Category Archives: travel

ALL HALLOWS EVE & BROOKLYN & BIKES

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Halloween is almost upon us in the city, and spirit (and decorations) abound. I took the F train to the land of Brooklyn a couple of days ago, just so I could wear my hipster apparel and use my trendy messenger bag, and when I stepped out at the Carrol Gardens stop, the world had changed. In place of Manhattan’s impressive buildings, wide bustling streets and frenetic horn-honking-people scurrying-cars swerving vibe, a human sized environment had emerged: narrow shady streets with families out for walks, couples with their hands in each-others pockets, dog walkers and stroller pushers galore. If I ever needed a family vibe to set me right, I should come here. Most of the brownstones (2-3 story connected houses built out of brown sandstone) had tons of decorations. No. I mean TONS. I couldn’t even see facade of one entire house it was so loaded with skulls and fake spiderwebs and scythes and pumpkins and plastic tombstones and whew, I could go on. This happens to be a post of run on sentences, but it fits my vibe right now, so hang tight.

I kept wandering and found these things:

Forty-three carved pumpkins, numerous spider webs (hard to count for obvious reasons), 2 children who decided to dress up early (1 michael jackson and 1 sesame street bigbird, related?), 20 cozy coffee cafes, many hipsters, 1 Trader Joes, 1 3rd floor balcony with a giant ladder leading to the ground (break-in? bored tenants? fire!?) and 40 people on bikes.

Thousands of golden orange leaves dotted the asphalt, with most trees in that lazy stage of half-dress, where thousands of the leaves are gone but many still remain. So many people whizzed by on bicycles that I though I might be back in Colorado or even the NW. Here, though, people do the craziest things on bikes. They shoot through intersections, don’t wear helmets, wear helmets from the 1960’s (did they even have helmets back then?), and lock their bikes with the thickest chains I’ve ever seen. Crazy stuff. At least they ride their bikes and the subway, though. One of the ads on the F train states that NYC residents use 75% less energy than the majority of Americans, simply because they use public transportation. It’s one of the things only things I hate about Colorado- public transportation sucks. To get into the mountains takes more gas than I care to admit and though CC’s ski union does offer a ski-bus, it only goes to a couple resorts and fills up fast. That said, if you have a friend with a car, you’re set for 4 years of POWDDEEERRRR and great company. Long story short, I wish Amtrak was as reliable and widespread in the West as it is here in the Eastern Corridor.

To conclude this conglomeration of random thoughts, I shall orate on the celebration of this coming weekend. NYC has, no not the world’s largest ball of twine (1,475 miles long, Cawker City, Kansas), not the world’s largest rocking chair (Cuba, MO), nope, not even the world’s largest yogic circle (unknowable because yogis don’t care about such things). NYC does have the biggest baddest Halloween parade, fo sho. It’s in the west village, near where I live and it’s been an institution for 36 years. Needless to say:

I AM STOKED for this weekend.

More Halloween NYC news at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/joe-peyronnin/eek–its-halloween_b_338233.html

POST SCRIPT:  If you don’t read the HUFFINGTON POST, you should. While it sounds like a bad dream from the 241th Harry Potter movie, the Huff is actually a very well respected news organization, second (in my book) only to the behemoth of the New York Times. The great thing about the former company, is that it is strictly online- and free. (Question of the day: how are newspapers like the NYTimes staying afloat?)

PEACE

-Claire

Finishing up China

Since my last post here, a lot has happened. I am back in Colorado Springs and have been since the beginning of July. Among other things, I have moved into a new apartment, begun my training at the Admissions Office for my job this fall, met with my advisor about my Economics thesis, overseeing The Sound of Colorado College’s move to a new studio on campus, and spent plenty of time speaking to numerous folks about my post graduation plans. Life is

Monks at the largest Tibetan temple in Yunan Province. We visited this while in Shangri-la.

Monks at the largest Tibetan temple in Yunan Province. We visited this while in Shangri-la.

busy, but good. It is good to be back State-side. Before I launch into blogging about the summer, let me finish up my trip to China.

My final week in China was perhaps the most incredible of all. My last post was from Lijiang in the Yunan province. From Lijiang three friends and I separated from our program’s trip to finish on our own schedule. Our route took us from Lijiang to Shangri-La (only named that because the Chinese government wanted to create a tourist attraction). The town is also known as Zhongdian, but the area is noted as being very close to the Shangri-La described in the book, The Lost Horizon. From here we took a bus though winding mountain roads to Deqin. Deqin is about 80% Tibetan and going through a decent amount of construction despite the remote nature of the place.

Tashi's Mountain Lodge in Reringka village outside of Deqin.

Tashi's Mountain Lodge in Reringka village outside of Deqin.

We stayed 15 minutes outside of Deqin at Tashi’s Mountain Lodge. Tashi’s is a foreign trekker friendly guest house in a recently renovated Tibetan home. We arrived to find a beautifully rugged place that was run at the time by a couple from Italy, Phillip and Silvia. The two had stopped there a few weeks ago to find a job and ended up abandoned by the Tashi’s local staff who had retreated for a few months to the mountains to collect caterpillars that were supposedly full of medicinal value. From Tashi’s, we gathered information on a trek to a remote village, Yubeng, not accessible by road.

We payed a driver to take us to Xidang where the trail head for Yubeng is. We stayed a night with a Tibetan family in Xidang. Our host was a friendly older couple who spoke a Tibetan dialect. We communicated with hand gestures. The next day we began our 6-7 hour hike to Yubeng. The trail was surprisingly full of trekkers and locals. We had to hike over a mountain before we could drop down into Yubeng. Although cloudy, the top (before our descent into the village) was one of the most rewarding moments of my life. The magical scenery combined with the warmth of the Tibetan people gave me a whole new sense of China.

Our host in Xidang. We didn't know how to say her name, but she seemed to respond to the last part which sounded like "de ma."

Our host in Xidang. We didn't know how to say her name, but she seemed to respond to the last part which sounded like "de ma."

We stayed that night in Yubeng under two peaks that were unlike anything I had ever seen. As one visitor to Tashi’s had described, “It is mountain paradise.” Words are hard to find when thinking about this place. I will let a few pictures tell the story. At the same time, this is not a place I want to spoil with too many pictures for those that ever make it there.

Yubeng borders the official Tibetan Autonomous Region. The two peaks we slept beneath in Yubeng (as well as the larger, Kawa Karpa, which is not visible from Yubeng) are considered by many to be the guardians of the Himalayas. Kawa Karpa is a holy mountain and visited frequently by monks. From here, my friend Harry and I seperated from our other two friends, Liz and Allyssa. We moved onto much more travelled locations in Guilin and Yangshuo.

To be continued…

At the top of the hike to Yubeng

At the top of the hike to Yubeng

Me overlooking parts of Xidang. Very, very green!

Me overlooking parts of Xidang. Very, very green!

Among the prayer flags near the top of the hike into Yubeng

Among the prayer flags near the top of the hike into Yubeng

A look at lower Yubeng below the peaks

A look at lower Yubeng below the peaks

One of the guardian peaks of the Himalayas. This one is called Shenyufeng (6054 meters)

One of the guardian peaks of the Himalayas. This one is called Shenyufeng (6054 meters)

The first Tibetan we met in Yubeng - joyful and wearing a Jordan shirt. Being from Chicago I was happy to see my hometown hero's influence reached this far!

The first Tibetan we met in Yubeng - joyful and wearing a Jordan shirt. Being from Chicago I was happy to see my hometown hero's influence reached this far!

“Ça Va?”–History of the City of Paris

The Seine River

The Seine River

Casablanca. Gigi. Sabrina. Amelie.  Before Sunrise and Before Sunset (my two personal favorites).

Media has romanticized our imagination of the city of Paris.  The examined and lived, however, brings this city to a whole new level.  As I sit writing this, I am reliving Paris in my imagination.  I was able to examine and experience the city of Paris.

Want to see the Seine River?  It’s only a twenty minute walk.  The Louvre?  Cross the Pont d’Artes and you’re there.  Want to see Notre Dame?  Eiffel Tower?  Pompidou  Center? Done. Done. And Done.

Katherine, Brenna, Kelly, Alissa, Me, and Connie

From front left: Katherine, Brenna, Kelly, Alissa, Me, and Connie

However, what does the everyday person know about the layering of history within this beautiful city?  To tell you the truth, I knew nothing.  Susan Ashley (Dean of the College) and Tip Ragan (Chair of the History Department) co-taught this course.  I’ve never been so challenged by any professor as I have with these two.   Susan focused on teaching the intellectual history of Paris, while Tip focused more on the social history.  Together, they were masterful in teaching the thirteen of us how Paris developed and progressed in the middle ages, the Age of Absolutism, and Modern Paris.

The class was amazing and probably one of the best courses I have ever had in my entire life.  The workload wasn’t too much or overwhelming, but I was challenged by the class discussions.  Susan and Tip would steer discussion by asking a single question, and the class would try to find answers or more questions within the 2.5 hours.  My brain literally hurt after each class, because I had never imagined Paris to be so brilliant.

Oscar Wilde is buried in Paris.  Look at all the kisses!

Oscar Wilde is buried in Paris. Look at all the kisses!

There are no words to describe how I feel about this class–it’s a true “unique, intellectual adventure.” Consider taking this summer block when it’s offered.  I promise you, it will be mind-blowing.

View from the Eiffel Tower!

View from the Eiffel Tower!


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.

Shaoyuan # 5

 

Collection of major companies near our campus, including Google! (thank you Derek Hardy again)

Collection of major companies near our campus, including Google! (thank you Derek Hardy again)

My living situation here in China is both worse and better than I expected. I live in a dormitory style building called Shaoyuan # 5 that sits near the West Gate of Beida. Most of the students in our program live here except for those that are more proficient in Chinese or have lived in China at some other point. Those folks live in apartments in the Wudaoko district near campus.

Home until May! Shaoyuan #5

Home until May! Shaoyuan #5 (photo by Derek Hardy)

 

I live with two guys, Spike and Winston. Spike is from the University of  Massachusetts, and Winston is from NYU. I couldn’t be happier with these two as roommates. Spike was here at Beida last semester, thus he is the go-to person for any questions. Winston is an incredible artist who is working here for an art and fashion magazine, Madame Figaro. Winston and I share a room, while Spike (seniority rules) lives in the single room. We all share a bathroom.

The room was initially worse than expected with respect to cleanliness and upkeep. It looks as if vacuuming is an afterthought, and the walls are a little bit less white than I think originally intended. We have a decent amount of furniture. The double room lacks any sort of dresser or drawer unit, but we do have a mini refrigerator, TV (only two English channels), a desk, beds, and chairs. The beds, however, aren’t too friendly on the back. Decorating the room has consisted mostly of our shirts and underwear dangling from the clothesline that stretches across the room (no dryers). I am adjusting nicely though!

With all of the customary “Western” and “American” amenities  that we are missing, I am more than content. In fact, we are really spoiled here! Most dorms at Beida are much more crammed—4 or 5 to a room. And according to some local students, our dorm is in much better shape than most. To top it off, each morning someone comes into the room to straighten up the beds, lightly dust a desk surface (maybe), and deliver two new hot water containers with fresh tea bags.

Street fruit vendor near Beida in Wudaokou (photo by Derek Hardy)

Street fruit vendor near Beida in Wudaokou (photo by Derek Hardy)

 

Expectations are intriguing. Mine have been met, exceeded, fallen short of, and shifted dramatically. A new country will do that to you. 

The Arrival


Roommate Spike buying fireworks at a street stand near campus

Roommate Spike buying fireworks at a street stand near campus

I have succesfully arrived in Beijing! I can’t believe that I am halfway accross the world in an entirely new country and culture. I wrote before I left that I was experiencing an unprecedented mix of emotions — that has by no means gone away. I have gotten better control of them, but each day thus far has brought back that mix. Each feeling is amplified by 1,000 now since I am actually here. I wish I hadn’t waited a week to write my first blog from here as so much has already happened. I will write in installments that will hopefully all be up today or tomorrow. This first one is a quick recap of my arrival:

 

My plane ride was realtively easy. I had a direct flight from Chicago to Beijing on United Airlines. I sat in Economy, but paid a bit extra when I purchased the tickets to sit in Economy Plus (the extra legroom was WELL worth it). It is truly a surreal experience to be in a plane for 13 hours! When we arrived in Beijing, I discovered that there were a handfull of students in the program on my flight. It was nice to have a few companions as I attempted to navigate a foreign airport, however, Beijing’s airport is mostly straightforward and not too confusing.

It was about 5:00 PM when we met up with one of our program directors and were led to a van that would take us to Beida (Peking University). As we drove, we passed the Olympic sites — the Bird’s Nest and the Water Cube. The highways were strangely empty. Our driver explained that it was still the Chinese New Year and nobody was out.

We arrived about 45 minutes later at the doors of Shaoyuan 5 where another director of the program distributed room keys and our new student IDs. Most of us were on the 5th floor of the dorm building.  Shaoyuan doesn’t have elevators, so we all complained that we brought far too much as we lugged bags up to the fifth floor. Once at my room, I proceeded to attempt to get in. As I began to turn the key in the door knob -SNAP!! The key broke in half. I’m completely out of it from a 13 hour flight with no clue where I am and I don’t even know if the director is still here. It all turned out okay, I got the key that was supposed to go to my third roommate, who wouldn’t arrive until the following morning.

With bags tossed into the room, a group of us exchanged names and went exploring outside the East Gate of Beida. We ventured to a local restaurant constantly in awe as people filled the streets setting off fireworks mere feet from the sides of moderately sized, multi-story buildings. When we sat, Bobby, a student from American University, helped us order a slew of dishes as he was the most advanced in Mandarin it seemed.

Below is a video I took of some fireworks on the Beida campus:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1bikRbU1HqU

We finished the meal and returned to the dorms to meet more people as they arrived. I quickly got tired and had to sneak off to bed. The first night was successful.

More to come on the past week in the next couple days: namely, our short trip to Changde and the Great Wall; my first days at my new internship; night life in Beijing; and random excursions around the city…

Stay tuned! Zaijian!