Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Longest Day of My Life

Literally! I left Beijing at noon on December 5th, which is 9pm Montana time, so I woke up at midnight the night before and stayed awake so I'd be able to sleep on the flight back. In order to ensure I actually stayed awake, I didn't start my packing until roughly 3AM, and as an added measure put the suitcases on my bed so I wouldn't be able to lay down. The first hour or so was really hard -- my eyes kept wanting to close on me. After that, though, I was fine - Kimberley was also awake packing, so I went to her room and watched for awhile, and then went and actually packed up.

Getting to the airport and everything went smoothly, as did my flight back to the US. In the Beijing airport my bags got manually searched, and while they were searching them I was able to have a conversation in Chinese with the one agent about what/where I was studying, how long I'd been in China, things like that. It was a really nice reminder of how far my Chinese had come since I got to China. We landed in Seattle at 6:30 AM on December 5th, and that's when the funkiness of time zones hit me - I had left Beijing 6 hours after I arrived in Seattle! My layover in Seattle was 4 hours, which was more than enough time to get through customs, get a gingerbread latte (!), and kill some time on the moving walkways (much to the amusement of my fellow travelers...I should consider growing up sometime soon!).

Our flight to Salt Lake was delayed for 30 minutes, because of fog at SLC, and then when we were almost to Salt Lake we got placed in a holding pattern (apparently for an hour - I dunno, because I fell asleep) due to the fog, and then were redirected to Twin Falls, Idaho, because the fog wasn't lifting. Twin Falls had an airport half the size of Bozeman, and there were ten other planes that had also been redirected because of the fog. This led to the most traffic the airport had in years, meaning they were delightfully overstaffed, and a slightly amusing situation that seemed to fit the perfect situation for a romantic comedy/psycho thriller/Christmas comedy movie. So anyway,  I spent something like 5 hours there, until the fog lifted and we got to go back to Salt Lake.

By the time we got in there, all the flight to MT had left, so I got to spend the night in a hotel in Salt Lake. As I climbed into bed at 11:30pm, I realized it had literally been the longest day of my life - something like a 38 hour day? :) I finally got home the next morning, and I've come the conclusion that home is the best place in the world. :) It's really weird to be home, it feels like I never left! I may post some more entries on my last couple days in Beijing, reflections on my time there, and what it's like coming back, but they may not be consistent - I fully intend to spend the next week or so just sleeping, eating, reading, and skating. :)

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Food Dish of the Day

(Tian Jiao Zi, Sweet Dumpling)
Price: .60 RMB, .09 cents USD

I admit, I don't actually know the name of this one. They have them for breakfast at the dining hall, and I've found if I just say "sweet dumpling" and hold my hands up in a triangle, the worker is able to figure out what I want. These are steamed breads that are folded together with sugar in the middle, and they're really, really good. (And cheap!) They remind me a little bit of French toast, but only because when I was little, I used to sprinkle granulated sugar on top of my french toast, and there's granulated sugar in the middle of these that gives a similar crunch. 

Ingredients: dumpling bread, sugar

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Karissa's Guide to Bargaining

Karissa's Guide to Bargaining

Part One: A Sample Purchase

 (hypothetically bargaining for a pair of shoes or a bag, that I'm willing to pay 100 RMB for)

-Once you ask the price, the seller  immediately pulls out a calculator, in order to ensure no difficulties with a language barrier, and says something like, "My normal price is this (punches 680 into the calculator), but you are a student/speak Chinese/are young/another excuse to reduce the price so you think you're saving, so I'll give you this (punches in 450)

- -Depending on the price, my reaction falls somewhere between looking distressed and shaking my head, or laughing at the ridiculousness of it. "I'm just a poor student!" (Punch in 60)

- Seller responds with a complaint about their need to make money/the quality of the item/the cheap price they're giving you. (punches in 350)

-- I respond with something along the lines of, "Can't do it", or "I don't have a ton of money!", and punch in 70

- Seller rolls her  eyes, and says "Okay, I give you really good deal. Don't tell anyone, I can't give all my goods away this cheap!" (punches in 200)

-- I recycle the line of being a poor student, maybe add on the explanation that I've studied Chinese, which is very difficult, they should give me a discount! (punch in 75)

- Seller says, "Final price, 150".

-- I counter with my final offer, 100.

- Seller says no, 130

-- I shake my head no, and leave the stall.

- If  the seller absolutely cannot sell at that price, they'll let me go. If they'll make even a couple dollars off of it, though, they'll yell after me, "Okay, okay, 100!" or reduce the price another 10 or so.

--If they come to 100, I'll go back and buy the item, but if they just reduce the price, I'll yell "100!" back, and just keep walking, at which point they'll normally agree.

Part Two: Useful Lines in Bargaining

1.) "I'm just a poor student, you have to give me a discount!"
2.) "I don't have much money!"
3.) "But I've taken the trouble of learning Chinese, and it's so hard to learn!"
4.) "Too expensive!"
5.) "But I have to eat, too!"

Part Three: Alternative Bargaining Methods
 By and large, the dialogue above is how most of my exchanges have gone.  There are other techniques for bargaining, including:

1.) Playing the stupid foreigner card, and just keep repeating the price until the seller is so anxious to get rid of you, they'll give it to you at that price (I've never tried, preferring to exercise my Chinese skills, but others have had success)

2.) Name the price you're willing to pay flat out, and when they try to get you to come up, just leave.  This skips to the last step of the above dialogue, and you'll know if your price is reasonable or not (that's how I got my boots, I was so tired I wasn't in the mood for bargaining).

3.) Saying, I only have xx amount of money. Only attempt if you actually only have that amount of money, otherwise it looks really bad when you claim you only have 20 rmb, but then pay with a 100rmb note. (As one of my classmates did - it's now referred within our group as "pulling a Kaitlin" - name changed to protect the guilty).

Part Four: Favorite Antics of Sellers

1.) Theatrics. Sellers love theatrics. One classmate said he's had a seller fake cry when he named a price, and they will vary between immense anger that you want to go so low, or immense sadness, which generally includes explaining that this is how they make a living, how do you expect them to survive and feed their family if you only pay 20rmb for a scarf?

2.) Insults: Rarely used, but I've had one seller who was slightly aggressive in explaining that you couldn't even get the materials for the item for the price I had just named. The tone she said it in was most definitely an "Are you out of your mind?!" tone.

3.) Compliments: Flattery is the sincerest form of getting someone to buy something? Going to the markets is always a confidence booster - I get told frequently that I'm so pretty and my Chinese is so good! Less frequently heard compliments include being told that I'm very intelligent.

 Part Five: Finer Points of Bargaining
There are also finer etiquette points regarding bargaining.

1.) Don't insult the quality of the product, because that makes the seller really mad at you. (I've not done it, but I've seen others do it in an attempt to get the price lower).

2.) If you name a price and the seller agrees to it, you should buy the item. (I just had a debate with a classmate as to whether this was true or not - I think it's ethically wrong to walk out after the seller agrees to a price you named, but he thinks it's okay. My philosophy is don't name a price you aren't willing to pay, it's just good manners.)

3.) Don't ask the price if you aren't actually interested in purchasing the item - it's kind of the point of no return, though you can certainly just name a price so insanely low there's no way they'd be willing to come down to and then leave. But in general, don't ask the price unless you're interested in buying.

4.) Don't treat it too seriously - it's much more fun if you consider it to be a game.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Food Dish of the Day

(Xi Hong Shi Ji Dan Mian, or Tomato and Egg Noodles)
Price: 4 RMB, 60 cents USD

This picture isn't terribly descriptive, due to the fact I forgot to take a picture until I was halfway done. :) However, the name itself is pretty descriptive, and the dish is tame by Chinese standards - not spicy, just a little bit salty.

Ingredients: Noodles, Tomatoes, Tomato Sauce, Eggs, and Cabbage.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

To Market to Market...

As my time here in Beijing winds down, I've been going to a lot of the different markets to get gifts and souvenirs for everyone at home. It's been fun to go back to the Pearl Market, which was the market I visited during the beginning of my time here. My perception of it has changed quite a bit; it seemed a lot less intimidating and aggressive than last time I was there. Going back to places that I visited much earlier in my time here has also shown me how much my Chinese has improved. I'm so much more willing to interact with the sellers, and rather than just naming a price, I might launch into a longer explanation of why my price is so low. (I'm just a poor student, I have to eat, too!" )

An important thing to note is that you have to bargain at the markets here - if you don't, you'll probably spend 500% more money than you would otherwise. I bought a pair of boots for 100rmb (roughly 15usd), but the seller had started at 680rmb. While most of the stuff I've bought is Christmas presents (and as such, the items and their prices must remain confidential until after December 25th!), I also bought a "Tiffany" bracelet for 45rmb, down from 250. Oh, I also bought a pair of "pearl" earrings for 20rmb and a "cashmere" scarf for 20, too (roughly 3 USD each). Bargaining can be a ton of fun, but also a bit exhausting. Look for my guide to bargaining later in the week, in case your planning a trip to China anytime soon. I also try to write a post on my shady Louis Vuitton experience. :)

As far as the markets themselves go, there's three that I think are the main ones in Beijing: the Pearl, Silk, and Zoo markets. The Pearl and Silk markets are both very similar in that they tend to be oriented towards foreigners (although I've seen Chinese shoppers there, too) and have a lot more kitschy items (ie, Mao's little read book of sayings) and designer knock offs ("Hello Lady, you want to buy a Prada bag? How about Louis Vuitton, okay?). However, I like the Pearl Market better, because the price they start bargaining at tends to be a bit lower, and they just seemed more friendly. The Silk Market is a bit bigger, so has something of a better selection. The Zoo market isn't really a tourist market, and when I went, I didn't see any other foreigners. The Zoo markets sell mainly clothes and daily necessities, so it's usually packed. Not many designer knock offs (except for Uggs), but dirt cheap prices, but so insanely packed, it isn't much fun. Overall, I think the Pearl Market is my  favorite, but the Zoo market is great for getting clothes and shoes.

Thanksgiving in the Land of Chopsticks

Happy belated Thanksgiving! While this wasn't my first Thanksgiving away from home, it was my first one outside of the country. As far as Thanksgiving break, our professors pulled a "China" on us - giving us a day off, but requiring us to make up the work. We normally have Wednesday off, but Thanksgiving week we had class on Wednesday, but got Friday off for Thanksgiving break, though we still had class on Thursday. This raises an important philosophical question: when you're thirteen hours ahead of home, does that mean Thanksgiving is Thursday (while it's still primarily Wednesday in the US) or Friday (when it's Thursday there)? The student complaints about not getting Thanksgiving off later proved to be a moot point; on Thursday morning, our TA emailed that our professor was sick, so class was canceled! I still had language class that afternoon, but it meant we got an extra long weekend (4 days, but 5 if you count the field trip on Monday that we have instead of class).

Thanksgiving was largely uneventful, with just language class and too much time watching US television shows online. As a group, we didn't do anything for Thanksgiving, but a few small groups went for Beijing Roast Duck. Asta and Sibei, two of my classmates, invited me along to go eat a real Thanksgiving dinner, prepared by one of the restaurants in San Li Tun, the foreign embassy district. We called ahead for a reservation, but alas, they were completely full, and so we found another restaurant serving Thanksgiving dinner. We hurried back to our dorm from the UChicago center to change/get all spiffied up, and then took to metro to the stop Asta said was closest, in the northeast part of the city. Unfortunately, as we left the subway stop, Asta and Sibei realized neither of them had thought to write down the address or phone number of the restaurant, and I had assumed they had. This problem was only compounded by not knowing the Chinese name of the Marriott hotel, where the restaurant was. We wandered around for about half an hour, and took a taxi who's driver said he knew where it was. We were happy to finally be on our way, right up until the point he pulled up in front of a Sheraton hotel.

We eventually made it to the restaurant, and had a complete Thanksgiving dinner, with green bean casserole, butternut squash soup, and pumpkin pie. :) The only thing missing was mashed potatoes, though we joked about going and getting some from Kentucky Fried Chicken. It was kind of funny (not in a "haha" kind of way, but in a "hmmm, that's very interesting" kind of way - Princess Bride reference, for those of you who didn't recognize it!) to eat with a fork and knife again, but it was great to eat Western style food and hang out in a restaurant where English was spoken. :) Getting there was certainly an adventure that made this Thanksgiving another memorable one. :)

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

No Such Thing as Ancient

Also last Friday, after our morning visit to the Urban Planning Museum, we also went to Qianmen, the area just south of Tiananmen Square. Qianmen street is on the north and south axis of the city, which runs through Tiananmen, the Forbidden City, and now the Olympic Green as well. The street was remodeled as a pedestrian street for the Olympics, and looks insanely cool. We had a guided tour of the area with a Chinese scholar who studies the area, which was really informative.

Right near the entrance to the street is a little Starbucks in a building that looks very traditional - one of the coolest Starbucks I've been in. The whole street looks the way you imagined it looking back in the early 1900s when it was a primary street of the city, with lots of shops and the very first Beijing duck restaurant! It was insanely beautiful and exactly what you would imagine Beijing to look like.

Which is exactly the point.

Prior to the Beijing Olympics, the government decided to make the street a major pedestrian thoroughfare, something of a tourist spot. This plan included widening the street, which isn't exactly easy. You can't just pick buildings up and move them back two feet. Most of the buildings were demolished, and along the entire way, there were two of the 40 or so that were the originals. Everything else had been demolished to make way for a 'cleaner' representation of the past.

But in many ways the street is just a front - behind it, the hutongs (courtyard houses) and older buildings still wind their way in a weird maze, a complete contrast to what's on Qianmen street proper. There's a lot of history behind some of the houses, and people still live in the area, though so much of it has been demolished to make space for newer buildings.

It's something I've thought about recently - so much of the 'history' of Beijing isn't as historical as it would seem. So much of it has either been wrecked in wars (it happens..heck, it happened to the White House!), or demolished, or just fallen into general state of disrepair, and then is rebuilt. The Forbidden City isn't even as old as it would seem - most if it has been restored/rebuilt since the mid 20th century. It's kind of a weird concept to adjust to, that what I'm seeing isn't completely what it was historically. In the case of Qianmen, it's changed dramatically. But maybe if it contains the general idea of the place - the essence, if you will - it's okay? I don't know, it's just something I've been thinking about.