Friday, September 23, 2011

Experience the Brilliant Chinese Civilization

So yesterday I decided to make the trek out to the Beijing Capital Museum, on which my Lonely Planet Beijing guide comments: "With Beijing busily hatching a huge and disparate brood of new and often rather pointless museums, this modern and sleek addition is a showpiece achievement." Incidentally, there's a reason that Lonely Planet guides will, on occasion, get confiscated at China's borders. They can be kind of harsh sometimes. Haha.

In any case, the Beijing Capital Museum is located in the southwest part of Beijing, which has surprisingly few "sights" to visit according to my guide books. Basically, it's not a very tourist-y area. Incidentally, this photo depicts part of it (I tend to be good at capturing the nice side of Beijing. Trust me, it is not a particularly pretty city), and in general, it seems to mostly be just offices, apartments, schools, etc.

So it's kind of weird when this super modern building pops up in the midst of everything (Also, I don't know if you can tell, but it's huge):

Anyways, so the Beijing Capital Museum is one of the city's premiere art museums. It's primarily home to a variety of Chinese historical artifacts, anything from porcelain, Buddha statues, wall scrolls, jade jewelry, etc. It's also kind of interesting because a large number of the artifacts are from the Beijing area. I did actually really enjoy looking at the displays, but I kind of wish that either (a) my Mandarin was better or (b) the museum had made a better effort to cater to a more international audience because while there were clearly descriptions of a lot of the objects in Mandarin, the English descriptions were usually one word titles. They did translate a lot of the room descriptions though, and they actually weren't in horribly butchered English. However, they were laden with lots of fun propaganda about the glorious motherland, and that's actually where the title of this post comes from.

In any case, I took some pictures (with my shoddy camera. Yes, I apologize) of choice pieces in the museum:

Also, at the time that I visited, they were hosting the saddest exhibit ever of some paintings from Amsterdam. Namely, it was a room with approximately 10 paintings in it, most of them relatively unknown, and then a Van Gogh self-portrait as the centerpiece (with a marked off line leading to it and everything). It was kind of strange, but perhaps in the future they will attempt to host more international art? It's unclear. I'm kind of exceptionally curious as to whether that's just the fault of this particular museum, whether it's a lack of interest on the country's or the people's side, a lack of trust from museums in other place, the political climate, or what. I think it's a very interesting question.

In any case, one of the parts of the museum that was kind of exciting and that you can't really see from the outside is this ridiculous skewed cylinder:

There are, in fact, approximately six floors of exhibits in there, and the way you climb up is by this ramp that spirals around the outside of the cylinder. Now remember the cylinder is slanted. So walking up this ramp is pretty much one of the most dizzying experiences I've ever had outside of an amusement park. Basically, not only is the floor curving and rising, the walls are at an angle and that angle is changing as you make your way the full 360 degrees. It is quite disconcerting. I tried to take a photo, but I don't think it was able to really capture the weirdness of the whole thing. In any case, cool architecture.

I've also been thinking about travel plans. I'm definitely going to try to head over to 西安 (Xi'an) for the October holiday. This, of course, depends on a lot of things, the most important being that the Chinese government currently has my passport, and I cannot buy a train ticket... without my passport. They claimed that they'll get it back to me on September 30th, but we'll see. Also, because it's the holiday, everyone and their mother (quite literally) will be travelling, and so I'm not even certain that I will be able to buy a train ticket. Cross your fingers!

In addition, I have decided that I want to go to Harbin in January. It will be incredibly cold (Harbin is, in fact, right below Siberia), but they have an awesome ice/snow festival every year. They also have Siberian tigers and a fancy cathedral and all sorts of things to see. There's a lot of Russian influence so it would interesting to see how that looks this far east. In any case, this is my very very vague plan for now. January is still very far away. :)

hearts and stars,

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Saturday's a Rugby Day

First off, before I get to the rugby, I need to take a few moments to explain the complete and utter inanity that is Chinese bureaucracy. I thought that after getting registered for classes, taking the HSK exam, getting my internet up and running, and being set up in a dormitory, I would be done with standing in ridiculously long lines for some random person to stamp some papers. Of course not. Last week, I had to hop a bus over to a nearby hospital (a service I had to pay 50块 for by the way) in order for them to "verify" my physical check-up. Incidentally, I had already gotten all the scans and tests and exams done that I had to get done in the USA. I also still had the paperwork from said procedures. What this process actually entailed was going to the hospital, standing in line, having some lady tell me to go stand in another line, have some lady stamp some papers and send me to yet another line, pay 60块, and then finally stand in yet another line and hand all my paperwork to someone from BLCU to take care of. Being in this hospital, incidentally, is probably what got me sick for all of last week.

Now this was only the first step in a much more horrific process which continued today. After class, I had to go down to the my department's office to pick up the "results" of the physical verification yesterday and then stand in line for some guy to vaguely scribble some details about my existence onto a stamped piece of paper. This did not take so long, maybe 20 minutes. However, I needed this paper to apply for my visa extension/residence permit thing. Because of course, it is not enough for me to have shelled out $140 for a visa which I had thought would cover the whole "I'm staying in this country for six months" thing. Instead, I got to stand in line for two-and-a-half-hours to apply for this particular permit. Then, naturally, when I got to the front, problems arose and as it turns out, there were some issues on my forms because while my passport is American, because I was born in Poland, about half of my documents said that I was actually Polish. One of these documents was the temporary residence permit my dorm had given me on my very first day here. So they made me run back to my dorm, get a new temporary residence permit that stated that I was, in fact, American, get it copied, and then come back to the International Students' Office to finish the whole process. Now, the fun thing is that because this is essentially like getting another visa, they take away your passport. However, unlike your visa, they do not get it back to you in 4 days. In fact, the standard would be to get it back to you on October 10th. Note that this is after the week of October 1st, which is commonly known as October Holiday because we have no class and most people choose to travel during this time. However, as a foreigner in China, you cannot buy train tickets or fly or anything really without your passport because it's your only valid form of identification. See the dilemma? So basically, I shelled out an extra 100块 on top of the 460块 I was already paying in order to *cross your fingers* get my passport back on September 30th. Basically, I am giving all of my money and all of my time (waiting in lines) to the Chinese government.

ANYHOW, enough wanking. This was supposed to be a post about rugby, so here it is! I am playing sevens this season with the lovely ladies of the Beijing Devils Rugby Club. We had our first matches this past Saturday (against each other though, so it was really more of a scrimmage), and it was superb. The weather was ridiculously fantastic, including a gorgeous clear blue sky, a rarity in Beijing, and there could really not have been a better day for rugby. Here are some shots from the games:

Afterwards, we headed over to the team captain's apartment over in the nice part of town for cocktails, champagne, and good old fashioned team bonding. Her window was a lovely lens to a hazy sunset over Beijing:

Then we headed to the Den, a local 三里屯 sports bar and restaurant, for beer, rugby, and general merriment. The cool thing about the Den is that it is actually an official sponsor of the Devils Rugby Club. I'm not entirely sure how they scored this, but part of it definitely comes from the fact that half the team seems to live there. In any case, all Devils players get 50% off on pizza and beer, and the restaurant pays for and maintains the bus that takes us to and from practice twice a week as well as to matches on the weekends. The team is definitely the most social team I've ever been a part of, so beyond the case of beer that is purchased every practice for the bus-ride home, in general, about 10-15 people always stay behind after practice to grab dinner (and a pint, duh) at the Den, at a discount of course. Basically, it's a really good group of people, even if it's not the most experienced women's rugby team in the world. :P

That's all for now. More pictures soon!

hearts and stars,

Monday, September 19, 2011

Early Autumn Cold

So sorry that I haven't posted recently. Nothing terribly exciting has been happening, and more than that 很不舒服 (I'm kind of sick). No, it's not food poisoning... it is actually legitimately just the first cold of the season. Ugh. Building on that, in an effort to battle the pounds that delicious and greasy Chinese street food is helping me pack on, I went on a run today. Basically, I jogged up the main road next to my school for about 2 miles in an effort to find something green. No such luck, of course, since you know, I live in Beijing. And well, the moral of this story is that some combination of my clogged sinuses, my lack of fitness, and of course, ALL OF THE POLLUTION IN THE WORLD rendered me physically unable to run for any longer than that. No really though, I can now understand how people develop asthma from pollution. I mean, for Christ's sake, I was hacking up half a lung by the time I got out to 五环路. So tomorrow, I am going to explore the gym options in the area as well as bike options because there are actually green parks somewhere that maybe are a little easier to breathe in (actually, Olympic Park is only like 7km away from my school). They just all happen to be just barely too far to walk to.

In any case, most of this past week has been devoted pretty much just to classes, rugby, and recuperation. I switched up to the next level of Mandarin (Upper Elementary instead of Elementary), and I think it suits me better. The Elementary class was basically all review, and once I got into the groove of things, it was clearly too easy. The Upper Elementary class is pretty similar to Chinese IV at MIT, so I think it'll be a good fit. The nice (and not so nice) thing is that because I wrote in the Elementary book (not thinking I would be switching), I had to buy it, which was bad because it was 68块 I really could've kept, but good because I can always refer back to it to refresh on those things that are missing from my basic Chinese skills. :)

We did have our first official rugby match(es) this past Saturday, so I have some pictures of that. Unfortunately, I left my camera at a friend's so I'll post those when I get it back.

In the meantime, I thought I'd share this glorious gem:

Incidentally, the greatest thing about this is that I don't think people who aren't from the USA quite understand what Hooters is really famous for. Haha.

hearts and stars,

Sunday, September 11, 2011

I Love Being a Tourist

Why hello there. :) So I had a super exciting weekend. It involved doing a lot of tourist-y things, hanging out with my old BC Calculus teacher, and a lot of rugby.

So Friday, I decided I want to see more of the city, so I hopped the subway over to 天安门广场(Tiananmen Square) to see what the deal was. I mean, you've gotta be a tourist at some point, and I have been warned that I should do it now because the October holiday when there are approximately many million MORE people in this city (haha) and before it's gets unreasonably cold.

Mao and I, we're like basically BFFs now. The most entertaining part of this picture though is so I asked this lady who was with her like whole family to take my picture. She obliged super nicely and then, so in Beijing there are a ton of international people because it's a pretty major city. However, people who are hanging around the tourist-y areas are probably not from Beijing. Therefore, white people, we're a bit of a spectacle. So after she took my picture, she asked me to take a picture with my "new friend", her little two-year-old son. I mean, so I obliged, and afterwards the son gave me the most adorable "Thank you" in existence. It was kind of amusing.

Here are some more pictures from the 天安门 area:
正阳门箭楼(Zheng4yang2 Men2jian4lou2)
正阳(Zheng4yang2) Gate
毛主席纪念堂 (Mao2Zhu3zi2 ji4nian4tang2) - Chairman Mao Zedong Memorial Hall
And for fun, these were pretty awesome. They're little Chinese soldier dudes that shuffle along on their own making gun noises. I thoroughly enjoyed them.

Also, I apologize for the insanely long post! This weekend was pretty busy, and I have an insanely large amount of photos (Of which, I am legitimately sharing only a small amount!). Anyhow, on Sunday, I happened to meet up with an old friend (haha), my old BC Calculus teacher, Hedrick:

because it is, in fact, much easier for us to meet up randomly in Asia than in the the States. Haha. We decided to make a trek along the Great Wall (because I had not been yet, given that I've only been here, you know, a week, and he had only been once), specifically in the unrestored part of the 司马台 (Si1ma3tai2) section of the Wall. I think it was much cooler than seeing the restored parts, and climbing through the super steep rubble was pretty exciting and somewhat treacherous. Like, quite literally, I'm pretty sure you would just not be able to go on terrain like this in the States because there are definitely parts where like, stairs are missing, super steep, crumbling, and whatnot. At the very least, they would have built in handrails are something. Anyways, super-exciting! And of course, I took lots of pictures:

We finished off the day by heading back to Beijing and going out to 北京大董烤鸭店 (Da Dong Roast Duck) for some insanely delicious Peking Duck, of course, the city's specialty:

That's the general gist of my weekend, and sorry for the insanely long post! Hopefully, I made up for it with exciting photos. :) Expect more soon! My mother made a special request to see more of my school so I'll try and get some photos of that.

hearts and stars,

That School that I'm At

So I realize I haven't really mentioned where at all I am studying. I am at Beijing Language and Culture University (BLCU) studying exclusively Mandarin. My life is pretty chill given that I only have 4 hours of class every day from 8:30 to 12:30 and then basically have the rest of the day to do whatever I feel like.

This is the area in which i live:

from a lovely bird's eye view. That is basically the entire campus cropped in the picture (it's pretty small), and my dorm is on the bottom right (those two really tall buildings are both international dorms). Then the building up top is the main building, and that's where I have all my classes.

The campus is super close to the 五道口(wu3dao4kou3) subway station so that is super nice. Also a mall (hahaha), that is MAINLY NICE because it has a large department store where I can buy things like kettles.
Also I learned some very new important words in this past week:

建怡可乐(jian4yi2ke3le4) - Diet Coke (because apparently words like "Diet" and "Light" are simply not understood)

拿铁(na2tie3) - Latte (this is actually a loaner word)

Haha, I'm pretty sure all of the words I learn outside of class are going to relate to food. Also, more to come on my exciting weekend soon!

hearts and stars,

Monday, September 5, 2011

First Few Days

So there are a LOT of things I'm still figuring out and let's be fair, probably will be for a while. The flight here wasn't so bad, especially since the seat next to me was unoccupied and the leg room was like twice that of what I usually fly. I think the main takeaway is not to fly American airlines (in general, not just that specific company) and stick to foreign ones. Mainly, my recent experiences with British Airways and Air Canada have taught me this. Although, to be fair, the Air Canada flight definitely served me a 30-cent Cup-O'-Ramen as a meal, so that was exciting and hilarious.

But the moral of the story is that I'm here and alive and well! I start class tomorrow and spent the last few days figuring out all the logistical details of my life. Firstly, this is the place in which I live:

It is much nicer than I expected! Sunlight, brand new Ikea furniture, television, it honestly has better amenities than your average state school dorm room. Unfortunately, the picture doesn't really convey the few drawbacks... namely, it is 85 degrees, humid as all hell, and I have no AC or even a fan, and of course, the mosquitoes and cockroaches are everywhere. I'm happy to have been trained in the bowels of East Campus to be completely unfazed by hordes of gross bugs because otherwise I would probably be quite happy. Additionally, the mattress is like... probably 1.5 inches thick. My mattress cover in the States is thicker than this. I have been saying I should be sleeping on a firmer surface, so maybe this is a good thing. :P But you know, then there's this:

That is... a toilet. Glossing over the fact that I have to buy toilet paper for my own dorm (No. Glossing!), that is a squat toilet. That is also, a pretty nice squat toilet according to the literature, given that it's like porcelain and flushes and all that jazz.

The main idea here is that I've totally accomplished a lot of things since I've been here. I took my placement test. I'm registered for classes. I have a room. I know where some things are (still working on that Starbucks that is in theory, just past the subway). I have a water boiler (basically the only appliance you will every really need). I even stood in line for like two hours and now have INTERNET! in my dorm room! for the way too high price of why am I paying money for this. :| I will figure out my cell phone soon, and then I will be all set for life (probably). :D Oh and I have rugby practice later so I also get to explore the subway system today.

hearts and stars,

P.S. Incidentally, my new Chinese name loosely translates to 'Elegant Horse'. Haha.