If you visit a country as exotic and distant as China, you have to travel as much as possible. After all, what are the chances you will have this opportunity again anytime soon? Granted, in this day and age, I will surely be able to make it happen again, but the trip is still expensive, and it would be silly not to make the most of it. I am traveling twice with my group from the US. The first trip was ten days long along the East coast, and just ended a few days ago. It was a lot of fun, as well as a necessary bonding experience that left me longing for the next one.
China has the largest population in the world. It consists of a little fewer than 1.5 billion people, which works out to be about 20% of the world's population. It is so big that the government instituted the infamous one-child policy on September of 1980, a few years after Mao's death. Now, over 33 years after the policy was put in place, China not only struggles with a huge population, but also with a gender imbalance that already began to prevent millions of men from forming a family.
Needless to say, the traffic is an absolute pain. Although only a small portion of the Chinese population own cars, the streets are perpetually busy. Jaywalking is the norm, but you should never cross the street before looking both ways a few times, because cars do not stop and wait for you to finish crossing. In fact, the streets of China are governed by the Law of the Big, with smaller vehicles giving way to bigger ones, leaving pedestrians with the only option of running across the street as soon as the opportunity strikes.
Although you would think biking would be easier than walking, I would beg to differ. Pedestrians refuse to move out of the way, and cars somehow end up in the bike lane and make it impossible to get anywhere. I went biking with a group of people a few days ago, and I almost died from fear. My anxiety was aggravated by a collision against a motorbike only a few meters from the starting place. The group I was with, however, was unaffected, and continued to rush me and Shirley (who is also a bounder) or threaten to leave us behind. We had no choice but to brave the cold and dangerous streets of Beijing.
Although I was already fearing for my life and freezing to death, I still had time to feel the exhaustion caused by the sudden stress I was putting on my body to keep going. The whole outing lasted from 1pm-8pm and consisted of about 5 hours of biking. Thankfully, those hours were broken apart by a few stops along the way.
One of the stops we made was to a place called Cat Coffee. The inside of the café was nice and clean and full of cats. Yup, that's right. Cats were casually laying around everywhere, walking on tables, and keeping costumers entertained. We got one vanilla and one chocolate milk tea to share, and finally took a break.
Our next stop was a few hu tongs away. We were unsure we could get there without a map, so we left Cat Coffee early to ensure our timely arrival. Of course, us having the luck that we have, we got there early and had about half an hour to kill. The building had broken windows and an overall creepy look that made my skin crawl. We walked along a deserted hu tong, bought some snacks, and headed back to our creepy destination. This destination I am referring to is a popular online game brought to life. Groups of friends are locked up in a room and given an hour to solve puzzles in order to get out.
I was pretty excited about the game at first, especially since I thought it was totally weird, but it was a huge disappointment. I had been expecting an adventure, like having to jump through lasers and such, but it was far from that. I was not much help since everyone was speaking Mandarin way to fast for me to understand anything. However, we (or they) were able to figure the passcode out, which meant we won! There was no prize, but we did get our photo taken, though I have no idea what they did with it. Oh, and in case you were wondering, the game cost about 50元, which is about $8.
We made it back home safely. The traffic died down a little, and Shirley and I became much more comfortable riding the bikes on the streets. At night, the bursts of fireworks and firecrackers made me jump up a little bit, but eventually, I got used to that as well. Overall, the day turned out to be fun, but extremely tiring. Walking up six flights of stairs to the apartment was also no fun since I was already pretty sore. Even today, a few days later, my arms and legs still hurt a little bit. I don't know if this is telling me that I should exercise more (probably) or that I should not ride a bike for hours again (definitely).
The Spring Festival 春节 is the most important festival in China. People living away from home return to their respective hometowns and spend the holiday with their family, sort of like Thanksgiving or Christmas in the West. It falls on the first day of the first lunar month, often a month after the regular New Year. Chinese New Year is highlighted by traditions which have been in place since the Shang Dynasty, many of which are still followed today.
Perhaps the jolliest of these traditions is the setting off of fireworks and firecrackers. The time I've been here has consisted of perpetual bursts of color and gunshot-like sounds coming from near and far. A long time ago, people set off firecrackers and launched fireworks to scare away the Nian（年), a mythical beast that appeared on New Year's Eve. Today, this tradition brings merriment to the Chinese as they gather together as a family to color up the sky. The red-colored lanterns that inundate the city during the holiday were also used as a means to drive away the Nian（年), and have now become a symbol of Chinese culture.
You don’t take a photograph, you make it.
There are no bad pictures; that's just how your face looks sometimes.