First of all, Happy Year of the Sheep/Goat/Ram!
My month-long holiday from school is because of the Chinese New Year--which centers around the lunar calendar. Each year in China relates to an animal (similar to monthly horoscopes). This year is the year of the 羊 which I guess, due to translation reasons, can be either sheep, ram or goat.
Below are CNY decorations in a mall in Beijing.
For my holiday I traveled back to the US.
I have traveled pretty extensively in and outside of China. In China I am basically illiterate and can only speak very little Chinese, but the transportation system is easy to navigate on my own with little language ability.
This break I flew back to America. In order to get to an international airport, I took the fast rail train to Beijing. I have probably mentioned it in my previous posts, but I absolutely love the fast train in China. It's so easy to get tickets, cheap, and so convenient. A fast rail ticket to Beijing from Jinan is about $30
During Spring festival so many people in China travel that you have to book your tickets about a week or so in advance. You can go to a little kiosk that sells train tickets or reserve them online. In order to avoid the people traffic it's better to get them at a kiosk--if you reserve them online you must pick them up at the train station and wait in line.
You can literally arrive at the train station about 15 minutes before your train leaves (if you got a ticket in advance). Security takes about a minute to put your bags through the scanner and then you go to the waiting room for the fast trains.
About 10 minutes before your train leaves, people will start "lining" up to go outside and get ready to board. Lines in China are extremely chaotic because people are mainly concerned with themselves and cut each other at their own convenience.
The fast rail workers let you through the gates about 7 minutes before your train arrives. You then find the number that corresponds with what car you are in.
The fast train arrives and the full stop is about three minutes--people get off and then we quickly get on and shove our luggage wherever.
People do not notice other people around them trying to get through the lanes so it leads to a lot of pushing and shoving. And no one says excuse me or I'm sorry (this has made me pretty insensitive to personal space)--although I always say "i'm sorry" if I nudge someone. "Dui Bu Qi" 对不起 (sorry) is probably one of the top phrases in my daily language.
When it's time for you to get off, people line up near the door. A lot of guys wait and jump off the train to get a quick smoke in and then jump back on.
If you are going to Beijing, everyone gets off because it is the final stop. However on the return trip, Jinan's stop is somewhere in the middle so it's important to listen and watch out for your stop.
One of my coworkers accidentally got off in the wrong city. Because he is illiterate and had not traveled the fast rail, he did not realize it! He went out to the taxi stand and asked to go to "Wan Da" which is a mall near our school. The city had a Wanda as well...needless to say it took him awhile to realize he was not in Jinan.
The fast train station connects right to the metro in Beijing, so I can easily transfer and get to the airport. The whole trip takes about an hour and a half and 3 different subway lines. The cost of the subway is .25 cents to $1 depending how far you are traveling--then the cost of the airport express line is about $4.
This is a transfer between two different subway lines. Adjusting to the mere number of people is one of the biggest culture shocks.
After taking the airport express, you can get off right at your terminal and check in. After checking in you go through security--the whole process takes about 15 minutes. You do not need to take off your shoes either.
Many Chinese people use cardboard boxes to travel with. Kinda strange...
I have travel anxiety and like to be at the airport/train station in advance. Which means I always end up at starbucks
Since Chinese people do not know how to get in line, boarding the plane is a bit of a nightmare. Since I did not have much carry on luggage with me, I just waited until most people were on the plane.
One frustrating thing about flying in China is after you go through initial security, right before you step on the plane they look through your carry on luggage again and make you pour out any liquids.
Getting onboard is a nightmare. Once again--push and shove. If you ever fly to or from China, getting off the plane is like a race (literally as soon as the plane lands people jump up and get ready to get off the plane), so always put your carry on luggage in the compartment above your seat or in front of your seat. (If you put it in a compartment behind your seat you will have to wait until everyone gets off of the plane...)
The flight path generally always goes from China east to America. We travel over Russia to Alaska--this is somewhere over Alaska. After the Malaysian Airline that was shot down over Ukraine I try to avoid planes that go West to the US.
If there's anything I learned about flying internationally--fly direct! spend the extra money to get one direct flight. Layovers in a different city for an extended amount of time SUCK and make it harder to get over the jet lag. I did a 12 hour layover in Hong Kong last year. Couldn't sleep and nothing in the airport was open. It was from 12AM-12 PM so I couldn't leave the airport. Not worth the $100 I saved.
Here are some photos of my time in the US...
I brought back some different types of Chinese tea for my parents to try (white, green, oolong, black and pu'er)
Later my mom and I did a "tea tasting" at Adiago teas--we got a groupon deal. I would definitely recommend it! You only get to try 3 teas but they teach you about the health benefits of various different teas and you get a free teapot.
I ate a lot of good Americanized food. This is my all-time favorite meal...
I traveled quite a bit (having a car in a big city can be a burden...but living in suburban America it was SO necessary and convenient). I saw this at a rest stop:
It's nice to have clean air and beautiful views everyday--even though it was so cold!
Trying to keep in the warmth
I visited Ohio State, University of Illinois and Michigan State over the break. I noticed quite a few no gun signs. It was kinda surprising and sad that it was necessary to put up such signs.
Also really nice about the US--no smoking indoors.
My sister's Club track meet
A cool exhibit of photos at Michigan State's museum.
Americanized Chinese food--sadly there is no orange chicken or fortune cookies in China!
Back to China to finish the school year--there are SO many people--there's a Chinese idiom to express the number of people in China--"people mountain, people sea" 人山人海