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27 October 2007 @ 10:05 am
October 18th, 19th, and 20th

The last couple of days have been really nice because we’ve just been hiking through nature and just enjoying being outside in clean air that isn’t permanently dusty. Two days ago we went to Hangzhou, and the primary activity was this park around a really large lake. We walked along this man-made road that spanned the breadth of the lake created when the poet Su Dongpo (or Su Shi, whatever you wanna call him) was governor of the area. There’s not much to describe verbally, just a nice sense of peace as we got to just walk along the lake and enjoy what we were seeing. We got to hike up this mountain near the lake where we got views of Hangzhou from varying heights, and then check out this cave where there was a Buddhist altar, perhaps one initially erected by monks a long time ago, but I can’t remember.

During the evening we tried to check out the night life in the area, and found this one bar called Cana’s, but even though it was a bar, it tried to be kind of like a disco by having a DJ and flashing lights, but it was so dark that I ended up getting too sleepy to stay out.

The next day was Moganshan, which was where we spent the entire day hiking up and down the mountain. What else can I say that people will actually find interesting beyond the fact that it was a mountain hike? Well, we did find this house and a separate villa where Chiang Kai-Shek lived and made deals, as well as some Green Gang bosses like Du Yuesheng. Pretty much anyone who was someone during the revolution came to Moganshan at some point. According to Fei Laoshi, most of the stuff at Moganshan that was man-made dated only as far back as the beginning of the 20th century.

That night, we came back to the Hotel, and apparently, despite the fact that Fei Laoshi and Zhu laoshi had discussed with them that we were going to eat dinner at the restaurant there earlier, they had either already shut down or were going to shut down the kitchen, so they started it back up just for us, and the stuff we ate was pretty good. Apparently around the Moganshan area the big thing is cooking with bamboo, which I can’t say is all that spectacular, but it was an interesting thing to try at least. After dinner, I just felt terribly tired, so I ended up in bed by about 10, the earliest I think I’ve gone to sleep in China since getting over jetlag. I guess the combination of bus-riding and hiking got to me.

This morning we were a little late getting out of our hotel because they were late with getting our laundry back to us that we had checked in yesterday. They don’t usually have a laundry service, but arranged to have our clothes taken to a nearby place to get it washed, and Fei laoshi hand-wrote and copied makeshift forms for us to write down what kind of items of clothing we had so they could keep track of it. They STILL, however, managed to completely mix up our laundry, so after waiting to actually get it we had to sort through it, and a lot of it was still wet and smelled weird. Not the best start to the day.

We made our way to Shaoxing, and apparently Fei laoshi had gotten kind of sick in Moganshan, so he kind of left it up to Zhu laoshi and Carey to lead the activities for today. We arrived at the hotel almost exactly at noon. Lunch was up to us to get on our own, and I almost felt tempted to join some other people to actually eat at KFC just because I was really hungry, even though the thought made me feel kind of dirty. Luckily I found a group who wanted to wander around and find local stuff, so I joined them, and after a bit of wandering, found this place called “Happy Kitchen” that was a fast-food-type place, but at least it was CHINESE fast food. You could really tell the difference between Chinese and American tastes in the ratio of meat-to-starches in a fast food combo meal. The stuff I got was small on meat, but had a LOT of rice, making it clear that the rice was the main attraction (the Chinese usually refer to the starch, like rice or noodles or whatever, as the 主食 zhushi, or “important food”), so that was a neat cultural experience in itself.

Our activity for the afternoon was visiting the old house of Lu Xun, a Chinese author during the early 20th century who really helped pioneer Chinese novel-writing. Some of his trademark pieces were “Diary of a Madman,” “Diary of Miss Sophie (or was it Sophia?)” and some other shorter stories. The surrounding area has been made a pretty big tourist attraction, although it’s a tourist attraction for CHINESE people, so we were pretty much the only white people there.

Oh yeah, that reminds me, when we were in the elevator of the hotel after checking in, it was me, some other guys, and this one dude who’s over 6 feet and used to be a football player, and as soon as he got in, the old Chinese guys behind us started talking about how he was as tall as Yao Ming, which was almost exactly what happened when we were in an elevator together in Shanghai and there were some old Chinese women behind us. It’s always something like “Wow, he’s just like Yao Ming!” “Isn’t Yao Ming taller?” etc, etc.

So the Lu Xun house is kind of like the Hemingway house in Key West or the Thomas Edison house, it’s just somebody’s house, but there are some things kind of museum-ized in it to give you an insight into the conditions he had growing up and what kind of things influenced his outlook on life and how he developed as an author. Since we didn’t have Fei Laoshi to guide us, I had to just ask Zhu laoshi questions and try to read some of the explanations in Chinese myself (there was not very much written in English). I actually found a tour group of Japanese people inside the Lu Xun Memorial Hall and listened in on THEIR tour guide, and managed to actually understand a good deal about how he went to Japan to continue studying and his disillusionment with the Chinese people and stuff.

One thing that was kind of inescapable in the area was the smell of 臭豆腐 chou doufu,literally “smelly tofu,” which is kind of a specialty around these parts which we ate a little before in Hangzhou, and is also apparently eaten regularly in Taiwan. It’s tofu that’s fermented, and it tastes much better than it smells, although apparently the Taiwanese version is even better than what we had in Hangzhou, according to some of the Taiwanese people in our group.

Our last stop on this trip was the Xian Xiang inn, which was apparently this place that Lu Xun himself visited quite frequently and ended up writing one of his short stories about, famous for it’s rice wine. We went in there basically for a chance to try out the wine. We went into this central courtyard area, and Zhu laoshi bought three smallish bowls, one for each table of us, and some spoons for us all to try. It was kind of interesting because what she brought us was dark, not what I expect when I think of “rice wine.” It looked like soy sauce, and when I tasted it, it kind of tasted like soy sauce mixed with sake. Not the best flavor, but apparently I was the only one who didn’t find it completely putrid. For the sake of not wasting it since nobody wanted to try beyond the second spoonful, I ended up drinking two bowls of it straight. I think within minutes I started feeling a buzz, but nothing too serious.

We went back to the hotel, I uploaded photos while Marcus napped, then we had dinner. There are several KTV (karaoke) parlors around this place, but for some reason, I am the ONLY person interested in doing any karaoke, drunk or sober, and it makes me really sad.
27 October 2007 @ 09:54 am
October 16th and 17th

Sorry I didn’t make an entry for yesterday, I was just mad tired by the time I got back to my room after everything and didn’t feel like it.

These past two days have been venturing outside of Shanghai, and coming back in the evening, so there’s been long bus rides back and forth punctuating the activities. Yesterday we went to Suzhou, about two hours away, and visited the 留园 liu yuan, or lingering garden. It was this really beautiful place that kind of reminded me of some of the gardens in Kinkakuji and some other temples in Southern Japan. There’s not really much to describe other than there being lots of plants and flowers, but they were all arranged in such splendid manners it was really nice to just stroll through and take in the scenery. There was a lot of different rock formations spread throughout the garden, including a few of these really tall natural pillars of rock place in the middle of some flower gardens. There was actually a Bonsai garden inside this area, too, and I learned that the Chinese word for Bonsai is pen jing 盆景, literally “potted scenery,” as opposed to just using the Chinese pronunciations of the Japanese kanji for it, 盆栽, and I don’t really know what the “sai” is supposed to mean. I ended up taking a lot of crazy artsy pictures because I keep looking at some area and going “hey, this looks like a good picture.” Back when it was first made, it must have been the perfect place for poets and painters to come and just absorb the surroundings for inspiration.

We went to lunch at this place where the specialty was steamed dumplings, which definitely made me happy. I think I could gorge myself on dumplings and xiao long bao with no complaint. I think I’ve developed this reputation among the group for being a pretty ravenous eater who will also eat pretty much anything, which is a badge I proudly wear.

After lunch we headed to Tiger Hill, which kind of reminded me of Nikko a little bit with some of the waterfall-type places, but also had lots of bamboo growing around. As we went in we happened to catch this show they were putting on with a dragon dance, kung fu, and, of course, acrobats. We can’t seem to escape acrobats. I was glad to see the dragon dance, though, I’m surprised we haven’t had one other occasion yet where we’ve seen a dragon or lion dance.

The big focus of that area was 云岩寺 yu yan si, this tower that Professor Field called the “Leaning Tower of China,” which it essentially is, although on a smaller scale. It’s this tower that’s at a tilt because one side of it sunk into the soil. We got to go in and look around the bottom floor, but couldn’t go upstairs.

After that we walked through this area with some bamboo groves, small water falls, a tea garden, it was the kind stuff I wish I could just spend all day just walking through and relaxing in. We found this outdoor pavilion that was putting on Cantonese Opera, so now I can say I’ve been exposed to more than one kind of Chinese Opera while I’m here.

We came back near the entrance and decided to all take rides in these small boats that travel along the canal surrounding the area. It was charming, it was the kind of boat there the guy stands in the back and and propels the boat by moving the oar left and right, so the boat rocks left and right steadily, it was kind of like being rocked to sleep, although it made Stefani kind of seasick.

We left after that, and after getting back to Shanghai, we actually couldn’t find a restaurant to fit all of us, so we went into this mall that had a really awesome food court in the first floor and Fei Laoshi gave us some money to buy whatever we wanted. I found this place that had a rather appetizing bowl of lamb noodles, so I partook. After getting back to the hotel, I really didn’t do much. I didn’t feel like going out or doing much else.

Today the activity was going to 朱家角Zhujiajiao, this small town-cum-tourist attraction, that seemed mostly to have vendors selling trinkets, food, and turtles and/or crabs. However, they DID have a KFC, showing the true sign of civilization. This wasn’t anything big, except we finally got to see some Buddhist temples, which we really haven’t seen very much of which I found strange considering how much of the Japan LSA was going to see temples and shrines. As we were wandering through, this guy says “Hello!” to me in English, and waves me in, and gives me some sticks of incense and lets me light them, then tells me to kneel before this statue of Buddha, and rings a bell and tells me to bow, so I do, then he fishes this envelope out of a box full of them, and ushers me over to this desk where the guy opens what’s in the envelope, a fortune, and starts explaining it to me in Chinese, stopping every few seconds to ask “Do you understand?” I think I actually did understand a good deal of it, picking up important words like my luck being high and me being very honest, mostly very good stuff it seemed, except I think he said “be careful about your parents.” That seemed to be the only thing not good. Then he pulled out this book with paper on it and asked me to write my name and where I was from, plus a donation. I originally was just gonna put a few kuai in the box, but the other names on the paper showed 300 or 400, and the guy looked at my handful of kuai and was like “Nope.” I figured why argue, it’s donating to a temple, so I put in 100 kuai. I mean, I got my fortune, and this gold-plated thingy with a picture of the Buddha on it which looked nice, so it’s not too much of a bad thing. It was just funny how quickly that happened and how quickly I was out 100 kuai. Oh well, I didn’t buy anything else there, anyway.

We passed by this other temple where people were making these paper houses that Zhu laoshi explained were for the souls of the dead to live in, since apparently Chinese people believe that souls all go to this world under the ground, so placing these houses on the ground gives them places to go. There were also nuns marching around this statue of the Buddha chanting the name of Amithaba, the great Buddha. It’s the first time I actually saw Buddhists doing anything at a Buddhist temple while I was there.

We managed to find a restaurant big enough for us right in the middle of where we were, which was convenient, and we had more xiao long bao. Since it’s Marcus’s birthday, we also ordered noodles for him, because of that Chinese custom as well.

After lunch we headed back to Shanghai, since it’s our last evening here before we move on, we have the afternoon/evening to ourselves. Carey, some other students and myself went to the park to toss a Frisbee around, and I finally got a hang of that forward-hand throwing technique all the ultimate Frisbee players do. While we were playing this little kid decided to just interject himself and start throwing with us, it was pretty cute, and he got the hang of throwing it pretty well for obviously his first time. It’s kind of funny how wherever we are, if we’re throwing a Frisbee, we always attract a crowd because NOBODY in China plays Frisbee! It’s like some kind of awesome spectacle when they see these waiguoren throwing around this flying disk.

I was just thinking how I miss the Green and tossing on it. I can’t believe how long it’s been since I’ve been at Dartmouth, and how much longer it’s gonna be before I’m back. That’s the thing about college, you actually WANT to be at school. I just realize that now since I’m taking classes beyond the second-year level on this FSP, they’re counting towards my major and giving me more room in my schedule to fit in more stuff. I think I might take a classical Chinese class Spring term when I get back since I wasn’t able to fit one in with my previous schedule.

We’re waiting a while for Joe Houston, one of Marcus’s friends who went on the summer FSP and is doing an internship in Shanghai, to get here so we can all go out to dinner for some Thai food for his birthday. Right now I’m watching this sitcom in Shanghainese but with subtitles so I’m understanding a surprising amount. I’m surprised by how literate I am already. It’s also kind of funny to listen to the Shanghainese and read along with the subtitles to try and pinpoint the sound differences between the two. I’m really going to enjoy linguistics when I can learn to even better trace patterns like that in changes between parent languages and dialects.
27 October 2007 @ 09:40 am
October 15, 2007

The breakfast buffet at this hotel is amazing. They had a lot of the breakfast foods I had been missing from western cuisine, like sausage, French toast, bacon, etc. They also had a selection of eastern foods as well, like noodles and xiao long bao. I think the part I enjoyed the most was the donuts, though. I have such a sweet tooth it’s ridiculous, but it definitely brought my mood up for the day.

Today’s primary activity was visiting the Shanghai Art Museum (yesterday’s was the Shanghai HISTORICAL Museum), which is, according to Fei laoshi, the best art museum in China, and I’d be hard pressed to disagree just because of the awesome job this museum does, despite not having seen any others. The building is multi-floored, kind of like a “shopping mall of art” as Fei laoshi puts it, and arts of similar nature are all group together. The displays are all really nicely designed as well, and very high-tech. The special attraction was this display of works on loan from El Museo Del Prado in Madrid, which was mostly Renaissance and Baroque art, but where we started and spent most of the time was on the first floor looking at ancient Zhou dynasty bronzes and sculptures.

What struck me a lot about the bronzes and pottery from the early periods like the Shang and Xia was the use of animal totem imagery and spiral patterns really struck a strong resemblance to North and South American native art. Some of the bronzes look like they could have fit in with Inca or Mayan art without too much of a stretch. Fei laoshi suggested this was because the Chinese and the Native Americans were actually related and thus carried some of the same tribal customs early on, but I definitely have to read up on that.

Everyone kind of scattered quickly throughout the museum, but I spent a lot of time looking at the bronzes, Ming and Qing ceramics, and some Buddhist sculpture from the Tang that was all on the first floor, we only had a couple of hours in there and I didn’t have enough time to browse the calligraphy and other stuff at my own leisure, or even to get up to the fourth floor. I took a quick look through the Prado paintings, just for the sake of seeing it, and it was nice, kind of surprising to see some rather famous European works of art in China of all places.

Afterwards, we bussed it over to the “Yu Garden” which we found out wasn’t really a garden, but a humongous shopping plaza all done out in Chinese-looking architecture. The place apparently dates back to the Ming, but the facades have been redone several times, most recently in the 80’s. There were vendors all over the place, it was huge, and mind-blowing, a lot more elaborate than a place like Panjiayuar. People every few feet would approach you asking if you wanted to buy a watch or DVDs. “YOUWANNAWATCH?” is basically the Shanghai equivalent of “AISSUHWATURRBEEYAR.” There were a ridiculous amount of people walking around, Chinese and foreigners alike, it was like some kind of medieval market place in that respect, just with the hustle and bustle and sound of the vendors trying to get you to buy their crap.

We had lunch in this place right in the middle of it all, where we finally had some baozi, which I was hungering for since quite a while ago. I was also introduced to this lovely kind of flaky meat pastry that’s a local Shanghai thing.

We toured the shopping area for an hour after lunch, and we didn’t look around at all the places we wanted to because we spent a while at this little stand where we could get poems made out of our names. The guy would take the characters of your name, and use each character to start each line of a 4-line poem. I gave him my name and he used the character 名 to fill in the fourth line, and made this poem up that apparently deals with Guan Gong bringing luck and being righteous and stuff. It looks pretty and has my Chinese name on it, and it’s framed, so it’s a nice souvenir. When talking with this guy who was writing the poem, I decided, for the hell of it, to use the southern Chinese accent when talking to him, replacing “zhi,” “chi,” and “shi,” with “zi,” “ci,” and “si.” He didn’t comment about it, but I was just doing it for myself, I guess, to have fun. I ended up doing the same thing again with the taxi driver home later in the evening and the other guys in the car thought I was just being weird.

On the way out, I saw this stand selling Gameboy games that included fake versions of Pokemon, like a “Naranja Version,” (“Naranja” is Spanish for orange), and “Arco Iris (rainbow)” version, and a “Chaos Black” version. Usually those games are just crude hacks of other games with Pokemon sprites oddly pasted in, so I wonder which ones those were.

After all that we came back to the hotel, and by that point the food and the walking around did make me feel sufficiently ready for a nap, which Marcus and I did verily partake in. We got back up to get out for the next activity, which was dinner and acrobats, and my mood wasn’t too fantastic, as it not usually is after just getting up. This seemed to be the common thing as people were generally complaining about not being hungry enough for dinner yet and having to see acrobats AGAIN *sigh,* kind of sinking my mood down. But we went to this rather fancy place right across from the theater where the acrobats were, and were fed more delicious Shanghainese food which lifted my mood immediately. Southern Chinese food, in general, just seems to be even more colorful than Beijing food is. There’s a more diverse array of vegetables and other ingredients served, and a wider spectrum of flavors. Salty, sweet, spicy, sour, bitter, it’s all there. Shanghainese food definitely does not bore the palate, I will say that. Then again, everybody realizes I like whatever food it is I’m eating, so nobody trusts my opinion anymore.

The acrobats, though, were definitely more intense than what we saw in Beijing. In Beijing they pulled out crazy stunts, but some of the ones they did here were just beyond BEYOND insane. I can’t even begin to describe them. I just love acrobat shows. I could watch them pretty often and not get bored. I always watch and just want to be able to do that. I think one of the things I like about doing pro wrestling is the acrobatic aspect of it, especially when you’re a smaller wrestler. It’s fun to fly, and do crazy flips.

After that we went back to the Hotel, then some classmates, and I hung outside by the park just chilling and drinking beer and talking, it was pretty relaxing. After a bit we got joined by some other people and went bar hopping a bit, where we chilled and watched snooker on TV, which is apparently this crazy British variation on billiards. I wasn’t out too long. We went to another bar and sat down, then I decided to head back to the hotel on my own, and on the way back I was approached by a prostitute! Whoo, first time I can ever say that has happened to me. Jeez. Never would I have imagined a night in my life involving bar-hopping and getting approached by a prostitute a couple of years ago. Interesting.

Now it’s time for me to go to bed and rest up, since tomorrow we’re heading to Suzhou!
27 October 2007 @ 09:06 am
October 14, 2007

So, today contains yet another story of me failing at life in some way that you will find funny.

Got up today around 9, just in time to get breakfast at the complementary (at least complementary as in being on Dartmouth’s tab) buffet thingy that lasted until 10. Then, somehow, Marcus and I ended up back in the room sleeping until 1:40-ish. I didn’t realize I was that tired given how I didn’t go to sleep that late last night, and got good sleep on the train the night before. Oh well. When I woke up I had kind of a headache, and I have no idea why. It kind of ruined my mood for most of the day and made me kind of antisocial and quiet until I got some more food, sun, and Diet Coke in me.

Our big activity for today was taking a walking tour of the nearby area of Shanghai where we could see a few 里弄堂/石庫門 lilongtang/shikumen housing compounds, which are just basically long alleyways with a bunch of different houses lumped together, people living very close with each other. We found a couple that were abandoned and either being torn down or possibly remodeled somehow for the sake of historical significance, but we also found plenty with people still living in them. It was quite an interesting sight. It was very…hmmm…rustic, maybe? Seeing children play in the little roadways together and all the laundry hung out on clotheslines in the street, old men playing xiangqi right near the entrance…it was a sight that really screamed out “THIS IS CHINA” to me. Old people were hanging out on their porches just seeing what was going on with all the waiguoren looking around their place, the kids were coming up to us, it was really quite a sight.

Fei laoshi was interested by the children and talked to them a little bit, and then told us he asked them why they were all speaking in Mandarin instead of Shanghainese, and apparently one of the children responded that “this is a civilized place, so we all speak Mandarin,” and Fei laoshi remarked that that kid was probably a future Party member.

We got to just enjoy walking down the streets of Shanghai, which is pretty nice in itself. It’s nice to not always notice this heavy cloud of haze hanging over you, and see the sun, and see lots of green-space. We went into this local bookshop that was apparently supposed to be kind of a famous spot in Shanghai, and then went to the Ruijin Hotel, which used to be owned by this pretty wealthy European magnate who had this whole ridiculously huge space of land to himself.

We passed through this large park that was right in front of a currently pretty active night club, definitely European style that had a lot of roses and carnations, and people doing all sorts of different dances out in the park, most of them being some style of ballroom dancing.

Fei laoshi multiple times had to deal with guards refusing to let us in. First was when he tried to get us in to some place, I forgot even what it was supposed to be, but when he went in he tried to talk to the guard, and tried pulling the whole “agree with the guard, but keep walking in anyway,” trick, which was funny to watch, and the guard started to physically hold him as he was talking to him. So that failed. The other time was when we walked in front of this Hotel right in front of the house where Mao Zedong’s wife lived when she was planning out some big developments for the party. The guard came out and started waving us off but then he explained that he was just lecturing some students and they actually backed off.

The tour ended with a glimpse of Sun Yat-Sen’s house. It’s a tourist attraction that actually has certain business hours, and we came right as we were ending, so we just got to look at the outside while Fei Laoshi told us a little bit about what he did there. All I remember was me asking him how you get “Yat Sen” in Cantonese out of “Zhongshan,” which is what he’s always called in Mandarin, but apparently his birth name was “Yixian,” which explains his Cantonese name, and that “Zhongshan” is his honorific posthumous name.

After that, we were free to wander around the city on our own, plus 100 kuai for us to spend on dinner. Sam, Stefani, and I decided to wander around the area and we actually found this Cantonese restaurant in a nearby department store building. I had been dying for Cantonese food since I knew we were going to Shanghai, and was glad to find some, although it wasn’t dim-sum type Cantonese food, more fancy stuff, but what we ordered was pretty good, and within the budget we were given.

We wandered a bit more until we came across this building with a demo video for a shooting range. We looked and asked where it was, and it was on the seventh floor of the building right in front of us. Sam says to me “Man, you want to feel like you have a pair of balls, fire a gun a few times.” So we go in, and at first we accidentally run into a pretty stacked video arcade a floor above which made me miss the Japanese game centers, but then we found it.

Here comes the story of how the foreigners get hosed out of money.

Outside they had these little cards that showed some special offer that, from what we were able to read, was 20 kuai for a “da,” which was a character meaning to hit or strike. We weren’t sure what one “da” was, but we figured that wouldn’t be too hideous a price. So we go in, and the guy at the front desk is like “Okay, here you pick what gun you want, and then you go in, talk with the guys inside, and then you pay afterwards.” We were like “Okay,” I chose a basic hand pistol, and Sam chose a rifle of some sort. We go in there, they set up the target, give us ear-covers, load up the gun, show us how to hold it, and we could just go at it. Sam had experience with rifles before, but this was my first experience ever firing a gun. It was okay, nothing special. My gun kept jamming up for some reason and the guy actually had to give me a new one so I wouldn’t have to keep re-cocking it over and over. I guess maybe since I got a smaller one, the feel of the recoil wasn’t all too exhilarating, but it was fun. I, obviously was kind of a shitty shot, and couldn’t really tell where my bullets were hitting, but somehow managed to hit the target. Any time I ran a clip out, the guy would just put in a new clip, so I didn’t want this to run up too much, and Stefani wasn’t shooting, so I didn’t want to make her wait, so after 3 or 4 clips I stopped and said “I’m done.” Sam finished not too long after.

So we go to the front desk, and he adds up our thing, and tells us it’s 1600. One thousand six-hundred Yuan. Pretty quickly we figure out that it was 20 Yuan a bullet. We ask what it would be if they separated Sam and my things, and mine came up to only about 200-something, and his came up to the remaining amount. I guess rifle bullets are just that much more expensive. I had enough money on hand to pay for my stuff, but Sam didn’t, so I decided to be a bro and be like “Okay, I’ll get this with my credit card.” I ask “can I use my credit card?” and the guy’s like “Yeah, Visa’s okay!” So I give him my Visa credit card, he swipes it, then after a bit of waiting, it comes up as not working. I figure, okay, maybe that’s the one not meant to work in China, so I give him the American express one. He swipes it, it doesn’t work. I start to get worried here. I give him my Citibank card, that doesn’t work. So Sam starts trying HIS credit cards. None of them work. Stefani tries HERS, it doesn’t work. The guy starts telling us how maybe our American credit cards maybe don’t work in China, but I knew that was BS since they worked fine in Beijing.

I was really worried what the hell we were gonna do, and so we asked where the nearest ATM was. He said right outside the building, so he accompanies me to the ATM, I guess for fear of me just bailing and not paying, and watches me as I perform the transaction. I first put in my American express card, which is what I used to make a successful withdrawal in Beijing before I left, but for some reason that didn’t work, whether I tried to make a withdrawal out of my credit or checking account. I am nearly shitting my pants here, so I decided to try my Visa, put in my PIN, put in the amount of 1600 kuai, and nervously watch the screen go blank for a few seconds as the machine whirrs and grinds, then finally the money pops out, and I am relieved. I gave the dude his money and walked back up to the 7th floor to fetch the other guys, so we could leave.

They decided after that…adventure…that they would go back to the hotel, and if they felt like going out later, they would. I kinda wanted to go out wandering with Sam some more, but we ended up just watching Superman Returns on HBO in his room. That ended at about 11, and since we have to actually get up in the morning to do stuff, I decided to just go straight to bed.

Well, at least I have the cool-looking shot-up target to show for my first shooting range experience. How many people in the world get to say they’ve been to a shooting range in Shanghai, let alone been to a shooting range in Shanghai and almost not paid?
26 October 2007 @ 09:57 pm
Hey everyone, I'm back in Beijing. Like I anticipated, I didn't have a terrible amount of internet access while in places other than Shanghai. I mean, some places had internet, but it wasn't wireless, and for some reason my computer just won't work properly with ethernet (I'll try and fix that eventually), but don't fret, I did keep a journal while I was on this trip, so my first job will be to catch you all up. Let's begin!

Sat. October 13, 2007

When we first got out of the station, I couldn’t help but notice how bad that area of the city smelled, even worse than Beijing. It was like ass-plus-ass kind of smell, but luckily when we got farther away from the station that went away quickly.

Shanghai for some reason reminds me of Roppongi in Tokyo, and not just because of the concentration of sketchy foreigners. The juxtaposition of green-space with tall highways just immediately brought to mind that time Kate, Joe, Jae, some others I can’t remember clearly, and I, were wandering around Roppongi trying to find a restaurant (or something else, I forgot what) and we saw this place with a bunch of trees in the middle of all the roads. Shanghai gives me a vibe a lot closer to Tokyo in general, just with the assortment of variegated architecture and tall buildings and the greater density of it all instead of Beijing where most buildings look the same and the taller ones are spread farther apart. The lack of a hovering gray haze is nice, too. There were some really neat-looking buildings seen on the bus ride to the hotel, lots of spires and towers of interesting shapes.

Fei laoshi called attention to the fact that there were a lot of art-deco style buildings in the area, and that made me feel kind of proud since that’s kind of a trademark style in Miami, or at least there’s enough of it near the beach that it seems that way. I really need to go back home an explore Miami like I’m doing now in Asia, there’s so much about it I haven’t really seen. Then again, I need a car to fully do that.

Our hotel is awesoooome. Four stars, apparently, and the room Marcus and I got is huuuuge. Lots of open space between the bed and the desk/TV it’s kind of ridiculous. The TV here gets MTV and HBO, as well as the Japanese station NHK. I haven’t fully explored the TV here. The beds are SOFT, my GOD. I guess I really learn to appreciate western luxuries while I’m here.

I already put in my blog the stuff about “Keven’s” (that’s how they spell it), that Western restaurant we went to. Not bad, just expensive. I ended up eating two people’s leftover fries and half of another’s hamburger since she didn’t want it. I guess I was that hungry from not eating a proper breakfast and dinner the night before.

When we went to the Bund, we got to see this view of all the big buildings along the other side of the Huangpu river, and they were all of such varying shapes and colors it looked like a panel out of a comic book, it was ridiculous. Then we got to take a pedestrian tunnel UNDERNEATH the river, and we got to get on this ride that, I guess, is part of the tunnel but looks like a ride at Epcot, and takes you through this tunnel with a trippy light show. So weird, but fun.

I wish I had remembered the exact name of that museum, but it was pretty fun. There were lots of visually stimulating stuff, and not that much text to bother with, either. Fei Laoshi called it a “house of nostalgia,” though, and said it offered a bit of a biased positive view of old Shanghai and omitted the majority of the poverty and corruption, but oh well, Yasukuni taught me that museums are not the 100% truth.

We went back to our rooms to rest a bit for dinner. Dinner was really good, though, we went to this Hainanese restaurant and had some delicious stuff, some was spicy, some was not, and there was a good deal of vegetarian-friendly stuff, though.

Dinner kind of segued into us going out, since people had started drinking at the restaurant (cheap beer seems to be a constant for Shanghai or Beijing restaurants). I had two glasses of beer, and that ended my alcohol consumption for the entire night.

We went to an Irish pub whose name I didn’t catch that had a live guitar player. It was chock full of old foreigners, and the drinks were kind of pricy, so I just bought a Diet Coke to look like I was buying stuff and not get hassled and just hung out with everybody else for a short while before we all decided to head to this club called “Windows,” which is much more geared to younger people.

Yeah, so we went there and got to the dance floor, and it was still kind of early, so nobody was dancing yet, except one of my classmates and I started busting a move here and there. Eventually, more people started dancing, but because I got an early start, and was going at kind of an intense pace, I kind of tired myself out. The classmate and I actually got into kind of a dance-off, only the thing is he has a lot of actual MOVES, like some really cool pop-and-lock stuff, and I only have just one set motion. It was fun, though.

I was sitting down, resting a little bit, when Fei laoshi pointed me over to where another classmate was sitting, with three other girls talking, and told me to interact a bit since “my Chinese is good.” So I went over there and engaged them in some conversation, and found out they were all from Shanghai and in their 20’s already, and come to the club every weekend just to drink and chat. One of them was studying Japanese, so somehow the conversation turned tri-lingual, English, Chinese, and Japanese, with two of my classmates, both drunk by this point, watching on and laughing whenever I switched to Japanese.

One of the classmates, somehow, in the course of the night, broke two chairs, although they were kind of flimsy to being with, I guess. Fei laoshi came over and was like “You know if you break another one, they’re gonna kick you out.” The classmate also saw someone pull out a cigarette and actually reached over to some random table for their lighter and kind of pissed one girl off, but nothing bad happened out of it and I apologized for him. I just found that funny.

When the second classmate came over and introduced himself, he introduced himself as “Toby,” which was NOT his real name, so when they asked my name, I decided to assume another identity and say my name was Cesar and that I was born in Spain, for the hell of it. It was kind of fun to live under another identity for those couple of minutes. One of them asked for my MSN screen-name, and I gave it to them. I guess if they do end up contacting me, I’ll break it to them I’m not really Cesar after all. They’d have an easier time believing my name was Cesar than Angel, anyway.
13 October 2007 @ 06:42 pm
Whooo, I am now in Shanghai, the city that in English is a synonym for deceiving or tricking someone.

We left last night from Beijing, and I will say the Beijing train station is quite impressive, but kind of scary since everyone's kind of pushing and yelling to make sure they get to their train on time. We got separated into some different cars, so we weren't all able to hang out during the trip. We had a "hard sleeper" car, which is one of the less expensive options for sleeper trains, where each car has several rows top, middle, and bottom bunks. I got a middle bunk, and actually wasn't that interested in hanging out, and settled into my bunk kind of quickly. I slipped out some reading material and relaxed on my bed, then fell asleep not too long afterwards. I slept pretty hard and deep on the train, except for a few instances with people talking kind of loudly in what must have been Korean or some other dialect of Chinese a couple rows over, but like in a lot of situations, I had little problem falling asleep, unlike Stefani, whom apparently didn't sleep at all, poor thing.

We arrived in Shanghai at about 9-something in the morning, and checked into our hotel, the Hengshan Bingguan, with little event.

We got a chance to rest a little bit, and I went with some other students to this western cuisine restaurant right across the street which wasn't too bad, but it cost 48 kuai for the lunch special. I've been told things in Shanghai typically are more expensive in Beijing anyway, so I shouldn't be too surprised. It's still less than 7 bucks US.

Our activity for the afternoon was checking out the Bund, this collection of buildings along the Huangpu river that have a distinctly Western flavor in their design and structures. We punctuated that with a visit to this museum in the base of one of the larger buildings that's kind of a trademark of the Shanghai skyline. I kind of wish I remembered the names. The museum was pretty reminiscent of the Edo-Tokyo Hakubutsukan in the abundance of life-sized replicas of old-style houses and shops, and the small light-up models and stuff. Sorry if I'm skimping on the details, but I'm updating from a friend's computer right now as I'm having continued difficulty connecting my laptop to ethernet connections. Oh well.

After dinner tonight, Professor Field is going to take some of us out to explore some of Shanghai's night life, which is his academic specialty, so that should be pretty fun, being able to check out some clubs and stuff. I think I'm going to try and keep some written entries in the future in case I can't update the computer blog often enough.
12 October 2007 @ 09:36 am
Okay, I just finished my last test for another two weeks, as tonight we're leaving for a tour of Shanghair and other places in the Southeast of China, so I figure I'll take this little break before I have to go back to class to answer some questions asked in comments on my past entries:

-The name of the kid I'm tutoring is Tian Ruyi. I accidentally wrote it as Ru Tianyi in one of the last entries because there's another guy in our group whose Chinese name is Du Tianyi, even though everyone calls him Tommy. I just got a little confused, okay? Maybe I'll just refer to him as "Roy" from hereon in.

-Chinese chess, or "xiangqi" as it's called, is kind of similar to western Chess, in that there are different pieces assigned different roles (like the "knight," "rook," etc. in western Chess, there's the "horse," "cart," "elephant," etc.) and each can move in certain patterns across the board, but naturally there are different nuances in the game and how it's played. I actually saw a cheap set sold in this little store near my dorm that I might get for the hell of it instead of looking for a fancy one at Panjiayuan or something.

For more detail: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xiangqi

And no, I have not found anyone playing Chinese checkers as Americans know it. I have no idea if that game is actually Chinese at all, anyway. I guess maybe I haven't gone out looking for it since I saw old guys in the street playing xiangqi and went to the weiqi parlor specifically for weiqi, but even at Panjiayuan I didn't see anybody selling a gameboard for "Chinese checkers" or anything similar.

-The "less disciplined lifestyle" question...I think the only thing about how I'm living right now being "less disciplined" than it was in Japan is the fact that I don't have to worry about coming home later than a certain time or keeping the air conditioner on. Like I mentioned a lot, my homestay family was really chill and I didn't have to worry about too much beyond courtesy, and Masako had no qualms about doing my laundry and changing my sheets, so here I need to be MORE disciplined in a sense to do my own laundry regularly. And like I've also mentioned, I spend a LOT more time studying here than I did in Japan, and I have to if I want to survive, and everyone else realizes that, too, so I've been able to deal pretty effectively with any possible distractions of always being around classmates. On the flip side, I've also been able to go out with classmates more leisurely because of not having to worry about the time or coming home and making noise. Even though I lived a "more disciplined" life in Japan, I still think I had a pretty good balance of work to play, and if anything here it's shifted even more in the "work" direction. But, I am managing, and at least to compensate, we get two weeks in Southern China instead of just one week touring Kansai, so it should be even better.
09 October 2007 @ 02:13 pm
This is the last week before Shanghai and thus the last week of Chinese 31 and the first half of the term. I'm not so sure though whether this week is supposed to be part of 31 or 32, though, because last week we finished the first textbook and this week started using the new "higher level" volume of the same textbook, and Shang-laoshi (the teacher for third-year whose name I have not up until now mentioned previously) already had our grades for the first "term" written down and told them to anyone who asked. I was wondering how my grade would get computed since I spent two weeks in second year, and Shang-laoshi just told me she averaged the grades in from those two weeks in just like if I had been in third-year. Oh well. My grade is a 95, if anyone cares, even though I had an unfair advantage. Marcus likes comparing people whom he sees as having an unfair advantage to Danny Almonte, the guy who got in trouble for playing little league when he was already 14 years old. He likes using this a lot for the native speakers in the group, especially the one who was born in Taiwan but is in second-year because she's not as literate and only knows traditional characters, as opposed to the simplified characters used on the mainland as instituted by the government in the 50's. The second-year textbook at least has the text written in both sets, whereas the third-year only has simplified. It's kind of annoying to me as well because a lot of the character forms used in Japanese are the same as traditional Chinese, although there are some that are like the simplified ones, and then there are some that are the Japanese-only simplified version, then there are others that will differ in maybe ONE stroke, and those are the MOST ANNOYING. For example, the character meaning "black."

Chinese way: 黑
Japanese way: 黒

AAAAAH! Those two dots became one continuous stroke. This was especially bothersome when I took Japanese and Chinese at the same time Spring term, and had to remember which way to write it was appropriate to what languages when taking a test in each class.

Another student from the third-year class dropped down to second-year. We had one drop down when I jumped up, but this one was one-way. Now that leaves me and three others who weren't born in China and/or native speakers of Mandarin (the Danny Almontes, so to speak), and one of the other three is Korean, which is full of Chinese cognates. I kind of find it a nice testament to my perseverance. Third-year is definitely going to get harder now that we've moved up to the next text book, which has a LOT more new vocabulary per chapter, plus all of the characters we don't know that are thrown in but not in the new vocabulary list. Then again, we've slowed it down to 3 chapters a week out of the book instead of 4, so it balances out.

Beijing taxi drivers are really fun to talk to, especially once they know you speak Chinese and can speak it decent enough to hold a conversation. Usually a conversation starts when I get in a taxi with "Whoah, your Chinese is really good, especially for a foreigner. Where are you from?" and then it progresses from there. Usually I tell them I'm from America, and then there's some discussion of America and China. Like this week one taxi ride we had this whole discussion where I told the guy people in America think China is going to be just as powerful as America eventually, and we talked about all the development in Beijing and how it's because the labor is cheap because the population is so huge, then somehow I mentioned going to Japan and we talked about how polite Japanese people are. He asked me if everyone in America speaks English and I explained how there are many immigrants so that even though English is the official language, there are a lot of different languages spoken in the US, using Miami as an example with how many people speak Spanish. It was a rather lively conversation, and taxi drivers are always a real good challenge for practicing one's listening skills because their accent is a LOT thicker than usual Beijing people for some reason, don't ask me why, so you have to pay more attention to understand what they're saying.

I don't know if I mentioned this before, but on the way to the Wan Xiao Li concert a couple of weeks ago, we happened to be in a cab where the driver started singing a bunch of Beijing opera songs he memorized from going so often when he was young. He was pretty good at singing them, but it was just surreal how he was singing them for the whole trip, without very much provocation, either. I mean, usually the idea of the driver loudly singing native songs while driving you around is the romanticized (or horrified) fantasy of people before they visit a country, but it seems freakish when it's actually happening. I couldn't help but smile and just prod him along. It was the most entertaining cab ride of my life, I felt so happy afterwards just from interacting with that taxi driver.

The Beijing/northern accent is kind of interesting in itself, even that spoken by non-taxi-driver people. The big trademark of the Beijing accent is adding an "r" sound at the end of certain nouns and adjectives or if a word ends in "n", replacing it with an "r." For example, the standard way to say "over there" would be "nei bian," but a Beijing person would say "nei biar." A park is a "gong yuan" technically, but a "gong yuar" to a Beijing person. When I was taking first-year at Dartmouth, we had a drill instructor winter term who was actually from Beijing. He said some sentence that ended in the word for restaurant, which he pronounced as "can guar." The person who had to repeat it (who himself was a native Cantonese speaker from New York and was not a big fan of the "r" sound) repeated it as "can guan," and although that was technically correct, he admonished "in Beijing there will be no can guan, only can guar."

The funny this was, at Dartmouth, since a lot of the Chinese people I hung out with were either born in the South or had Southern-born parents, they would think the Northern accent we were taught in class sounded funny, so I kind of forced myself into the habit of eliminating some "r" sounds when speaking, like the question word "where," I would say "nali," like a southerner would say instead of "nar," like a Beijing person. However, HERE, EVERYBODY throws r's everywhere so I've gotten myself back into the habit of saying "nar." Sometimes some of the teachers throw out r's I didn't know you could. The word for a character or letter in Chinese is "zi," but the assistant teacher for second-year, the first day of class I believe, threw out the word "ZAR" and totally blew my mind.

Beijing people often slur words together, too, which I've kind of picked up with some words, specifically, the phrase meaning "how much money is this?" Technically, it's supposed to be "duo shao qian?" but if you simply say "duoarr qian?" you will be perfectly understood. Same goes for "I don't know," which should be "bu zhi dao," but is perfectly understood when said as "brrdao."

My girlfriend was born in Harbin, which is in what used to be Manchuria, and apparently THEY throw in a lot of r's, too, for example, I asked her what her favorite dish was, and she said it was this stir-fried julienned potato dish called "tu dou SIR." Not quite sure how to type that, it was only after some internet searching did I find out it's supposed to be written as "tu dou si."

Speaking of my girlfriend, she's actually now in Beijing. Her dad was going to come here for a business trip and since she's taking this term off from classes, she decided to come along. I got to have dinner with her and her father yesterday, actually, at a nearby restaurant, and it was the first time I had ever really had a personal encounter with a girlfriend's parent (at least while I was still dating her), so I was kind of nervous. It actually went pretty well, though. I was nervous about being carefully scrutinized by the conservative Asian father, but I think my being able to engage a lot of the conversation in Chinese helped break the ice. At the very least he doesn't dislike me, so we can work from there. She's gonna be here until late November so even though I'll be in Shanghai for the next two weeks (and still updating the blog, don't worry), we'll have some time to spend together after I come back.

I've been seeing Fumio, one of the Japanese guys I met a while back, a lot around campus randomly. I got his cell phone number, so I'll probably end up having lunch with him at some point, which will be fun to practice and keep my Japanese fresh. He's like the reverse Wang Jun. I just hope I can schedule him in among class, homework, Chang Quan, and the girlfriend. Much busier than Japan was, MUCH busier. Then again, it's a lot easier for me to take naps here, so it all has it's trade-offs.
05 October 2007 @ 07:41 am
Agh, it's almost been a whole week since my last entry?!? It's only getting worse and worse.

Okay, so I finally remembered the name of the little kid I'm tutoring after his lesson this week. His mom's surname is Ru, like I knew before, and his full name is Tian Ruyi. He's actually a pretty good learner and isn't annoying and hyperactive like an American kid his age might be. It's kind of astonishing how on-task he stays, although of course he'll get distracted and fidget, but hey, I'm 19-years-old and I do that myself.

This week he just started learning some names of animals, and his mom gave me these flash cards he uses in school that has the name of different objects and stuff, including the animals, for me to use. I decided to create an exercise that would help him practice number and animal names, and the fact that in English there's such a thing as the plural form that means you have to add an "S" sound at the end of some words when you have more than one. He seemed to get the hang of that basic principle, except when we got to words like "face" and "case" where you have to add an "es" sound. Then I we got to "foot" which I had to explain to him completely flew in the face of all those rules and became "feet." If I were him, I would definitely think that was rather retarded, but he didn't make any such remark. He at least got the basic idea of "s" at the end of words down. The rest we can work on later.

What's kinda funny is when he forgets a word that I ask him, he'll sometimes randomly through in another English word he remembers, hoping that it might be correct. The specific example of this is when I was reviewing the numbers one through ten with him, having him recite them as I point to them, he would give such sequences as "One...two...three...foot!" or "Four...five...duck!" If I remember how I thought at that age, he probably does it partly just to get me to smile and laugh, which I oblige. For some reason the numbers 8, 9, and 10 are hardest to remember for him, even though he remembers 7 so well because of that TV show he watched (or video game, I forgot what).

I was writing down the number symbols and the spelled-out words for 1 through 10 for him, and he caught the fact that I cross my 7's (to not confuse them with my 1's, a habit I think I picked up in 10th-grade math class), and he asked me "what does this line mean?" I had to then tell him how people draw number symbols in all sorts of different ways, like the numbers 1 and 4. I wrote 4 for him the way with the top two strokes not connected, and the one like it appears typed, and he pointed to that one and asked me some question that all I caught was "Isn't this..." and some words I didn't understand. I guess the advantage of Chinese is that at least all the characters usually have one set, canonical way of writing them, and it must be confusing to the learner of English of all these permutations of letters and numbers permissible when writing by hand.

His mom wanted me to give him an English name, so at the end of this week's lesson, I decided to think of one. I decided to kind of use the same method Professor Blader used for giving us Chinese surnames, finding one that kind of sounds like our actual one (My roommate's last name is Gadson, so he got "Gan," another one's last name is Borland, so he got "Bai," Kell into "Kang," Andrews into "An," etc. etc.), and decided if he's named Ruyi, why not go with Roy. It's kind of an uncommon name, and less of a cliche American young kid name like "Billy" or "Timmy" or something. He and his mom both liked the sound of it, so it might stick. That would be pretty cool if he keeps using that into adulthood, all because of me.

It was kind of funny that earlier in the lesson we were going over introducing ourselves, saying "I am..." but I hadn't given him his English name yet, so he would say "I am Tian Ruyi." I told him in English-speaking countries, you say your family name LAST, so you would say "I am Ruyi Tian." He looked at me and laughed and said in Chinese "I'm not Ruyi Tian, I'm Tian Ruyi." If I felt like being more verbose (NOOOO) I would go into all the psychosocial implications of that sentence but I'll just leave it at how I guess that reflects how social constructions affect our identity and how we view ourselves. This kid KNOWS he's Ru Tianyi, because that's what his mom calls him and that's how everyone names himself, so he thinks it's silly to name oneself in any other way.

Then I got pizzaid my 80 kuai...and blew it all that night. Stefanie and Marcus wanted to try a Thai restaurant, and we picked this one called "To Serve The People" in Sanlitun, near the bar district. It was apparently voted "Best Thai Restaurant in Beijing" by some magazine, and frankly...eh. It was mad expensive by Beijing standards, a lot of dishes costing upwards of sixty kuai, including this dish I got that was some prawns and noodle-type dish. It wasn't bad, just not that amazing tasting, considering I could get a bowl of Sichuan noodles that had much more in it for a fraction of the price at Chengdu Xiaochi. That, plus the taxi ride, really made me think it wasn't worth it. I mean, it wasn't a BAD food experience, it just did not live up to the hype or price. I guess I'm also not quite fed up with Chinese food yet, like some other people seem to be. I still feel like I haven't gotten a full sampler of what authentic Chinese food is like despite having easy access to it. To be fair, we do get a good sampling every Friday at Chinese language table, but I still want more.

I am kind of surprised by the amount of students who already seem kind of burnt out on China or otherwise unwilling to assimilate. Maybe the amount of work is frying them out to hard, or something, I don't know. Some are going to McDonald's quite often to eat and it kind of disappoints me. I dunno, I'm a unique case, I just do whatever it takes to enjoy myself in any situation and try to assimilate as best as possible, and it just boggles my mind when I don't see other people reacting similarly. Such is my plight.

Fei laoshi finally heard some of the complaints of students about the pace being intense and not having a lot of time to do stuff on our own, so he decided this week to cancel our Wednesday and Saturday activities and give us time to ourselves, so this week has been pretty chill, and passed by amazingly fast. On Tuesday I got a weight workout in, which made me happy and less guilty, and the rest of the time has been spent either chilling out or studying.

It's pretty amazing how different the atmosphere of this FSP is from the LSA. In Japan, when we got done with class, it would take just as much effort to go home as it would be to travel somewhere else in the city to explore, so people were much more likely to do that. Here, our dorm is a five-minute walk from class, so people (me included) usually like to nap after class gets out. Also, it's hilarious how little time I spent studying in Japan compared to how much I study here. Then again, jumping a year doesn't help, but when you have to learn new characters for every lesson instead of just learning words, it does heap on a lot of study time. Also, being in the dorm instead of a host family has really brought back the feeling of being in "college" and being more in control of what I myself am doing. I can worry less about being out late or keeping the air conditioning on, I don't have to worry about stepping on anybody's toes besides my roommate, and he's pretty chill anyway. However, not being constantly in a situation where I have to speak the native language does take away from the whole "Whoah, I'm in CHINA" feeling. When you're just chilling in your dorm room doing whatever you want, it's more like "Eh, yeah, I'm in my dorm room, and I happen to be in China."

THen again, we DO have guaranteed exploring opportunities every weekend, which takes away from the stress of having to figure out shit on our own, plus the two-week trip to Shanghai will be really really awesome.

I am really surprised at myself how well I've already adapted to using and speaking Chinese. It's only been four weeks and I almost feel like I'm as comfortable with Chinese as I was with Japanese by the end of the LSA. Every time we have Chinese language table, I'm usually the one doing most of the talking, and I make mistakes, but I can fix myself, and can go pretty fluently. I guess the grammar thing (i.e. there being a lot less of it) is a big factor into it. I dunno. We'll see how this carries out as there's a lot of FSP left to take care of. All I can say so far is that I'm not having any difficulty so far. Then again, I have all the advantages of it being Fall (so less heat to fatigue me), knowledge of Japanese (for familiarity with characters), experience studying abroad already, so I can't say I have the same perspective as some of the other participants on the trip.
30 September 2007 @ 04:35 pm
Sorry guys for being so lazy about this blog now. I will tell you one thing, this FSP is more loaded with activities than the Japan LSA was by FAR. It's kind of wearing thin on some of the students already, to deal with activities on top of studying and adjusting to the environment psychologically and physiologically.

I seem to be enduring things pretty well, though, for a while I thought my body was invincible just because I wasn't getting sick despite everyone else seeming to be. But then this weekend I kind of developed a stuffy nose, cough, and sore throat, so I guess it was a matter of time. But it's minor, nothing debilitating, so as long as I keep a positive attitude I'll recover quickly. I'm REALLY surprised I haven't gotten diarrhea, especially since I've been eating what everyone else has been for the most part, and with far less hesitation. I guess it is a combination of attitude and overall constitution. Mind over matter, baby!

So Friday I took my first test at the third-year level, and I can say with confidence I did well. Obviously I didn't ace it like I would the second-year tests, but I didn't get overwhelmed and was able to handle stuff pretty well. Now that I know how the tests are in form and application I can do even better next time. But yeah, after the first week at third year I'm not regretting the jump at all.

Wednesday I began my first paid job outside of pro wrestling, tutoring this little six-year-old kid whose name I've already forgotten. I'm so horrible with names. Well, I know his mom's surname is Ru, and she herself never actually introduced herself by name anyway, I had to ask Zhu laoshi for it. She herself only referred to herself as "Zhu laoshi's comrade." Anyway, this kid only started learning English, so I got to see his textbook and basically spend an hour going over basic stuff like "Good morning," "sit down," and "my ears can hear." Apparently the English "h" sound is kind of hard for Chinese people since the Chinese "h" is more guttural. I said the word "hear" and he repeated it back to me like "shear." He couldn't quite grasp it. I ended up using a lot of the Chinese vocabulary I learned from drill class first year, like "say it again," and "repeat after me" and "almost!" Brett saw me in the lobby of Xinsong giving this kind his lesson and thought it was a pretty funny sight. I saw his textbook hadn't taught him the English words for the numbers one through ten, so I decided to add that as a supplementary thing, counting on my fingers as I said them all aloud. What was funny was that he already knew the word for "seven." I asked him why and he said he saw some TV show that had "7" in the title and asked what it had meant before.

So yeah, I got 80 kuai out of the deal, which is a pretty handy amount of spending cash in China.

Friday evening Fei laoshi took us to see a folk music concert at this pretty fancy club called the Star Live. He had been talking about this folk musician Wan Xiao Li, who apparently is pretty famous, and he played some of his songs for us in class. He managed to get the tickets for this concert on Dartmouth's tab, so we all got to go. Wan kind of has the Bob Dylan thing going where he doesn't sing that melodically and kind of half-talks/half-sings his songs, but he's a very skilled guitar player and his overall performance is quite engaging. The problem was he kind of started off the first half of the concert with a lot of slower, kind of soporific stuff so a lot of people kind of got tired (not to mention that a lot of people were already unpleased with the fact that they had their Friday night taken up by a scheduled activity) and asked Fei laoshi to let them leave early. I was actually the only student who stayed the whole time, just because I really didn't have anything better to do and enjoyed the music and the atmosphere of the concert. The funny thing was that he really saved a lot of the stuff we heard in class and were familiar with for later on in the concert after everyone else had left. Oh well. I hope people don't misinterpret my staying the whole time as some attempt to curry favor with Fei laoshi, although he definitely was pleased about it.

Saturday, the next day, we got to see those world-famous sites of Beijing: Tiananmen square and the forbidden city. Tiananmen was decked out in a bunch of Olympic-related decor, naturally, and Chairman Mao's portrait looked as smiling and bloated as it does on TV. Feo laoshi told us how the building of Chairman Mao's memorial hall broke the feng shui in the original design of imperial Beijing, interrupting the straight North-South line between the Forbidden City and...something else that I forgot. Also, apparently the memorial hall was partly inspired by the Lincoln Memorial, as Mao saw himself the Lincoln-like liberator of the Chinese people.

We actually had this hired specialized tour guide takes us throughout the forbidden city and show us through all of the different halls and buildings, telling us what they were all used for and how the accommodated the varying extravagances of all the emperors. What really caught my eye was the fact that after passing a certain point in the compound, the signs labeling the halls and gates were all written in both Chinese and Manchurian, since the last imperial dynasty, the Qing, were Manchus. The rest of it was mostly a visual spectacle better described in photos I have yet to upload. What was really awesome was climbing up Jing Shan 景山, better known as "Coal Hill" in English, where you could look upon the whole forbidden city and as far as the Drum Tower. I was kind of struck by the irony that the hill itself was a giant mound piled on top of the burial place of the last Mongol emperor to keep the Mongol's "qi," or energy, from returning, but it was also the place where the last Han Chinese emperor hung himself due to the uprising that brought on the Manchu dynasty.

Today, however, was, what I think, a far more intense cultural experience. Carey and some other students were going to this market called 潘家园 Pan Jia Yuan, and I decided if I stayed in I wasn't going to spend that much time studying anyway, so I went along. This was an AMAZINGLY HUGE outdoor market, seriously something right out of imperial China but with contemporary wares, off the third ring road (if I remember correctly). We just wandered around with one rule in mind: Everything is worth less than they tell you, and it must be haggled down. Since I had a cell phone, I actually ended up kind of wandering off on my own, and just started looking around. It was pretty funny how much stuff they had, from jewelry and pottery to switch-blade knives and comic books. Every stand wanted to get your attention, and if you were white they would exercise their English vocabulary to the fullest extent, which usually spans the phrases "SIR!" "HALLO!" "You like?" and maybe "SIR, YOU LOOK!" I think the only thing missing was "AISSUHWATERBEER!"

My first attempt at haggling was kind of unsuccessful, because I lowballed a little TOO low. I saw this really nice Chinese chess set, and this guy said it cost 900 kuai. I told him "I'll give you 50" and he replied "You're joking!" and then HE walked away. Oh well.

I did find that working the "poor student" angle, and showing that you have a good command of Chinese makes it easier to haggled. This woman wanted 100 kuai for a Chinese edition of Romance of the Three Kingdoms, and I started flipping through it and reading passages out loud, which impressed her. But then I heard the price and started walking away, and she was like "How much can you give?" I told her "To tell you the truth, I don't have more than 30 kuai to give (a bald-faced lie)," and she was like "Okay, you're a student, I'll give it to you for that." Score.

I ended up in total getting myself that, these kind of old-looking picture-books that looked pretty cool to me, and I ended up getting for 80 kuai (which may sound expensive, but again, I'd probably get the same thing for no less than 10 USD anyway in America), and some things I actually bought with American money because some stands before asked me if the price I was offering was USD or RMB, and I figured if I could get stuff and not use up my RMB so quickly, whatever. However, the 20's I had with me were the latest ones with crazy colors colors and shiny bits on it, so I was glad my Chinese was good enough to explain why it was like that and where to look to see it's real. And yes, dad, I have enough left to use in airports on the way back, don't worry.

So yeah, I got myself and some others a few souvenirs already, and got a good chance at practicing my Chinese. Another funny incident: I was passing by this one guy who kept trying to get me to look at his stuff by whistling, so I just looked him in the eyes and said in Chinese "I'm NOT a dog!" and he just shut up. Waiguoren 1, Grungy market seller 0.