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.

How to Feel Like a Rockstar

On Friday, we went on a field trip to the Beijing Urban Planning Museum. While normally pretty empty, it was exceptionally crowded that day, as roughly 500 elementary school children were also on a field trip to the museum. As we got ready to leave, they were all lining up by the door, and I quickly realized what a rockstar must feel like: as we walked out, I could feel lots of little eyes staring at the Americans (which was compounded by the fact that I was right next to Alex, the palest 6'4 person you'll ever see). Finally one worked up the courage to say "Hello!" and I said, "Nihao!". It was like a dam broke loose, and all of a sudden there were tons of children yelling Hello at us and waving madly. It was like being an Asian pop star who is marketed to the 8 to 12 year old group. (insert sarcastic reference to Justin Beiber here)

The museum itself was interesting, there was definitely a strong emphasis on the future of Beijing, which will apparently save tons of energy and have hovercraft cars. We thought the future had already arrived when we went to a short screening of a "4-D" film, though it was actually just a 2-D film on 3 panels, so it was like a panorama, and then your seat shifts and bumps as you "ride" in the hovercraft. One of the slogans I liked was the "Shifting from 'made in China' to 'invented in China'", though another was "The World's Crisis - China's Promise", which included massive green energy overhauls by 2020. They also had a huge miniature city of Beijing, which was really cool; you actually got to see the size of the city (the only other time you could see it like that is from the air, but then you have the "crazy bad" levels of pollution). Overall, it was very awe-inspiring, if everything they're advertising actually comes into practice (which it very likely won't, of course). It definitely seems like there's a large scale plan for the city going forward, which I don't know that we have as much of in the US- do we have urban planning museums? It seems like we just get focused on putting band-aids on all of the problems with our cities, as opposed to looking more long term. Maybe that's the problem with a democracy - you're never entirely certain you're going to be there long term. :) Maybe it gets bogged down in city planning committees, or maybe I just haven't noticed because I live in Montana or in an academic bubble most of the time. :)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Let it Snow, Let it Snow....

All day today, it has felt like it's about to snow. The overcast skies, the slight mistiness in the air - it must have been a sign that surely, snow was on its way. However, feeling and reality can be two very different things, as was the case today. It was not preparing to snow, and it was not "foggy" like said. No, the air quality was just so bad, they don't even have a word to describe it.

Today, the air quality index measured Beijing's air quality as being above 500 - which doesn't sound too terrible, until you realize the index stops at 500. 301 to 500 is considered "hazardous", with effects on the majority of the population. Last  night, the index of Beijing peaked at 525. Two hours ago, it was at 503, which the person writing could only characterize as "crazy bad", which is slightly amusing. The irony of it all is that I got this information from the Beijing Air twitter feed - aka, from a website that is blocked in China. The more I think about it, the wackier this gets. You can't make this stuff up!

Responses to the 500 + readings have been varied. Our TA - who kindly sent out the email informing us of the air quality - "believes that this means it's about to start raining coal", and a classmate said it feels like living in a post-apocalyptic world. I liken it more to going to school in a mythical land where you can't see more than a city block, because everything is engulfed in this misty haze. Another of our classmates kindly posted a link to an article about the health effects of smog on my Facebook wall, and suggested perhaps we should take up smoking cigarettes when we get back to Chicago - it would probably be better for our health. I am kind of curious to know what happens if it spikes even higher - do we leave "crazy bad" territory and go into "OMG WE'RE ALL GOING TO DIE!!1!" territory?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

One Little Letter...

Can change the meaning of a phrase entirely. Case in point: You've seen those little signs that people sometimes have on their cars, that say "Baby on Board"? Today I saw an unfortunate imitation: "Baby on Road". Perhaps an encouragement for drivers to be even more careful than they would have if there was a baby in the car?

Monday, November 15, 2010

A Day That Will Live in Infamy

Not for me, but for the vast majority of people on campus and (possibly) Beijing. Why, you ask? Because today was the day when the rest of the dorms on campus finally got their heat turned on. The dining hall, too, based on the temperature when I walked in to get dinner this evening. Someone said that everyone in Beijing got their heat turned on today, which I guess means it's under government control? That was just what another student said, so don't quote me on it. Either way, this demonstrates one of the benefits of being an international student here - I always have heat, which I can set however high I want. :)

Saving Money and Eating Scorpion

So after not doing too much the past two weeks, I was starting to get a little antsy to see something other than my campus and the UChicago center. This coincided happily with my classmate's final presentation on the Beijing markets, more specifically the Zoo Market, which she explained has the lowest prices. So on Sunday, a me and a couple friends went down to the Zoo market, to see what we could see.

Walking through the market, I was reminded of why I don't go out a ton in Beijing- waaaay too many people crammed into waaaaay too small of a space. It was so insanely packed, I can't imagine how people could go shopping just for fun. As mentioned, the prices were good, but I was looking more for gifts for everyone at home, so I didn't buy much. I was thinking about getting a pair of "Uggs", and some of the misspellings were funny - "Nggs", "UGCs", or best yet "Aukstalia". :) The Zoo market was a lot like other ones here in Beijing, absolutely packed with people, and about 7 stories tall. The Zoo Market was a little different, in that it was far more "legit" - they don't have a lot of knockoffs and aren't geared towards foreigners.

After the Zoo Market we went to Wangfujing, where I've been a couple times before, with Charis and then once other time. I tried to buy a knock-off Tiffany's bracelet, but the lady wanted 85 RMB and wasn't willing to drop it very low. Having tempted Asta and Eddie to come with me with the promise of scorpions ad other assorted things sold for sale there, after going to get my dad's Christmas gift, we went to get Asta and Eddie a deep fried scorpion. Asta bought it and ate two, and then I ended up eating one, too! It was pretty decent - deep fried and covered in seasonings, so that was what you tasted. We also got fruit covered in sugar, and then also deep fried ice cream. The deep fried ice cream was so terrible, it was just covered in cold oil - a waste of 10rmb, that's for sure.

It was fun to go back to a place I'd been at the beginning of my stay in China. I was a lot more friendly and willing to talk to the sellers a lot more - one said, "Hello, you want to buy?" to me in English, and I told him, "It's okay, I speak Chinese!". I also got use the line, "I'm a poor student, I don't have much money!", though even then the lady didn't give me much of a discount. Another shopkeeper thought I was Russian, which isn't the first time I've been thought to be from Russia. I kind of like it, it means I look European. :p

Friday, November 12, 2010

Food Dish of the Day

(Xiao Long Bao, or Little Dragon Dumplings)
Price: 4 RMB, or 60 cents USD

By far the most kick-butt food I've eaten. Can't you see Chuck Norris eating a bowl of little dragon balls before going out to save the world?  Unlike normal dumplings, that have just a thin skin, these dumpling are more 'bready', at least at the dining hall, although they aren't everywhere. They're a specialty of Shanghai, and are supposed to be more soupy than regular dumplings, so that when you bite into them, there's a little bit of juice. However, in these, the bread soaked up the juice, but I like the 'bready' dumplings more than the regular ones. Unfortunately, they're also fairly salty, so I don't have them very often.

Ingredients: Pork and green vegetables.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Food Dish of The Day

(Niu Rou Mian, or Beef Noodles)
Price: 6 RMB, 90 cents USD

While the name of these noodles doesn't indicate it, it is worth noting for any of you planning on studying in China that these are in fact spicy beef noodles. Nothing to terribly overpowering, just spicy enough to enliven the tastebuds and make your nose run. One of my favorite dishes at the dining hall - cheap and tasty!

Ingredients: Noodles, obviously. Combined with a few spoonfuls of broth, a spoon of beef chunks (that I try not to look at too closely), bok choy, corn and peas,and various spices, including one shaped like a flower, which is pretty cool.

Monday, November 8, 2010

On Technology and Life

Oh technology, thou art a double edged sword.

On the one hand, the technological advances have been fantastic. When I was in Germany a couple years ago, the only contact I had with home is a once-weekly phone call. Looking back, I'm not entirely sure how I managed 8 weeks without email, but back then I didn't really use it, I guess (Besides, I should be able to survive w/o email for 8 weeks even now...but with school, it's kind of impossible). Nowadays, between Skype and Facebook, I'm not missing anything more at home than I would if I was in Chicago. Especially Skype is really convenient - first because it's free, but also because I can make my sister show me my room, to ensure that she hasn't taken over it or turned it into a storage facility.

Of course, the downside to knowing what's going on at home also means I know what's going on in Chicago. I've gotten so many Facebook invites to cool events that I would love to go to, save for the fact that I'm about 10,000 miles away right now. Realizing that life goes on without you is a weird feeling, though I hope that doesn't sound too arrogant. I had a RSO committee meeting that was in the Reynolds club, and I was on skype. Getting to see such a familiar landmark, and realizing that all my friends were having a normal school quarter in Chicago was kind of weird. Cognitively, we know life continues regardless of whether you're their or not. But actually seeing it going on is kind of weird...makes you realize that you're pretty expendable, and life won't stop when you die. This post kind of veered off topic from what I was planning, but I guess these musings could lead to a bold statement - studying abroad is like dying? :)

Sunday, November 7, 2010

A Very Icy Weekend

But in the best way possible! Over the weekend, Kie, Sibei, and I went to the Cup of China figure skating competition held here in Beijing every fall. It's part of the Grand Prix of Figure Skating, which is a series of six competitions held around the world each fall, where the top international skaters compete for medals and money, but also to qualify for the Grand Prix Final, which is also being held in Beijing this year (I miss it by five days, darnit!)I was really excited to be here for the Cup of China, though- I'd never gone to a major international skating competition before, and with the conversion rate, tickets were really cheap! To go to every event, the cost was $50, and that was for the best seats. Had we wanted to buy the nosebleed student tickets, we could have gone for only $10. To go to the Grand Prix event in the US, Skate America (which is next weekend, I think), would cost $100 for the cheapest seats, so this was quite the deal!

The competition was held at Capital Indoor Gymnasium, which is only about 15 minutes away from Renmin. It's also where the Chinese national skating team practices, and was a location for the Beijing Olympics. (What it hosted, we're not sure - it was kind of a small venue)Walking in, I was surprised by the size - having watched youtube videos from last year's competition held in the same place, I was expecting it to be bigger. All the better to see the skaters, though, and we had seats right behind the judges, which was great. The skating itself was fantastic, but I won't go into massive analysis of it - but one of the US's men and a pairs team were on the podium!

The best part, other than watching the skating, was getting to cheer on the US skaters in a foreign country. Had we been in the US, it wouldn't have been nearly as much fun, since everyone else would have been screaming just as loud. Here, however, the audience's response to non-Chinese skaters was...lukewarm, at best. Whenever one of our skaters took the ice, we screamed when they were announced, we yelled in unison, "Go !!!!". Several of the skaters looked at us and smiled after hearing their names, and the audience surrounding us tended to look at us, too.

Over in the corner of the arena, we saw a few people waving an American flag, and during one of the breaks went over to say hi. They ended up being the officials and parents with the skaters, which was cool. One of the pairs skater's moms told me, "You have no idea how nice it is to hear an American accent!" and I said, "Oh believe me, I do!". Her daughter ended up winning bronze, and we watched/cheered at the medal ceremony with her. The other parent who was there is the father of Ross Miner, one of our mens skaters. He told us to make sure we made lots of noise, since Ross hates the silence. Having been encouraged to keep screaming our hearts/lungs (?) out, we yelled when Ross was about to get his scores, "We love you Ross!", and he held his hands up in a rock start pose in response. We yelled it for our other mens skater, Brandon, too, but he was busy talking with his coach. After finishing his program and getting changed, Ross came up and said hi and gave us all a hug (He said, "You guys said you love me, we gotta hug it out!). Getting to meet him was a lot of fun, and he stuck around for awhile and talked skating with us.

That was the best part of cheering, getting to see the skater's responses, whether it was actually coming up to say hi or just a smile. That was something that I think is unique to going to a competition abroad as opposed to one in the US - like I said, in the US everyone is screaming. Getting to meet the parents, team doctor (also from Chicago!), and other officials was one of the highlights of the event, and would probably be less likely to happen in the US. Overall, it was a fantastic weekend, and I'm looking forward to getting back to working on my skating tomorrow. :)

Oh, and there was one other person we yelled for while they were waiting for the scores. Mirai Nagasu, our National Silver medalist, is coached by Frank Carroll, who in the sport of figure skating is legend--wait for it--DARY. An absolute god among skaters. So while Mirai was waiting for her score, we yelled, "We love you, Frank!". While he did not respond with a rock star pose, the brief smile on the normally stoic coach's face made my night. :)

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Pizza and Art

As part of our class this session, we're required to complete "excursion projects" that are meant to get us out and about in the city, rather than just being holed up in a classroom. I decided to do my excursion project on 798, a complex of art galleries in north-eastern-ish Beijing. The 798 galleries are fairly well known, and I had heard of them before and wanted to go visit. But contemporary art isn't really my thing, but I figured if I had to do a project on it, then I would be far more likely to actually go visit. And so, last Sunday, I dragged Kimberley, Louis, and Eddie along with me to the galleries.

798 (or in Chinese, 七八九) is so named after the street which runs through it, shockingly called 798 street. It's an old manufacturing complex, so many of the galleries are in old warehouses and buildings, which was really cool. The complex had a festival like feel - all the galleries had their doors open, and there where street musicians and jewelery makers selling things on the street. There were also quite a few small cafes scattered on corners, many of them selling Western food, which is where the first part of the title comes in. While I was off discovering the deeper meanings of pictures of bamboo burning, Kimberley, Louis, and Eddie had stopped and ordered french fries and pizza at a cafe. I met up with them just as the french fries arrived, and they were delicious (the cafe even had ketchup!). The pizza was equally delicious, but it didn't taste like pizza - just cheese bread with chicken and seasonings. I guess I feel kind of reluctant to eat Western food - after all, I can eat it all the time at home, so there's no reason to eat it here. As much as I can sometimes get tired of Chinese food, I guess I'm trying to keep the experience as realistic as possible.

The art itself was actually really interesting - I went there with a list of things to look for in the art, such as how Chinese traditional painting aspects were incorporated, whether it was a critique of the government, and if there was a disdain towards the new consumerism mentality China has shown. The most prevalent theme I found was a critique of urbanism and consumerism, such as the painting that depicted 'moments' in a life, such as getting married, with a picture of an Audi imposed on the scene. It was kind of random, but for the purposes of my presentation, it's a critique of consumerism. :) The best part of 798 was that it was free, only .40 RMB bus fare to get there. An excellent way to spend an afternoon in Beijing, if you're ever here.

And anecdotally, I also went to China fashion week. In the midst of trying to find where Kimberley had went, I turned a corner and found myself surrounded by a bunch of glamorous people wearing black with nametag credentials. Amidst the suits and insanely fashionable dresses, I felt a little out of place in my UChicago sweatshirt and jeans and quickly turned back around that corner, but now I can say I went to China Fashion Week! :)

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Getting Cultured

Last Monday marked the beginning of our second class session, this one focusing on Chinese cosmology, science, medicine, and metaphysics (or lack there of). The class is somewhat hard to explain, although the differences in Chinese thought – just how they approached things- compared to the West is really interesting. So anyway, last Wednesday we had a class field trip to the opera “Madame White Snake”, which is based on an ancient Chinese fable (see separate post on the actual story). Apparently our professor knew the librettist who wrote the opera, so we ended up getting free tickets.

The tickets were divided into two blocks, one on the upper balcony and one on the main floor. In the random distribution of tickets, I lucked out and got Floor 1, Row 4, Seat 32! It was at that point I decided to be a perpetual study abroad student, because the perks here are way better than being on campus. (Field trips to different cities among them) We were four rows away from the stage, and when we (4 students, who ended up with the really good tickets) got there, there were coats in our seats. This lead to some worries abut whether we actually had tickets, but we went up and watched the musicians tune up while waiting to see what people came back to get their coats. Come to find out, it was the librettist and the producer who had set their coats in our seats, which was pretty cool, and they ended up moving two rows closer, and we enjoyed our fourth row seats.

It was the first time I had gone to an opera, and it was incredible! The stage composition and lighting was really cool, though you couldn't actually understand what they were singing. (They had subtitles in Chinese, but I couldn't read most of them). The opera was actually in English, and was produced by the Boston Opera. The music was gorgeous, too - it was a combination of Western and traditional Chinese music, and the love theme that resurfaced at various points was beautiful. The summary of the story is below, in case you want to share in my cultural enlightenment. ;)

The Story of Madame White Snake

A lady and her boyfriend die, and are transformed into demon-snakes. In order that they can spend all eternity together, they are both made female snakes, which kills the love thing but keeps them in each others company.

Fast forward a thousand years, when, after meditating for the past 1000 years, the white demon snake (the other is green), is transformed back into her female human form. The green snake, Xiao Qing, was a little bit ADD and is left somewhere between a green snake and a woman. (And the role was played by a male soprano – I didn't even know they had those -, so presumably the transformation to green snake was never complete, either, since Xiao Qing used to be the white snake's lover). So anyway. Madame White Snake is celebrating her human form, when a human guy, Xu Xian, sees her dancing and falls madly in love. Xiao Qing knows this is going to end in tears. It starts to rain, Xu Xian offers M.W.S. His umbrella, and she tells him to come to her house to pick it up. He does so, and she gives him some of her own special tea, the magical powers of which – if there are any – aren't covered in the opera. Shortly thereafter, he proposed marriage, and she agrees, on one condition – once a month, she and Xiao Qing will go away for one night, and he's not allowed to ask any questions. (They have to go shed their skin – remember, they're still demon-snakes on the inside). The poor guy is love struck, so he agrees.

They get married, and are living happily, when some friar shows up. He too has been meditating a thousand years on love (no transformation, though), and is one step away from nirvana. He seeks out Xu Xian and M.W.S, as their love is now legendary. When he first lays eyes on M.W.S, his thousand year knowledge instantly tells him she's a demon-snake, and that she is pregnant with a ½ human child, which is simply unacceptable. Friar and M.W.S get in a fight, where he talks about destroying the marriage to reach nirvana, and she says that the attempt will destroy her own nirvana, which was a section that was really well written (and raises the question – is nirvana something we work towards, or something we create?). The friar creates questions in Xu Xian mind about where his wife goes, questions that are solidified when M.W.S tell him that she is pregnant, and poor Xu Xian isn't sure who the father is. The friar gives him a potion which will reduce M.W.S to her true form, and Xu Xian betrays his wife and gives it to her, and she becomes a snake again. Her tears of sorrow over the betrayal and the loss of her nirvana ultimately drown the village and everyone living there, leaving only Xiao Qing to tell the audience the sad story.

Clearly I'm Doing Something Exciting...

Seeing as I haven't updated since October! Sorry for the lack of updates again! My best intentions of writing several posts over the weekend was thwarted by skating, procrastination, and schoolwork. Unfortunately this week has been insanely packed with a couple internship/scholarship applications and a paper worth 50% of my grade due, so I've been busy. This weekend is packed, too, but with something far better than schoolwork – the Cup of China skating competition, which is in the ISU Grand Prix Series, which means the top skaters are in Beijing this weekend, AND I'M GOING TO SEE THEM! Two classmates and I are going tomorrow for the short programs, and then a classmate and I are also going Saturday for the long programs. Thanks to the exchange rate, we got row 15 tickets for both days for roughly 40 USD, cheap by American skating standards. I'm so excited I could burst!'Course, that means this paper needs to be finished tonight....

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Skating Regulars

A cold rink, with garish lighting from the children's play area above. A 30 minute music CD on repeat, with the 24 minute mark belonging to Shania Twain's "I'm Gonna Getcha Good!". A sheet of ice, scratched with the tracings of hundreds of blades, with pictures of coaches past and present staring down on it. A slight chill in the air, almost unnoticeable with the movement of skaters, circling endless around the too small surface.   In this setting, skaters come and other skaters go, but a core group of determined souls skate on forever, circling the rink and then leaving, only to return again, observed by huddled parents and the rink staff. And so I present to you, The Skating Regulars:

One of the coaches at the rink, with Bieber-like hair that he frequently flicks back from his eyes ever so genteely. So named because, in the course of instructing people how not to fall over, he frequently becomes bored and launches into advanced footwork sequences, generally consisting of a series of super fast turns called "Twizzles". And thus a nickname was born. Not much personality evident from a distance, unless admiring one's posture in the rink glass could be considered a personality.

Crazy Dancing Guy:
Skates to the beat of his own drum. Listens to his MP3 player and "dances to it". His moves are not what would fall under the category of conventional skating movements, but he makes it work. He is a skater's worst nightmare, in that he is simultaneously not terribly in control (too much crazy dancing, I'm afraid) and completely unpredictable, swerving as the music moves him. Combined with his frequent haphazard stops in the middle of the rink to change the song, and you have recipe for potential disaster. No camel spins when he's around!

Figckey Guy
Crazy Dancing Guy's figurative cousin (I've seen his hip wiggling and quasi-Irish jigging to "Don't You Wish Your Girlfriend was Hot Like Me").  So named because he attempts to complete figure skating moves whilst wearing hockey skates, which both hockey skaters and figure skaters will tell you is impossible. Still, he attempts to spin and jump, and has a fairly decent spiral.

Little Boy Blue
Wears a blue silk shirt to practice every day. Also wears black pants and black padded shorts, which combined with his stick skinny legs makes for an interesting silhouette.   A good little skater with nice stretch, but unfortunately it seems his father wants him to be a figure skater more than Little Boy Blue himself does. This leads to long discussions at the board as the father tells him what to do, dilly dallying tying the skates, and a wrinkly forehead and teary eyes after missing a couple lutz jumps in a row.

The Erudite
A completely unremarkable skater, one of the many older people who comes to the rink to skate around, practice two foot spins and waltz jumps, and get their daily exercise in. However, her knowledge of the Chinese skating is spectacular, and she is more than happy to discuss the benefits and disadvantages of having a national training program, why a former World Bronze Medalist coaches in a private rink, and to tell you where the national team practices are held and that they are open to the public.  A very valuable resource who speaks English.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Few of My Favorite Things

- Watching Winnie the Pooh in Chinese

- Being able to read an entire sign without having to ask someone what a certain character means.

- Field trips to archeological museums

- The pop music that plays over the campus loudspeakers at the end of the day

- Dumplings :)

- The happy-glowy feeling of success when I say something in Mandarin and people actually understand me. (Related: the euphoria of realizing I'm able to survive in a foreign country by myself)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Discourse on Food

I am currently in the midst of a "I am so over Chinese food" phase. Even before coming here, I was never a huge fan of Chinese food, and while it is good, it's just not my favorite. Except crab rangoon, which I absolutely love, although I've never seen it here, and I'm not even sure it's even Chinese food. (A quick wikipedia search tells me that it is not; apparently, crab rangoon was invented in San Francisco in 1952.) Which brings up another point regarding American Chinese food: while I knew even before I came to China that fortune cookies were entirely an American invention, there is still a little piece of my soul that dies whenever I finish a meal here and don't get a completely generic yet uplifting prediction of my future. (The Sunday before I left for China, my family went for Chinese, and my fortune was: "You will soon go on a great journey.")

Compounding the above disillusionment is the discovery that Chinese Hot Pot (one of my favorite dishes) is actually not Chinese; rather, it's Mongolian, and was imported - along with the Mongols- when they took over the country for awhile a couple centuries ago. (Sorry, don't feel like looking up the specifics).

China is known for having specific foods coming from it's different regions, I guess in a somewhat similar way to how the US draws on lots of different countries' dishes (long ago, the provinces were separate countries, anyway). Hunan and Szechuan food is known for its spiciness, which I discovered my first week here. Which is spicier is debatable - some say Szechuan, some say Hunan. Shaanxi province, which is where Xi'an is located, is known for its "paomo", which is a noodle/meat/soup dish, with little bread pieces scattered in it, too. I'm not sure if there's a specific flavor they're known for, but based off my limited experience, it would likely be spicy, too. My tolerance for spicy foods has gone up exponentially since coming here, that's for sure.

Anyway, I'm going to try and do a post or so each week on food- just a picture and description of some of my favorite dishes, so you all can get a feel for what 'normal' Chinese food is like. We can't all go out and eat hot pot or Beijing Roast Duck (sooo expensive) every night! :)

Monday, October 25, 2010

A Day in The Life

{In the spirit of starting classes today, I felt a sample day of what classes and life are like for me was in order. Compiled over a series of a few days during our last session}

(Proof that I actually WAS up that early!) 

6:35 AM – I wake up at an entirely too early hour to go for a run before classes. Asta, one of the other study abroad students, meets me in the lobby, and we head to Renmin University's outdoor track. By the time we get there at 7:00, there's already 40 or so elderly people running and walking, including a group of old guys walking in a group that I see everyday. I think they come to socialize as much as they do work out!

 (Renmin's gym and track - the gym was used as a practice facility for the 2008 Olympics!)

7:55 AM- Back in my dorm, I take a quick shower and then get on skype to talk to my family back home in Montana, where it's 6pm. They update me on how many new calves have been born (7 this week!).

8:45 AM- I leave for class, stopping to buy a package of little bread cakes for 1.2 RMB, roughly 18 cents USD. They go great with the (free!) cup of coffee I'll make at the center!

8:57 AM – After walking for five minutes on the streets of Beijing, I take the elevator to the 20th floor and step onto the University of Chicago's campus. The Center in Beijing is brand new and absolutely beautiful - a UChicago oasis in the midst of bustling Beijing. I make myself a (free!) cup of coffee before class starts.

9:00 AM- First class of the day, which is a lecture on early diplomacy in China with Professor Tamara Chin.

(If it looks a little empty, it's because I took the picture before class actually started)

10:30AM- After a ten minute break, we re-convene for our next class, which is a discussion of the lecture and readings for today. We spend a lot of time discussing marriage diplomacy and the role of ritual in diplomacy, as well as on an extended metaphor comparing a kow-tow to a handshake.

(Again, before class started. Excited to discuss the use of Han princesses as diplomatic currency!)

 11:30 AM- After class ends, I head with a bunch of other students to the dining hall on campus, which has a lot of different selections. They had plain broccoli once, and it tasted so much like it would at home that I hold my breath hoping they'll have it again. No luck, so instead I get a big bowl of noodles with eggs and tomato sauce for 4 RMB (60 cents!)

12:30PM – After lunch, I head to the bus stop, where I take a 355 bus. Beijing's bus system is insane – they have over 800 different routes, and one day I plan to ride them all, but not today. Instead, I head to the ice rink, housed in Jinyuan Shopping Mall, the world's second largest mall. 

1:00PM- I greet the staff at the ice rink, who are getting to know my face pretty well at this point. Skating has proven a great way to meet Beijingers; today, I have a three minute conversation (all in Mandarin!) with a little girl who wants to know if I'm a teacher and where I'm from, and a longer conversation in a mix of Mandarin and English with another skater, discussing the pros and cons of China's national figure skating system (great pairs teams, not-so-great single skaters). She tells me where the national team trains, and that practices are open to the public. I feel a field trip coming on... :)

5:00PM- Back on Renmin's campus, I drop my skating stuff off and check email and Facebook, which although blocked in China, is accessible over my Chicago VPN connection. I begin writing this blog post, and then contemplate doing Chinese homework – ultimately, I decide to put it off until after dinner.(yay procrastination!)

(My room, in a picture taken when I first arrived)

 6:15PM – I meet up with a classmate, Kimberly, for dinner in the dining hall. Despite the absence of steamed broccoli, I enjoy my meal of rice with green beans in soy sauce and some kind of meat in some kind of sauce (I opted not to ask) very much. Kimberly recounts her adventures going to get a coat tailor-made for her, and we discuss our plans for the weekend, entertaining the possibility of going to the Beijing Zoo. (They have pandas!)
 (Kimberly with another of our classmates - this picture was actually taken at lunch)

7:30PM – After a quick run to the campus convenience store for chocolate milk (better here than at home, I think), I'm back in the dorm. I settle in to do my readings for tomorrow.

8:40 PM- I read the discussion questions for tomorrow online, and post a paragraph on the discussion board for the readings, getting distracted briefly by skating blogs and picture of LOLcats. I finish up my Chinese homework for Thursday, since we have a test and will turn in the week's homework. Not recognizing a couple of characters, I leave a section blank and finish everything else.

9:30 PM- Having finished everything except that section, I head over to Kimberly's room to get help, since she's in 5th year Chinese. She recognizes the characters, and I finish my homework. Watching her paint her nails, we end up talking for awhile about studying Chinese and life in general.

10:45 PM – I head to bed, since we have a class trip to the Great Wall tomorrow morning. One of the best parts of studying abroad is the field trips, and getting to hear your professor say that she'll be holding office hours on the Great Wall. :)

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Various Sundry Notes

- For those of you you may have found my last post a little bit too contemplative and self  indulgent (I genuinely hope it wasn't), I promise to do something exciting soon, so I can blog about that and not just my own thoughts. :)

- Apparently the China diet works. My hotel room in Xi'an had a scale in the bathroom, and it would seem I've lost somewhere between 7 and 10 pounds. Considering the carb-based diet here, I'm not sure what this says for Dr. Atkins?

- What I mean by class "sessions" : Our classes run back to back, rather than simultaneously, in three week long 'sessions'. After this first session, we had our week break, and now we have 2 more back to back sessions, this next one on Chinese science and medicine, the final one on the evolution of Beijing/Beijing architecture.

- Thanks to the international skating season starting, I've had an enjoyable weekend doing Chinese homework and watching skating on television. (it seems like that's pretty much the summary of my entire life, skating and doing Chinese!). My Chinese vocabulary is now beginning to encompass skating terms, too -  I can now say double/triple axel in Chinese. Useless if I end up working for the State Department, but useful if I ever compete here or coach their national team! (Which both seem equally unlikely) :p

Crescat Scientia...

...vita excolatur. Let knowledge grow from more to more, and so be human life enriched. As most of you know, it's the motto of the University of Chicago, and I figured that as I move into the second session of my study abroad classes, it was worth reflecting on it, especially in light of studying abroad.

Truth be told, I had never really contemplated the motto deeply, or even shallowly for that matter. But during this past class session, I drifted off a little bit, after my professor mentioned in passing the ancient Greeks, leading me to think about how cool it would be to really study them for awhile - not like skimming history studying, but an in depth study of them. I then started contemplating how short a time four years actually is - not nearly enough to even come close to studying everything I want to. This contemplation was followed by the realization that a lifetime is a very short amount of time to study everything I want to, which in turn made me slightly depressed and wishing I was immortal.

In my class notes, I frequently make sidebar notations of things the professor mentions in passing or that pique my interest. These little notes range from book titles (The Monk and the Monkey) to subjects (Art History) to people (Alexander the Great). All are things I want to either read or study more, and I'm beginning to compile a list for when I have some elusive free time. Now, I've done this in all my classes (not so much in Chinese) throughout college, meaning that with roughly 4 notations a week in each class, 3 classes meeting twice a week, 10 weeks in a quarter, 4 quarters I've been in school =  960 subjects I want to study in more depth. Grant it, some of those things might overlap, but most of them won't, meaning I've got a lifetime of studying cut out for me. Suddenly, four years seems like an even shorter amount of time. Sure, I can still 'study' them once I graduate and have a job, but it won't be the same as having world class professors share their knowledge with you while you study full-time.

The growth of knowledge seems very tied to connections; my studying ancient Chinese civilization and how it interacted with ancient Rome made me want to learn more about Alexander the Great and read The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, for instance. Even a small connection like that between the two can lead to the exponential growth of knowledge. And in the same way, living in Beijing provides me with a set of observations and experiences that I can connect with the readings and lectures in class - for example, the most recent reading for tomorrow mentioned the cosmos vs. the microcosm, which made me think about how much of Chinese culture is in relation to the microcosm, from the hutongs in Old Beijing to the iPod Shuffle  sized ancient pots we saw in the museum. That's one of the benefits of studying abroad to me: being in the culture enhances and solidifies learning; it allows you to make more "connections". Being here just makes everything more relevant - having been to the Forbidden City and discussing ancient court life lets me imagine it in more detail, or at least historical accuracy. (Though that's actually debatable, though that's a different topic - see, another connection!) Being here just offers my imagination a million different paths to considering a topic, and that's one of the things I've enjoyed about being here.

Crescat Scientia, vita excolatur. Let knowledge grow from more to more....exponentially through sidebar notes made during class....through connections made from living in a completely opposite encountering different perspectives on the same topic.... and even from thirteen weeks straight of Chinese food. And so be human live be enriched. :)

Friday, October 22, 2010

Life in a Police State

Perhaps the most well known manifestation of the Chinese government's control over daily life is the "Great Firewall of China", which I talked a little bit about in another post. It took me a little bit by surprise my first time getting online that the when you try to access a blocked page, it just says "The connection was reset while the page was loading", the same mundane message I occasionally get at home. I suppose I was expecting something more like "The Chinese Government Bureau of Security has blocked this webpage", or some official message like that. Twitter, Blogspot, and Facebook are all blocked, although US news outlets aren't. Some random websites that I wouldn't anticipate being blocked are as well, although an example slips my mind. Getting around the firewall isn't exceptionally hard, especially for foreigners. I use my UChicago VPN, which causes the internet to recognize my computer as being back on campus in Hyde Park (I think that's how it works, anyway). From what I've heard, it's somewhat expected that foreigners here will bypass the firewall,so I'm in no danger of being arrested. :)

More surprising to me, however, was the sheer amount of security they have here. There are security guards at virtually every business and entry to campus, which made me skittish my first few days here - I was scared they were going to ask to see my passport/visa and I wouldn't be able to understand them.  They are especially present in the subway system, and whenever you  enter a station your bags have to go through an x-ray machine. I've thought in the past that implementing such a system in the US would be wise, since our public transit is generally unguarded, but after experiencing it here, it feels a bit oppressive. I grew up around the military, and I live in Montana - as far as guns go, I'm about as comfortable around them as you can get. But even then, having SWAT teams with automatic rifles on the subway platforms or outside the station makes me nervous. Maybe it's just because I'm a foreigner that these things stand out to me- I guess I'm likely to assume that the guards are there as the face of the Chinese government, not of just public safety.

There are also security cameras everywhere, too - I counted eight on a light pole on Tiananmen Square. I didn't realize just how used to them I had become until I was in the UChicago Center one day, and noticed a camera in the large lecture room. I instantly assumed it was a security camera - it took my brain a minute to remind me that it was the cameras used to record/broadcast presentations to other parts of the center, like we used during the opening, when there were too many people to fit in that one room.

When foreigners enter the country, they're obviously required to have a visa, but the stewardesses on the plane also handed out arrival/departure cards. The arrival portion, which included flight info, planned place of residence, and reason for visit, was handed in to customs when I arrived. The departure half I keep with me, and will be turned in when I leave. Customs also apparently assigns everyone a "police number", although if it's actually used and what for, I have no idea. The airport also has a health check station, although it was closed by the time I got in around midnight (maybe they assume people getting in late can't be sick?).

While I don't doubt that I have an immense amount more freedom than the first students who studied abroad in China, there are still slight differences in the way we're treated that give me the sense they are trying to make sure we have a good opinion of China. For instance, our dorm is all single rooms; most students share a room with 5 other students. Our dorms also have unlimited electricity; in the other dorms, it gets shut off from 11:30PM to 6:00AM. There have been times when I've been waiting to order food at the cafeteria, and I've been helped before other students- whether that's an official school policy or just the noodle guy's affinity for foreign girls, I'm not sure. I've also gotten that sense from individual people - several times, someone has told me that m family should come visit to "see the real China".When my friend Charis was visiting, her friend from Beijing University came along to visit, and mentioned that foreign students always get the nice dorms. He also noted, flipping through one of my textbooks on Beijing/Tiananmen Square, that it was a really good book-  it had some of the pictures which are still blocked in China.

Of course, these are all my individual impressions, and some processes may be similar to those in the US - I have no clue what kind of visas a foreigner visitor needs to get into the US, and we of course have security and police officers and cameras everywhere, too. Maybe it's just my perception of the Chinese government that causes these things to stand out, and maybe if this were the US I wouldn't think twice about most of the stuff above. And I do hope that this post doesn't portray China in a negative light; I've loved my time here, and the Chinese are some of the most generous and hospitable people I've ever met. (Although the Singaporeans still take the cake, refer to my posts on the Center Opening). A friend here told me that the Chinese people don't care about their freedom as much as Americans do, and I would guess that to be true - can you imagine the uproar if the US government tried to block a website, no matter how mundane?

Perhaps I should note, too, that in a country with as many people as China, I'm not sure how effective the security measures are - there are huge holes in the firewall, and I don't know anyone who's ever had their bag searched at the subway station.


The other night, I dreamed about the Seattle Airport (the point of departure/arrival in the US for me on this trip, a point that will make sense in a moment). I was standing in the middle of their food court, trying to decide what to eat in celebration of my return to the US. I glanced at Pizza Hut, but it was really crowded, so I decided against it. I turned to my right, and there was a Panda Express, and I thought "Woah! Don't want that my first day back!". I distinctly remember they had kung pao chicken on the menu, as well as beef with green peppers. I then stood in front of Wendy's, debating whether I wanted a frosty or a piece of chocolate cake from the place across the food court.

I woke up, and the first thought that came to my head was how ironic it was that I was dreaming about being in the Seattle airport eating, when the name of my blog is Dreaming in Chinese, and I'm supposed to be dreaming about China, right?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Home in Beijing!

I'm back at my home away from home, cozy Renmin University in Beijing. :) It is actually really nice to be back, sleeping in my "own" bed and being in a familiar setting again. Beijing had a significant temperature drop while we were gone, probably from the 70s down to the 40s. It's beginning to feel like winter! It's kind of cute how always says it's "foggy" in Beijing; if it sticks around 24/7 except when it rains, in a city known for its pollution, I'm betting it isn't "fog". We have a week long break now, so no classes until next Monday. Most everyone is travelling (Daping is biking to Inner Mongolia), but I'm staying here, filling up the time with skating and Model UN/Other RSO/Summer Internships stuff. Not so exciting, but things that have deadlines and really need to get done, so it's nice to not have to worry about school, too.

Our last day in Xi'an was fun, as we spent several hours on the bus to visit a couple mausoleums of emperors. It was a 2 hour ride to the first one, and while I primarily did Chinese homework, Kimberley, Louis, and Alex were playing poker with Mao Zedong cards, which was amusing. (Kimberley ended up winning 12 RMB!). The first tomb we visited was Emperor Wu's tomb, who was an emperor in the Han dynasty which we  studied extensively in class. There wasn't too much to see there, but they had some large stone sculptures that show a horse crushing the barbarian Xiongnu, which was representative of his reign. The funny thing about the ancient emperors is that they created pyramids for their tombs, except unlike the Egyptians, they made the tombs out of earth, which puzzles me to no end. Emperor Wu was particularly concerned with his own immortality, so although his design of his tomb is him conceding to death, it seems like he'd want something glorious to be remembered by, not just a big pile of dirt. But they were buried with a lot of pottery soldiers, animals, chariots, etc - pretty much everything needed to rule in the afterlife (ie, 8,000+ terracotta warriors). I guess I would just expect them to focus on being remembered, too - I mean, they didn't even find the burial pits of the one emperor until they started digging to make the Xi'an airport.

The trip back was okay, although I've discovered my love of overnight trains is diminishing quickly. This wasn't an express train, so we had to stop at practically every station, meaning that the return trip took about 13 hours. I was so happy to get back to my room and be able to take a shower and a nap in my nice, hard, non-moving bed. :) Since I don't have school, I'm going to try and update quite a bit this week, catching up on topics I've wanted to write about but haven't had the time. But now, it's off to lunch and the ice rink!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Halfway Point!

Today marks the halfway point between my arrival in China and my departure, which is simultaneously exciting and sad. It's hard to believe how far I've come since the first few days when I was so homesick I made this countdown, how many experiences I've had and unexpected encounters, and how fast it's gone!

One one hand, I'm really, really excited to go home. I'm loving China, but I miss the quiet of Montana and Chicago, the lack of people, and especially the food. I'm looking forward to being back in a place where I don't have to carefully consider my interactions with people; living in a foreign country can be tiring, because you have to think and be aware so much more than at home. On the other hand, I'm really going to be sad to leave China. I've loved getting to see a culture so completely different than my own, and I've had a ton of experiences I never could have had in the States. I've gotten to meet so many people, even some other UChicago students that I might not have met otherwise. I've loved getting to try authentic Chinese food, and I love that Chinese is beginning to roll off my tongue a little bit easier.

I think it's safe to say my departure will be bittersweet- I'm so looking forward to being home, both Montana and Chicago. But leaving will mean saying goodbye to Beijing Roast Duck and Hot Pot, too, and will mean my study abroad experience is over. Though at this point, I'm still only halfway, and talking about saying goodbye might be putting the cart in front of the horse. I've had a lot of great experiences, but a lot more still to come. What's that poem about miles to go before I sleep? :)

Saturday, October 16, 2010

How Many People Can Say They've Climbed a Pagoda?

Many, I'm sure. But I don't know anyone who can (at least, I don't think so!). Day 2 in Xi'an....

We started out the day with a trip to the Small Goose Pagoda and museum, which were both delightful. Xi'an used to have a ton of pagodas, but since they were big on using wood to build, only two have survived, and even these two are ones that have been rebuilt. Pagoda architecture was actually 'imported' from India during the Tang (?) dynasty, when Buddhism began to be prevalent in China. Xi'an (or Chang'an, as it was called then), as the capitol of China back then, was on the Silk road and consequently was exposed to many international influences - something they're still proud of today.

We didn't climb the Small Goose Pagoda, but we did go to a museum also on the grounds, which where absolutely beautiful. As expected, we saw lots of different artifacts and old pots, and a lot of really cool stuff - figurines depicting the 'barbarians', ancient coins that show the influence of the Roman Empire on China. For some reason I find museums absolutely fascinating, and it struck me how much history China actually has. I mean, everyone realizes China's been around 3000+ years, but there's just so much! Xi'an has a rather thick city wall, a kind of daily reminder of all the history contained in Xi'an, and it's crazy to think of people just going about their daily lives with reminders of all the history that came before them. I dunno, maybe this is a bit too dramatic, but I don't know if I would like living in a place where I was constantly reminded that my city used to be the capitol of China, used to be the center of the Silk Road, used to be the favored burial place of emperors. It just seems rather heavy to have all that history around.

Anyway, after the museum we went to lunch, which was a fairly unremarkable event, replete with delicious qie zi (eggplant) and a really good chicken dish. From there, we went to Xi'an's most notable museum, which I think is considered to be one of the best in China. The quality of the artifacts was really top notch (I'm taking my professor's word for it, as I'm not sure I could tell the difference!). Again, there were a lot of old pots and whatnot, some really cool figurines and metalwork. I took a lot of pictures, but I'm not planning on uploading them to Facebook - more for my own interest, as I think they'd be rather boring to look at if you weren't familiar with them (but if you want to see them, let me know). One notable display was of 40-proof alcohol, that had been excavated completely intact inside of a large vase. I haven't the foggiest idea how it survived that long, but it was pretty cool. Another one of my favorite things about Chinese artifacts/art is that it often features the phoenix quite prominently. UChicago's mascot is the phoenix, and I've always like the story of it, so I'm amassing quite the collection of phoenix emblems on bowls/silks/tablets/other artifacts.

From that museum, we ended up walking to the Big Wild Goose Pagoda, which is, shockingly enough, bigger than the Small Goose Pagoda! This one we climbed to the top, only seven stories, and were rewarded with a fairly good view - the problem is, with so much pollution, anything more than a 1/2 a mile away is completely immersed in smog. Around the pagoda is a public park with fountains, and it was interesting to note the contrast between this public space and the one in Beijing: while Tiananmen is very somber and the emphasis is on the state, here, it was more like a party - fountains spewing water in time to music, vendors selling stuff from little booths, ice cream and cotton candy for sale, and a carousel. I bought a little dragon decoration; I'm not sure what it's used for, but I bought it as a Christmas ornament.

Afterward, we took the bus back to the hotel - or tried to, anyway. Traffic was rather terrible, in part because it was rush hour, and perhaps in part because there were political rallies going on. It was a pro-China march, apparently in response to the continuing tensions with Japan (over an island?), and they were marching in the street. After about 1/2 hour sitting in traffic at a stand still, we just walked about ten minutes back to the hotel. From there, a group of us went to the Muslim district, where we ate dinner (beef skewers and noodles). Interesting fact: China has the ethnic majority (Han), and 55 official minorities. One of the minorities are the Hui, which is what the Muslim district in Xi'an is. However, they racially aren't different from the Han, and they speak the same language; unlike other minority groups, the distinction is made only on religion. They're essentially Muslim Han Chinese. Just an interesting note I learned on our way back.

Going to Emperor Wu's tomb tomorrow, and we've read a lot about him, so it should be fun. Back to Beijing tomorrow night!

Friday, October 15, 2010

In Xi'an!

Last night we left Beijing for Xi'an, where we'll be staying until Sunday night. If you recall from my previous post, this was met with much excitement on my part, as most things usually are. :) We took an overnight train from Beijing to Xi'an, and this was my first experience with an overnight "sleeper" train, which was immensely exciting.

We got to the train station about twenty minutes before the train started boarding, so most of us students wandered around for a bit. There was both a KFC and a Mcdonald's in the station, and I was tempted to cave in and buy some, despite the fact that Western food is way more expensive than Chinese food here. (A value meal will set you back 20 RMB, roughly 3.5 USD, as opposed to a big bowl of noodles, egg, and tomato for 4 RMB). I ended up not buying anything, although I had a few of Asta's french fries; they were good, but still a little bit different.

The sleeper train was, as previously mentioned, exceptionally exciting. We were in what are called hard sleepers, which means it's a little room with bunk beds 3 high on each side, and leads directly to the main hallway (no door or private bathroom). I was on the tippy top, so I had a nice view of the ceiling, though you couldn't see anything outside of the window, anyway. Overall, it was about a 13 hour train ride, so being able to sleep was great, and travelling with so many other people from UChicago is lots of fun (we watched a bit of Star Wars on the train).

We got to Xi'an about 9 am, and went to our hotel and checked in. Unlike the dorms, we're sharing rooms here, which is absolutely fine, since I don't hate anyone (yet, anyway!). The hotel and the rooms are really nice - it's apparently a 4 star hotel, although I think the standards are perhaps a bit lower here. At first glance, it was impressively swanky: free slippers/combs in the rooms, free internet, a pool and gym, and a restaurant on second floor. After returning from sightseeing, however, I discovered the slightly more ghetto side of it: the television doesn't work, the lighting isn't fantastic, and only one electric socket works (which means I can't have my laptop and the lamp plugged in at the same time). I don't mean to complain, though - breakfast is included, and it's a good hotel. Goodness knows I've stayed in worse. (coughcough, Mount Tai, coughcough).

After getting lunch (nothing too exciting, but delicious baozi, which are like bread dumplings), we went to see the Terracotta soldiers,  one of the things China is most known for. Similar to the ancient Egyptian's beliefs, the soldiers were constructed to aid Emperor Qin in the afterlife. They were discovered in 1974 by a farmer digging for a well; had he dug four feet to the left, they would never have been discovered! There are three 'pits' that have been - and are still being-  excavated. The first is the largest, containing an estimated 6,000 soldiers, though only 1/3 of those have been unearthed. The other two are smaller, though still containing an impressively large number of the life sized figures.

That place was insane! The soldiers are all about 6 feet tall, and there were just so many of them; it's crazy to imagine all the work that must have gone into getting them into the underground tombs. I think what I found most interesting is that they're still in the process of excavating; it isn't just some old soldiers people found awhile ago and put on display. While we spectated, there were archeologists dusting off pieces and trying to piece soldiers together again; or, as I put it, "putting together part of the world's largest puzzle". It was just so crazy to think about how much work there is still to be done - there's still at least 4000 life size soldiers waiting to be put together, plus horses and chariots. It's also hard to believe that the construction of the tombs and soldiers took roughly four decades. Basically, no sooner had Emperor Qin united China then he said, "Ok, time to get started on my tombs, I guess...".

Sorry for such a long post, but just a few more notes: We had discussed in class the concept of invisibility surrounding the emperor. The Forbidden City is so huge in part so that no one ever knew for sure where the Emperor was, something that is also seen in the tombs - to this day, no one knows exactly where in the massive tomb structure he's buried. Just an interesting fact for you. :)

On our way back we got stuck in a traffic jam, apparently caused by an accident. It was interesting that after about three minutes, all the drivers shut off their engines and jumped out to talk to each other. The groups of drivers just standing around chatting reminded me of the news story a few months back about a nine day traffic jam outside of Beijing - they're so used to it that it doesn't bother them, it's just a chance for socialization. Thankfully our traffic jam was much shorter, only about thirty minutes.

Sorry that my posts are more like epistles than just updates, we're headed to museums tomorrow, landmarks and tombs on Sunday!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

It's Beginning to Feel a lot like Finals...

Because my classes here are back to back for three weeks each, not running simultaneously, I have a final paper due tomorrow.

Prior to now, it hasn't really felt like being at school/UChicago - more just a vacation where I'm having fun and messing around taking a class on ancient China for the heck of it.

The language, the city, and the class itself may change, but the feeling doesn't. It's that choking feeling of the stress mounting, realizing that you are utterly and completely out of ideas for the final paper due tomorrow. It's the rushing to scarf down lunch so you can get back to work, though it's a little more difficult when you're eating rice with chopsticks. It's buying dinner now so you don't actually have to stop work to eat, and it's the feeling that if you can just make it until Thursday night you'll be okay. It's only compounded by the fact that I have another project for one of my extracurriculars due on Friday, so I definitely feel like I'm at UChicago, just with slightly poorer air quality. Oh UChicago, how I've missed you. :)

We leave for Xi'an tomorrow night, so between that and the final paper/other project, I likely won't update again until next Monday. Now, about that paper...

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Playing with the Great Firewall of China

As you may have heard, yesterday Liu Xiaobo, a Chinese human rights activist, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. After reading about it on Time's website (via my Chicago connection), I decided this was an opportune time to see just how great the Great Firewall of China actually is.

The Great Firewall of China refers to the Chinese government's attempts to block certain websites - anything that might be politically touchy, for instance, or social networking sites. In general, it isn't too big of a hassle, if only because I can get around it with my Chicago VPN connection, but I'll write more about day to day use of the firewall in a different entry.Since I had only ever run into the firewall while trying to access Facebook, using a political event to see just how vast the firewall actually is seemed like a fairly good idea. (Until the police show up on my doorstep tomorrow....)

I started by going to Google, which redirects to Google Hong Kong, and typing in "Liu Xiaobo". I hit enter, and "the connection has been reset" webpage popped up. Funny, that's the same one I get when I try to access Facebook over the Chinese connection. I went back to the Google HK homepage, and searched Mao Zedong. Immediately, the Wikipedia link popped up along with numerous portraits of the glorious leader. No problem with the connection there, I guess.

I then went to Baidu, which is the Chinese-government approved search engine. Searching his name there, I was able to find links to some online forums apparently discussing the event. However, my computer can't display Chinese characters, so I had to use Google translate to translate the page for me. I copied and pasted the forum text, but again, "the connection was reset". I was mildly impressed that the Chinese government was thorough enough to block political messages even from Google translate, which was confirmed when I tested "hello" both ways in google translate with no problems. Point 1 to the Chinese government.

I then reconnected to my Chicago VPN connection, which basically identifies my computer as being on campus. Translating the text there, I was able to get only some gibberish about cheap plane tickets and a user comment of "Haha, sensitive words.. No [don't use?] Yuntai forum". That's not an exact quote, but the gist of it, seemingly implying that the author of the post was well aware of the censors. Through the VPN connection, I also got the Chinese characters for Liu Xiaobo's name, and after I disconnected, went back and typed them into Baidu. This time, all it brought up was press releases from the Chinese government berating the Nobel Peace Prize Committee for awarding it to a Chinese dissident. I'll include the text below - the contrast to the reports I read on Time and CNN was surprising.

While the China server blocked me from searching/translating things about Liu Xiaobo, it didn't "reset" the connection when I went to Time's website and brought up the story there. I searched for it, and was able to access their story as well, despite the fact that when they broadcast the story on the news, China blacked-out the station. (BBC also reported a blackout in China during the broadcast). So while the Great Firewall is comprehensive enough to block politically-charged messages from being translated on Google Translate, it wasn't comprehensive enough to block CNN or Time's online articles of it. I was surprised they were sneaky enough to block the translate tool, but apparently the Great Firewall still has some gaping holes in it.

Text from the Chinese news release is in the post below this, if you're interested.

Chinese Press Release on Nobel Prize Winner

It's an online translation, so not great, but enough that you can get the contrast w/ other news releases regarding the event:

Xinhua Beijing , October 8 - Foreign Ministry spokesman Jiang Yu said , the Nobel Committee to award the Nobel Peace Prize this year, Liu, completely contrary to the purpose of the award and also the desecration of the Peace Prize.

8, the Nobel committee this year's Nobel Peace Prize to Chinese "dissidents," Liu Xiaobo. Jiang Yu said in reply to the question, the Nobel Peace Prize should be awarded "to promote national harmony and promote international friendship and to promote disarmament and peace for the convening of meetings and promotional efforts of the people", which is Nobel's wishes. Liu is in breach of Chinese law by the Chinese judicial organs of criminals sentenced to imprisonment, and its behavior and contrary to the purpose of the Nobel Peace Prize. Connaught Committee awarded the Peace Prize to such a person, completely contrary to the purpose of the award and also the desecration of the Peace Prize.

Jiang Yu Liu winning the answer will affect the question of bilateral relations, said that in recent years, Sino-Norwegian relations have maintained sound development, which is conducive to the two countries and two peoples interests. Connaught Committee Liu and Nobel Peace Prize award runs counter to the purpose, will bring damage to the Sino-Norwegian relations.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

China is Anti-Smurf

Apparently, anyway. Spotted today on my way to have noodles with tomatoes and eggs for lunch:

A guy wearing a shirt that says, "I am not blue!"

I am uncertain as to whether this is a protest against Avatar and Smurfs, or if this guy is constantly being asked to buy anti depressants and this is his way of telling everyone he doesn't need them. At least the English is correct!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

WE'RE GOING TO.......XI'AN!!!!!!

.The above title was meant to convey an Oprah-like suspense, similar to when she announced at the beginning of this season that the entire audience was going to Australia. Which I've only read about, but I imagine was quite suspenseful. At the end of this class section of the quarter (our ten week quarter is divided into three class sections of three weeks each, with a week long break at the end of the first), we were supposed to be going on a class trip to Chengde, but today that was officially changed to Xi'an!

While both have a ton of history (heck, all of China does!), Xi'an has the distinction of being home to the world famous Terracotta soldiers, which I am insanely excited to see. They're one of those icons of China that you hear/read so much about, and I'm excited to get to see them! I suppose the other famous icon is the Great Wall, which, coincidentally, we're going to tomorrow. I definitely think the best part of civ abroad is getting to go on field trips. :)

The trip to Xi'an is eleven hours by train, so we'll be leaving from Beijing at 9:30 at night and taking the overnight train. It's nice that we'll wake up and be there, but at the same time, I wish it could be daylight so I can see more of the countryside. We'll stay in Xi'an until Saturday or Sunday night (I can't remember which), and then come back on the overnight train. Overall, it should be a ton of fun - thus far, I've loved getting to go to museums and historical sites, and plus traveling with a bunch of other UChicago students is bound to be a blast. I'll make sure to update and take lots of pictures. :)

Random note: One of Xi'an's sister cities is Kansas City. Hopefully Xi'an will be more exciting. 

Friday, October 1, 2010

National Day and Other Observations

Today is National Day, celebrating the 61st anniversary of the country and the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949. It's odd to me that they don't consider the 1500+ years of China's history prior to the founding of the PRC - while I consider 1949 to just be a government/regime change, they consider it to be a brand new country's founding. Unfortunately, the 61st anniversary did not include major military parades or fireworks, and the Chinese most definitely do not follow the  American custom of grilling hamburgers and barbecuing, which made me quite sad as I ate noodles and tomatoes for dinner.

However, in commemoration of the special day, China schools are given the entire next week of off school, and most workers had today off, as well. Slightly defeating the purpose, there are extra classes the week after next to make up for missed classes. Us Chicago students were given the day off, but not next week, though we won't have Chinese class, since our teachers have off (Language teachers are Renmin University faculty). Let loose in a metropolis of 23 million, me and three classmates did what seemed the most logical idea: took ourselves to the Beijing Zoo, called dong wu gong yuan in Chinese, which literally translates to Animal Park. :)

Since it was National Day, the zoo was fairly crowded, although in a city the size of Beijing anything is crowded. I've heard it said about NYC that if you decide to do something, you can be sure at least 100 other people have the same idea; here, I think it's something like 10,000 people have the same idea. The subway line on our way back was absolutely insane, we probably waited in line for 10 minutes just to get into the subway station. Thankfully we were heading out of the city rather than into it, so the train itself wasn't too packed. There was also a stronger police force out because of the day - though why you need four police officers by the lemurs and marmosets, I have no idea. (I guess to avoid any monkey business!)

I've also read that a characteristic of  China is a pervasive belief that the rules were meant for other people, something that seemed to be verified today. Like most (all?) zoos, there were signs on every exhibit telling visitors not to feed the animals or throw anything in their cages, but people here did a lot of it. Especially at the monkey exhibit, there were several people throwing peanuts and other food over the divider into the cage - the elder monkey would chase all the younger ones away, and then eat all the nuts himself. At the gorilla habitat, several of the gorillas were handling and seemingly drinking from water bottles. I thought, since three of the gorillas had bottles, that maybe the zookeepers gave the bottles to them to play with. I realized I was mistaken when the person right next to me chucked his iced tea bottle in, too, though a police officer did come over and talk to him. And at the otter exhibit, the otter was putting his paws up on the glass, looking up at us, and then scurrying away and coming back. In order to get his attention, someone poured yogurt on the poor little guy. :( It made me think about how it's kind of funny that we follow the rules in the US without being forced to - a kind of self regulating society (?), where not bothering animals is normal enough that you get yelled/glared at if you do it.

Overall, the zoo was excellent, especially seeing the zebras, gnus, wildebeests, ostriches, and giraffes - I think God had fun when he made Africa! :) I'll likely update later this weekend, too, with some info on classes, maybe the food? Let me know if there's anything you want me to cover, or if you have stylistic suggestions to improve my writing. [criticism is welcome, too!] :)