Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Kristin Returns Home

Stop. The title doesn't mean what you might think it means. I have not given up and I am not leaving China. What I mean is I returned to my second home, my Chinese home. When I decided I wanted to write this post and give it this title I simply meant that I had returned to Baotou, the city where I first lived (for three years) in China, but while I was in Baotou I discovered that the friend of several of my friends (both American and Chinese friends) actually lives in my old apartment and so I got to visit my old apartment too. Boy was that weird (but also really cool)!
Here comes the train!

Let me back up and start at the beginning. My school in Beijing is located in the National Tennis Center (国家网球中心). By in the National Tennis Center I mean our school building is the building that surrounds the Lotus Court. Usually, this doesn't mean much except that it's a long walk through the National Tennis Center to get to the school building (I need to buy a scooter!) and that the elementary kids actually have recess on the Lotus Court (I've got a post coming soon about the school itself). There are, however, two weeks out of the year when this has a very significant impact and that is the last week in September and the first week in October. During these two weeks, China hosts the China Open, an international tennis tournament that as you can guess is held at the National Tennis Center. Several of our classrooms and offices are taken over by the China Open. Our students use the lockers in the China Open locker rooms as their regular lockers and so, of course, they have to empty them out prior to the China Open. As you may have guessed by now all this means that we cannot hold school and so we get a two-week break! Now all of China has the first week of October off to celebrate Chinese National Day (commemorating the founding of the People's Republic of China on October 1, 1949). However, having the week before off is awesome because you get the opportunity to travel without the masses (the so-called Golden Week is a crazy time travel-wise). I took the opportunity to travel to Baotou, Inner Mongolia.
Each car has a conductor who after a while collects
all the tickets and exchanges them for a card. She then
wakes you up before your stop (unless it's at the end like
mine was in both directions, then they wake everyone up
about an hour before arrival)
My berth is top left through this window.
I left Beijing after work on Friday, September 24th and took the train overnight to Baotou. When I first arrived in China in 2002 this was a 16-hour train ride. Now you can take it in about 8 (and I heard that a high-speed railway will open next year reducing the travel time to only 4 hours!). I chose to take a slightly longer train ride, 10 hours because this would be more conducive to sleeping. A friend of mine ordered my tickets online for me, reserving me a top berth in the hard sleeper section. I prefer the middle berth, but apparently, none were available. I was able to then go the Beijing Railway Station a bit early and pick up my tickets. This is a big improvement from when I lived in China before when you had to go to the railway station or a ticket office and you could only get tickets one-way (although in Beijing you could get return tickets to Beijing) and you could only get the ticket 6 days in advance (I think it was 12 in Beijing - I'm not positive because I didn't live in Beijing back then). This time, I ordered my tickets about a week before I left (we weren't worried about the trip to Baotou because that was before the holiday, but needed to order the ticket for my return because that fell within the holiday week).

The view down the train car.
The train was not quite as nice as it used to be (you might be thinking this is a product of memory, but I know at least to a degree it is not because there used to be carpets in the aisles that they would roll up at the end of the trip and those weren't there), but the prices I think actually went down (not sure of this, though) while people's earnings have gone up. Thus, the hard sleeper tickets that were once the realm of the middle class are probably now the realm of the lower middle class (the bottom in China is still incredibly poor). I also noticed people didn't seem as interested in talking to me (usually, but not always, in the past when people discovered I spoke Chinese they wanted to talk to me). However, I also spent a higher percentage of my time on my berth because of the shorter trip duration.
In Baotou, I got to spend a lot of time hanging out with friends. I was able to work around my friends' work schedules to spend almost all of my time (over the course of 10 days) with various friends. I visited my foreign friends (and made some new ones), my former co-workers (and one former student who now works at the university) and my former students (my first year in Baotou I worked with the Iron and Steel Company's training center and my students were all adults, many of whom became good friends). I stayed in a hotel two nights and with friends the rest of the nights and I had a great time. I'm going to let the pictures (and their captions) do the rest of the talking. Enjoy!

I went to Saihatala park with one Chinese friend
and four American friends (who are also blondes).
We attracted a TON of attention.

I decided to take pictures of the people
taking pictures of us.

They were not the least bit covert in their
picture taking.

I had deluded myself into thinking this
didn't happen as much because it doesn't
usually, happen in Beijing but in Baotou the
foreigner is still the fish in a fishbowl.

Baotou is known as the city of deer. However, this park and a statue
in the middle of a traffic circle are the only places where one can find
any deer in Baotou.

You thought the picture taking was over, but you were

This is a really cool market street near the university where I used to teach. The market wasn't there back when I taught there...
Meat on a stick, anyone?

On Saturday, October 1 I went hiking with a group of my friends.
We went to Ma'An Mountain (马鞍山), but because it was
National Day it was unbelievably crowded! I'm glad we went in the
morning because as we left the crowds were a LOT larger
and there was a HUGE line of cars trying to get into the

Just when you thought you'd reached the top you turned the corner and saw that there was more!

I got asked (at least they asked) for SO many pictures! This was a group
of middle schoolers who talked a lot about asking me, but for the longest time
didn't ask. I told them (in Chinese) that they had to ask me (one of the people
with me tried to tell me they wanted to take a picture, but I insisted they had to ask
me personally). I didn't mean they had to ask me in English, but after I said that they all
worked on figuring out how to ask me in English. When one of them got it right, I took a
photo with all of them.

I ran into a woman I had known 11 years ago (the on
the left. The one on the right jumped into the photo.
After this photo, she wanted one of just the two of us,
however, it wasn't until that point that she realized this
was my camera)

Behind me is a screen made of water. They are
showing a Monsters Inc movie on that screen
(in English). When I lived in Baotou they would
show videos on this water screen, but it was usually
just pictures of Inner Mongolia with music.
Occasionally it included cartoons, but never
a full-length film (and never in English).

It's kind of hard to see because of the lights behind us,
but this is my former university student and her mother.

This donut shop belongs to a friend of mine. Unlike Beijing, Baotou
doesn't have Dunkin' Donuts, but these donuts have a pretty
authentic taste.

I couldn't resist a picture of this dog. I thought its
grooming was unique, to say the least.

Here comes my train back to Beijing!

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