August 15th to August 17th; Hong Kong and the End
I also went to uthe Hong Kong history museum, which was the best designed museum that I've been in (if I didn't hate modern art, MoMa might be close). The entire museum is a giant timeline: you enter in at 400,000 BC and the exhibits progress through time until 1997, when the British handed control of Hong Kong back to the PRC as a Special Administrative Region, and a pact for it to stay as such for at least fifty years. I spent the most time looking at the japanese occupation of Hong Kong as well as Deng Xiaoping and his "One Country, Two Systems" Policy. I'm a big fan of Deng Xiaoping - besides Mao, he's China's most important and influential leader of the 20th century. He started the economic liberalization of China which turned it into the economic juggernaut it is today. He also knew to look past China's communist ideals and had the foresight to be practical about China's future. It's because of him that I'm studying Chinese and just spent the last few months in China, which were some of the best in my life.
See everyone back in America! I've missed you,
August 12th to August 14th; Taiwan
I was relieved to be back in a country where the primary language is Mandarin. In this respect, I felt as if I were back in Beijing. However, in terms of atmosphere and general vibe, Taipei is more like Shanghai and Hong Kong in that it's more of an economic center rather than a cultural one.
Another thing that really differentiates Taiwan from Beijing: people know how to stand in line, they don't spit in the streets randomly, children don't pee on the ground in public places, and even though it's hot, there is no "Taiwan duzi" - for the most part, shirts stay on. I don't want to say that the Taiwanese are more civilized than mainlanders because that's a loaded word, but that honestly is what comes to mind. A more politically correct why of phrasing it would be that Taiwanese living customs are more consonant with America's than the mainland's are.
However, Taipei also seemed sort of left behind when compared to the intensive commercial development seen in Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong.
Everyone in Taiwan rides Vespas. At every traffic light, the first twelve to twenty vehicles are always Vespas. When the signal turns green, they all race forward, swerving and crossing. It looks really cool (or at least as cool as Vespas can be) and always reminds me of this classic scene from Tarantino's 100 minute loveletter to kung fu and anime:
My hotel was amazing. It's called Roumei Hotel (柔美旅馆). It costs ~$65 per night, which isn't bad at all, and had the most amenities of any hotel I've been in. Granted, I don't jet to the Maldives every fortnight (at least not yet :P), but this hotel is was pretty incredible by my standards.
Having an awesome hotel room has some downsides though; I had to try really hard not to just stay in my hotel room and turn into hedonismbot.
I also went to Taipei 101, which is apparently one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World. It's also the tallest freestanding building in East Asia, and the tallest completed skyscraper in the world (the burj dubai, as of now, is still under construction). The skyscraper itself is breathtaking. The view from the top, however, was not. The rain clouds from Typhoon Morakot and the fact that Taipei doesn't have any skyscrapers outside of Taipei 101 made me feel like I was in a plane flying over the middle east, not in the tallest building of a major world city.
Before Taipei 101, I went to Eslite bookstore. I love book stores, and I can say I've never been more excited to be in one before. It had a lot of my favorite books in Chinese, and the experience of flipping through them I put on par with coming home one night and finding the Batmobile parked in your garage, headlights beaming, keys dangling in the ignition.
I met up with a bunch of Duke kids in Taiwan, many of whom I've never met before. We all went out and had a nice dinner, and talked half in English and (to my delight) half in mandarin. I said this before, but one of the best things about college is meeting people who live all over the world.
After that, it was time to say goodbye to Taiwan and head back to Hong Kong for the final leg of my tour-de-orient.
August 10th - August 11th; Hong Kong p1
While on the plane to Hong Kong, I was told that Hong Kong is widely considered to have the best airport in the world. I can't say for sure if it's the world's greatest - it wasn't anything out of the Jetsons - but it was extremely clean, modern, and ran like clockwork. As much as I dislike citing Thomas Friedman, he makes a fair point in this article. America's airports are seriously lagging behind.
Where Hong Kong, and really, all of East Asia, stands out though is in its superior public transportation system. The subways in Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong, have all been cleaner, faster and quieter than those I've seen in America (DC, Boston, NYC). Although you're packed like sardines in a crushed tin box Beijing busses, the bus routes are extensive and ubelievably cheap (1 kuai and you can go anywhere). Hong Kong's airport express is like riding on a .
Hong Kong is also the most economically liberal (fiscally conservative in America?) city in the world. Virtually no taxes or trade barriers; doing business here is not expensive. I also found their unemployment system interesting: if you don't have a job and need money, you clean the streets and the government pays you; otherwise, you get nothing. At first blush, I thought this was a good system of unemployment and better than America's where you sit on your couch collecting checks from Obama. However, after I thought about it a bit more I've changed my mind - it is it really intelligent or appropriate to have ex-engineers, lawyers, and scientist sweeping the streets? This would obviously impede their search for a new job and be an incredible waste of talent and human capital to have highly qualified workers sweeping streets when they could be spending their energy looking for another job that makes a better use of their talents.
Hong Kong is muggy and sprawling, where laws are more suggestions than commandments. Everyone knows Cantonese, most people know English, and some people know Mandarin. With the latter two, I was able to communicate successfully with everyone I met - I just had to watch my "ars," e.g. people in beijng say "nar" where as everywhere else they say "na-li."
At night the city is dark hues of purple and blue surrounding strips of neon and pastel, and during the day it's various shades of concrete. Some other characteristics of Hong Kong: extremely narrow streets, and whenever crosswalk walking signals turn green you're alerted by a high pitched clicking noise.
I also met up with Jason, a friend from Duke who lives in Hong Kong who just finished an internship there where he worked at the incredibly cool looking 2IFC (hong kong's tallest building); we went to this place called lan kwai fong, a bar street whose name has is its origin from the Cantonese for "Wasted white people place," and is a lasting tribute to the British-colony Hong Kong of the 20th century. One of the best things about college is meeting people from all over the world so that when you're in a completely foreign city there's a good chance that you know someone.
halfway around the world!
Anyways, no more pics for now but I'll take them and host them when I return to Hong Kong for the weekend. Now off to Taiwan!
July 31st - August 9th, 2009; done with DSIC
I feel like our last week in Beijing was defined more by holding on to memories rather than creating new ones. Everyone in the program wanted to soak up as much of Beijing as possible, and at the same time there was a program-wide anxiousness to move on to the next thing. Nevertheless, actually leaving Beijing was a completely unreal experience: I'm on the plane to Hong Kong right now and I still can't really believe it. Anyways, I feel like memories are much better captured by pictures than words, so here's the last week in pictures (and a couple of words):
Tian Tan (Temple of Heaven):
Wu Mei (Wu Mart):
The SiChuan Restaurant:
Some of the things I'll remember: not very polite waitresses who also refill your water when they're below 97% full, extremely comfortable couches (relatively, like sitting on a cloud), good coffee and interesting drinks, exorbitant prices, free wifi, first semester hangout, japanese eel rice
Xiao Chi Cheng
Ice Cream Guar:
Last Night(s) Out:
Though I seem deep in thought, I ended up getting one puny scoop of chocolate ice cream for 28 kuai. Ouch. It was really tasty though.
July 30th, 2009
Chinese people generally don't like to sit - they squat. This is most definitely related to Chinese toilets, which are basically holes in the ground surrounded by gently sloping porcelin (mercifully, our international student dorm has normal toilets).
Anyways, when you walk around China, you see a lot of people just squatting on the street, reading books or watching traffic or waiting for the bus.
It doesn't seem very comfortable, does it?
July 18th-29th, 2009
ONLY 11 DAYS LEFT. Then I go to Hong Kong for a couple of days and Taiwan for a couple of days. Then it's back to the US for four days and then off to Duke for the 1st semester of my junior year. I'm looking forward to all of it!
What's most important now, though, is making the absolute most my last ten days in Beijing. I've been packing my days for the last 6 weeks, studying an obscene amount of characters, going to parks, shows, bakeries, hot pot, coffee shops, tea shops, Sanlitunr, Wangfujing, Tianyi, Xidan, walking around, taking the bus, talking to taxi drivers, taking the subway, ??. I've been managing all of this by averaging 4-5 hours of sleep and making up for it by downing an unhealthy amount of caffeine (Lee Laoshi's liquid crack, provided free of charge before class every day).
My Chinese has gotten a lot better; most importantly, I'm now a lot more comfortable speaking. An early apology to all of my fluent-in-chinese friends at Duke.
The last eleven days -
I went to the Zoo:
The pandas were a little underwhelming but still very cool. We also saw lions and bears and monkeys. However, the animals had absolutely terrible living conditions. Also, someone people were throwing water bottles at the pandas and the tigers. Not cool; I'd like to see them go into the tiger pit and do that.
We also went to Wangfujing:
Wangfujing is the central shopping district and foreigner hangout of Beijing. It has all the staples: Gucci, Sephora, Rolex. It also has fried scorpions on a stick, aggressive street merchants and old chinese men who look more raisin than human, in case you forget you're in China for too long.
We went to to Shi Du:
This place is awesome. It's a giant outdoor "park" in the same vein as Yellowstone, etc. We walked up the side of a mountain, which was pretty spectacular, but my favorite part of the trip was the waterfall. A lot of people from the program and I stood under the pretty freezing water and let it run over our skin, which, after the trek up the mountain, was very refreshing. We also took some pictures by the waterfall, including one where Gu Laoshi wanted us to put our right arms out in front of our body bent at a 30 degree angle. We didn't really know what was going on but did anyways, and it turns out that it's related to Mao ZeDong in some way.
We went shopping in Xidan:
No pics, sorry. But I bought two nice polos and we ate the same sushi restaurant as in Shanghai and went to the conveyor belt section. It was amazing - the chefs are in the middle of the shape created by the countertop, constantly making new sushi and putting it on the conveyor belt that brings their sushi to everyone at the table. If you like what you see, you take the plate off the conveyor belt and eat. Prices are indicated by the color of the plate (they range from white at 6 or so kuai to green at 29 kuai).
The next day, we looked for Laoshe's Tea Shop. Laoshe is a famous Tea Shop in Beijing. We took the subway, got off at West Tiananmen, and started walking around with our map trying to find it. As the minutes dragged on and on, Laoshe's Tea Shop's mystique increased with our exhaustion and frustration. After two hours of being mislead by Tiananmen guards, sweaty from the Beijing heat, fatigued from waking up at 5am, and depressed as we felt our character studying time slipping away, we felt like Ponce de Leon and would've only be satisfied if Laoshe's tea gave us nothing short of eternal life. We finally found it ("around the corner, next to the KFC, " the guard said) and discovered that afternoon tea is 58 kuai per person. Way too expensive, so we took pictures of the place to prove we actually found it, and ate at a restaurant nearby. You may think I would've been disappointed but at that point I only wanted to find it, I didn't really care about their tea.
Oh, also - my first semester grade: A- I don't know how I managed that, averaging 80s on the homework, 85s on quizzes and 87s on tests; I think it was equal parts my good speaking grade and mercy. This also validated and vindicated my study habits of the past month. 2nd semester goals: going out into the city even more, getting an A or an A-, sacrificing more sleep, and drinking more caffeine. I'm equally proud and distressed to admit that I've gotten used to waking up at 515am.
The Gao Kao ( 高考 ): China's system of college application and entrance.
Basically, for Chinese high school students, the process goes like this:
Your entire life is decided by one two-day test. Your grade on this test not only determines which college you can go to, but also what majors you can choose from. It's offered once a year, the vast majority of Chinese students only take it once, and all of High School is dedicated towards preparing for the test through rote memorization. You can read a pretty good Slate article on it here.
A lot of people admit it's flawed, but it has such a long history in China that it is very hard to change, or even think of a better system. Some of the benefits of the system are that in a country like China where government corruption is pretty rampant and connections are extremely important in business and elsewhere, it offers a relatively fair way of sorting each years batch of a couple of million high school graduates. I talked to my language partner about this for around an hour, and she admits that the system is flawed, but also says that she believes it's pretty fair and that a lot of other countries look up to China's system. I personally think that one test can never accurately assess one's abilities and that America's college entry system, though itself flawed, is much more reasonable because it's more holisitic.
July 17th, 2009
The written test wasn't too bad, and my oral test went well also. I've gotten into the habit of just not preparing for my oral tests and just jotting down some notes in English. Some downsides to this approach are that I sometimes don't use enough grammar patterns, (we need to use six from the past week), and because I'm improvising I occassionally say some stupid things. Today's topic was on something you observed when going to China - I said that I noticed that America's cultural influence was everywhere and was afraid China could lose its culture.
Our Zhongwen zhuozi was great as usual. The most important thing I got out of it (besides sugary potatoes) was confirmation from Zeng laoshi that you don't need to apply for a visa in advance to enter Taiwan or Hong Kong. After the program is over, I'll be taking a plane to Hong Kong, staying there for a night, then going to Taiwan for 3 days, then going back to Hong Kong, then back to Beijing. I'm stopping by Hong Kong because A) I hear it's an amazing city and B) flights from Hong Kong to Taiwan are about 30% of the price of flights from Mainland China to Taiwan.
Tonight was a lot of fun. After our prodigal nights at Shang Dao (a thing of the past, unfortunately), we would always walk back through Beijing at 1230am and see a crowd of Beijing ren sitting at white plastic tables; they were relaxing, drinking cheap Chinese beer and having a good time. Me and Becca decided that one night we needed to do the same.
So that was tonight. After eating an extremely cheap dinner at a cafeteria (called 小吃城 ) - 10 kuai for 9 jiaozi and delicious noodles - we went to the restaurant and sat down at our white tables. After talking for a while about many different things, these four guys at an adjacent table invited us over. All four of them worked at KTV, or a karaoke place: a boss from Hong Kong ( 香港 ), and three of his employees, one of whom was from SiChuan ( 西川 ). We talked for over an hour about our recent trip to Shanghai, their work at KTV, us studying at CNU and America, us learning chinese, their thoughts on America, Hong Kong and SiChuan. We only gave them our chinese names, and insisted we give our cell phone numbers though they clearly only wanted Becca's. There's a phonebook entry on Becca's cell phone called "CREEPY," who has since texted her once (no response).
The experience was also a real practical application of what we learned in class. I kept on saying 干杯干杯 ! which really amused me. They kept on 劝酒ing us, it was sort of ridiculous. My favorite line of the night was 在美国，我们喝完了！ 。。。虽然，说这个话以后我就吐了 All in all, it was another unique and unforgettable night in Beijing. omfg only 3 weeks left :(
July 16th, 2009
Today we did a lot of studying in our favorite new spot - the ice cream shop near campus. Sure, there's no free wifi, the chairs aren't as comfortable as Shang Dao's, and there's a caged parrot that i'm pretty sure called us "foreigners," but the people there love us, it's reasonably comfortable, and the food is cheap and pretty good.
Some assorted commentary on Beijing fashion:
1) Couples T-shirts: they're everywhere and they're disgustingly cute.
2) Beijing duzi - duzi (肚子) means stomach. Beijing duzi is the phenomenon of doughy middleaged beijing men walking around with their shirts curled up so that their unseemly bellies are left to hang out over their pants.
3) Pink polos and collar popping - Who says China and Duke are all that different? Collar popping (and even multi-collar popping) is definitely popular among young Beijing men AND women. Pink polos are also extremely common.
July 15th, 2009
Today we saw Harry Potter 6; it was entirely in Chinese. No english subtitles.
Before continuing, I want to stress that Harry Potter wasn't just another movie here. After a month of drowning in jiaozis, chinese characters, and beijing duzi, everyone was getting excited about anything that reminds them of home. So, in the past week, Harry Potter was sprinkled into every conversation both in and out of class. DSIC was buzzing.
Anyways, I was very surprised to find out it was entirely in Chinese. I told my language partner we were going to go to the enormous International cineplex to watch the movie and she nearly had a heart attack when I told her a ticket was 70 kuai. She said she could get me relatively cheap （比较便宜） tickets, and took me to a movie theater in a shopping mall in Xidan, a shopping area. We bought tickets ahead of time because we were seeing it opening day and since you choose a seat with your movie ticket like at a concert, you need to buy early to not get stuck in the nosebleeds. We bought four tickets: Becca came with me and ?? brought her boyfriend. Sometime during this process I should have thought "I hope she's taking me to a movie theater that shows movies in English." Unfortunately, I didn't.
About 5 seconds into the movie I knew something was wrong when Dumbledore opened his mouth to speak and what came out didn't have the rich timbre and grandfatherly quality of Michael Gambon's voice, but the molotov-cocktail-in-your-ear quality of a Beijing taxi driver's. I'm very glad I read the books, or else I wouldn't have been able to follow what was going on. In the end, however, I was happy experienced watching a movie in Chinese and trying to follow along. I thought the movie was good, but I don't feel right passing judgement on a movie I watched dubbed into a language I know at a 2nd grade level.
Some funny quirks in the Chinese dubbing:
Harry Potter is "Pot Xiansheng" or "Ha li Bo te"
Malfoy is "Marf"
Dumbledore is "Dumblie-door," which sounds totally inappropriate in all of the sad scenes following his *SPOILER* death.
July 14th, 2009
Today we went to Bei Hai (北海) Park to study. Bei Hai is the most famous park in Beijing; according to wikipedia it was initially built in the 10th century. You just don't get that kind of history in America.
Beihai is different from other parks in that it also has a lot of cultural artifacts within it. We saw the "9 dragon tails" or something. I didn't really care, but it seemed somewhat famous so I felt obligated to take a picture.
There are 8 more where this came from!
The two most interestings that happened while we were there: first, sitting down and watching an outdoor musical performance feat. amateur 55 year old chinese woman dancing to the music.
The second is when we were studying on a bench and enjoying the cool breeze on a molten day, what started as an innocent conversation with an eccentric 50 year old asian man about us learning chinese and doing our homework turned into an Exhibit on 外国人 doing homework, featuring us. At our peak, we had 15 park goers of all ages crowded around us, watching us do homework. We were talking to a couple of them for a bit, but mostly it was just us writing in Chinese and them gawking.
All in all, Beihai park is pretty beautiful but definitely not worth the cab ride and 20 kuai entrance fee, when Purple Bamboo Park is closer and free. I'm glad I went once just to say I've gone, but I'm not planning on returning anytime soon.
July 13, 2009
After our incredible time in Shanghai and a smooth train ride back to the Beijing Train Station, finding a taxi to go from the train station to capital normal university was like opening presents after an amazing birthday party and getting dictionaries. It's not what you'll remember but it definitely put a damper on the day. We probably tried to hail a cab for around an hour but they all either had people in them or they just shook their heads no. Some of it may be because it's painfully obvious we're foreigners, but I don't think so. Unlike in America, foreigners in China are more likely to have money than normal citizens. It's also annoying that we want to give the taxi drivers our money and yet we are unable to; you don't need to have taken an econ class to know that can't be optimal.
The rest of the day was dedicated to resting and essay writing. We went to a quaint bakery that had decent confections and later set up in Yolande's Coffee (which made me think of this), a slightly cheaper version of Shang Dao 咖啡馆, to study.
July 12, 2009
Our second and last day in Shanghai was (intentionally) a lot more relaxed. We slept in - something impossible to do in Beijing during our program - and got up at 11am to check out and spent a few hours in a coffeeshop (the same one as yesterday) that had free wifi.
Then we took a cab to another market and had an entire day of bargaining and buying Chinese stuff at markets. I finally bought my panda T-shirt, as well as several others that look really cool, some art, etc. The market was heavily visited by foreigners, so everyone was initially speaking to us in English. When we obviously responded in Chinese because we're not lame, and prices halved. I told some of the vendors (老板)that I was French or Indian and didnt know English, which I'm not sure they bought.
We went to the train station at around 830, not yet ready to leave. Shanghai is, in a word, vibrant; you can tell it has a volcanic desire to be the greatest city in the world. I think the 2010 Shanghai World Expo is going to be a huge deal, and if I have the capacity to return to Shanghai next year during the Expo I will do so.
July 11, 2009
This day was bursting at the seams when it was over, and was one of the more exciting and interesting ones of my life.
645am: I woke up after pretty fitful sleep, and was told the train is going to arrive in Shanghai in about 30 minutes. Pretty much everyone on the train was up by then, and unfortunately many of them were by the sink shaving and brushing their teeth. Overall my impression of China's trains was very good. They were fast (~100mph), pretty clean, and though the beds weren't comfortable and the pillows were made of gravel, I was able to sleep which is more than I can say about plane travel. Then again, we were travelling on the train equivalent of first class. The way the train system breaks down is there are four classes: hard seat (think: riding on a NYC subway in rush hour for 10 hours), soft seat (10 hour cab ride), hard sleeper (being able to lie down and not sleep) and soft sleeper (what we got). Our train only had soft sleepers I think, but I also heard another class - business class - is becoming more popular; you don't have to share rooms with other people and your bed is actually comfortable.
730 am: de-training went smoothly, and now we were in a foreign city's train station where the majority population's primary language isn't english or even mandarin, but a dialect called Shanghai-ese. This wasn't much of a problem, we found out later, because most of the city can understand and speak Mandarin (普通话)and a surprising amount of people know English - far more than in Beijing. I guess it's because Shanghai is more of a cosmopolitan city because it's a bigger business hub. However, the two taxi drivers we talked to had poor Mandarin and unsurprisingly knew zero English. This was a problem because we copied down our hotel information as a direct translation of the English name (Park Hotel), and the cab drivers didnt know where it was, despite the hotel being well known. We instead elected to take the subway instead of getting lost in Shanghai. This was my first time on a Chinese subway (I've yet to go in Beijing). I was actually very impressed: getting a ticket was very easy, and the trains were fast, clean, and modern. The only problem is Shanghai is the second most populous city in the world, so you didn't so much enter a subway train as attempt to temporarily cleave your way into a wall of flesh. Also, I should mention, we attempted to buy tickets back to Beijing during the day on Monday and tickets were extremely expensive, over 900 kuai, so we decided to wait to meet Becca's dad's friend at our Hotel and ask him what we should do.
8 am: We arrived at the hotel after a short subway ride. The hotel was impressive: it wasn't too big but it exuded class and defintely felt western. They said our rooms would be ready in around an hour so we decided to go to relax a bit and grab some food to eat before meeting her dad's friend Xiao Qing and his family. Him and his wife found and booked a hotel for us and helped us enormously so even though I was tired 得要命，I was looking forward to meeting them. We went to a breakfast themed Chinese fast food restaurant to grab some food. It was as disgusting as it sounds, but we were famished so I bought a giant stick of bread and Becca got three watery vegetable dumplings. YUM
945 am: Xiao Qing helped me and becca buy return tickets. We weren't able to get cheap monday day tickets so we ended up getting sunday night tickets (if we got monday night tickets we would miss tuesday's class). This meant we only had one night in Shanghai, not two. Oh well, it ended up not mattering because we packed four days of activities into today. Xiao Qing's son looked like he was around 8 or 9 years old and was absorbed by his PSP the entire time and sort of reminded me of what I was like at that age. He is also probably going to be the only child they have, because of China's one family one child policy (the effects of which are going to be extremely interesting in the future - cities filled with siblingless adults). We talked in the lobby for a while about Baltimore, Shanghai, capitalism and communism, but once our room was ready we decided to go up and take an 午觉 because we were both totally exhausted. Our room was nice, especially when compared to Capital Normal University's: soft beds, a shower with a tub around it, and I don't even need to continue because those two aspects are enough.
1145am: After eating an extremely overpriced coffeeshop, we embarked on our first adventure: Yu Yuan market. We are both economics majors, and becca is also ugrad business, so naturally we both like bargaining a lot. Yu Yuan is beautiful. We were mostly both shopping for other people while we were there; I'm bringing everyone something from China! I want to keep it a secret so I won't talk much about what we actually bought, but we were at YuYuan for 4 or 5 hours and had some an incredible time bargaining, buying interesting chinese things for our friends and family (though the panda t shirt is strictly mine), and simply observing and enjoying the architecture and ambience of Yu Yuan. This was so much fun.
Yu Yuan from the outside
in the belly of the market! it's teeming with life
5pm: Content with our stay in the market, we decided to start heading over to the Oriental Pearl Tower, one of the highlights of downtown Shanghai. We walked for a long time outside, appreciating how suffocatingly humid Shanghai can be. Along the way, we walked down a random alley for a taste of the "real" Shanghai, and it delivered.
630pm: After paying 40RMB for a hilariously bad "Underground Sightseeing Tour" of Shanghai (a slow moving underground tram with flashing lights, but at least it got us across the Huangpu river which is all we really wanted), we wandered around downtown Shanghai for a bit heading towards the Oriental Pearl Tower. Everyone we talked to said you can see much of Shanghai from the top of its 270 floors. There's also a revolving (R-E-V-O-L-V-I-N-G) restaurant at the top, which we wanted to eat at. We later found out it costs 200 kuai per person so we took a raincheck on that.
downtown shanghai.. right back building is the famous Shanghai World Financial Center.
Orientlal Pearl Tower. It looks...different
In line for the elevator (this place is a huge tourist trap) there was a creepy white guy who was silently filming everyone near him on his Flip HD. We would encounter him several other times at the top of the tower and while leaving, and he still was just quietly filming on his Flip HD. I don't like him. Anyways, the line for the elevator moved surprisingly quickly, as the did the elevator itself (7 meter per second). We got to the top of the tower in about a minute.
The view of Shanghai was absolutely incredible. It was one of the cooler things I've seen in my life; Becca had the idea of staying up there until the sun set and all of the city lights turned on, which was unreal. It was one of those moments where you know even while it's happening that you'll never forget it. I'd describe it more but it's easier with pictures:
jin mao tower on the right, shanghai world financial center on the left
9pm: When leaving the tower, an Iranian started talking to us in broken English. He said that he really liked Americans, and that Obama was a good person and that Ahmadinejad was a bad person and that he doesn't like his country's leader. He told us to remember that Iranians really like America; I was pretty bewildered by the entire conversation. After leaving the Pearl Tower, we had dinner at this very nice sushi restaurant. They had an interesting buffet system involving a chef, a table, and a conveyor belt. The chef would stand in the middle and make sushi, which would go on the conveyor belt that bordered the inside of a circular table. People would just take whatever they wanted and eat it. After a day of experiencing new things, however, we wanted to stay relatively near our comfort zones so we just ordered instead of using the buffet.
1030pm: After that, we went to Coldstone, walked around downtown Shanghai for a while, then, absolutely exhausted (just-memorized-150-characters exhausted) but extremely pleased with how the day went, took a cab back to our hotel and slept (1am).
July 10th, 2009
The midterm wasn't too bad, and neither was the oral. Whatever, we're going to Shanghai tonight! Before that, though, there are a couple of things to get out of the way:
Then after a delicious meal (featuring 北京烤鸭 and 马坡dofu)we left for the Beijing train station (火车站). At the train station, we really got a sense at just how many people there are in Beijing, we were pretty much packed like sardines in a crushed tin box the entire time. This is also where the Chinese's unfortunate inability to form lines becomes a problem. I felt like I was at Duke during LDOC Tshirt giveaway.
After we successfully boarded the train (my FIRST time on an actual train), we went straight to our room. We got soft sleepers (??), so we were in a room with two bunk beds. We got the two bottom beds. Our roommates, a mom and her young daughter, came in briefly and then left to join the rest of their family. We went to the diner to get some food and drinks, and found there was a dearth of chairs (totally unsurprising). Then we noticed that people were just sitting with strangers, so we followed suit. We sat next to an old Beijing couple going to Shanghai for business (the husband was). We talked to them in Chinese for a bit, telling them the usual information like we're both American and we'll be at CNU for two months studying Chinese. The couple shared some snacks with us, and after around an hour of relaxing in the diner we went back to our rooms to sleep. Our roomies were already asleep when we got in.
July 9th, 2009
Today is our last day of class for this first semester, not counting tomorrow's exam. Class went by as usual, with everyone needing a thursday-amount of coffee, i.e. 3-4 cups, to stay awake during classes. One aspect of this program that's mildly disturbing is the extent to which people are sleep deprived (increasingly so throughout the week), their need to drug themselves to stay awake in classes (i'm a relatively extreme example of this), and the program's overwillingness to provide stimulants to its sleep deprived students. It gives the impression that the ideal to which the program strives is like something out of Clockwork Orange, where we'd all be strapped into chairs, drugged, having images of chinese characters and the forbidden city chiseled into our brains.
I hear that the Princeton in Beijing (PiB) program is more or less like this
But whatever, I'm glad they give us coffee.
July 8th, 2009
Today a lot of people had to switch their rooms, including me. Before, the DSIC program was spread out on the 3rd,5th, 6th, 8th, 10th, and 11th floors, but now pretty much everyone is on the 8th floor. I moved from room 522 to room 810. Our new room is just a mildly improved version of the old one: the bathroom door locks and our television works.
For dinner, I went to a "Hot Pot" styled dinner with Becca and her language partner. This was our second time going to a hot pot restaurant, with our first being an astonishing failure on several levels. This was a lot better, as her language partner knew generally what tastes good and what doesn't. If you don't know what Hot Pot is (I didn't until 10 days ago) it's a type of restaurant where every table has a gigantic metal pot in the middle. You order vegetables and raw meat, and then put them in the boiling pot. The meat is sliced extremely thin, so it only takes a couple of seconds to cook. The food's pretty tasty, but I feel it's more for the experience than for the food, sort of like Mongolian BBQ.
July 7th, 2009
OMFG - China just blocked facebook because of the riots in western China. WP Article. They're trying to stymie the growing dissent. Honestly, I don't really see this being effective because from my experience facebook dissent is usually the "join a group and forget about it" kind.
I really have no problem living under the CCP - I'm not idealistic; life is great here even with limited freedoms. However, I want unfiltered access to facebook and gmail (gmail was blocked for two days two weeks ago). For me, the internet without access to gmail or facebook is pretty much worthless.
I'd like to whine about this more publicly, but facebook is blocked so I can't :(
On a side note, I played pool with my language partner today. It was a lot of fun!
July 6th, 2009
We have 55 characters to memorize on the 6th, and 65 characters to memorize on the 7th so I'll be busy. I'll most likely be in the coffee shop studying when I'm not in class or with my language partner.
After that, we have 30 more characters and our final exam....then off to SHANGHAI. I'm extremely excited.
Some quick thoughts:
- This is going by extremely quickly. I'm having the time of my life here and I can't believe it's almost halfway over.
-During today's individual session I finally learned how to say "check, please!" (请给我们买单)and "bones" (骨头) which has already proved invaluable.
- Today I spent my entire individual session with my language partner talking about American and Chinese music. She knows about Michael Jackson, Green Day and Linkin Park. She was also trying to tell me about this band that she really liked and thought was really popular in America. She sang (pretty nicely!) part of one of their songs - "...something something God is a girl........". I had no idea, but then again my knowledge of music is pretty much limited to Radiohead, so I asked her to sing it for this other girl in our program, Larene from RISD. She's a higher level than me so I thought they could talk in Chinese and get to the bottom of this, but she had no idea also. Anyways, we found out later that she was talking about Groove Coverage, a German Euro-Trance band that no one I've since talked to has heard of.
apparently these guys are big in China
Later we were talking about Jay Chou ( 周杰伦 ), the only Chinese singer I know about. Before we got to my room I was trying to figure out how to say "Nocturnes" in Chinese because that's my favorite song by him of the three I know. I wasn't able to get my point across, in my room I got on my laptop and found the song on Wikipedia. She jumped up when she saw the song's Chinese name ( 夜曲 ), pulled out her cell phone, started playing it and said it was one of her favorite songs (see video). That was a really cool moment and something I'm unlikely to forget. She showed me some more Jay Chou songs that I've never heard of, showed me some other songs by Chinese bands and told me that on Baidu you can search for MP3s and play them.
I showed her some music I like: Radiohead, obviously (Let Down off OK Computer) and Heartless by Kanye West. I also played her On the Radio by Regina Spektor because it's stuck in my head currently and I was going to play Beat It but we already ran over 10 minutes and she's in the middle of exam week so I didn't want to keep her longer than she had to.
I heard that past students have said the Language Partner is the best thing the program provides us with. I'd say besides the ample time DSIC gives us to go out into Beijing (class ends at noon, and then the rest of the day is ours), I'd agree.
July 5th, 2009
Yesterday we went to Houhai for the 4th of July. Houhai is a lake surrounded by nice restaurants and bars, and the area really comes to life at night. There were no fireworks, but it was still a lot of fun.
Reminds me of Paris...or at least what I imagine Paris to look like
Today I met up with James to go see Transformers 2. Becca was nice enough to come along with me, despite, I feel, not being quite as excited by the prospect of watching CG robots fight as I was.
Anyways, I knew going in that this movie would be dismal. However, I was really just hoping to get two things out of it:
All in all though, I cared about the fighting robots more than megan fox so I was pretty pleased. The plot, dialogue and directing were predictably horrendous, but even I was taken aback by how confusing and pointless the first 30 minutes were. I feel like Michael Bay just uploaded random clips of robot mayhem into Windows Movie Maker and hit the Shuffle button.
Some interesting things about Chinese movie theaters:
July 4th, 2009
Well it's the 4th of July. How does one celebrate the 4th of July in a communist country? By waking up at 8am to go see cultural sites! The Summer Palace was better than Tiananmen & Forbidden City in a couple of ways, and worse in some ways also. The good: the cultural aspects of the tour were easier to understand (they were in English) and more integrated. We were also treated to some traditional Chinese music and dance: though it wasn't mindblowing - think more NYC subway stop, not Carnegie Hall or something- it was still a really nice experience. The architecture was incredibly beautiful and interesting - similar in style to the Forbidden City but it seemed less intentionally flashy, which gave it some charm. Finally, it wasn't unbearably hot, and the entire trip was mercifully short. This wasn't the 6 hour Trail of Tears that Tiananmen & Forbidden City were. The bad: been there, done that. This was Forbidden City 0.5.
Some interesting things that happened on the tour:
- Another random Chinese guy asked to take a picture with Becca & I. This brings the total up to 3 (Tiananmen (1), Purple Bamboo Park (1), Summer Palace (1)).
- Got a fake rolex for 25 kuai. She started at 150 or 100 or something pretty high and I said 5 intially as a joke, but she kept lowering her price so I thought whatever and ended up getting it.
-On the giant boat ride, we talked to these adorable chinese kids (maybe 5 and 8 years old) and got pictures with them.
Anyways, today we still plan on ACTUALLY celebrating freedom in a country that has none!
like the forbidden city, only cooler
July 3rd, 2009
Woke up at 515am today to study for the test at 8. The written test was pretty hard but the oral wasn't too bad.
After the test we went to 中文桌子 (language table), a giant lunch every friday where the entire program goes out and eats at a restaurant with all of the teachers. We eat at a different restaurant each week and when we're there we get the VIP treatment. We get an endless amount of delicious, free food. It can be sort of annoying because it's mandatory and usually 45 minutes after our test so everyone just wants to sleep. But the food makes it worth it. I had Beijing duck for the first time and it's extremely greasy but tastes amazing.
The rest of the evening was pretty relaxing. I slept a couple of times because the previous week had been especially brutal sleepwise - I probably averaged around 4h/day for the past 5 days.
Tomorrow we're going to the Summer Palace at 8am. I dont want this to be a repeat of Tiananmen, so I'm sleeping at around midnight.
July 2nd, 2009
Right now I'm at Shang Dao, the upscale coffee shop I spend a fair bit of my free time in. Some of the waitresses are nice, some (one in particular) are not. We go pretty much every day so they all know us by now. The couches are very comfortable (though they've got nothing on the Bryan Center's) and in a country of wooden chairs a decent couch is something to fawn over. The coffee is also pretty good, but the comfort, ambience and free Wifi are Shang Dao's main attractions.
I also went shopping with my language partner (杨硕 - Yang2 Shuo4)today. We took the bus there, which was very crowded (拥挤) but dirt cheap (便宜), convenient (方便), and - had it not been rush hour - fast (??).Anyways I went shopping because I wanted to buy some weird chinese shirts. Unfortunately, the Chinese are really into American fashion so I just ended up getting two polos and a black shirt that says MAGICAL FOREST on it, which I only bought out of desperation for a quirky shirt. 杨硕 was great - she helped me find some nice looking relatively cheap shirts (我告诉她：我买衣服的时候，我需要跟女人一起去).
Me and Yang Shuo outside of the outlet mall, before going shopping.
July 1st, 2009
It's 2:12am as I'm writing this and my alarm is set for 6am for the third day in a row. I thought this would be the perfect time to lose more sleep and give a general overview of what a typical day is like. I'll use today as an example.
6-6:45am: wake up, shower
6:45am-8am: learn/review characters for the quiz, eat oatmeal
noon - 1pm: nap, lunch
1pm-2pm: do tomorrow's homework
2pm-330pm: meet with language partner
330pm-530pm - take a cab to the beijing train station, buy tickets
530pm-7pm: eat at a random restaurant close to the beijing train station, take a cab back to CNU
815pm-1230am: go to this awesome local coffeeshop and take advantage of their free wifi: go on skype, facebook, see what happened in the world/america that day.
1230am-200am: actually try to memorize characters. set alarm for 6am the next day.
Anyways, I'm not complaining about the little sleep I get.I love how much free time we have every day to go into Beijing and explore. Although a lot of my day is routine, 330pm-7pm and ~830pm-midnight we go out and actually take advantage of the fact that we're living halfway across the world in a really exciting city for two months. Those are the hours of the day that I'll actually remember when I'm back in the US, and if I have to sacrifice sleep and overdose on caffeine to keep it up I'm fine with that.
As was briefly mentioned above, today I went to Beijing Train Station (北京火车站)with Becca and bought tickets for our trip to Shanghai. Everything went very smoothly, which made us both extremely proud of ourselves. Three weeks ago, there was absolutely no way we would have been able to take a cab to the correct train station (Beijing has three or four) and buy two tickets on the correct date at the correct time going to the correct city in the correct class (软卧) without speaking to anyone but ourselves in English.
We also had some really cool conversations with the cab drivers but I'm about to pass out so I'll write about that tomorrow.
June 30th, 2009
The internet finally came back up today.
I've pretty much become accustomed to my sleep late (~130am) wake up early (~6am) 晚睡早起 routine here, made possible by an afternoon nap - something of a custom in china: the ??? We're also provided with free coffee after the first class every day which does wonders.
Yesterday night 李老师 the Chairman of the program, called my room and we had a slightly uncomfortable phone call. The call was regarding the between- semester 4 day trip that's taking place in 11 days. Basically you have three choices: Xi'an, Datong, or Qufu. Me and Becca are too cool for that so we decided to go to Shanghai. Anyways, I feel that going to a vibrant major city will be more fun and stimulating than seeing Confucius' birthplace or the Terracotta Warriors. When we talked to 李老师 she obviously wasn't pleased but she knew she couldn't do anything and let us go.
II'm guessing she thought about this over the weekend and somewhat regretted letting us go, so last night when she called she basically said "I don't want you going because A) it isn't part of the program B) you won't be practicing Mandarin because they speak 上海话 there and not 普通话 C)It's easy to go to Shanghai, but harder to go to Xi'an, Datong and Qufu. These are all legit points, but I told her no we're still going.
Things got a little ugly when I asked her if we could get our mid-semester trip money refunded: it's part of the cost of the program and if we're going to Shanghai we have to pay our own way. We told her 2 weeks in advance so she hasn't already bought our train tickets, so it seems fair to get our money back to help pay for the train ticket to Shanghai. She said no, because "the trips are part of the program" and "we have a group budget." I asked her what they'll be doing with our money and she said "we'll be using it for group activities." I thought this was pretty unfair, which I told her, but I didn't push much further. If you know Lee Laoshi you'd know why.
Also, if you're reading this and have skype, add me: SSN = sanjeev.sreetharan. I'm having an incredible time here but I miss everyone from home!
June 29th, 2009
Today the internet at CNU went down and everyone freaked out. After classes, me and becca went to the classy coffee shop TWICE in a span of 8 hours: they've got free wifi and if I go without internet for more than 8 hours i shrivel up and die. I'm actually in the coffee shop right now.
Also, I tried meeting with James today. I told him to take a cab to Shou Du Shi Fen Da Xue (Capital Normal Universty) - but, as I feared, ended up at the wrong location. This has happened to me several times - there are apparently two campuses and I'm not sure how to tell the cab driver to go to one versus the other. So he ended up not having enough time to come to the other campus and had to go back :( I feel pretty bad about it so next time we'll just meet at a neutral location.
June 28th, 2009
June 26th-27th, 2009
I woke up at 530am around to study for the test with Becca in the lobby and got some decent studying in before the test. Anyways, the test wasn't too bad and the oral went alright also. The more exciting thing that happened today was going to the Great Wall.
It was a 3 hour bus ride over, but I slept most of the way so I missed seeing poverty & rural China. I watched Mulan at 10pm, slept at 1145pm and woke up at 245 am to climb up the Great Wall and see the sunset.
I thought the Chinese were good engineers but the stairs of the Great Wall leave a LOT to be desired. Obviously it's really old so I don't fault them the fact that they're crumbling, but the height of the stairs is completely erratic: they're distributed with a mean of probably 6 inches and a std. of ~3 inches.
But an hour later we reached the top of the Great Wall (长城) - just as the sun was starting to rise. It was gorgeous and pictures can't really do it justice.It was totally worth the exhausting hike and 3 hours of sleep. This was a much better trip than Tiananmen/Forbidden City.
walking back down
June 25th, 2009
Bargaining was incredibly fun. I walked around and bargained with Becca. I came home with a tie, two tshirts, and a sheep doll.
Sheep Doll: I made up my mind to get a sheep doll because I see them everywhere in China - it's like Hello Kitty. I asked my language partner tonight, and apparently the doll's name is YangYang (yang is sheep in Chinese.)
take 1:?: "这个多少钱" (how much is this)
?:" 58 快。" (58 kuai)
?:"太贵了。有点儿难堪。那个商店纸鹞0块，可以吗？" (too expensive! it's a little ugly, how about 30 kuai?)
?:"那你可以去。再见 (then you can go, bye!)
?: "再见 (bye!)
The next two attempts were similarly fruitless, though I end up being friendly for longer before actually bargaining, and I avoided saying their product is ugly right off the bat.
We found that the stuffed animal salesmen are harder to bargain with because stuffed animals are so cheap to begin with.
The best bargaining experience of the night was actually becca buying a tie. it was initially 60 kuai, and were trying to get it down to 30 kuai. she wouldnt budge below 35 so we walked away and she said fine fine fine 30. we didnt want to give her any of our hundreds obviously so we gathered all of our small bills together, which ended up being something like $28.50 and just handed it to her.
Anyways, bargaining is really fun and hilarious and exciting. I'll definitely be going back in the future!
June 24th, 2009
Another day! Getting into somewhat of a routine, but not too much of a routine for the day to be predictable. Every day after class we go somewhere different - eat at new places, study at new places. We can eat at nice sit down restaurants every day for around $5 per person - I love just wandering around with people into a random restaurant and seeing how good its food is.
Today during class this Chinese student came by the hallway with an absurdly cute 1 month old puppy with boundless energy - it was pretty much bouncing off the walls. I love dogs - our family dog Rocky, an adorable pudgy chocolate lab, died when I was in 4th grade. I really liked that dog and I want to get another (border collie!) sometime in the future.
We also found an awesome upscale coffee house with wifi, comfortable couches, and a great ambience. I think it'll be a great place to do homework and memorize characters in the future.
I also found this awesome mistranslated shirt in WuMart that says, in English: "The Line of a Long Distance Begin from the You." I had to buy it, so I did. Unfortunately, it's a girls shirt, but whatever.
I can't even figure out what this was supposed to mean
Tomorrow we're going to a market with all the other 2nd year Chinese students. I'm excited. I can't wait to bargain!
June 23rd, 2009
Two majorly exciting things happened today:
Also, I went to purple bamboo park again - went on a paddle boat around the lake reading chinese chars (awesome), walked around the lilly field and through the bamboo forest. This might be my favorite place in Beijing so far. Definitely a welcome break from the 汉字 受罪 .
drifting around, enjoying the day
June 22nd, 2009
Today was my first day of class at 8am. Getting out of class at noon is great, because we have the entire afternoon to explore Beijing now. Our classes this week are in another campus with decrepit rooms and extremely loud and uncomfortable chairs. The chairs' metal legs dont have rubber on the bottom - the hollow cylindrical leg is what makes contact with the tiled floor, so whenever someone adjusts their seat they make an obnoxiously thunderous sound that is more grating than being barked at in Mandarin.
But anyways today was pretty awesome because I got Skype (ID = sanjeev.sreetharan) and talked to some people from home (krishnan was back from princeton in bethesda, wei and denise at duke, pauline in singapore, becca from upstairs, my mom and dad, and james in beijing).
What was also really cool was my first official meeting with my language partner, a chinese friend (中国朋友) randomly assigned through the program. We have a mandatory 1 hour hanging out session every day and we can do whatever we want - it's really awesome. Her name is Yang Shou. She's a 21 year old student who also studies at Capital Normal University (where I'm staying). She took me to some good vendors and I had some delicious and really greasy chicken for around $0.44. Then we went back to my room (my roommate was there) and I showed her Skype and she showed me QQ, a chinese skype-like program. She also showed the me the Chinese version of facebook, and told me where I could go in Beijing to eat scorpions (she's never had any, but i'm trying them at least once).
Test update: 87 on the written, 88 on speaking. I probably could've done better because the test was very managable, but I'm fairly satisfied.
June 21st, 2009
Today was pretty chill. I went to a beautiful part of Beijing called purple bamboo park with Becca (I spend probably 70% of my free time with her and the rest with my roommate) to study characters and interview people for this essay we have to write for tomorrow. This was extremely awesome and times like this I love being in China. We just awkwardly walked up to random kids who seemed like they were in college, and started interviewing them. Our questions were:
The 4th question was the most interesting by far. The other questions gave pretty generic answers (except I found out that college students in Beijing normally have 6,7 or 8 roommates ). Also, despite the us saying that we were okay with them saying bad things about America for the 4th question, their responses were universally positive. Everyone we asked said that America was "open" (开放). Other interesting answers included that Americans were rich, pretty, tall, and have blue eyes. No one mentioned foreign policy at all, which is in tune with what I've heard about Chinese people generally being politically apathetic (something important when living under the communist party.) They also all said they liked Americans, but who knows what they'd be saying if they were talking to their fellow 北京人(beijing people) and not obvious foreigners.
I'm really glad we found purple bamboo park (my language partner who i'll talk about later told me about it). It's a very serene place that takes some of the tedium out of rote character memorizing and essay writing.
serene and beautiful
June 20th, 2009
Friday's test: The written test wasn't bad, though I can't say the same about the oral. Anyways, not to worry, it's the weekend! The first half of my weekend can be broken into two parts:
Friday night/Saturday early morning: well, the last five days were ridiculously brutal and intense so obviously on friday night after our tests everyone drank a lot and went out. I ended up at this place called club mix, in the Sanlitun (三里屯 ) in the Chaoyang district, which is in eastern Beijing (at the time I had no idea where I was but I just looked it up on wikipedia). I also just found out on wikipedia that this area has received many threats of forced closure from the government, but still remains quite popular for its nightlife. Anyways it was a lot of fun and I feel like one of the themes of this program will be binging 150+ characters for 5 days and then purging them over the weekend.
Another good story from that night happened at around 8pm on Friday while we were eating dinner at a Sichuan restaurant. Me Becca and Tim wanted some nice, expensive, hopefully foreign beer to go with our tofu, eel, chicken and green beans, so I asked the waiter (服务员) :"可以给我们你最贵的酒？" unfortunately, I said "酒 (jiu)instead of 啤酒 (pi jiu) so instead of saying "can you give us some of your most expensive beer" I asked "can you give us some of your most expensive alcohol?" So we ended up with 白酒,"white alcohol" [lit], 100 proof liquor distilled from sorghum. This guy eating behind us thought it was hilarious so I asked him if he wanted some: "你要喝一点我可以给你！!" which he gladly accepted. He downed an impressive amount, got a healthy asian glow and started laughing with his friends. Later in our dinner, he turned around and told me us that I should have asked him "请你喝一点" meaning "I invite you to drink some" instead of what I said, meaning "I can give you some!" He told me that what I said was considered rude and condescending, something that rich people would say to poor people, and that he didnt take it the wrong way because obviously we were foreign students and didnt know, but just thought he should inform us. He probably told me some other interesting things also, because I could only really understand 30% of what he was saying. It's the organic, unscripted experiences like these that I'll remember long after I leave here.
Tiananmen Square / Forbidden City: The next morning we left for Tiananmen square at 815am. I slept at 4 so I wasn't pleased with this, nor were most people on the trip.
Things got off to a bad start, when, before we left, I went to get one of my friends who hadn't come down yet and told a teacher I'd be back in five minutes. She was in her room and her roommate was still sleeping but when we went downstairs no one was there. This wasn't really a problem, so we just took a cab. However, in the middle of the cab ride I get a phone call from Zeng laoshi asking us if I was coming down or just planning on staying in my room. wtf - they were still there, just, god knows why, decided to walk down to the first floor instead to wait for us.
So when we got to tiananmen we just decided to wander around on our own for a bit before meeting up with everyone else who was just now bussing over. It was oppressively hot, we were didnt have breakfast we were tired and still hungover so it wasn't too pleasant. Tiananmen square is just a massive park - really, not too impressive. It does look nice though. Some interesting things happened while we were waiting:
Finally we joined with the rest of the group and went down a 6 hour march through Tiananmen square and the Forbidden City. As I said before Tiananmen square was pretty underwhelming. The forbidden city looked really nice and has some breathtaking architecture, but after walking through the 9th straight region with the same architecture and buildings things got pretty old. Anyways, I'm still glad I went because it's one of those things you have to do when going to China, but it would have been a lot more tolerable going with a small group for 90 mins instead of being herded around in a large tour group for 6 hours.
For all the pics I took, see the facebook album
June 19th, 2009
Before I start cramming for the test in a few hours, a quick update:
Why am I studying Chinese? I get asked this question all of the time. I usually lie, but here's my honest answer .
RANKED BY IMPORTANCE TO ME.
1) Usefulness -I think it will help me get a job in the future, or at least get more out of whatever other job i'd have. If China had a GDP closer to, say, Zambia, than America, I'd probably be learning German or Russian. There are also a billion Chinese people and 700 some million Mandarin speakers so it's not like I'm learning Latin or Zulu. I also have a lot of Chinese friends and it's fun to speak to them in Chinese.
2) It's different - though 2 years at Duke's aggressively mainstream culture have left me less indie than before, I still find joy from being different for being different's sake.
3) Living abroad - America is awesome but I do think living abroad for a few years would make my life richer.
4) It's hard - this goes under the "signalling" theory for education. Learning Chinese is hard - people who aren't willing or able to put the time in to learning it won't. So learning Chinese (or Arabic or any other hard language) acts as a signal for diligence and a pretty extreme work ethic, if not raw intelligence.
5) It's fun - although since being here I'm not sure if this is true anymore, but Chinese class is still sort of fun. Back at Duke when it was a lot more laid back and when we only memorized 5-6 characters per night and not 40, it was a lot more fun and I enjoyed going to class every day.
**** BIG JUMP IN IMPORTANCE ****
6) Chinese culture - pretty cool. the history and relationships of a lot of chinese characters is really interesting. (很有意思).
7) Grammar - chinese grammar is SO EASY
8) Beauty of the spoken language - this one is a straight up lie.
June 18th, 2009
Well, our first written and oral tests are tomorrow, and to put it lightly, I didn't do too much studying. But I did have a lot of fun walking to the market in the rain, and some other things that were awesome and ridiculous that I'll never forget. Tomorrow will be interesting.
One note of concern - stress about reviewing the 160 characters of the last 4 days AND doing today's homework is starting to be replaced with apathy. Maybe tomorrow morning will be different.
Also one thing I forgot to bring up before:
Language Pledge - everyone in the program signed a pledge this Tuesday to only speak in Chinese all of the time. The only times we are allowed to speak in English are when we're talking to our parents on the phone (给妈妈打电话)or if we get sick (生病). The teachers take it very seriously - you lose points off your final grade every time you're caught. However, I'm only in year 2, so obviously the language pledge really limits the range of what I'm able to communicate. It's a good idea, but sort of flawed in execution. Obviously I'm here because I want to learn Chinese but being restricted to ~400 words all of the time is pretty tough, so I may or may not often break the pledge simply because I want to have some fun here as well. Some people really strictly adhere to pledge and I admire that, but I find that for most people it's a "speak chinese when you're in the hallway and teachers might overhear you" sort of thing.
June 17th, 2009
The amount of characters we're learning every day - 40 a day, 160 a week (friday's are tests) - is starting to seem ridiculous. We also learn about 10 grammar patterns a day.
I feel like Newman:
(Note: I can't actually watch this video because the Commies have blocked Youtube, but I think it's the right one)
I'm not sure if I'll actually retain all of this information but I guess I'll find out Friday.
Other notes: Found a good restaurant! It's 5 minutes away, the food is delicious, and the waiters are extremely nice (they even took my embarrassing attempt of drawing an eel and becca's even more embarrassing attempt to act out "鱼" (fish) pretty well. Also ordered my first ever beer at a restaurant!
June 16, 2009
Today we went to this place called "?" to eat. I went with becca and tim, two of my friends who are also in the same year as me. All of my experiences going out into China had been pretty good but this place was pretty miserable. It was my idea to go here because there's a huge golden Mian (面) sign right outside its entrance, so I figured it had to be at least somewhat good.
Right when we walked in, there all the 服务员 (waiters/service people) yelled out something in Chinese really loudly in unison, and I nearly had a heart attack. It must have been a greeting, but that's the thing about Chinese, it always sounds intimidating. Chinese is far away from French. ( to quote the Merovigian from the Matrix Reloaded: I love the French language. I have sampled every language, French is my favorite. Fantastic language. Especially to curse with. Nom de dieu de putain de bordel de merde de saloperie de connard d'enculé de ta mère. It's like wiping your ass with silk. I love it. ) overhearing chinese is more like having shattered glass being drilled down your ear, 更不用说 being yelled at in Chinese.
Anyways, the menu had pictures on it so we thought we were golden. We were not - we found out the limitations of picture menus soon enough as the squid dish I ordered turned out to be noodles laced with peanuts (which I'm violently allergic to) FAIL. The veggie dish had tons of eggs in it which I also can't eat (though consensus was it was pretty mediocre as well) so I fell back on a third dish with brown sauce, an unknown stringy vegetable, and a mystery meat (chicken, I think).
To top it off, when we were ordering our bill, the woman laughed right in our face. Seriously, she didn't even laugh as she was walking away - she was standing two feet in front of us just having the time of her life at our expense. Perhaps if any of us had an adequate command of the Chinese language we could've defended ourselves, but none of us do, so we all just sat there and smiled sheepishly.
I'm disappointed that it's part of Chinese custom to NOT tip, because it would've felt a lot more satisfying if she was expecting one.
June 15, 2009
first day of classes! After feverishly memorizing 40 characters, our quiz took about 10 minutes. Sort of an anticlimax for 4 hours of studying. Class lasts 4 hours, from 1pm to 5pm (though after this week it's from 8am to noon until the program ends).
The first hour is a lecture class, with about 8 people in it. Zeng laoshi was really clear and obviously proficient at both English and Chinese, which was very impressive. The second hour is a 4 person "drill session" which is not nearly as intimidating as it sounds. They're actually generally more laid back than lecture classes because you don't learn anything new. The teacher just asks everyone a bunch of questions and you have a discussion of sorts while practicing Chinese. However, Duke recruited all of the drill instructor teachers from around Beijing,s o they have various accents and it was pretty damn hard to understand what half of them were saying. They also machine gunned their Chinese which didnt help. The fourth and final hour, the one on one session (lasts 20 mins but it's divided into 3 groups), was a lot easier. I had another Beijing teacher but she (Chinese language teachers are overwhelming female - out of the 30 in our program, 1 is male) was pretty patient and threw me softball questions like 你喜欢做什么 (what do you like to do?).
At the end of the day I was completely exhausted, returned to my room, and realized I had 40 MORE characters to memorize for tomorrow and it was already 6pm.
June 13, 2009
Some interesting things about China:
Really small trash cans - for some reason, the trashcans in China can hold maybe five crushed coke cans, then they overflow. So after any of our boxed lunch dinners the nearest five trashcans arenot only overflowing, but also shrouded by stacks of empty boxed lunches as high as the trashcan itself.
Missing barriers between the shower stall and the rest of the bathroom: This was truly stunning - the shower floor and the bathroom floor are one and the same. After me or my roommate shower, the bathroom becomes filled with water around an inch deep. The floor isnt even tilted towards the drain so we have to use a mop. Before China's welcomed into the first world, I feel that this is something that they need to address.
Food in bags: Today we had eggs in a bag for breakfast. Yesterday we had 饺子 (dumplings) in a bag for dinner. I don't get it.
Chinese people scribbling characters on their hand: When I say "对不起，我听不懂" Local Beijing citizens seem to think that invisibly scribbling the characters of what they said on their hand will help. This would help if I was fluent in Chinese and just didn't hear them correctly. Unfortunately, I know about 500 words and scribbling a character I don't know doesn't help my cause. On the plus side, they're all generally extremely patient and put up with my broken Chinese.
June 12, 2009
Right as we FINALLY docked a quarantine officer stepped on board with her temperature scanner. She placed it near every passengers forehead for about 3 seconds, waited until it beeped, and then moved on. It wasn't as bad as I thought it would be.
(this picture was extremely awkward to take)
My first impression of the Beijing airport is that it was squeaky clean and more modern than Dulles or Reagan, no doubt in large part because of the Olympics.
We met up with our Chinese teachers, shared more than a few semi awkward minutes meeting everyone else in the program and waited as other people arriving that day joined us. As we left the airport, we were told to don facemasks (again, H1N1 related).
We took a bus to capital normal univeristy. As we drove through Beijing, my first impression was how I didn't feel like I was in a different country. Besides the ubiquitous Chinese characters, the layout/architecture/roads/vehicles of China weren't too different than any American city. Another thing that struck me was how low the population density seemed. For a city of 7 million I expected Manhattan-like shoulder to shoulder pedestrian traffic. Instead, it felt more like DC.
At the dorms, everyone from the program just talked and got to know one another. Some impressions:
1) Everyone in the program is intelligent and sort of nerdy.
2) Everyone was really excited to be in China and pretty sociable.
3) 90% of the program hails from Duke (~40%), Brown (~25%) or Yale (~25%).
June 11, 2009
Long long flight. Luckily I met two people from the program in the airport. There was an old Chinese guy next to me on the plane who seemed to get a huge kick out of the fact that I could stumble through some Chinese. I'm sure he had a lot of information about China that he was willing to share with me, unfortunately the most intelligent thing I could muster up during the entire 14 hour flight was "In China I will become fat because I like to eat Chinese food."
United is god awful entertainment wise - they played 5 movies about 7 times on loop during the entirety of the trip. I watched bits and pieces of the International.