Thursday, August 27, 2009

A Soft Landing in China

I did it! I made the jump across the Pacific to China, although I haven't quite reached my final destination yet. On August 12, a friend and I flew from Charlotte to Toronto (where I had my first - great - couchsurfing experience,) to Shanghai. One of my friends from studying abroad in Xiamen has been living there for a year, so she kindly offered us a place to stay the night. It was so wonderful to have a "soft landing." I was only supposed to stay for 2 nights, but because of some problems with my work permit, I ended up staying two weeks! (My friend and her roommate are saints for letting me extend my stay so long!)

It's been a really fun two weeks. I've gotten to see more of Shanghai, a city I loved from my brief visit here two years ago, and hang out with my friend. Not to mention watch a few episodes of Mad Men and other TV shows. I do love cheap Chinese DVDs. ;)

Most of my time has been spent in a district called the French Concession, as that is where my friend lives. I've seen People's Square, the Museum of Contemporary Art, and a lot of interesting things right on the street-side - like the Bird, Fish and Insect Market, or the street vendors selling delicious peaches. Nothing is ever boring in China! There is a lot of construction here right now, in preparation for the World Expo. In the picture below you can see the remnants of the sidewalk along the street where I've been staying.

Meet 海宝 (Haibao,) the mascot of the 2009 Shanghai World Expo:

(I think he's supposed to be the sea personified, or something of that sort.)

Shanghai has lots of great, ultra-modern architecture, mixed in with old European style buildings. For example:

Cross your fingers for me that my Chinese improves greatly while I'm here. Currently, my Chinese is TERRIBLE. I can order food like a pro (Would I like it to go? Yes, please. With rice? Of course.) But everything else? Nada. My friend had someone come to install a shower curtain rod while I was there during the day, and I was no help at all. Do I know the word for…:



Extension cord?




Anything at all useful?


Haha, luckily the gentleman was VERY patient.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Europe, Abridged

Amanda and I had a fantastic trip to Europe. We visited Berlin, Copenhagen, Oslo, Stockholm, and Prague. Berlin hadn't originally been included in our trip, but it was cheapest to fly in there. It was lucky for us though, as it ended up being our favorite city! It seemed like there was something going on around every corner, like the flea markets on Sundays with impromptu outdoor karaoke sessions, or the couchsurfing meeting that we were invited to. (More on couchsurfing later.) We had a great time in every city though, so I apologize for condensing it all into one small entry.

Highlights from each city:

Berlin: amazing graffiti, delicious food

Copenhagen: riding bikes to the beach, a cathedral converted into an art museum

Oslo: Lysefjord, the Oslo Live music festival

Stockholm: amazing subway art, Nobel museum

Prague: free walking tour with introduced us to Prague's incredible history

To illustrate, I've chosen a few of the best pictures:

Couchsurfing, by the way, is a website ( that connects travelers with places to stay with locals. So if someone has an extra couch or guestroom, they can host travelers. It's a great way to meet really interesting people! On my way to China, I tried it with a friend of mine on our layover in Toronto, and we had such a positive experience. We stayed with the most generous couple there. Given that the alternative was sleeping at the airport, it wasn't hard for the night to be a success, but we had such a wonderful time.