4/8/17 – Eye of the Hurricaine

Perhaps my title is a little dramatic, but that’s what it feels like spending my last weekend in Beijing. With a test last week and a test next week, I’m on my last chance for a break in between two stressful weeks, although it isn’t really much of a rest.

This week was smoggy and relatively chilly, although to be saying that after the cold of the winter seems kind of strange. Still, the weather meant that I wanted to spend more time indoors, which I guess ended up being good for my study habits. I decided to buckle down and managed to be relatively on top of my work, which, for me, is pretty impressive in the penultimate week of the semester. That didn’t mean that I studied as much for my test on Friday as I should have, but at least it meant that I was pretty prepared during the week, which eased some stress – although at this point it’s less stress and more resignation to my fate.

On Friday we had an information meeting for our study trips, which made me pretty excited for going to Tibet. I did, however, find out that I’ll move out of my host family’s apartment before traveling, and stay in the dorm with the non immersion students afterwards, which was kind of a surprise. It really made me reflect on my failings in my relationship with them, as I haven’t formed as good of one as I’d hoped. Of course I have my excuses – this term has been exhausting, and after talking so much all day I hardly want to come back and talk more, on top of having homework to do. But still, it’s surprising to think that this time next week, I’ll be out of their apartment for good.

After the meeting there was an activity in Taiji Fan, with one of my favorite teachers. It’s incredibly satisfying to snap open a Taiji fan and hear it snap. We made a bit of a spectacle as a group of foreigners on a lawn, and a few people stopped to take pictures (and probably videos) of us as we bumbled through the moves. Along with us on the lawn was a recently married couple taking photos (the second one we’d passed that day and apparently the sixth some of the non immersion students had seen that week). Although I felt somewhat ridiculous, particularly when I messed up my fan opening, some of the short clips that a different teacher took of us look almost like we knew what we were doing. Overall, it was great fun.

Afterwards, I have to admit, I did something my mom wouldn’t be proud of. In fact, it was something she would be pretty horrified to hear. So I’m sorry mom. I rode a bike home without a helmet.

The teacher instructing us in the fan lives in the same area as me, and offered to go biking home with me (on the yellow Ofo bikes that anyone can take all over the city, as long as you have the app). I had ridden around in the relative safety of campus, and was nervous about doing it on the street with the traffic and especially the buses that occasionally pull into the bike lane to take on and let off passengers. But it was surprisingly easy, particularly because we bypassed some of the more busy traffic areas to do things like ride through a part of the Beijing Sport University (which was beautiful) and take a somewhat roundabout route to my neighborhood. It was a great ride, despite the rather gray weather, and I’m glad I did it at least once – even if it went against all the times my mom told me (rightfully) that I should always wear a helmet when I ride.

This weekend I planned to spend entirely on homework (and did spend my Friday evening finding sources for my paper), but I did take a break today to go to the Silk Market, seeing as I’ve always been too tired or busy to go when the others did. It was more like a mall and less like a market than I expected, but I did get to flex my bargaining muscles and managed to do it rather well. The thing about me is I like to look at things, and think about buying them, and then not buy them. If the price is a little too high, I’d rather just give in and walk away then spend the money. But apparently this is actually a good tactic for getting the price down. So for any Americans unsure of how to bargain, a few tips: one, speak Chinese. The price was automatically halved because I’d kept talking to the shopkeeper in Chinese, even when she was speaking English. Two, don’t have much money to spend. If you obviously have money, they’re not going to believe you when you say you only have 200 kuai (a little less than $30) and don’t want to spend over 140. Three, always be prepared to give up. If your price is really too low, they won’t make the sale. Walking away is a great tactic, but only as a last resort. For me, someone who genuinely would rather give up on something than pay money, it has worked wonders. In fact, I actually feel guilty for dragging the price so low, but I did manage to get a pretty good gift for my brother at a very reasonable price, so I guess I should feel proud.

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Some flowers blooming on campus. Pretty much everything is blooming now, meaning that you occasionally get whiffs of lovely flowers as you walk (or bike) around.

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The group trying to look cool with our fans.

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A pair of fashion sunglasses at the Silk Market.


4/3/17 – Great Experiences

April is starting, which means that after this week and next week I’ll be done with my semester and starting on my travels, which will make up my final two weeks in China. Along with the strange feeling of time having passed so quickly, I also have to worry about tests, my final paper, and the fact that I’ll have no break between these very busy times and all of my traveling. But first, I should reflect on this past week.

This week’s weather was warm again, and the smog even cleared up towards the end so that we had some nice blue sky. The warm weather has been doing wonderful things for my mood, and on Thursday this meant that going outside to take class pictures transformed me into a small child who would much rather prance around outdoors than go back into the basement to drill our new words and grammar. This meant that I managed to make every other sentence about wanting to go outside, however, which made our class at least somewhat more entertaining, and the rest of my afternoons have been somewhat similar. I’m still tired, of course, but somewhat less so than earlier, despite the fact that our lessons are getting longer and longer, and our new vocab increasing with them.

On Friday, instead of having a test, we went to an elementary school, which I was absolutely not in the mood for. I hadn’t been able to sleep much the previous night, and had had a dream about my sister’s pet (not a real one, but a dream one) dying in my lap, so the thought of going to be yelled at by a bunch of ten year olds did not seem appealing. Luckily, we got to see some traditional culture classrooms first, which included a form of Chinese chess, harp playing, tea drinking, and guqin playing. Afterwards we went to a normal classroom, talked to the screaming ten year olds, and then went outside to play. It was noisy, and I spent the entire time feeling hungry, which meant I was in a pretty bad mood and thus did not have the best time ever, but afterwards a friend and I went to get lunch and sat around talking for a few hours, which was much more relaxing and fun.

Saturday was the planned excursion to the Mutianyu Great Wall. I also did not sleep well, and, despite the warm weather and the place we were going, I was tempted to just stay home and sleep instead of climbing however many thousands of steps to reach the wall. However, the weather was warm and the sky was blue and the climb was actually not terribly long or hard. Compared to my mountain climbing experience, it was quite enjoyable, and I had plenty of energy when we reached the top. I’m extremely glad that we went. It was a beautiful sight, and a lovely time walking up and down it, and taking many memorable selfies with my friends and teachers. When I got back I was exhausted, but the trip had been well worth it, and I’m extremely glad that I didn’t bail last minute because of how tired and cranky I had been the past couple of days. This just goes to show that sometimes even the worst situations can create wonderful memories, and it was a relief to have such a great excursion before the deadlines and tests really start to loom.

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Me posing with the guard dog (lion?) we took our class photo with. 

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This doorway was so narrow that this was surprisingly difficult, but when I want to climb something I usually find a way.

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Although the trees in the parks and on campus down in the city are getting their leaves back, the ones around the Wall were still bare, which was kind of too bad, but contrary to how it looks in this photo, there weren’t actually too many tourists there, so there are always benefits to going out of season. I’d love to see it in the snow.