Wednesday, July 24, 2013

KFC, Bartering and Google China

When I first met Dr. Jing in his office, he told me about an annual trip where he takes students to China for study abroad. I thought for a while about going to China; but after discussing with my parents, I felt it would be a great opportunity to study Chinese at a prestigious university and to experience Chinese culture.

Although I can hear and speak at least some Chinese, I don't consider myself to be totally fluent. I am not much better at reading and writing characters either. My desire to further improve my Chinese was one of the reasons I chose the study abroad trip to China.

On Tuesday, Dr. Luo invited us to dinner at KFC. As we walked approximately a mile to the KFC, I jokingly thought to myself what Colonel Harland Sanders has in store for us.

After crossing several busy intersections, which involved many automobiles, pedestrians, and bicyclists, we had reached the KFC.

The KFC inside was very busy, and we nearly had some trouble finding a place to sit.

As I looked at the menu, the first thing I saw was not a bucket of the Colonel's chicken (although I later found it on the right side of the menu) but several sandwiches of which I have never heard before. Also the side menu contained some items that no one can probably find in any KFC in the States such as black fungus and fish ball soup, even though the mashed potatoes still exist.

Because I wanted to try something that I may never have a chance to eat again, I chose the new shrimp burger, the black fungus, and milk tea, all of which are very low prices.

I speculated that the shrimp burger would have chicken, based on the picture I saw, or at least have the Colonel's eleven original herbs and spices. As soon as I got my meal, I was intrigued on how my meal looked slightly small. Although the food was a little different, I enjoyed every bit of my meal. Perhaps the Colonel did place his original recipe in my shrimp burger.

After finishing the meal, my friends Andy, Ed, and Jackie wanted to get some pizza to eat. So we walked to the Pizza Hut, which was right next door to the KFC. A Pizza Hut employee that stood near the door of the Pizza Hut talked to us in Chinese. After listening to what he was saying, I tried to relay to my friends that the employee said they are very busy.

I responded as best as I could in Chinese that we wanted to take out. He pointed his finger up as if he was motioning us to go upstairs. We all walked upstairs, where a waitress gave us a menu. I was amazed at how the menu showed so many choices – more than what a typical Pizza Hut back in the States would offer. We soon left the Pizza Hut without getting anything.

While we walked back towards the Global Village, I was eating in the sights and sounds of Beijing and taking pictures of things of interest until I found an intriguing sight.

“Andy! Look to your right! It's your favorite company!”

Sure enough, it was the headquarters of Google China. Originally, I thought that Google China headquarters was closed, and that they took their business to Hong Kong. Perhaps I was wrong. We took some pictures of the Google China sign. Andy and I tried to go inside and take a tour, but security wouldn’t let us in. It was great for us to see the famous American search giant in China. We continued to walk on until we saw a table with some artifacts.

I saw some Buddha statues for sale. I noticed an object that looked somewhat like a maraca. I asked the seller what is it. She picked it up and shook the object in a circular motion in which a piece of string spun in the air. She, along with a female assistant, put their hands together like praying hands, and bowed. I realized that it must be used for religious purposes.

As for Andy and Ed, they bartered with the seller on buying stone elephant dolls. Ed only wanted one for 60 RMB, but the seller reduced the price to 100 RMB for two elephants. Finally, Ed paid for the elephants.

Adventurous Flight from JFK to Beijing International Airport

After arriving at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, I was ready for takeoff into a country where people speak very little English. After passing through security, I waved good-bye to my parents, who were able to see by the food court. As I boarded the plane with my other classmates, I noticed that each seat had a touch screen computer. The most helpful software allowed me to view a map of our current location as well as view information such as plane speed and outside temperature. During the entire flight, I watched Skyfall, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, and some of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, but I also kept referring to the map to see where we were.

At first, I thought the plane would travel through the Pacific Ocean to get to Beijing. To my surprise, we flew north towards the Arctic Ocean. I wondered if I could have been able to see polar bears. Unfortunately, I did not get a window seat. The whole flight itself seemed monotonous, which was interrupted by the air stewardess either offering us drinks or telling the passengers in both Chinese and English to buckle our seat belts due to turbulence. We had gotten dinner and breakfast on the plane, which was delicious.

By the time our plane landed in Beijing, I noticed it was evening.

As soon as we stepped out of the plane and into the terminal of Beijing International Airport, I anticipated some culture shock. I had originally thought that everything would all be in Chinese. I was 99% correct, except I noticed that some signs had English words along with the Chinese characters. Even the announcer in the airport train we took spoke in both Chinese and English. Another thing I noticed was that the terminal felt rather humid with hardly any air conditioning.

I had noticed that the air outside was smoggy. When I saw a lady wear a surgical mask, I was afraid that the air might not be safe to breathe once we went outside the airport. However, breathing the air did not feel so bad, but the humidity made me sweat.

Arriving at the Global Village

We arrived by bus at the Zhongguanyuan Global Village, which is a Peking University dormitory built to accommodate international students. At the front desk, we were each given a key card, our Peking University ID cards, and an information packet containing a schedule of events and maps of Peking University and Beijing. While I was at the front desk, I noticed a vending machine that gives out drinks; but it would only accept RMB and not debit cards.

When I tried to search for my room, I was confused by the last digit of my room number. Once I opened the door, I saw three doors and one bathroom. I realized that behind each of the three doors is a one-person bedroom with a dresser cabinet, a desk, a telephone, an air conditioner with a remote control, a bed, and an electric pot for boiling water.

I tried to set my air conditioner to cool my room, but I had some difficulty with reading the characters on the remote control. I did recognize the character 睡 from the characters 睡觉 (shuìjiào), meaning “sleep”. I turned on that setting and a moon icon appeared on the remote control. I assumed the AC would run on low power. Afterwards, I unpacked some of stuff from my luggage and later went right to bed, since tomorrow would be a big day.

First Chinese Breakfast

The next morning, I got up early to wait for Dr. Luo and the others to meet near the front desk of Global Village. Once we all got together, Jocelyn, a Chinese-American archeology student who met us at the airport, guided us through the East Gate of Peking University and took us into a place to eat a Chinese breakfast before we head for the placement test.

The breakfast was the first meal I ate in China. One of the foods I ate was bāozi, a steamed white bun filled with meat and/or vegetables. I also drank a bowl of soup, of which I was not sure what it was. Rather than eat the soup with a spoon, I drank it from the bowl.

First day of class

The day after orientation, I had walked with my friends to Lee Shau Kee Building 2 for our first day of class. We have two two-hour classes. I was sent to a classroom where none of my other Bloomsburg University classmates would be in since I was in one of the intermediate classes. As I walked into my classroom, I was a little nervous. I wondered, who will my classmates be? What would the teacher think of me?

At 8 a.m., our 口语 (kǒuyǔ) professor started class. Even though she also speaks English and a little Spanish besides Chinese, she spoke in Chinese for the entire class period. Fortunately, I can hear most of what she was saying. She asked us to introduce ourselves by saying our Chinese names, country of origin, and what place we like to travel – all in Chinese. When it was my turn, I spoke as best as I could in Chinese my Chinese name, and that I am an American, and that I like to travel to New York. (Actually I liked to travel to more places in US than just New York.)

After the introductions, we began to read from a passage, which consisted only of Chinese characters. After an hour of teaching class, we all took a ten minute break. Our first homework assignment was to send her an email with our name. The first assignment was easy enough. Eventually, in later homework assignments for the rest of the week, she would have us study certain characters for a dictation quiz the next day.

Around 10 a.m., after a twenty minute break, our 汉语 (hànyǔ) professor arrived. Like our first professor, he too spoke Chinese for the entire class period. We all introduced ourselves in Chinese. After he introduced himself and we students introduced ourselves, we read characters and passages (without pinyin) from the textbook. He was a very nice and helpful professor. When he asked who would like to read one of the passages, we hesitated; but he told us to read it even if we make a mistake.

That made me feel better, and I read the required passages, even though I made some mistakes. He also assigned us our first homework: studying about fourteen characters for tomorrow's dictation quiz.

Ordering Lunch at Peking University

The number of places to eat in Peking University is countless. In addition to the place to we went for breakfast on the day of orientation, I went with Jackie, Ed, and Andy for lunch. We first went to the noodle house. However, because we had trouble reading some of the characters, we were unable to order what we wanted. So we tried the restaurant next door.

Again, we had trouble with reading the characters. I tried to talk to the person, but my Chinese was a little broken. We ended up trying another place, but with not much luck either. I was starting to feel bad that I was not able to order successfully, especially when Jackie, Ed and Andy depended on me to speak and interpret Chinese for them. Finally we went to the last restaurant in the building. Thankfully, the clerk knew a little English and got most of us chicken with rice and vegetables. As I sat down to eat, I felt awkward after our attempts to order our meals; but I did not want to let this stop me from trying to improve my Chinese.

After visiting many eateries as the days passed, I got somewhat better with communicating Chinese when ordering dishes; but I am still learning new things and am not totally perfect.

Safety differences in China vs America

The Chinese have some different views when it comes to traffic safety. Many Chinese ride bicycles or motorbikes, but they rarely wear helmets. Sometimes, they may have people riding in the back of the bike, and they too do not wear helmets. Also, some riders can be in a hurry and zoom past us. Believe it or not, cars can drive on pedestrian roads or even sidewalks.

In addition, I was even surprised to find out that they do not use leashes on their dogs. In fact, on the night we were walking back from KFC, I noticed two dogs sitting near the street without a leash. Perhaps the dogs are trained not to run away from their masters.

Dinner at the Global Village

On the night of July 4, Sarah invited some of my classmates and I to dinner at the restaurant next to our dorm. I had discovered a few things that are different in China than in America.

Once we were ready to order, Sarah said, “服务员” (fúwùyuán) to call the waitress. Rather than pen and paper, the waitress used a mobile phone-like device to take our order.

We all ordered a variety of Chinese dishes, although one of us ordered onion rings. Because I wanted to try something new, I ordered fried kelp and minced meat for the main part of the meal and frozen green tea cake for dessert. As I placed my order, I asked the waitress in Chinese what kind of meat the dish had. She told me it had pork. I expected it to be a plate of pork and kelp, but to my surprise, it was a bowl of kelp and small bits of pork. Eating the kelp was almost like eating spaghetti in a bowl of water using chopsticks. Also, the kelp did not look like it was fried. Nevertheless, the meal tasted great. I even sampled other people's tasty meals.

I remembered Dr. Luo telling us that tipping is not allowed in China because it is considered an insult, so we did not leave a tip.

Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City

Ahhh. Saturday morning. Today is not a class day, but a field trip day! As usual, I woke up around 6 a.m. and met the others at the first floor of my dorm building by 7 a.m. After breakfast, we went for a bathroom break. I noticed that the urinal has round, colored rocks on it.

We finally arrived at the Shao Yuan Building #2 at meeting time of 8:15 a.m., where our bus will take us to Tiananmen Square. Around 8:30, the time we were supposed to take off, Jocelyn told us that we are going to have to wait for a group from Australia.

Around 9 a.m., our bus departed for the Forbidden City. Our tour guide spoke to us in English using a portable microphone and speaker. During the drive, the bus got stuck in some heavy traffic. The tour guide explained to us that overpopulation causing such traffic problems is the reason why the two-child policy is implemented. I had two initial reactions to her comments. One was that she seems to be promoting this two-child policy as a justifiable means to the end. My second reaction is that, referring to Dr. Luo's textbook, who would take care of the elderly if there are not enough young people to support them?

As we reached our stop, our tour guide advised us to take plenty of water as it would get very hot today. I already had a 1.5 liter bottled water in my backpack, but I took two of the bottled water, just to be on the safe side. She also had Peking University flag which she would wave it so that if we got separated, we knew where our group was.

The sight of Tiananmen Square was simply magnificent. I even noticed some of the government buildings for the Chinese Communist Party. In fact, one of those buildings is portrayed on the back of a 100 yuan note. We took pictures near the statues of soldiers. As we walked closer to where the famous portrait of Mao Zedong hangs, I felt as if he was watching all of us.

As we were walking, I noticed lots of people wanting our business. Some were selling ice popsicles while others were selling umbrella hats. Photographers offered to take pictures of us – for a fee. We had finally managed to walk into the Forbidden City, in which is the home of the emperors, in the midst of crowds of people. It was definitely a huge place for a home. I was hoping that they might take us inside the building of the Forbidden City and perhaps see the rooms of the emperor and his family, but that never happened. Of course, we did see some of the interiors from the outside such as a garden. I suppose only the professors and archeologists are allowed into the “secret” rooms.

At last, we had finished our tour of the huge city-like mansion. I went to the small store and bought a bottle of orange juice with pulp, in which I drank it so quickly to quench my thirst. Soon, we walked under the intense sun towards the site where the bus would take us back to Peking University. After climbing on the bus, I soon fell asleep.

Time really has gone fast! Classes have been going well so far, but it doesn't mean that I had nothing exciting happen.

Kong-fu Show at Red Theater

On Wednesday, July 10, we took a bus ride to the Red Theater to see a Kong-fu show called Chun Yi: The Legend of Kong Fu at the Red Theater in Beijing. Although the show would not start until 7:30, we had to board the bus by 5:15.

Originally, I thought the show will be about 4 hours long, which is why the schedule said 5:30 to 9:30 PM. I later realized that heavy rush-hour traffic would delay us in getting to the Red Theater on time, which is why we had to leave early.

During our bus ride, I noticed many unique buildings and landmarks. One of the landmarks I discovered was one of the places I hoped to visit: the Beijing National Stadium, which is the bird's nest stadium that hosted the 2008 Summer Olympics.

Once we had arrived 30 minutes early at the Red Theater, I did some exploring inside the theater. When I looked at the items in the gift shop, I saw nunchucks, a weapon used in martial arts. The clerk talked with me about the goods I was interested in buying. As I communicated with her, she commented that my Chinese was really good, but I responded that my Chinese is not that good. Finally, I bought the DVD/CD set and the two Chinese clothes. I did not have enough RMB in my wallet, but the clerk told me that I can use my credit or debit card to pay, which is what I used.

The show itself, which is about the story of Chun Yi and his training in kong-fu and Zen Buddhism in order to become a warrior monk, consisted of actors performing kong-fu martial arts and acrobatics. I was surprised that the narrator of the story, a Buddhist monk, and the boy in the show spoke in English. I noted its use of symbolism, in which a female character played a spirit.

Some of its martial arts performances were daring and dangerous. One of the scenes I witnessed showed Chun Yi lying on top of a “bed” of swords with another man placing some heavy wood and a stone block on top of Chun Yi's chest. Then, one of the men took a sledgehammer and struck the stone block, which crumbled into pieces. Chun Yi, on the other hand, suffered no harm.

Overall, I thought the entire performance was excellent, except for one negative factor. After the climax occurs at the scene where after Chun Yi makes a prideful fall, the priest visits Chun Yi. However, during this quiet but emotional scene, the audience members were talking in the background. I tried to pay attention to what was happening on stage, but the noise distracted me. Thanks to the rude audience, they ruined a great emotional scene. Yet, despite that small distraction, I overall admired the amazing martial arts performance of the actors.

In the end, I took a picture with one of the actors in the show.

Peking Duck at Quanjide Restaurant

The next day, we went to the Quanjide Restaurant for the long-awaited Peking duck dinner. We walked on the same route we used to go to KFC. After passing Google China headquarters, we climbed the stairs towards the artistic “trees” to get to the restaurant.

As we entered restaurant, we all sat like King Arthur's knights in a round table with a rotating glass circle on top of the table. When we ordered our drinks, I ordered watermelon juice.

As we waited for the Peking duck, we were almost immediately served a wide variety of dishes. I had enjoyed every dish I tasted, including the squid “rings”, lamb, jellyfish, flounder, salad with thousand island dressing, Chinese vegetables, and a fish eyeball.

Finally, the cook arrived with the Peking duck and carved it into small slices. I ate one of the slices of the outer parts of the duck. It was very oily, of which the oil could have been duck fat. Soon, the leaner slices of Peking duck was cut for us. Then, one of the waitresses showed us how to make a wrap using the Peking duck, the duck sauce, and the strips of celery and lettuce. After dipping the duck into the duck sauce and placing the vegetable strips into the wrap, I rolled up the wrap and bit into the delicious texture of the wrap.

I enjoyed the whole dinner, even though I later had to take Pepto-Bismol to settle my stomach. Nevertheless, the meal was so delicious that you have to eat it to believe it!

Shandong Province Trip: Traveling to Tai'an and Mount Tai

On Friday, after finishing class, we packed essential belongings for our weekend trip to the Shandong Province, home of Mount Tai and Confucius.

Our guides, Jocelyn and Susie, led us into the minibus, which took us for about an hour to Beijing South Station, a train station in which high-speed trains, or bullet trains as I called them, pass by. Even though we could have taken a regular train which would have taken us to Shandong for about ten hours, the bullet train would take us about 2 hours to get there.

Once we arrived at the train station, the train station almost felt like an airport. Due to the heavy traffic near the entrance of the train station, we all had to get off the minibus and walk past the cars to get into the entrance. Them, we had to pass through security. I was amazed at the number of stores and eateries in the station as well as the glamorous electronic billboards.

Finally, I felt I was ready for the ride of my life as we stepped inside the bullet train. The seats were very comfortable, and there was a place on the top to place the baggage. Unfortunately, the luggage I brought with me from home was rather big, so I was forced to bring it in my seat, which made my feet feel uncomfortable. In fact, most of the passengers brought luggages that were smaller than the ones I saw at the airport. Even though the train ride reached the maximum speed of 302 km/h, the entire ride felt rather smooth.

After arriving at the Tai'an Train Station, our male tour guide directed us to our bus, which took us to the Taishan International Hotel. As Andy and I walked into our hotel room, I was at how beautiful and clean the room looked. At the same time, I discovered some features that I did not see in American hotels. To power on the room electricity, the room key must be placed into a slot near the door – a smart way of preventing someone from losing the key. I found additional switches that controlled electrical outlets and certain lights.

At 7 p.m., Andy and I walked towards the dining hall, where we sat at the round table just like at the Quanjide Restaurant. No Peking duck that night (we are not in Beijing anyway), but we had a variety of meat and vegetable dishes and a glass of Coca-Cola and a cup of tea. The next morning, we ate an all-you-can-eat Chinese breakfast. Some of the foods present were eggs with rice, tofu, and Chinese vegetable dishes. I felt that some of the dishes would have rather been served for either lunch or dinner.

Shandong Province Trip: Rainy Climb to Mount Tai

Climbing Mount Tai is probably not for the faint of heart, unless you have very high endurance. After leaving the hotel, our tour guide took us by bus to Mount Tai, in which a picture of it can be seen on the back of a 5 yuan bill. When we got off the bus, I only brought with me my water bottle and an umbrella. Qufu

We took a minibus ride from the foot of the mountain to about halfway up to the mountain. The minibus drove so fast up the mountain that it almost felt like a roller coaster. Once we got off the minibus, we had to make a steep stair climb to the top of the mountain. It took me about 2 hours to get to the top of mountain, which is the normal time for most people to walk. I kept making several rest stops while most of the others climbed ahead.

Then after climbing half of the stairs to the top of the mountain, it rained heavily. There was severe lightning. My umbrella wasn't enough to keep me dry, especially when I was already wet from my constant sweating due to humidity while climbing the first few hundred steps towards the top. I actually had a poncho in my backpack, but I didn't bring it with me since I thought an umbrella would be sufficient. During the torrential downpour, I struggled to climb my way up to the top of Mount Tai. I rested a few times.

Finally, I finally reached the top, where some of the others were waiting for me. At the top, I saw Buddhist temples around me. I thought the stair-climbing was finally over, but we had to climb additional stairs (and I was already feeling exhausted) to get to a place to eat. Because I was so exhausted, I fell behind from the group. Worse, the rain and fog made the walking harder.

With the help of Jocelyn and Susie, I finally got to the place where we would eat lunch. As soon as I got inside, the others were glad to see me. The guy at the door gave me an umbrella bag. It was an all you can eat buffet of Chinese food. After eating a plateful of food, I decided to get an orange juice. I was surprised at the price of the small bottle of orange juice: 48 yuan. Usually a bottle of Minute Maid Orange Juice would cost about 5 yuan. However, I soon realized why it was expensive. Because Mount Tai requires a lot of climbing, the cost of manpower to deliver the goods is high. That explains why a lot of goods on the top of Mount Tai is expensive.

As for the descent, I thought we were going to take the cable car down to the mountain. However, we were going back down to the mountain by foot. I personally thought I had enough walking, but I thought downward descent would not be so bad since the gravity would help me go downstairs. As we prepared to leave the restaurant, it was raining very hard. Our tour guide thought about waiting out the storm, but we didn't know when the rain would stop. Therefore, we went to the gift shop to buy ponchos. After that, we went outside.

I tried to catch up with the rest of the group, but I was falling behind. Luckily, Susie and Jocelyn accompanied me to descend Mount Tai. Descending Mount Tai would also prove to be a little difficult as well, although better than ascending Mount Tai. I actually had to watch every step I made on the stairs since the stairs proved to be rather small. Some can be a little crooked. This slowed me down a bit. When I decided to speed up, I nearly tripped. Susie warned me to be careful. Of course during the ascent and descent, I actually nearly tripped or almost fell over a couple of times.
Finally I reached the bottom of the mountain. I was completely wet like most of the others; therefore, I was afraid that I might catch a cold. At last our tour guide took us by bus to the Queli Binshe Hotel in Qufu.

Shandong Province Trip – Qufu: Hometown of Confucius

After we had dinner at the Queli Binshe Hotel in Qufu, Dr. Luo began to discuss with us about the principles of Confucianism.

After breakfast, we followed our tour guide to the Temple of Confucius. The site of Confucius is where Confucius is honored. We also had visited the mansion of the family and descendants of Confucius. Afterwards, we walked back to the hotel for lunch before heading to the Cemetery of Confucius. After lunch, we walked to a place where there were two “miniature shuttles.” These miniature shuttles are actually like buses but with no doors and windows. In fact, the back seat can allow the rider to see what is traveling behind the shuttle while the vehicle is in motion.

After the shuttles drove us for about two miles, we had to walk in the hot sun towards the entrance to the Cemetery of Confucius. Actually, the Cemetery is not just for Confucius himself. It is actually a burial site for the family members and descendants of Confucius that deserve to be buried there. Once we reached the tomb of Confucius, our tour guide explained that students would come and place flowers at the tomb. Indeed, I saw flowers and decorations at the tomb. After we returned to the hotel for a quick pit stop, we all got on the bus and headed for the train station to take the train back to Beijing.
    — Joshua Meyers, digital forensics major

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