Saturday, August 12, 2017

A Series of Unfortunate Events

If you ever think to yourself, “hey, I think it’ll be rad to travel to this random city on my own where no one speaks English and try to figure things out without having any service/wifi on your phone”, you should probably rethink your plans…. Let’s just start from the very beginning.

In order to get to Beijing, I had to buy a train ticket from the station in Zibo. Initially, it looks like I could just send in an email and get it, but that didn’t seem to work out. So, I took the long and hot walk over to the train station and stood in line. Little did I think about how I was going to convey which ticket on which day and what time I wanted. Let’s just say, I very much did not look through a lot of obstacles. Anyways, so I’m at the train station and PRAISE, there’s a Chinese guy that speaks PERFECT English. I seriously could not have been any more fortunate. I told him want I wanted, but within the time I looked up the ticket and when I bought it, the one I wanted was sold out. Therefore, I was left with the cheap train ride leaving at 5am that lasted 8hrs instead of 2hrs, but hey, I got to Beijing eventually. The whole time though, I was nervous about possibly missing my stop. Luckily, I got off at the right place, after sitting for an entire 8hrs either sleeping, or doing word/number problems.

My troubles began right from the start. Getting off the train, I had absolutely no idea how to leave the train station. It was outdoors and encompassing a huge part of the town. I didn’t know where the station ended and the city started. After walking for a bit, I jumped in a cab (who overcharged me by wayyyy too much). I had the address written out in Chinese and showed it to him. However, he still somehow took me to the wrong street. I got out regardless because it would’ve been too difficult to somehow convey to him that it wasn’t right. So after that overpriced cab ride, I then went walking and walking. I was advised on which bus to take so I hopped on. Turns out, it took me way out of the way. I stayed on it for a minute trying to figure out my best route. The money collector lady on the bus told me which buses I needed to take, and they were like … long-time buses. I was confused about that. I got off, and went walking again.

Yes, this whole time, I have my purse, my overstuffed backpack, and my Pooh Bear pillow pet. Because I was in a different province, my SIM card that First Leap gave me wasn’t working. So I didn’t have operating phone service. Fast forward to three miles of walking later… The Super 8 hotel which I booked (and already paid for) wasn’t in the location that it said it was in. I went back and forth along the street trying to find it and was unable to. I asked different officials on the roads trying to figure it out. We then realized that it was actually more than an hour drive away. So, the website was wrong.

I continued to walk around aimlessly trying to find somewhere to stay. I found a different Super 8 and was trying to see if I could transfer my reservation to there. My phone was at 5% and I still didn’t have a plan. Luckily, they had wifi and I was able to connect and contact my parents back home. They then called to see if this Super 8 had any openings. They were all booked. They found a different Super 8 that was 4 miles away and booked me a room. I had one of the workers write the hotel down in Chinese so I could hand it to my driver. Finally, I had a plan! Or so I thought….

I made it to the new Super 8. They didn’t have my reservation. They couldn’t find it. Neither could I speak Chinese nor them English. After over an hour of trying to figure out where my reservation was (with my dad on the phone with the Super 8 supervisor), we discovered that they couldn’t find it because they refuse to service foreigners. Yea, you read that right. Straight of refuse. Because they don’t accept foreigners, they weren’t able to accept my reservation, even though I got an email saying that it was confirmed. Racist humans.

Because of this whole misunderstanding, Super 8 said to just find any random hotel for the night and they would reimburse us. Alright, sweet deal, right? Wrong. Now the problem was finding a hotel that wasn’t entirely booked and that would accept me as a foreigner. I walked around trying every hotel I could see (and believe me, there were a lot). None of them were available. After loads of trekking throughout town (still with the massive backpack), I finally found a Sheraton hotel that would accept me. Had I had to pay for it by myself, the price was WAYYYY out of the question. But since Super 8 was paying (because they messed up), why not take it?

All of the workers at the Sheraton were able to speak English. I was granted my own double twin room with a stellar bathroom, shower, and tub. The first thing I did when I arrived was went straight to the shower. They even provided every toiletry needed, as well as a verrrry comfortable bathrobe.

After arriving to Beijing at 2:30, I finally was able to rest in my very comfortable Sheraton bed at 11pm. This definitely was not how I was planning to “take in the city” on my first day here. Fortunately, my tour the next day was scheduled and looked like it would all go perfectly well! (Next post will be about The Great Wall and The Forbidden City). Yes, I know this was a long post, but it was an incredibly long day of unfortunate events. Moral of the story: Don’t book the cheapest hotel, always have an extra phone battery, appreciate your parents, and don’t go alone to an unknown place with an unknown language and no map. 

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Escape to the Oceanside

Alright, well, I lied. I said I was only going to have one more post of my experiences in China. But, there's absolutely NO WAY that is going to happen. Y'all who know me know that I often have a lot to say. Since I'll be traveling to three places, I have three adventure stories to share, which means three more blogs

I have never realized how much I've missed the blue skies until I finally went without it. Even living in the Seattle area my whole life, I saw more of the sun and sky there than I do here in Zibo. I was grateful for the chance to head east over to Qingdao, which is on the ocean (technically, it's the China East Sea). 

It was about a 3hr drive to the beach. Naturally, I slept most of the way because 1) it was not a short car ride... and 2) I was in a car with Chinese speakers, of which I couldn't really communicate nor understand the conversations that were happening. I figured sleep was the best alternative. Anyways, once we finally got to Qingdao, we headed straight to the beach. Unfortunately, it was raining hard and the sun wasn't shining. However, it was still quite warm outside and the beach was still crowded with people. So, we figured, why not? Off we went into the sea with the pouring down rain. I think eventually it let up, but I didn't even notice. It was such a fun time. 

Coco had only ever been to the water one time, and it was years ago. She doesn't know how to swim and she was slightly (okay, incredibly) scared to get passed her knees in the water. In time, I encouraged her to get out more, but what really did the trick was that her husband bought us a couple of tubes to float in. With that, we headed into the deep and let the waves crash down on us. She was like a little kid on Christmas morning. I really enjoyed my time mainly because she was having such a blast. After a bit, I taught her how to float. It took some time, but soon she was able to float on her back all on her own. It made the idea how being in the water less scary knowing that she could float. 

That night, we got together with the rest of Coco's family and had dinner together. Sooooo much food! I tried something. It was nasty. But I tried it. And I'm proud of myself. So, first of all, I'm definitely not a seafood eater and I know nothing about it. But you know how you eat clams? Apparently, people eat mussels, too. Coco gave it to me, and I ate it. Yea, definitely NOT a fan. Never again. But hey, I tried it. Success.

The next day, we spent the entire morning and afternoon at the Polar Ocean World. It truly was incredible. We saw penguins, polar bears, and dolphins... Oh my! I had never seen a polar bear before. It was cute; it was swimming back and forth up against the glass that we were looking through. The weather was insanely hot today. The sun was out and we were baking. We wished that the two days were switched (hot on the beach day and rainy on the park day). But it was still fun, even though we were outside in the hot hot sun hours on end.

Which leads into... We went to animal shows! We saw the dolphins perform and they were the cutest thing! Anyone who knows me knows that my greatest wish is to swim with dolphins; I was loving every second of it. They were jumping and flipping and hula hooping, and it was amazing. There was also a beluga whale that performed. He was a smart one. Then we went to see the sea lions, who were just hilarious. They really do do the clapping of their fins and laughing sound. They were bouncing around and catching hoops. Lastly, the walrus came out and was just a lazy bum. All of the shows were in Chinese and so I didn't fully understand what was happening, but from how the walrus was responding,  I knew it was something funny. 

After the park, we drove back to Zibo. Remember how it was only 3hrs getting to Qingdao? It tooks nearly 7hrs to get back home. It was a LONG drive. I slept for most of it (of course). It was definitely a fun trip to Qingdao!