Monday, June 29, 2009

Patience, Young Grasshopper

After looking around a shopping... place... it's hard to describe but there are a lot of these in the area (it's a multi-storied building with a bunch of shops in it, like a mall but much more ghetto), I walked back to my university and saw a lady with a cart selling plants, little fishies... and ginormous grasshoppers. The pictures just don't do them justice. She'd gathered quite the foreign audience at this point, which meant lots of Chinese had stopped to watch too. She joked that we could buy them to eat, we said "really?!" and she laughed. Then one of my classmates said Americans eat grasshoppers all the time. Way to plant misconceptions about Americans. He's one of those guys who can look completely serious when he's completely lying. Funny, but confusing if you're not in on the joke.

Here're a few interesting bites to eat I've had: one is jidan (eggs with some seasoning on them) and the other is a shrimp? I know you can eat that in the US, but I don't think I ever have because I don't like sea food too much. The last is a delicious noodle dish I got from a Korean restaurant - Esther, are you proud of me??

This last picture is just too funny, we were waiting at the subway for everyone to buy their tickets and all of a sudden it got super windy and the guys decided to strike a little boy-band pose for me. Made all the more funny because they're all wearing white t-shirts (they went to a highlighter party after dinner).

Finally, a daily occurrence, trying to figure out who pays what after dinner because in China they just DON'T do separate checks. We start off sticking to the language pledge but as the minutes tick by and everyone starts to get a little frustrated, English creeps in.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

同屋来了! Roommates have arrived!

Pretty much everyone's roommate arrived yesterday. My roommate's name is Chun Chi-ting (pronounced choon chur-ting, kinda). I'm pretty sure she told me she's from Inner Mongolia, but we were speaking all in Chinese so I could be completely wrong. I got that her hometown is on a plateau... or would it be a basin? I don't know enough about Mongolia. Well, here's a pic of her, not the greatest pic, but I'm sure I'll have many more by the end of the summer. We're at a Uighur restaurant, Uighurs are the Muslim people who live in Xinjiang province which is right by Kazakhstan.

I still haven't worked out a schedule for myself yet that balances work and play... and my air conditioning stopped blowing cold air and has only been blowing hot air so I've been taking lots of naps because it makes me so sleepy. Now that I know what to expect each day, hopefully I'll be able to focus on just doing what's necessary so I'm not wasting a bunch of time. Our first test was today, it was on the 4 chapters we studied this week... didn't do too great but that's ok because next week I'll know the format of the test. Zhou Laoshi (teacher Zhou) told us all about it, except she told us in Chinese so I didn't really catch much. Writing in English is so weird! And then people keep walking by my door and saying "ni hao" and I want to reply in English... my brain is confused.

Speaking of having a confused brain, apparently on wednesdays from 8:30pm to 9 we can speak English in this one room on my floor, when I went in everyone was pretty crazy. I was thinking in Chinese but trying to speak English so it was like a reverse Chingrish going on. A lot of the guys had fun shouting swear words because the only one that any of us know besides the f-word, which you really don't say here at all because it's just too strong of a swear, is "zao gao" which pretty much means "shoot." Plus it's all first tone, which is the high, level tone, so you can't really make it sound angry. Look at how happy they are to speak Engrish!:

This fine gentleman is demonstrating how many older Chinese men beat the heat when they're walking down the street (I promise, that rhyme was unintentional):

I don't get how displaying your potbelly could ever be a good thing, but hey, maybe it helps. Man, I almost forgot to tell you! It's been getting up to a hundred degrees for the past couple days now... I miss Michigan's summer, never thought I'd say that. I'm constantly sweaty and smelly, but hopefully I'll get used to it. I need to buy one of those pretty sun umbrellas girls carry around with them here.

A couple of the girls and I went to a cute little cafe to do homework a couple days ago and I ordered what I thought was a smoothie, but ended up being pleasantly surprised by receiving this instead:

That's melon ice cream on the top, pieces of mango and watermelon, underneath is a lot of shredded ice, I think there was something milky/creamy in there too. 好吃!Hao-chi, delicious!

CET gave us 70 kuai to take our roommates out to dinner last night, so we chose the Uhigher restaurant I mentioned above. A lot of the dishes we ordered were spicy, but I don't know if that was just because we chose the spicy ones or if Xinjiang food is spicy. We ate eggplant again, which I've insisted on ordering every time we go out because it's my new favorite Chinese dish. I'm not sure if I've ever had eggplant in the States, but everyone says it's cooked waaaay better here. I agree from what I've tasted. We also got yoghurt, which I think is a Uhigher thing, but I could be totally wrong because it tasted like the yoghurt they have in the cafteteria and apparently it's the same as the stuff they sell in little jars on the street. I still not daring enough to try one, but one of the guys did. I'll have to ask how his bowels liked it and then maybe I'll give it a try.
Yoghurt (it's pretty much everyone's favorite thing to eat in the cafeteria):

A handful of us went to the restaurant, here we are with our roommates:

For now,

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

About that spitting sign...

The lesson I'm learning for tomorrow in my textbook is about slogans in elementary schools and around China. It said one of the most popular ones was "请勿随地吐痰" which you'll notice is the same as the one on the sign I posted yesterday. Hopefully I'll see more of these "Please do not spit anywhere" signs around Beijing. Pronounced: qing wu suidi tutan

Today I prepared a lot more for class so I felt nowhere near as in over my head as I did yesterday. I actually understood and was able to answer most of the questions shot my way in our small group classes. Here's the format of our weekdays. Class starts at 8:30 and there are about 15 people in this main lecture class. We start off with a listening quiz where she reads a sentence in Chinese and we copy down the sentence in Chinese characters. Then we turn in our homework for that lesson and the review homework for the lesson before. Then she goes over grammar for that lesson until 10:20 (there's a 10 min. break in the middle). After, we go to our small group classes (about 5 people) and the teachers rotate every day so we can get used to the way lots of people speak. In this class they drill us on the grammar structures and the vocab. This lasts from 10:40 to 12:30 with a 10 min break in the middle. Then lunch! Then 4 days a week we meet with one of the teachers for a one-on-one conversation for 25 minutes to go over any questions or to just talk (all in Chinese). It's rough, but I'm thinking it'll be quite effective.

Every day now I've been going out and eating with a big group Chinese-style, it's a very merry affair and only costs around 25 kuai ($4) for... around 6 dishes, depending on the restaurant. It's so good! This is the roast duck we ate today - the skin was so crispy and delicious:

And here's a picture of Mina (a fellow U-M student) in front of our school's gate, Beijing Institute of Education, which I can never remember how to say in Chinese:

Monday, June 22, 2009

Language Pledge

The language pledge started today, I shouldn't be speaking anything out loud but Chinese from now on. Of course, I've only had two years of Chinese and there are also 100 level students here so we're allowed to slip in English words every now and then to ask how to say something.

Dinner tonight was an interesting affair: there were around nine of us and everyone was 260 and below so the conversation was pretty stilted, but hilarious. Lot's of "Suuuuooyiiii... (Soooo...)," English words with "zenme shuo" (how do you say) tacked on to them, people saying things wrong, and general misunderstandings flying all over the place. We ate Chinese-style and had a room with a big round table to ourselves so we were pretty rambunctious. I think we have a ton of inside jokes now that I sadly can't tell you about because they have to do with the Chinese language and funny stories from language classes are never funny when you tell them to someone who isn't taking the language.

Though I will say in class today, one girl kept saying "qiguai" instead of "xiguan"... which means strange instead of "to become accustomed to." My favorite was when she said China was strange instead of she was getting used to China. I guess that wasn't too funny for you though.

Here's a picture of all of us at dinner, 很可爱! (hen ke-ai = how cute!):

Yes, there's a Hooters in China:

A funny sign at a place that sells great 饺子, jiao-zi = dumplings:

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Beijing China, Baby!

So, I don't know if you've ever heard of "the Great Fire Wall of China," but it's quite annoying - the government has blocked youtube, blogspot, and other sites deemed "inharmonious." Well, I tried a bunch of things to try and get around the block - proxy sites and firefox add ons - but none of them worked. A bunch of us were all trying to get around it and one of the girls figured out that you can use your school's wireless to access blocked sites because it tricks the fire wall into thinking your computer is in the US and not in China so it can't block it. Anyway, that's all settled now.

I'll admit, I was a little down when I first arrived in Beijing. I was tired, cranky from the lack of sleep caused by my delayed flight, and the smog was so bad it looked overcast and misty the whole day.

However, the sun is out now and I've been feeling much more cheery, it's in the 90's and very humid. I wish I would've bought more flow-y clothes. The dorms aren't bad, but you can't flush toilet paper so that's been taking some getting used to. This is tmi, but there are lots of squat toilets here (in restaurants and other public restrooms) and I'm wondering how they go number 2.

We have to take our temperature every day to make sure we don't have swine flu and one girl had to go into quarantine because there was a confirmed H1N1 case 2 rows in front of her on the plane she flew in on, but she wasn't sick or anything so I think she'll be ok.

Enough of the boring stuff, we took our placement tests and I'm in 260... I think I should be 300 but if I study hard I'll still be able to test into 400 level Chinese when I get back. Plus, my listening comprehension isn't too great so I'll be able to really focus on that. This morning we went to Jingshan Park and did tai chi, I didn't do the knife one in the following video because I decided to walk to the top of the hill of the park.

Here are some nice views of the temple/gazebo thing at the top and of the forbidden city behind me:

There were tons of old people doing crazy-cool things in the park: people playing what looked like hacky sack with a ball with feathers on it, people doing tai chi, people stretching, writing characters with water... and on and on. There were some things I didn't understand too much either, like this:

Here are more pictures of people in the park:

After the park, we walked through the hutongs near the center of Beijing. Hutongs are older neighborhoods that are set up with small alleys with entrances to multiple walled-in houses. Some are pretty old and run-down, but there were some more affluent families there too. Here are some images of those:

Unfortunately, I think that's all I'll go over for today, even though there was more. I'm going to a banquet soon with our teachers and we all get to get dressed up. I'll have to post all my pictures somewhere so you guys can see everything. Now that I've figured out how to post again, I'll be able to update more regularly.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Sayonara Tokyo

I didn't mention it yesterday, but there's a place in Shibuya where the Japanese like to meet up with friends, it's the statue of Hachi-kou. Hachi-kou is a statue of a dog who waited year after year in that spot for his master to return home. So now, when you want to meet up with someone and hang out in Shibuya or catch a train from there, you meet at that statue. But there are usually so many people there waiting for friends that once you get to the statue you have to call your friend and figure out which side of the statue they're by.

Today is my last day in Japan. I'm sitting in the airport right now (in the business class lounge, oh yeaaaah) and my flight was supposed to leave at 7:30pm but is delayed until 10pm... so I won't get to Beijing until around 1 in the morning. This really sucks.

For my last day, Yuki got me a ticket to go the the Studio Ghibli Museum. You have to buy tickets in advance because it's so popular to go there. You aren't allowed to take pictures inside, but there're all kinds of artwork from the movies and cool animations. They also show an original short that's only shown at the museum. Here's a picture of a wall of the museum, the whole building was really cool, lots of spiral staircases, stained glass, and whimsical things.

At the top of the museum (after you walk up a big wooden spiral staircase covered in ivy) is one of the statues from the movie Castle in the Sky (or Laputa in Japanese, I think)

On my way to Shinjuku to catch the train to the airport I bought some jelly with an Asian/Japanese? plum in the middle. It is a plum even though it looks like a giant olive, it has a pit. There weren't any spoons at the stand where I bought it, so I had to make due.

Oh, Motoko and I walked through a park to get to the museum and when we crossed a bridge there were some paddle boats, regular ones and swan ones. Motoko said there was a jinx on the swan boats and that if a couple rode one together they would end up splitting up. But she said she knew someone who's parents rode it when they were young and ended up getting married. There were huge carp in the lake too, like, longer than my torso and thicker than my thigh... don't know if you can picture that. When we looked over the edge of the bridge at them they swam up to the surface and stuck their mouths up above the water and opened them wide. I wished I'd have had some food to give them. We walked back through a cool alley area (Tokyo has tons of smaller streets with shops lining them, usually on a slight incline)

Motoko also told me that Japanese girls wear their watches with the face on the inside of the wrist, not the outside because it's more elegant to check the time when it's on the inside. Man, there's this guy sitting behind me just full of stories, he's pretty much straddling the line between arrogant and cosmopolitan. He's telling this lady stories about all the places he's been, a lot of them are about China so I'm spying on him. I've got my headphones in though so it looks like I'm not listening.

Alright, I said goodbye to Yuki and her mom and got on the airport express train, the airport is over an hour away from Tokyo. When the train got far enough away and city-scapes turned into rice paddies (ooh, how poetic), the neighborhoods all had houses that looked like this

When I first noticed the houses, I thought it was a temple because the roof was so pretty, but then I saw that there were clothes hanging on a rack on the balcony on the second floor. Pretty much all the houses had that kind of roof. I think the Japanese place a lot of importance on making their surroundings and actions beautiful and graceful.

For example, Yuki showed me the proper way to pick up your chopsticks (this is when I ate the octopus sushi) and drink green tea. You pick them up from the top of your rice bowl with your right hand, then hold them underneath with your left hand while you slide your right to the end of the chopsticks and then back down into place - then eat! Also, you should hold the green tea cup with two hands, one on the side and one underneath.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Asakusa Again! Among other things

Alright, fast post today because it's late and I'm tired. Next time I come to Tokyo I want to take things slower, it's been very fun, but also very tiring trying to see as much as I can in as little time as possible.

Notable events: I went to Yuki's university today to meet up with her friend Motoko so she could show me around while Yuki was in class. First we went to an English conversation lunch where they made "Chicago-style hot dogs." They didn't have buns so they mixed up some batter and made what looked like pancakes to wrap the buns in but didn't taste as fluffy as pancakes.

Yuki in front of her school's clock tower:

After, Motoko and I went to Asakusa again! She hadn't been there since she was a little kid, so she really wanted to go see everything again too. This time it wasn't too late to pray at the temple so we went in, threw some yen into these grates and prayed to the thunder god so there wouldn't be any storms during my flight and to the wind god for good winds. I also bought a charm for studying, students in Japan buy them so they can do well in their classes - I'll need it for my upcoming placement test in Chinese.

More Asakusa pictures:

After, we went back to the university to eat dinner in the cafeteria with Yuki. For silverwear they have cheap, plastic cafeteria chopsticks, spoons for curry dishes, spoons for miso soup, and maybe some other things. You have to pay money for each meal, you don't get a meal plan. There's also a fixed time schedule so everyone has lunch at the same time (which is why we didn't eat lunch there because it was packed). I ate what Yuki called a Japinized curry dish.

Then we went to Shibuya and did some karaoke, you walk in and ask for a room, they tell you the number and you go up the stairs to whichever floor your room is on. As soon as we got out of the elevater we could hear some awful singing and we all laughed. Our room was a tiny little corner room. We'd reserved the room for an hour and when we got in we ordered some food (dessert, really) and drinks and got to work. There were these huge books with a section each for English, Korean, and Japanese songs. I refuse to post any videos of me singing, but here are some pictures:

Monday, June 15, 2009

Day 3... more shopping

Today we walked to the subway instead of Yuki's dad driving us and I'm so glad we did. Yuki's neighborhood is so quintessentially (such a great word) Japanese, I don't know how to describe it, but I'll try (hopefully we'll walk again so I can take pictures). The houses are all small and walled in, but everyone has gardens, potted plants, little cactuses and other green things growing in the space and ledges that they have. The roads are all only big enough to fit one car - one tiny Japanese car, the cars here are definitely more narrow I think. We walked up a big hill and there was a little park with a bamboo forest and when we got to the top of the hill there was the neighborhood shrine next to the street. Yuki said that the Japanese think that very old spirits live in these shrines so no one likes to tear them down.

After we hit her little downtown area and we went into a grocery store (lots of different types of meat and seafood, and fruits I'd never seen before, along with your usual grocery store stuff) and a 100 yen store, aka a dollar store.

For lunch we ate at a sushi place where the sushi rotated around on a conveyer belt and a guy makes the sushi in the middle and people sit around it and pick off the plates that they want. When you've eaten your fill, you count up your plates and pay for each plate. Japanese sushi is so much better than the sushi in the US... but there were some really... interesting ones as well. Like one with what I think was a bunch of minnows slapped on top - tried it, I give it an "eh." Here's a video of my daring, but doomed taste of octopus sushi. I needed a lot of green tea to get that all down.

After, we walked around the Shinjuku district/prefecture/whatever and walked around some department stores. Expensive, but very, very cool stuff. I really like the Tokyo style. They wear lots of layers and flowy stuff on top, maybe some leggings or above knee-high socks with boots. Another thing I've noticed, Tokyo gals wear awesome high-heels. Major shoe envy going on here. Someone ignorant of Tokyo style might say that they guys here are all metro, but I think they're all just very stylish - tight pants with a funky pair of shoes, maybe a scarf, hair artfully messy, you get the picture (Japanese guys know how to accessorize). Lots of guys have an ear pierced too.

Anyway, after Shinjuku Yuki had to go to class so her friend Kosuke showed me around, he studied at a small school in PA so his English was really good. We walked around Harajuku, where Gwen Stefani's clothing gets its name from. The main street had all really expensive Ginza-type stores, but the side alleys had really cool little shops - I found a 500 yen shop ($5 store). I was too nervous to try on any clothes though because I have no clue how the Japanese sizing system works and let's face it, Japanese girls just don't have big butts and guns like me - pow pow!

Anywho, Kosuke had to go to class after Yuki joined us again so we met up with her friend Long (Chinese raised in Japan, he's studying at U-M fall and winter semester) and ate at a Korean barbeque restaurant. You order your meat and/or vegetable and they bring out a little coal thing with a wire thing over it that you can cook the meat on. Yuki ordered beef and tongue... the tongue was also just an "eh"

Bonus pictures!!
An intersection before and after the crossing sign turned green:

An unintentionally funny shirt (at least to me) from a department store in Shinjuku:

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Day 2 (technically)

Jet lag. Ug. Yesterday was rough, though over where you guys are it's still yesterday. I slept until 6 this morning instead of 5, so that's a good thing. I just get waves of tiredness that I force myself to push through so I can keep having fun.

I went to the Pokemon Center yesterday! It was a bit underwhelming, but still necessary to go to, I think. It was pretty much all little kids and then Yuki and I and a couple other weird-looking white guys. I suppose that makes me weird too. The store was PACKED and I had to shimmy around to look at all the Poke-merch and avoid stepping on small children. All the employees who worked there wore masks, probably to make the moms feel safe?

Yuki's mom just noticed I'm awake, she asked if I wanted hot dogs (do you want hotu dogu?) for dinner... whatever works

I ate soba noodles for lunch after the pokemon center, this is a video of me trying to eat them, let me know if it doesn't work. I'm no good at slurping them up, it takes me a really long time to get the whole noodle in my mouth - but they're very good!

Yuki's grandma just brought me some hot green tea and an ayu, which is like a flat little pancake folded in half with a sticky goo paste in the middle, tastes better than I just made it sound.

After lunch we went to the imperial palace at the center of Tokyo (Koukyo), the gardens around it are sooo pretty! Then we went to Ginza, the real ritzy part of Tokyo, lots of designer brand stores and other expensive Japanese stores. I went into a traditional paper store with Yuki and her friend Howard, who goes to U-M and is from Hong Kong, he's studying Japanese in Tokyo right now, and he speaks English and Cantonese and some Mandarin too so I got to practice with him. He always covered his mouth whenever he laughed or smiled. In the paper store there were all kinds of beautiful paper fans, origami paper, little cloth and paper bags with aromatic powder inside, calligraphy brushes and paper, and on and on, it was really cool to look at everything.

I just ate breakfast, and I didn't know it was possible, but the hot dog I ate was distinctly Japanese - the bun was different, so was what was on it. I've never eaten a hot dog for breakfast before. I also ate some biwa, which is a fruit they have here. I think her mom cut off a peel, but the best I can describe it is that it tasted like how a creamsicle would taste if it were a fruit.

Yesterday again: my favorite place in Tokyo so far - Asakusa! It was just so cool. I think Asakusa is the area, and we went to a temple there called Senso-gi for the wind and thunder gods. The temple is in the back and leading up to it are all kinds of stalls with paper lanters selling little trinkets and snacks for only a 100 yen ($1). Cheap snacks and goodies are my weakness. When you pass under the entrance to the area the temple is in, with all the shops/stalls lined up it looks like something right out of Spritited Away. We're going again today and I can't wait to drop some more yen, sorry mom. If you ever go to Tokyo, you MUST visit here!

Yuki's favorite snack that looks like poop (don't worry, she thought it was funny when I told her) - tastes sweet and better than it looks.

All the coins in Japanese currency (500, 100, 50, 10, 5, 1)

Saturday, June 13, 2009


I've finally got my internet set up, I couldn't connect to the wireless at Yuki's house because no one remembered the passoword, so I just hooked up directly through the wall. Anyway, that's not interesting.

After we finally got back to her house (after an hour bus ride because the subway line had broken down), Yuki's mom made us a ton of food. I was a little wary because I'd never eaten fish with the bone still there with chopsticks before, but Yuki showed me how and I think I didn't do too badly. Yuki's parents and grandma kept going "aaaahhh!" and exclaimed a lot while I was eating because they were impressed that I could use chopsticks - thank you Clare, for teaching me in third grade.

Her parents don't speak much English, and her grandma none, so a lot of miming has been going on and Yuki's been doing a lot of interpreting. When I It's VERY muggy here, as it's the rainy season in Japan.

Let me explain some of the pictures. Japanese toilets, wow. They are way too high-tech for me and they make me nervous. You can press a button on that pad to squirt water at you and another one to blow air... um... no thanks? I'll try it, ONCE, but just to say I've done it.

I really like Yuki's house, it has a totally different feel from an American house. There's the entrance for leaving your shoes, slippers throughout the house so you're not walking in bare feet, there's a really pretty porch(?) area outside my room where you can see the neighborhood. I'm sleeping on a little futon with a Japanese pillow, which is also like Esther's pillow so I'm thinking it's a general Asian thing. They're harder and have these big pellets inside, but I was still able to sleep like a rock - courtesy of developing the ability to nap almost anywhere thanks to college.

Now, the "shower" they use here is something I wouldn't mind having in a house of my own some day. Very luxurious. You sit on the stool and shampoo, condition, and wash then rinse yourself off, then you relax in the tub. Yuki says Japanese people take do this everyday. Yesterday was my first bath in a very long time.

So the pictures are of: me at the Detroit airport, Yuki on her porch-thing, the "mudroom" of her house, the bath, where I'm sleeping, and one of her toilets. Any questions?