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 weather.com 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....