Tuesday, February 26, 2008

A bit after The Beginning

大家好 (da jia hao, =hello everyone)! Sorry for the delay, it has been a slight while since my last post. In the beginning there is much to get together and organize, so that’s mostly what I’ve been doing. After signing up for our Hanyu (reading & writing) and Kouyu (speaking & listening) classes, we have one week of only those classes before signing up for electives. As it turns out, the elective classes listed on the CIEE website are not necessarily the ones that are available to all students. Some of them are just not there, and some are only available to advanced students (ie, those who have taken since high school or native speakers that are working on their writing). Sooo it looks like I might not be satisfying as many requirements as I had counted on this semester, everyone cross your fingers I’ll be able to graduate on time! Hahah… . Not really all that funny. But! Moving on to more important things. I realize it has been too long since I wrote last because I went to see the Forbidden City! And it feels like a long time ago now, but I have yet to tell you lot about it. CIEE organized the event for us last Sunday, a little over a week now. We all got in two big buses, each equipped with an English-speaking tour guide, and made our way to the center of Beijing, which as I recall took about 45 minutes, maybe even less, but that’s only because it was midday on a Sunday. Word on the street is it can take over an hour. So we got off at the infamous Tiananmen Square, where we were welcomed by blue skies and warm sunshine. The children flying kites and people selling candied fruit on a stick were very contrary to the square’s past, and it was as if there was a giant elephant standing in plain view that no one seemed to notice. But I couldn’t help enjoying myself; it was a beautiful day, kites were flying, birds were singing, and the excitement of almost 80 外国人 (wai guo ren, foreigners) meeting each other and exploring a (for some of us) new city and country (and continent!) was in the air. So we skipped through the square, took pictures, had a group shot (see above!) and enjoyed those blue skies (no 空气污染 (kong qi wu ran=air pollution) in sight! ...yet) all the way to the entrance of the Forbidden City.
Which is great! I was told that there used to be a Starbucks there, but thank goodness they apparently decided that that was too much modernization, even for them. Inside in the beginning there are a bunch of stands selling things, like fun hats etc, but us being 外国人 (remember it? You just learned!) they would probably be selling the things at a very high price, and I was not yet (and still am not really) confident in my bargaining skills. On the tour we went through gate after gate, which opened up into another large area with more buildings. See pictures above. I kept trying to guess which one was from the last scene in Mulan, but none of them looked quite right. Then we started talking about Mulan, got the “you must be swift as a coooursing riiiver, with all the strength of a greaaat tyyphoooon” song stuck in our heads, which was fun until it didn’t go away. Once we got toward the end of the tour we were up on higher ground within the city, and it was crazy to look beyond the tops of the old school Forbidden City buildings and past them you see the rest of the city of Beijing, with high rises and cars and highways and all that. I think there is a picture up there to that effect.
So the Forbidden city tour was interesting and fun. Afterwards I went with some program friends, Karen, Nathan, Christoph, Ali, and LA, to go find some scorpions to eat. Ohhh yesss, scorpions. We took a bus and a subway to a street called Wangfujing, a pretty famous street market, and walked through with the people trying to sell you whatever they have to offer. There was everything from starfish to lamb penis. The guy who was selling it thought it was really funny to try to get foreigners to eat it asking “what do you think this is? What is this?” and then answering his own question, “penis of lamb! Ha ha ha ha!” Very good times.
We found the scorpion stand a little ways down the street, and once we saw them we sort of started to lose our nerve. But no! We had a mission! There were multiple types of scorpions you could eat, and we went for the smallest ones. So each stick had three scorpions on it, and there being six of us we decided to get two of them and each have one. We each got ours (I took off the tail pincher, just to be safe) and popped them in our mouths, all at the same time (see pic above of scorpion group). It was actually delicious! Tasted a lot like soft shell crab. I guess you can deep-fry pretty much anything. Next time I’ve decided I’m going to go for the big one, I’ll keep you posted. Once we’d had our fill of scorpion we walked back, each clutching some caramelized fruits on a stick, and caught a bus, two subways, and another bus back to Beida. Definitely a successful day. A couple days later, as one of my fellow scorpion eaters and I were bragging about how badass we were, someone said “yea I hear Chinese people never actually eat scorpion. They just have it there for the tourists.” After that we felt a bit less cool. But whatever, we ate scorpions, they were just jealous.
On Feb 21 2008, exactly two weeks after this Chinese New Year (Feb 7 2008, for those not math-inclined) there is a festival called 元宵节 (Yuan xiao jie, Lantern Festival), which occurs on the first full moon of the year and marks the end of the Chinese New Year celebrations. To celebrate some friends and I, Hana (my roommate), Isabelle, Lauren, Ashley, Karen, and Nick, all went to dinner in Houhai (see dinner pic above), an area about a 20-30 min cab ride from Beida. After eating we met up with a bunch of other kids from our program, some of whom had obtained a VIP area in a club just down the street from our restaurant. Though I had been planning on going home early, the party picked up and we were having a good time. My friend Lauren and I went out on the dance floor, where nooo one else was dancing, which was kind of awkward at first. But after about 10 minutes all of these Chinese people who had been just sitting at tables before got up and joined us, and it turned in to a giant China party! Various members of our program got up on a small stage that they had and were shouting into a microphone, which someone had (mistakenly) left on. We all vied for our turn, shouting things like 新年快乐! (xin nian kuai le=Happy New Year!) and 我爱中国! (Wo ai Zhong guo=I love China!). Then the Chinese people would grab the mic and shout various English phrases, as well as Happy New Year. Needless to say, it was 很好完儿 (hen hao wanr =good fun).
So that was the Thursday of the first weekend. The next couple of days I went to class (Friday) and went to dinner and out on the town with friends. Fun places to go are in Wudaokou and Sanlitun, where there are cafes, restaurants, bars, and clubs to check out. Unfortunately though everything is a taxi ride away, which costs money. Especially when they pretend like they are lost and drive around “looking” for your location. This has happened to me a good 3 times so far, and my knowledge of the area and/or ability in Chinese to successfully intimidate/argue with the cabby have been insufficient to do much about it. So now I am just a taxi driver hater and paranoid, and taking cabs tends to stress me out. But when the weekend rolls around, I doubt that will stop me from making my way out and about. Especially when you are sharing a cab with 3 other people, you can chat and bond over how much you hate the cheating drivers. I’m excited for when I can pull some major confrontation action on a frontin’ cabby. Those will be the days.
One thing that will hopefully make taking cabs less necessary is a bike, which I just bought. Fun side note: when I was in line waiting to pay for my bike and some delicious chewy gummy candy, there was a Chinese father and son behind me. The son was wearing a WASHINGTON REDSKINS sweatshirt! It was such a happy moment. See picture!
Also, in the beginning of the trip, I was wondering why everyone said pollution was SUCH a problem. I mean I could tell it was polluted more than usual, but I had heard that you couldn’t see the sky; you couldn’t see far down a road it was so bad. My first week had been pretty nice, blue skies and sunshine on several occasions. Then Tuesday morning, Feb 19 I went outside and oh my goodness. It was crazy, at first I thought it was mist but the weather didn’t feel humid or damp, it didn’t feel like misty or foggy weather. And also, this so called mist was brown in color. It was gross. But that was the worst day yet; though it’s cold today was actually pretty nice; blue skies and sunshine. Good thing the Olympics are on their way, otherwise who knows whether the pollution problem would be being worked on or not.
So! That’s all for now folks, I’m off to do some homework and watch the Oscars a day late at a pizza place with some friends. I miss you all, please let me know what you’re up to! Till later!


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