Friday, July 29, 2011

Not Quite Dancing In The Rain

This morning we dragged ourselves out of bed only to find that it was nearly dark from the torrential downpour of rain mixed with the heavy Beijing air. Thinking I would be oh-so-wise, I decided to wear my tennis shoes so my feet would be dry. Great thinking there. I had forgotten that Beijing has some of the worst roads when it comes to dealing with rain. The week in Santa Barbara where they almost had to close the high school due to flooding is nothing in comparison to this. During my short walk of five minutes I had to walk through lakes of water, submerging my shoes that were supposed to "keep" my feet dry. When we got to class we discovered that not only were we missing our teacher, but so was another class. For the first forty minutes we took turns being the teacher. So lesson learned, if your going to Beijing and you ever want your feet dry you will have no choice but to wear rain boots. Good luck with the humidity.

Note: Surprisingly wedges help with puddles because they have the capability of keeping your feet above the water.

Me during one of the million rainy adventures home.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

What Do Pirates Say?

Have you ever had a memorable taxi cab ride? I had one last night. After spending a wonderful evening with Yoojin, I got into a taxi and asked my driver the typical question, “你好马?” (How are you?) This simple question got us talking, but the difference between this trip and any other was this man’s patience, awareness, and, to my surprise, his knowledge of a few words in English! It turns out that in preparation for the Olympics, all cab drivers were sent to special weekend English classes, however, only a few years later, my taxi cab driver appears to be the only one who remembers anything.

Besides his ability to speak a few words of English, this taxi cab driver was unique because of his incredible patience with my broken Chinese. If didn’t understand something, then he would carefully try to explain the word or sentence using what English he knew and basic Chinese vocabulary. That is, after he would say the sentence without a Beijing accent. For those of you who have tried to talk to someone who has a Beijing accent, you can probably sympathize with how ridiculously hard it is to understand. At some point, pirates must have infiltrated Beijing because everyone adds “-er” to the end of words. So instead being “man” (slow), it becomes “mar”. Sounds pretty different right?

I wish my taxi ride hadn’t been so short so that I could keep practicing with him. In all honesty, he should be a teacher, not a taxi cab driver. This taxi ride is already one of my favorite experiences in China.

My taxi driver.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

A Blast Through the Past in Hufei

This weekend seemed to be a weekend about movies; from Avatar to Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, China became alive. To start the trip off, I got to feel like I was in Harry Potter as I slept on an overnight train for the first time. I was surprised to find that I actually really enjoyed it! With the rocking of the train sending me to sleep, I was in heaven. When else do I get to have a sleepover on a train? The next morning we rolled out of bed and started our trip in the most undeveloped province of China, and for the first time I was actually in China.

The train station in Beijing!

Who would have thought that the most undeveloped province would be my favorite experience so far? The villages that we went to became alive with the history of China through the different dynasties. I saw the homes of the rich ranging back past the Ming Dynasty. Although they were beautiful, I wasn’t about to dish out my college fund to buy myself a home. I personally prefer more lighting, but the carvings were incredible and you could imagine the eight different wives of the owner working away in their own individual kitchens. We even got to go to a few ancestral halls, both of which were in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon! I can say with 100% conviction that I will be INCREDIBLY upset if something ever happens to these villages. I hope China never looses their history that these villages contain. It would be a travesty. Although the first day was one of the hottest days I have ever experienced, it was incredible and breath-taking. Besides, popsicles can always fix the heat!

In the ancestral hall that Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon was filmed. I think I could be in the movie! I learned the art of Chinese flying martial arts. Think I make the cut?

On the second day we took the hike through the Yellow Mountains, also known as the place where Pandora from Avatar is based on. From what little I saw due to the overwhelming amount of fog, the Yellow Mountains are a natural wonder of the world. The other wonder on this mountain? The exorbitant amount of people. 太多人! When hiking there were people. When standing in the cable car line, there was people. When taking pictures there was people. To get up to the top of the mountain it took us about an hour of standing in line to get on a bus. After that it was at least another hour of standing to get on the cable car. The way down was even worse. After hiking all day with feet that were in desperate need to sit down, we had to stand in the tightest packed crowd I have ever been in for 2 hours.. It is very possible that I started watching Bill and Ted’s Most Excellent Adventure to relieve the pain in my feet and distract myself. If you want to get an idea of how many people in your head then imagine Disneyland on the most crowded of days, now take all those people and shove them closely together for one ride. Apparently 1.5 million people go to the Yellow Mountains each year!

I don't think any words are necessary to describe how beautiful it was!

Aside from the people and the fog, I enjoyed this day tremendously. It was beautiful and I felt refreshed to be out in nature again. The highlights of the hike would have to be when the fog thinned momentarily a couple times in the day and I was able to realize the astonishing beauty in front of me. It definitely did look like the circle closest to Ehah on Pandora. If you haven’t seen Avatar you definitely need to. Stop reading this and go get it. I wish I could have seen more of the views; I am fully aware that I only saw a glimmer of the beauty that this mountain possesses.

On the final day we went to 3 more villages and saw more ancestral halls, old homes of the wealthy, and famous archways. I even walked down one of the oldest streets in Hufei. I am incredibly glad that I went on this trip. I finally got to see China the way that it should look without being dominated by Western values. (Although I did miss the International food!)

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Peking Duck

Yesterday I ate the famous Peking duck. Even though I don’t normally eat duck, it is likely that this meal was the best I have had in China. It was quite an experience. Before they slice the duck for serving, they bring it out to you and present it. The only thing is that if you didn’t know that they were presenting the ducks to you, then you would have no idea what was going on. The waiters would walk out. Stop (as if they were confused) and then turn around and walk back to the kitchen. At that point our table was very hungry so this display created a  “What? What? WHERE IS THE FOOD GOING!!” reaction. Did you know that in China when you eat a duck they give you an ID tag for the duck you specifically had? I guess it is to prove that what you are eating is a legitimate duck, but at the same time everything is counterfeit here so I don’t know if people can take an ID card as genuine proof.. 

Our incredible meal.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Walking the Great Wall

Who knew haggling was exciting? I discovered today at the Great Wall that I love bartering. I was very successful, but it would have been even better if the people didn't keep insisting on speaking English to me! I would speak in Chinese, they would respond in English. It was unfortunately easy to give in to responding in English, but on the positive side I had so much fun that it has given me incentive to practice my Chinese so that I can barter myself. It has also given me reason to put aside my reservations about conversing in Chinese. Maybe practicing speaking Chinese with my roommate in the bus on the way to the Great Wall helped. So my success story is that i got 3 things for nearly 100 Kuai. That's about $15 dollars! I got a jade owl, a dress, and a table runner, but I really still think the experience of buying these things were the best part.

I actually enjoyed the hike up to the top of the Great Wall to my friends dismay. I am so glad that I started running earlier this summer; if I hadn't I would have been in so much pain. The view from the top was beautiful as you looked over these ancient walls to these hills. I don't understand how this works, but the mountains in China look sacred. The view was breath taking and the day was clear. I couldn't have asked for much more. Being on the wall made me think back to all of the history classes I had taken that had referenced the wall and the stories that I had heard. I think recalling my lessons from grade school to high school made the experience of climbing the Great Wall so much more enjoyable. There was one view that made me realize how incredible the construction of this wall actually is. Luckily I took a photo so you can see for yourself. Personally, I think the whole area reminded me of a Chinese Yosemite.

Me in a tower at the Great Wall! Felt like a step back in history when I was inside that tower! It was also a ridiculously amazing hide away from the heat. It is about 10 degrees cooler in there.

A group of us at the top! Can you see the relief in some people's faces?

Too Many Paper Cuts

So the first time that I heard we were going to a paper-cuts festival I thought: Why would anyone go to see paper cuts? And WHY would ANYONE go to see someone purposefully cut themselves?!? Obviously I was mistaken. In case you had a similar image let me explain; paper-cutting is an art form in China. (Shows how much I knew about Chinese art before coming here… ) These paper cut outs are pictures done with only scissors and paper. Sometimes they are created on white paper and later painted. I personally think that painted paper cuts are incredibly beautiful. Obviously, I bought two scrolls. They were my first intro to haggling, although Todd, our assistant director, was the one speaking. It did, however, introduce me to the art of it.

This weekend was interesting to say the least. We were in a hotel with cockroaches, food that was insanely awful, a broken shower in my hotel room, and bedding that constantly felt sticky. Lesson learned from this situation? You can always rely on boiled eggs when traveling abroad, especially in the Chinese countryside. By the end of the trip I had figured out that I liked: eggs, Chinese form of yellow cake, mantou (means foot and head and are buns that expand a ridiculous amount in your stomach). Those three things saved me. In 24 hours I ate 9 hard boiled eggs! I think that is more than I have ever eaten in 48 hours in my life.

A photo from the dancing in honor of paper cutting.

Being a celebrity on the red carpet at the festival.

At the art-festival I learned what it was like to be a superstar. At least for a weekend. People were constantly pointing their cameras in my direction, and I wasn’t even on stage! We were in the VIP section of the dance ceremony (which is where the picture comes from). All sorts of people would come up to me, grab my hand, tell me I am beautiful, and ask to take a picture with me. Who can refuse someone when they tell you that your beautiful and are sincere? (Now that I think about it, I should have practiced my Chinese with them because no matter what I did they would still be happy with me and it would have been a confidence booster!) During the dancing festivities, the people sitting near me kept taking photos of my reaction to each Aside from these pictures, I kept constantly looking up to see all sorts of cameras pointed at me ranging from point-and-shoots, to SLR cameras (big cameras), to TV cameras. Later, when we were at a museum for paper-cuts, I was even interviewed for Chinese TV! Although I doubt my stumbling Chinese response to what I thought about the paper-cut out scrolls was aired, it was quiet an experience.

The man throwing the liquid metal on the stage. Beautiful. Right?

The festival as a whole was beautiful, but it was very long, although, the last stop of the day made it worth it. We drove 45 minutes one way to see a performance that ended with the throwing of liquid metal against a wall. Can you even imagine what it was like? I had never even considered that image before I found out where we were going. Supposedly this little town is famous for it. It was pretty incredible. It was like five or more fireworks bursting at the same time in the same location.

Check off the bucket list: being escorted by police cars somewhere (In a good way)

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Tianamen Square during the 90th birthday of the CPC Party, July 1, 2011

Yoojin, my dear friend from Cal, with me at Tianamen Square!

We went exploring a traditional alley in Beijing...

It was quiet an experience in the alley! I ate some fruit off a stick that was pretty good. It reminded me of what American's would copy in texture on the outside of the berry, but it was sweet and tart at the same time. Yum!

Ready to eat a scorpion?
These are live ones and are actually moving around even though they are stuck on a stick.
I am not sure if this should be Goal #5: Eat scorpions? What do you all think?

I watched the guy take a knife and stab the bird. It was a culture shock.
Here is the end result of that bird!

I am loving Beijing! If I don't come back don't worry, I am not kidnapped.
I may just on a whim decide to stay here.

First Days in Beijing

The Peking University and the Summer Palace

With my roomie at Peking University.
It is so beautiful here!

Just a view of the city on a walking bridge.

Amazing cake in a bakery right near my dorm.
Check out the details of the classic mountain scene it the frosting!
Notice the birds flying in the sunset...

Cake #2.

Goal #3 (to add to goals from first entry):
Eat one of these beautiful cakes before leaving!

Shopping malls don't compare at all. In America, we just have one store, minimum amount of items. There you have a layout that gives Walmart a run for its money (so it feels) with each individual "shop" and you just don't know where to look!
Bought a pair of shoes that FIT here! Alert the news! Lauren has finally found shoes that fit her! I may just have to move to China so I can wear shoes that fit for once in my adulthood.

Fourth of July in Beijing

Who would expect 4th of July in China to be a night to remember? Last night I fell through a rabbit hole that took me to American instead of Wonderland. When we walked down the stairs into this underground pizzeria, we felt as if we were back home. The place was swarming with Americans all full-heartedly celebrating the 4th of July. People were even singing "Happy Birthday" to America. A friend from Berkeley is going to ROTC study abroad in Beijing and his friends joined up with my group. As you can assume, they were very patriotic! We even had an American flag that a guy from the Navy brought and displayed for all to see. One of my favorite moments in China may be when we were leaving. The ROTC guys on their way out started singing the National Anthem and the whole place joined in. It felt so ironic to be singing the National Anthem in a bar, which seemed straight out of New York, in the middle of China!

And to think just couple of days earlier I was witnessing the 90th Anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party in Tiananmen Square!

Every Day Here Feels Like Two

Each day here feels like it is two days. On the first day I legitimately looked at my dress and didn't understand why I wore it two days in a row. It took me a few seconds before I realized that the "full day" we had "yesterday" was really that morning. There is so much going on and it is hard to decide what should be my priority. Exploring, studying, having fun? Too much to do! To add another thing to the list of things to do, the NYU program at Peking University added a trip outside the city to an art festival for tomorrow. We just had our fist day of class and now we are going on a two night trip!

One thing that was surprising was that Chines women only wear wedges. (It just seems this way, but it is like tennis shoes for guys. Nearly everyone wears them.) At first I thought that they must be crazy, but after purchasing my own pair I think they are geniuses. Somehow the "comfortable" walking shoes that I had don't come close to these wedges. Although I am in 3 inch heels, the bottom of my feet rarely hurt and there are no hot spots. None. I think the American shoe companies have some learning to do.

In some ways I feel that China is not that different from America, but it is also vastly different. For example, when I went to buy shoes at the market, I was fully overwhelmed. In America when we go shopping we enter one store, look at their things, and take it in. In China, there is NO room to take it in. The individual "stores"/stalls are smashed next to each other in a giant room all selling different shoes. I don't think I saw one shoe being sold in two places. It was incredibly overwhelming. Beware of the electronics area, it is even more intense!