02
Jan
11

结束了 finished

After a VERY LONG INEXCUSABLE HORRIBLE amount of inactivity on this blog, I’m back to wrap things up and share a few summing it all up sort of thoughts with everybody. Why did I stop updating this blog frequently and sharing my travels and tales? I think part of it was that being in Beijing became unexciting. I was in China for a longer period of time and things sort of transformed from being all new, shiny, crazy, and Chinese, to becoming mundane, routine, and regular. It didn’t feel like life in a foreign country, it just felt like school, and living, and hanging out with friends on the weekend. I wasn’t seeking out new actively seeking out interesting or new experiences as much as I had been at the beginning of my trip. I didn’t feel like I had novel or interesting experiences to share with you because school was where I was putting most of my time and nothing terribly fresh or exciting was happening.

But I suppose, just writing and sharing the mundane rhythms of my life in China is what the purpose of this blog is. It isn’t about exploiting China or my experiences, highlighting what is different, or what could be perceived as negative. I didn’t go to China to write home repeating CHINA IS BIG AND WEIRD over and over again. Even though some of my earliest posts reflect this spirit, I think I used this platform as a way to deal with stress I had in my life over adapting to a new environment.

Instead, this blog should have been an honest reflection of how I interacted with my new environment and what those experiences actually meant. I look back over my time in China and I do think of the places I went to and the things I was able to do. I think of going swimming in the ocean at Zhoushan, eating countless dinners in the little restaurants sprinkled outside the college campus in Hanzhou, getting up at 5:30 twice a week to go my kungfu course (well maybe it was more like agressive dancing for me). I think of relaxing in the hostel in Chengdu, looking over the line of terracotta warriors in Xian, arriving in Beijing and going for a jog around tiannamen, the very smoggy vacation CET prepared for us in kaifeng. I think of all these places, and experiences, and more. I am so thankful to have been given the opportunity to explore these places and to immerse myself in such a variety of different areas during my time in China.

But when I really think about my time in China, I can’t help but focus on the people I met and the lives I intersected with. I think about my first roommate, Wangsu, and spending much of my summer vacation backpacking with him, exploring mountains and then jumping into the urban confusion of Shanghai. I think of all the other Chinese students in Hangzhou, going out to clubs until 5 in the morning or late night bubble tea delivery calls while we were studying for that little extra caffeinated jolt. I beam when thinking about my friends Susan and Jenn and the two weeks we spent exploring eastern China. I remember how Susan’s roommate, Liangliang’s family invited us to live with them for a week and the many overwhelming feasts that Liangliang’s mother prepared for us. I revisit my American friends from Beijing, and the strange version of Chinglish that we filled the halls of the international dormitory with. I remember going to KTV with all the American students and roommates and spending hours belting out Chinese and American hits until my throat was raw.

It’s spending time with people, learning about a different history and culture. Spending time with people and forging friendships that not even the 3000 miles between us can weaken. That is the most valuable thing I took away from my time in China. While memories of the many ruined temples or cities I passed through on my trip will inevitably be forgotten. The friendships I have established with people in China will not waver. I am grateful for the opportunity that I had to study for such a long period of time in such an amazing country of new foods, customs, places, and history. But it will be the people I miss the most.

I look forward to continuing to improve my Chinese (I am currently addicted to a Chinese television show so that will be no problem) and discovering more opportunities to return to this country that I have learned to love and appreciate and already miss so much.

31
Oct
10

假期 vacation

This past week I have been living the Beijing life at a much more relaxed pace on my fall vacation. Most of my other classmates jumped on trains and plains in order to explore different areas of China. Because I didn’t feel like the bathroom conditions aboard sleeper trains, and have already spent a lot of time, energy, and money traveling around this China this summer, I decided to stay home in Beijing and see what amusing situations I could stumble into during an unrestrained week in the city.

Biggest thing I learned this week. Beijing gets COLD. Suddenly the beautiful afternoon sun with accompanying light breeze of fall transformed into frigid cold death temperature. Going outside was not an option many a time this week and I was forced to order from the overexpensive Korean restaurant downstairs. Also, they have not turned the heat on yet so I have been wearing multiple layers to bed. No fun! Luckily towards the end of the week the grip of frost and death relented and the beautiful fall weather returned.

I decided,  because I was going to have so much time on my hands, I should perhaps find some part-time work that could be both mentally stimulating and economically beneficial at the same time. I asked one of the teacher in the program and she put me in touch with a friend over at a company that specializes in teaching students Chinese in preparation for their eventually study in a foreign country. I spent a lot of time over the last week riding the subway back and forth to the company’s office in order to do a series of interviews and sample classes. So while I wasn’t able to start teaching this past week, I am set to begin teaching Oral English and SAT prep classes next week which should help keep me busy and cut down on time-wasting TV habits that have slowly developed lately. The pay is really good too, better than the pay at any jobs I have worked in America. Pure excitement this opportunity is.

While I wasn’t shuffling back and forth to the center of the city for these interviews I was spending a lot of quality time with my roommate. He has his own car which allows us to travel around the city faster and in much more comfortable conditions than the bus or subway provide. My roommate has friends that attend the National University for Performing Arts so we had the opportunity to watch the dress rehearsal of a traditional Beijing Opera for free (tickets are usually more than 50 dollars). The costumes and singing were fantastic the machine that displays the words and characters were broken. Therefore, it was excruciatingly difficult to hear the singing and understand the story. So while I appreciated the performance for the first hour, at the end of all three hours I was practically falling asleep because I had no idea what in the world was happening.

On another day we took the public buses out to 香山 (fragrant hills park). We wanted to climb the hill and see all the trees around Beijing with their leaves changing into deep shades of red and yellow on their course to eventually death. However, the leaves hadn’t really changed yet (bad timing). The park was crowded but nonetheless we had a great time chatting our way up the hill and seeing views like this:

 

 

Beijing Revealed!

 

It was interesting to see just how massive Beijing is (even if the pollution is blocking the view).

The week flew by and in addition to doing all this stuff I bought a jacket, made pancakes, caught up on a lot of TV, made friends on the Subway, got lost, put ketchup on pasta and called it spaghetti, witnessed true Chinese road rage (and even got involved), and slept in past 11 a couple times. Overall, it was a very successful vacation and while I am looking forward to the start of classes tomorrow, I really enjoyed my new found freedom this past week.

Only 7 WEEKS left… on the downward slide now!

14
Oct
10

北京的照片 pictures from beijing

here are some pictures from my time so far in Beijing…

Enjoy!

It’s the biggest public square in the entire world and  arguably the most important political and cultural space in China, Tiananmen. Please note the color of the sky, that isn’t rain or clouds…that’s sweet pollution. My lungs are in love.

 

 

 

On seeing these cameras in Tiananmen I reluctantly put the Democracy is swell pamphlets I was planning to hand out back in my pockets. Tiananmen is China’s pride and joy and as THE place where political unrest has developed in the past, the government wants to know what is going on.


Construction, it is all over Beijing and the entire country of China. Don’t count on any roped off “Hard Hat” zones here, you just kind of run into these giant piles of stone or even better guys jackhammering away or welding up a storm (literally of sparks).


While a new Beijing is being built remnants of the past are constantly being neglected or torn down. This “Friendship Hotel” was on the side of a rather abandoned Hutong (cramp narrow alleyways where people work and live) that construction crews were essentially ripping apart. While lots of organizations and people  are working to protect pieces of the past, the truth is Beijing is sacrificing its own history while flinging itself towards modernity.


the abandoned looking Hutong neighborhood I randomly explored


A piece of Ming dynasty city wall that I checked out after finding that the Beijing Underground City (think giant bomb shelter with movie theatre, hospital, school, the works… built during the cold war) that is closed for repairs for the next year. There is a little park and some flowers beside it but really no one pays attention to it. I thought it interesting that the city has practically swallowed up this ancient relic and no one really pays attention to it while they commute to work or are out shopping.


The shopping center, Xidan. Everything is too expensive so not really that into this place. Lots of people though, and tons of foreigners

 

Huge pagoda on Peking University’s campus. I wish Bowdoin had something this cool but I guess Coles tower half counts.

 

Bridge and lake in the Summer Palace, essentially the emperor’s vacation home (palace?) right outside of Beijing. Once again, please note the sky.

 

For all the art history majors out there here is a cool painting I found in the 798 art district.

 

more artsy things I don’t actually understand


Yep, that woman is suspending a giant beam with two girls sitting on it in the air with her legs. No big deal.


 

That’s just a taste of Beijing!

13
Oct
10

好久不见 long time no see

Its been a while people of the internet. I have not written something substantial for this blog for a quite a while. I apologize for not keeping you up to date on my happenings in Beijing but things have been really busy lately in a rushing to class staying up late doing homework kind of way. It’s true, my days of frivolous exploration and adventure have gotten fewer and fewer as I work my way  deeper into the twisted labyrinths of this semester.

However, having lived in Beijing for a few months I feel myself feeling less like a traveler or visiter (like I felt like in Hangzhou) and establishing myself more permanently in this city in a variety of  ways. I have a transportation card now, which lets me skip the lines in the subway or hop on a bus with a quick swipe of my wallet against the scanner. I never got one in Hangzhou and scrounged through my pockets every time looking for that last elusive 1 yuan. It makes things a lot more convenient and I laugh to myself walking past all the silly tourists fighting the lines while buying their one use cards

I actually have a gym membership here and most days walk the ten minutes to hop on a treadmill or lift some weights and get away from the claustrophobia of the campus. The gym is usually crowded with all sorts of old women walking on treadmills and yelling about their marital problems into their cellphone and huge Chinese guys struggling lifting these big stacks of weight at the other side of the gym. I am not sure if I am afraid of the old women or the other guys, It’s a really busy place and fun to go watch Chinese soap operas on the tvs they have in the walls while doing a little running.

I have also made an effort to try all the restaurants in the area; some of them performed better than others. One night a couple of friends and I were out eating dinner. We had just finished our meals and were finishing up our conversation before we returned to school. Suddenly the power went off and people began yelling out in the darkness. We got up, walked out, and noticed that no other stores in the block had lost power, it was just the restaurant that we were in. I guess they decided not to recharge their electricity card which people and businesses in Beijing must do. It was very strange and I have not returned to that restaurant again (UPDATE: went back tonight, power was fine).

I instead go to a Sichuan province restaurant not too far from campus practically every single day. This place is packed with students and workers from the area day and is staffed by 4 or 5 teenage girls of unknown age (they told us 16 but they look much younger) and really quickly turns out decent food. The food is cheap (about 1 dollar a dish) and usually isn’t covered in too much oil. It’s good stuff.

Aside from these day to day activities not much has been happening in good ol’ Beijing. We have been all been talking about the Chinese prisoner Liu Xiaobo who just one the nobel prize lately. He is a Chinese intellectual and writer and has been in and out of Chinese jails since the 1989 Tiananmen incident. He is in jail now because he signed the Charter 08, a document calling for political reform and the democratization of China in 2008. The government has been trying to keep the word about him winning away from the people of China. There was no news coverage of the event, blogs and sites are being filtered and you cannot send text messages with his name in them right now. It is really interesting to see how pervasive China’s censoring controls really are and this has been a great event to test them. It’s super super big news here and its pretty cool that I am here in Beijing and able to talk with my roommates and teachers about this (just don’t tell the government).

If I am gaining anything from my studies right now (other than getting better at Chinese) it is an appreciation and maybe blossoming obsession with recent Chinese history. Since the revolution in 1949 China has undergone unfathomable and borderline crazy transformations. It is so interesting the wild shifts that this county has gone through in the last 60 years. Just seeing people on the street and realizing they lived through the freaking CULTURAL REVOLUTION where high schoolers were sent all over the country by Mao to break, burn, torture, and destroy anyone and anything that had to do with the past, democracy, the bourgeoisie, pretty much anything, is insane to think about it. I’m now bent on reading every piece of information about this period of time leading up today. I’m hooked.

That’s it people…thats my life right now. I will be writing more I swear. Stay tuned

再见!

04
Oct
10

我和中国 me and china

My childhood was irrationally filled with fantasies of Asia and San Francisco. No joke, from a very young age on I was  fixated  with a city in California and the entire  continent of Asia. There were no visible reasons why I was so preoccupied with two seemingly unrelated places but the feelings just wouldn’t shake as I continued to grow up. My parents even agree, these two places always seemed to be in the back of my mind during my childhood . To a kid growing up in Maine, these two places felt literally removed from me, completely  unobtainable. Asia seemed especially distant, this giant chunk of land on the map with these millions of people I knew nothing about. It really only the times when I watched Jackie Chan movies with my dad or mindlessly spun the globe during school thinking about where I would go or end up when I grew up.

It’s just funny how these little things during your childhood can play such a big role in the choices you make and things you do when you get older.

I just sort of remembered this today and needed a break from writing about AIDS in Chinese so I wanted to share this little story.

22
Sep
10

过中秋节 celebrating mid-autumn festival

So today was the Mid-Autumn Festival here in China. The festival can most easily be compared to America’s Thanksgiving (both take place in the fall, most everyone returns home) but the reasons behind celebrating the  Mid-Autumn Festival are wrapped in folk lore and legend which is a little bit more interesting than a big meal between the Native Americans and Pilgrims.

The legend (as my roommate explained to me) is about the 10 suns that the Earth used to have. They would all take turns each day going around the Earth and warming it up. One day all ten suns came at once and burned all the crops and loads of other stuff on Earth. The emperor at that time asked an archer to shoot down all but one of the suns to save Earth from being completely torched. After that, he gave him a pill that could make him into a god. Instead of eating the pill the archer hid it away. After that his wife ends up swallowing the pill and flying off to the moon (where she coughed it back up). The hare that lives on the moon will try to make her more medicine so that she can go home. But that really doesn’t happen I guess… Anyways, the archer builds himself a house on the sun (or something) in direct contrast to his wife living on the moon and the Mid-Autumn Festival is the day when the archer from the sun visits his wife on the moon and the moon gets very full and beautiful.

While today, I really didn’t run into anything that resembled or reflected this story (other than the many tasty mooncakes that I ate), its still pretty interesting stuff that you don’t get the opportunity to hear everyday. Mooncakes, little pastries that are sold EVERYWHERE have sort of transformed into this massive consumer trend where everyone buys a lot of mooncakes and sends them to relatives, co-workers, and bosses. My roommate was telling me that he knows some people who send out more than 1000 a year. They might just be the Christmas cards from hell.

Today was an absolutely perfect day for this holiday as we didn’t have classes and the weather was pristine. Beijing is starting to get that chilly fall “crisp” even though the leaves have not started changing yet. My roommate invited me out to lunch with his family which ended up being a great way to spend the sunny afternoon.

We rode a crowded bus for 45 minutes which isn’t that horrible of a commute time considering how big Beijing is and how congested the streets can become. We arrived at the restaurant where we ate a feast all sorts of meat, fish, vegetables, and desserts. This is where the comparisons with Thanksgiving are appropriate, there was a TON of food. I kept having to take short breaks while stuffing it all in while making sure to eat at a quick enough pace to appease my roommates mother and grandmother who constantly urged me to try this dish or keep eating more of that dish. When I left the table they even gave me a bottle of 白酒 (Chinese Hard Alcohol) to bring back with me to the dorm. I kept telling them that I didn’t want such an expensive gift but they didn’t allow me to refuse.

After lunch, Wangdaihui and I headed to this very close street that used to be populated with ancient colleges and universities. He had lived in this area his entire life so it was interesting to hear him compare his experiences freely playing around all through all these old buildings, ruins, and courtyards with the present mass tour groups, blocked off areas, and museums that have completely changed the area in the last 15 years. It was interesting, however, to trace the historical development of the intense tests that all men had to take previously, in order to establish or improve their rank in society. The coolest thing of the day was checking out this temple and huge complex built and devoted to Confucius.

Here are some pictures!

cubicle that men had to stay in for 3 days while taking the mandatory tests

center of the confucian temple

cool sheets of paper you could hand up with different sayings on them

After we checked out temple we hopped on the subway and returned to campus. However, my day of fun was not at all over as a bunch of the American students went out at night to take a stroll around a park and check things out. Once again the weather was perfect for this and we hit the park at the perfect time and got to watch day slowly turn into night. The park is really close to the CCTV (Central China Television) broadcasting tower and it was really cool to see it all lit up at night. Check out the pictures below. The CCTV is the tallest building in Beijing!

CCTV tower as the sun goes down

moon appears during the day !

traffic outside of the park

lake in the park

tower at night…pretty!

So that was my day!

11
Sep
10

我登伤了长城 i climbed the great wall

Today my classmates and I took a trip to a section of the Great Wall of China about an hour and a half away from the city of Beijing. The section of the wall we went to was at 慕田峪 (Mutianyu), a city about 60km from the center of Beijing.

The day started off with my cellphone alarm clock rudely interrupting my sleep at rather early 7AM. Anyways, I ran outside to grab some food off the streets. The main gate of this campus, at all times of day, has 3 or 4 little food and snack carts (fruit too!) waiting to fry you up some cheap and tasty food (cleanliness of these carts is arguable). This morning I had my favorite snack of thin fried bread with egg in the middle with some spicy meat and pieces of lettuce. I still have not figured out exactly what kind of meat is inside (chicken, pork?) and am too lazy to ask but it tastes delicious every time.

After eating breakfast, we hopped on the bus and started our journey. On the bus I first did some class readings and then quickly fell asleep. I was awoken when we finally arrived at the Great Wall by a tap on my side. The girl sitting next to me also felt it necessary to tell me, “You were completely out the entire time and your mouth was wide open”.

Now worrying at the possibility of someone having took a few “Chris is sleeping and looks foolish” type photographs (has already happened a few times in China), I climbed off the bus and entered the concentrated alley of people aggressively hawking goods. Everyone made a concentrated effort to dodge the people selling t-shirts, fruit, drinks, necklaces, scarves, wall hangings and all other sorts of merchandise at startlingly inflated prices.  Our big group met by the bathrooms for one second and then our Resident Director handed us our tickets and we took off in smaller groups to climb the trail through the forest to actually get to the wall.

We hiked up these stairs through the forest for about a half an hour.

Forest Path

Finally the trees began thinning out and the trail started running parallel to a section of the wall. We kept walking and ended up taking some stone steps and then abruptly popped out right on top a section of the wall. The first impression of the wall that I had was that it was thinner than I initially expected. Maybe its the “urban legend” that the Great Wall is identifiable from space and the moon that made me think it would be this hulking wide structure. While the wall cuts a giant path straight through trees and mountains and winds itself over the terrain, it just wasn’t as wide as I expected.   That fact that the wall winds up the sharp face of mountains is extremely impressive in itself when thinking of demands of engineeering and construction over such difficult terrain. However, I was led, perhaps, to believe it would this incomprehensible wide, hulking structure.

Here is the view from the highest point that we climbed to.

View From the Top

It took some serious work to get to this point. We walked on the wall for an hour and a half, up steep stairs and rickety ladders all under the continuously pulsing afternoon sun (yes I am sunburned). The views of the surrounding mountains were fantastic and the day was very clear with no clouds in sight.

Jagged Mountains in the Distance

It was amazing to be able to climb the wall and see the surrounding area but I sort of came away wanting to understand why so much effort was put into creating this structure meant primarily to keep people out of China. The wall is actually a collection of many smaller walls that began being constructed in the 5th century BC. It was expanded and maintained until 16th century AD. The wall’s purpose was to keep various nomadic groups and tribes, most notably the Mongols out of China. The Great Wall which is so firmly embedded in Chinese culture sort of laid the foundation for many xenophobic thoughts and movements that continue to this day. During Mao’s era and even today China works very hard (using internet filtering for example) to contain the people and “harmony” within China while not allowing outside forces to enter and affect the country and its people. I couldn’t help being awed by the size and scope of this object which kept people out of China which definitely contributed to the historic evolution of “Chinese” thought. For me the wall is an important historic structure which really shaped the course of Imperial and Modern China. It was truly amazing to see it in person.

After we hung out on the wall for around 3 hours, we made it back to the bus and drove to a restaurant (we were all STARVING at this point) and then back to school. We got a firsthand experience of how horrible Beijing rush hour traffic is but ended up making it back in one piece. Today was a very enjoyable day learning more about Chinese history while exploring, having great conversations, and just having fun with classmates on the Great Wall.

Going Up?

Great Wall Below




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