Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Asia Tour

So far in Asia we have traveled to Hong Kong, China; Ho Chi Minh City, Viet Nam; Xi'an, China; and we are currently in Beijing, China. The following accounts are collected from various emails. Info in brackets []has been written at a later date.

Hong Kong

I am currently sitting in a soft chair pushed in front of a glass-covered wooden desk in the Metropark Hotel, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong. The flight was long and tedious but the vegetarian meal was delicious. First I had an Indian meal with assorted vegetables and fruit. The second meal was a bun with butter and wild rice with some sort of bitter sauce...[many of my emails are food related]
For breakfast today we had coupons for the hotel's breakfast buffet, but only for Mommy and Yimei [my aunt]. The waitress said that fee for a child's buffet was eighty-nine dollars. We were all looking stunned at this crazy expense before I thought to ask whether it was Hong Kong dollars.

I had muesli and corn flakes in milk, hardboiled eggs, french toast with jam and fruit yoghurt, heapings of rice noodles with soy sauce, orange-grapefruit juice, orange, grapefruit, strawberry, and pineapple...

After breakfast we walked around a little and entered the small, neat "Tin/Tsin (can't remember the spelling) Hua Temple Park," which smelled of incense. Birds and butterflies flocked about and congregated on the tall and fastidiously swept stone walls.

Yimei left for Shenzhen maybe two hours after breakfast on a bus.
The swimming pool is on a balcony surrounded by pillars looking out onto Hong Kong from the hotel's top floor. We have an excellent view in our room from the huge windows, and our desk is extremely wide. The TV has National Geographic, Discovery, and BBC World Service.
First we had a buffet breakfast and finished at eight forty-five AM. One of the book festival helpers came to pick us up and bring us to a photo shoot in Victoria Park, after which I headed to a school in Kowloon with an impossible nine-word name. The students had amazing English vocabulary and caught on quicker than American students! Their library had much more advanced English classics than Adrianna's junior high school, too, and this was an elementary! They had Anna Karenina, a Tale of Two Cities, etc.

The principal of the school also gave us a very generous gift of CDs and information about the school.

After the school, we came back to Victoria Park for interviews, photos, etc. Angel (one of the book festival helpers) bought lunch from a restaurant called Delifrance and I had soup and salad with croutons, ranch dressing, and salmon. I also had a hardboiled egg and I answered questions from students of an international school. After that there were more interviews, pictures, etc.
Having been invited by the principal of the school, it was the custom for her to therefore choose dishes for everybody. (This was the kind of Chinese restaurant where all the dishes are shared and sanitary protests thrown out the door). The dishes were: duck, pigeon soup, some sort of fowl I didn't care to inquire about, rice with meat in it, etc. I ate some cabbage and a little fish and mango pudding, but I was full anyway. I had a very good sleep. Mommy remarked that she asked me a question and I fell asleep a minute later.

Ho Chi Minh City

We are now in Viet Nam. We have arrived safely and have had a delicious breakfast after a wonderful sleep in the beautiful room [in the Hotel Majestic]. Because the hotel was built some time ago, the ceilings are fairly low and it is very interesting. Vietnam is very hot and humid and Mommy is dying (well, almost).
Today we had a terrifying experience. Vietnam has hardly any traffic lights at all, and is filled with motorbikes and trucks going in all different directions on the same lanes, with broken sidewalks and people going at high speeds while chatting on cell phones without helmets. We had to cross a road by weaving through the motorbikes; there were no lights at all! It was so scary. You [my dad] would hate driving here, nobody follows the rules.

Food is very cheap here. Our dinner bill cost only 600,000 dollars or so—that is, in Vietnamese currency. That equaled, I believe, maybe forty or fifty dollars. Most dishes were around nine dollars or so. I had braised fish with steamed rice and sauce, as well as goat cheese with vinegar on toasted bread and a huge salad with very strong onions. The Japanese prime minister was on a ferry on the river. We didn't see him, but one of the waiters in our hotel whose restaurant was catering the event told us. Yesterday we swam in the pool, went into the private hot tub with a jacuzzi, went into a sauna that smelled of cinnamon, and went into a steambath (which was pretty much the same except [wet and] harder to breathe inside.


Guess where we ate today? IKEA! (The food was awful, though.) It was Chinified McDonald's style. The only decent thing was a generous slice of Black Forest cake which I found very good, and the salad. I wasn't able to eat much at all because most of the dishes had meat in them. I was very tired today because we had to spend a lot of time in the car being . We must have spent about three or four hours in cars total. At least I managed to get a lot of sleep in between, and the school presentation went fairly well.

I didn't even know that I had books hidden on my desk [my dad found some overdue books in my room]. That's good that you managed to find those. There's always a huge pile of books on both of the desks in my room [slightly contradictory to the latter sentence].

Are you making any Thanksgiving plans? Will you make cranberry sauce? Speaking of fruits, the yoghurt here is very strange. All yoghurts are in liquid form and you must drink them. Back to Thanksgiving: Thanksgiving doesn't seem to be a big holiday here at all. In fact, I think that it is pretty much nonexistent. Christmas is growing here, but I heard no Thanksgiving greetings except oen from the principal of the International School which I presented at.

Today [at the International School of Beijing] I was answering an interview for China Daily News. The anchor asked which places I had visited in Beijing so far and I answered "the Forbidden City and...uh, a temple which I forget the name of, it was the temple where the emperor made sacrifices and prayed for better crops..." on camera. I completely forgot the name of the temple. The anchor was coughing anyway so we repeated that and Mommy reminded me that the temple's name was "Temple of Heaven."

The Temple of Heaven was very interesting. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to see the Divine Kitchen, which I greatly wanted to see, because they were doing repairs. The rest of the Temple of Heaven was very good, however. Next time when you [my dad, John Svitak] and Adrianna [my older sister] come then maybe we'll be able to see everything.

I hope everything's going well on the home front.

[Here I would also like to mention our visit to Tian'anmen Square. We came on a cold and gusty day so we were forced to confront the menacing winds as well as huge repairs on certain buildings in the Forbidden City, which made seeing some areas impossible...

We also visited the Summer Palace and we were stunned by the grandeur of its chokingly opulent halls, somehow balanced by the serenity of nature. The Summer Palace's walkways were painted in gerat detail, inspired by the different areas in China. These walkways, splendidly designed, provided a divider between the majestic mountains and the calm, rippling waters, fringed by Beijing's skyline; my mom told me that during China's Cultural Revolution, the Summer Palace was in danger; however, it has remained wonderfully preserved and continues to be a stunning sight today.

In the Summer Palace we learned about the extravagance and waste of the imperial age; the amount of silver that the Dowager Empress Cixi spent on one meal was enough to feed four families for five years--she had four meals a day, and one hundred dishes each meal. This is hard enough to imagine seeing, much less even tasting. Who knows what happened to these dishes?

Speaking of Cixi--she was given a large amount of money to begin a Chinese navy. Instead, she built (or, rather, had her laborers build) a beautiful white marble boat that could not sail but could not sink. This is just one of the objects that highlights the impracticalities of the imperial age.

After we went to the Summer Palace we ate a wonderful dinner and caught the sleeper train at one of the largest train stations in Asia to Xi'an]


The sleeper train was very nicely furnished and comfortable. On the train, we met a doctor from the UK named Ben, who didn't speak any Chinese so it would have been quite hard to get a ticket. He is traveling around the world in eighty days. Ben is staying at the same hotel [the Sofitel] so we are seeing a lot of sights together. Some of these include: the Big Wild Goose Pagoda, which is a Buddhist pagoda with a very nice garden, and we saw a calligraphy museum [Beilin Temple] (which I must confess was not very interesting to me) and ate in the Muslim Quarter of Xi'an.

[Speaking of Ben, you can see his blog at, which I would recommend very much.]
We saw the Shaanxi History Museum [which needed some work but had some very interesting artifacts from Zhou, Qin, etc. dynasties] and right now we are wondering what to do, having seen a great deal of different sights here in Xi'an.
We bought a few things from (and got a lot of business for) an old lady from the same part of China that Mommy comes from [Guizhou] and the exact same village [Kaili] too. We were walking around Xi'an a little bit.

We bought swimsuits (Mommy having forgotten ours in Beijing) at the huge seven story shopping mall, met a family from South Africa (well, Scottish on their mother's side), talked, left, then went to the Muslim Quarter again to buy fruit, went swimming in the hotel's spacious and generously heated pool/hot tub and I did the excercise machines. After this we went upstairs and took a shower under the giant 1920s style showerhead, watched some CNN/BBC [World], and went to bed under our very nice sheets. A very nice day.
Well, I had a sore throat, so Mommy wanted to find me some tea. As it happened, we stumbled on a very nice teahouse after coming from the Internet cafe, and they did everything in a very traditional way and explained it to us. They used a different teapot for the different types of tea, and told us about the different customs, etc., and Mommy bought some very nice tea. There was a very funny peach style teapot--with no lid. One poured boiling water in through the bottom and (somehow) it didn't come out even when you put it right side up. There was another teapot with a black dragon, that turned golden when you poured hot water in it, and black again when it cooled. I liked the tea quite a bit.

Back in Beijing

We're back in Beijing. We came back in rush hour and the station we came to was the largest in Asia, so we were caught up in a queue (if you could call it a queue--more of a pushing, shouting, spitting, smoking mass) of people. We tried to get on a bus but everybody kept pushing and trying to get onto the bus in the worst way so Mommy decided that we might as well get on a taxi instead.

It took about an hour to get back to the apartment and I slept in the car. I have a sore throat now and I had a slight fever yesterday night so I was still a bit sleepy when we arrived at seven in the morning.
Today since I have a fever Mommy wants me to recover and get some good rest so we are lounging around in the apartment [my mom's friend's apartment] reading, watching news, doing stuff on the computer, etc.


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