Thursday, August 29, 2013

I enjoyed my time

On Tuesday afternoon, Dr. Luo took us to the Yifu Building #2 in Peking University to listen to Ms. Hu Yingjie, a Peking University student working for a doctorate degree in urban planning. Her presentation was on how Beijing was constructed in the past as well as how politics has clashed with the development of Beijing. In addition, she talked about how people are solving problems in balancing historical preservation and modern urban planning while figuring out how to solve the heavy traffic issues. Her presentation served as an introduction to our trip to Old Beijing.

After her presentation, she came with us to take the subway to Old Beijing. As we went inside the subway terminal, I was amazed at how clean the terminal is compared to the New York Subway. I was going to buy tickets using the machines, but Dr. Luo told us to buy the tickets from the ticket counter. He told us to say “一张票” (yī zhāng piào) meaning “one ticket” to the teller. After we bought our tickets, we had to go through a security checkpoint. Luckily, the checkpoint consisted of an X-ray scanner.

However, since I carried a bottle of water, the security guard took my water and placed it on a machine. After the machine showed the liquid was harmless, he gave it back to me. Then, we went downstairs to where the subway trains were. Like the trains at the airport terminals, the subway has platform screen doors to prevent people from falling into the rail. I was amazed that there is a security checkpoint in a subway terminal in Beijing but not in an American city like New York. I also wondered why security checkpoints in America do not have a “liquid scanner” that checks for dangerous liquids.

After reaching our destination, we walked into Old Beijing. I saw numerous stores and eateries as well as a couple of hotels. Dr. Luo gave us about an hour to look at the stores and meet back so that we could go out to dinner. I went with Andy to visit the stores. Most of the things in the stores were rather expensive, and no bargaining is allowed. However, in one of the stores, Andy bought a Chinese chess set after bargaining in one of the stores.

After visiting the stores, we walked to a 160-year-old restaurant called 烤肉季 (kǎoròu jì), a Muslim-owned traditional Chinese steakhouse known for its shish kabobs (a skewer containing meat and/or vegetables). Like most of the ethnic meals we have eaten, the restaurant is clean and decorative and has the round rotating table. The shish kabobs we ate was lamb. Also there was a dish that contained meat (I believe it was beef) and vegetables and was on a pot with a candle underneath. We would scoop that meat and stuff it into some sesame seed honey buns. The picture below is our group at front of the 烤肉季 restaurant.

Daring Acrobatics at Chaoyang Theater

The next day, we went to the Chaoyang Theater to watch an acrobatic show. We had to leave early to catch the bus due to heavy traffic.

Once we arrived at the theater, Andy, Ed, and I went inside to see what the theater look on the inside. I saw a gift shop, in which I bought a DVD of the acrobatic show. The seller told me that the DVD contains footage of an acrobatic show that would not be seen in the theater, which was one of the reasons I bought the DVD. Also, I even bought a fob watch both as a souvenir and as a replacement for my wristwatch which is partially damaged by the heavy rainfall from Mount Tai. Since I was a student, the seller gave me a discount on a the watch that originally costed about 180 yuan.

I settled for 100 yuan and paid with my debit card. As the show started, the acrobats performed things that originally looked easy but then became more challenging. A woman climbed a tower of chairs she stacked and balanced herself on it. I noticed some things that were different than the theater at the kong-fu show. People were eating insid the theater and others were using flash photography.
My favorite part of the performance came during the bicycle skill. After the scene where a group of women climbed on top of the woman riding the bicycle (that stunt definitely required balance!), a sphere was unveiled.

Then a motorcyclist drove to the stage and drove inside the sphere, where the motorcyclist made a full circle around the circumference of the sphere. If that wasn't enough, another motorcyclist came on stage and drove into the sphere. Then, a third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and, I believe, seventh, motorcyclist drove into the sphere! The chances of them bumping into each other and falling grew higher as more motorcyclists entered the sphere. After the performance, I felt that the acrobatics show was more suspenseful and engaging than the kong-fu show, but I still enjoyed both performances.

The Bird's Nest and the National Aquatics Center: Relics of the Beijing 2008 Olympics

On Friday afternoon, Vikram and I rode the subway to visit the Beijing National Stadium, which I personally called it the “Bird's Nest Stadium.” When I planned to come to China, one of my dreams was to visit the same spot where the 2008 Olympic Games were held as well as admiring the stadium itself, which, in my opinion, is an artistic wonder of the world.

After entering the East Gate of Peking University subway entrance, we tried to get a ticket from the ticket counter; but for some reason, the teller told us to use the kiosks to get our tickets. Getting my ticket was rather easy, but Vikram had trouble getting his ticket because the machines would not accept the paper yuan. I ended up using my 2 yuan coins to purchase the ticket. Word of advice: spare some extra 1 yuan coins if you need to buy a subway ticket at a machine.

After making transfers from Line 4 to Line 10 to Line 8, we finally reached our stop called Olympic Sports Stadium. As we exited the subway terminal through the Beijing National Stadium exit, I noticed crowds of people walking around the area. The weather was somewhat smoggy, but, fortunately, the smog did not completely obscure the view of the stadium as well as other buildings. As with any historical place, people are always looking for business with tourists. Food stalls offered drinks and food. Photographers offered to take pictures of us for a fee. But what struck me the most was that there were a couple of people wearing “fake” Mickey and Minnie Mouse costumes, in which some children took pictures with them. Before Vikram and I entered the Stadium at gate E, we had to purchase tickets. Thankfully, because we showed our Peking University student ID cards, our two tickets costed us 25 RMB each, which is half the price of the original cost of 50 yuan.

I felt a sense of awe as we walked closer towards the steel “twigs” of the stadium. We climbed upstairs where we saw an exhibition about the stadium and the events that were held there. Then, we walked into the interior of the stadium through the opening of the arena, where I saw the track, two large Panasonic screens, and the numerous rows of seats. Although the stadium has no special event occurring at the time, I noticed that people are using the stadium for certain purposes.

Believe it or not, people were riding Segways on the track. Also, I saw people that hook themselves on cables in which they are lifted about halfway up towards the ceiling. In addition, the people wearing red shirts seem to be part of an athletic team because some of them participated in a form of tug-of-war while others were being coached. In order to imagine what it felt like to sit inside the Bird's Nest during the Games, I sat in one of the seats and let the surrounding sounds from the video that was playing in one of the screens and sights of the people take me back to the events of 2008. As we explored the interior of the stadium, I noticed some interesting things. A graphic showed how the drinking water in the stadium is purified. There was even a small fast food restaurant that is open.

At a gift shop, Vikram and I each bought a limited edition book that includes not only a Chinese-English picture book about the stadium but also a piece of steel used in the construction of the stadium. After we exited the stadium, we walked towards the Olympic Torch and then towards the Ling Long Pagoda, a tower served as the base for international television channels that broadcasted the Games. I wanted to ride the elevator of the Ling Long Pagoda, but the tower was fenced off. Because we arrived in the afternoon, we felt we might not make it inside the National Aquatics Center before closing time. As we walked closer towards the Center, a man offered to sell us tickets to the Center for 50 yuan each. I tried to say that we were Peking University students so that we could get the half price discount. Nevertheless, we both paid the 100 yuan for two tickets. Luckily, because a lot of people were inside the Aquatics Center, the place did not close right away.

The interior of the Aquatics Center had more than just the swimming pool for the Olympic team. The ceiling and the roof are transparent, meaning that we can see the sun from the inside. Also, besides the restaurants and gift shops, the Aquatics Center included a huge indoor water park with so many slides and buildings. It was like a Disney water park that was fit inside the Aquatic Center. In addition, Vikram and I discovered two more swimming pools containing numerous people swimming.

I wondered how people could afford the 50 yuan ticket price to get into the Aquatics Center. It turned out that people can buy a pass to use the pools and, perhaps, the water park. After seeing the two places, we walked back towards the subway. While we walked, I saw the Bird's Nest glowing. I had wished we would stay a little longer to see the lights of the Bird's Nest shown in its full glory, but it was getting late; and Vikram and I were getting tired. Nevertheless, my dream of visiting the Bird's Nest Stadium personally was fulfilled at last.

Traveler’s Diarrhea and a Saturday at the Great Wall

After returning from the Bird's Nest Stadium, I ate a dinner of 西红柿炒鸡蛋 (xīhóngshì chǎo jīdàn), which is stir-fried eggs with tomatoes. Then, I went to bed around 11 PM since tomorrow would be a big day – I was going with my classmates to the Great Wall of China!

Then the inevitable occurred, which nearly led me to miss out on the rare occasion of going to the Great Wall. I woke up suddenly around 1 AM with a painful stomachache. Quickly, I munched on two tablets of Pepto-Bismol to ease the stomachache. But I fled to the bathroom, where I had a severe bout of diarrhea. After using the bathroom, I chewed some more Pepto-Bismol tablets before going back to bed. Around 5 AM, I woke up again and used the bathroom. Finally, I took two pills of Imodium.

Fearing that I might have diarrhea during the trip to the Great Wall, I asked Dr. Luo for advice on whether I should go. He suggested that I not go since the Great Wall would not have any bathrooms. At first, I thought of staying behind and rest. But when I noticed that was feeling rather fine and that everyone else were all going to the Great Wall, I decided to take my chances of going on the trip, but I was still uncertain. As I went to grab breakfast, I noticed I forgot to bring my water bottle and Imodium. Quickly I went to the pharmacy and tried to tell the seller that I needed medicine for diarrhea. Since he did not sell Western medicine such as Imodium, he sold me a box of herbal medicine for treating diarrhea. Then, I ran to the Wu-Mei convenience store and bought a liter of water and a bag of groundnuts (peanuts) before running for the bus.

It took the bus almost three hours to get to the Great Wall, mostly due to traffic. I took short naps during the ride. As the bus drove closer to our destination, a red car blocked the road. The bus driver shouted to the driver of the red car to move, the driver of the red car would not budge. Finally, the bus driver stepped out of the bus to confront the man. I was afraid he was going to get into a fight with the driver of the red car. Apparently, the red car was meant to be a road block, so we all had to get out of the bus and walk to the entrance. I forgot the fact that there could have been bugs around the Great Wall. Fortunately, Jackie let us have some of her bug spray. Climbing up the stairs or riding the cable car were two ways of getting to the Great Wall. While Andy, Sarah, and Dr. Luo hiked up the Great Wall, Ed and I along with some of our classmates rode the cable car. Since I planned to walk down the mountain, I only purchased the one-way ticket ticket for 60 yuan.

After reaching the Great Wall, I was instantly struck by the natural beauty of the mountains and the view of the wall ahead of us. Although the stairs are somewhat rocky as the stairs at Mount Tai, most of the walk at the Great Wall was rather flat. Nevertheless, I had to watch my steps most of the time. I had to be careful not to fall into a staircase that was not fenced. Climbing to the top of one of the watch towers can be a little tricky. I had to lift myself up to get to the top of the watch tower. Once I got to the top of the watch tower, I felt like I was a conqueror who was charge of the Great Wall. After all that walking, we all sat down for a break. I opened my bag of peanuts and offered my classmates some peanuts.

Then we began our walk down the mountain. We had to continue to walk further on the Great Wall before we found the door that led downstairs. After we climbed down most of the stairs, we saw two donkeys that were eating leaves. While the others petted the donkeys, I abstained from touching them for fear that they could bite.

Finally, after reaching the bottom, I bought a refrigerator magnet of the Great Wall as well as a snow globe of the Great Wall. Before I boarded on the bus, I bought a Subway sandwich for lunch, even though I probably should have been more cautious of what I ate.

Once we reached campus, I was thankful for several things. First, I did not get sick during the Great Wall climb. Second, the weather was nice that day. Finally, I was glad that I did not miss the trip to the Great Wall.

Purchasing Art on the Pedestrian Footbridge

In order to cross the street from the Global Village to the Peking University East Gate, I had to walk a footbridge. Sometimes, on the footbridge, I would see some people selling things. Usually, I had no interest to purchasing anything from the sellers.

However, on Sunday, July 21, as I was crossing the footbridge to get into campus to eat breakfast, I noticed a small group of people gathering around an elderly man and a young woman. As I came closer, I saw that the elderly man was using plant stalks to create shapes of a bird, a dragonfly, a cricket, and flowers. I was so impressed with his artwork of the shapes that the man noticed I was interested in buying them. He sold me the flower and the bird for 50 yuan – a price I considered to be very good for I considered a work of art.

I later came back to buy the dragonfly and the cricket for 10 yuan each. I told the two in Chinese that their work is beautiful. The woman smiled and said thank you for your praise.

After I purchased the plant-made objects, I felt that these underrated objects should belong in a museum. Unfortunately, the plant art started to wither.

Time in Class

I have not given much detail in my recent blog entries in what I am doing in class, so I will briefly mention what I did in class. In both of my Chinese classes, I had to read new passages and learn new words. In my 汉语 (hànyǔ) class, I had a dictation quiz on the new words I learned in class the day before. As for my 口语 (kǒuyǔ) class, we would read new passages or practice our listening and repeating skills – that is, the teacher would read a sentence from the passage we read and we have to repeat it correctly. In both classes the teachers would talk about some Chinese culture.

Although the four-hour classes can be intense, the teachers try to make class interesting. For my hànyǔ class, our teacher would sometimes have us play a game which can be similar to the game of Taboo or Pictionary, but involves writing or saying the correct words. As for my kǒuyǔ class, our teacher would divide our class into groups and compete with each other in speaking Chinese correctly. Interestingly, the points we earn during the games or competitions we play actually count towards our grade.

In my class, I had classmates who were from America, Australia, and Korea. The classmates who were from non-English speaking countries spoke a little English and Chinese. I tried to make friends with these people with diverse backgrounds, especially when I learned a little bit about their country's culture.

Last, but not least, we get a 10 minute break after one hour of hànyǔ or kǒuyǔ class and a 20 minute break between the kǒuyǔ and hànyǔ class. On Wednesday, the day before my test, I took my kǒuyǔ teacher along with Sarah and her teachers for dinner. Unfortunately, my hànyǔ teacher was unable to come due to a family issue. Since I was taking my teacher out for dinner for the first time, I was rather nervous. Questions like what will I say to my teacher or what if I did not speak Chinese clear enough or how will the teacher think of me floated into my mind. But Sarah reassured me not to worry too much about it, especially when she took her teachers out to dinner before.

While Sarah and I waited for out teachers at the door of the third building, all three teachers later arrived. Because we wanted the teachers to decide what restaurant we should go to eat, our teachers decided to go to a restaurant within walking distance outside of campus. During the walk to the restaurant, my teacher asked questions about me. I tried my best to communicate fluently with her, but I sometimes would not know how to say a certain word in Chinese, of which I became slightly embarrassed. Fortunately, my kǒuyǔ teacher, who knew English and Spanish, patiently corrected me and helped me speak the correct words.

At the restaurant, we each ordered a dish that we would all share. One of the most interesting dishes was a fish that is made of milk curd. During the dinner, we all had a conversation in Chinese with each other. As the dinner progressed, I grew less nervous. After finishing dinner, we all walked towards the East Gate of Peking University, where all bid ourselves farewell. As for Sarah and I, our teachers bid us good luck on the test tomorrow.

Pandas and Jellyfish at the Beijing Zoo

Shortly after the exam, I rode the subway with Andy, Jackie, Ed, Laura, April, and Ashley to the Beijing Zoo. Because we were Peking University students, we got a half price discounts on our tickets. The first place we visited inside the zoo were the giant pandas. I saw few pandas today, and the pandas seemed rather inactive, probably due to the heat.

Afterwards, we went to the Aquarium. However, we had to buy an extra ticket – without a student discount – to get into the Aquarium. The Aquarium had lots of fish. The two exhibits I found most interesting was the whale dancing with the diver and the jellyfish exhibit. I later bought a wet preserved squid and jellyfish along with a DVD of the Aquarium as souvenirs. Although I liked the zoo, the intense heat robbed some of my enjoyment.

Last Day of Class; the Temple of Heaven; and Strange Goods at the Hongqiao Market

The last day of class was rather interesting, although it was meant for students who were studying for four weeks, like me. For my hànyǔ class, we watched a movie called 一个都不能少 (Yíge Dōu Bùnéng Shǎo) or Not One Less, which is based on a true story about a 13-year-old substitute teacher from the impoverished Shuiquan Village who goes into the city of Zhangjiakou to find her lost 9-year-old student who traveled to Zhangjiakou to find work. Our teacher told us that the people in the movie are not played by actors, but by the people from Shuiquan Village themselves. As for my kǒuyǔ class, we started by singing a famous Chinese song called 月亮代表我的心

(Yuèliàng Dàibiǎo Wǒde Xīn) or The Moon Represents My Heart. Our teacher gave each of us a paper copy of the lyrics, which were rather easy to learn, and provided the music from her iPhone. Eventually, the class turned into a talent show where we performed using some piece of music. While others sang or danced, I sang The Moon Represents My Heart.

After class, I went with my group for the final event in the summer program: the Temple of Heaven and the Hongqiao Market. Our tour guide told us about a common misconception about the Temple of Heaven: that it is not affiliated with any religion. Then we went to the Hongqiao Market, which was almost like an indoor shopping mall. Many clothing and shoe stores were available as well as electronics stores and toy stores and souvenir shops. As I explored the different shops inside, I was more interested in buying a new watch and maybe some electronics.

Jocelyn warned us that many goods in the Hongqiao Market are fake and may not last long, and indeed she was correct. While I was looking at the electronics, I noticed some obvious fakes. For instance, I saw a device that looks like a PlayStation Portable, but is not manufactured by Sony. I saw what looked like an iPhone, but is actually an “iPhoney” because the phone's operating system ran slowly and looked different from what iOS really looked like. I told a seller that I wanted to get an Android device, and he showed me a Samsung Galaxy S4. Because I wanted to get an Android device for a low price badly and Andy and I thought the Samsung phone is the real thing, I bargained for the phone and got a good deal on it. Or so I thought.

I soon realized that the “Samsung” phone was a fake. The camera quality was bad, and the Samsung logo appeared to be glued on the battery cover. I even had doubts that the phone was running the latest Android version. Apparently, when I plugged the phone into my MacBook Pro, Windows recognized the phone as a Spreadtrum, not Samsung, phone.

One More Day...

Saturday was the day before I would head back to the States. Although I spent time packing up my belongings, I wanted to explore something special in Beijing before we all would head back to our mother country.

Initially, I wanted to go the National Library, but I found out it was closed on Saturdays. Therefore, I looked online for places I could visit until I came across the National Museum. I decided that it would a great place to visit. Because I didn't want to go alone, I asked the others if they wanted to come with me to the National Museum. At least one of them went to the National Museum already while most of the others didn't want to go.

I later discovered that the National Museum was on the same subway line as the exit for a shopping place similar to the Hongqiao Market called the Silk Market. Finally, I took the subway to the National Museum. After transferring to subway Line 1 to take the Tiananmen East exit, I was surprised to see that there are no platform screen doors at Line 1. After exiting the subway terminal, I was standing in front of the National Museum. Unfortunately, the employee at the Museum told it was closed for the day since it was nearing 4:30 PM.

Disappointed, I paced around when I saw the front of Tiananmen Square. I couldn't believe how close the Museum was to Tiananmen Square itself. No doubt, Mao Zedong was watching me from across the street. I guess he was thinking what in the world am I doing back at Tiananmen.

Soon, I took the subway towards the Silk Market. After exiting the terminal, I climbed the stairs towards the shops that were similar to the shops at the Hongqiao Market. However, I later felt that the Silk Market had more shops than the Hongqiao Market.

At the Silk Market, I was determined to make a final effort to buy some essential souvenirs. First, I went to a store to buy some Chinese dresses. I bargained hard with the seller, who kept trying to sell me the dresses for a higher price until I started to walk away. Then the seller gave in to my price demand. Because I did not carry enough cash with me, I paid for the three dresses with my debit card. Because I used my card, I had to pay a fee, just like at the Hongqiao Market. Apparently, since I initially wanted to buy four dresses, even after I bought the three dresses, the seller kept pestering me if I wanted to buy the other dress. I said no and took the escalator to the upper floor.

At the upper floor, I bought a few other interesting items, after doing some intense bargaining. I bought a tea set which had a picture of the Great Wall. I was able to get one of my most desired souvenirs: refrigerator magnets of China. But my most interesting souvenir I bought was a Chinese-made katana – a Japanese samurai sword. Although the katana had a dull blade, it was not just any ordinary katana. It was the one of the most expensive katanas with a high quality blade the seller had. Also, it was small enough for me to fit into my suitcase.

The katana's original price was 1500 yuan, but since he noticed I bought a lot of expensive goods (a lot of sellers ask what their competitor's prices were), he cut the price, just for me, to about 900 yuan. I told him that I did not have much money, so I gave him my final price: 750 yuan. Although he reluctantly agreed to the price, he remained friendly to me. He even said that he would remember me just like he remembered the other Americans who bought swords from him. Before I left, I saw a small golden model of the Bird's Nest Stadium. I told him I was interested in buying it, so he gave me the discounted price of 85 yuan. I offered 80 yuan, in which he said, in English, “Deal!” Because I did not want to pay the debit card fee, I decided to pay cash, but I had about 50 yuan left. He graciously took the bigger bills, but let me keep the one yuan bills for the subway.

After I returned back to Global Village, exhausted and sweating from the humidity, I placed my souvenirs into my suitcases. My fear was that my luggages might exceed the 23 kilogram limit, forcing me to pay the $100 excess baggage fee. Thankfully, Laura had a scale that would measure the weight of the suitcases. The scale showed a little less than 20 kilograms each.

Ethnic Breakfast at Beijing Capital International Airport

My arms felt sore when my iPod Touch woke me at 3 AM. I had to get ready to board the bus by 4:45 AM so we will take the 9 AM flight to New York. After arriving at the airport, we had to go through security. Because some of the others didn't put their nunchucks into their suitcases, security confiscated the nunchucks. Liquids greater than 100 milliliters were not allowed on board, which was why I threw my water bottle away. When I went through security, I didn't think about placing the bottles of hand sanitizer back into the Ziploc bags they were in. Fortunately, security did not confiscate them.

Afterwards, we all went to eat breakfast at the airport. While some went to Starbucks for breakfast, I went to a Chinese fast food restaurant called Flavor Tang for breakfast. I was almost like a cafeteria line with I ordered rice noodles with beef, three small baozi stuffed with zucchini and egg, and a bottle of orange juice. I wanted to try some more Chinese dishes, but I felt it was enough since food at the airport can be expensive. In the meantime, I had a wonderful Chinese breakfast, especially since it was my last breakfast in China.

A few minutes before I boarded the plane, I wanted to buy a bottle of water. However, the seller told me I cannot be able to take the water into the plane when I pass through a security checkpoint (yes, another security checkpoint!) at the gate. Disappointed, I put the water back into the fridge. As I boarded the plane, I looked outside the window for one more time and said, “再见北京!” (Běijīng zàijiàn). “Goodbye Beijing!”

Final Thoughts

When I first stepped foot into Beijing, I was at first nervous of so many things. The language. The culture. The way people would respond to me. As the days progressed, I felt not only less afraid of the conditions in China but also more confident in learning the language and understanding the culture. I felt that the classes in Peking University as well as the surrounding environment helped me strengthen my Chinese, even though I didn't expect to be totally fluent in a month. I was able to interact more fluently with the Chinese people, even though my Chinese can still be off at times. The food is unique yet delicious.

Still, I cannot stay in China forever. First, unlike in America, China does not offer a lot of freedoms and rights that many Americans cherish such as freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and right to privacy. If one doesn’t pay much attention to the political occurrences in China, a foreign visitor like me would note how the Internet censorship is evidence to problems in Second, the health conditions are not as superior as the conditions in the developed countries. For me, I avoided drinking the tap water even if it was boiled. I drank only bottled water, but buying bottled water can be costly. Sometimes, I even developed stomach problems if the food I ate was not safe to eat. Third, although China is a wonderful country, America is my true home country. I love to eat Chinese food and ate Chinese food for every meal while I was in China, but I would occasionally want to be able to eat real American food again.

Nevertheless, there is so much that China has to offer that the four weeks I have been to Beijing served as a wonderful preview to China. Fortunately, the summer program allowed me to see a lot of things about China, and I had a wonderful opportunity to be able to further strengthen my Chinese by going into an environment that allows me to fully use Chinese whenever I can. Sometimes, I would like to call China my second home.
    — Joshua Meyers, digital forensics major

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