A Fizztastic Easter

March 25, 2010

The posting on Time Out.

The Orchard
Sunday 4

Following the lunch buffet and photos with the Easter Bunny, promenade through the Orchard’s picturesque garden while the kids rummage for hundreds of eggs in a staggered-by-age hunt. Reward for the Golden Egg if found, though there is no shortage in prizes for everyone. Hegezhuang Village, Cuigezhuang Township, Shunyi district, located right behind the Beijing Riviera and Quanfa Gardens (010-64336270). 11:30-2pm. 220RMB adults; 100RMB for kids 5-12.

Hilton Beijing Wangfujing
Sunday 4

Hop to the Hilton for the bouncing castle, live bunnies, egg hunt with prizes, and kid-friendly brunch this Easter. Adult brunch includes champagne taittinger, Macanese tart, and sumptuous international delicacies. 8 Wangfujing Dong Lu, Dongcheng district (5812-8888). 368RMB plus surcharge includes free-flow champagne. Kids 6-12 are 50 percent off, and kids under six eat free.

Quirky travel: Michael Jackson Gallery at Ponte 16, Macau

The King of Pop’s magic continues to captivate fans despite his premature death last summer. To commemorate the the singer, casino-entertainment resort Ponte 16 recently opened Asia’s first ever Michael Jackson Gallery. The exhibit currenly showcases ten Jackson-related pieces, including his legendary white rhinestone glove (worn while showing off his trademark ‘moonwalk’ for the first time in 1983), and his ‘zombie’ suit from Thriller. For all MJ enthusiasts, this is it. Rachel Burger

The website version is here, but I didn’t write it. http://www.timeout.com/london/around-town/event/163422/michael-jackson-the-official-exhibition

26: A Local

February 26, 2010

Spring Festival is over, and things are starting to get back to normal. Campus is swelling with students as new programs are starting and it’s a little odd. Our program is used to being the only weiguoren (foreigners) at Beida, and we’re feeling territorial to the newly arrived. Back off Yale and Notre Dame students, these are our Beida de xuesheng.

Last night, I took James, a Tsinghua student who’s Chinese-American (originally from Hong Kong) around my hangout, Wudaokuo. After explaining the nuances of getting ½ off Lushburgers between 2-4AM, why to avoid the street vended meat sticks, and who the regulars are, he turned to me and said, “Damn. You’re pretty much a local aren’t you?”

The thing is, I’m not a local. I don’t cook my own food (can’t), I still take taxis (though I’ve started walking most distances), and I don’t know hardly enough Chinese to make it on my own (major understatement). But still, James’ words are flattering. Beijing and the people on the program feel like home right now. It will be really hard to leave in 65 days.

On a totally random note, TimeOut printed its first magazine since I’ve been there! I get to see the final copy early next week and be able to show off the articles that I wrote. Keep your heads up!

25: Happy Chinese New Year

February 19, 2010

From about four in the afternoon Saturday until now, there have been a constant display of fireworks exploding in the air and on the ground. The myth is that the fireworks and wearing red clothing scares away evil spirits (Nien in particular). To really experience the Chinese New Year, my program ventured out into the rural Chinese province, Shanxi.

Our first stop was Taiyuan, a “small” city with 3.4 million people, on New Years’ Eve. While we ate, drank, and were merry, I unfortunately succumbed to my first allergic reaction in China. While my friends went out and shot off fireworks, I turned in for the night and slept 11 hours while my body recovered.

Fortunately, there was much of the trip that was left. On New Years’ Day, we visited the Jinci Temple and the Qiao Family’s Compound. The thousand-year-old temple was absolutely breathtaking. After living in a world of buildings and steel and pavement, the gently falling snow and carefully placed trees and shrubbery had quite the effect on all in the program. The Qiao Family’s Compound did not have the same kick to it. After paying 400 kuai (58USD) for a meal for 11 (we got ripped off big time), the compound was little more than a few rooms and some painted dummies. I would definitely not return.

That night, we arrived in Pingyao, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Everyone was so kind there! When we got off the bus, we were greeted by a group of gawkers, demanding to help us with our luggage and take pictures. We had to walk a short distance (1/4 of a mile?) to get to the hotel because the bus wasn’t allowed within the city walls. Once we saw our rooms, we knew we were in real rural China.

My roommate, Soomi, and I shared a queen-sized bed, which really was a wood plank with a blanket over it, that took up 80% of the room. The bed left enough room to get to the bathroom and the shower (which dribbled instead of sprayed when turned on). The second night we were there, Soomi, Sandi, Shelle and I all had a sleepover in the bed. OH THE CUDDLES!

Exploring Pingyao was an enjoyable experience. Lauren, Arete, Soomi, Chris, and I made a group. Together, we thrusted weapons at each other, rode a taxi that was a motorcycle tacked on to a cart, explored an ancient temple and ancient wall, and closed out the day with a liondance and massage. Though we were exhausted by the end of the day, Pingyao comes highly recommended.

The Beijing subway system is fantastic. For the cost of ¥2 (less than 14 cents), one can buzz around Beijing faster than any other country in the world. Unfortunately, the well maintained lines that web the city can still take over an hour to travel (especially when going from Beida East Gate to Songiazhuang), so the government kindly fills the time with moral infomercials displayed on foot-long TVs that line the train.

Because the ads are in Chinese, I can only do my best to guess at what the commercials mean. The star is a little green frog that mischievously gets into trouble in various ways. For example: Mr. Frog got a coupon for new years to eat at a restaurant, so he gorges himself. He annoys the waitress and everyone around him, and then celebrates when he uses the coupon instead of paying himself. Full, he attempts to walk out the door… which he peels off with his oversized stomach. The moral? Don’t be a fatty.

Other morals are not so obvious. Mr. Frog falls in love with a girl and spirits interrupt their kiss. Both Mr. Frog and Ms. Frog are then turned into a spider. No kissing? Don’t be promiscuous? Beats me. Or Mr. Frog is out shooting discs with a friend and then takes out a real gun and accidentally shoots a bird. The dead bird’s friend gets upset and pecks Mr. Frog into oblivion. The moral: don’t become overzealous, or so it would seem to a foreigner.

I have yet to find a picture of Mr. Frog online, but he is a work of high art. He is a neon green circle with anime eyes and sloppy frog legs.

Off to watch a (pirated) version of Sherlock Holmes with the peeps!

23: TimeOut! At Work

February 2, 2010

Today is my first day in the busy office of TimeOut! Magazine. “Busy,” of course, is a drastic overstatement, as the westerner-geared mag released their latest issue just last week; most people took lazy half-days.

I, on the other hand, get no such break my first day. Upon entering the office, Adrian, my 30-something British supervisor who digs contemporary punk music and UK rap, immediately asked me what section I would like to work on.  I enthusiastically replied, “Music! It’s kind of my thing.” The senior editor smiled and said, “Good.” I am meeting Nancy Pellegrini, the editor of the music section, later on today (this is how I am finishing out my hour-long lunch break).

Though I won’t jump right in to expanding my Beijing music scene savoir-faire (though members of the staff have already recommended that I check out Pet Conspiracy, Hau Yun, and Bigger Bang), I do have other assignments. I have already been allocated a 100-word write up in the Shopping section. The article is called “Child’s Play,” where I review a toy that’s not just for kids; previous articles have been written about a kite shop, a remote-controlled helicopter, and where to buy Doraemon collectables. Though I can hardly say that I am an expert on the subject (I feel like my 40-something gizmo-inclined father would do a better job…), I feel like it’s a start. Oh, and my name will be attached to the article and printed with the magazine. Rolling Stone next?

The atmosphere of this place is super trendy. Nobody is wearing “work clothes” per say, but these early 30/20-somethings are definitely sporting chic blazers and skinny jeans to accent their youthful cool. The Pixies have been blasting since 11:00 this morning. Maybe… maybe I could work here after college.

Actually, speaking of after college, doesn’t this look like an amazing opportunity? I’m definitely going to apply and see where it gets me. The combination of international relations and music is, in Aaron’s words, my “wet dream.”

Readers, I sincerely apologize for not updating all week. I have been unimaginably busy playing the tourist and exploring the city.

Being here is a lot like summer camp. Though the Chinese Beida students have to take an English proficiency test to be admitted to the school, they are shy to test it with the international students. Likewise, most of the international students’ Chinese isn’t good enough to communicate well. This creates a group of 50 students who stick together a lot.

Hormones running high, people are already pairing off at a high rate. I haven’t seen my roommate in five days because she’s been sleeping “elsewhere,” and the gossip is worse than at my 900 women’s liberal arts college. You do something, everyone knows.

Though a few Beijingers have integrated into our group, most of our excursions lack a local’s know-how. Yesterday we ate at KFC (not recommended anywhere but especially not in China) because we didn’t realize that many restaurants are closed after 8:00PM on Saturdays. We also have found that there are chopsticks that you have to pay for, and others that you don’t; if the chopsticks come in a wrapped container that includes a disposable wet towel and toothpick, you have to pay ¥1-2 for it. Though $0.14 – 0.30 cents doesn’t seem like much, there is no reason to fork cash over for utensils. We ask to use the freebies.

There are so many pictures that I am itching to share! Saturday, we explored the Forbidden City. If you ever find yourself in Beijing, go, if not for the architecture or thousands of years-old history, for the gorgeous gardens. Beijing has so many buildings and so many thick layers of smog, it’s sometimes excruciatingly gray and devoid of wildlife. The gorgeous landscaping makes me wish that I could break in while it’s warmer so that I can study in the refreshing greenery.

I also went out to see everyone’s favorite live performer, Andrew Bird last night, who was accompanied by Mongolian indie folk band, Hanggai. The club, Yugong Yishan (Foolish Old Man) was dominated by expats and westerners. For the first time in three weeks, people could understand what I said and I they; it was both invigorating and unnerving at the same time. The concert was fantastic, though when Bird’s sound system blew out he lost all of his recordings and there was an awkward lull in the music. An American yelled out, “Made in China!” and the crowd laughed. The show went on.

“Made in China” does speak to what can be purchased here. Playboy is China’s favorite brand to spoof, and everyone from crotchety 90-year old men to infants wear the famous bunny. Despite the vast availability of Coach and other high-end knockoffs, the quality of these products is fundamentally lacking. Clothing bought last week at the world-famous Zoo Market is already unraveling, and Hepatitis A is a constant concern when buying from street vendors. Western quality is not something that the Chinese take into consideration, however they also manage to maintain a population of 1.4 billion (four times that of the States).

Tonight, I am going to an open mic performance at a local bar. It’s so wonderful to be able to enter these places without being haggled for an ID. Though alcohol is widely available in China, I’ve become somewhat disenchanted with the concept; I go to the bar for music, not to get wasted. It’s dangerous to be wasted in Beijing anyway. Speaking of getting wasted, we also have to watch out for alcohol counterfeits (or alcohol cut with methanol). So healthy!

Oh, I almost forgot! I have the MOST AMAZING INTERNSHIP EVER. Here’s the scoop on TimeOut:

  • I pick a section that I am most interested in. The options included Sports, Current Technology, Nightlife, Bars, etc. I chose music.
  • Though they don’t pay me, they reimburse me for going to shows and taking notes.
  • The office is run by a bunch of hunky well-dressed 20-something British guys (however, my boss might be a 30-something).
  • I get to write my own articles. They will get published.
  • Which means I get journalism experience, which isn’t that easy these days, especially for music journalism.
  • The best part: the marketing department wants my (okay, maybe not specifically “my” but “an intern’s”) help. Not only do I get journalism experience, but I also get to taste test what I might be doing for the next forty years of my life: I will get to help advertise for an international business in China.

Another post is on the way; stay tuned.

21: A Comment on Culture

January 25, 2010

Sitting in a local café, my Chinese teacher smiles at me coyly. “You put your napkin in your lap,” she politely points out. Confused, I replied, “Of course.” She shook her head, “Not many people do that here.”

There are a lot of things that Westerners do that the Chinese don’t. For instance, it’s strange to order drinks with any meal. There is a serious shortage of clean water in Beijing, so if you want any, you have to pay for the bottle. Also, the water is always warm to hot for sanitary purposes; I have yet to see anyone drink ice water. There are no napkins to be found except under glasses. People are expected to shlep around their own toilet paper. Squat toilets are everywhere.

Snot rockets and spitting are also commonplace, especially originating from taxi and bus drivers. After living here for eleven days, I can hardly blame them; the polluted air really does build up in the sinuses.

What surprises me is that Asians have a stereotype of being really quiet and reserved. This, at least in Beijing, is not the case. Maybe it’s because of the density of people, or the fast pace of city life, but any enclosed area is a few decibels above what I would expect in America.

The Chinese aren’t rude though; as stated in previous posts, they are very caring, helpful, and warm people; most of them are equally as friendly as my friends in the loving American south.

More to come.

Not thirty minutes from campus, there are several pizza and beer bars that greet the large international student population. Though I’ve learned to enjoy Chinese food more than American at this point, it was hard to turn down the offer for free pí jiǔ (beer) and pizza on Friday night. A local bar, Pyro, threw a welcome party for those of us in the China Studies Institute.

After several rounds of beer pong and shots courtesy of Josh, the owner of Pyro, most people wandered into Propaganda, the dance club that I mentioned previously. Because I was pretty much sober (I can only do so much drinking), I went with a group different than the norm to Lush. There, the chill setting and open mic inspired a friend to go back to his place, play some guitar, sing some indie, and chill together.

Unfortunately, things got messy on the way back. Though the taxi driver spoke English, he did not drop me off at Beida. Thinking I didn’t recognize the area because it was dark (there was a profound absence of streetlights), I, as someone who doesn’t speak or read Chinese and as a woman alone in the city, accidentally stranded myself somewhere in Beijing at 3:30AM.

Cursing, I attempted to chase down the taxi. After my pathetic sprint, I attempted to call and text my friends. The phone wouldn’t connect. I was utterly alone.

Obviously I’m still alive, so I’ll cut to the chase: I found a McDonalds, I found English-speaking university students, they walked me home (isn’t that incredible??). After trudging through the dirtiest city in the world in -7º weather, I safely lumbered into Shaoyen 5 at around 4:30.

This experience got me thinking about a number of things. Here are my following conclusions:

  • Beijing taxi drivers, beggars, and street vendors are more than happy to scam a westerner out of a buck.
  • Most university students speak some English. In fact, for Beida, it’s an admissions requirement.
  • The average Beijinger who can understand you will drop everything to help you. It’s amazing.

The student who walked me back’s name is Robin. He is studying computer science at Tsinghua University. He was also curtious enough to text me this morning wishing me well. I am definitely going to take him out to lunch at some point to repay his utter kindness!

19: Home Sick Cookies

January 22, 2010

Sugary, sweet, and covered in almonds and sesame seeds, the Laopobing pastries beckon towards me from four feet away. I tongue the roof of my mouth, their presence in the opened red box torturing my American palate. I am twenty, I am in Beijing, I am hungry, and I am deathly allergic to nuts and seeds.

The Qing Dynasty is credited with the creation of Laopobing cookies, and, according to Li Zhou, they have been popular ever since. She handed the red flowered box to me, beaming, unaware of my allergies, as a gift to greet me to her city. Carefully, I unwrapped the poisonous delicacies, dramatically widening my eyes and celebrating to ensure that my happiness broke through the language barrier. The soft skin around Zhou’s eyes crinkled as she smiled through her facemask. “Please, try one!” She motioned towards the box.

Nervously, I patted my stomach. Insulting the woman who dropped by to surprise me and had previously showed me around the city topped the list of “things I wouldn’t do even if threatened with a cheese-grater to the eyes.” As my hand glided over my abdomen, I tried “Full? Just ate? Had dinner?” Okay, so maybe it was four in the afternoon, but hopefully she would get the idea.

“You want try one? Delicious!” She pointed, obviously put off that I didn’t jump to taste her gift. In a pointless attempt, I offered “allergy?” forgetting the Chinese-English dictionary sitting under my desk. After staring at me blankly, Zhou pulled off her facemask and picked up a cookie. “See?” She said, holding a thick cookie cake covered in tiny white seeds to my face, “Special. You try.”

In the box, there are eight different stacks of cookies, separated in rows of four, each with five cookies (yeah, it’s a decently sized box). In the middle, there are four kinds of cookies with sesame seeds and almonds, and in the corners there are plain butter cookies. Or so they seam.

I motioned for Zhou to eat the one in her hand and went for a cookie in the corner. In all attempts at subtlety, I tried to brush the sesame seeds off the golden brown cookie, its shortbread consistency tempting at my taste buds. As Zhou looked me in the eyes and took a significant bite out of her pastry, she smiled to hint at the juicy inner syrup exploding in her mouth. I put the little cake up to my lips. I took a bite.

Instead of my esophagus messily splattering itself against the wall, I was taken home. Home, of course, being Atlanta, Washington DC, and New Hampshire, where my family and friends and familiarity all reside. The Chinese do not eat many sweets or pastries, but at home, dear God, I do. In its buttery sweetness, the cookie drove me to miss home for the first time since I’ve been here.

“Fantastic,” I finally sputtered, taken aback by my sudden vacation to the States. Zhou brushed her hands against her pants as she smiled, careful not to bare her teeth. She had done well.

I sit, staring, typing, hoping the box, the cookies, the urge for home will stop calling to me.

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