Maria Holland

Orientation Day 2 – Temple of Heaven

In Uncategorized on June 10, 2015 at 4:09 am

There is nothing like living in China to make me realize how dependent I am on Google.  Google has been blocked here since shortly after I left the last time, joining the ranks of Facebook, Youtube, WordPress, etc.  I was used to the latter, but dealing with Google being blocked has been really annoying.  Emailing, using my calendar, quick conversions – all require a VPN.  Downloading an app from the Play store is the most difficult thing I’ve done; it requires a VPN on two devices simultaneously and, apparently, the intercession of the saints in heaven. 

The internet is much more annoying than last time I was in China.  Part of it is that more of my life is online and my expectations are higher, but also the Chinese internet is, if anything, worse.  More restricted, more arbitrary, slower.  The randomness of it is the worst.  Some things are easy one time and then inexplicably don’t work, or take 40 minutes, the next time, which is hard to account for.  

Another random thing – for much (but not all) of today, Facebook Messenger was working without a VPN on my phone, even though “Facebook is blocked in China”.  

I had breakfast in the hotel cafeteria for the second day in a row.  The food is a la carte, and the price is reckoned with some mystery math that 40 American science and engineering PhD students are apparently not intelligent enough to figure out.  It’s an ongoing topic of discussion.  Yesterday I got an egg, a veggie pancake, and a sesame ball, and paid 6元.  Today I got an egg, a veggie pancake, a mantou, and a bottle of water, and paid 4.5元.  Even with the data points represented by a dozen other people’s breakfasts, we do not have enough equations to solve the system.  

In language class today, we learned clothing sizes – “I would like a medium shirt”, etc.  But the shoe sizing chart she put up only had women’s sizes up to 8.5 (I’m 10).  When it was my turn to practice a few sentences, I said the only phrases I’ve ever used when clothes shopping in China: “I need your largest item of ___” and “It’s still not big enough”.

After a lecture on Chinese history and politics by a professor from Peking University, I went on a quest for a SIM card.  I went looking for a China Telecom store, but when I asked for directions I was pointed to a magazine seller.  So, I bought a drug dealer phone – 160元 in cash, no identification required.  That includes the first month of a plan with 800 minutes of talk and 2G data.  No texting; the magazine seller told me no one texts anymore because of WeChat.  

I didn’t have time to get a proper lunch, so I stopped by the supermarket and found my favorite brand of yogurt (蒙牛, or Mongolian Cow).  It was 买二送二 (buy two, get two free!).  Life is good.

Each day of the orientation has a tourist activity, and today’s was the Temple of Heaven (or, as our tour guide always said, “the Temple of the Heaven”). I had taken my parents here when the visited me in 2010 (which is true of basically everywhere we’re going this week), and I’m not big on temples in general, so I wasn’t that into it.

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It was also not a nice day to be outside. The AQI was still in the 160s, and the sky was still the exact same shade of gray as all day yesterday.  It even rained this morning without changing in appearance.

As we were walking and talking about the air quality, a few of us realized that we all had face masks but didn’t want to be the only ones wearing them.  So, finding strength in numbers, we put them on.

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I had tried the face masks on back in the States before coming, and was not really looking forward to them becoming a regular part of my wardrobe.  With that said, today it seemed like the lesser of two evils.  I panicked a little when I first put it on, because there’s a little added resistance to breathing and my body thought I was having an asthma attack.  That passed within a few minutes, though, and then the most unpleasant part was that it gets warm in there and my mouth started sweating :-/

I bought postcards at the temple; this interaction was noticeable because the guy who sold them to me was the first to comment or react in any way to my Chinese.  He asked where I was from, how I learned Chinese, and said I spoke very well.  These are the sort of conversations I had approximately 37 times a day in Jilin and Xiamen, but most in people in Beijing appear to be completely unfazed by foreigners (or, as I used to call myself in China, talking muffins).  If anything, I would have thought this guy, working at a touristy location, would be most used to foreigners, but I guess most of the tourists don’t speak Chinese?

After our visit to the temple, we were on our own for dinner.  It basically feels like we live in the one-dimensional world of Flatland, because our explorations thus far have largely been limited to exiting the east gate of our university and turning left or right.  (This is a much better navigational system than some people are trying to use – “is it next to the KFC?”.  This is so frustrating because I know of at least three KFC within a kilometer of us.)

Tonight we turned right and ate at a Sichuan place.  We got an eggplant dish, beef-and-potato, and wood-ear mushrooms with pork.  The latter was by far the best thing I’ve eaten yet and really the first thing to remind me why I say I love Chinese food.

One strange thing – they asked us to pay up front.  I’ve never seen that at a sit-down restaurant.  Is this a Beijing thing, or what?  A group went to 后海 last night and had a lot of trouble getting a taxi (one guy even rolled down the window and said “No foreigners”).  We had some obviously empty cabs with 空车 in the window pass us by last night as well; I didn’t think much of it but after hearing their story we have two data points.  At the embassy they warned us about xenophobia, which I thought was strange; I’ve only ever experienced white or foreign privilege in China.  I’m not sure if this trend has come to an end, or if I’m not interpreting these situations correctly.

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