Chop (sticks) Phooey

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Hello Internet!

So when I last left off, I had promised a story about the subway and neglected to tell it because I didn’t have pictures. But now, I have pictures of my favorite subway system in the world. The Beijing subway was built specifically for the 2008 Olympics and it shows. It was clearly built to handle a lot of people and be very efficient, easy, and comfortable. It’s air conditioned which is a huge plus, and extremely clean. The ticket machines also work in English (even though I’d like to think I could use it in 汉语). It’s fast, it goes many places, the maps are easy to read… I truly can’t say enough about it. It has greatly helped my experience here in Beijing.

So Tuesday, after I wrote my blog post, I rounded up some troops and we went on an adventure downtown. We decided to ride the subway and get off at a random stop and just explore. We ended up getting off near a shopping district with lots of HUGE department stores. The one that the girls in our group led us to was four floors of only wedding themed stores – bridal gowns, flowers, wedding shower gifts, jewelry, etc. We spent a while there and then moved on to a place that was far more my speed – a book store.

The Beijing Books Building is the largest government owned (look for the subtext – and don’t use the c-word. China has been known to shut down blogs that talk about their government…) book store in the world… cool! And what’s more, it was five floors of ALL CHINESE BOOKS. What could have easily been a touristy place was entirely filled with natives and we stood out like a sore thumb. We headed straight to the children’s section, where books were more our speed.

I was too busy looking for books about dragons, while my friend Tomcat was talking with one of the locals who was studying English. He’s a lot better at Chinese then I am, so their conversation was pretty interesting, but I was much more content to be looking at the children’s books. I ended up buying a couple easier ones so I could practice reading.

That night we ate dinner downtown, came back, and did homework until bedtime. Wednesday morning during class, one of my teachers was teaching us how to use camera words like “flash” and “lens cap.” To do this, she borrowed my camera, and we got some pretty funny results. This is a picture of me (the one you recognize), my friend Tomcat (the red headed one), and Marco (the half-asian).

Wednesday night,  our whole group went to the Chaoyang Acrobat Show. It was your typical Cirque du Soleil-esque kind of show, but still really cool. They had 12 tiny tiny girls riding one bike, or two men doing flips blindfolded in giant rotating hamster wheels. It was altogether pretty cool.

The big cultural difference I want to talk about today is the use of chopsticks… my new sworn enemy. The fork and knife are truly superior, but I am having fun learning how to use chopsticks. They eat everything with chopsticks and I have no choice but to comply. And it’s not rice that’s the hardest to grab, it’s the tofu because it crumbles as soon as you squeeze too hard. If you plan on coming to China, you better practice with those chopsticks.

And I’m so sorry about not posting for so long. The internet has been more elusive so today (Saturday) I finally asked someone to fix ours and they did. So here’s for hoping my posts are steady like the smog out of Beijing factories.

The real “fun” begins… classes.

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你好!Ni Hao!

The past couple of days have been a whole lot less exciting than the my first Saturday day here, but what are you going to do. In reference to my last post and a very worried e-mail from my Mom, no I did not actually go diarrhea – but  it’s the world’s most legitimate fear. Every afternoon, a maid sneaks into our hotel room and fills a canteen with tap water that has been boiled for safety… unfortunately it remains BOILING HOT! And in 35 degree Celsius weather (for those of you without calculators and don’t know the conversion that’s 95 degrees Fahrenheit) boiling hot water does not sound refreshing. So when you are walking out on the town, you have to buy bottled water. However, there is a legitimate and wide spread problem of people just bottling tap water and resealing the bottle for profit. And if you get one of these suspicious water bottles you are S.O.L… literally. But I dodged a few bullets by having the world’s most refreshing bottle of Coca Cola.

One of the cooler tidbits of the Chinese language that I’ve learned is that when translating business names, they don’t just throw in the English word. They actually make a new fictitious Chinese word for it. For instance Google has been translated to 谷歌 “gu ge” pronounced Goo guh. But this word is not always nonsensical. The cooler examples are Coke and Starbucks. Starbucks Coffee is 星巴克咖啡 (so thats xingbake kafei prounounced shing baa kuh kah fay). The last two characters mean coffee and kafei kind of sounds like coffee, right? And the first three is their translation for Starbucks. So Xingbake kind of sounds like Starbucks (baah-kuh = buck) and the first character  means star. A way cooler example is Coca Cola or 可口可乐 (Ke kou ke le) And that sounds so much like Coca Cola! But even cooler, it literally means “With each delicious bite, you can be happy.” Yes. Those four tiny characters above actually make a sentence that says all of that. Nuts.Sunday night, I went out to dinner with some friends to a fish place and I did not enjoy my mysterious meal, but I took my time wander back to the dorm, and as I was finally getting back on campus, I noticed all of the lights go out. I thought, hmmm that’s odd. We get back to the dorm, and we hear from some random student that they do this every weeknight at 11 PM to encourage students to go to bed. Full power outage – no lights, no internet, no hot water. Let me tell you, world, I almost had a heart attack. My main time of work and activity is after 11. We (eventually) turned a bad situation into a fun one and went and played card games in a near by shopping district. When I got back, I took a shower penguins would shy away from – absolutely freezing.

The next morning, we had an orientation. We were then each assigned “language partners.” These are Beijing University students who volunteered to help us with our Chinese. However, watching them try to flounder in English and their interpretations of American culture are just as hilarious. My girl, who’s Chinese name is all but unpronounceable, said her English name was Hermace Silvers???? Equally fictitious. But she also was an environmental science major and was very stereotypically Chinese, as shown below… God, I love the peace sign. And look at my new sneakers!

After that, everyone was pretty drained so we all took a nap, which is very traditional in chinese culture and is called a 午休 (wuxiu). But mine started as a 午休, became a siesta, and bordered on full sleep and I didn’t leave my room until about 7. I had a late dinner at a tiny noodle place, watched Hero with Tomcat and went to sleep.

This morning, we had our first class. It’s four hours, every morning from 8:00 AM until 12:00 PM. The first two hours were with a tiny Chinese woman named Xu Chunfeng, who spoke level appropriate Chinese, but very slurred and with a slight accent so she was absolutely not understandable. The second two hours were with a sprightly young Chinese girl named  Chen Fan who spoke as a clear as a crystal bell, but assumed we were PhD students and was also unintelligible. So yay. And now, me and my friends are getting ready to hit the city since my home work tonight was to write 50 characters… that’s two sentences.

See you tomorrow!

The elusive internet…

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Hi world!

So I finally have a chance to update my new blog, but I promise that updates will come much more frequently than this. My internet situation is very interesting, but I will get to that later. P.S. I’m going to use the word situation a lot because the Chinese word for situation (情况 qingkuang (pronounced “ching kwahng”) is really fun to say.

After my last post, I’ve been in Beijing for just about two days now. On the flight over, I fell asleep before takeoff and woke up with only four hours left in my flight. I watched one of my favorite movies, The Thin Red Line (check it out… it’s a really elegiac war movie), and landed. After the world’s smoothest landing, I was talking with my friend about the smooth landing and she mentioned that it was worth the wait. Apparently we had a two hour delay on the runway in San Francisco because the intercom was broken, but I slept through the whole thing.

When we arrived at the Beijing airport, I was immediately impressed by the sheer size of everything. Customs made fun of me for writing on my forms “Beida University”, instead of either just Beida or Beijing University. What I wrote is like the equivalent of saying “Stan Uni University.” But after my customs guy showed all of his co-workers my hilarious form, I went through with out problems.

The first thing that truly struck all of us was the pollution. Visibility is just over a mile even on the nicest days due to the pollution. The sun looks red, there is no blue sky… all of my pictures look like they were taken in a light fog, but it’s just the pollution. We all had a difficult time breathing; we all huffed and puffed our way around the cit. It already has been an eye-opening experience that is constantly reminding me why I’m studying Chinese and why I’m studying my environmental sciences major.

However, we got to our room and our room was pretty standard. It’s something between a hotel room and a dorm room. Instead of unpacking like a responsible 高才生 ( gao cai sheng – or best student/teacher’s pet), I met some of the other exchange students on our floor and went with them out to dinner with my friend (and roommate) Tomcat.

So along with 10 other kids from a different restaurant, we went to a 火锅饭馆儿 (huoguo fanguanr – or hotpot restaurant). Hopefully, I will figure out my camera and load pictures on to the interwebs, but a hotpot restaurant is a really nifty place. If any of you have ever been to a place called The Melting Pot – I know there’s one in Buffalo and I think there’s one in San Mateo? – but it’s pretty similar to that. The whole table orders a bunch of different meats, veggies, tofu, noodles, and what not while each indivdual person orders their own broth. Everyone gets their own broth on their own individual boiler. Once your broth is boiling, you take your (raw) meat and your (uncooked) veggies and put them into the broth to cook. It was really fun, very social and filling, and I had a great first meal in China.

The next day I woke up just in time to make the class trip to the Forbidden City (pictured above) and Tiananmen Square. On the bus, we learned the fun tidbit that there are 21 million people living in Beijing and 4 million of them are not originally from Beijing, so they speak a different dialect of Chinese. The dialect used in Beijing isn’t exactly the prettiest of dialects. They enjoy adding a lot of “r” sounds to the end of words. For example I used fanguanr early to mean restaurant – but anywhere outside of Beijing you would say fanguan.

The Forbidden City was definitely a very touristy location. There were many 白人 (bai ren or white people) and lots of other Asian tourists. However, the Palace itself was very beautiful. For hundreds of years, it was used as the home for the emperors of the last couple of dynasties. It has 9,999.5 rooms since that’s a lucky number, and that size shows. I was beat walking from one side of the Palace to the other. I wish I had my pedometer with me!

The Forbidden City reminded me a lot of the Alhambra in Spain, and was very ornate and beautiful. But Tiananmen Square was a little more surreal. After all of the events in 1989, it seemed very eerie to be at a place where such emotional events aren’t even recognized. If you don’t know what I’m talking about… go wikipedia Tiananmen or retake High School World history. Either way, it was very eerie with the giant picture of Mao Zedong and definitely a place worth seeing.

For the rest of the day, I wandered with my friends and went shopping. Our meals were less exciting, but I have a lot more to report in the coming days, so I’m saving some fun topics for later. But a quick preview involves diarrhea, the subway, and a power outage! 哎呀 Ai Ya!

Hit the comments with any questions! I’ll definitely get back to everyone the best I can.

Is this thing on?

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Hey everyone!

I’m currently sitting in the San Francisco airport (good work United with the free Wi-fi!) and I’m trying to figure out this whole blog thing. Here’s what I’m going to try do in the next few weeks.

If you missed the memo, I’m going to be in Beijing studying Chinese through a Stanford program. I’ll be living in dorms at Peking University and taking classes through Peking University. And yes, Peking University is in Beijing – Peking was the name of the city before it was called Beijing.

I hope to update this blog every day with stories, pictures, cultural encounters, digestive intrigue, fun facts I’m learning in class, etc. This is a huge experiment for me, and I’m glad that all of you who are bored enough to read this will be sharing along in this experiment.

But before I take off, I wanted to lay down my pre-trip feelings, which, to be quite honest, is pretty just pure eagerness. I have no idea of what to expect. I’ve heard the food is different – and not like cats, dogs, and pig liver different – but just different than American Chinese food. For instance, no fortune cookies. I’m interested to see just the sheer size of the city. It’s one of the largest cities in the world and I have heard the energy there is out of this world. Speaking of energy, as an Earth Systems environmentalist major, I’m very interested to see how their burgeoning energy sector shapes the landscape there. Rumor has it that China produces a new coal power plant every week! Ai ya! I’ve also been studying the language since September, so we will see how well my training has paid off. My guess: 不好 (badly).

I could talk for a little more on energy in China (or for that matter food, geography, whatever)… but hit the comments if you want more of something! This should be an interactive blog where I’m actually writing things that whoever decides to read this wants to read.

Thank you all for starting this journey with me. I’m about to take off so my next post I’ll be on the other side of the world! How cool!?!?