Thursday, August 30, 2007

I live in Beijing and the people at the bank think I'm Pablo Escobar

I'm officially a Beijing resident: I have a subway card, everything I own smells slightly of pee, and I own a sweet bike.

China has been wicked busy and a bit overwhelming. I wish I could speak Chinese. Then I wouldn't look like such a crazy idiot. Example: I tried to take a cab to a bank the other day. The driver wanted to know which bank. My limited Chinese can't answer such questions, so came up with "a bank with money." This is the story of my life.

I've been really busy with orientation. I landed on Friday afternoon and had a party. Who wouldn't have a party after sitting on a plane for an entire day? (Sidenote - I flew over the North Pole and tried my best to see santa or a herd of polar bears, but no luck. Fingers crossed for the ride back.)

On Saturday I had my first supermarket experience. It's called a supermarket for a reason. It's super! There's everything! From raw eels to sunscreen to shoes. I kid you not. And it's all ridiculously cheap.

On Sunday I took my placement test and went to a bunch of seminars. Sunday night we went to see the acrobats show. They were really really impressive. Seriously, it's not possible to bend that way. You go little Chinese kid acrobats! There was this one amazing kid - he looked about 7 - who was doing acrobatics (flips, headstands, weird bendy movements etc) on a tight rope that wasn't tight! Does that make sense? I guess it was a slack rope. Basically, he was doing the impossible.
Monday we did some more orientation seminars on the neighborhood, and we had our first Chinese classes.

Tuesday we went to the summer palace. It's very pretty. I'll try and post some pictures. It was a really high pollution day though, so my pictures are pretty hazy. I'm hoping I can clean them up a bit on my computer. I found a statue of a shar pei there, meaning that Mason would totally fit right in. He's basically royalty. After the palace we learned how to use public transportation in a scary way. They split us into pairs and gave each pair a location in Beijing. It was written in characters, so if you didn't know what it said, you had to ask a random Chinese person. Then we had to get to that location and bring back proof we were there without using cabs or English. My group went to the zoo. It was a lot easier than it sounds, although a bit embarassing asking for directions when my tones aren't so good. After that we had about an hour of free time, so I went and got a bike. Everyone here has a bike. It's absolutely necessary because the city is so big and everything is so far away. Walking everywhere gets exhausting. So I bought a bike, basket, bell and lock for 180 kuai, which is about $22. I love China. Tuesday was also my temporary roommate's (another girl on the program, until my Chinese roommate comes), birthday, so that night we went out to Houhai, which is like China's nightlife district. It's a bunch of clubs and bars around this giant lake. If you want, you can even rent paddle boats and such to go out on the lake.

Wednesday morning I finally was able to sleep in for the first time, which was really good. Because of jet lag I keep waking up at 5 or 6. Then IES took us to a couple places for the day. First we went to a leather shadow puppet show, which was really cool - I took a bunch of pictures. They make the puppets out of leather, and they're really intricate. The puppet show was on this really old street in the calligraphy district, so after the show I went to a chop shop and had a chop made. A chop is a marble stamp with your name in calligraphy carved into it that you stamp at the end of letters or on artwork. Mine has a tiger (for my Chinese zodiac) carved into the top. It's also red marble, so it's double lucky. The guy who did the carving was very excited for me.
After that we walked over to the Beijing Exhibition Hall where they have exhibits on Beijing development and the new Olympic buildings. They built a little model Beijing with tiny houses and it took up a whole floor of this massive museum. There were a lot of those little models. One of old Beijing, current Beijing and future Beijing. There were even models of all the new stadiums for the Olympics. China really likes models. Polly Pocket would have been in big city heaven.
After that we walked over to Tiananmen square to visit. The oddest thing about Tiananmen is that it is this huge huge expanse of marbled land, and there's no benches or anything, but people just show up and sit down randomly. It was full of people who must have just come in and thought: "That piece of ground looks like a great place for a sit! I'll hang out for a while." Hundreds of people just sitting. Not doing anything. Just sitting. Tiananmen is also a very popular kite flying destination, apparently. For dinner a couple of us went to a district nearby Tiananmen that's famous for it's weird food stalls. Basically you can get deep fried anything you want there. For example, starfish, seahorses or scorpions.

Today real classes started. I was in Chinese from 8-12:30. I'll have another hour of Chinese tutoring in the afternoon, plus an area studies course (that, no worries, is in Chinese).
So yes, that's China in a nutshell. I'll try and figure out how to post some pictures. And please get in touch with me and tell me all about your lives!