seemed very touristy, it was extremely interesting to see. Among all of the amazing architecture and history, something lingered though—smog. The entire city smelled of burnt fireworks. Someone mentioned that it was coal. There was a blanket, like in Beijing but a bit thicker, that hung over the city. If anyone is in denial that China has environmental issues to attend to, they need to see this country. Sure we have had some blue-sky days in Beijing, but it really hits home when a city renowned for history (and a lack of that big city feel) seems even more polluted than Beijing. Regardless, we all found our time here to be a great escape from the busyness of Beijing.

We returned to the hostel to shower and eat dinner. We ate at a restaurant that had more traditional Chinese food that we all enjoyed. After dinner we returned for some drinks at the hostel before we headed to Pingyao’s only bar. Our long days of traveling and exploring kept us on a short leash. We returned to our hostel early and climbed into bed.

We woke early to catch a bus back to Taiyuan. Catching the bus was not what I expected. We boarded the half-filled, little bus headed to Taiyuan and paid the woman at the front. After a moments wait, the driver proceeded to poke along at no more than 2 miles per hour down the road yelling out the window at folks on the street, “TAIYUAN, TAIYUAN!” Sure enough, he filled the bus in about 15 minutes and we were off.

Our train back to Beijing was much more comfortable. We all had bottom bunks this time, which allowed us to sit around much easier to chat. In addition, we arrived home in about 7 hours—in time for dinner and a good night’s sleep back at Beida. 

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kjIumNrhzjE

SB ’09

Ouch.

Ouch.

Hey Everyone,

Students are slowly trickling back to campus after spring break, and sure enough everyone has their own stories about adventures from break.  Although I didn’t have the pleasure of surfing in California or sipping daqari’s in Mexico as it seems most did, I do have a few stories of my own from SB ’09. 

Last year, the lacrosse team spent spring break in wonderful Colorado Springs.  Although I love it here, a change of scenery for spring break would have been welcome after a stressful 6th block.  However, this year, the Colorado College men’s lacrosse team had the pleasure of playing two defending national champions and a trip to Florida.  Although a tall order, our team stood our own and had two impressive showings against DII national champion NYIT and DIII national champion Salisbury. 

Some highlights from Florida include sunburns, bros, and a space shuttle launch.  However, most impressive were the mustaches our team grew for spring break.  Although not everyone can grow exquisite mustaches, most held their own for Mustache March.  There were all colors and mustache modifications, ranging from well-kept to handle-bar.  Without a doubt, we were the creepiest of any sports team flying through Orlando that week. 

Another block is upon us…

Until then, Onward!

Pingguo or Pingyao (Part I)

 

Some of the group in the vehicles that took us inside the city walls

Some of the group in the vehicles that took us inside the city walls

I am a little late in posting this, but China keeps me busy. Despite its tardiness, this was one of those experiences you never forget and have to tell. The story will come in two parts. Part 1:

The weekend of the 8th, a group of friends and I decided to travel. Up until then, we had only left Beijing once, which was our first small trip with the entire program to Changde. This particular trip was full of surprises. First, I could not for the life of me decide whether I wanted to travel to Shanghai or Pingyao. In fact, I was so indecisive that I was in the office to purchase train tickets with both groups and still had no idea what I wanted. As people were busy purchasing tickets, I heard the Shanghai group chime in, “They’re all sold out. Looks like we’re all going to Pingyao.” So, my indecisiveness and efforts to make a solid choice were meaningless. We were headed to Pingyao.

Pingyao is a city in the Shanxi Province. It is renowned for its ancient architecture. It is home to China’s best-preserved and oldest buildings. A coworker of mine told me a little bit about Pingyao and said it was a much better choice than Shanghai. Even though Shanghai is different than Beijing, Pingyao is in a lot of ways a more interesting contrast. The week leading up to the trip we all kept calling it “pingguo,” which is Chinese for apple. The two names sound very similar So, we were headed to China’s “apple.”

A bicycle rickshaw within the city walls

A bicycle rickshaw within the city walls

Our adventure started on a sleeper train from Beijing to Taiyuan. We started off in a hurry as our dinner before the 8:30 PM train departure took longer than we thought. We threw money at the restaurant and, like we were in “The Amazing Race,” took off in cabs to catch our train. Luckily, we all made it just in time. We boarded the train and settled into our middle bunks—not the most convenient beds in the hard sleepers. My bunk was in car 9, while most everyone else was in car 13. Once we were off, we convened around the bunks in car 13 to play cards, have a drink, and chat. Around 10:00 the lights went out and it was time to sleep. I returned to my middle bed to catch some rest only to be met by a few friendly Chinese people who spoke with me for a few minutes. I practiced my limited Chinese and we tried to communicate as much as we could before we all agreed it was time to sleep.

Making noodles with the hot water on the train

Making noodles with the hot water on the train

Nine hours later, I woke as the sun was coming up. We were only an hour from Taiyuan. Once there, we quickly purchased train tickets to Pingyao as well as our tickets back to Beijing (this was important as these tickets can get sold out if one waits to long). Our hour and a half train to Pingyao was in a standing car. We crammed onto the car standing only feet from the door of the train rubbing shoulders with Chinese men and women. We entertained ourselves with games of tic-tac-toe on the small foggy window of the train car.

 

Once out of the station in Pingayo two men from the hostel we had booked met us. Our moods were shifting from exhaustion (from a lack of good sleep) to excitement. We had no idea our hostel was providing such good service. The men took us to these motorbike taxi contraptions that seemed like run down versions of those extra large golf carts you see at resorts in Florida. They took us inside the ancient city walls of Pingyao where we arrived at our hostel. Our hostel was unbelievable. We each paid 8 RMB for the one night stay (a little over $1 US). We had two large and clean rooms, showers, a bar, a ping pong table, a TV, Internet, etc… 

To be continued…

Living in Slocum–the substance free wing.

I thought it would be nice to talk about living in the sub-free hall of Slocum.  Why?  My hall recently had a dinner at Paul York’s,the Residental Life Coordinator, apartment.  He asked us questions that were very specific to the sub-free community.  It made me question if I chose to live in the sub-free hall for the right intentions.

Being a freshman and not knowing where my niche was at CC, sub-free hall has made a very positive influence for my first year.  It’s self-selecting.  Students choose to live on this hall.   Not all of us get along, but we’re a big family.  I remember 1st block, we had dance parties (pratically) every weekend.  Unfortunately during one of our dance parties, Security had come up thinking we were under the influence–we were just having too much fun, and getting out of hand.

Looking back (as a second semester Freshman), I did wonder if being placed on the sub-free hallway was a good idea.  It was one of the best decisions I’ve made (besides choosing CC, of course).  Transitioning into college is difficult in itself, especially on the  Block Plan, and having a home that was quiet with a new family made college that much easier.  I highly recommend choosing sub-free as a freshman, especially if you’re uncertain, uncomfortable, and need some stability in a new college environment

Living on the substance-free hall does not mean you have to be substance free, it’s where you live.  As my wonderful Residential Advisor said at the beginning of the school year, “It’s not a lifestyle, it’s a home.”

peace out (it’s SPRING BREAK),

Melissa

Dance party!

Dance party!

Part of my hall getting ready for Halloween fun!

Part of my hall getting ready for Halloween fun!

Part of my hall went to Yoo Mae for sushi!  Verrrrry good + cheap!

Part of my hall went to Yoo Mae for sushi! Verrrrry good + cheap!

Why CC?

Hey Everyone

* I came across this letter I wrote for the admissions office quite some time ago.  These words can’t speak any more truth today…

When I began looking at colleges as a senior, I had many preconceptions about who I wanted to be and what I wanted to be doing after graduating from college.  A year and a half later, I am excited by the limitless possibilities after college from many avenues of study at Colorado College.  The advantage of a liberal arts education is being well-rounded and versed in many disciplines with the chance to study fascinating material from all perspectives. 

            So if you’re interested in a liberal-arts education, why Colorado College?  The answer is simple: why not?  I am from Colorado and have enjoyed living in one of the most beautiful places on earth.  However, almost every day I still walk outside my room in wonder at the beauty of this place.  Colorado College was the only school I looked at outside of the Northeast.  But, I think I made the right choice.  CC has something to offer for everyone.  Any outdoor sport or activity you could think of is a hobby of CC students, and weekends and block breaks give you plenty of chances to pick up something new or polish your skills. 

Aside from the outdoors, Denver and Colorado Springs offer all the amenities of any big city from concerts at Red Rocks to world class art exhibits.  There is no ‘typical CC student’, but the unique personality of each student creates a style and culture unique to Colorado College.  No matter who you are, you are definitely a CC student. 

            There is nothing like the block plan anywhere else than CC.  Classes are small, in-depth, discussions valued for their quality of intellectual curiosity and varying perspective.  Relationships made at Colorado College between students and professors alike give you the opportunity to express and solidify your personal attributes.  After graduation, I will have had a world-class, unparalleled education  and countless memories.  I don’t regret my decision for a second. 

Until next time,

Onward!

What are the odds

What are the odds of meeting someone in Beijing who both lived in your home town as well as the town you go to college in? I won’t even guess.

Now, what are the odds that two days later you meet a Chinese man on the subway who lived in your home state and who’s granddaughter goes to Northwestern University (which is 30 minutes from your home)? Again, won’t guess.

Both happened to me last week. I’m still smiling because of it all!

On Monday last week, my friend Harry invited a few friends and me to tag along on a dinner he was having with his aunt and uncle who live here in Beijing. His aunt works for a sports marketing firm and is here for next few years working. She recently married her husband, John. I discovered not long into our dinner that John lived in Lake Forest, Illinois for many years and owned Angelo’s flower shop. I was born and raised in Lake Forest. I then learned that he left in the mid 1990’s to move to Colorado where he became a hiking guide. He lived in Manitou Springs and Colorado Springs. Once again, we had an odd connection. He was an avid hiker and runner as well. I then learned that he was a big fan of the Incline, which is the trail that I did a documentary on this past fall for my filmmaking class. Needless to say, we had a lot to talk about that night.

Tuesday morning last week, I had another interesting connection. While not as close as John and me, this was still interesting. I was on Line 2 headed to work when an elderly couple entered the subway car. They sat next to me, quiet for about 5 minutes. Eventually the man moved closer to me and asked, “Are you a student?” His English was amazing. We started talking. I finally learned that his daughter went to the University of Illinois, and his granddaughter now attends Northwestern University. Northwestern is about 30 minutes from my home in Illinois, and I spent a great deal of time there this past winter break with a close friend of mine. The man, Zhong, eventually offered to have me over to his home any time to practice my Chinese. He is a retired, 85 year old professor who had incredibly interesting things to say. I am hoping to connect with him soon to spend some time with him. I think he may have written his phone number down incorrectly though in my notebook. I really hope I can find him again.

So, it really is a small world (even in a country of 1.3 billion people).

A day in the hutongs

 

Sometimes translating doesn't work out as planned

Sometimes translating doesn't work out as planned

Last week a few friends and I decided that we had not done enough exploring since arriving in Beijing. I think that this may be a common feeling about one month into an abroad semester. You have this sudden realization that time is flying past you way faster than you ever thought possible. Then, you notice that you have just been trying to get into a rhythm and feel comforatable with where you are. This attempt to find some structure has distracted you from that initial adventurous spirit!

Man on a motor bike in the hutongs

Man on a motor bike in the hutongs

 

 

 

In light of our realization (interruption if you will), we decided to hop on the subway with little direction in mind. We knew we wanted to stop near the Lama Temple, but we weren’t quite sure what we wanted to do. We left the subway at Andingmen station and walked towards the Lama Temple. After a quick discussion, we decided not to pay the 20 RMB to get in–we wanted to explore a bit more. About 50 feet past the Lama Temple we saw a sign for a hutong, we dove right in. THe hutongs in Beijing are these neighborhoods created by courtyard homes that make alley ways between them. They are mostly very old and are dissapearing quickly as Beijing becomes a modern city.

I couldn’t help but notice how different it was back in the hutongs. The loud noise of busses and cars suddenly stopped. I couldn’t believe I was in Beijing. The homes were completely unique and unlike anything I’ve seen. Pearing into doors gave an interesting look into what a Beijing hutong home is like.

We did get a handful of stares and smiles as we walked. Americans stand out in Beijing as it is, but we really stand out in the hutongs! One thing that certainly didn’t change was the smell. Most hutongs utilize shared public bathrooms. Beijing’s sanitation system has not been perfected yet, thus, every so often certain corners would have a recognizably pungent odor. But it really didn’t bother me. I was fascinated by the difference between the the hutongs and the modern city.

More hutong doors

More hutong doors

We eventually found a hostel within the hutongs where we met five young men from Scottland on a four month trip around the world. They hadn’t been in Beijing long, so we gave them some tips on places to go. Their number one priority was finding a place to watch some football (soccer).

After leaving the hutongs, we paid a short visit to the Confucious temple down the streat. The temple itself was beautiful, but we found some funny signs as we walked around.

Our day in the hutongs was great. We are now planning all sorts of adventures around the and outside of Beijing. This weekend I think we are headed to Pingyao–a city that is renowned for its ancient architecture.

All about new

China is all about new: new businesses, new shopping malls, new construction, new subway lines, new ideals (in certain respects), and new technology. 

My Chinese experience has been all about new. Beyond the obvious “new things,” like food, language, culture, toilets, smells, etc., my overall situation here has changed dramatically. First, I enrolled as a full-time intern originally with this program. I have since discovered that Hyland’s Law will not be able to keep me busy enough to work 4 or 5 days every week. This is due to both my lack of Chinese language experience as well as the collective lack of work as the economic crisis spreads throughout the world. I am now a part-time intern and have taken on a language class that meets a total of 9 hours per week. This is turning out to be a fabulous switch. I feel great now knowing that I will come away from my time abroad with real language experience (the full-time internship was not going to allow me to take a language class). I feel that my time is much more valuable if I come away with both international working experience and language experience. 

To add to that already big change, I have moved rooms. My roommate, Winston, decided that he wanted to move off-campus to live among native speakers. He is enrolled as a full-time intern and, just like me, cannot take a language class as a full-time intern. His internship is with a fashion magazine who is keeping him very busy. He’s happy, but just needs to be more immersed so that he can learn the language. His situation calls for that more than a class. Thus, with him moving out, Spike and me were asked to move out to different rooms to consolidate. After plenty of asking around and working out all other possibilities, it was settled that we needed to move much to our dismay. 

I am happy though. I moved next door and now am rooming with Damien and Richie. Both guys are friendly and seem easy to live with. While I was really enjoying living with Winston and Spike, new possibilities have opened up of course–more friends and more opportunities to get to know different people.