Thursday, January 22, 2009


Don't worry, Dad, I'm eating plenty of meat in China. Last Friday I went out for huoguo with a bunch of friends from the dorm. Huoguo literally means "fire pot" or, commonly known as "hot pot".

From left to right: Piper (a.ka. Shaopei), Katie (Kangtian, also my roomate), Jennifer (Yunzi), Oscar (Oule? He is from Norway!), Me (Ruofei), and Nitt (Ande). It's weird to be learning two names for everyone- it's very easy to pick up people's English names, of course, but we have to call them by their Chinese names so the professors don't give us the evil eye. It's so hard to remember Chinese names!

We ordered raw meat (pork and mutton) that was cut into very, very thin slices and uncooked noodles and vegetables (lettuce, mushrooms). The waiters pour broth into your little pot and since it has some sterno under it, it quickly starts to boil. You cook the meat in the broth and then dip it in the peanut sauce. mmm. I'm sure this type of meal is not unfamiliar to many of you- we have this kind of 'fondue' at home.

Piper and Katie.

Excellent diagram of The Cow near the door.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Available Job Opportunities in China

Since, as you all know, Beijing has a huge population, there is always someone willing to take a job that another person won't. Therefore, I have thought of a few new opportunities that could be implemented to better use the man power of Beijing's everyday person.

- What Not to Wear Zhongguo: a Chinese version of the US's tv show with Stacey and Clinton, except geared towards Chinese aesthetics. I.e.; in China it might be okay to wear a puffy, furry panda jacket to work, but there are rules! For example, a panda jacket must never be paired with pink butterfly boots. (Unfortunately I don't yet have pictures of this phenomenon- this isn't the Sartorialist.)

-Official Map Maker for the 798 contemporary art district. Description: help people find their way around this confusing neighborhood. Making maps, by definiton, is not the same as making art. Visitors can't find the art with out a map!

A view of 798 art district. I went there last weekend with Katie and Margaret (my friend from Oberlin who is also in Beijing for the month of January). 798 is a really fascinating district- all of the buildings were built as factories in the 1950's and 60's in conjunction with Soviet Russia. They are all giant, with Bauhaus architecture and giant saw-tooth rooflines. Many have huge windows, providing a perfect space to make art, which is why in the 1990's the Central Academy of Fine Arts moved their sculpture studio into the then-vacant factories. This jump started what is now Beijing's most thriving contemporary art neighborhood. It's a really exciting place, and even though I don't think the three of us chose a good day to go (since many galleries were closed and there weren't many people around), I can't wait to go back! ( a nice brief history of the area, if you're interested)

We weren't exactly sure what this space was- we walked into this gallery (museum?) that was open but in the midst of putting up a new exhibit, and they had this really swank lounge area that probably becomes a bar on the weekends. That giant brick column is actually a giant smoke stack that goes through the ceiling.

- Pollution Particle collector (description: picks the dust and grime out of the air with a large, wet cloth). Apparently many of these people were employed before the olympics, but now they've gone back to their day jobs.
This is the view from my room on a pretty bad pollution day. This isn't a bad photo, and the window isn't that dirty- you just can't see buildings very clearly when it gets so smoggy. Uck.

This is the view with my back to the entrance to Tiananmen- the furthest left building is Mao Zedong's mausoleum (pretty sure). Gross, right?

Looking towards Tiananmen (note that the sky is white, not blue)- this is the entrance to the Forbidden City (aka gugong), which I also went to last weekend. The Forbidden City was home to the emperor during the Ming and Qing Dynasties.

A close-up of a door in Gugong- very beautiful.
Me standing in front of one of the facades- it was so cold I think it made me smile weirdly.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

开始 - kaishi - Start, beginning

I have really struggled with how to start this blog- I've been in Beijing for almost two weeks now and only today have I actually decided to sit down and post something (little tidbits of writing have been in progress for a while). Many of the people who will be reading this already know a lot about what I'm doing and I don't really have the time to go into details; I guess they will come gradually. Short version: I am spending a semester in Beijing doing an intensive (think cram school) Mandarin language program. There's not much time to do much besides study- four hours of class every day, and then the entire afternoon/ evening is spent preparing the next day's lesson which can have up to 90 new words to learn, plus homework and other assignments. There's also an extremely strict language pledge- aside from calling home, I will not speak English for the next four months (and my program takes it seriously here- they have actually put pledge-breakers on a plane back to the US). It's hard and at times simply awful, but there are moments (which I hope will grow increasingly more often) where I am thrilled to be here, and feel that I'm mastering this ridiculously challenging language. When communication actually happens, I feel my motivation and energy to continue study revived.

Plus, of course, I get to experience a country on the other side of the world! It is really surreal to finally be here, after preparing to study in Beijing for two and a half years now. For as many times as I've had textbook lessons about the American student who just arrived in Beijing (including all the lovely vocabulary of airport, suitcase, customs, roomates, taxi, first impression) and as cliche as I felt walking through the airport, explaining to the driver how to get to Capitol University of Economics and Business, nothing anyone ever says or describes about China can really prepare you for what it's like to be here. And, I can't even claim to know what it's like to be here- maybe let's wait a few months for that one.
One of the biggest yet most obvious differences about Beijing is the unbelievable density of human beings. Yes, this is home to over 17 million people, but I have never seen an urban density like this before. People all over the street, crowded subway tunnels, packed buses. If you stop to think about how each one of these people (presumably) has somewhere they sleep at night, an apartment, owns a pair of slippers and a bar of soap, and eats breakfast, lunch, and dinner, it's really mind-boggling. It's like trying to imagine the Big Bang Theory. It also makes me wonder, how often do people here randomly bump into someone they know? With all of these bodies trying to get to their destination, and everyone with their head down (and right now, buried in a scarf) trying to move between each other, how would you ever know to look up and look for a familiar face?

Yours truly, freezing cold in front of, uhm, whatsitcalled.