Posts Tagged ‘Chinese’


Margaret: 圣诞节 – Shèngdàn jié – Christmas

January 1, 2012

I am tired.  After a truly excruciating week of exams (one test had over 225 new characters), Michael and I headed to WuDaoKou last night to ring in the new year, albeit without plans or 150 RMB tickets to Nova, Beijing’s biggest New Year’s Eve party.  Before we knew it, we found ourselves in a bar surrounded by friends!  In a blur of colors, lights, drinks, and taxis, we were waltzing down the red carpet leading into Nova, housed in a giant, disused industrial gas tank.  Beijing nights…  Happy New Year!

And Merry Christmas!  Amidst all the exam and travel preparations, I haven’t been able to blog at all about my Chinese Christmas adventures, which I must say they were quite exciting!  Initially, my group of friends wanted to have Christmas Day brunch at a hotel in Beijing.  Most of the foreign hotels host lavish meal with free flowing champagne in thoroughly decked halls, so naturally they’re incredibly expensive.  At the last minute, Michael and I opted out and jumped in a cab on Christmas Eve heading to none other than IKEA.  Maybe a few years down the line when I’m a rich Beijing business professional (哈哈) I will wine and dine with Beijing’s finest at the Westin, but at the moment, you just can’t beat a 15 RMB plate of Swedish meatballs and mashed potatoes on Christmas.  We expected to see more but nonetheless spotted a few other foreigners who had had the same idea.  On the way out, we stopped by the Swedish food mart for some ginger snaps – a real treat!

Although I no longer consider myself a Christian, I was raised Catholic and have gone to church on Christmas every year since I was born.  Over the past few months I’ve been interested in attending a Catholic church here to see what it’s like in Asia but never got around to it.  What better day to go than Christmas, right?  Wrong, but I’ll get to that later.  After gallivanting around IKEA for an hour or so after dinner, it was still several hours away from the 11 o’clock midnight mass.  We headed to the church via subway but got off one stop early at Xidan, a popular commercial area in Beijing that I had just done Christmas shopping at the night before.  The square was full of young people laughing, holding hands, and, funnily enough, wishing others a Merry Christmas.  

The trees were beautifully decorated in gold Christmas lights, and a section of the square had actually been fenced off and lined with hundreds of thousands of white lights, giving the illusion of snow.  We spotted a Santa promoting a nearby blood bank, so naturally I made Michael pose for a photo!  It was a lovely evening, and the joy of the holiday could literally be felt in the air.  A young man approached us to sell us apples wrapped in brightly colored tissue paper.  Earlier in the day I had gone to WuDaoKou to do some last minute Christmas shopping.  Around every corner, vendors could be found selling Christmas hats, cakes, and even Santa suits, but by far the most commonly sold items were apples and oranges.  I bought a huge orange in an elaborate pink Christmas box and asked the girl why Chinese people eat apples and oranges on Christmas.  She said it’s because the word for “apple,” 平果, has the same character as the word for “peace,” 平安.  This struck me as beautiful, and when I peeled into my orange, I reminisced nostalgically about Christmas mornings past when my brothers and I would run downstairs to our stockings to find big apples or giant oranges placed there by my mother, who had done so just like her mother before her.

Finally it was time to head to church.  Beijing has four major Catholic churches: a north church, south church, east church, and west church.  I chose the south church, the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception for midnight mass even though it was perhaps the farthest from IKEA.  The foundation of the original cathedral was laid in 1605, making it the oldest church in Beijing, but the current building dates back to 1904.  I chose this church because the present archbishop, Joseph Li Shan, was presiding.  Interestingly, he is one of only a few bishops recognized fully by both the Vatican and the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Church.

When we exited the subway station, we entered into the church’s pseudo front yard.  We immediately encountered long tables lined full of creche figurines and framed holographic pictures of Mary and Jesus that were being sold.  People were everywhere, and we were hassled into a line by men with megaphones.  I asked a woman behind me what the line was for, and she responded, “圣诞节礼物!”  Christmas gifts.  Umm what?  Red candles in the shape of apples were shoved into our hands before we were quickly shuttled off.  It was absurd but nonetheless a heartwarming surprise.

We finally arrived in front of the church, but when we tried to enter, another megaphone blared in our ears telling us to get in line.  And then we saw it.  A line a mile long!  We started walking.  And walking and walking and walking.  More men with megaphones kept yelling something about having a 票, a ticket.  My heart sank as I looked down the line at the green tickets in everyone’s mitts.  I had read something on the internet about how church goers were required to buy tickets for midnight mass in 2004, a policy met with outrage that was subsequently revoked.  Eventually I decided to stop walking and ask someone in line how we could buy a ticket.  The magic of the evening was truly heavy the air that night because I somehow managed to stop and ask probably two of the only people in line with extra tickets.  I grappled with my language as I tried to express my delight for their graciousness, eventually blurted out “Merry Christmas” as Michael and I headed away to the end of the line.

While we were waiting, a couple in line in front of us turned around and asked in broken English, “What will happen inside?  Will we eat?”  Umm no?  I quickly discovered that the large majority of the people who had come to attend mass were not only not Christian, but they had no idea what Christmas was.  They were simply curious and had heard that you were supposed to go to church at midnight on Christmas Eve.  This little gem of Chinese culture drove me crazy when our section of the line finally arrived at the doors of the church and they stopped letting people in.  Michael and I were confined to a jam packed square out front of the church.  Two huge television screens showed the happenings inside, and familiar carols sung in Chinese spilled out the wide open doors.  As we waited for mass to begin, none other than Santa came tearing up the aisles of the church, tossing candy into the crowd.  How Catholic, am I right?

The only good part about standing outside in the freezing cold in poorly selected tights and pumps was that the procession came right through us.  People all around us were pushing and shoving to get a glimpse of the action.  Amidst the chaos, archbishop Li Shan looked simply at peace.

Right after mass began, we left.  It was simply too cold to be standing out there any longer, and the mass was entirely in Chinese save for an “amen” here an there.  It would have been cool to hear it though.  On Christmas day we headed to the east church for an English mass, and I was surprised that I still knew almost the entire mass word for word.  It would have been very easy to follow along.  In the cab on the way back to Zhongguanxinyuan, Michael and I agreed to open one Christmas present each.  We both outdid ourselves and had a plethora of wrapped gifts under my six inch Carrefour Christmas tree.  My gifts consisted entirely of chocolate, as I had requested.  We fell asleep watching “Miracle on 34th Street,” a tradition my family usually practices on Thanksgiving, although I had had exams the Friday after this year.

The next morning, Michael and I were joined by two of our friends, Megan and Angus, for a delicious breakfast of pancakes, sausages, home fries, scrambled eggs, and hot chocolate before heading to the east church via cab.  We arrived about fifteen minutes before mass was scheduled to begin, and we joined the mob of about fifty or so foreigners and Chinese outside the locked front doors. We waited and waited and waited.  All of asudden it was 4:00, and then 4:15, and then 4:20.  Finally someone came around and said the side door was open.  Michael and I and a few others ventured over and went in.  To our surprise and frustration, mass was already thoroughly underway with about eight hundred people already in attendance.  We stood in the back.  The mass was exactly the same as a Christmas mass in Minnesota.  The songs, the prayers, the giving of people, all the same.  The only difference was the old white minister stopped and asked in truly the worst Chinese I’ve ever heard for more volunteers to help administer communion.  It was pathetic…

Michael and I had dinner at Subway (our favorite!) after trying and failing to locate a quality Chinese restaurant in a nearby new glitzy shopping mall on Wangfujing.  After a stop in the foreign bookstore, we strolled up and down the decorated street of Wangfujing, veering off down the snack street before heading home.  We passed on the star fish.

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Margaret: 兴奋 – Xīngfèn – excited

December 9, 2011

I have ultra exciting news times about five and only about five minutes to write, so here’s the scoop:

1. After class today I’ll be jumping on a five to six hours train ride to the coastal city of Qingdao, we’re I’ll be spending the weekend with Michael, my cool Nebraska guy.  Qingdao is perhaps most well-known as the home of the Tsingdao (pronounced the same as Qingdao) brewery.  Tsingdao is the most exported Chinese beer, and apparently the street just outside the factory, literally called “Beer Street,” has some of the best beers in China, purchased in bags of course.  I’ll save the details for when I get back, but we’re looking forward to the brewery tour, the coastline, German architecture, and POLAR OCEAN WORLD OMG!  Going to see me some beluga whales.

2. Last night I just purchased airfare to…….. SEOUL AND HO CHI MIN CITY!  My friend Megan and I spent most of yesterday trying to figure out where it would be most cost effective to go during our break in January, and after many hours of trying to find cheap flights to Phuket, Thailand, we booked for South Korea and Vietnam.  As soon as we hit the button on my computer, we just turned to each other and said, “Oh my god, what did we just do!?”  It had only then occurred to us that we don’t know anything about either of these countries, only that South Korea has probably the best food in the world and Vietnam is that place the U.S. went to war in that Forest Gump movie.  At least I think it was Vietnam…  But anyways, I’m sooooooo excited!  Yesterday morning I could have told you with outstanding confidence that there would be no way I’d ever get to Vietnam in my life, and a few clicks later, it looks like I’ll be laying out on beaches and hiking through jungles in none other than Nam.  Wow is all I have time to say!

3. I finally went to see Peking Opera!  While I was on top of ChangBaiShan mountain on my trip over the National Holiday in October, I briefly met two young French guys who were doing stem cell research in a northern Chinese city.  We hit it off for a few minutes and decided to swap contact information.  Two months later they’re visiting Beijing and called me to hang out!  I took them to Quan Ju De, a famous Chinese restaurant founded in 1864, where I introduced them to Peking Duck.  Then it was off to Peking Opera, which is very strange to say the least.  It was the most touristy thing I’ve done since I’ve been back in Beijing.  The theater was literally in a hotel, and most of audience were either rich Japanese or what seemed like incredibly inept old rich white couples who obviously didn’t know anything about the culture and were just here to have the “Orient experience.”  The opera itself, if you ever get a chance to see it, is very strange.  The singing is extremely high pitched and odd, and the English translations splayed across screens at the edges of the stage too often do poor justice to the story.  I’m really glad I went with the French guys though.  They’re really entertaining and they asked me lots of questions about America, where they will be doing research next semester.  I’ll probably never see them again in my life, but it was fun to just connect with interesting people for a day or two just to enjoy the company.

4. We had a party in kouyu yesterday.  Many of the American students at BeiDa are here through a program called CIEE, which is a third-party, for-profit study abroad program organizer that sends about thirty students to BeiDa each semester for a whopping $20,000 a semester (I KNOW!  RIGHT!?)  Well, since it’s an American company, obviously it’s going to have its students home for Christmas, so they’re all leaving this weekend, despite the fact that our final exams aren’t until the 30th.  The assignment was for everyone to bring a food item to share that represents our home country.  I went to the Carrefour down the road and bought Twizzlers.  I thought they’d be a hit, but everyone in my class really went over the top!  We had Australian wine, homemade Japanese rice balls, really expensive New York-style pizza.  One kid went to his favorite milk tea shop and bought everyone individual milk teas, which was probably really pricey as well!  My teacher made a homemade pork dish, and my California pal Sam made his famous banana pudding.  I was really hoping my Icelandic classmate would bring something, but then it occurred to me he probably can’t access anything related to home while in Beijing.  We all sat around drinking, eating, and conversing in Chinese, English, Japanese, etc.  I love that class and those people.  None of them are my best friends, but I’ve seen them everyday and we’ve struggled through this insane language together, joking all the way.  It’s been an incredible experience, and it feels strange that some of them are already leaving.  I am insanely grateful that I am here for another semester, as I know that I am on the very brink of going somewhere with this language.  I really feel like I’m just about to be on the other side of a major hump with this, and I can’t wait for next semester to get me all the way there and to meet more amazing people on the way.

5. I bought fake Uggs for $5.  Any of you would swear they’re the real thing.


Margaret: 宜家家具 – yijiā jiājù – IKEA

November 30, 2011

After a rough week of exams and an even rougher weekend, Megan, my Jersey girl, and I set out for some therapy that only the Swedes can provide.  IKEA, or 宜家家具.  I adore this Chinese name.  宜 by itself means “suitable,” but it is more well-known as one of the two characters that make up 便宜, the word for “inexpensive.”  家 refers to anything to do with “household” or “family,” and 家具 means “furniture.”  Thus, we’re left with “suitable household furniture.”  When read aloud, it sounds something like yi jiā jiā jù.  Genius.

Our first stop, obviously, was the restaurant.  Two plates of Swedish meatballs and mashed potatoes later, my stomach was full but happy.  For the record: everything tastes the same as IKEA food in the United States and presumably the rest of the world.  Somehow I’d really like to go back there for Christmas dinner.  After about two hours of pushing through 人山人海 (rénshānrénhǎi – mountains and seas of people), I had about 580 RMB worth of necessary materials to IKEA-ize my room.  As usual, I felt a twinge of guilt spending that much at IKEA of all places, but that changed this morning: I woke up warm for the first time in many weeks, the harsh overhead lighting in my bedroom will never taunt me again, my feet didn’t go numb this morning on the ice-like tile, and I had a buddy to spend the night with.  I’ve named him 大王 (Dàwáng) or Big King.  I’ve known a few Americans with this Chinese name.  The English translation in itself is quite ridiculous, but the sound of the second Chinese syllable is really the entertaining bit.

IKEA is a phenomenon in China.  Many urban Chinese go there just for fun, and it isn’t uncommon to see people laying in the showroom beds asleep, with a book open, or cuddling with a significant other.  If you’re interested, check out this LA Times article:

Lately I’ve been falling slowly into the big black hole of a “Me against China” mood that swallows me from time to time.  Luckily, all of that changed today.  When asked if I feel I’m improving at Chinese, I always answer with a sharp “no.”  Frankly it doesn’t feel like anything.  I still can’t speak basic Chinese in simple situations, usually because I don’t feel confident enough to do so.  Today, however, my jaw dropped when laoshi handed me my intensive Chinese exam.  64 out of 70.  The high score in my class was 65.5.  I looked around at my class of Japanese and Korean students in disbelief.  How could this be possible?  I had always known I was the worst in the class.  My day got even better when I arrived at my speaking class.  Laoshi was rambling on about grades, but I was feverishly looking something up in my iPod Chinese dictionary, almost too distracted to hear 柯小玫, my name, in the same sentence as 听写 (tīngxiě).  So I had scored the highest in the class on my 听写, which literally translates into “listen” and “write.”  Nearly every night I sit at my desk with my book and whiteboard in hand, scrawling out each and every new character, stroke by stroke, and memorizing the sound.  The next day in class, the teacher reads the words aloud, and I write them.  It was no surprise to me I had scored so well on my 听写 – it’s the one thing I know I can do perfectly if I put the time in, which I always do.  I went back to my dictionary, only to hear my name again a few moments later.  I had received the highest score on my oral exam speech along with two other students.  Umm…..WHAT?  I can’t speak Chinese.  I had even awarded myself a 75% on my own performance of a five minute speech detailing the surprise I encountered when I arrived in China the second time to find out that actually not all Chinese people speak English, as I had stupidly and naively assumed after having my hand held for the entirety of my two week trip to China in 2008.  In true Chinese form, Peking University and presumably universities across China have an obsession with broadcasting who in the class are the best students.  Well, as of this point, 柯小玫 is number one, an announcement that was made all the more embarrassing by my loashi’s overly enthusiastic and my classmates’ underwhelming applause.

My exam results made me feel better and worse at the same time.  While it felt good to feel successful momentarily, I quickly reminded myself that I still don’t know how to order food without resorting to pointing at it, I still yell out “left” and “right” from the back seat of cabs because I don’t know how to say “turn,” and my eyes still glaze over blankly when someone tries to talk to me even when they say something that I’m perfectly capable of understanding.  Somehow I’ve managed to “try” my way around Chinese without learning it.  I’ve reached the top of the class with just enough effort to score well but not enough to actually have the language stick.  I guess it’s a good skill to have with regards to organic chemistry or physics exams, things that I will never have to use again, but it’s entirely useless when learning a language.  My test scores have left me feeling rejuvenated and with a clean slate, so these next few weeks, I’m really going to try to apply myself once more.  In fact, I think I’m going to start by looking up “turn” once this is published.


Margaret: 朋友 – Péngyǒu – friends

November 22, 2011

Today I received an email from Yao Yao, one of the Chinese friends I met while visiting the “small city” of Loudi, population 4 million, in 2008.  It’s a strange reality three and a half years later, that I may so casually return to Nowheresville, China to run around with some very old friends in a place with a two-story Walmart but no white people.

It makes me think of when this all started during the spring of 2007.  A fifteen-year-old me was probably watching some crappy MTV reality TV show when mom walked in and asked me if I wanted to host a Chinese student at our house for a few weeks in the summer.  I was indifferent.  Nobody in my family showed any interest, but my mom signed us up anyway.  Peter was so friendly yet so foreign, breaking through my fifteen-year-old consciousness and making me realize that there is in fact a world beyond the chemical-drenched lawns of suburban Eden Prairie.  I remember grappling with it at the time though.  What does this really mean for me?  I’ll never have any reason nor opportunity to see this kid again, he’s as insignificant as I am.  Yet, the world works in mysterious ways, and here I am listening to pre-maturely played Christmas music in a Chinese coffee shop in the middle of Beijing while looking up train routes between here, Loudi, Kunming, Guangzhou, and a plethora of other places that are calling my name.  So thanks mom.

I really need to upload a video of my erhu.  Unfortunately it still sounds like the Chinese version of a bagpipe, so for the most part I don’t dare to play it in my dorm room.  Next weekend the erhu class is going to a park to play outside despite the freezing temperatures.  I don’t think anyone here has ever seen a white person play erhu before, so next time I post, hopefully I’ll have lots of funny pictures of onlookers.

I have the second set of midterm exams this week.  Tomorrow I’m giving a five minute speech, and on Friday I have a written exam with about 225 new characters I have to know how to write.  That’s roughly 2000 strokes, people…  Because of this, the thought of Thanksgiving literally hasn’t even crossed my mind, but I know there are several dinners being put on by restaurants in the Chaoyang District.  Sure, it’ll be sad not celebrating Thanksgiving, but the nice is, it’s out sight and thus out of mind.  My parents are hosting a few Chinese visiting scholars who are teaching or researching at the University of Minnesota this year.  A piece of advice: Don’t try to teach them how to play 31.  Bad memories of when Chinese people tried to explain a card game to me and Brian in a Loudi apartment one evening three and a half years ago.  Happy Thanksgiving!


Margaret: 秋天 – qiūtiān – fall

November 11, 2011

Fall has finally arrived in Beijing, and the ginkgo trees on campus are nothing short of spectacular, lighting up the grounds like big golden suns.  In the spirit of the season, I thought I’d bring my camera to campus today to capture the colors before they’re gone in a week or so.  I figured my blond hair already attracts enough attention, so obnoxiously snapping photos on my own college campus wouldn’t really do all that much more damage in the staring department.  After class this afternoon, I set off to old campus for some photographic therapy.  To my surprise, every single other Chinese person on the north half of campus had a camera in their hands.  Students, frail old men, and even little kids were running around in pursuit of the angle that best captures the colors of the season.  It was like we were all paparazzi.  This was really one of the only times I’ve felt a sense of community on campus.

Apparently my photographing did attract the attention of one onlooker – Li Xizhuang, or Alec in English.  He tapped me on the shoulder and asked, “Are you American?”  I then spent the next five hours with him in a coffee shop on campus helping him prepare for the TOEFL, the English exam foreign students have to take to go to school in America.  Li is 33 and holds two Master’s degrees, one from Harvard and the other from Tsinghua, Beida’s rival for the number one spot in China.  He lived for several years in Boston and then New York while studying and working.  He’s hoping to be admitted to a PhD program in executive business management in America so that he can become a professor and “have time to think and write a book.”  His spoken English is amazing, but, as usual with non-native speakers, he has many minute issues with writing.  I had never realized before tonight how many itty bitty English words like in, on, through, by, that, etc. are so interchangeable yet so not at the same time.  Li is perhaps the first Chinese person I’ve met here who’s really been able to stimulate me intellectually.  We discussed the role of Chinese parents in their child’s education, the differences between Chinese women and American women, why all Chinese people want to leave China, etc.  He was also very forward with me, talking about girlfriends and marriage and babies but then adding that I’m “too young,” and “just like his 15-year-old niece.”  I feel like I should start calling myself the Much-Older-Man Heartbreaker, as it’s unintentionally happened more times than I can count.  I probably jinxed myself somehow when that 30-year-old Hispanic janitor as my high school job proposed to me IN SPANISH when I was 16 and I said no…  Despite his restrained advances, I had a really great time with Li and left feeling totally refreshed from our conversation.  Although I said he didn’t have to, he paid me about $80 USD for my tutelage, which is a TON of money by Chinese standards.  I may go buy myself a $15 bag of Milanos tonight.  🙂

Growing up, during the peak of fall color my family would pack a picnic and go into to Chanhassen to Lake Ann one weekend each year.  There was never anything particularly special about this lake or this place.  I could go to it whenever I wanted and would frequently bike there in the summer to go to the beach.  Yet, I remember avidly looking forward to this one day each year, and my memories of it are vivid.  Somehow every time we’d go, the water, frigid by now, was always as still and reflective as glass.  Dad would prepare the charcoals for the hot dogs while mom unloaded the cooler filled with Pringles and green grapes and homemade cookies and if I had behaved that day, a caffeine-free Pepsi, my heart’s delight!  My brothers and I would play on the playground before all five of us would head into the woods.  The trail was probably no more than a mile, but it was perfect in every way.  The leaves in every shade of red and gold and brown would fall as if on cue like we were in a snowglobe of sorts.  When I was a bit older, puppy Bentley joined us, running like a cheetah up and down and all around and collecting a myriad of sticks and leaves and burrs in his fur that became the bane of mom’s existence.  The sun would set over the lake, and soon enough the fall chill permeated our sweatshirts, sending us home.

Feeling nostalgic and looking to recreate my fairytale fall memory, a few days ago I went to the Summer Palace in search of fall color and peace of mind.  Just two subway stops from Beida, the imperial gardens had once served as a summer resort for emperors of old.  To my dismay, I found neither color nor peace.  The ginkgos on campus had had me fooled.  They’d turned much earlier than anything else, and the Summer Palace hardly had any at all.  A bleak, heavy haze hung over the day and blotted out the sun almost completely.  What should have been beautiful was gray, and tourism had overrun the place with vendors attacking me around every corner in broken English.  I’ll have to go back in the spring or summer when everything is in bloom.

Despite being sick and poorly medicated on Chinese “herbal antibiotics,” my heart has honestly felt like it’s going to explode these past few days!  Brian Krause is coming to China in January, and I am soooooo excited!  Now that I’ve gone on a backpack trip and know how to not get ripped off while bargaining for a room in a hostel, he and I are going to set off together on an China epic adventure.  Trains and buses go everywhere in this country, and hostel rooms are like $10 a night, so basically we can hop a train and go anywhere.  The idea that the WHOLE country of China is available to us is giving me absolute chills.  We could go to the Avatar Hallelujah Mountains:

Or Hainan, China’s Hawaii:

But where I really want to go is here, here, and here:

Yunnan Province near Tibet.  One of the cities I hope to get to actually changed its name to Shangri La.  I’m absolutely itching to get out of the city and off the beaten path.  Tiger Leaping Gorge, here I come.  I just can’t wait to do some hiking again and breath actual air.  And I couldn’t have picked a better travel companion.  I absolutely cannot wait for him to get here.  It’s literally going to be the trip of a lifetime, and it can’t some soon enough.  And let’s be honest, we all remember where Marg ended up with a backpack and ten days to spare this past October:

Amazingly excited to see where two weeks takes Brian Krause and I.

And then mom and dad come on February 5th!  I simply could not be more overjoyed to have my family come to China.  I remember this past summer when my mom came to visit me in Ames, Iowa.  I mean, I know I’m comparing Ames to CHINA right now, but seriously, the prospect of her visiting was all that got me through the two sticky, strenuous week prior.  I remember being so excited to take her to the gelato shop and the Stomping Grounds and Hickory Park and around the Iowa State campus.  I showed her around Des Moines, my weekend escape, with pride and even drove her all the way out to the research farm, where I had her walk in the corn a bit just to see how lovely corn leaves scratching your face feels.  It meant so much to me to have her support me in such a way.  It’s easy to think that relationships within a family are stagnant, and it was her visit that made me really realize how ever changing each and every relationship with my family members are as we move through different stages of life.  I am so thrilled to reconnect with my family in China, and the prospect of their coming has made me feel completely renewed and incredibly lucky to be here.


Margaret: 万圣节 – Wànshèng Jié – Halloween

November 1, 2011

At long last, the Halloween celebrations having finally finished.  What a weekend!  I couldn’t stand the idea of not dressing up as anything for Halloween, one of my favorite holidays, so I embarked on the seemingly impossible quest of tracking down a costume in Beijing.  Carrefour, a French hypermarket, had all of one costume for females – pirate wench.  One size fits all of course.  Well, one size didn’t quite fit all, and I ended up making a few alterations that fell out throughout the course of the weekend.  And the hook was totally necessary, am I right?   A select few Chinese caught on to the amazingness of Halloween while the rest of the crowds out on the town were expats.  I dropped big bucks on some American candy, and I never thought I’d say this, but due to an extremely limited selection of sweets, Snickers and Skittles are getting old quite quickly.

Karen, a friend of mine from Chinese class at the U of M, is studying in the city of Xi’An this semester, and she took the train in with two friends to visit me in Beijing this weekend.  It was wonderful to see her yet odd at the same time to have someone who knew me before China in Beijing with me!  I took them to the Temple of Heaven, which I had been to back in 2008.  Ming and Qing dynasty emperors used this complex for annual ceremonies to pray for good harvest.  I guess we have GMO’s for that now…

My friends really wanted to go the China military museum, which I hadn’t been to before.  Every museum I’ve been to in China so far just hasn’t measured up to anything in the U.S.  Poorly light halls filled dusty cases displaying the bowl so and so ate his porridge out of during such and such battle or the socks some general wore fifty years ago are ogled by old, bent over Chinese men who probably predate the artifacts while screaming children play hide and seek, poking in and out of the legs of huge statues depicting men who at one point in Chinese history probably did something particularly Communist.  Poor translations adorn the walls, meanings sometimes lost yet other times exacerbated.  My day was made when some genius thought it would be a great idea to bring his art class of seven year olds to the military museum to gain inspiration from none other than the small arms display.  Priceless China.  Endless entertainment…


Margaret: 假的 – jiǎ de – fake

October 25, 2011

One of my American friends here grew up on the east coast and is attending a small liberal arts college in Pennsylvania studying business.  Some weeks ago a few of us were out for drinks when he asked us what cities he should try beginning his career in after graduation.  Naturally, I suggested Minneapolis – I’ve always seen it as a great place to be a young professional thanks to a good local economy and several Fortune 500 companies.  Beyond that, the city literally sparkles.  There’s a distinct Midwesterness about it.  Lakes and lush green parks nestle into urban areas, cut and crisscrossed by 84 miles of off-street trail, while the old brick buildings of the mill district remind of boom time long ago when the city was the flour milling capital of the world, all thanks to the mighty Mississippi – as if we needed even more beautiful shoreline.  One of my favorite images of the city is the view from Lake Harriet.  Take away the skyscrapers and you’ve got the Boundary Waters Canoe Area.  Can’t.  Beat.  That.  My friend, however, was less than interested.  “Uhhh what!?  Why would I EVER go to Minneapolis?  Isn’t it like just a farm?”

When I close my eyes and think about home, I see the St. Paul campus in all its midsummer glory, surrounded by the wheat and the corn and the barley and blue sky and big white clouds.  I see myself in the heat of the greenhouses during a blizzard, working late into the evening.  I see myself waking up before the sun to bundle up and trek through subzero wind chill to the cozy Al’s Breakfast for a short stack drizzled with real maple syrup.  I see myself leaving a lecture, inspired, mind completely blown.  I see myself getting dressed up on a Friday night for a date in Tea Garden with my O-chem book.  Call me a nerd (please!) or nostalgic, but these are the things I miss so much that I haven’t been able to recreate here.  Minnesota is a great place, and I always knew that, but I think it took leaving for it to really sink in.  It’s the human condition, isn’t it?  I’m here missing home, and in a year, I’ll be home missing China.  Shucks…

I’ve sort of been down and out this week, increasingly dissatisfied with my phony Chinese life.  I used to always look down upon all the rich hipster kids from the University of Minnesota who go away on their dream study abroad vacations to Spain or Paris, where they have classes in English with other students from the U.  They take a million pictures of themselves in bikinis on the beach or at clubs until three in the morning and post them in obnoxiously titled album on Facebook to show the rest of us how much better their little fairytale life is than our own in sad Minnesota.  Then when they come back, they banter on and on about how “living” in Valencia have them a wider worldview and increased cultural competency.  I always thought, “I’m going to China.  I’m actually doing something real with my experience.”  And yet here am I, with the stereotypical travel blog, living a life as fake as the fake 100 yuan notes that fake cab driver handed me at four in the morning after a night out a few weeks ago.  I’ve got nothing on those hipster kids after all.

Many people (mom!) have false ideas of what studying abroad is like.  “You’ll get there and you’ll interact with the culture and you’ll make all these great Chinese friends right away and on Spring Festival, one of them will invite you home to their electricity- and modern sanitation-lacking village where their mother will teach you how to make dumplings and their father will teach you how to play erhu and they will invite you to name their newborn nephew.”





In reality, my fake Chinese life is mostly devoted to trying to stay sane.  I spend so much energy each and everyday staring blankly up at my professors for six hours, trying not to get killed by a bus on the way to school, and finding a seat in a cafeteria packed three times its capacity that I don’t have anything left to give.  What do I do to try to stay sane?  Eating Skippy peanut butter out of a can with a spoon. Gouging myself on Snickers that taste a little off.  Going to WuDaoKou, the expat student area, to sit in an overpriced coffee shop eating an overpriced pathetic attempt at a panini and drinking overpriced tea bag tea with other lazy expats who, like myself, are too scared of real China to leave the cozy confines of the cafe.  Going through the motions until Thursday when I start my weekend early by dressing up and going out to expat bar areas with my American friends whom I pretend to like more than I do to dance the morning away until I roll out of bed the next afternoon and do it all over again.  Three times.

Fake Life Confessions:

I have no Chinese friends.  My language partner is Korean.  And I quickly discovered that the one Chinese friend I did have (her name was Smile) was using other foreigners and me for our English.  She told us she goes to Beida, but we found out she’s not even in college, and she’d blow up my phone every other day saying, “I’ll be waiting for you (insert place) at (insert time),” without even asking me if I wanted to meet or if I was free.  Most of the time, I feel conversing with a Chinese person, even if they’re conversant in English, takes tons of energy and effort, and I find that if given the choice, I will always choose returning to Zhongguanxinyuan to pass out over “hanging out.”  Do Chinese people hang out?  I don’t even know.

I haven’t relaxed in two months.  The trials of each day leave me absolutely exhausted, and unfortunately I have yet to uncover a method to relieve my daily agitation.  In America if I’m feeling stressed out, I can hop on my bike and be on a trail in ten seconds.  Think there is such a thing as trails in Beijing?  Think again.  If I had a bike, I’d be subjected to crazy driver-laden streets, and my bike would likely be stolen within a few months.  Go for a run, you say?  Have fun getting lung disease.  Beijing doesn’t really do parks either, unless it has an admission fee, a few hundred years of history, and about a thousand daily visitors.  I can’t relax when my roommate is around, which she always is, even on Friday and Saturday nights.  I’ve already read the two English books that I brought here (Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and a biography of Norman Borlaug of course), so I’ve started watching bootlegged movies on the internet.  I don’t even like film.  Maybe after this year though, I will cease to be made fun of for all the movies I haven’t seen…

I haven’t been anywhere in the city besides the university and three expat hangout areas.  My life is a constant rotation.  Beida, WuDaoKou, Beida, Sanlitun, Beida, Beida, Houhai, Beida, WuDaoKou, Beida.  I really haven’t even done anything else here besides school; shopping for fake goods at fake markets; searching for sad attempts at pizza, burgers, and sandwiches; and going to bars and clubs where white people are the majority.  One of my favorite restaurants, Pyro Pizza, is styled exactly like an American college bar, completely with beer pong tables, banners hanging from the ceiling that read “WuDaoKou Football Champions 1977,” and large glass beer steins filled with fake Budweiser.  I can close my eyes and pretend the gophers just lost and I’ve gone to Campus Pizza with some friends after the game.

I love McDonalds.  My girlfriend asked me the other day what I would eat if I could eat anything in Beijing.  I would eat McDonalds.  Hands down, no competition.  Although last weekend I went to the city’s only Burger King, and I must say, their fries are better.

China’s culture is increasingly more fake.  They’ve become obsessed with the West in every way and want more than anything to become rich like America.  Women will bleach their skin white and undergo blepharoplasty cosmetic surgery to create a double eyelid.  They love Nike, they love The North Face, they love Starbucks.  Buddhism is becoming commercialized.  They built a fake section of the Great Wall to capitalize on tourism.  Enough said.

My fake Chinese life has left me exhausted, and I haven’t left the confines of my cold tiled dorm room this weekend save for a frustrating erhu lesson.  Mom sent me a wonderful box full of twizzlers, peeps, granola bars, smarties, etc. and I’ve made dinner out of it for the past two nights and didn’t feel an ounce of guilt about it.  When I woke up this morning, my skin had broken out entirely, worse than it’s been since my middle school pizza face days.  Oh hey body, looks like you forgot all about high fructose corn syrup.  Ahh fake sugar, how I’ve missed you.


Margaret: 哪裡哪裡 – nǎlǐnǎlǐ – You flatter me

October 16, 2011

Today was kind of a big deal.  For the first time ever, a Chinese person complemented my Mandarin.  It was my cab driver on the thirty-minute ride across Beijing from Little Moscow to Haidian.  I told him where I wanted to go, that I was American, that I was here studying Chinese, and asked how long he’d been driving his cab – clearly extremely complicated topics of conversation.  After he told me how good my Chinese was (nali nali), rather than continuing to practice I elected to stop talking, savoring the moment for fear that he’d say something I wouldn’t understand, which would have made his praise taste a bit less sweet.  Good one Marg, you’re really working hard.

Even though I chickened out, to have a native complement my speech was like reaching a mini Holy Grail.  I own it to Ben and Keen – they did the cabbie chitchat routine so many more times on our trip than I even cared to hear that now I feel as though I could do it in my sleep.  Yay, success?

After a week of grueling midterms, I was happy to have a colorful blur of a weekend of accidental shopping, bar hopping, Hooters, the Beijinger’s 10th anniversary party, karaoke, sardine-packed subways, overpriced American food, and my first cigarette.  China is exhausting.


Margaret: 朝鲜 – Cháoxiǎn – North Korea

October 13, 2011

On Friday, September 30, I left Beijing with one backpack, a train ticket to the city of Shenyang, two people I had just met a mere week before, and virtually no plans schemed, reservations made, or even a return ticket purchased.  However, we did have one clear goal in mind: to get as close to North Korea, currently one of the world’s most “closed” countries, as possible.  Nine days later, I returned to Beijing renewed with about 500 photos, two new very good friends, a few new contacts in China and from around the world, and a bizarre collection of incredible experiences I will never forget.  And ten toes that stood in North Korea for about one second. 

Extremely brief history of North Korea: The Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea declared independence in 1948, following the division of the Korean peninsula in 1945 during USSR and American occupation.  The Korean War between South Korea, supported by the United Nations (aka America), and North Korea, supported by the USSR and the People’s Republic of China, began in 1950.  Although an armistice was signed in 1953, the two countries are still officially at war.  North Korea is a single-party state, with a government developed by the country’s dead yet “Eternal President” Kim Il-sung, or the “Great Leader.”  North Korea is a totalitarian Stalinist dictatorship with a cult of personality revolving around the Kim family with one of the lowest human rights rankings in the world.  Despite being only the 99th largest county in the world with only 0.35% of the world’s population, North Korea holds the title of the world’s most militarized nation, with 9,495,000 active, reserve, and paramilitary personal.  Traveling there is extremely restricted, and those who have made it in describe their journey as a trip in a time machine, warping back fifty or sixty years to Communist China.  It’s a crazy place, and Ben, Ken, and I were eager to see what it was all about.

I met my travel companions in WuDaoKou, where we set off for the train station. GuoQingJie, officially October 1st, is a celebration of the anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949.  It marks one of China’s two “Golden Weeks,” the other being Spring Festival, during which most of China is on holiday for an entire week.  Most people return home or travel creating extreme competition for train tickets!  We pushed and shoved our way through the Beijing subway until finally we were seated on the Beijing-Tianjin Intercity Railway.  Tianjin, the 6th largest city in China with a population of around 13 million, is what I like to call Beijing’s “little brother,” a mere 73 miles away, and the first stop on our journey.  The bullet train, as it is known, had us there in 30 minutes, reaching a top speed of 205 miles per hour!  I had mistakenly believed the urban and suburban area spanned the entire 73 miles, and I was delighted to see agriculture on the way!  It seems corn follows me everywhere I go, but I was happy to see it this time as it was apparent I was finally out of the city for the first time since I arrived in China.

We excitedly exited the station in Tianjin and the backpacking commenced!  We asked around and found a youth hostel in a dodgy alleyway.  Upon walking in, a security guard immediately began yelling at us, “No no no no no NO NO NO NO!!!”  Initially I burst out laughing, but he didn’t stop which was weird.  As it turns out foreigners weren’t allowed there.  We brushed it off as racism, but we later discovered that hostels legally have to have some kind of registration to host foreigners.  We ran into this issue many times throughout the trip.

After three hours of searching with some Chinese students who were also traveling around that we met on the way, we finally settled on RuJia, or Home Inn, a Chinese chain of hotels similar to the AmericInn without the pool.  I was so happy to take my bag off as I could feel the muscles in my shoulders swelling and burning.  Because of the heavy travel period, Home Inn didn’t have rooms to accommodate the three of us, so we elected to rent a double room and push the two twin beds together!  Ahh the joys of backpacking!  I slept in the crack of the beds that night and the next in Shenyang.

Our train to Shenyang was the following day in the afternoon, allowing us some time to explore Tianjin.  The place sort of rubbed me the wrong way.  It was a massive city eerily devoid of people thanks to the holiday, and the ultra European architecture gave the city a fake identity.  Let’s just say I don’t think I’ll be returning to Tianjin anytime soon.  After a game of pool at an abandoned outdoor bar joined by a passerby local, a romp around the city, and a ride on the Eye of Tianjin, the world’s largest ferris wheel built on a bridge, it was time to leave, and I was pleased to get on our way.

The next train to Shenyang was still a high-speed line, but nowhere as fast as the bullet to Tianjin.  The journey to Shenyang took about five to six hours.  Shenyang has a population of 8.1 million, twenty times the size of Minneapolis.  The thing I love about Shenyang is that here is this enormous, over following city with a bazillion street corners, each with its own secrets and nooks and crannies to be explored, and yet nobody even knows about this place.  Even myself, having LIVED a mere five hours away for over a month now, hadn’t heard of it until we purchased the tickets.  There are no visible foreigners here, which made for a great amount of staring, but made me say to myself, “Finally I’m here, this is China.”  After two days, I didn’t want to leave as I felt as though I had merely scratched the surface.

Highlights of Shenyang included exploring futuristic buildings straight out of an anime, a night’s stay in what we were sure was a “love hotel” (it ended up being okay though), drinks with Ben’s Japanese friends from BeiDa whom we miraculously ran into on the street (my first experience sitting on the floor Japanese style while dining!), and stumbling upon what takes the cake for the most bizarre restaurant I’ve ever seen.  “Modern Toilet” was in a mall where we saw a movie one of the nights.  It is a bathroom-themed chain with locations in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and China.  Showerheads adorn the walls, plungers hang from the ceiling, and the chairs are all non functioning toilets.   The food is served in urinal shaped dishes, and a cursory glance at the ice cream may leave you thinking you’ve ordered a turd.  Only in Asia…

One of Shenyang’s most well-known attractions is the “September 18th History Museum” honoring an incident in 1931 during which the Japanese used a small quantity of dynamite to destroy Japanese owned train lines near Shenyang.  The Japanese, accusing Chinese dissidents of the act, used this as an excuse to invade and occupy the area, killing many Chinese in the area and even conducting horrifying medical experiments on a much greater scale than those of Dr. Joseph Mengele of the Holocaust.  The Chinese hate the Japanese.  Most Chinese people will tell you they hate the Japanese.  Thus, the museum was chalk full of anti-Japanese propaganda and sentiment.  It was an interesting experience going to a museum in China.  There were some English captions, but I had to wonder how much of it was lost in blatantly poor translation and how much of it was exacerbated by poor translation.  Heavy, loaded words like “frenziedly plundered” and “plunging millions upon millions into misery and suffering” were everywhere.  The intense language and strong hatred of the Japanese made the museum and unique political and historical experience that made me think of my high school U.S. history teacher Mr. Cwodzinski.

The night before our train out of Shenyang, we were on our way home in a cab sitting in a red light when a car nearly smashed into my side!  It had spun around through the light Tokyo Drift style, and my life flashed before my eyes.  The cab driver muttered nonchalantly that the guy probably just fell asleep at the wheel.  Right when we got out of the cab, a man near us collapsed on the sidewalk, his head hanging off the curb onto the street.  I was really worried, but the boys told me not to go near.  We got the nearby news stand to call the authorities.  After these events, I couldn’t wait to get to the love hotel and lock the door.  It was the first time I really felt unsafe in China.

The train to Dandong was much older and slower than anything we had taken.  The seats were booths facing each other, giving us a perfect opportunity to chat with our fellow travelers.  We met some people from Inner Mongolia who could ride horses and shoot arrows, as well as a little girl who taught us Chinese tongue twisters.  Everything was in Chinese.  This is probably a good opportunity for me to talk about Ben.  Ben is a tall, lanky Aussie from Melbourne with an infectious, electric energy.  Despite only having studies Chinese for a year and a half (6 months less than me!), he is conversationally proficient and in one of the highest classes at BeiDa.  The wonderful thing about Ben is that, not only does he love chatting with locals of all ages, but he actually seeks out and sometimes creates opportunities to do so.  Every train ride, every cab ride, every meal, every destination, it was all Chinese all the time.  It was probably more Chinese than I’ve heard in Beijing put together, and it was especially good for me to listen to because he is a second-language learning and easy for me to understanding.  By the end of the week, I felt like I could understand anything.  That changed quickly when people spoke directly to me – it either went in one ear and out the other or sounded like Cantonese.  Someone even told me my Chinese was bad.  I wanted to cry.  However, when Chinese came spilling out of my mouth yesterday in class, I knew the trip had helped me more than anything I’d learned so far at BeiDa, and I owe it all to Ben.  He’s on a gap year before college in Australia, only 19, and yet so worldly.  Ben and Keen were both perfect travel companions – both are well traveled, up for anything, completely spontaneous (evident in our lack of plans), and eager to meet and chat with locals.  I couldn’t have asked for better strangers travel companions! 

Dandong is a tiny town of 2.4 million, directly across the Yalu River from the North Korea town of Sinŭiju.  The two towns are connected by the Sino-Korean Friendship Bridge, 100 meters downstream from an older bridge, bombed by Americans in the Korean War.  The intact portion of the older bridge is opened to tourists to walk on and get a closer look at North Korea.  At one point in Dandong, we met with a travel agent in attempts to get into North Korea.  It was very serious.  We sat down with here in a private office in the North Korea department of her agency.  She explained that all tourists can only enter if they buy into North Korean-run four-day tourist packages.  Because Ben is an Australian, he can enter by train over the bridge, touring with other Chinese.  Keen and I, both Americans, cannot take the train and must fly via Shenyang, having our own independent tour and guide because we’re from the U.S.  Oh, and it’s twice as much as Ben would have to pay, around $2000.  I was ready to do it immediately, but we simply didn’t have enough time.  Maybe next year…

It’s difficult to describe in words the scene along the river.  On the Chinese side, people are laughing and talking, striking silly poses in pictures, music is pumping from the speed boats taking tourists near the North Korean shore.  It’s literally like a party.  And yet, on the other side, there’s nothing.  It’s stark and barren.  There are no people save for the occasional military official or seaman.  This is a video of the shore from a speedboat that had seen one too many choppy waves.

When we passed within ten or so meters from a boat with North Korean seamen on it, the happy-go-lucky Ben decided to wave and yell a greeting to them.  One of the North Koreans spat a curse and waved his arm wildly.  The driver of our boat said it was because he thought Ben was American.  I felt immediately bad for having chartered the boat.  It felt like a safari.  I, a tourist with freedoms and wealth, was ogling up at these people, who are just people after, who have next to nothing.  There’s no way to describe the pit I felt in my stomach.

The next day we took a cab to the “Fake Wall of China” just outside Dandong.  I call it that because remains of the eastern end of the Great Wall were excavated near the site in 1989, and in 1992 China completed a “renovation” of the excavation open to tourists.  Basically they built a new section of the Great Wall in 1992.  You could definitely tell.  We paid to go in but never made it to the actual wall as we were distracted by an area called YiBuKua, or “One Leap Over.”  

The picture to the right depicts North Korea across a mere brook.  We spent quite a bit of time traversing the edge of the rock face on the China side of the brook before it began raining.  In this same area, we took another speedboat to the shore of North Korea, this time literally in North Korean waters.  The picture of the neighboring speedboat below is the last picture I snapped before being told to turn my camera off.

“One Leap Over” was complete with signage with restrictions for tourists.  One depicts a man throwing goods across the brook into North Korea, a major no-no.  The other says “Cherish a good life, abide by border regulations.  Sad…

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Margaret: 出轨了 – Chūguǐle – derailed

September 25, 2011

Yes, sadly Marg is quite derailed.  I’m beginning to realize that studying and working hard isn’t going to cut it with my classes.  There’s a huge gap in my education between what I learned at Minnesota and what I’m supposed to be learning here.  I can’t magically make up for the language foundation that I never had.  Taking this level of hanyu would be comparable to reading the Sorcerer’s Stone and then skipping to the Deathly Hallows.  None of it would any sense, and the reader would endure 759 pages of Avada Kedavra and Lord Voldemort!  I should probably change classes, however I’m not even proficient enough at the language to tell me my teacher my concerns.  I’ve been unmotivated and somewhat apathetic this week, simply going through the motions.  Let’s hope I can give tomorrow a renewed Margy try.

On the bright side, as soon as Friday hits, I get to temporarily forget about all of it in favor of food, dancing, glitz, and glam.  On Friday night, a few friends and I rented a paddle boat on Houhai.  The boys did all the work!

And now for the newest biggest news since I’ve been here: On Friday I bought train tickets to travel to the North Korean border for next week over a week-long holiday with two guys I met.  I promise there’s no need to jump on a plane and come kidnap me.  One is Keen, a thirty-something MBA student in Tiffany’s program.  He was born and raised in Chinatown in New York City before going to school at Cornell and then moving to Japan.  He’s really interesting because he was on the ground when the planes hit the World Trade Center and when this latest earthquake hit Tohoku.  Just hoping we don’t get arrested on the border!  His buddy is a tall, white excitable and eccentric Australian named Ben who’s in the language program with me, although he’s in nearly the highest level.  He and I packed into a tiny room to buy train tickets from the campus travel agency on Friday.  Everyone was frantic, pushing and shoving to trying to buy tickets at the last minute when most were sold out.  We arrived at the front, and out of this Aussie’s mouth came the fastest Chinese I’ve ever heard a foreigner speak.  The room fell dead silent.  I turned around as if I was on stage to see thirty Chinese people staring at us with big silly grins on their faces.  I burst out laughing, which only added to the spectacle.

On Friday after class we’ll take the Beijing-Tianjin intercity railway, peaking at 217 miles per hour, to Tianjin, or what I like to call Beijing’s brother on the ocean.  The trip is only about thirty minutes.  We’ll spend the night there, getting up on Saturday to take a train (soft sleepers!) to the city of Shenyang.  The trip one-way is $46 USD.  Shenyang is the largest city in northeast China with just over eight million people.  It was used by the Manchus in the 17th century as their capital and is now a major commercial hub with Japan, Korea, and Russia.  Traditional cuisine includes…wait for it…sauerkraut!  We’ll then head to Dandong, presumably by bus or train, which literally lies on the border between China and North Korea.  The main attractions here are the end of the Great Wall and the Sino-Korea Friendship Bridge (lol) over the Yalu River.  Tourists can rent boats to get closer look at the border where the North Korean city of Sinŭiju lies.  North Koreans gather on the edge of the river, waving at foreigners.  We also hope to get to Heaven Lake, a volcanic crater lake within a mountain range, half located in North Korea and half in China.  In North Korean legend, Kim Jong-il was born near this lake.  Dalian, presumably our last destination, is a seaport famed for its beaches, although northeast China is not at all balmy at this time of year.  Ben has advised me to bring a multitude of “jumpers.”

I’m really excited to travel with them, and I think they really know how to do this kind of thing.  I may never have another chance in my life to travel to such a crazy place with two people I just met.  I’m starting to feel like a hippie.  We’re hoping that our destination is a bit off the beaten path as most students are headed to Shanghai, Hong Kong, Xi’an, and Inner Mongolia for this Golden Week.  I’m sure I will have a plethora of crazy shenanigans to blog about whenever I return.

After a meeting with my language partner Q, a successful erhu lesson, and the purchasing of a new phone (squat toilets, skinny jeans, and a few drinks make for a deadly combination), I am hoping to be slightly less chuguile going into this week.  In any case, I only need to make it to Friday, and then the big adventure begins!  Gotta go email a professor of Marxism who wants to improve his English.  Zaijian!

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