Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Hardest Part …

The hardest part of living in a different country isn't the heat, the different food, or even having to bring toilet paper with you everywhere (that has really become more funny than inconvenient). The hardest part for me so far that I feel takes honestly the most fortitude to handle is this: paying too much.

Yes indeed, the day has arrived. I now have joined the shameful, shame-faced travelers ranks, and I can proudly wear my badge: I am a true tourist. I bought a souvenir, and as soon as the cash left my palm I thought oh my god, I have payed too much!!!! Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!!!!!! ;)

Yep. Someday I will look back and laugh. Someday. I hope, hahaha. Ha. Ha.

For the moment, we unwitting few console each other as our fellow students laugh and point. Among the other price difference victims in our group one of the students lost about 70 yuan when a street vendor gave him change for a 100yuan bill in what he later realized were Belarusan rubles! See? Funny! When it's not you hahaha.

Ah, well. As Jane Austen’s Mr. Bennet said “What do we live for, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn.”

So, for you aspiring tourists in China, here are some shopping tips!!!
  • Never. Ever. Ever pay what someone tells you the item is worth. EVER. When bargaining, taking 80 or more percent off the offered price is average.
  • Tag team. Two heads really are better than one, and your friend can help keep you on budget. When your friend is considering giving in to a suggested price, raise an eyebrow, shake your head, and help them keep a level head by showing them what it is converting into in USD. If they are still considering it, shake your head and make them leave (or at least start to leave till the price gets to what y’all want to pay). They will so thank you for it later!!!
  • Before asking a single price, give the product a hard look and estimate what it's actually worth. Then pay that, whatever the shopkeeper says. If you aren’t good at estimating value, bring a friend who is! But don’t also remember to not be too hard on them if they are a bit off... *cough* Ashley I’m sorry about the tea set! It’s still a good deal, really! lol
  • Always always always: never be afraid to walk away. You will not regret it. Seriously. Many items are also easy to find at a different market or street vendor for an equal or better price. Don’t worry about it.
  • Have fun!!! What you pick up doesn’t really matter. What matters is that YOU’RE IN CHINA! Woohoo! Whether it’s a hand painted porcelain tea set or the smallest most ordinary grey pebble, you will treasure it just the same.

Boookstore !!

Today we went on an adventure to the bookstore! Keeping up my Chinese studies at home is kind of hard. Between my regular college classes, work, lessons, homework, friend time, plus just about everyone I know speaking primarily English... There just isn't that natural drive or time to focus on Chinese. Which is very sad, because it's an amazing language and I really enjoy it! And also there are soooooo many characters, so I really need to keep practicing or they will all slip away D:

A bunch of us students were discussing these issues at lunch one day, feeling sad, when we were struck with a realization: books! We all love books, and reading is how we expanded our English vocabulary, so Chinese books are the perfect solution to our Hanzi (written Chinese) maintenance problems!

So, Andy and I each hit up Google and Baidu (a popular search engine in Beijing) for some bookstore locations near campus, and then put out the call to all classmates when we would be heading out to find one if they wanted to come. In the end Jackie, Andy, Ashley, and myself headed out into Beijing.

After a little exploring we found “Cathay Bookshop”. At last! Books!!!

While most of the books were waaaaaay beyond our level (all of us placed in level 1), we soon located a large table full of colorful children's books. A few pages were flipped, character levels tested, and cheers raised. Books we might actually be able to read!

It was fantastic! Among others, Andy got a book on dinosaurs, Jackie got one on animals, I got a fairy tale type about a little girl and a lóng (dragon), and Ashley and I each got a Harry Potter in Chinese! One interesting difference at Cathay Bookshop from your friendly neighborhood Barnes and Noble: instead of a bag, the woman at the counter flourished a length of plastic string, snip-sniped it off the roll, twisted it crosswise, back, forth, around, tied it off, and passed us our books in a neat little parcel with the receipt tucked neatly just on top! Pretty cool, right? Still not sure which is better for the environment, plastic bag or plastic string, but I must say the string did feel more ecologically spare.

After that making our purchases (four or five books each - and at bargain prices! My grand total was about 8 bucks USD) we headed over to the bakery next door to relax and cool down a bit before tackling the long trek home. There were a lot of western looking breads and cakes, but there were also some iced teas with local fruit in them, with all the writing in Chinese characters. I ordered one of those; it was an almost neon shade of green, and I have absolutely no idea what was really in it, but it tasted fruity, fantastic, and cold, and we were all very cheerful as they had air conditioning and plenty of free tables looking out into the square.

I've translated the first page of my book about the girl and the dragon already, so far it reads: long long ago in the Shang dynasty, there was a Great Wall to the north....

Chinese TV

TV is everywhere in the US, and you can tell a lot about a show and the writers and actors and set design just by watching a few minutes of it. A tv show was actually what got me started on being interested in Chinese! So while in China I absolutely HAD to check out the tv! Luckily, our dorms at the Global Village come with a TV and my roommate didn't care about using it, so I got to keep it in my room, making it easier to flip on casually and less worrisome noise wise. In the afternoon, after class and lunch, we all tend to head back to the dorm for a short siesta. So, as I kick off my shoes, drop my bag (glad I brought a backpack - those books are heavy!) in its designated corner, peel off my sweaty garments in exchange for a shower and some lovely fresh articles in my lovely cool dorm room and lie down for a nap... I flick on the tv.

Some of the shows I see on a lot are: The Voice China, a Chinese News channel (I think the official one is called Xinhua), LOTS of historical dramas (from what I can gather lots of cattiness as girls and women manage their vast households - but the hair is SO cool!!), some modern day dramas (I recommend 'iPartment'; I can't understand very much of what they are saying, but it still seems hilarious!!!), one historical-ish drama about a funny guy with a little cloth lopsided hat and a gourd necklace (I think he's supposed to be a monk..?) who goes around having magical adventures (with the special effects about on par with Power Rangers...), and don't forget the cartoon about a some sheep and wolves where the big wolf is trying to catch the sheep to eat them, but the little wolf and little sheep are friends!

Also, channel 2 is in English and talks about Chinese and world news. Definitely check that out!


I'm back in the USA now! Crazy, right? One minute I'm in Beijing, utilizing my street crossing rules (when crossing large streets in Beijing, stick with a couple or by the side of a throng of bicyclists ;) ) the next my feet hit JFK airport and after ages and eons and then a couple more minutes of waiting for my luggage to come round the bend I head through security and poof! The only thing between me and genuine US concrete and taxi exhaust fumes (*cough* I would say soil, but come one, it’s the airport; Artemis should have imprisoned Holly *there*!) is a thin glass wall of doors leading out of the airport.

We turn quickly (as quickly as possible with this amount of luggage, at any rate) to say goodbye. There is little to be said or done now, because we had time in the morning, on the bus, and 13 hours on the plane. Speeches were made, numbers exchanged, and hugs given. It's like that cooing flapping flurry when a startled flock of pigeons takes flight. Just like that, everyone is gone. But hey, we'll always have China 2013.

China I miss you!!!

While I am so happy to be home, and seeing my family and my stuff and hugging my cat and playing with my puppy dogs but... I miss China.

It started with seeing faces in the crowd. Walking through New York at least three times I turned suddenly in surprise thinking I'd seen someone from the trip. Silly, right? But over the month I feel like we've all grown so close.

When I saw Chinese exchange students laughing and bouncing along in a big crowd through Wall Street, I grinned and had to hold back the urge to go talk to them about pictures. It felt weird not to be snapping pictures right along with them, and I actually felt a bit relieved to hear Chinese... And not English. Not sure why.

The birds with long blue feathers, swish, flashing wide as they swoop in for a landing on one of the countless crumbly brick walls around the PKU campus... Mandarin murmurs everywhere making English the exception... Everything is a push, a rush forward, in Beijing, and I really miss that here in the states. That lightness of being is irreplaceable: when you are surrounded by friends, all going on an adventure, going exploring, sharing a meal together, meeting new people... China I miss you!

So, this is my last blog

As anyone will tell you, I had a really hard time finishing this one. I think it's because once I type the last words, scan for typos, attach the photos and hit send... That's it. The adventure is over. And goodbyes are hard.

So, to cheer myself up a little, here are a few things I love about home. I hope that they reveal to you something about the difference in China as well.
  • Family! I'm so glad to see them all again, it's hard being without you guys for so long, with only iffy wifi that crashes every two minutes haha to FaceTime with.
  • Friends! I've only been home a little while and already I'm meeting up with my friends to hang out (in person! Woohoo! Hahaha it's so weird not to be looking at everyone through a tiny screen!) and exchange stories of the goings on this July.
  • Pets! I have a wonderful beautiful clever (basically she rocks) cat I rescued this past December, and three awesome doggies. There's nothing quite like puppy love;)
  • The environment. Today the sky is bright blue, filled with impossibly fluffy white clouds. The coo of morning doves and twittering flutter of finches and sparrows is the loudest noise aside from the now and again plane roaring over head. I’m chilling on our back deck in the shade of a big red umbrella by the pool. The August breeze is a sigh of happiness as it flutters through the vivid leaves of mighty oaks and whispering, trailing, willows.
  • Cars! Go anywhere you want, whenever you want. I so kind of miss the Beijing metro though, that was pretty fantastic.
  • Paper products! From toilet paper to paper towels to writing paper - it's everywhere! And if a restroom doesn't provide toilet paper it's the exception, not the norm;)
  • Chinatown! Because the US is the way it is, we have people from all over the world who bring their culture, food, and tastes for material goods with them. Chinatown in NYC is one example - I got bubble tea with popping Boba and found a cake we often had at the Blue Cafe all in one day! And I can assure you I shall be hitting up the local Asian food market for some lotus root as soon as possible;)
  • Social networking sites - without needing a VPN! With Facebook, WeChat, Youtube, Blogger, Google, and SinaWeibo access all unrestricted at home I am quickly connecting to all the new friends I made in China. I look forward to finding out where this will lead in the future!
  • Monies, movies, and squishy beds. Now that I'm back in the states I can get back to making monies, so I can go see movies, and then fall asleep in my wonderfully squishy bed. Thank you, memory foam!!!! Haha the blankets at the Global Village were fantastic (WANT! So fluffy!) but the beds themselves were like rock! Hahaha
  • Home. In the US travel is frequently as simple as proving you've got the money by purchasing a ticket, and passing airport security. They don't strenuously block visas to most foreign countries, and they know you are going to come back. One of the best things about being back in the US is having the knowledge that - bar natural or terrorist disasters - I can leave at any time to go visit somewhere else. And that kind of freedom is pretty cool. Also, YOUTUBE! I LOVE YOU! ;)
So yeah. Those are some cool things about being home. I could go on and on about cool things in China too, but I really have to submit this last blog now, so I'll leave that to your imagination... Not for long though, because now shoo! Go sign up for the Bloomsburg Summer Study Abroad at PKU in Beijing, China!

再见, 我的 朋友s. It has been, as the Ninth Doctor would say, fantastic.

    — Laura Cray, English major, Millersville University

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