Getting home during Covid-19

By now, we are all likely to be in the same boat regardless of where we are currently calling home. Everyone is presumably stuck inside and doing classwork through computers with our pj’s on, no makeup, and very little motivation to do any of it. But please keep doing exactly that, stay home for all of our sakes.

Computer laying on bed.

Since I last wrote, many things have changed. For starters, I am home in the states, a place I wasn’t planning on seeing for two years and now I am back trying to find normalcy in the most none normal of times in my generations life time. Having been a very independent person since birth, mixed with my studies abroad and living on my own, coming home and being forced to stay in with hiking trails and the like shut down hasn’t been the easiest.

I, of course, am beyond lucky to have a healthy family near by even if I can’t visit them and a roof over my head with a mom whom I love dearly, it can just be a little overwhelming at times, haha, but the majority of the world is in the same shoes so I can’t complain. Plus, it is a relief to be home rather than stuck elsewhere.Girl and her mother.

Getting home was stressful to say the least. It took around a month of wanting and trying for me to get home, which I have to thank Linfield for all of the credit. I had a gut feeling really early on that school wouldn’t be opening up in a few days or weeks after the outbreak in Italy happened. There was simply no logical way that it would be possible, even though my university and classmates were sure the “problem would resolves quickly”.

So while I headed to France to quarantine with one of my roommates, I knew I wanted to come home and not be stuck in Europe if borders started shutting down, which as we all know, they did. But, I wasn’t going to come home just to return to Italy for a week of exams in a few months and then have to find somewhere to live for a month and then move to an internship somewhere in Europe as well, all while a pandemic was hitting the world… not an ideal situation to say the least.

While waiting for word in France if classes would be moved to online, I tried to see if I could take my exams back home with a proctor at Linfield, however the responses I received were very straight to the point that I would not be allowed to do that, even though the US had sent our travel restrictions and told its citizen to not travel to/in Italy. So on top of quarantining boredom, my optimistic happy self continued to disappear with every email interaction.

For my reality, I didn’t have a place to live. I was quarantining with my roommate in her holiday home on the coast of France, but they were in the middle of selling it so we couldn’t stay there for long and I knew she hadn’t lived at home for a few years and was really not wanting to return. So as the days got closer to the end of our two week period, my stress level was just continuing to rise with the rain levels outside.

The internship that I was planning to do in the summer said I could go there early to work and live, but after having a bad experience with living at my internship in Portugal the thought of being stuck at a winery in the middle of the country without being able to leave for months did not sound like a good idea for my mental health, but was really the only option I had until I messaged Linfield and was completely open and honest with my concerns and feelings regarding the matter. My mind fixated on the idea that the internship would be the same situation it was in Portugal and, while it is more likely that it wouldn’t be, I wanted to come home.

I got an email a few days later from my European University saying that Linfield requested I come home and that they had to oblige since the schools are now partners. THANK YOU LINFIELD. Waking up to that email felt like I was able to breath for the first time in a while, I was beyond relieved. So when our two weeks were up in France (11 hour car ride from Italy) we drove some more to my roommates family home where they welcomed me with open arms. The sun started coming out more and while we were still mostly isolating and self distancing ourselves, we were able to enjoy some walks to nearby vineyards and she gave me the tour of her city, tours, and traditional French food. I had eaten vegetarian for the past month but that quickly disappeared as I was introduced to all the meats of the region.

French food

My large suitcase hadn’t fit in the car with us while we left Italy, so my other roommate who had decided to stay in Italy longer, had it in her car. But when school was switched to online she left Italy to quarantine in the south eastern part of France, and I was in the north west of France, so after literally hours on the phone we found a way to ship my suitcase (it was way more difficult than you would imagine) and after spending a week in Tours, I left for Paris where another friend of mine lives and a flight home.

Belongings from a suitcase in a small room.

My original flight kicked me off of the flight because I had recently been in Italy and while I got another ticket, I was worried the same thing would happen again and again. My stress level never went away. But, the nice thing about getting kicked off the first flight was that I had more time to spend in Paris. I wore a scarf around my face riding the buses and trains or when surrounded by a lot of people to help train myself not to touch my face. I got a lot of stares but I couldn’t have cared less. But I was in Paris, there were no restrictions at that point and by golly I was going to visit the Eiffel Tower.

Student with the Eiffel Tower in the background.

Now at this point I had a lot of pent up emotions of all sorts imaginable which may have had something to do with it, but as I walked around Paris and got the first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower, I couldn’t contain any of it any longer. There in front of me stood a structure that somehow solidified all of my little girl dreams and desires while standing as a symbol for having reached them as well; I balled the happiest tears of my life. In all of the chaos and sadness happening in the world, that may have been one of my happiest moments.

But the day hadn’t started happy, I didn’t think I would be able to enjoy it at all and even questioned making an attempt. I woke up in the middle of the night at my hotel to the strongest cigarette smoke coming through the vents and around 25 messages asking if I would be able to come home and if I had seen Trump’s announcement.

no??? hello more stress

It was 3 am and I was confused. But then I started reading the headlines and what people were sending me. At that point there was no word if US citizens were exempt from the travel restrictions, and I was scrambling trying to find more information. After a stressed/teary/tired phone call with my mom we decided that since my plane was arriving in the states on Friday (the day it was starting to be enacted) that I should be fine since I would have already landed. So still stressed, I took some melatonin and tried to get some sleep.

My new flight itinerary had me fly into Ireland and stay there for a night before I could get on a plane that would take me to the states. And while it didn’t allow me time to enjoy Ireland I got a room in a nice hotel for the night, had some nice wine, and woke up to an Irish rainbow outside my window and I was one step closer to home and one stress level down from the day before.

Girls in a glass elevator.

After a full security pat down search from a red headed Irish man, only to decide it was my earrings that set off the alarm, and a look through all my carry on luggage that had been placed together like a puzzle, I was through security and enjoyed an early lunch with a beer at 11 a.m. and I don’t even like beer in the slightest but it was Ireland and frankly, I deserved it haha. Then 30 minutes before I was supposed to start boarding, there was an announcement for all US directed flight passengers to do additional screening on the other side of the airport. YAY… In short, I made it because our plane had electrical issues and was delayed. Still stressed.

Border check point at the airport in Dublin, Ireland.

I landed in Chicago, and while the airport was insane I was there at the right time. The pictures there a few days after me were INSANE and oh my gosh was I happy to have flown when I did. I was originally told I didn’t need to go out of security and that I would just need to get my next boarding pass at the gate but that ended up not being true because in order to get to the other terminal, I had to take a shuttle which required the boarding pass. So… I had to go all the way out just to turn around and come right back in again with not very much time in-between. I’m obviously home, I made it, but I sincerely feel for everyone who flew into the states or anywhere for that matter after I did.

So now I am home, behind in my school work unable to concentrate typing this instead, hoping everyone is safe, healthy, and not visiting with friends. My roommate, whom I stayed with in France, picked up her grandma from the hospital (not Covid-19 related) and have both been now confirmed to have Covid-19 and are not doing well, lets keep others in mind.

Emma

終り (FIN)

Hi!

To start, a really good song to understand my current situation is Frank Sinatra’s “That’s Life.” 

Okay! Welcome! As you might have guessed, today’s blog will be about all of the things you can do INSIDE while corona runs rampant in your city.

First! You can drastically change your sleep schedule. My take on this is that when you can turn off all of your alarms and just sleep until you naturally wake up, DO IT! The only downside is that if you stay up late one night you will wake up at 5pm — but hey! cheers to 15 hours of sleep 🙂

Friends, Tyler and Tim, at our last dinner together
A few of my friends, Tyler and Tim at our last dinner together 🙁

Second! You can set health goals and ACTUALLY achieve them! For example, I am learning to do the splits within the month, and learning how to dance (not tiktok, no disrespect but I can’t look at another tiktok dance again), and learning more Japanese and French 😀 CAN YOU TELL I’M BORED???

Fun fact! When I started this post I was in Japan, living my best life with some of my best friends avoiding the impending doom (reality) that is Corona. That very evening, all of our bubbles were popped very quickly and without remorse (I understand the rationale I am just stating this for dramatic flair, I appreciate everyone who has helped and supported me throughout this — shoutout IPO). Long story short I packed up and left Japan two days after I thought I convinced my dad to stay, but alas, I had to depart.

All of the international students at the last gathering.
All of the international students at the last gathering with all of us there ***who’s cutting onions???***

To quickly describe why it hurt so much: I have learned that a semester abroad is a lot like a vacation. You learn a lot, but at the end of the day you’re still trying to absorb information as quickly as you can, still holding a veil over most of the “bad” because you’re so entranced by the “good.” With a year abroad, the sense of urgency isn’t there. The exchange is a walk rather than a run, you’re more willing to stop and smell these flowers because you know you’ll get to the next flower patch in two weeks time.

Your relationships are deeper and more solidified because when you’re staying in a dorm like I was, these people become who you see everyday. Who you cry more with, who you have more inside jokes, you stay up all night to watch the sunrise more with these people that are now your family. All of this was heightened because of Corona. All in-bound exchanges were canceled to AGU so it was just the same people in the dorms — kind of bad it you want to meet new people all the time, but I was okay with it because I was able to strengthen my relationships. Acquaintances were now people that you cooked with every day, laughed with, went to onsens together to become the “naked buddies” (they are the best group of girls I could be around haha).  I guess, in a way, it became a mixed-gender Greek house? I don’t usually support Greek life, but if it’s like this then I get why people do it.

I’m hurting because the day I found out I had to go home was the best day of the semester. I was with all of my friends saying goodbye to “season 1,” and celebrating the coming adventures of “season 2.” It was like a bucket of water over my head. I was going home after four of my friends, and then myself, and then two other would follow, and at the time of me writing this, Tokyo has an impending lock-down and everyone might be going home immediately. My family says “I got out before the worst of it” and I agree with them. But just because I agree doesn’t mean that my chest doesn’t ache.

family photos of us Facetiming playing catchprase together.
I have been FaceTiming my family from quarantine to play catchphrase together for the past 4 days of my isolation (there are fewer than 10 people)

The hardest part is talking to everyone and not wanting to lie when they ask “are you happy to be home.” I know I may be entitled and sound like I don’t understand the severity of the situation, but I think it’s okay to understand the truth of the situation and still hurt.

So as I am no longer in Japan this will be my last blog. I’m sorry I’m not a ray of sunshine in every post like Korea, but I’d like to think I’ve become a bit more observant. That being said, it was lovely to write for you, I am extremely privileged to do what I have done and I hope you enjoy your experiences traveling.

Sometimes I think I lost out on a lot of Linfield connections and missed out of the “power of a small college” experience, but if that’s what’s holding you back from seeing the world then,  know that Linfield is a forever kind of thing, the friends you make there are a forever kind of thing, and it would be unfortunate if you didn’t want to go make some forever kind of friends internationally. You’ll help make Linfield and yourself better that way. Grow the understanding of our community. And Linfield is so unique in the opportunities it provides. Go travel by yourself, feel alone, and then feel the creation of community. It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever experienced.

My one last bit of advice is to just go experience things. Waiting for the “right” experience isn’t going to help because you’re going to miss every other crazy thing with your tunnel vision.

Oh, and SOCIAL DISTANCING WILL SOLVE A LOT OF PROBLEMS DON’T BE INCONSIDERATE!

Over and out,

Isis.

p.s. seek discomfort 🙂

Coronavírus in Italy

You know how sometimes when life is going beyond perfect and every moment has the equivalent feeling to a summer drive with the windows down, hair blowing in the wind with music blasting over the radio? Yeah you know what I’m talking about… that was Italy.

Girl standing in front of the Duomo in Milan, Italy.

Thanks to Lizzie McGuire growing up and Under the Tuscan Sun until I die, I’ve dreamt of Italy for a very long time. I’m happy to report the short two-week introduction I got did not disappoint. I had a nice apartment with a beautiful room all to myself that let sunlight in nearly all hours of the day, I bought a succulent to keep on my windowsill, did yoga in the warm glow, liked my roommates, loved the food, had just bought a bike, and was absolutely loving my class lecture topics. My mom had just bought her plane ticket to come visit, and my sister was planning to buy hers the next week. It all felt like a summer evening until class was being shut down for 2 days, then a week, and now in the second week due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Now before this starts sounding too serious, just know I’m laughing while writing this because I just can’t get over how crazy these past months have been and regardless of all the not-so-good things I’ve had to deal with, I’m still having the best year. I know looking back at this time of my life in a few years will be a complete hoot.
We were located in the middle of Northern Italy in a city called Piacenza which is right below were Europe’s largest outbreak of the virus had started, and it of course spread fast putting 11 cities into lockdown with the infected count in the thousands and fatalities starting to add up. Now I am well aware that influenza kills more people every year and I am a young and healthy individual; I am not concerned with contracting the virus for my personal health reasons, but it is now a pandemic and I am, however, not okay with the responsibility I would hold spreading it to others… especially the elderly, and there were a lot in my apartment building, all over Piacenza and Italy.
Girl in her room with all her luggage.
We were told to leave Italy and to quarantine for 2 weeks, so here I am in France bored out of my mind doing just that. Even though I’m pretty certain I don’t have it, I certainly wasn’t going to be known as the “dumb American who brought it with her to France”. So, the past week and a half has consisted of sleeping, waiting for news, eating, waiting for news, daydreaming, waiting for news, not wanting to study, and more waiting for news in my roommate’s holiday home.
Repeat, repeat, repeat…
School is supposedly supposed to start back up this Monday in Piacenza, which means these 2 weeks will have been for nothing. The US State Department sent out a travel advisory through a program called STEPS for US citizens to retrieve travel news and so your whereabouts are known. In short, they’ve put Italy at a level 3 and 4 threat level and are saying not to travel to and through Italy. US schools have brought back their students and terminated their spring and summer terms abroad in Italy. But my situation is a little tricky since I am also getting a master’s degree while being a study abroad undergraduate student through Linfield.

Linfield was relieved when I told them I was in France, as was my mom. And neither of them want me returning to Italy.

 

I’ve asked if an online option could be available for me if classes continue in Italy after receiving the news from the US government and while I have not received any clear news, the three options I think the school is deciding on are:
1) Classes in Italy
2) Classes in France at their Angers campus where my third term is located
3) Classes online
Going back to Italy simply sounds ridiculous to me since it’s the hotspot of the virus and wherever we go we could unknowingly be giving it to other people. It means that if my classmates travel home to France on the weekends, they could be giving it to their families. There is no hand sanitizer or masks for sale in Italy anymore. I don’t have Wi-Fi, so I haven’t been looking at the news but last I heard Trump was considering canceling all flights from Italy to the US and the Schengen countries were talking about border control. Which means if that were to happen, my roommates and majority of the class would be able to go home easily but I wouldn’t have priority or special reasoning to leave and would be stuck.
Now I am really good at going with the flow and making whatever situation I’m presented with work, it’s probably one of my better traits, but being stuck in a foreign country no matter how romantic and dreamy Italy is… doesn’t sound like much fun to me.

I’ll hopefully hear some more concrete news soon, but until then, sending my love and healthy thoughts from the west coast of France! (We got out of the house one day to see the beach)

Looking out over the ocean on the west coast of France with a large white house and tree in the foreground.Student's journal about France.Girls hand wearing a ring with the ocean and rocks in the background.

Emma

Let’s Talk Corona

Hey, Hey, Hey,

I’m in my room! Again! How fun!

So this won’t be long, it’s just a brief update on the happenings of Coronavirus.

Okay so, coronavirus is in Japan (obviously) and there are (I think) over 800 cases and counting. “Scary!” you say, “why don’t you come home?” you follow with. In response, I simply don’t want to. I am personally unconcerned. I think the panic in the United States is both laughable and concerning because all it’s doing in the US (and internationally) is allowing people to be racist, and the panic is causing more problems than solving them.

*GASP* “I am not racist! I have a friend who’s Asian.”

Chill homie, I’m not calling YOU racist, I’m calling your discriminatory actions racist. If you’re in the US you have great (extremely expensive) healthcare and most importantly, most Americans just have ACCESS to healthcare professionals. Anyone can have corona, just because it started in Wuhan doesn’t mean you need to be rude to anyone who looks Asian (this isn’t just a rant, this is happening to my friends). The coronavirus is a flu. You can’t eradicate it, but you can be healthy.

Here is Japan I am unconcerned because:

  • I have had swine flu before. Was bad, don’t want to do it again, but I figured it out.
  • I am a healthy person. Try eating healthier, getting lots of rest, I cannot stress the importance of hydration enough, and working out.
  • The onsens here are genius for preventing illness. You just go to the hot pools or rooms and burn any diseases away

Over the weekend, the Japanese government asked people to stay inside so they could do an extra count of cases, but that genuinely did not stop anyone and everyone from taking that as a “the world is burning down” and bought all of the toilet paper and ramen.

As a side note, I kind of like Japanese panic. If you just came here as a tourist, you would never think that people are becoming concerned. Because there’s this idea that people need to be polite here, there is rarely any verbal exclusion. With that, I’ve talked to a woman who’s in her sixties and she says it’s worse for her. Older people have a higher rate of getting coronavirus (and men are more likely to die — there’s a fact for ya), and this woman said that she coughed on a bus (she was wearing a mask) and someone in front of her got up and moved away. Now, that was just her situation, and I haven’t coughed in public in a while, but I’ve noticed more discrimination towards Japanese people from Japanese people than any other demographic.

just briefly on masks, there are two schools of thought:

“WEAR A MASK ALL THE TIME IF YOU DON’T YOU DIE” and

“masks don’t do anything for corona so why would I even bother?”

Choose your fight folks! Don’t be discriminatory (no matter where you’re from) and please be healthy.

Until next time,

Isis

Finale of Road Trip and an Impromptu Best Friend Appreciation Post

Okay everyone I have to be up in three hours and you need some information so let’s go!


2 students driving on the way to Yamanash in the car. Marina was passed out in the back seat.
Us extremely tired on the way to Yamanashi, and the last photo of us in the car.

To finalize my road trip let’s start with Yamanashi. Getting to Yamanashi from Tottori was really crazy because it was supposed to be a 7-8 hour drive that quickly turned into late night, sleep deprived chaos. This all began with Emi’s car navigation malfunctioning and taking us the wrong way for four hours. The way the road trip has been informally structured is that two people will sleep at a time so everyone is rested (that’s not exactly followed all the time). Emi and Marina figured this out and switched to phone navigation, but when we switched drivers with an hour and a half left to go we didn’t communicate and turned the phone navigation off and fell asleep (mind you we’re still on two hours of sleep). We woke up in Kawasaki, 20 minutes away from Emi’s house and 2 hours away from our hostel.

A bowl of food in the foreground, and two girls eating behind it.
Make sure you come hungry because there’s so much food for each person you can barely finish it.

We then had to turn around and drive all the way back to Yamanashi where we almost got hit by a truck (long story) and were put in potentially dangerous, vehicle-involving near incidents along the way. Aside from this, I have been reading a spiritual self-help book that Emi brought, and all of us have been practicing living in the Now. Now meaning our every moment, and living life where if we decide that we are going to be lazy (for example) you are fully lazy and not lazy but also thinking about what you should be doing. Do something or don’t; and if you can’t do it then, don’t bother thinking about it because it’s interrupting your current ability to enjoy everything you are doing in the moment. It has kind of been the theme of this trip which I really appreciate and am glad to have brought into my life.

Picture of mountain with trees and a building in the foreground.
Same view from my previous post about Yamanashi but this time Fuji-san is not shy.

If you remember from one of my first posts, we took Alecia to the same place I went last time where you can see Fuji. Unlike last time where it was cloudy, this time the sky was quite clear and it was easy to see Fuji-san at the temple and everywhere we went. Afterwards we went to an onsen to see Fuji outside and relax which we managed to do for three hours (super relaxing, I am addicted to onsens as in I’m going tomorrow). Then we went to eat houto, a flat, udon like noodle with lots of veggies, where we all got food babies and then drove home to Emi’s house. I finally got to meet Emi’s family which was so fun and explained so much about who Emi is as a person, and met her dog ichi-go (15, whose name both means strawberry and the discounted price they got him at lol) and prepared to take Alecia to the airport at 4 a.m.

Now on to Alecia.

Image of two girls holding s'mores in front of an open computer.
The first night Alecia came to Japan we ate s’mores in Emi’s apartment

To start, I forgot a lot of the good Linfield has done for me. Sometimes it’s hard to study abroad because your head is so full of what you don’t have at home rather than what you have. Amongst the Linfield community there are about five people I see taking with me throughout the rest of my life and one of those is Alecia. Alecia and I are both the same and total opposites. We have the same morals and beliefs but different approaches, and even when we’re agreeing we still manage to argue. But as a whole Alecia makes me a better person, reminds me of who I am, and always pushes me to change for me and no one else. She has quickly become one of my greatest supporters and vice versa, and having her in Japan made me realize the importance of having someone like Alecia around. I’ve realized that while I have had an amazing time and met truly some of my best friends for life, it is so important to have the people you love around you.

Two girls standing in Shibuya Crossing with people crossing the street behind them.
I personally think Shibuya crossing is overrated, but the best part of this photo is Alecia running into someone directly after haha.

It was interesting bringing both of my worlds together and seeing how they fit, understanding the chaos of my best friend and how that matches with my own. Alecia being here reminded me of the importance of taking pictures (even though she hates them) because you want to save precious memories, the thrill of seeing a country for the first time, the nervousness of traveling alone — I had to FaceTime her at the station while she was in Ikebukuro trying to find her way to her hostel and talk her down from crying, and she then returned the favor when I broke down in a Starbucks because of how overwhelmed I felt by life. I have learned that while I don’t cry in front of a lot of people, I can cry in front of Alecia. She brings stability to unstable situations, and although she doubts herself I think she’s perfect at being in foreign countries.

As I am writing this, as it is now tomorrow, Alecia is currently waiting for the counters to open at the airport. She goes off on her own study abroad journey today. Saying goodbye was really hard for Emi, Marina and I, but we left each other with the understanding that we will see each other in Alaska, as it’s now Alecia’s turn to show us her home.

Four friends smiling and gathered around a table.
The four of us at Takoyaki. Zeno was really nice and bought it for us. This was also right before Zeno went backpacking in South America 🙂

While Alecia was here we had many interesting conversations about how she felt to be in Asia. Alecia and I share a similar relationship with identity, as I grew up feeling like I didn’t fit into either the stereotypical lives of “fully” black or “fully” white families, and Alecia is ethnically Asian but grew up within a predominately white community and therefore feels like she’s not Asian enough. This changed my perception of my own ability to walk through Asia, as the treatment the two of us received was very different: she would be spoken to in Japanese and me English immediately, and the look on people’s faces when she responded in English was very insightful to immediate perceptions (not to sound accusatory but it is just interesting to see how Alecia adapted to that).


Actual adventures with Alecia:

Three friends standing under a large, red lantern.
Marina, Alecia, and I at Senso-ji.

I break down Alecia’s visit in three different parts, one for each week. First we have our adventures with Emi and Marina at Emi’s apartment. This mini-insight in how we would live together was so much fun because we laid out futons on the floor in the living room so we were always together, and this was the general break down:

  1. wake up from 10-12 ***Alecia was jet lagged so she would always wake up at 7 or 8 and then go back to sleep and Marina was looking for an apartment or had plans with friends so she would wake up at 10 and be out by 11***
  2. make “breakfast” usually something healthy around 12
  3. have second breakfast directly after — usually ramen
  4. take a nap because eating was exhausting and we deserve it
  5. wake up and leave by 4pm to go do some fun adventure
    1. Alecia had a list of places she wanted to visit in Tokyo so we went there:
      1. we first went to Akihabara which was pretty short because even though I was the only one that has been there, it’s not very interesting if you don’t like anime or maid cafes. ***I bought a Star Wars sticker and we saw some creepy guy talking to a maid on the street who was advertising her store**
      2. repeat steps 1-5 but 5.1.1 is now Harajuku. We just walked through because it’s a lot of shopping and we saw the Lolita culture (hyper feminine outfits) and then took Alecia to Meiji-jingu to pray at the shrine.

        Akihabara!
        We took photos right before this and Emi clicked on the wrong eye size so I look like an alien
      3. that night we met up with Zeno and Rei and went and got dinner and then got Takoyaki in Shibuya before almost missing the last train and having to sprint our way through Shibuya in order to make it (very chaotic, very fun in my opinion, Alecia thinks differently hehe).
      4. the next day we went and got dinner in Shin-Okubo (KoreaTown). After walking around a bit and seeing some shops, we went and ate our weight in food and talked a bit about what Korea might be like for Alecia. I tried to answer her questions as best I could, but at the end of the day you can’t ever be prepared to be in another country for a long period of time.
      5. not to always talk about Onsens, but we went to Yokohama to go to a really cool onsen where they have lot of different rooms of varying heat where you can fall asleep for hours and just purge your body of any stress or toxins. Alecia loved it except the 87 degree Celsius room where she claims she was going to pass out. The spa also had little capsules where you can just nap and a reading area. It’s basically a fun place to take naps in different places (which is extremely under appreciated).

        this room was so hot!
        This was the area where people are clothed so you can bring your phones. The rooms are different temperatures and you basically just choose what temp you want to nap in (my favorite thing ever)
      6. TeamLab! Go there! totally worth it but also make sure you have hours to explore. It’s really dark inside and you have no map and the art changes so you have to keep going back to different to rooms to get the true experience. My favorite part was when you got to color an animal or flower and they scan it into the room so your art becomes part of the artwork. I was also jealous of the kids section where they could jump on trampolines and effect the universe by jumping on a star and destroying it and then following the atoms and molecules.  20/10 GO THERE!
Two girls in a room with very red balloons.
TeamLab babyyy

The second part of Alecia’s trip is the time that she spent with Minami, a girl who studied abroad at Linfield our sophomore year. I didn’t spend time with her during that time because I had plans that week so I’ll let her tell you of her adventures, but I had to say goodbye to friends. The semester ended and all my friends that were staying for six months had to go home. It was really sad because the best way to have new hope for the world is to talk to the people in the dorm and remind yourself that there are some truly intelligent, empathetic, genuine human beings all over the world. Goodbyes are bittersweet because some people you know that realistically you will never see them again, and it’s really hard to think about. Anyway, I spent time with some truly amazing people, played dungeons and dragons, and learned how to make fettuccine sauce from scratch.

Girl striking a fun pose on a side street in Shinjuku.
This is a side street in Shinjuku. Not many foreigners come through here and you can see very small local restaurants (usually they only seat 6 people at a time).

The third part is the road trip up until Alecia left. The day before we went on the road trip, Alecia came out to dinner with my friends from the dorm. It was fun to see all of them getting along and my friend Serena turned to me and went “you guys are the same person!” because Alecia brought up toxic masculinity hehe. Everyone loved her and not that I need it but it’s nice to know that the people you care also care about each other :). Road trip wise, you already got that information, but I will say it was the best trip of my life so far. I don’t know if I’m going to be living in Japan in the future, but I do think that Japan has created some extremely amazing experiences for me to have, and for that I am thankful.

Thank you so much for following along so far, I know I can be a little abstract at times.

I bid you adieu until the aliens attack,

Isis

****I have gotten 2 hours and 45 minutes of sleep within the past two days, forgive me****

ROAD TRIP (SECOND PART)

AAAAANNND WE’RE BACK BABY!

This time we’re heading toward Osaka.

First, we went to an onsen in Osaka to have a bath because we decided to sleep in the car (because when Emi and Marina were in Washington we decided to sleep in my moms car that was parked in her driveway on our way back from Canada as a joke and now it’s a tradition). The onsen was really fun and I did this weird stem thing for my back in one of the pools and I felt like I electrocuted my whole body — like couldn’t feel my whole right side, kind of crazy. Apparently it’s supposed to help you physically, but I think it ruined me psychologically. I will get back to you on that in the long run. After almost killing Alecia and Marina in the steam room (because they don’t do well with heat), we went to a salt room and exfoliated our whole bodies and then jumped in the cold pool to make our skin smooth. I am only going this in depth because I feel the need to mention that three years ago when I first met these girls, I did not see us having a casual conversation while being naked.

This whole side adventure is all on the way to Nara, a prefecture that has deer that you can feed. I was really excited to do this as well as Emi and Marina, but Alecia feeds deer all the time since she lives in Alaska (odd Snow White flex but okay) and was less impressed by the idea — until she was highly entertained by the deer biting us if we didn’t feed them fast enough. She was also kind enough to teach us how to feed them so they didn’t nip our fingers, and I would like to say another first in my life is reprimanding a deer for biting me.

Example: *deer bites my sweatshirt* Me: “Hey! Stop that! That is rude and won’t get you food! Life doesn’t work that way!” ***DEER LISTENS AND STOPS***

Like what the heck? What kind animals! They even bow to you if you bow to them — it’s an interesting cultural conditioning.  🙂

道の駅 is a place where we stayed, the name literally translates to “road station” but they are basically rest stops where people can sleep in their cars if they are too tired to drive or truck drivers for example (or us — poor college students that prefer spending money on food than lodgings). Logically, sleeping in the car was a bad idea; the car was too small and my blanket was too little, my legs were too long, and we all were freezing. But the adventure was fun and entertaining as a whole 12/10 don’t regret.

Three female students standing in an orange tunnel.
Us on the nice, easy part of Inari-ji.

After Nara we drove to Kyoto! The first thing we did was hike up to the top of the Inari-San. The hike wasn’t hard and was about an hour, it was funny because there wasn’t any view of the city from the top that we could see (there was an observation deck at the top but it was closed because we decided to do a night hike). During the day there are shops open so you can eat snacks while you walk, but I preferred the night walk because of the quiet and the wind through the trees. It was very peaceful, but kind of scary if you don’t like the forest, or wild monkeys and boars.


Maiko-san is a similar word for geisha. There’s a street in Kyoto, that is predominantly for Maiko-san, but it is still hard to see them. They are only seen while they are working, and are looking to maintain their privacy so they don’t come out very often. The girls speak differently (in a very old Kyoto dialect) act differently, and live in a dorm with other girls who are also Maiko-san. The girls either choose to go into this rigid life, or they are born into a family of Maiko-san and follow their family’s footsteps. We didn’t see anything while we were in Kyoto, but I thought it was interesting that this tradition managed to stay healthy and maintained while Japan globalized.

Four girls stand on a path bordered by tall bamboo trees.
Us at the bamboo forest! Honestly it took longer to find parking than to actual walk through — still beautiful though.

The next day we went to see Kinkaku-ji, a bamboo forest and another temple,  Byodo-in, and had matcha in a restaurant that’s been open for 500 years. Kinkaku-ji and the bamboo forest were very brief stops, both are famous but as a whole very tourist trap-y in my opinion. The fun thing about Kinkaku-ji is that I went there when I was 13 years old on my first exchange to Japan! Matcha was supposedly created here in this prefecture and this shop has been run by the same family, in the same shop, with no separate locations, for 16 generations. The 13th generation was a tea ambassador to the United States, and presented a tea ceremony in the USA.

Author jumping in front of building.
I have made a habit to jump at every location we visit on the trip. Here is me at Byodo-in.

Also, in Japan there are nation wide symbols to represent various different things in maps, highway signs, etc. The symbol for tea is this shops emblem that they have used since the start of their business. The day we went to Kinkaku-ji and Byodo-in, by chance we met up with Yusa, a student that went to Linfield my freshman year. He lives in Osaka but texted the Japanese student group chat that he wanted to hang out with someone that day and we were nearby! We met him at Byodo-in and since he has a reputation for knowing everything he taught us about the meaning of Byodo-in (it’s a physical representation of heaven for the Gods) and he also brought us to the matcha place (they still make their matcha today). Afterwards we gave him a ride home to Osaka (by the way, Osaka was ever on the list to visit because Emi said there was nothing to do haha but this would be our second time going in three days) because it was on the way to our next stop, Tottori. In Osaka, Yusa took us to his favorite restaurants where we had okinomiyaki, yakisoba, takoyaki, some fried thing I forgot the name of, then we went to a shrine (that’s famous for being covered in lots of moss??) and they had lots of cats around!

Girl jumping above snow, blue sunny sky behind her.
Me jumping at the Tottori Sand (snow) Dunes.

After that we dropped Yusa home and drove on the highways to Tottori. Tottori is famous for having sand dunes which we were excited to joke about being in Dubai in photos, but it ended up snowing really hard so now it’s all covered in snow. It’s really cold here because this area is in a valley (-2 degrees Celsius), so summers are hot and winters are very cold, and the dunes are very pretty and on the ocean. We stayed up until 3:30 a.m. driving and woke up at 6 to see the sunrise. Alecia drove in the snow because she and I have the most experience, but I don’t have an international drivers license so my job is to stay awake with the driver and play music while everyone else rests so they can be good to drive later. In the morning I got to push Emi’s car out of the snow briefly which was fun, but I also felt like my dad for some reason (I haven’t really looked into why I felt that way, and I’m too tired to try but yeah). I’m also writing this on 2 hours of sleep waiting for the cafes to open.

Everyone else got a nap in first before we saw the dunes officially, when we did it was SO beautiful. The sand dunes are really important in Tottori so if you write anything in the sand or take some with you, you will be fined 50,000 USD (which is not worth it in my opinion). Emi and I were in Aikido when we were at Linfield so we did rolls down the mountain until Emi was too dizzy for more. We also (as usual) made sure to lay down in the snow and rest before going to a bakery and getting breakfast. The bakery we went to was so delicious and everything there was 100 ye (about a dollar) so everyone spent way too much money on way too much food, but we girls are not quitters so that food was gone within the hour.  After eating we took off to Yamanashi Prefecture (one I have previously talked about in another blog) that is also my favorite prefecture, to show Alecia another onsen and houto before sending her off to Korea.

That’s it for today!

I’m Isis Hatcher and you’re watching Disney Channel!

ROAD TRIP (FIRST HALF)

Hi everyone!

So today I’m going to talk about my trip to Hiroshima! Let’s start by saying I am not a morning person. By far my least favorite thing to do is to get less than 10 hours of sleep (I happen to do that every night), and for this trip I woke up at 6:20 a.m. and had to make it to my friend’s house where she would be first driver (I got 4). 

Japanese highways are super expensive, a two hour drive on the highways usually cost $60 round trip, and so the four of us budgeted to spend about $100 on highways each (keep that in mind if you ever decide to roadtrip). 

Some fun facts for the trip down!

– We almost ran out of gas twice which shouldn’t be possible but we are really good at going above and beyond so…

– We coasted 1.5 kilometers to the gas station on basically no gas.

– We had several dance parties and listened to some really good Japanese music — both Okinawan and main island Japanese music.

– One artist that’s really famous got arrested for meth possession on Valentine’s Day. 

– I like to hold my breath when I go through tunnels which is fun until Japanese tunnels are 250-3000 meters long which is a wild ride on my body. 

– Tunnels are long bc most go through the mountains

– In the morning Emi lost her contacts and found them underneath her the whole time. 

– Our hostel was super cute. We stayed in the mixed dorm which was cheaper than the all-female dorm. There was a boy who was four years old, the son of the people who owned the hostel, and his name was Haru-kun. He was very cute and showed us his legos. He also called me 変なおねちん and then when I said that was mean Emi asked him to apologize to which he said “even if I apologize she’d still be sad” lolll

– They had a very cute dog named オット (Otto) 

Two girls in front of the pillars of peace at Hiroshima.
Emi and Marina in front of the pillars of peace. The word peace is written in every language.

Hiroshima information:

  • Hiroshima was very emotional. There’s a way to balance the information they deliver in the museum. You first see the last standing building from the blast. Then you have the ability to see the place where they’ve memorialized the victims. There’s one specifically for the children that died. 
  • In the 40s, children after the age of 12 were enlisted to work for the military while at school. The children that died were working to move materials at a demolition site. The museum there is very sad, it’s hard to not cry as they provide you with first hand accounts and some very detailed, unedited footage and photos of people before and after the blast. It also serves as a way for people to understand that we need to live without nuclear weapons and promotes activism towards building a world like that.
  •  I thought it was interesting how many people brought up in class or at the memorial that Obama came to visit Hiroshima. There was a general feeling of positive reception with him coming, and I think it was criticized because he was the only foreign dignitary to visit Hiroshima. As a whole it was a very good experience, and after we got 広島焼 (Hiroshima-yaki), which is similar to okinomiyaki but is made with soba noodles. It was very, very good and thoroughly recommend it.

    Two photos of two groups of girls, including the author, lying on the floor and smiling up at the camera.
    In honor of what I just said, here’s a picture of some of the people I love the most taken freshman and junior year.

If you get this far, tell someone you love them. If there’s anything this trip taught me, it’s that you don’t want to waste your time. If you care, talk about it. If you love, tell them. And if you want something to change do something. There is so much ego involved in our lives that prevents us from seeing people as equals; people worth living. And if we could all think a little more critically when thinking about how WE think, the world would be an infinitely better place.

See you next time for part 2 babes,

“Always have courage and be kind.”

— Cinderella the (better) live action movie

-Isis

Chinese New Year, the Coronavirus and Coming Home

Daniel and I wearing masks to protect ourselves from the coronavirus
“Masks are super in this year”

I have been in the United States for just over two weeks now, and boy has it been a wild ride.

In this blog you will find details about a global health crisis, a plot twist that includes an emergency return to the United States, and an ice sculpture of a train.

Last we left off, I was in Beijing, China starting my second semester at the China Studies Institute program at Beijing University. Everything was going great and we were out of class for a week for Chinese New Year, also known as Spring Festival. My friend Daniel and I were planning to travel to China’s northernmost province, Heilongjiang. Our trip would start in Harbin for the city’s ice and snow festival and then we would make our way South, stopping briefly at Shenyang before returning to Beijing.

We never could’ve predicted what would happen.

So before we even left for Chinese New Year break, there were talks about this Coronavirus. Nothing super serious yet, and there was no widespread panic. Some people who were from Wuhan were canceling their plans to return home for Chinese New Year, but most people were continuing on with their travel plans as if the Coronavirus was no big deal.

So my friend Daniel and I decided, since we were traveling away from the outbreak, (literally as far away as we could get from it), we would continue with our plans as well.

At the Beijing train station, me wearing my mask.
Mask on and ready for some fun!
The view from the train across the frozen fields and electric poles.
The view out the window of the high-speed train

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Things you should know about Chinese New Year in China:  it is one of the largest human migrations of today. Chinese people only get two vacations, the National Holiday Break and Chinese New Year Break. Billions of people travel home to see their families and celebrate the new year. There is no single comparable holiday in the United States. Chinese New Year is more so like a combination of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years, with a huge emphasis on family and tradition.

Daniel and I were some of the billions traveling during this time, and we made it to Harbin after 8 hours on the high-speed train. An Alaskan girl at heart, I had been so deprived of snow for so long that when I finally arrived in Harbin, the snow-y paradise, I couldn’t stop smiling and jumping around like a maniac. It was cold as Alaska, so very comfortable for me!

Posing with the snow sculptures
“Life imitates art” part 1
Snow slide across flat snow fields as far as you can see.
Snow slide in Harbin, China

We visited some attractions in Harbin, and here are some of the photos from that!

In front of an ice sculpture of a train
As promised, an ice sculpture of a train
Ice sculpture of a train
Choo Choo!
Visiting the ice sculpture competition
Visiting the ice sculpture competition in Harbin
In front of an ice castle
In front of an ice castle
Posing with an ice sculpture
“Life imitates art” part 2
Ice sculpture at night with blue, pink and yellow lights shining from inside.
Ice sculpture at night
Posing with a rat ice sculpture since it is the Year of the Rat in the Chinese zodiac.
Posing with a rat ice sculpture because 2020 is the Year of the Rat in the Chinese zodiac
Ice festival at night with lots of blue and gold lights.
Ice festival at night
Ice and Snow World
Ice and Snow World

 

However, after a couple days in Harbin, things started to go downhill. The Coronavirus had started to gain momentum, and the virus, with so many people traveling in such a small period, was spreading rapidly. I would wake up every morning to messages from my program director and teachers, cautioning us students against going outside and being among large crowds. It snowballed from there. Transportation was cancelled, Wuhan was quarantined, official announcements of school and work schedules being postponed, the government stepped in to manage the situation, but everyone was stuck, confined to their homes, some not able leave their homes to even see their family.

It was unlike anything I’ve ever seen. The biggest cultural event of the year was being completely disrupted. All of the events, temple celebrations, reunions, performances, –basically any attractions of any kind that could draw crowds, were canceled. People were barely leaving their homes. The few that did, wore masks and gloves. Restaurants were closed or only available for take out and delivery. We were heat-checked entering buildings, and some even denied entry if you were not wearing a mask.  The country had come to a complete standstill.

Beijing University had postponed the start of their Spring semester, as they did not want students from other provinces returning back to Beijing while the Coronavirus was still on the move. The CSI program I was enrolled in decided to offer online classes to reduce the risk of any kind of contagion resulting from in-person contact. With the transition to online classes and the recommendation of self-imposed quarantine, the situation was deemed dire enough to cause many students from my program to return home, by the requests of their parents, schools, or just by their personal judgement.

I really did not want to leave. I was committed to staying in China, quarantined in an off-campus apartment, taking online classes, basically waiting this epidemic out. However, so many students returned to the United States that it was no longer possible to continue my program. Daniel and I were on our train to Shenyang when we realized we had to return to Beijing. After getting off our train, (which was empty because so many people had canceled their travel plans due to the virus), we purchases tickets the same day and took another train to Beijing. Once arriving in the city, we were able to get our luggage from my dorm room with the help of my classmates and teachers. Since I had been traveling during Chinese New Year, I was unable to even enter the campus because there was a risk that I might be infected, so my classmates had to pack up all of my belongings and bring them to the gates of university.

I flew out of Beijing the next day, and after five flights, I was finally back home in Kenai, Alaska.

You never really think something like a global health crisis will be the thing that disrupts your study abroad experience. Maybe you lose your passport, or luggage, or maybe you’re so homesick you need to come home. These things happen, but a virus? It never crossed my mind.

I was really upset about having to leave China.  I still felt as though I had so much more to learn. The most frustrating thing about it all was it was not even my decision to leave. Everything felt so out-of-my control.

But even though I am still deeply saddened that my abroad experience was cut short, I am very thankful that I was able to depart the country while I still could. I am also very fortunate that Linfield’s spring semester did not start until Feb. 10th, giving me time to see my mother in Alaska, which I haven’t been back to in over a year. I had time to register for housing and classes, unlike some of my classmates from other universities who had to immediately jump into their Spring semester, which had already been in session for two weeks.

I also want to highlight in this blog the amazing response rate and help of the Linfield International Programs Office in particular, but also of the Linfield Financial Aid Office, Academic Advising and Housing, which were so great in helping me prepare myself for a return to Linfield. I felt completely supported the entire time by these offices, who were so patient with me and made sure that I was safe and taken care of the entire time. Shout out to the power of a small college!

I have no regrets about my time in China. It truly was the most amazing experience of my life. I grew and I changed, which has been apparent to me as I rejoin the Linfield community, but what I want to highlight as the thing that really makes me feel like study abroad was the best thing in the world for me, was about how it challenged me. It was the most challenging thing I have ever had to do. I had to be independent, responsible, and work my butt off. I had to make myself a home. There were times when I felt so uncomfortable. There were times when I felt so afraid, so stupid, so confused. But everything about feeling these ways, it’s all part of the process. It’s all part of what I love about the experience of being abroad. It’s a challenge and I am so much stronger, know myself better, and happier knowing that I have the capability to do anything.

I truly do not have any regrets. I did everything I wanted to do, and many things I never knew I would have the chance to do. Now I know I can do anything.  We are capable of so much more than we think we are. Studying abroad taught me that. Now whenever I think about whether or not I can do something, I don’t spend time questioning whether it’s possible, because I know I can do it.

 

Beijing Baby! (pt. 2)

Weiming Lake in winter, frozen over with hockey players in the middle of a match
Weiming Lake in winter, frozen over with hockey players in the middle of a match

Well, we’re back baby!

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Roads busy with motorcyclists
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Roads busy with motorcyclists

 

I recently returned to Beijing after spending a month in Vietnam! The most drastic change is probably the weather, as Vietnam was in the 80s and 90s every day, and Beijing has snow on the ground. I am so glad to be back in China, the cold weather is actually one of the reasons.

 

Hoi An, Vietnam. Colorful lanterns of all different shapes and sizes hanging in a room
Hoi An, Vietnam. Colorful lanterns of all different shapes and sizes hanging in a room

As an Alaska girl, I have no issues with the cold, dry winter Beijing has to offer. It’s weird hearing Chinese again, to be hearing a language I can actually speak and understand. I had such culture shock after arriving in Vietnam, because I can’t speak any Vietnamese and had never been to Vietnam before. I had honestly not even considered the culture shock I might have in Vietnam because I didn’t experience a large culture shock when I came to China in September (this being due to the fact that I had learned some Chinese and had to been to China before).

A couple days after my return to Beijing, we had orientation for the new students. Since I was enrolled here last semester, there wasn’t much for me to do except help the new students get used to life in China.

CSI Spring 2020 students group photo under amazing architecture
CSI Spring 2020 students group photo under amazing architecture

First orders of business after arrival is familiarizing new students with the campus and classroom buildings. New students will also need a Chinese SIM card or a Chinese phone. In order to set up a Chinese bank account, you need a Chinese phone number.

Group photo in front of rock with writing on it
Group photo in front of rock with writing on it

Even if you’re only here for a semester, I strongly suggest setting up a Chinese bank account. Once you have a bank account you can use apps such as Alipay or WeChat Pay, and use your phone to pay for everything. These apps will make your life in Beijing so extremely convenient that you won’t even want to go back to using cash or card.

This semester I am enrolled in the non-immersion track, because I need credits for my majors and have already experienced the immersion track. The social sciences track offers content courses taught in English. I am taking three classes, Sino-American Relations, Social Stratification and Inequality in China, and Chinese Media Studies. These classes are once a week for around three hours and all taught by Chinese professors. I am also enrolled in Chinese language classes this semester, and am taking level 402 classes with two other students. I have a Comprehensive Chinese class three times a week for two hours and a Spoken Chinese class twice a week for an hour and a half. If that wasn’t enough work for myself, I am also participating in an internship/volunteer experience at an app development company here in Beijing. It is a live-streaming app, and I’l be helping out with content, operations, and marketing! The commute to my internship is about an hour and a half by subway (one-way), and I work three days a week. I speak Chinese and English at work. My coworkers were really surprised I could speak Chinese because most interns cannot. One didn’t even think I was Chinese! He thought I was Japanese!

The campus is pretty empty right now because it is currently winter break for the students at Beida.

Winter at Beida-Pathway lined with snow and trees with no leaves
Winter at Beida – Pathway lined with snow and trees with no leaves

Their finals just ended this past week, and now they’re all returning home for the month, and will celebrate 春节(chunjie) also known as “Spring Festival” or “Chinese New Year” with their family. I think Chinese New Year is similar to Thanksgiving because food is a huge part of the event. It’s also a holiday centered around family and tradition, and everyone comes home to be with their relatives, much like Thanksgiving dinner in the United States. It’s not so much like Christmas because gifts are not a huge component of the holiday. You do receive or give 红包 (red packets) with money to relatives, but it’s nothing comparable to Christmas presents.

Frozen Weiming Lake Ice skaters swarm the lake surface
Frozen Weiming Lake. Ice skaters swarm the lake surface

 

 

While I was gone, Beida’s famous Weiming Lake has frozen over and turned into an outdoor ice rink. My friend Philip, an international student from Singapore and I went out on the lake for some frozen fun. It’s only five kuai (less than a US dollar) to skate on the lake if you are a Beida students. They rent out skates right on campus too! I taught Philip how to ice skate, and we stumbled our way across the ice. There are quite a lot of large cracks on the lake’s surface, but it didn’t seem to ruin anyone’s fun. It was really nice to see so many students out on the lake because most of the time I feel like Beida students are constantly busy and stressed with school, and do not have much time to socialize or participate in fun activities for pleasure.

Ice skating on Beida's campus, with busy frozen lake in background
Ice skating on Beida’s campus, with busy frozen lake in background
Ice skating with Philip on the frozen lake
Ice skating with Philip on the frozen lake

To end this first and very jam-packed weekend, the program had its first excursion.

Chinese New Year decorations hanging from trees
Chinese New Year decorations hanging from trees

 

 

We traveled to the Summer Palace, only a few stops away via subway! It’s my third time coming to the Summer Palace now, and I have to say, I much prefer going in the winter.

 

 

Summer Palace in Winter with a light dusting of snow on the roof.
Summer Palace in the Winter
Summer Palace ceiling geometric shapes in teal, and dark blue
Summer Palace ceiling, geometric shapes in teal, and dark blue

 

In the summer it is way too hot, and there are too many people. In the winter, as long as you bundle up, it is a very pleasurable experience!

Summer Palace in the Winter, 4 stories high
Summer Palace in the Winter, 4 stories high
With my friend Maggie on a bridge overlooking the frozen lake
Maggie and I on a bridge overlooking the frozen lake
Summer Palace hallway. Extremely detailed work on ceiling and leaded glass on walls
Summer Palace hallway. Extremely detailed work on ceiling and leaded glass on walls
Friend and I at the summer palace
Maggie and I in front of the Summer Palace
CSI program for the Spring 2020 semester in front of the Summer Palace
CSI program for the Spring 2020 semester in front of the Summer Palace

Kunming Lake, the main body of water located at the Summer Palace has completely frozen over and locals and visitors alike can take a turn on the lake, renting small little sleds for 50 kuai (~7 US dollars).

A bridge leading over the frozen lake to Summer palace. Ice skaters in the foreground
A bridge leading over the frozen lake to Summer palace. Ice skaters in the foreground

There are no skates to rent for the lake, but the sleds are just as fun!

Posing on lake in front of Summer Palace
Posing on lake in front of Summer Palace
2 students posing on frozen lake in front of Summer Palace
2 students posing on frozen lake in front of Summer Palace

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve never been in China during the winter, but oh, it is so much fun!

Mara

 

End of the Year Study Trip: 14-days through Southern China! (pt. 1)

CSI students Traveling
Group photo with our suitecases

It’s the end of the semester and you know what that means? 14 days of glorious, glorious travel through China. This semester there were two trips to choose from. The first option was a trip to Tibet, centered around Buddhism. The second, a trip through Southern China learning about China’s ethnic minorities. All but nine of us chose the Tibet trip. Since I will be with the program next semester, I decided to choose the Southern China trip, and will go to Tibet when its warmer next semester. The end-of-the-year trip is easily one of the best parts of this program. Hotels, transportation, and tours are all paid for, and students only need to bring meal and spending money.

First up on our trip was Xi’an. We traveled by high-speed train, my favorite. We almost took up an entire car!

Students on the high speed train
Group photo in the train on our way to Xi’an

After settling into our hotel, we set off to find some dinner and headed to the famous Muslim food street.

Xi'an Muslim Street
Xi’an Muslim Food Street, lights line each side of the busy street advertising each business

Here you can find all the specialty dishes of Xi’an, as well as many souvenirs! I have to say, Xi’an has some of my favorite food in China.

Eating cotton candy in Xi'an
Group of 3 students eating cotton candy in the middle of Muslim Food Street
Lamb and pita bread
Lamb and pita bread in a bowl

 A couple of Xi’an specialty foods include biang biang noodles, roujiamo, and lamb soup with pita bread. Biang biang noodles are some of my favorite noodles in China! They’re thick and chewy and so, so tasty. Actually the character for “biang biang” is so difficult and complex to write in Chinese, that most keyboards don’t even have the character option for it. 

Biang Biang nodles
Biang biang noodles on a plate with chopsticks
With skewers and pomegranate juice
My Friend and I eating lamb skewers

You’ll often find it written in pinyin or English on restaurant signs or online. One of my favorite snacks at Muslim street were lamb skewers. They were perfectly seasoned and cooked right in front of you!

 

 

Also located in Xi’an are the famous Terracotta Warriors! It was my second time visiting this site. The Terracotta Army and Horses are modeled after Qin Shi Huang’s (the first Emperor of China) army.

Terracotta warriors
Terracotta Army in a dark covered area
Terracotta Army
Terracotta Army from a side view

Each statue is unique, with distinguishing facial features. There are a couple of different soldiers, including archers, standing calvary men, and riders, which were on top of the horse-drawn carts. Their purpose was to protect the emperor in his afterlife.

Archer
Terra cotta archer in a display case
Standing man
Terra cotta soldier ready for battle in display case

After the Terracotta Army, we went to Xi’an’s City Wall. When Xi’an was the capital of China, this wall protected the city. It is one of China’s oldest, largest, and most well-preserved walls. It kind of reminds me of the wall that protected the Earth Kingdom of Ba Sing Se in Avatar: the Last Airbender. It was built under the rule of the Hongwu Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang.

At the City Wall
Group photo on steps leading to the Xi’an City Wall
On the wall
China likes walls almost as much as we like group photos! Group photo on the City Wall!
Friends on the wall
Three friends on the wall with dust masks on
On the wall
The weather was really bad, but we still managed to take some semi-decent photos! On the City Wall! Grey skies in background
Group dinner in Xi'an
Group dinner around a circular table in Xi’an
Group dinner
Dishes of every kind of food in the center of the round table

Extra, extra! Here are some pictures from our visit to the Great Mosque in Xi’an! There was no one there, but it had some beautiful architecture!

The Great Mosque
The Great Mosque, with sweeping roof lines
The Great Mosque
Walking up to the Great Mosque with trees surrounding the pathway
The Great Mosque
The Great Mosque, with trees and bushes surrounding it

Chengdu was our second stop, located in Sichuan Province and known for its crazy spicy cuisine! Hot pot is the speciality dish here, and I had it all every night I was there. I actually have a friend who lives in Chengdu. We used to work together in Alaska at her family’s Asian restaurant. A Chengdu native, she took us out for the best hot pot in the city.

With my friend Joyce
My friend Joyce and I in front of a storefront
Eating hot pot
Eating hot pot at a round table with all my friends

I’m not going to lie, after three consecutive nights of hot pot, my stomach was a little upset. That being said, it was totally worth it. Besides the deliciously addicting cuisine, Chengdu has a lot of sights to see. About two hours from the city, visitors can travel to see the Giant Leshan Buddha.

Leshan Giant Buddha
Leshan Giant Buddha,  covered in vegitation

The Leshan Giant Buddha is around 230 feet tall, carved out of a cliff face. The trek to the buddha feels never-ending, but believe me when I tell you, it is SO worth it. I’ve never seen Mount Rushmore, but I imagine it’s a similar experience to seeing this buddha. The carving is so well done, and the massive scale makes it a feat that everyone should see.

Leshan Buddha
Leshan Buddha from a lower perspective showing the enormity of the statue in the canyon
Posing with the Buddha
Group photo with my friends and the giant Buddha in the background

Chengdu’s other popular attraction is its Panda Conservation and Research Center. Famous in China and the world, we were fortunate enough to be able to visit it and see all the pandas! We saw pandas of all ages and all personalities. At the site they have red panda as well as giant pandas.

Panda Conservation Center visit
Photo in front of Panda Conservation Center
Panda
Photo of panda in an animal enclosure during our visit
Panda eating
Panda in the enclosure smiling at me!
Buddhist temple
Group photo in front of bright yellow, Buddhist temple wall

We also had some time to check out a beautiful Buddhist temple in Chengdu, and walk along some ancient streets of the city. I really enjoyed that we had a lot of free time to explore and experience the cities we were visiting.

Temple
Inside Buddhist temple with ornate architecture
Exploring Chengdu
Colorful red and yellow lanterns in Chengdu
Aesthetics inside the temple
Perfectly sculpted plants inside the temple
Ancient street in Chengdu
Ancient street in Chengdu, with red lanterns hanging on the second story of the buildings to the left

Next we were off to Lijiang! Check out End of the Year Study Trip: 14-days through Southern China! (pt. 2) for the wrap up of my study trip and fall semester!