Tuesday, November 15, 2011

China Picture Slideshow: The Highlights from Beijing, Xian, Ping An & Xing Ping

We took thousands of pictures on our "Big Trip," and now I have to decide what to do with all of them!  So, my goal is to make picture slideshows by country.  China was our first stop and we spent one month exploring four areas of the country.

  • Beijing & The Great Wall of China
  • Xian & The Terracotta Warriors
  • Ping An & The Dragon's Backbone Rice Terraces
  • Xing Ping & The Li River
We also made quick stops in Guilin and Nanning.  (On a previous trip we traveled to Hong Kong & Macau).

Oh man, was it hard to pick my favorite photos to make up a true representation of our time in China.  So, here's what you'll see:
  • Sights:  Of course, there's us enjoying the must-see spots from Tienanmen Square to the Great Wall.
  • Food:  Eating delicious street food was part of the experience along with seeing scorpions and star fish fried up for the adventurous. 
  • Faces:  Local people both young and old.  The beautiful faces of children who gravitated toward us or the Yao ethnic people who like Rapunzel let down their hair for us.  These are the faces that made our days special. 
  • Scenes of Daily Life:  Rows of bicycles, a water buffalo being led off a ferry, incense sticks raised in prayer.  These are all small moments of daily life that really bring out the flavor of China.
  • Rural Scenery:  Breathtaking scenes of ancient rice terraces and limestone mountains along the Li River.  It was rural China that I enjoyed most.
  • Architecture, Wildlife, Street Scenes...the list goes one.  All of these things together made our trip so memorable.
There's so much left to see!  If I play my cards right I just may get back to China someday to see the mountains of Tibet or the desert towns along the former Silk Road.  Shanghai is on my list, since seeing the airport was simply not enough!

Travel Tip:  In no other country did we find so little English spoken.  However, you need not speak Chinese to enjoy yourself.  Come prepared with a guide book and map that has names of places in both English and Chinese.  This way, you can ask for help.  A simple "Ni Hao" (hello) along with pointing to the name of your location in Chinese will get you pointed in the right direction.  We did this constantly and were tickled at how helpful people were.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Our Return Home to the USA

Our tour through paradise had to end eventually, and then it was time to return home.  Actually, I went home twice.  The first time, “home” was visiting Korea.  We returned for a few days to pick up our belongings and to visit with family one last time.  It was a surreal experience because we were back in Korea, but not at our house, our neighborhood, or back to our routine.  The visit still reminded us of what we enjoyed so much about this country – kind people, neon lights, and delicious barbeque.  We even took a trip to our former school and had a brief visit with the children we’ve loved so much.

Four days later we boarded our flight from Seoul to New York and we were really on our way home.  Door to door it was a 26 hour journey.  Stepping off the plane, I was happy to hear New York accents and tickled to get my first “welcome home” at the immigration check point.  Then I was seeing my parents for the first time in 18 months.  It was a nice reunion, and once at my childhood home it didn’t feel I’d been gone so long after all! 

Our time in the USA has been filled visiting family and friends.  I was thrilled on my first weekend to go to Villanova University’s homecoming with college friends.  I’d missed so many events like this in the past, I was overjoyed to simply be present.  I’ve helped out my brother and his wife with a little babysitting, but truly it was a gift to have one-on-one time with my two adorable nieces.  I know I’ve already re-connected with them and our bond will only grow stronger.

Just as we did upon our arrival in Korea, we are busy comparing everything.  Our once familiar neighborhood grocery store seems strange.  Where’s the aisle of jumbo rice bags and the aisle dedicated to ramen noodles?  Why are sesame oil and rice noodles so expensive?  We mutter these things to ourselves, while at the same time being delighted that we can now afford to eat as much cheese as we want.  Cheese was a pricy treat in Asia.

I’m relieved that life is all in English and therefore easy.  I do not need to spend time with my dictionary, planning an errand before stepping out the door.  It’s routine rather than an adventure to go a post office, restaurant, or shop.  However, my husband and I find we’re delighted to speak with our Korean drycleaners who tip us off to where we can buy kimchi in the area.

I’m amazed at how quickly we adapted to life in Korea.  It really did become a second home to us.  So, as I revel in the joy of being home in the USA, I also find myself missing the familiarity of being a stranger in a strange land.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Seoul, Korea: Directions to Seoul Tower

We were in Seoul nearly a year before we made the trip to Seoul Tower.  As was typical when making weekend plans, we took out our trusted Lonely Planet Seoul City Guide and looked up directions.  We thought the provided directions were a little odd – the subway stop seemed too far from our destination – however, if Lonely Planet printed it we figured it must be right.  We were wrong.  After exiting the subway we soon realized we’d need a taxi to complete our journey.

Once there, we realized there was a much easier way to get to Seoul Tower and that’s what we share with you in this video.  You may also want to pair a visit to the Tower with a stop at Namdaemun Market as they are very close (within walking distance).

You may go up Seoul Tower for the views, but you can also enjoy some good food.  There are several options and some are really reasonably priced.  If you want to eat at the revolving restaurant “N Grill,” be sure to make a reservation in advance. 

When you arrive at the base of the tower, you’ll notice all the padlocks cluttering the surrounding chain link fence.  Couples supposedly seal their love with this small gesture and some written words.  My husband and I didn’t come prepared for this popular ritual.  So, we bought our overpriced locks, hearts to write on, and permanent markers at the gift shop.  Still, I was excited to leave a little memento that’s forever in Korea.  You can save money though if you arrive with locks and love notes in hand

In the end, our visit to Seoul Tower made for a lovely day.  We enjoyed the views, a good meal, and got swept up in a bit of romance as we wrote our love notes.  It was definitely worth the trip.