Saturday, March 27, 2010

My Favorite Place

Now we have come to my favorite place we visited in all of Syria and Lebanon: Bosra. It's - not surprisingly - a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are three different parts, of sorts. An amazingly, beautifully-preserved Roman ampitheatre, surrounding by a Crusader castle (also unbelievably well-preserved,) surrounded in itself by the ruins of the ancient town. You can see Roman columns and one of the oldest mosques still in use.

I felt like a kid, scrambling over stairs in the ampitheatre and creeping through dungeons (or what we imagined to be dungeons) in the castle. Everything about the place was gorgeous, and I was beside myself.

Well, having been built using the famed engineering skills of the Romans, the amphitheater, besides having its stage, seats, and stairs intact, also retains incredible acoustics. So fantastic and well-preserved is this amphitheater, that a music festival is held here every year, hosting such legends as Fairuz (seriously - this woman is the most famous singer in the Arab speaking world. She's in her 70s, but still retains her much-beloved voice. I hesitate to compare her to a Western singer, because there is no good comparison, but maybe think Cher, except with universal, all-age appeal and a much classier appearance. And a much more classical musical style.)

The two tiny figures sitting at the edge of the theater are Tyler and Mohammed.

In the castle, there is an area with a statue collection. This one is missing its head, making for a great photo op.

Out in the town, most of the ruins are made out of a black volcanic rock. The black ruins, set against the green ground and blue sky made for a beautiful sight.

Below is a link to a Youtube video of Fairuz, for anyone who is interested:lin

Monday, March 22, 2010

Syrian Roadtrip

One of our day trips was to both Krak des Chevaliers and Palmyra, which, if you'll look at a map of Syria, aren't exactly next door. In fact, they're in completely opposite directions from Damascus. One of Tyler's friends was kind enough to drive us to both places in the same day, making it one of the most memorable days of my time in Syria.

Palmyra, the site of some beautiful Roman ruins, was the first Roman ruins site I'd ever been to! All those years of studying Latin, but I'd never traveled to see anywhere in the former Roman Empire. Seeing Palmyra was an amazing experience for me, then. The ruins were amazingly gorgeous - I couldn't stop running back and forth, taking a million pictures.

Below are some pictures from Palmyra.

The Krak Des Chevaliers is a Crusader castle, and apparently one of the best preserved in the world. I know I'm getting spoiled - after Palmyra and the Krak and the other beautiful places we went, I'm afraid no other classical ruins will be able to compare.

Below are some pictures of Krak:

The last picture is of Tyler, his friend Mohammed (who did all the driving,) another friend Matthias, and I. I have my hood up, as it was extremely cold at the castle. Very windswept, as castles should be, I suppose.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Act III: Damascus

Before I continue writing about my travels, I have a message for all of you reading my blog: Chinese people are friendly, and would love to welcome you to their country. Haha, this message comes from my students. Each week in my writing class I have them do a free-writing on a random topic. Last week I asked them what story about China they would tell the world if they were an international reporter. I received lots of different responses, but the most common was some way of conveying that China and Chinese people are friendly and would love to be your friend. From my experience, this is quite true. Although, as I will soon explain, Syrians certainly give them a run for their money in the "friendliest people" competition.

Last I wrote of my travels, I shared some of my experiences in Beirut with Tyler. About 5 days into my time in Beirut, he finished his exams so we went to visit his friends in Syria. Tyler studied in Damascus for about 8 months, so he has good friends there that he visits often. This was when I discovered "Syria fun!", as his friends liked to say. There were varying degrees of English skill among his friends - I didn't speak a word of Arabic - so communication was difficult but amusing.

We did a lot of walking around Damascus, ate the most life-changingly delicious falafel (whose very existence, in my opinion, leaves no excuse not to be a vegetarian. You can, in fact, give up meat and still eat well,) and, well, ate some more. There is something very important you should know about Arab hospitality: it's marvelous. And not only that, but it involves feeding one's guests. A lot. I very much liked this brand of hospitality...

We did do some sight-seeing though, including the famous Umayyad Mosque. It's one of the holiest mosques in Islam, and it (supposedly) contains the head of John the Baptist. The mosque was beautiful, with amazing gold mosaics.

Also, as you can see in the pictures below, the floor is made of smooth marble. Lots of children played in the courtyard, sliding around on their socks. It made for good people watching.

We also went to a mountain overlooking Damascus to see the city lit up at night (where the fuzzy picture at the beginning comes from.) Tyler's friends, being the exceedingly friendly and hospitable people they are, insisted on driving us around to see various sights around Damascus and Syria. I'll share some more of those adventures soon.

I also got to couchsurf again! I can't say enough positive things about couchsurfing. Check it out!

Conclusion: Ignore the hoopla about "rogue states" and go visit Syria: home of fantastic falafel and the friendliest people on the planet. (Don't tell the Chinese.)

Thursday, March 11, 2010

We Interrupt This Broadcast

I just got back from Shanghai, for the billionth time. I call it my second home in China, and not in jest. I met two friends from UNC there, one who lives in Shanghai and the other who flew in from Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. We had a FANTASTIC time, despite the horrible weather (cold and rainy.) Among the many adventures we had: the Shanghai Literary Festival to hear Junot Diaz give a talk, the Shanghai Museum to see some incredible pottery (my weakness,) and a Southern restaurant for some great biscuits and blueberry pie. I kid you not- biscuits in China!

My schedule this semester is beyond wonderful - I only have class Wednesday-Friday, so I can easily travel on the weekends. My friends in Shanghai are going to grow sick of me before I even get the chance to actually move there.

Right now though, I'm back home in Quanzhou, planning classes and trying to stay warm. It was incredibly warm and humid until a few days ago, when the temperature dropped, and I started piling on the layers. I look like the Michelin Man as I putter around my apartment, but at least I'm warm.

Look for more posts from my travels soon!