A Travellerspoint blog

September 1, Beijing

Back online again! (Sort of)

overcast 28 °C

Sorry it's been so long everyone! During my summer classes I was pretty busy and mostly doing day to day school stuff, but even though I've been on vacation for the last couple of weeks it's been hard to keep up.

The first major event that you've missed out on was my trip to Inner Mongolia (That is, the part of Mongolia that belongs to China), back in late July. That was lots of fun- it started with my first experience riding a Chinese sleeper train, which I thought was actually quite nice and comfortable. I actually love trains in general, plus the scenery was amazing and the beds were certainly more comfortable than anything I had in my boy scout days. I loved waking up early in the morning, looking out the windows as we rolled into the station, and packing my bag out into the new city- it was almost cinematic.

We went straight out of the train and onto a bus, which took us on a trip of several more hours to one of the famous Mongolian grasslands. There was a wind farm there, with those big white propeller windmills all around us and out into the distance as far as we could see, which was pretty far (Mongolia's not nearly as foggy as Beijing. ;) ). We went to a place that had a bunch of yurts set up for us to sleep in, ( amusingly, they were carpeted on the inside and had comfortable pillows and blankets set up.) It was a little touristy but still lots of fun, and there was a sort of big dance party with various kinds of performances on the night we were there.

Day two we were back on the bus, moving west. On the way we stopped at this sort of amusement-park-type-place that was on the edge of the desert, and I mean a serious, real-live Mongolian desert with plenty of big sand dunes, heat, and strong winds. The amazing thing about a desert is that it actually moves just like the ocean- If you stand at the top of a dune you can see a big sheet of sand being blown uphill and flying off the other side like the crest of a wave. While I was there I got the chance to ride a Mongolian horse and even gallop for a bit, which was one of my favorite parts of the trip

That night we stayed in IM's capital city. I forget what it's called, but our tour guide mentioned that last year it had a GDP higher than Hong Kong's, and it shows. On the outside the place was very rural and run down, with lots of dirt roads and poorly-maintained buildings, but on the inside it quickly became like a miniature Shanghai, full of brightly lit buildings and expensive cars. The hotel we slept in was literally the best I've seen in my life, I'm talking telephone-in-the-bathroom fancy, plus a water boiler and all the makings for a few pretty sweet cups of tea. (When I showed up I was still covered in sweat and sand from the desert, all in all very ready for a shower, so I was almost afraid to touch anything for fear of getting the place dirty!) At least in Inner Mongolia, the economy seems to be expanding.

Since the trip spanned four days and filled up our three-day weekend, I had plenty of schoolwork when I got back and that along with meeting new people, exploring Beijing, etc. prevented me from blogging about it until now. Look forward to hearing about some more recent stories and my new Chinese friends next time I write, but until then, zaijian!

P.S. I tried to post the above last night, but my internet subscription has just run out and I won't be able to restart it for another week. I may write several posts between now and then, but you'll probably have to wait to see them. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Posted by Tony China 21:39 Archived in China Comments (0)

Beijing, July 19'th

Local friends!

rain 24 °C

Whew! I just spent the last hour explaining to my Chinese tutor why the US supports Taiwan's independence, starting with the American revolution. (Mostly in Chinese!) Just three weeks out of the US and already I'm spreading peace and understanding throughout the globe. :P

My tutor, Zhou Qiong, (pronounced like "Joe Chyong") is a grad student in Chinese Lit at BNU, who meets with me for two hours a week so I can practice turning my usual incoherent blatherings into grammatically correct Chinese sentences. She's talkative, likes sports, speaks better-than-passable English and, most importantly, is patient enough to repeat a new word for me four or five times in three or four minutes. All in all I feel pretty lucky, as I wasn't able to get that kind of conversation practice in the states and that alone makes coming here worth the trip.

That's not all, In addition to Zhou Qiong I've made no less than _four_ local friends since arriving! As I've said before, Beijingers in general seem pretty friendly, though I'm starting to get the impression it's because I'm a white guy from California. (No joke! It's actually pretty obvious that my Asian-American classmates don't get the same treatment, which weirds me out sometimes.)

Talking to the locals has also brought the differences between education here and in the US into a new light for me. The students living on campus are on their summer break now, but when the school year starts they get _serious,_ by which I mean forty hours of class time a week, plus homework and occasional military training. When I told one of my friends I was accustomed to twelve or thirteen hours of class a week, I felt more keenly than ever the similarity between my own DNA and that of a potato.

On the bright side of all this, my language skills are improving exponentially and I'm having even more fun than I thought I would. I've even met more than one person in the elevator who said my Chinese wasn't bad, though they were probably just being nice. :P

Posted by Tony China 06:27 Archived in China Tagged living_abroad Comments (1)

Beijing, July 18'th

Delicious.

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As you may have noticed, I've given up on trying to document every day I'm here, I just don't have the time- don't worry though, it's mostly because I'm studying, so you're not missing out on too much exciting stuff.

Anyway, today's topic is FOOD! When I was planning for my stay over here, I was expecting a long, painful process of getting used to the various new tastes and chemicals present in Chinese food, but the reality of it is quite different.

I _love_ it. In the States I was a really picky eater, because I simply don't like the condiments and seasonings we put on most of the food (ketchup, salad dressing, table pepper). Here on the other hand, the food tends to be rice (or noodles), meat and a few vegetables adorned with some combination of soy sauce, spices, and MSG. I've discovered that this is really all I've ever wanted to eat.

That said, I've been trying everything and everything since I landed here. Not five hours after I left the airport I had my first bite of starfish.` A couple days later it was a fried scorpion,`` and not too long ago I ate a few pieces of cow intestine```. The most famous dish from Beijing is the kaoya, or roasted duck, which I've had at a couple of different places. I had duck once in the States and thought it was awesome, but here I wasn't particularly amazed by it, possibly just because my expectations were too high.

`Not worth it

``Tasted like a potato chip

```The first weird thing I've eaten here that actually looks and tastes much better than it sounds, but I still wouldn't want to eat too much of it.

The single most delicious thing I've eaten here was a few pieces of candied yam some friends and I had when we went to a kaoya place for a classmate's birthday. I can't say it tops the french beignet I had at Downtown Disney or the bacon-and-pineapple-burger I had last time I was in Hawaii, but it's definitely in the hall of fame for best-things-ever.

So, food here tastes really good, but I'm also a big fan of the style of presentation, that is to say, in the states when you go to a restaurant you get a bunch of food together on a plate for yourself, all organized and ready to eat. Here it's more often the case that a group of people will order a group of dishes that get placed in the middle of the table (if it's fancy there will be a turntable so you can spin whatever you want into arms reach), and everyone takes what they want in a sort of mini-buffet. Like I said I'm not as picky about eating here, but I do like the fact that if I don't like something I won't have it sitting there on my plate the whole meal. At lots of places you can even get something called huoguo or hot pot, which is literally a pot of boiling water along with some strips of meat, vegetables, and sauce that you combine for a sort of DIY soup!

The third great thing about eating in this country is the price. I'm afraid I'm going to hate buying food when I come home just because it will seem so drastically expensive! In general, a full meal will cost me less than two USD at most restaurants, slightly less than a dollar at the dining commons, and a little more than three if I decide to splurge and go to KFC.

All this talk about food reminds me that I haven't eaten breakfast yet, so I'm gonna head out for now. 'till next time everyone!

Posted by Tony China 18:16 Archived in China Tagged food Comments (0)

Beijing, July 12, 2010

Back to class...

overcast 26 °C

On Friday I had my first round of tests, which apparently are going to be weekly. I got an A in writing and a B in speaking though, so I'm off to a good start!

This weekend was relatively unexciting, compared to the first few days I was here. My only real accomplishment was buying a new phone.

My phone has been the single biggest hassle I've had to deal with. I flew over here with the idea that I'd be able to use the same phone I had in the states if I got a new SIM card, but that quickly went up in smoke. Turns out AT&T requires me to email them asking for an unlock code, then wait two days for them to process the request. I've done so, twice, with no response. It cost me $25 USD each time.

That left me infuriated for a few days, after which I simply went and bought a Chinese phone at an electronics store near campus. I've got it switched to English and so far it seems to be fine.

On the bright side, today I made a new Chinese friend! I was in the cafe on the second floor of my dorm building, eating some rice with some pretty hot peppers in it. I don't usually buy drinks there because they're really expensive, up to five times the standard street cost of a water or coke. Anyway, I couldn't make it through the meal without something to drink, so I ran up to my room for a water bottle and then came back. The place wasn't too busy, so one of the girls who works there saw me, made a comment about the food being hot and brought me a glass of ice water. I thanked her profusely, learned her name and ended up getting her to help me do my homework. Score! I'm pretty happy about it, since it looks like I'm going to be living in this building for the whole year and I'd like to be friends with the staff anyway.

Got to go now, but I still really want to talk about food, so I'll cover that next time!

Posted by Tony China 02:45 Archived in China Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

Beijing, July 11, 2010

I've already lost count of the days.

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Here in Beijing it's almost 11:00 am, which means it's only 8:00 pm back in the states! If you guys want to talk to me, you'll have to get on Skype.

I've now been at BNU for just over two weeks, and it already feels like home. The campus is relatively small and contains mostly square buildings made of red or gray brick, with a few patches of green trees or gardens and a couple of huge, impressive buildings that stand out above the rest. Basically, it fits right in with the rest of the city.

I live in a building called the Lanhui Gongyu, in which the fifth and seventh floors are specifically designated for UC students. My roommate and I share a room but have our own shower and bathroom, which is nice. Outside my window I have a view of some apartment buildings and tennis courts across the street, but I can't see too far because it's pretty foggy today.

The weather's a bit cooler now, since it's been raining on and off (REALLY raining!), but last week Beijing was the hottest it's ever been in sixty years! We had temperatures over a hundred degrees F, routinely.

Posted by Tony China 19:48 Archived in China Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

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