Sunday, August 16, 2009

Wow, it's over

I said I would write 2 posts this week, but I didn't anticipate how busy I would be. I just finished packing and I don't think I'll be overweight, so that's a relief. But I'm not sure. I'm definitely ready to go home.

Things I'll miss about China:
-saying certain Chinese expressions and words that I use all the time, which no one will be able to understand in the US
-meeting Europeans
-eating at restaurants every night, Chinese style, for 8 kuai (about a dollar)
-no tax, no tipping
-all my CET friends
-speaking Chingrish

Things I can't wait to enjoy in the US:
-the beach!!
-seeing blue skies and grass
-drinking water from the tap
-being able to flush toilet paper instead of having to throw it away
-cucumbers, cheese, breakfast, steak, Mexican food
-the normal mosquitoes in Michigan, not the mutant ones here that leave huge red bumps
-my friends at home, and ANN ARBOR (and my family and cats)

On Tuesday, we went to the Forbidden City. Unfortunately it was a bit underwhelming. It could be that we'd all already seen a lot of touristy spots in Beijing and Chinese architecture starts to all look the same after a while. Or it could have just been that it was extremely hot and we were all too tired to appreciate it. Honestly, don't visit Beijing in the summer, I don't even want to imagine how hot it is in southern China. Yikes, can you tell I'm ready to come home? The Forbidden City is where the Emperors used to live, it's basically a small city unto itself. Lots of pretty buildings, ones where the Emperor lived, where the Empress lived, where they received visitors, where they waited before receiving visitors, etc.

After walking past building after building, you suddenly stumble into a really pretty garden, we all were totally caught by surprise, there were a lot of people, but Chinese gardens are just so pretty. They've always got pagodas and stone formations and green! Here are some pics of the Forbidden City:

After, we walked to Wangfujin (I'm pretty sure that's what the place is called) and did a little shopping. We stumbled upon this little street where they sold scorpions that were still alive on a stick. I didn't eat any that day, but I ate some yesterday, after they're cooked they just taste like burnt chicken skin. Unfortunately, I lost my camera, so I have to wait until my friends get their pictures up on facebook to be able to prove this. I definitely did not eat the cicadas though.

Well, speaking of losing my camera, the next day we went to the 798 Art Gallery. It's not like how you're thinking though. The whole area used to be warehouses, but now it's all a bunch of shops and different themed galleries. The shops all have hand made jewelry and other things you'd find at an art fair - and if you can speak Chinese, you can bargain. On the sides of the streets there are a lot of funny statues and graffiti on the walls. On my way home I'm pretty sure I left my camera in the taxi... major 糟糕.

Finals weren't too bad (knock on wood), but we haven't gotten them back yet, so I can't be sure. We had our final banquet on Friday and after we got our "diplomas" we counted down from 10 in Chinese and after we could speak English, it felt so weird being able to speak Chinese in the daytime without being secretive about it, usually we only ever broke the language pledge at night on weekends. Everyone enjoyed hearing how different everyone sounded speaking English instead of Chinese. Our teachers accents were so cute!

Yesterday, I paid another visit to the Silk Street, which is a misleading name because it's actually in a building above the subway stop in the area. There are about 5 or 6 floors with different stuff on each. All of the girls wanted knock-off bags first, then we hit up the silk floor above, after that we went to the jewelry floor, which is extremely dangerous because it's filled with tons of really pretty jade jewelry and other traditional Chinese-looking things - lots of chopsticks and other little knick-knacks. You gotta bargain there or else you'll get completely ripped off. The hard part is, you also have to know what kind of price is fair before hand, but none of us know that so we just play it by ear and hope we got it right. What also helps is if you return to the same place you went before to buy more - and bring a friend to buy stuff too. Speaking Chinese earns major brownie points and because you're white (or not Chinese) they remember you.

I like bringing my friend Sabrina because she really fights for her price and gets it down a lot quicker and a lot lower than I can. My style is more the make friends route, I chat them up a bit in Chinese, pretend like nothing in particular catches my eye, then casually ask how much the thing I want is. When they name the price I say, "really? too expensive..." and back away a little and look really discouraged. It usually gets them. Sabrina takes the way more confident and aggressive approach and fights with them about the price, we go shopping a lot together and I'm pretty sure all I bring to the table is diversity and a backup dictionary. She's black and I'm white with blonde hair so we're definitely a unique sight, if she doesn't understand what they're saying, maybe I did. We can also confer in English about what our plan of action is. They love fighting with her though, after she gets her price, they all laugh and call her "lihai" (terrible, amazing, strong - I think I told you guys about this word before).

Yesterday there were 2 black girls with us, Sabrina and Precious and if I thought I got stared at, they have even more of a problem, tons of people sneak pictures of them and everyone stares and we heard "hei ren" (black person/people) all the time. Some of their faces were so funny, they stare open-mouthed at them. They're both pretty tired of it, I can't imagine, I only get random people staring at me at the touristy spots because that's where a lot of the country people go to who've never seen foreigners before. If you go to Tiananmen, and you're not Asian, you will get asked to be in pictures with people. But they love blondes, redheads, and black people best.

Well, I think that's about it. This is probably my last post because I doubt anthing spectacular will happen between now and tomorrow morning, but if anything does, I can write about it in the airport. Thanks to all of you who read and commented on this, it means a lot to me and I hope you got to experience a bit of China through my blog. See you in the US. Peace out.


Sunday, August 9, 2009

Dongwuyuan... Dongwuyuanr?

The Beijing accent. The taxi drivers are a perfect example of how forgetting to stick an "r" at the end of your words can make your life a little more difficult. I've finally gotten used to telling the cab driver I live near the "dongwuyuanr" (zoo) because saying it properly gets you nothing but confused looks in response. We all have a lot of fun "r-lizing" our words, mainly because it makes us sound like pirates.

Moving on. Time is definitely limited and it's so crazy to think that I only have a week left here. Before, it was so easy to put off seeing different places in Beijing because I was too tired from class, but now we suddenly have no time at all! So this past week we made it to Beihai Park, supposedly the most beautiful park in Beijing, and the Beijing Zoo (I can't believe it took us so long to visit, it's literally a 10 minute walk away).

Beihai was quite pretty, but I liked the Summer Palace more. Maybe the Summer Palace isn't considered a park though? Beihai was basically a mini-version of the Summer Palace - paths around a lake. Though the Summer Palace was where emperors used to retire in the summer so there are a ton of really pretty old buildings there too. At Beihai there was the White Tower, which was a white tower, go figure. But I feel like I'm not being fair, it was a very pretty place and it was nice to just wander around. Beihai has little side paths that the Summer Palace didn't have so you could feel like you were exploring a bit more here. Here are a few pics to give you a little taste:

Later in the week we went to the zoo, I brought my panda hat so I could get a cute picture of myself wearing it in front of the pandas, but unfortunately I forgot that I was in China. There were a TON of people and if you weren't rutheless about getting up to the front to see the pandas you had no chance of seeing anything. Once you got to the front, you had to be vigilant too because if people shifted around, you could find your spot taken magically by some wiley Chinese person.

After we had our fill of watching pandas munching on bamboo, we left. I was hungry and craving bread and it just so happened that they sold loaves of bread at all the food stands - which I'm pretty sure is to encourage you to feed the birds they keep in the zoo. I'm not sure, but I took it that way. The birds would notice the bread and proceed to stare at me super intensely as they made their way over to me. A little intimidating, but here's a video of my favorite bird, he's got a little mohawk - just like I used to have, right mom?

I feel like the animals were all really interested in the people who came to look at them, but that was probably because their cages were a little small and they didn't have much to do in there. There was a lynx that I played a little game with. You know how if you pretend to hide around a corner and stare at a cat, the cat eventually runs at you? Well, it works on lynxes too. He was loving it. Pics:

Saturday, August 1, 2009


It's been a while, friends. Last weekend we went to the Great Wall - actually more like one of the Great Walls. Throughout China's history, emperors in different dynasties would build walls to try and keep out those pesky Mongols. There are sections of the wall that are just hard-packed dirt, some sections are really old with improvements made later in history, and some are relatively (China's history is quite long, so "relatively") new, made of brick with periodic guard towers and pretty to look at. One side of the wall is China and one side is Mongolia, well, at the time that was the case, now both sides are China. We went to the section of the wall at Mutianyu.

First we had to walk up about a zillion stairs to actually get to the wall. It was way up there in my list of most tiring things I've ever done in my life (right up with track practice and gymnastics conditioning). Now, the stairs in China are really annoying, the steps are shorter than in the US so to go at a comfortable pace you need to step on every other step, which can get really tiring, but is better than tip-toeing up each step one by one. The stairs down into the underpasses are all like this too, longer steps with shorter distances between each.

We finally popped up into a guard house after climbing forever, I was concentrating so hard on keeping my pace that I didn't even realize we'd made it up. There was a guy selling popsicles for an outrageous price of 6-ish kuai when you can normally get them for 1 kuai, but I was so hot and thirsty I had to get one. That popsicle was like Jesus. Seriously.

Unfortunately I don't think I got any spectacular shots of the wall, maybe if we'd had time to go higher, but we ran out of time (and we wanted to hit up the souveneir shops on the way back). Pics:

There was also a spot higher up on the mountain where there were huge characters that said "long live chairman mao"(in chinese). Which reminds me of a moment in class this past week where the teacher asked "what road" (this was a grammar pattern we were learning) the Chinese government is walking in terms of governmental policy (all vocab words we're learning), the student said capitalism and the teacher was like, "what? you mean socialism, right?" and he said, no I mean capitalism. She just didn't understand why/how he could say that. He tried to save himself by saying some aspects were capitalistic (think: Deng Xiaoping's reforms in China after Mao lost power/died - "It doesn't matter whether the cat is black or white, as long as it catches mice." He was referring to the uncomfortable similarities between Chinese economic policy and capitalist countries' economic policy. Sorry for the history lecture) and some aspects were socialistic, but she still didn't go for that so he finally gave in and said China was walking the road of socialism.

With our drill sessions in small group lecture, the teacher always has an answer in mind, it's really hard to try and discern what she wants you to say. Still definitely not a fan of the Chinese emphasis on memory.

On Thursday, instead of class we got to go to a park and talk to old people about their daily lives and how retirement was treating them, for the most part I understood, but there was one guy from Hangzhou who had a really strong accent so I did a lot of nodding and scribbling "and then he said something I didn't understand" in English so he couldn't peak and realize I had no clue what he was saying.

The parks in Beijing are so popular, there are tons of people walking, dancing, doing yoga, taiqi, stretching, playing that hackey sack thing I keep telling you about, playing cards, reading the paper, and on and on and on. This park had a little "amusement park" for kids and also river that you could hire a boat to float down on, the lotus blossoms were so beautiful. There were also little stalls selling things. The old people all had the same look on their faces after I started speaking Chinese with them, kind of like a "what?! it can talk?!" look. But then they warmed up to me. It's because I'm so charming.

Until next time...

Monday, July 20, 2009

Holy crap! Look at the laowai!

This would be for a motion-sensor sink...

老外(lao3wai4) is a way of saying "foreigner" in Chinese, and this past weekend we were definitely the talk of the town. CET gave us the opportunity to visit either Dalian (a bigger, nicer city by the ocean - good air quality) or Yuxian (a smaller, poorer town). I decided to go to Yuxian because I figured it would be more of an experience; maybe less fun (my friends who went to Dalian got to go out to bars at night and hang by the ocean), but in the end more meaningful.

Yuxian was completely different than Beijing. I don't think they see foreigners very often there so when we walked by in our big group, traffic problems occured. Lot's of staring and pointing. One of the guys looks like Harry Potter (at least to Chinese people, none of the Americans think they look alike) so he got asked to be in pictures all the time.

Our first day we toured Yuxian. They took us all around and we saw a bunch of old temples. Unfortunately our tourguide only spoke Chinese so I didn't catch much of the information. We also went to a traditional paper cutting... place. Yuxian's paper cuts are different than the rest of China's paper cuts because they often use white paper which they then paint after they're done cutting. So, Yuxian's papercuts are very colorful as opposed to the traditional red paper the rest of China uses.

Our second day we traveled to a small, very rural, very poor village nearby. Saturday was my favorite day because it was unlike anything I have ever experienced before. If I thought we were stared at in Yuxian, in this village (which I've unfortunately forgotten the name of) we were even more of a spectacle. Because it had rained the day before, and because the roads were pretty much all dirt, the place was a muddy mess. We rode there in 2 big buses and it was pretty nerve-wracking to look out the window and watch the bus maneuver through the city. Chinese people are very fond of motorbikes, by the way. You see them everywhere, even at this village. I think I would have fallen flat on my face trying to ride one on those roads.

After checking out all the temples and places of interest, we went to lunch... which sadly got into a bit of a disagreement with my stomach. I wish I'd taken a picture of the dish that I think did it. It was yellow, noodle-like, and squishy.

Afterwards we rode back to Yuxian to rest up, but on the way we stopped at this long bridge (not really a bridge, but a road) and walked along it. It was nice to just relax and go for a stroll. We climbed down and skipped some stones too (well, I attempted and failed). Later that night we returned to the village to watch a traditional Chinese opera performance, which I think is a weekly get-together for the locals. My favorite memory from the trip was right before the performance. While we were waiting some of the guys started playing basketball with the Chinese guys. A ton of Chinese people gathered round to watch and it was fun play with the kids while we were waiting, it was just all-around a nice moment.

Chinese opera is an opportunity to teach kids moral lessons (so our guide said) and to get together and chat. It was really strange to hear how everyone was talking during the performance, completely different from how audiences are supposed to be silent in the US. The way they sing makes it hard for even Chinese people to understand, but I think they know the story already (like the stories we were told as children). This one was about how the emperor's daughter was beaten up by her husbad after he got drunk, so she told her dad and her dad decided that the only way to solve this was to execute her husband, most of the play revolved around the daughter trying to convince her mom and dad not to kill him because she started to feel bad. I donno.

Well, that's all for now. But before I go, I've had a request to explain how Chinese people react to me being able to "speak" Chinese, and how they react to me/foreigners in general. Well, if I'm in a group of people and a Chinese person speaks to us, they usually single out the most obviously Chinese and in-charge one. That usually ends up being Lisa, her parents are from Guangdong, so she understands the language they speak there (I forgot wether its Cantonese or some other dialect/language) and is a bit more familiar with Mandarin than the rest of us. If you're Asian, but not Chinese, that's second best. When you think about it, this makes perfect sense because you want to be talking to the person who can actually speak Chinese. If you're obviously European-looking, then Chinese obviously isn't your first language (I'm sure there might be exceptions, but that's really strange to think about).

When it comes to me speaking Chinese with Chinese people, depending on where I am, I get a different reaction. If I'm at a shopping area they all flatter me and say my Chinese is great after I say "duo1 shao3 qian2? (how much)" to which I awkwardly decline in the proper Chinese manner (Chinese people only rarely say "thank you" after receiving a compliment). Still haven't gotten that down. It's very strange when someone compliments you on your outfit or says you look cute and you're then supposed to say, "No, no, these clothes aren't pretty" or something along those lines. It's so much easier to say, "Thanks, I really like them too!" Yesterday at dinner there were no Asian-Americans in the group and somehow the responsibility of ordering food landed on me (I think the others were just too tired). Ordering food is never a problem because all the menus have pictures of the food so you can point at the picture and say "zhe4ge (this)". But later I asked the waitress what an appropriate gift to give a friend after they've helped me would be, she was pretty shocked but very happy/embarassed to answer. Something along the lines of depends on what your intentions are (NOT helpful, a very Chinese answer).

Ah, I've been rambling for too long, gotta wrap this up. If I'm with Asians, I'm ignored. No Asians, they usually want to try to speak a little English with me, but have to resort to Chinese eventually after I persist in only speaking Chinese (plus, I think most people only have studied very simple conversation topics or job-related English). Reactions to my obviously not being Chinese, I get looked at a lot so I have to be careful about picking wedgies while walking down the street and such. I think I might be treated more politely, but I think I have to go around by myself more before I can say its not just the fact that its a group of foreigners. Also, I get a lot of "Heloo?" while I'm walking down the street. If you're curious about anything else, please do ask, I like trying to explain these things. Did I answer that question well enough?

Saturday, July 11, 2009

An all-nighter, among other things

Another action-packed weekend just flew by (technically I still have today, Sunday, to enjoy though). Next week is our mid-term so the teachers canceled our Friday test and watched a movie instead, Beijing Bicycle. I really don't like that movie, I'd seen it before in the US and the characters are all just too roundabout for me to handle. I can't help thinking, when I watch the movie, that if they had just been more direct none of their problems would have happened. I guess that's one difference in our cultures that I'm just not a big fan of. Sooo, if you want to watch a movie and end up extremely frustrated, I'd recommend Beijing Bicycle.

Anywho, Thursday night we ended up in Houhai (hai means lake, it's one of the 7 or so lakes to the left of the Forbidden City) which is an awesome shopping and bar-hopping (sorry mom) area. The stores were so cool though! I definitely will have to go back to buy you guys some souveneirs. The whole lake is surrounded by bars with live music and it was fun to just walk around - the bar employees all stand outside their bar and try to get you to come in, "Ladies! Upstairs, drinks half-off. Pretty ladies!" My favorite was the guy who told us, "Ladies, come in! I sing for you!"

Friday night was our "Epic Wanshang (Evening)." But first, during the day, we went to the Llama Temple and Ditan Gongyuan (Park). The Llama Temple was a really pretty area with temple after temple of Buddhist statues that worshipers could kneel in front of and burn incense. It was all very hushed and relaxing. There was one building with a huge 3-story Buddha in it. Other's had Chinese-style statues of other Buddhist deities. I don't know enough about Buddhism to really be able to tell you all about it. Here are a lot of pictures - and one of me! (I'm narcissistic)

After the Llama Temple, we went to Ditan Park, a smaller park that was pretty close by. We passed shop after shop selling bundles of incese and buddist figures on the way. Seriously, I could smell the incese as soon as we walked out of the subway. It really put the whole area in another place. My favorite place in Ditan Park was the Slaughter Pavilion (great name, I know). Ditan Park is home to the Temple of Earth, one of the 4 temples around Beijing that the Emperors of old used to travel to to make sacrifices. Standing in the center of the big square felt like I was in a movie. There were a bunch of flags in rows all around and there was a nice breeze so they were all flapping too.

After that we walked around the park itself (the Temple of Confucius was closed because all the buildings in the park close at 5 (or it might have been 6)). Everything closes in China earlier than it does in the US, it's hard to get used to. We tried to go to a Starbucks last night at around 10 and it was closed. I don't know if its the same in the US, but there were still a lot of people around and I was really in need of coffee.

There were old people out and about doing old Chinese-people things (which are different than old American-people things): people playing mahjong and cards at the little tables scattered throughout the park, there were croquet games going on in these little dusty, dirt areas, also this hacky sack type thing that I've mentioned before. It's crazy, I don't have the skills to kick that little thing up and over to another person, but these grandparents were just killing it! I'm impressed everytime I see it. The base is some coins tied together and then there's a feather sticking up on top and it makes a chinck sound everytime it's kicked.

That was our day, after eating, resting and showering up, we got ready for our "Epic Wanshang" which included: a return stroll around Houhai, dancing for however long we felt like it at Wudaokou, karaoke if there was time (which there wasn't), and finally getting to Tiananmen by 4 in the morning to see the changing of the guard.

My envisioning of the whole Tiananmen changing of the guard thing was completely different from what actually ended up happening. Every night at 11pm and morning at 4am the guards change. We decided to go at 4 because we figured there'd be less people. Lisa's Lonely Planet guide book also said it was more of a foreigner thing to go to too. So I was picturing a relaxed, easy viewing of the changing of the guard and an opportunity for me to break the language pledge and chat with some other English speakers. Not so. Definitly not so.

I forgot, this is China, it's also a Friday night/Saturday morning. The place was filled with Chinese tour groups and we basically had no chance of seeing what was going on. At one point, before the actual event happened, we could see the guards standing there, but then, when it started everyone's kid went up on his/her parent's shoulders and it was game over. I did get to see the flag being raised while they played the national anthem. That was cool, I guess. So, if you're ever in China and want to do this, I'd recommend a weekday.

We were all totally beat afterward and headed back like zombies to go to sleep. We didn't even make it to McDonald's to eat breakfast like we had planned.