Monday, April 30, 2007

Great Wall

Day 1 was fun. We left around 8:00 a.m. Our tour guide rented a car for today and Wednesday, so I thought she had a rental car. Well, in China you don't just rent a car, you rent a car AND a driver! So were chaufered around all day. It was nice because he was a really skilled driver and if you could see the driving, you would know this is very nice and comforting.

The first place we went today was the Summer Palace. Basically, it was a small pond and some hills that an Emporer liked going to and so he built it up a lot, made it a large lake and some other stuff. Later, no one did anything with it, but later (after that later) an Empress really liked spending time there and she did a lot of work to it and anyways, really made it what it is today. It was nice and very scenic.

Next we went to a jade gallery and jade carving making place. We had a little personal tour and then we toured the largest jade gallery in Beijing. It was very nice, but very pricey and our first experience with Chinese sales people, let's just say that people who work at Circuit City on a commision, can't hold a feather to these people ... I take that back, these sales reps were not too bad, we will get to the peddlers at the great wall in a minute. We had lunch there at a restaurant and had a very nice meal (just Ashley & I) and afterwards, we finished looking around and our tour guide came back from lunch with the driver.

After lunch we drove to the Great Wall. I can't remember the names, but the first one we went to wasn't a part of the super large Great Wall, it was a smaller fortified circle inside of the Great Wall. There were several towers you could climb too, Ashley got the first, I got to the 6th and finally stopped as there were 2 more past it and my legs were already jelly and I still had to go down!

The second Great Wall location we went to was a section that most foreign dignitaries visit and most tourist go to. Ashley and I both climbed a lot of this one. All day it was pretty hazy so we didn't get super pictures, but I am confident we got some good ones ... we will always have the memories. Now, as for as the peddlers on the Great Wall, it was unbelievable, sales reps that work on commision in the states can't even touch the pushiness of these people. It was amazing, the just wouldn't stop and they were sitting in "packs" along the wall as you walked it. Anyway, it was very memorable and by the time we got back down to the bottom it was nearly dark as a storm was coming in and we got the car about 5 minutes before the rain broke loose.

It then took nearly 2.5 hours to get back to the hotel because the traffic was so bad. Actually, tomorrow starts China's Golden Week and it is their "Memorial Day" (I think) tomorrow and our driver figured everyone was getting off work as well as people travelling to their families' houses or just going out to eat. We got back to the hotel and walked along our street and ate a very famous Beijing Duck restaurant (the most famous in Beijing, or so it boasts)! It was very good. After that we walked around a bit and came back to the hotel and now we are calling it a night.

Please don't hold me accountable for any spelling or grammer mistakes :)

Sunday, April 29, 2007

In China

Good morning, well, our morning. We made it to Beijing, China last night with no fun stories to tell in the airports. Our luggage was under weight, we had no delays, and everything was smooth. Even customs and immagration in Beijing was smooth as silk and took no time at all. A very good experience!

Now getting to the hotel, let's call that a good amusement park ride! If the Japanese taxi drivers have a certain look, sense of professionalism, very proper, etc. ... well, Chinese are exactly the opposite. We had to load the taxi, the guy was wearing a t-shirt (definitely no white gloves). As far as driving, I now have a new meaning of bad driving, unbelievable. Actually, the driving wasn't too bad, it was all of the pedistrians just walking across the streets in whatever direction they wanted whenever they wanted. It was too funny! I thought we were going to get some points for hitting some people, but nope we made it! Overall, quite a fun experience! Once we got to the hotel Ashley was locked in the car and couldn't get out, but eventually the taxi driver got out and opened her door after she started banging on the window!

We checked into our hotel and it is very very nice! Our room is huge and we will take some pictures of it. We did a little upgrade for the room, but we get free breakfast and desserts ALL day and night long from the lounge, free drinks, free internet, etc. Today we just had breakfast and will be going to the Great Wall and the Summer Palace along with some other places. Well, gotta run, we should be able to update the blog regularly!

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Japanese Baseball

On Thursday night, April 19th we went to our first Japanese baseball game, the Chunichi Dragons vs. the Hanshin Tigers, with Aki and Kazu. Where do I start! Of course the game is the same, the only major difference I recognized was the speed of the pitches. They were constantly in the 130's kph range, around 80-85 mph and the highest clocked speed I remember was 143 which is equivalent to 88 mph. Besides that it reminded me of NL baseball, lots of hit and runs, SBs, etc. OK, on to the atmosphere.

This is where it was different. First, let's start with food. Of course I wasn't expecting American food, but I was expecting lots of variety and little stands, similar to all of the festivals we have been to. Well, think again, there were a couple of concession stands with a variety of chinese food, some hotdogs (not American hotdogs), breaded shrimp sandwiches, some other "breaded meat" sandwiches, but no real junk ballpark food. It just wasn't the same.

The game was played at the Nagoya Dome so it is an astroturf field which is no big deal, but a game in a dome just isn't natural (I can say I felt the same way when Stephen and I saw the Blue Jays and A's playing in Toronto). Japanese teams also have cheerleaders! They came out between innings and did cheers. People picked up their trash and threw it away at garbage cans, you won't find that at a MLB game or any sport event for that matter! For the most part I would consider the stadium very clean, just very interesting and one of the things I noticed. There is also a net around the entire field to keep fans safe from line drive foul balls, a good idea, but I think it takes away from that feeling that the players are right there on the field and you are close to the action (although we were sitting in the upper deck).

Now to the biggest difference, the noise. From the beginning to the end of the game is nearly none stop noise! Each team pretty much has a "student" section where the loudest and most hard core fans sit and cheer, very similar to college basketball. There are fans with trumpets, drums, etc. but they aren't all just cheering randomly, it is pretty much like a pep band and they even write songs and chants for their teams and each player (they have the songs and words on the teams' web sites so everyone can study the words and sing/cheer together). That part reminded me of college softball only imagine the entire crowd joining in with the players in the dugout and cheering for the entire game, non-stop. I can not emphasize the none-stop part enough, only for a couple SECONDS at the end of the game did it actually seem quite. Honestly, it reminded me of a GOOD UofL/UK college basketball game with 5 minutes left and the teams just trading baskets ... on steriods. Most fans also have these plastic baseball bat looking sticks that they use to bang together religiously during the ENTIRE game. Needless to say, you won't get that feel of a mid-summer game at the ballpark with the dull roar of the fans and same familiar sounds of a MLB or minor league ballpark in Japan.

All in all we had a great time! It was definitely interesting and it was after all baseball! I just don't think I will be trading in MLB or even good minor league baseball (Louisville Riverbats) for Japanese baseball. We will be going to more games this year though, maybe it will grow on me more! There are more pictures here.