Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Coming Home

After seven wonderful weeks in China and Tibet, we headed home! Ruling and Hongyu took us out to a farewell lunch at one of their favorite restaurants and then drove us to the airport. We were so sad to leave them and to leave China!

Farewell lunch with Ruling and Hongyu

We had such a great time and will really treasure all of our experiences there. It was a memorable trip for us, and we thank you for taking the time to read our blog and join us on our journey! Till next time!

Over and out,
Stephanie & Mike

Arriving in San Francisco

Monday, August 11, 2008

Olympic Adventures

With the excitement of the Olympics all around us, we felt we had to try to attend an event--at least one! The only problem was that every single event was sold out. We looked online for tickets and came across a man on Craigslist who was selling two rowing tickets. "We'll take them!" we told him. We arranged the hand-off at a restaurant downtown. We were so thankful that we had these tickets and that he didn't charge us an arm and a leg for them. :) The following day, we headed to the water park at which the rowing events were to be held. It was a rainy day, but that didn't matter to us...we were too excited! We were going to an Olympic event! We arrived at the water park and entered the venue. Everyone was given yellow plastic ponchos, which came in quite handy later on.

The water park was impressive and the stands were full! Everyone cheered wildly for every race no matter which teams were competing.

Rowing fans

After the rowing event, we took a taxi back into town and headed to the Bird's Nest and Water Cube area. We had seen scalpers in the preceding days, and we hoped to find tickets for another event. It was our dream to attend an event at Olympic park so we could get closer to the Bird's Nest, Water Cube, and other venues (the water park had been quite a ways outside of Beijing). Fortunately, a Chinese man was trying to sell some fencing tickets since his friends couldn't go, and we jumped at the opportunity! Soon after buying the tickets from him we entered the park: we were in!! We were on cloud nine walking around all the venues. We had hoped for so long to 'get on the inside' and the time had finally come! We made our way to the Fencing Hall, which was not far from the Water Cube.

Fencing Hall

We watched three matches of Men's Individual Epee. Neither of us had ever watched fencing before, and it proved to be quite exciting! The venue felt small and intimate; we felt really close to the fencers as they fought.

Gold medal match

An Italian man won the event, and we stayed for the medal ceremoy. Then we explored the grounds! The Olympic Park contained a beautiful park, a stage with music, the National Indoor Stadium (for gymnastics events), and several other buildings in addition to the Bird's Nest and Water Cube as mentioned above. At one point we came across a room of Chinese volunteers, and they invited us to join them as they watched the much anticipated USA vs. China basketball game! They pulled up some chairs for us and we crowded around the TV cheering for our respective teams.

We stayed till half-time and then continued our exploratory journey around Olympic Park. We headed to our favorite area, that which contained the Bird's Nest, Water Cube, and Media Tower. We took several pictures and finally headed home around midnight. We watched the remainder of the basketball game with Ruling and then packed up most of our belongings. It was our last day in Beijing, and we were so sad to leave. It's been such a special trip, one that we'll never forget! And it was an unbelievable last day in Beijing! We're so thankful we had the opportunity to attend two events! :)

Saturday, August 9, 2008

The Great Wall and the beginning of Olympiad XXIX

"I think that you would have to conclude that this is a great wall," former President Nixon observed, "and it had to be built by a great people." We had a chance to visit this monumental structure at Mutianyu, an area considered to be less touristy than Badaling, the area most frequently visited. Several of the sites were closed to tourists due to the Olympics, so we were lucky to be able to visit the Wall at all!

We boarded a bus to Huai Rou and later shared a mini-bus with a Chinese couple to Mutianyu. We then took a chairlift from the parking lot and main entrance to the actual wall, which meanders through the hills as far as the eye could see. It was especially hot and humid, which made climbing the wall with its many stairs quite challenging. We took several pictures and noticed that Mutianyu had the most foreigners we had seen yet! We even met some US Swimming Team staff members who took Mike's picture to show to the swimmer of the same name! Very cool. :)

After a few hot, exhausting, yet still enjoyable hours at the wall, we descended to the main gate via tobaggons! We each sat on our own little black, plastic cart and slid down the long, silver slide to the bottom. Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeee! We then returned home via taxi, mini-bus, bus, and subway just in time to watch the Beijing Summer Olympics Opening Ceremony!

Eight is a lucky number for the Chinese, so 8pm 8-8-2008 was reserved for the opening of the Games! 'One World One Dream' is the slogan, and these Games mark the realization of China's long-time dream to host this special event! The Opening Ceremony wowed the crowd in the beautiful Bird Nest Stadium as well as viewers around the world! Many commented that this Opening Ceremony was the best they had ever seen and gave it a 10 out of 10!

We watched the entire 4+ hours with Ruling and Hongyu. The whole ceremony blew us away, and we found the opening drum sequence and tai chi portions to be especially impressive. Ruling kindly translated what the Chinese announcer was saying throughout the ceremony.

Let the Games begin!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

An Olympic Bike Ride Through Beijing

After visiting the Summer Palace on our first day in Beijing, we decided on our second day to head out and explore the city on a pair of bicycles. We borrowed the bikes from Ruling.
We had heard that one of the best ways to see Beijing is on bikes, and that proved to be the case. Beijing is said to be as flat as a chessboard, making it it very easy to get around on a one-speed bike. Beijing also has huge bike lanes, often times bigger than the lanes for cars. Although Portland is known as Bike City USA, Beijing definitely takes it to a whole new level. There are a ton of bikes on the roads, probably more so now due to the mandate from the Chinese government that its citizens can only drive either on odd or even days (an attempt to reduce air pollution during the Olympics).

Our first stop was the famed "Bird's Nest" stadium, the National Stadium for the Olympics. This is where the Opening Ceremony will take place, along with soccer and track and field events. It is really cool looking, especially at night. Next to it is the National Aquatics Center, which will host all of the swimming and diving events. It is covered in what looks like giant bubbles that light up and change colors at night.

We then biked a bit south to just north of the Forbidden City. In this area, we explored the hutongs and crescent-shaped Ho Hai Lake. We had dinner at a popular place on the water, enjoying the ambiance, people watching, and our delicious meal! Following dinner, we biked to the Forbidden City, where the torch relay performance rehearsal was taking place. Very exciting! There were several dancers and a huge stage was set up.

We then proceeded to Tiananmen Square, which has several large light displays and a fountain. There were hundreds upon hundreds of people there, most of whom were Chinese. We took several pictures and then began our two-hour journey home. Ruling and Hongyu's home is located northwest of the Square, so we got to pass through the Olympic Park again. We took several pictures of the venues and especially admired the lit-up Bird's Nest and Bubble Cube. We then biked home, making it there around midnight! What a full and fun day!

Monday, August 4, 2008


After our short visit to Chengdu, we flew east to Xi'an, home of the famed terracotta soldiers and capital of 13 dynasties.

Some highlights from our two-day visit:
  • Visiting the huge Drum and Bell Towers located opposite each other in the city center
  • Seeing the well-preserved City Wall surrounding the old imperial city
  • Walking around the Muslim quarter and trying local Muslim cuisine: plum juice, kebabs, and mutton soup with noodles and crushed bread
  • Visiting the terracotta army, which was constructed to protect the first emperor, Qin Shi Huang, after his death. He believed his reign would continue in the afterlife.
  • Climbing Big Goose Pagoda and Small Goose Pagoda

After a full two days in Xi'an, we departed for Beijing, the last leg of our trip! We were greeted in the new Terminal 3 of the Beijing Airport (the largest in the world) by Ruling Zhang and Hongyu Wang, our wonderful friends and hosts. We also saw some Olympic athletes, their friends, and family arrive in the same terminal! Olympic spirit is in the air, and everyone seems excited! New buildings, recently paved roads, beautiful flowers, helpful volunteers, colorful light displays, and visitors from around the world can be seen everywhere!

We will spend one week here and catch the first few days of the Olympics!

Friday, August 1, 2008

Baby pandas in Chengdu!

We are now in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province and the 4th largest city in China. We flew from Lhasa last night and will head to Xi'an later this evening. Earlier today we visited the Giant Panda Breeding Research Base, 10km north of the city. We saw baby pandas that are only 5 days old! So cute! They're about the size of a mouse and are pink with a thin coat of fine white fur. Their eyes are still closed and they spend a lot of time in an incubator when they're not with their mother.

Photo from Chinadaily.com

We also saw adult and 'sub-adult' pandas that are 1-5 years old. The park also has red pandas, peacocks, a beautiful lake with many swans, a panda museum, a panda art exhibit, and tons and tons of bamboo. Several of the pandas are in indoor air-conditioned cages because it's so hot and humid right now. When it's cool enough outside, they'll return to their large outdoor habitats.

In the few hours we have left before our flight leaves, we hope to visit Wenshu Temple (Chengdu's largest Buddhist temple) and perhaps Culture Park (near the city center). Till next time!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Conquering Everest

…or just Everest Base Camp. :) We left Lhasa on Saturday and traversed several hundred kilometers to the small town of Shegar, stopping by the town Gyantse to see the Pelkhor Chode Monastery and Tibet’s second largest city, Shigatse, where we spent the night. We also visited the impressive and large Tashilhumpo Monastery and the open-air market in Shigatse.

The drive to Shegar was gorgeous and looked like scenes that might be depicted in National Geographic. The landscape is different from the Amdo area as there are different minerals in the rocks and soil, and the area is at a higher elevation. Most of the passes we crossed on our way to Shegar were around 4500m. We didn’t feel any signs of altitude sickness aside from a headache, which is normal in higher elevations. We were told that our stay in Xining, which is at about 2300m, helped in our acclimatization process.

On the day of our visit to Everest Base Camp, we woke up around 7AM, quickly ate breakfast, packed up, and left for our destination! We drove about 3 hours to Everest Base Camp, also known as Quomolangma Base Camp. This is the Chinese name for Everest, and the Tibetan name is Chomolama. When we arrived at Base Camp, a thick layer of clouds hung over Everest, blocking most of the mountain. We sat and waited for quite some time, keeping our fingers crossed that the clouds would break and that the peak would be visible. After about an hour, our prayers were answered, and Everest’s peak peeked through a small hole in the clouds! We quickly took some pictures, and before we knew it, Everest disappeared once again behind its curtain of clouds.

On our return drive the sky continued to clear and we were able to view Everest from a distance and with minimal cloud cover! Giddy with excitement, we took several pictures, some of which can be seen if you click ‘Additional Photos’ to the right. We hear that the weather in this area is highly unpredictable, and we’re so thankful to have been able to visit Everest and see her peak!

We also visited a small monastery called Rongbuk, located near Base Camp. At about 5,200m, Rongbuk is the highest monastery in the world. We headed back to Lhasa, staying the night in Shigatse at the hotel we had stayed at two nights prior.