Thursday, June 14, 2012

...Kelly's Courtyard Hotel...

A month before we left Xi’an, Ben learned about “Kelly’s Courtyard Hotel” which had high ratings from customers who booked through  Our two days at this hostel validated every positive comment we had read.  The only reason we didn’t stay longer was because the rooms were all taken.  We arrived from the train station at 9:00am and Bob, the friendly & efficient host, welcomed us to a breakfast of fresh fruit, yogurt, croissants and coffee.  (real coffee!).  Bob offered us a tour of the hostel while our room was made ready. 
The alley leading to the hotel. 
The nondescript doorway to Kelly's Courtyard Hotel.
The breakfast is served in the courtyard, which is covered by a glass roof.  The rooms open into this central area.

The spiral staircase carried us to a sitting room with computer portals. Then Bob showed us to the rooftop patio where soft chairs, plants and tables created the perfect place to read while listening to the hutong (historic neighborhood) chatter.

We met visitors from Canada, Australia, France and Germany during our brief stay. If we have an opportunity to return to Beijing, we will be sure to make reservations well in advance.

Ben emailing family in the upstairs sitting room.

Bob's son is a computer whiz already!

Bob & his wife with Ben & the hostel staff.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

...overnight train to Beijing...

I am told that as an infant, I traveled with my parents on a train in the Midwest.  Later, some friends took my co-worker and me on the scenic Agawa Canyon railroad in Ontario.  Besides these experiences, my life has been fairly train-free.  Ben has been a huge fan of train travel since being in Europe and South America and our friends, Jim and Jenn, had advised that trains are the best way to travel inside China.  I should add that airplane travel is also a good option, quite inexpensive, and easy to book at a short notice.  However, we had enough time to enjoy travel by train.  In addition to being less expensive than air travel, a reservation on an overnight train saves the expense of a hotel.   

If you are traveling this way, please be aware that booking a train ticket in advance may be necessary due to the popularity of this means of transit, especially during holidays.  Definitely talk to a local person and take their advice.  I won’t go into that in detail here, but if you find yourself heading to China, let me know.

AND--just as we were leaving, I met 3 more members of Xi'an's Deaf Community! 
These friendly young women work at the train station. 

I’ll let the photos tell the story…our cabin had 4 bunks, ample storage for our bags, clean linens, a TV (which our cabin mates, a middle aged Chinese couple, thankfully muted), a little table (complete with a vase and silk rose J).  Each train car has restrooms, sinks, hot water dispensers, electrical outlets and seats in the hallway in case you want to leave your cabin.  I can’t say enough about how comfortable, clean and modern this train was.  I am sure that all trains aren’t in the same condition, but all the other trains we rode on in China were equally as impressive. 

We boarded at 6:30 pm and arrived in Beijing 12 hours later!  I was surprised at how well we slept.  We de-trained, into the Beijing morning rush hour…and that’s another post.

The front of the train station in Beijing.

...leaving "home"...

…just a few more snapshots…and then we’ll catch the next train to Beijing!
1101: our apt @ GXY

The friendly ladies at the students' supermarket on campus.
Packing up our desk was the last thing on the list!  The apartment was sunny and warm the day we moved out.

Carrie with Jo, one of the teachers in the international center.

Carrie, Kevin, Barry & Ben eating in the teacher's section of the cafeteria. 
Ben's office mates, Mao Lao Shi and Tang Lao Shi, were very hospitable.  Because of them, Ben learned survival Chinese (they speak no English) and learned all about morning exercises!  They are chemistry teachers.

Ben and Kevin in Ben's office debriefing after team-teaching an English class.

..."Thank You Reception" hosted by University of KY...

Dr. Henry, Bill, Ben, Kelly, and 4 of the English teachers from the high school.

The administrators, cooperating teachers and many others in the Gaoxin school community went above and beyond to make the experience beneficial for the student teacher interns from the University of Kentucky.  To show appreciation for the first year of this unique partnership, a “Thank You Reception” was arranged at the Swisstouches hotel, which is across Tangyan Lu from the high school.  Dr. Henry gave a fitting address to the administrators of the various schools where the interns had been placed.  Madame Wang and others responded warmly with words of commendation for the interns as well as enthusiasm regarding the continuing partnership with the University of Kentucky.

I really appreciated the principal and head English teacher from primary school.  They made me feel very welcome during my weeks in the department there.

The buffet was tasteful and the casual seating arrangement was ideal for this event.

...a traditional farewell dumpling banquet...

On our last day in Xi’an, we were invited to a dumpling banquet at a historic dumpling house in the Old City.  Madame Wang explained that when we first arrived, we were served noodles.  This is traditional because when guests arrived in ancient times, hosts could quickly prepare a meal of noodles for them.  During the visit, the tedious process of making dumplings would ensue…and so, for our final meal in Xi’an, we were treated to this delicious tradition. 
Near the entrance of the restaurant, plates of dumplings display only a fraction of all the items actually available.

Amid the toasts, speeches, and laughter, I think everyone felt a certain sadness that this day had come…from the time we nervously feasted at the hot pot meal (some of us…like me…still struggling with chopsticks!) to this relaxed banquet of dumplings (I was quite pleased with my chopsticks skills by then!)…we had grown quite accustomed to each other.  The language barriers were dissolving, the weather had warmed nicely from the bone-chilling March temperatures, and we truly felt we were among friends.

The dumplings marched onto the lazy susan in varieties I can’t begin to describe.  There were steamed dumplings, boiled dumplings, fried dumplings, baby dumplings…each batch uniquely shaped to resemble the fillings—shrimp, vegetables, pork, lamb, beef, chicken… We ate our fill…and then some!

...taking it all in stride...

Before we left, I wondered what kind of shoes to take.  Whenever I asked someone, the answer was, “COMFORTABLE”.  I will report that the Jeep-41 shoes I got at DSW were the best investment I made.  We easily met the recommended daily goal of 10,000 steps (approx. 5 miles) while we were in China, and I was so grateful for good shoes. 

I also had taken 2 old pair of black shoes—one flat and one pair of heels.  They were so worn out by the time we left, I didn’t take them out of Xi’an.  The Chinese women wear lots of heels and fancy shoes (see photos below), but comfort was really my top priority, and if I went again, I wouldn’t pack the heels.  Of course, when you visit people’s homes, you remove your shoes at the door.  Ben took one pair of hiking shoes and a pair of comfortable dress shoes.  He left the latter behind as well, since they were quite worn out.  I did try on a few pair of shoes in the store, and my size 9M (US size) was impossible to find in the regular stores of Xi’an.
Our feet on the ground at Forbidden city.

Mother/daughter shoes at Tianenmen Square.

In Beijing, people seemed more interested in comfort and we saw more tennis shoes there compared to other areas.

The guard's shoes looked quite spiffy.

These heels were very typical.

I would NOT want to walk a mile in these shoes!

...scenes we saw (and miss)...

During the last week at Gaoxin, we realized that our photo collection was missing some of the scenes we would miss the most!  The smiling faces of the cafeteria staff, the helpful ladies in the student supermarket, the guard booth near the gate (they were always on duty and we felt very safe during our stay there), the school bus in the courtyard…

Students carry glass bottles which they refill between classes with steaming water.

Powerade (or some version thereof) is popular at the basketball games.