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.

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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.

3/25/17 – Ups and Downs

This week has been very long, and very tiring, with some good things and some bad things. I’m going to start with the bad things. I’ve been exhausted all week (although I feel like I say that every week), to the point where I’ve actually started drinking coffee. On Wednesday night, I heard the news that my 18 year old dog had finally died, which hit me harder than I’d expected, considering that I’ve been thinking she was going to die at any time for over a year. This meant that I only slept about 5 hours before my oral test, which nevertheless seemed to go well, and that I was still in a pretty bad mood on Friday.

However, there were good things about this week. I went out with my calligraphy class to get dinner on Tuesday, and after our Friday activity (attending a speaking contest that I didn’t sign up for, although one of my classmates won it so that was exciting), my friend dragged me out to a really nice hotpot place. I ate lots of spicy hotpot and also lots of excellent fruit, tried duck intestine, and also enjoyed watching the famed noodle dance (where a man comes out and pulls your noodles in front of you, flicking the dough around beautifully as he does it). Lots of good food helped me feel better, and I got to go home and try another interesting food, duck blood tofu. The flavor wasn’t too bad, kind of like a hard boiled egg if the white and the yolk were combined, but the texture was…odd. I would not actively try to eat it again, but it also wasn’t really a terrible experience.

Today we went to the Summer Palace, which was absolutely gorgeous, and the sky even cleared up slightly as the day went on. I got baozi for breakfast, because I’d arrived early, and another customer of the little stall complimented me on my language skills (whether or not she would have felt the same if she’d seen me try to order something other than baozi I’m not sure), so that was a confidence boost. We went to the lake, walked along the long corridor, and then went up to the Buddhist temple on the mountain. There the larger group split up, and I went with two American and two Chinese students to see the other side of the mountain, with lots of beautiful architecture, and then to get lunch. It was a really pleasant day overall, and I’m happy that this weekend has been more cheerful than the rest of the week.

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This was in a plaza surrounded by little rooms that were open to the center so that inhabitants of the palace could enjoy opera performances.

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A building next to the main temple, with a hint of the city skyline in the background. It was hard to believe that we were barely a 10 minute bus ride from campus, because the park felt so isolated from the rest of the city, so it really felt like a trip to a completely different place.

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A close up on some of the statues that decorated every building. The number of animals and what they are has significance, but I don’t remember what it is exactly. I thought they were beautiful, though. 

3/19/17 – Final Stretch

This past week has dumped a lot on my shoulders. On one hand, there were extra homework assignments that needed doing, on the other, the weather got suddenly worse, and as an extra push, it hit me that I only have 3 weeks left of classes before finals, study trips, and then my time in China is over.

First the homework. On top of our regular schedule, we had a new assignment, where we were to take a video and dub over it in Chinese. It’s not really due until next week, but the suggestion was to get a first draft done, in order to send it in for corrections. I decided that instead of worrying about tones, I wanted to do a song, which at first seemed easier. Then I realized that some of the fast lines have difficult dipthongs, and that the recording window was slightly off from the music in some cases, and I somewhat regretted my decision. Still, I got at least a first draft done, although it might end up being my final draft, depending on how I feel about the rest of this week. Additionally, we got an extra assignment to do a performance (first thing tomorrow morning) of a story or movie. We chose Shrek 2, which has been amusing, but we have had very little time to work on it, with a written test on Friday pushing everything to the weekend, and one of our members signing up for activities last week, before she knew about our performance, and so the bulk of the work was done today, which also means that we have had no real rehearsal time and we only have tonight to learn our lines. I’m not super optimistic about this performance, and at this point I just want it to be over.

In addition, the weather has gotten terrible. It’s been smoggy all week, with today being by far the worst. The reason is that last week there was an important government meeting, so all the factories were shut down to create a beautiful blue sky while all the important people were here, and that has made this week’s weather that much more oppressive. I’m grateful for my mask, but I miss the blue sky.

But I have had some fun this week. I went to a Beijing Opera mask painting activity, and painted my own mask, although I used very little actual paint. There was a limited amount of it, and almost no black, which was the main color my chosen mask used, so instead I drew on the lines with marker and only painted the red accents. In the evening I went out with some friends to see the live action Beauty and the Beast, which I really enjoyed. We saw it in IMAX 3D, which I think was a little overwhelming for my eyes, as I couldn’t focus during the big sweeping shots, but it was a beautiful movie. I also got to watch Shrek 2 with a friend (as the fun part of our homework). I know I need to buckle down and get everything done, but after my lack of a real break this weekend, I feel like this week is going to be rather long.

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Me wearing my mask. The black and white represents evil characters, which is why it’s so intimidating.

3/13/17 – Halfway through

It’s hard to believe, but at the end of this past week, I’m officially halfway through the term in China. Time has gone so fast, and I feel like the second half is likely to go just as quickly. This week was also the week of me buckling down and getting things done, namely my homework. I was amazingly productive, with the determination to sit down and finish my homework as quickly as possible so that I could then relax a little more during the evening and at lunch. It was kind of a relief, honestly, and I hope I can continue to do this as much as possible.

The weather continues to be warm and relatively clear. I never thought I’d be grateful for sun in my eyes while I ride the bus to school, but it means that the weather isn’t cloudy or smoggy, so I don’t mind it so much. On Friday I even got to sleep in a little, because of an activity planned for later in the afternoon, which meant that I wasn’t leaving the house in the cold early morning and I felt comfortable enough to wear a skirt and my lightest jacket. The activity was a bunch of camp-style games set all over campus, and we were split into teams consisting of BeiDa students and exchange students. The skirt wasn’t the best idea for needing to run around and do various activities, but it saved me from pushups, so I don’t really mind. My shoes, however, were not the best for running around, and that turned out to be more of a problem, as my feet were a little bit sore at the end of the day. This soreness wouldn’t have been so much of an issue if I hadn’t signed up to hike up a mountain (Mang mountain) on Saturday.

Saturday was warm but slightly overcast, which was really too bad, because the views from the mountain were lovely, and would have been better had it not been so cloudy. The thing about hiking up mountains in China, however, is that they don’t have trails in the way that Americans think about trails – instead, they have hundreds and hundreds of steps all the way up to the top. This, to me, was worse, particularly because I didn’t eat enough leading up to the hike, so in the beginning I was a little bit woozy. Luckily I’d bought some huge apples the day before, so after eating one I felt much better, but stairs are pretty rough on one of my knees (which has an issue with too many stairs). It didn’t hurt on the way up, but, as expected, the way down was a different story. Of course, the pain from going down stairs fades much more quickly than the soreness in my other leg’s muscles from favoring my knee on the way down, so I’m still feeling the effects of the hike even now.

Overall, it was a relief not to have a written test this week (although I’m never safe from the oral ones), and I had a great time doing physical things on Friday and Saturday, and then talking with my friends and resting on Sunday. If the rest of the term goes like this week did, I think I’ll consider it a successful time.

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My team and I performing one of the tasks in our games

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At the foot of the mountain there was a large Buddha statue and the 12 animals of the zodiac, so naturally I had to take a photo posing with mine.

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A selfie at the top of Mang Mountain

3/4/17 – Midterms

This week was wonderfully warm and clear, which means that, of course, it was one of the most intense weeks for the students – midterms week. It was also, of course, the week that my occasionally scratchy throat decided to turn into a full blown cold.

Monday was really the worst day, with what I’m fairly certain was a small fever during one of my classes, and just general terrible feelings. I decided to go to sleep pretty early that night, and leave finishing my homework for lunch the next day, which turned out to be a good idea, because I felt relatively good on Tuesday. The rest of the week was just battling exhaustion while trying to stay on top of the continuous new words as well as studying all of the chapters studied up until this point, amounting to a book and a half.

Monday was also the last day for one of my favorite teachers, who told us quite suddenly that she was returning back to her hometown to work (which had been part of her long term plan from the start). This was really saddening, and I’m going to miss her a lot. Because she didn’t tell us we couldn’t get her anything, and I wasn’t sure how to say goodbye to her, since hugging people isn’t really that much of a thing in China and I was barely keeping myself awake in the first place.

I’m fairly certain that both my spoken and written midterms went well. I felt particularly confident with most of the written one, although I did finish 15 minutes early – something that doesn’t usually happen. I decided to take it as a good sign, guarding the pieces of that day’s birthday cake for when my classmates got out of the test. As time passed, I started getting more worried about my speedy finish, and by the time everyone else finished – an hour after the allotted time – I became pretty concerned about my speed. I think a lot of it is that I spent a lot more time sleeping than them (in order to try and make my cold go away), so that I might not be quite as well versed in all aspects of our lessons, but my mind was working a lot better. Most of the test felt fairly easy to me, and like I understood it, so I’m hoping that’s a good sign. I guess I’ll find out on Monday.

After a break, we had a Chinese style painting class, where we used ink and water to paint pandas eating bamboo. I had a lot of fun, despite my frustrations with anything remotely resembling watercolors, and afterwards I went with three other classmates to play mahjong. We did this for a while, and then my friend and I went to get baozi together. She didn’t have much money on her student card, but they’re so cheap that we still both got a lot. Afterwards we went to the store, so I could pick up some sweet bread and snacks. At this store, because I hadn’t eaten much that day, I decided to get more baozi, and was able to order them without pointing at anything – only speaking. I’m really proud of this fact, although it did mean that I got a type that I don’t like as much as some of the other ones, because that’s the one I know how to say. Still, I’m happy with my ability to get them at all, even if it is a very simple task. On my way home I felt so good that I stopped and got some pineapple at a street stall, and, although I did forget how to say pineapple, it’s pretty common in street stalls to point and say ‘how much is this’, so I still consider the evening a triumph. After that I was more than happy to sleep early, and spend all day today resting and chatting with my friends. Here’s to more warm clear weather and successes with my speaking ability!

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My panda eating his bamboo – I had a hard time getting enough water off my brush, so the ink spread a little bit more than expected, but I think that the overall result is pretty okay!

2/24/17 – Warming up

The weather has been warming up, and that has made this week (particularly these last couple days) much more pleasant. Despite the warm weather, I did have some midweek frustrations, particularly with my lack of language skill. I know I’ve been improving, but it’s still incredibly frustrating when you actually try and talk to someone (outside of your teachers) and they can’t understand you, or you have a quiz on a word that, no matter how many times you repeat it, you can never seem to write correctly. My next language is definitely going to be one with an alphabet, because the disconnect between writing and speaking is pretty hard on me. It also doesn’t help it that my throat has been scratchy all week and I’ve started coughing a little, which means I am definitely getting sick – although I hope it goes away without getting much worse.

However, I am enjoying my improved abilities, even if they’re not enough to actually let me function independently in China. I’ve noticed more words that I know on signs and advertisements, and I can understand more of what people say, as long as they speak slowly. My teacher liked the story I wrote for my weekend homework, although she was frustrated at my cliffhanger, and said that this was the first time that she’s genuinely been looking forward to next week’s journals. We also played cards a few times in the breaks between class, and got everyone (teacher included) to play Go Fish together (because it’s a game that’s easy to explain even if you don’t know how to say a lot of words related to cards).

Also, this weekend has been wonderful. After doing relatively well (I hope) on my oral exam on Thursday, and hopefully as well on my written exam on Friday, I went with a smaller group of students to an orphanage to hear about what they do and play and sing a little bit with some of the kids. A lot of orphanages in China (according to one of the workers) have children with disabilities or other medical problems, because families (particularly poor ones) often don’t know how to take care of their children or don’t have the means to get the medical attention they need. I’m not the biggest fan of kids, but it was fun to go and play with them, and it was also fun to just hang out and be able to talk to some of the people I don’t usually see – in English!

Today we went to the 798 art district, which was a lot of fun. It was a very nice location, with a more Western feel (one friend said that it reminded her of parts of Manhattan, so she felt at home), and we walked around looking in galleries and shops as well as at the street art and stalls. For lunch, we went to a restaurant with some BeiDa students, which was very helpful as we didn’t have to struggle through ordering. The lunch was wonderful, with a variety of dishes, and I’m definitely going to look up how to cook green beans and eggplant (two dishes I’m usually not fond of) the way that they do in China. I was too hungry to stop and take a picture of the food, but it was all wonderful. I also got to experience haggling for the first time, although I wasn’t very active in it and mostly let other people do the talking, and I’m very happy with some of the things that I got. With the pleasant weather, it was overall a great day.

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The path along the walk from the office to the dorm – I could smell the pine sap starting to run, and it reminded me of home.

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Paintings done on the inside of glass bottles and beads, done by a man with a little street stall. He also writes names on the inside of these beads, for no extra cost than that of the beads themselves. 

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There were lots of statues all around, many with open mouths, so we had a lot of fun mimicking their poses and facial expressions.

2/18/17 – Picking up the Pace

Time has been flying by, and it’s hard to believe that I’ve been in Beijing for over a month already! Monday was a rare day that was both clear and warm, which meant that Tuesday through Thursday the smog was oppressive. This week felt really good though, both because the weather has been warming up and because I feel like I’ve been doing better in class. Tuesday was Valentine’s Day, and it was also our calligraphy class day, which naturally meant we learned how to write 爱,the character for love. It’s a beautiful character, although I think the dots are my worst stroke, and again we had a good time hanging out and talking while we practiced writing. Of course we also had to talk about whether or not we were single, and, when asked if I was going to write anything for Jo, I said I couldn’t because she doesn’t have a Chinese name. Building off of Josephine, we decided on 周菲菲,Zhou feifei, which is a very cute name (although because of the way that Chinese names work, even though Zhou and Jo are pronounced almost the same, it’s her Chinese last name, so I don’t use it when referring to her much).

We didn’t have a written test this week, and, while I’m not sure how my spoken test went, my one on one homework went really well. Usually I struggle with it because I forget how to read so easily, but this week I only forgot how to say one or two characters, and I really did feel the improvement. We also got our second textbook (because we do 3 lessons a week and each book only has 12 lessons), and, because we liked writing fiction for our last weekly journal so much, from now on we can always write a story if we want to, as long as it uses grammar and vocabulary from the lessons we learned that week. I know that I and at least one other person are going to be writing one long story with new installments each week, and I’m really looking forward to it. I have a few ideas for plot, and, in addition, I think I’m going to leave off on a cliffhanger each week, just to keep my teacher and classmates on their toes.

After class, we had a paper cutting activity, where we learned how to cut out 喜喜, the double happiness. After that I went to hang out at the immersion apartment, because last night a big group of people went to karaoke. I knew that if I went home, I’d have a hard time making myself go out again, and I’m really glad I decided to go. We found another Chinese movie on TV to watch, and then I agreed to become everyone’s doll as they put makeup on me in preparation for our night out. It was a great night, with not too many people (but enough so that the room only cost each of us around 30 kuai), and afterwards we went to a club (which someone got us free entry to) to dance. I was surprised at how unsurprising the club was, for someone who doesn’t go out much – it was basically like a frat party if a frat party had more budget and a bar. At one point I wanted to go grab a drink, and just happened to be at the perfect time to see the bartender start juggling bottles with lighted sparklers jammed into the necks, and then he built a tower of glasses, lit some liquor on fire, and poured the fire over the tower. Then he handed out a bunch of drinks, and so, while it wasn’t what I’d been planning on ordering, I got one of the drinks. Afterwards I stayed at the apartment, because I didn’t want to go back home by myself at 1 am, and this morning one of the girls decided to make eggs for everybody.

Since getting home, I’ve mostly been resting, and reflecting on the week. I’m glad I went out, although I definitely won’t be doing that with the frequency that some people did, and I’m glad that I got to spend some time with people that I don’t normally get to spend time with. My throat kind of hurts now (it’s impossible for me not to sing a song if I know it, or, occasionally, even if I don’t), and I need to wash my hair again to stop it hinting of smoke, but it was a great experience. I’m looking forward to more great experiences in the months to come!

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My classmates and I taking a communal nap during our break – aka what gets me through my last class of the day.

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My work in calligraphy – Jo’s name isn’t very pretty because this was the first time I had written it (no practice beforehand), and the third character of my name has interesting proportions, but I’ve never been very good at writing that, and the rest I think looks nice.WhatsApp Image 2017-02-18 at 6.58.23 AM.jpeg

My paper cutting – because double happiness is often used as a wedding decoration, people also turn the boxes into hearts, and so I used my leftover Valentine’s Day feeling to make this.

2/11/17 – Branching Out

So this week we went back to class, and it was amazing how quickly I reverted to vacation mode. I managed to stay on top of things, despite varying amounts of sleep during the week, but overall I had a pretty good time.

This week I also started to branch out a little. I went to my first calligraphy class on Tuesday, because I’d had so much fun at the language activity, and it was a great time. We’d learn a new stroke, and then while we practiced it we could talk and basically hang out, with the teacher and with each other. There were a couple non-immersion girls in that class as well as a friend from my class, so it was fun doing things with new people as well. I’m glad I got most of my homework between the normal classes ending and the calligraphy class beginning though, because I definitely didn’t want to do any by the time I got home. Next week we’re all gonna go out for hotpot after class, and I’m pretty excited.

We also had our second test of the semester. We have them every two weeks in comprehensive class, but we had one the first week as a way to test whether or not we’d been placed in the right classes for our levels. It was pretty rough trying to remember vocabulary that I hadn’t used since before the break, and I’m pretty sure my grade is going to take a hit from that, but I know it’s my own fault for not studying as much as I could have. This week I also had some problems just getting my thoughts in line with words that I do know, so I think it was just kind of a rough time in general, as far as my language is concerned. Still, I’m pretty okay with it, I know I can’t be speaking perfectly all the time.

The nice thing about Friday was that after the test, all the immersion students went back to the apartments to cook food and make 汤圆, or sweet dumplings. A funny coincidence that on Thursday morning, in the middle of the night, my dad had asked me if I’d had scrambled eggs and tomatoes yet, a dish he’d never quite been able to replicate. That day, my teacher told us that one of the dishes we were going to be making was scrambled eggs and tomatoes. And that night, guess what my host parents made for dinner? You guessed it, scrambled eggs and tomatoes. It was a highly amusing coincidence. So of course, even though I don’t like tomatoes, I was the one who volunteered to cook up the eggs and tomatoes. I really like eating the eggs in that dish, because I love dishes that tomatoes are in, as long as I don’t have to put a big chunk of one in my mouth.

After we cooked and ate our food, my friend who lives in the dorm and I decided to hang out in the apartment with the other immersion girls, and we had a great time. We played Just Dance using our phones, ate leftovers from lunch, and also played Honey I Love You, which was markedly different than when I played it as a kid, seeing as I was playing it with a bunch of adults. We also made a quick outing to get some wine from a store that sells international food, and there I bought it. My first bottle in four years. A little overpriced, but worth every mao – kriek.

For those of you who don’t know, kriek is a lambic cherry beer, very popular in Belgium. It’s very fruity, but not actually all that sweet – in fact, when I was in Belgium the brand I had on Friday was my least favorite, because it felt so much sweeter than some others, but compared to some American sweet drinks, this was just fruity and very tart, not sugary at all. I’ve literally had dreams about this drink, in which my sole objective is to obtain some of it. My mouth is watering as I write this right now. It was a wonderful experience, and if I could go out and buy a rack of 24 right now, I would. (There are other Belgian beers that I haven’t seen much in America at this store, and I’m tempted to get some of those as well, but honestly every time I go back I’m probably just going to get distracted by the kriek).

Finally, we also watched a ridiculous Chinese movie on TV that we managed to understand thanks to its relatively simple plot and our basic Chinese knowledge. It was an action comedy, titled Mission Milano in English. I highly recommend this strange and amusing film to anyone who can find it with subtitles.

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Our spread – broccoli, a cucumber celery salad, scrambled eggs and tomatoes, and stir fried chicken and peppers, with the sweet, red bean or sesame dumplings for dessert.

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The kriek. I prefer Morte Subite myself, but Lindemans seems to be the only brand I can find outside of Europe, and any kriek is good kriek.

Day trip to Tianjin

This post is long overdue (over a week!) but procrastination is the best motivator to get personal projects done, so here it is.

Last Wednesday (2/1) CSI took us on a day trip to Tianjin, which is only about 30 minutes away by bullet train. I had a bit of an adventure getting to campus where I’d meet up with the group, as I missed my bus and had to take a different one than my usual. I’d heard this bus mentioned as being one I could take home, so I thought it would be fine – and for the most part it was, although it didn’t stop at the stop I get off at to go to school! So I got off at the stop before, because I’d planned enough time so that a little bit of walking wouldn’t set me back too much. This walking turned out to be a lot more than I expected, as I’m fairly certain I could have gotten off one stop closer (a stop that the bus I usually take skips), and at one point the sidewalk ended, with a fenced off area that pedestrians and bikes could use. As I’m still afraid of the bikes in Beijing, I decided to walk into this other area next to the road, a parking lot – also fenced off. There was a minute as the road turned away from the parking area that I thought I wouldn’t be able to get back to it, but I found a way and was quickly on my way again. Finally, instead of stopping at the East gate of Beida, I stopped at a smaller gate just before, and luckily caught my mistake before I had to go meet with the group. It was an adventure getting there, but I made it!

At the train station, we had to wait some time while the teachers bought our tickets, and I was starving from my morning adventure with no breakfast, so me and a couple other hungry students went to one of the fast food places that was open. Fast food being a very American phenomenon, it was a Burger King. It was probably the most American thing I could do, having a burger for breakfast, but it made me less focused on my hunger, and got me through the morning. I’ve never loved a burger with mustard on it so much (I don’t like mustard, but this burger was wonderful). I knew the trip was going to be short, but I was still shocked as we arrived in Tianjin so quickly. On the way I was able to teach a friend rummy, as she’d reminded me to bring my deck of cards, and we played a couple rounds, but didn’t have time for more.

First we went to the Porcelain House, a French style villa that’s been covered with 4,000 pieces of ancient porcelain, 200 pieces of jade carvings, 20 tons of crystal and agate, and millions of pieces of ceramic chips. It opened in 2007, and it was pretty astounding. It was very crowded, but quite a sight to see. My favorite part of the house was the mosaics on the inside walls, which were quite beautiful. Next, we went to Nanshi Food Street, and left with our pockets very empty but our stomachs very full. The Food Street was even more crowded than the Porcelain House, but it was wonderful to walk around and try lots of local snacks and foods. Unsurprisingly, my favorite was the baozi, although reading the name of the stands gave us a moment’s pause – 狗不理 (literally ‘dog ignore’). Although we knew that there was no dog in the baozi, we still didn’t know why the stands all had this name. This week a teacher explained to me (one good thing about procrastination, I have more insight about my experiences) that the name comes from the nickname that people gave to the people making the baozi, which is 狗 (dog), and the fact that the baozi were so popular that the vendors had no time to talk to any customers because they had to keep making them. Thus the name has nothing to do with actual dogs, and I don’t have to feel guilty about eating so many of them.

Finally we went to the Ancient Culture Street, filled with small shops selling a variety of things in the style of the Qing Dynasty. This was absolutely packed with people, and as we explored we had very little room or mobility to actually go into many shops, but I had a good time walking around. We got a few strange looks in particularly crowded areas where we formed a conga line to avoid getting lost, but we all had a good time walking around and staying together, taking selfies at every opportunity.

Finally, we returned to buy train tickets, and had a good time hanging out and taking pictures in a charming square on the river with a lot of European looking architecture. Some people said they felt like they were in Europe, but, having been in Europe, the buildings felt far too new, although I could see the inspiration. It was a beautiful place, and I’m really glad we got to be there! On the subway back, I got to talk to some of the non-immersion students, who I really don’t know very well because of my somewhat isolated situation, and I’m glad I got to spend this time with some new people as well as my friends.

One thing about this day was that there were lots of people taking pictures of us. I’ve always wondered how many other people’s photos I’m in, but this time there were times that we were taking a group photo and a stranger would come and take pictures of us as well. It was a little off putting, honestly. Some people tried to be sneaky about it – in Food Street I noticed one man taking pictures and cheekily stuck out my tongue, and then later noticed him on the other side of us. Others were less so, and one student added a man on WeChat because he was taking so many pictures of them. Someone remarked that this must be what the Kardashians feel like, and, while I don’t think it’s quite on that level, it is really quite strange. I don’t think I ever want to be famous – I know I’m beautiful but please ask me first before taking my picture!

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A selfie with the emperor in Porcelain House

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Food street as seen from above

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Jam packed Ancient Culture Street