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.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

I love you VPN Client!

You may have heard, but there were riots in Xinjiang that spread to other areas of China (not anywhere close to Beijing) and as a result, the government has now blocked Facebook in addition to the already blocked Blogspot. I'm so glad U-M has remote wireless access, without it I wouldn't be able to post, or - oh god! - check my facebook! There are a couple poor souls here who's schools don't provide a VPN client so last night I ended up lending my computer to one of them so he could update his blog and such.

On a lighter note, yesterday in class one of the girls mentioned that she loved people with green eyes and the teacher just looked confused and said, "lan-se? (blue?)" and she said, "bu shi, lu-se (no, green)." we all pointed at someone's green tea bottle and she was just so shocked so I raised my hand and said I have green eyes, so at the end of class all the 260-level teachers came over and looked at my eyes. Hooray for spreading knowledge about white people?

During our discussions during our small group classes, some differences in mannerisms have become apparent, like: Chinese people don't ever make quotation marks with their fingers. The first time one of my classmates did that the teacher laughed so hard! Another is how Americans say "soooo...." at the end of our sentences sometimes when debating/discussing an issue as kind of an implied summary of everything we just said. It doesn't work in Chinese, we say "suoyi..." and the teacher says "suoyi, shenme? ("so" what?)" and makes us repeat everything we just said. I prefer putting "hao (good, ok)" at the end of my arguments because it's much more final.

Now some pictures so this post isn't just all text... I know you all love pictures. I went to Tiananmen (spell check says I'm spelling this wrong, but in pinyin it's spelled right) on Sunday with some friends because I hadn't gone yet and they all had. It's the largest open-urban square in the world and it was, in fact, quite large. Pretty much as soon as our group got to the middle of the square and got ready to take pictures, timid Chinese men started asking either myself or Sarah (the other white girl) if they could get pictures with us. My celebrity moment was when a man walked up and asked if I'd be in a picture with his parents because, "You look European?"

I bought a pair of leggings yesterday and haggled successfully! I probably could have gotten it cheaper, but what I did was I moved all my big bills out of my wallet and only kept a 10 kuai so when she told me it was 15 kuai I showed her I only had 10, after she said, "Bu keyi, bu keyi (nope!)" so I shrugged and walked away and she called me back! Very exciting, leggings for less than $2! My first attempt at haggling was an absolute disaster and I don't want to talk about it because even though I got it for 15 kuai cheaper I still payed WAY too much because I didn't go in prepared with a price in my head; doing conversions - and math in general - on the spot is not my forte. My first, first time haggling here I got straight-up denied when I tried so I ended up walking away in shame (I still avoid that shop).

Finally, and this is a sign mistake that I think could happen anywhere, but is funny nonetheless, there's this picture:

Hopefully you'll laugh right away.

My mom tells me a lot of people don't get it... it's just that it says "fashion heaven is straight ahead" and there's an arrow pointing left, so you'd have to turn left after reading this sign to walk straight to fashion heaven. I donno, it was funny to us at the time.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Lao Beijing bingkuar, yi kuar, yi kuar!

To warm things up, I feel like I haven't posted in a while, I ate a croissant thing with chocolate in the middle for breakfast a couple days ago (see mom, I AM eating healthy) and here was the brand name:

I see little things like this all the time. I went to a bubble tea place last night and there was a plaque on the wall telling everyone about their excellent service and the English part went something like "frequent terminating excellent service."

Moving on, after our long and schoolwork-intensive week, and test-intensive morning (Fridays are our test days) we were all in need of a little fun, so some friends and I took a trip to the Summer Palace, after we finally managed to figure out which line to take on the subway, getting there was a breeze. The Summer Palace is where Empress Cixi, the last real power figure of the Qing (the last) dynasty, chilled out in the summer and squandered all the money she was supposed to be spending on the navy. If I remember my history correctly.

Saying "Summer Palace" doesn't really evoke the right imagery though. It's like a huge park, there's a lake in the middle and a path going all the way around it. We were there for 3 hours or so and only made it halfway around the lake. There are a lot of old, bronze statues and bridges and lots of examples of Chinese architecture. The most beautiful that we saw was the Buddhist Tower of Incense. It was a 4?-tiered tower, people are only allowed to see the bottom floor though. Inside is a statue of Kuan-yin (China's favorite Boddhisattva). You weren't allowed to take pictures inside though and i couldn't get a clear one from outside the doorway.

We had to climb so many stairs! And there we a lot of upwardly inclined pathways that I couldn't help but be jealous of Cixi and how she probably got carried up all of them. This is a picture of the pathway that led to the tower:

This is Cixi's stone boat that she had built. It doesn't funciton as a boat, it's stone. Think of the awsome boat parties you could have on there, of course, playing the song "I'm on a Boat" would be necessary.

And here's my favorite Chinese mythological creature, the Qilin!

That was friday, yesterday I went on the CET trip to Cun Dixia village. Lot's of Chinese tourists were there. It's about 90km away from Beijing (about a 3 hour bus ride). The village was all still build in a very old, traditonal style and it was surrounded by mountains. I'm pretty sure you could consider them mountains... we don't really have mountains in Michigan, do we? It was awesome to climb all the trails they had and to look down, the view was just fantastic.

There was a family selling corn right after we got off the bus, om nom nom delicious.

And finally, here are my favorite pictures of the city. This is what I pictured northern China to be like before I came, all dusty and stone. In a lot of the books that I've read, they all say that the north is dry and the south is lush.