Wednesday, June 6, 2007

first chinese post - may 15

so i'm just reposting my emails...i apologize if you've already read them.

Right now I am in Beijing in an Internet Cafe that is actually pretty nice but very much associated with gamers... it's quite a sketchy walk downstairs. However, it's only about 50 cents for the hour so I'm not complaining. Well we arrived safely in China, just in case you were worried. The flight was long but I watched Music & Lyrics, which was ok, and they showed Catch & Release ( was awful. i stopped halfway through). Anyways... we flew over the north pole and sibera, both of which were incredible to see out the window. It was constantly light out the windows while we were flying which I think make the jet-lag better since we arrived in Beijing at 3PM, which is 2AM ET. So it was pretty much the longest day of my life (even longer than Jack Bauer's) when I went to bed. One crazy thing about the airport: the first thing we saw as we walked out of the terminal was Starbuck's...not exactly what I was expecting in China. Also passing through CHINA BORDER CONTROL was kind of intense. But I passed, no worries.

So, China is just fabulous. I can't believe I'm in China sometimes. There are SO MANY PEOPLE. There are bicycles everywhere... I'm pretty sure there are more bicycles here on Peking University's campus than in all of the US. And they drive like crazy. Crossing the street is pretty much a near-death experience every time. They don't have road rage or anything, so it's all calm craziness, if you can imagine it. They drive SO CLOSE to each other and to the bicycles, and there is no stop on red for right turns so basically you just have to walk in the street. And they do not stop for you if you are in the crosswalk. They will go. It's sort of like the streets are free reign for people, cars and bicycles. I cannot express how many bicycles there are... really.
They stare. People litereally stare at us. Of course we are a large group of 20 white people so I can see why in some respects, and a lot of people, especially tourists from rural provinces, have never seen a foreigner before. They ask to take pictures with us sometimes. But the weirdest thing is that they take pictures of us. When we were at the zoo I felt like we were more of an attraction than the pandas. Honestly - people took pictures of the animals and then turn to take pictures of us. Yesterday I went to a Chinese market with Xiao Xiao, who speaks Chinese, and there were no other foreigners there. They all said "Hallo, Hallo" to me and she said that they were asking each other if they knew any other English phrases to say. It was quite a unique experience, something I have never had before. I look in the mirror now and think to myself, wow I look very different. I can definitely say it puts a new twist on the whole minority issue for me. Either way I just find it least at first, now it is starting to get old but I'm sure that we do look funny, taking up the whole sidwalk as Americans do and I'm sure we sound ridiculous trying to speak Chinese.

The most frustrating thing about being here in China is that I do not speak Mandarin. It is quite, quite frustrating. And it is not like some other languages like Spanish or maybe even French or Italian where you see familiar letters and might be able to figure out what signs say because of that. Here, I have no idea, and it really just looks like pictures outside stores and things like that. And they speak so fast and there are so many tones... it is incredibly difficult to understand and to speak. The first night I was terrified, and it has gotten better because I can say some things (ie how much? too much! and thank you and hello) but I want to get to know the people and talk to them in general but I am left feeling much like an American and very very foreign. But - I will take Mandarin next year and then hopefully come back! Plus Xiao Xiao is here to help us (she is so much of a help) and we have one of the Martindale's English students, Margaret (well Chinese student of English) to help us around. She is phenomenal and is incredibly nice and very very

willing to help us with our cultural ignorance.
Don't think I am not having a good time because of the language barrier. Because I am having a FABULOUS time. And it's only been three days. Sunday we went to church, and it was totally in mandarin so i have no idea what went on but they same some hymns i knew and the woman next to me shared her hymnal with me although it was in mandarin i thought it was very friendly. we went to the zoo sunday and saw some pandas... really the same as the ones that are in the national zoo in DC but hey they were cute. we ate at a food court restaurant that night and ordering was an intense experience. very frustrating again but we got food, and every time that happens i feel very accomplished.

yesterday as i said i went to the chinese shopping district which is like a market, but not really because it's not a tourist place. you can haggle and there are lots of floors of clothes, shoes, etc. there were so many shoes. SO MANY SHOES. so many clothes, watches, sunglasses.... it was fun haggling because i speak no mandarin and they speak no english so we are reduced to sign language but they have different number signs also. either way it was really fun, and xaio xiao helped us ride the bus there which was a unique experience. they pack more people into buses and elevators than i thought humanly possible.

i have fallen asleep at 8:30 every night because of jet lag and walking around. i have a lot of reading to do so that can't continue but it was good for the first few we toured the old summer palace of the qing emperors and it was BEAUTIFUL. it was burned by the British in 1860 and so it's in ruins but the gardens were huge and it was incredible walking around the gardens. the trees here are just so... mystical. lots of willows and willowy-type trees. just beautiful. the pollution is bad and i can feel myself collecting dust in my lungs, but the gardens are still incredibly beautiful.

tomorrow we go to the forbidden city and tiananmen square and i am so very excited. friday we climb the great wall!! i can hardly believe that i am here, in china, climbing the great wall in a matter of days. it still is a shock to me. oh, the food is pretty good. OMIGOSH. the cafeteria is INSANE. at lunch at 12:00 it's like saga on steroids. omigosh i can't describe it to you. people EVERYWHERE. they don't form lines. it's just grab and go. and, my entire meal which consists of an entree, rice, a side & a drink is all about a dollar, or 8 yuan. although i sometimes crave just starch (luckily i brought granola bars...) but in general the food is absolutely delicious especially when we go out to a restaurant. we had peking duck and it was DELICIOUS.

so, obviously i could go on for hours but my hour is almost up and i'm sure i've already bored you with all of my ramblings. but i have to say that I am so excited to be here and I am having a very good time and just enjoying all of my experiences and trying to process all of the new information with which i am being inundated. have a good time in your various locations (black hills, argentina, camp....) and i will see/talk to you all soon!

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