Goodbye China, For Now

Haven't posted here for a while.  Right now I'm hanging around in Shanghai, staying at a hostel until we have to leave tomorrow.  How much I post after I return depends on how busy things get, I have one last semester of college and some job searching to do, though I do have at least one draft that I want to get to (not China related, and a very belated topic).  Anyway, I will be flying out of Shanghai tomorrow, and after what is sure to be a terrible travel experience given news of even more ridiculous security procedures coming our way.  I think if there is a Hell, my own personal version would likely be being eternally stuck in the international air travel system constantly switching between impossibly long flights and never reaching a destination.

But this time I'm sure I'll get home eventually.  See everyone there.

Hong Kong Wrapup

Sorry for the delay in updating. Last few days have been pretty busy. My last full day in Hong Kong was probably the best. Cherry very kindly took the day off to hang around. We went to the history and science museums and then to the Sun Yat-sen (孙中山) museum during the day, and then after dinner she and I and Summer and Lok Yan went to the Peak to take some pictures of the "night scenery" (夜景). Unfortunately my camera ran out and I had to use Cherry's for that day, so no pics until I can get them from her (or if you're following this on Facebook, she may have posted them).

The next day I took a bus to the Shenzhen airport and flew back to Hangzhou, and am now back safely in my dorm (and behind the GFW, unfortunately). I loved Hong Kong, but on the bus to Shenzhen I somehow felt much more comfortable once I was consistently seeing signs written in simplified characters.

General impressions of Hong Kong:

1) Big city. Hong Kong is definitely a large, international city. English is incredibly prevalent, and I saw many non-Chinese on the streets, not just Westerners but Filipinos and others. It also has the culture of a metropolis, as opposed to Hangzhou, which around the university at least feels very similar to Morgantown in some ways. Traffic patterns, both pedestrian and automotive, reflect this. (ex. I had to get used to actually caring a bit more about walk lights.)

2) Language. Mandarin wasn't very useful or necessary. In Hong Kong there are enough English speakers that a foreigner can almost expect to be greeted by restaurant wait staff, various service personel, and even people on the street in English. That isn't to say that everyone speaks English, but usually non-English speaking service workers will default to Cantonese, and won't think of speaking Mandarin to a foreigner, at least not unless it is specifically requested. Announcements are all trilingual, Cantonese, Mandarin, English, in that order -- though signs generally use Mandarin (written in traditional characters) usually paired with English or with romanized Cantonese pronunciations.

3) British influence. I saw bits and pieces of British influence throughout. Cars drive on the left side of the road, the coins some similarities to British coinage (I even saved an old one with a picture of the Queen on it), and I saw several signs referring to "King's XXX" such as King's Road (translations made this even more clear, using the term 英皇 -- literally "English emperor"). But I think at it's core Hong Kong really is a Chinese city, albeit with a unique colonial history and a measure of independence that set it apart.

In any case, I hope to be able to go back to Hong Kong some day and see some of the things I missed both through personal stupidity and lack of time.

Another Epic Sightseeing Fail -- and Victoria Park

So, as if I needed any more proof that I don't know what I'm doing by myself in Hong Kong, I had another very interesting and confusing day.  My intention was to go to Ocean Park and have some fun.  Unfortunately, despite getting on a bus that had a stop specifically labeled "Ocean Park", I was surprised when the bus suddenly reached the end of its route.  The best that two bus drivers could do is point in a certain direction, presumably suggesting that I walk.  (Note:  Despite what you will be told, do not assume that all service personnel in Hong Kong can speak English, a couple times I have run into people who spoke neither English nor Mandarin.)

Anyway, walking in that direction didn't take me to Ocean Park (I'm sure there was some way to get to it, as the drivers both repeated "Ocean Park" to me.), instead, I ended up in Victoria Park.  Ah, well, it was alright, and I did manage to get some nice pictures before my camera died.   I hung out for a couple hours there and then explored around until I came upon a subway station and decided it was best to go back to the hostel and rest a bit.

EDIT:  Friend of mine told me what I did wrong.  Apparently I went to the wrong MTR station.

Hong Kong: Getting There

OK, so first of all, my story of getting to Hong Kong.

Traveling alone probably wasn't the best idea.  Neither was flying into Shenzhen (深圳) to save money.  Yes, I saved about US$150 but between my flight being delayed over an hour and not knowing what to do when I got there, I could have easily gotten stuck.  Luckily I got out of it.  Here's how things worked out:

I got to Shenzhen airport much later than I expected, and when I tried to take a bus into Hong Kong, the map I got was not helpful -- again, travelling alone to a place you've never been can be an issue.  I tried to call Hong Kong only to discover that my Chinese cell phone can't call Hong Kong, and though I specifically asked the woman I bought a phone card from if it could call HK (the pay phones in the Shenzhen airport do not take coins), it did not.  I did manage to roust up one HK friend on MSN via airport WiFi, but he couldn't help besides tell me to take a train.  So what did I do?  First, I got a taxi:

Me: 地铁站 (Subway station)
Driver: 什么地铁? (Which one?) <list of place names I didn't understand>
Me: 最近的地铁。(The closest subway.)


That got me to the Shenzhen subway system.  From there I was able to find the route to 罗湖 (Luohu) station which is one of the entrance points into Hong Kong, go through customs and immigration (which were apparently in the middle of a big shopping center, was lucky in that I could follow the signs saying "to Hong Kong") and eventually got onto a train and navigated to Fortress Hill (炮台山) station, which I remembered was close to the hostel I had reserved.

All in all it took me about five hours longer to get into Hong Kong than I had planned, and I missed meeting one of my friends, but now I'm here for a few days, may as well enjoy things.  I'll do another post later on my impressions of the city.

Zhejiang University Impressions

Sorry for the delay. Between figuring out my internet and generally getting situated I've been slightly busy.


So far Zhejiang University (浙江大学) has made a pretty good impression on me. Despite a few hiccups in the registration and placement test, I've managed to get myself pretty much settled in. The quality of the dorms is fairly reminiscent of some of WVU's older dorms, and decently comfortable, and the restaurant in the international dorm has pretty good food (I haven't actually sampled the other cafeterias on campus, though from looking they seem to be similar to what I saw in Suzhou).


My main complaint is that as an international student, my whole world is basically in this one corner of the campus, and it's entirely too easy to just sit here the whole time and not go out and meet Chinese students, if you let yourself. That's not a huge problem, though, as I've been walking around on the main campus a good bit and been able to strike up some conversations, and it's not as if the international students here aren't interesting -- I have met some people from Spain, Australia, Japan, and a good number from South Korea. I'm hoping as time goes on there will be some events that include domestic students, and I have seen some potential opportunities starting to appear, more on that later.


Main Gate at Zheda

Zheda Main Gate by you.


International Student Dormitory

My Dorm by you.


The "supermarket" (超市) near my dorm

Campus Supermarket by you.


And of course ...

Who do you think by you.

... this area is right inside the main gate, you can't miss him.


Communication Status:


I have recently gotten my Internet working fully again. Most sites are accessible, and Flickr (which from reports had been blocked before) seems to be fully accessible, though Facebook, Twitter, and Wordpress.com are still unavailable without using some sort of workaround. I've been able to get Tor working, but it's very slow, so for people following this on Facebook, expect me to just check in once in a while, but not do too much there (having the new Facebook Lite interface is a help). Also, thanks for all the comments wishing me luck, sorry that I don't respond to them.


If you really need to contact me, the best ways are through my IM services (Skype, MSN, and QQ) or through email.



EDIT: Not two minutes after I posted this, Flickr was gone again. Meh. Could be just me, of course.

Update: Getting Ready to Go

Well, I haven't updated this for a long time, and I don't think anyone is following at all, but I thought I would make a post to say that I will be going to China very soon, and that means I will probably be posting somewhat regularly (Internet connection permitting) once I get there.  As it stands now, my plane leaves Pittsburgh on Friday morning and I will be arriving in Shanghai late at night on Saturday (late at night over in China that is).  Updates when I get to China.

Got my Shots

(Note: If you've traveled extensively, this post probably contains a lot of info you already know.  If you haven't traveled much, but plan to in the future, some of it might be useful.)

I got the results from my tuberculosis test today, negative as expected.  The TB test was part of a series of needles I had stuck into me Wednesday to make sure I had all the medical stuff I needed to travel.  The TB itself is mainly for China, since I will have a fairly long stay there -- the test is just a baseline, six weeks after I get back I'll have to take that test again to be sure I haven't contracted the virus.  In addition to the skin prick for TB, I got three vaccines:

Flu:  Parts of both Mexico and China are in the tropical regions, which have a year-round flu season.  The travel clinic had some left-over flu vaccine, so I decided to take it, but she told me that I should get another shot in China when this year's vaccine comes out.  This was also the least painful of the vaccines.

Hep-A booster:  Hepatitis A and B vaccinations are required for international travel.  I already had heb B before going to college, and I got the first round of hep A before going to China last year.   Now that I have the booster, I understand I should be covered for life.  I noticed that the hep A vaccine hurt more than the flu shot, I thought it used a higher gauge needle, but the doctor told me that it's just a heavier shot.

Typhoid:  You can find typhoid in both Mexico and China, but again, this is mainly for China, since it's an extended stay.  Typhoid is also recommended for "adventurous eaters" (I can be a tad adventurous, but not too crazy), and for rural areas (which I don't intend to visit all that much, at least for these trips).  There are two ways to get a typhoid vaccine -- the shot runs $60 and lasts two years, and the oral vaccine (taken every other day for seven days) costs about $40 and lasts five years, but it has to be refrigerated.  I don't have a refrigerator in the dorm, and I don't want to deal with having to remember to fill the prescription while I'm home during the summer, so I just got the shot this time.  This was the worst shot, made my shoulder a bit sore the rest of the day.  Not terribly bad, but when I renew in two years I think I'll go with the pills.

Well, that's all for the moment.

Where I'm going in 2009

So, since I've been starting to make arrangements, I decided I'd take a few minutes to post about my upcoming trips.  If you come accross this blog and don't know me personally, I am a Foreign Languages major at West Virginia University, studying Spanish and Chinese Studies.  That might seem a little odd, and the story of how that came about is somewhat interesting,but I'll leave that for another time -- I generally tell people that with English as my first language, this gives me the three most important languages in the world.

Anyway, I started this blog to post about two study abroad trips that I'll be taking this year.  The first one is to Guanajuato, Mexico (program page here), and it will be leaving May 9, meaning I'm hurrying to prepare for this one while at the same time studying for exams and working on final projects.  WVU has a number of exchange programs with la Universidad de Guanajuato.  This program is in there language school, which I'm told has a full range of courses from basic Spanish 101 up to advanced literature and culture courses.  I've already met several people from Guanajuato through exchanges and I'm very much looking forward to going there, partly because of friends there and partly because in three years of studying Spanish in the university (and a couple more back in high school), I have never been to a Spanish-speaking country or even to one of the predominantly Hispanic parts of the United States.  Mexico seems like a good place to start, close to home, I know people there, and it's the largest Spanish-speaking country in the world.

My second trip is to Hangzhou, China (中国杭州).  I'll be leaving in the fall to study there at Zhejiang University (浙江大学), one of the most prestigious schools in China, for a semester.  A semester study abroad is basically required for the Chinese Studies portion of my major.  I visited Hangzhou last year while studying on Suzhou (which is just to the north).  It's near Shanghai, and while we didn't stay long enough to get a good feel for the town, my first impression was that Hangzhou would be a good "home base" for a foreigner living in China for an extended period.  It's in a fairly rich area, very foreigner friendly with a tourist-oriented atmosphere, but not as big as Shanghai or Beijing.  The size is totally relative, though -- to me, as an American coming from a small town, what Chinese think of as a "town" is a big city to me.

Anyway, if I haven't bored you enough already, come on back and take a look when I have something more to publish.  I'm hoping to do another post before I leave to talk about some of the things I've been doing to prepare for my trips.  Until then see you.