Maria Holland

Posts Tagged ‘parents’

Thanksgiving

In Uncategorized on November 24, 2011 at 4:10 pm

This year I celebrated Thanksgiving at “home” – that is, on Stanford’s campus where I’ve been living for two months now.  My parents came out here for the break, and for the actual holiday we enjoyed a free dinner provided by the Graduate Student Association.  It was nice because we got to share the meal with Mirela, my roommate, who is from Bulgaria and was celebrating her first American Thanksgiving.

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My parents said it was their first time celebrating Thanksgiving not at someone’s home, and their first time eating Thanksgiving dinner outside (although we were in a tent), which I thought was interesting because neither was a first for me.  In fact, I realized that, of the last 6 Thanksgivings, I haven’t spent any two in the same place – 3 different states and two different countries, in fact – and there are only three people (Mom, Dad, and Grandpa Holland) who have been at more than one of the meals.

It reminded me of how often I’m far away from the people that I care about, and made me so grateful for those people who continue to care about me even when I’m far away from them for long periods of time.

Other things I’m grateful for:

Family, friends, and ways to keep in touch:
I QQ-ed with XuLei last night, something we still do pretty regularly.  How amazing is it that we can catch up whenever we want, talking face to face, for free?!  I’m also grateful for the fact that she said I look thinner, which I’m pretty sure was a first for her.

The circumstances that have allowed me to visit friends, and friends to visit me:
This last year was full of so many opportunities to reunite with friends – from Lester and Denise visiting me in Minneapolis, to my summer trips to Tulsa, St. Louis, and Chicago, and my extended road trip through 2/3 of the country, I got to see so many people that I hadn’t seen in too long!  Every visit was excellent, and there’s not a place that I visited that I didn’t leave thinking to myself, “Yeah, I could live here”.

New friends:
This time last year, I hadn’t realized yet how important the friendships that I made senior year at TU would become.  I was still unsure about the consequences of leaving the country for my senior year, and hadn’t yet figured out that it was pretty much the best thing ever.  Also, I’m thankful for the new friends I’ve made at Stanford, who have helped me through this first quarter!

The opportunities I’ve had to study at three of the most beautiful universities:
I love TU’s matching sandstone, library steps with a majestic view of downtown, and luxuriously spacious student apartments.  I loved Xiamen’s proximity to the beach, neighboring mountains, continually blossoming flowers, and Tall Building.  And now I’m continually in awe of Stanford’s classic Main Quad, modern-but-appropriate new Engineering Quad, the killer view from the Dish, and the insane fall colors.  How have I been so lucky?!  And . . . where could I possibly go from here?

And lastly, I’ve started reading The Confessions of St. Augustine, and this passage reminded me of the way I learned Chinese (although here he’s talking about learning his first language, Latin):

There had  been a time too, of course, when I did not know any Latin words either; yet simply by paying attention I learned Latin without any fears or torments; I learned it in the caressing language of my nurses and in the laughter and play and kindness of those about me.  In this learning I was under no pressure of punishment, and people did not have to urge me on; my own heart urged me on to give birth to the thoughts which it had conceived, and I could not do this unless I learned some words; these I learned not from instructors but from people who talked to me and in whose hearing I too was able to give birth to what I was feeling.  It is clear enough from this that free curiosity is a more powerful aid to the learning of languages than a forced discipline.

Pretty much super grateful for that opportunity that I was given.

What Was On My Mind (II)

In Uncategorized on September 4, 2010 at 4:56 pm

The middle of the year, captured in facebook statuses:

 

Maria Holland My parents are in route to China RIGHT NOW. Are they ready for China, and is China ready for them??
January 12 at 10:45pm

Maria Holland Parents, meet China. China, parents. (I hope they get along!!!) Yes, this means my parents have arrived in Xiamen safely!
January 13 at 11:12pm

Maria Holland had an amazing few days in Xiamen with my parents. It was almost too perfect, and now I’m hoping that the rest of China can live up to it! Next stop is Guangzhou, then we’re riding the world’s fastest train to Wuhan.
January 17 at 9:46pm

Maria Holland had the best day since leaving Xiamen today – looking at pandas all morning, and finding an amazing donut shop after lunch!
January 23 at 3:19pm

Maria Holland has mixed feelings about the first two days in Beijing. Peking roast duck, Forbidden City, Mass, and sanlunche ride home were amazing; the lack of readable maps, decent hotels, and Matteo Ricci’s tomb is really frustrating me. Oh, and I finally found a Chinese breviary, as well as a Chinese-English Catholic Encyclopedia!!!!!!
January 31 at 6:00pm

Maria Holland climbed the Great Wall today – and then slid down on my butt. Pretty much the best way to experience ChangCheng (and probably the fastest). Also, I think approximately 1/4 of all Chinese people have a picture of me now.
February 1 at 9:05pm

Maria Holland Um . . . . well, the good news is that I have a train ticket home from Beijing to Xiamen. The bad news is that they were out of sleepers so I have a seat. Oh, and it turns out it’s a 31 HOUR TRIP
February 2 at 8:35pm

Maria Holland got in a fight with China today and lost. We’re currently not speaking, at least not if I can help it. I plan to drug myself heavily before my 31-hour train trip tomorrow. I can’t wait to get back to Xiamen with it’s 70+ degree weather and beaches and Coco milk tea!
February 4 at 9:03pm

Maria Holland has had the 3 worst days in China. Hopefully today will be better – a working toilet, a massage, and my first real meal in 2 days would go a long way in this direction.
February 7 at 8:34am

Maria Holland got my toes in the water, ass in the sand, not a worry in the world and a good book in my hand. It’s 75 and sunny in Xiamen, and I happen to live 3 minutes from a beach. Score!
February 10 at 11:12am

Maria Holland still hasn’t figured out how to say Lent in Chinese . . . but I know how to say Easter!
February 17 at 9:33pm

Maria Holland seriously, Chinese Mulan – no happy ending? I put up with the random foreigner, the sandstorm that came out of nowhere, the lack of memorable songs, and your insistence on speaking Chinese the whole time . . . but how can you end it with the lovers parting ways? This is crap. Good thing the fruit here is good, or I would leave this country.
February 20 at 10:53pm

Maria Holland just figured out that the 天上母后 can be sung to the same tune as the Regina Caeli with only slight squishing of syllables. Is it Easter yet???
February 26 at 12:48am

Maria Holland spent the night in a Chinese hospital . . . don’t worry about me, I was just keeping Lester company, but the poor guy has pancreatitis so please pray for him!
February 28 at 9:58am

Maria Holland 刚刚开学 . . . Classes started today, which means vacation is over. I try not to let school interfere with my education, though, so I’m still really looking forward to the semester!
March 1 at 1:58pm

Maria Holland FOUND CATAN 中文版 (CHINESE EDITION) IN XIAMEN FOR THIRTEEN DOLLARS. Life = complete.
March 4 at 7:06pm

Maria Holland might miss books more than bread, guacamole, ice cream, and tortillas combined. Why do Chinese libraries hate me?
March 10 at 11:50pm

Maria Holland is wondering if you know how to say ‘doorknob’ in another language – without looking it up! Please respond, I’m doing a small survey.
March 12 at 11:58pm

Maria Holland is translating the legend of Paul Bunyan into Chinese. Thus far, I have learned: giant (巨人), lumberjack (伐木人), Grand Canyon (大峡谷), axe (斧), buttons (纽扣), and footprints (足迹). Good thing I already knew how to say Mississippi River!
March 17 at 4:39pm

Maria Holland won’t be takin’ no calls cuz I’ll be dancin’
March 19 at 10:58am

Maria Holland in previewing tomorrow’s Chinese lesson, I came across this sentence: 美国人是非常小气的 (Americans are extremely stingy). Awesome . . .
March 21 at 11:43pm

Maria Holland was really amused to read this comment from an overseas Chinese on an article about the ongoing Google-China battle: "All Chinese, I urge you to boycott Google, and join my facebook "Chinese boycott Google" group." Um . . . great idea, except your government blocked facebook a few years ago for also refusing to self-censor. Irony FAIL.
March 23 at 11:42pm

Maria Holland is pretty sure she has the best parents ever. The package from home included Girl Scout cookies, jelly beans, chocolate bunnies, Cadbury eggs, Hershey’s kisses, lemonade powder, Jello mix, and another bag of marshmallows!!!! Dear Easter: I am eagerly awaiting your arrival :)
March 25 at 1:45pm

Maria Holland baked 7 cakes and a batch of cookies today. Isn’t a full kitchen a wonderful thing? Now if only it were mine . . .
March 26 at 8:51pm

Maria Holland will be celebrating my birthday for a total of 42 hours, from birthday vigil on Chinese time to the end of the day in the Central US. It’s going great so far!
March 28 at 3:18am

Maria Holland My birthday presents included flowers, Belgian chocolate, Kazah and Swedish money, a book titled "Anonymous Rex/Casual Rex", a Slovenian PowerPoint presentation prominently featuring 茄子 (eggplant), a bunch of Dutch music including Bisje Komt Zo (which is apparently about drugs, not buses), and a traditional Chinese bra. Best birthday ever? Possibly.
March 29 at 9:46pm

Maria Holland Ate too many jelly beans and am on a crazy sugar high . . . considering playing the Regina Caeli on loop and singing at the top of my voice while eating chocolate bunnies. That should do the trick . . .
April 4 at 12:13am

Maria Holland Are you wearing pants? Correct answer is No! Are you saying Alleluia? Correct answer is Yes!
April 4 at 11:43pm

Maria Holland had the best Monday today – at least since coming to China, but possibly ever. Tomorrow I leave for an impromptu trip to Guangzhou and a weekend in Hong Kong! Going to class is for squares . . .
April 5 at 10:12pm

Maria Holland is in Guangzhou with friends from OKLAHOMA and their new Chinese son. My hotel room has a shower door and a bed with non-negligible padding – basically the lap of luxury. AND it’s still Easter! Basically, life is good.
April 6 at 11:10pm

Maria Holland must have gotten on the wrong train and ended up in Mumbai, as I’m staying the night in an Indian-run slum. But it’s okay: there’s free internet in Hong Kong (I’m on facebook without a proxy!), there’s a TGIF Friday’s around the corner, and it JUST HAPPENS to be Friday.
April 9 at 5:30pm

Maria Holland had a perfect day in Hong Kong today. I see a TU friend tomorrow (!) and then it’s back home to Xiamen :)
April 10 at 11:52pm

Maria Holland is anyone interested in going to see Mika in concert in Hong Kong on June 16th??
April 13 at 10:29pm

Maria Holland may have figured out how to say "soup Nazi" (and any other words with structure "XX Nazi") in Chinese. So yes, in answer to your question, studying for the HSK is going swimmingly.
April 16 at 1:29am

Maria Holland has a ticket to Changchun, Jilin for May 20th!! Can’t wait to return to the land of my "Chinese childhood"!
April 16 at 3:25pm

Maria Holland is 考试-ing her 汉语水平. It’s HSK time!
April 17 at 11:28pm

Maria Holland countdown in China is at 3 months !?!
April 19 at 11:56pm

Maria Holland F.M.L. Another weekend in China, another adventure – but adventures involving hospitals are significantly less fun than adventures that don’t.
April 22 at 10:21pm

Maria Holland is going to be singing the Misa de Angelis at the installation of the new bishop of the Diocese of Xiamen in two weeks! I guess this kind of makes up for the gynecologist appointment yesterday . . . I forgive you, China.
April 24 at 8:20pm

Maria Holland has been in China for 8 months now. Depending on your age, this may or may not seem like an incredibly long period of time to you. I’m 22, and it’s pretty much ginormous.
April 26 at 11:06pm

Maria Holland is in love with Sheldon Cooper. Also, mangos.
April 30 at 10:37pm

Maria Holland thinks that Chinese national holidays are about as much fun as bamboo shoots shoved into various body parts. Nevertheless, I had a really good day. I even managed to be part of a winning team based on the other side of the world!
May 1 at 11:02pm

Maria Holland had an amazing three day weekend but is infinitely more tired than when classes ended on Friday.
May 4 at 1:01am

Maria Holland is in the EXACT SAME COUNTRY as The Dear Leader RIGHT NOW. How could I be so lucky!?!
May 4 at 9:15pm

Maria Holland A year ago, I knew less than 100 Chinese characters. Tonight, I have the Chinese version of "Make Me a Channel of Your Peace" stuck in my head.
May 7 at 1:34am

Maria Holland The school year at TU is now over and I am officially . . . still a senior. It’s what I do best.
May 7 at 9:57pm

Maria Holland can’t even say how overjoyed I was to have the opportunity to sing in the choir at the installation of Xiamen’s very first local bishop, Cai Binrui (and how pleased I was to hear that he has a papal mandate as well!)
May 8 at 2:52pm

Maria Holland is fabulous. Tomorrow, please be 跟 today 一样 wonderful, 谢谢. I’m singing at Bishop Cai’s first Mass in the morning, but then how to follow that up??
May 9 at 1:27am

The Trip in Review

In Uncategorized on February 10, 2010 at 12:54 am

I know we wrote a lot about the trip, but I think a little wrap-up is in order.  Here’s the big picture:

Trip

We went to 8 cities:

  1. Xiamen
  2. Guangzhou
  3. Wuhan
  4. Chengdu
  5. LeShan
  6. EmeiShan
  7. Xi’An
  8. Beijing. 

This included 5 provinces and one municipality:

  • Fujian
  • Guangdong
  • Hubei
  • Sichuan
  • Shaanxi
  • Beijing

We checked a lot of things off the must-do-in-China list:

  • visited Xiamen’s peaceful Gulangyu Island
  • ate dim sum in Guangzhou
  • ate hot pot in Sichuan
  • saw the Giant Pandas
  • saw the world’s largest Buddha in LeShan
  • climbed (well, kind of) Emeishan, one of China’s sacred mountains
  • seeing the Sea of Clouds (at least for me!)
  • saw the Army of Terracotta Soldiers in Xi’An
  • witnessed the flag-raising at Tiananmen Square
  • climbed the Great Wall
  • ate Peking duck in Peking

We also had a few other special experiences:

  • dinner with my priests and future bishop
  • two beautiful Xiamen sunsets
  • Dad’s pingpong matches
  • riding the world’s fastest train
  • that hour spent with the young pandas and their caretaker
  • amazing massages and even acupuncture for Dad
  • being driven around Xi’An’s major sites by our new friend and volunteer chauffeur
  • sledding down the Great Wall!
  • leaving a note at Google China headquarters
  • meeting all sorts of military people, including a Korean who served with the US Army, a Chinese cadet, and an major in the Chinese artillery
  • narrowly avoiding disaster three times (two bus crashes and a rockslide)
  • going to Mass in three beautiful churches and getting to see a few others
  • riding every form of transportation with thousands of our closest friends

The trip lasted 22 days (plus a few days of travel to and from for my parents) and, besides their international flights, cost just over $3,000.  The trains and planes that got us around China cost $250 a person, we spent about $300 on souvenirs, postage, and donations (and massages), and our daily expenses (food, lodging, tourism, and local transportation) were about $100 each day for all three of us. 

I think my parents were pleased with the trip; I know I had a great time.  If I had the chance to do it again, I would only make small changes.  I wouldn’t go to Emeishan – save a couple hundred dollars and go to smaller, less sacred mountain.  I would allow an extra day in Xi’An so that things weren’t so rushed.  Other than that, I was basically the perfect tour guide.  Right, parents??

Does Anyone Around Here Even Have A Clue?

In Uncategorized on February 4, 2010 at 9:49 pm

I saw my parents through the door today and officially washed my hands of all responsibility for them. 

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Everyone has to leave the nest at some point . . .

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I never would have expected, but I felt some separation anxiety after we said goodbye.  They’d been with me every freaking minute for three weeks (just kidding, parents, it was great!) and then they were gone all of a sudden.  And I was all alone – and in Beijing, no less.  I guess it wasn’t really anxiety, but I did feel very alone.  At least, until I put in my iPod in; some days that’s the only way I can handle China. 

I had dinner with Aleid and her boyfriend (who came to Beijing on the Trans-Siberian Railway!) but other than that, the evening was really unpleasant. 

Since arriving in Beijing, I had noticed that people were larger – almost as big as me even.  Observing this, I was inspired to do something that I’ve considered unthinkable in Xiamen: shopping for pants.  I decided to head for Meters/Bonwe because they’re everywhere, their clothes might pass for fashionable in the West, and they stock relatively large sizes even in the south.

I first went to the shopping street near our hotel, asked around, and was led straight to a Meters/Bonwe outlet.  But of course, nothing could be that easy (at least not in China) – it was “having a decoration” and thus closed. 

I asked around a little bit more and found out there was another branch near QianMen.  I took a taxi there and, when the taxi driver pointed me right inside, I got prematurely excited.  The clerks on the first floor told me it was in the basement.  The first people I asked in the basement said there was no Meters/Bonwe around; the others directed me to the second floor.  The staff of the second floor predictably told me to go to the third floor, but those people surprisingly directed me to a whole different building.  Stupid me, I actually went to the other building and got directed to the basement, second, and third floor respectively before giving up. 

I was so frustrated by this point, I was actually fuming around the mall sporadically shouting profanity.  I hate this about China.  It’s like there is no such thing as “truth” or “reality”, or at least no way for people to know it.  Information such as addresses, phone numbers, times – everything is subjective, constantly changing faster than anyone can track. 

I just can’t handle it.  There’s no way to find stuff except for asking people, but they’re worthless.  They’re actually worse than worthless, because instead of admitting that they haven’t the foggiest idea, they pull something out of their ass and say it with a completely straight face.  I mean, I’m about as valuable as the next rock for directions, but I admit this fault when asked and am perfectly capable of finding a more capable person to direct the questioner toward. 

It drives me crazy.  Sometimes I seriously don’t know how this country runs.  This may seem ungenerous, and surely it is at least a little bit, but I would like to add that this is not the first or only time I’ve felt this way.  See pretty much any entry under the tag 麻烦.

I Love Starfish, Especially Well-Done

In Uncategorized on February 3, 2010 at 10:40 pm

This evening is the 3-week mark of my parents’ arrival in China, and I think the constant travel – early mornings, late nights, and crazy days in between – is starting to show a little.  We slept in until nearly 10, and even then got ready slowly.  I’m glad that we did the big things in Beijing early, so that we could take it easy today. 

Our first goal after getting dressed was food.  We happened on a street market not too far from our hotel and spent a while wandering the alley checking out the food available. 

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We bought an egg roll and the candied fruit looked good as always,

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but some of the offerings were too much for my parents to handle, namely the scorpions, grasshoppers, seahorses, and starfish (although they were displayed quite nicely).

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We ended up grabbing lunch in the food court of a nearby mall, eating some delicious curry and rice at a Thai restaurant, and then caught the metro headed towards the Olympic Village.  Faced with quite a long ride across Beijing, we came up with a brilliant idea – we first rode the subway two stops in the other direction to the terminus, where we were able to board the totally empty train and grab seats for the long haul.

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Don’t we look happy and comfortable?

The Olympic Village is mainly located north of the city center, and is connected to the city’s public transportation system by a special little leg.  We got off at the first stop, and came out of the subway within sight of the National Stadium (better known as the Bird Nest) and the National Aquatics Center (the Water Cube). 

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Both buildings look really great up close, and we were hoping to even be able to go inside.

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But . . . there was something going on in the Bird Nest and entrance was 120 kuai (almost $20), so we didn’t go in there.

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And . . . the Water Cube was “having a decoration” (under construction), so Dad didn’t get to go in there and swim in the fast water.

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It was a little disappointing, but I’m still glad we went.  I am approximately the greatest fan of the Olympics ever – seriously – and while I prefer to watch the events on TV, it was really great to see the venues in person. 

We caught the subway back, but unfortunately had absolutely no luck getting seats . . .

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By the time we got home, I had a killer headache so we spent the evening in the room.  We have one last morning to catch a museum or something, then my parents 回国 (return home) and I am free!!!

Two quick meta-journal notes:

  1. I added a note to the January 24th post because I came across an article on the Union of Catholic Asian News about the ceremony that took place after Mass!  It turns out that it was a coming-of-age ceremony, something that originated from Confucianism, for church members who recently turned 18. 
  2. My dad just finished a post containing some observations on his time in China, with a special bonus Chinglish section, so make sure to check it out

Happy to Spend Every Day!

In Uncategorized on February 3, 2010 at 6:19 pm

This is a posting by John/Dad containing some reflections on our trip and on China itself.  It seems appropriate to publish it now before our trip ends tomorrow and we head home to Minnesota.

The first night we arrived in Xiamen, Maria presented Cissy and I with small notebooks that we could use to record Chinese words we learned and used as well as any journal notes.  The words on the front of the notebook perfectly fit our travel situation:  “Urban Men and Women – Happy to spend every day”.  Since her first trip to China, Maria has told us about these humorously-done translations, nicknamed “Chinglish”, and sent us many examples.  On this trip, we’ve seen and taken pictures of many Chinglish signs, including the following ones copied here (verbatim) for your enjoyment:

  • Also written on our notebooks (on the back cover):  “the man works hard, not all is for the sake of right.  work oneself can with backlog experience, exertive special features.  foster a practical utility, with the mental state that satisfies man is independence.
  • In the modern train station in Guangzhou, on a sign by a table where ladies were handing out a bottle of water to each passenger:  “staff to check tickets issued after chop each bottle of tickets
  • On the entrance sign at Sun Yet-Sen Memorial:  “No automobiling – no painting, nowhoopla, no rubbish everywhere”  [we decided to whoopla anyway]
  • On a card showing one of the tourist sites in Chengdu: “The first inperial tomb be digged up in China
  • On a huge billboard celebrating the Chinese New Year:  “Senson’s Greetings
  • On a trash can along the sidewalk in Chengdu:  “Protect CircumStance begin wite me.”  [should be, “Protecting the surroundings begins with me”]
  • On a poster of English slang on the campus of Sichuan University:  “Fish in the air” [should be, “like a fish out of water”]
  • On signs in Leshan bus station:  “Articles forbidden in bus: explosives, flammables, and other denngerous goods” and “luggagge depoeltary
  • On warning sign at the Great Wall of China at Badaling:  “Facing slope steep – please lose headway”  [should be, “steep slope – please go slow”]
  • On a sign over a urinal in the men’s bathroom in the Olympic Park in Beijing:  “One half step , civilization once stride forward”  [should be, “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”, which is a cute way of asking men to get closer to the porcelain before starting to pee]

Note that although I find these signs hilarious, I salute anyone who has mastered Chinese and any part of any other foreign language.  I have never particularly had an ear for foreign languages, and I’m am humbled by those who can translate something from English to another language, or vice versa, even marginally well.

China is amazing…  There are not enough words in the English language to adequately describe the breadth and scope of China.  We have now been in-country about three weeks, and have visited eight major cities spread across the middle and eastern portions of China.  Here are some thoughts on what we’ve seen and experienced in China.

  • The Chinese people seem very friendly, once you crack the veneer of indifference they seem to have as they walk down the street.  If you smile and say hello (“Ni hao”) to them, many of them are too shocked to respond, but some of them smile and try to converse with you.  The easiest way to get a smile is to compliment their children, because, like people all over the world, they love kids.  And the typical Chinese child is really, really cute (feichang ke’ai)!
  • There are so many people in China, it is almost crushing to consider.  In each city we’ve visited, the streets are always teeming with people, the buses and trains are packed, and the restaurants buzzing.  If you like to people watch, there is no better place to do it than in China!  In just a few minutes on any street in the cities we’ve visited, you’ll see young school age kids, moms with babies, beautiful ladies in glamorous outfits, beggars, street sweepers, deliverymen, food vendors, business men in suits, tourists and ethnic minorities.  Thousands and thousands of them…  Bill Gates noted this and made an interesting observation:  “In China, even if you’re one-in-a-million, there are 1,300 other people just like you.”  Although I am definitely against any form of government-imposed population control, I don’t see how China is going to deal with the population that will surely increase significantly over the next few decades.  Thankfully there is a vast ocean between China and the United States (or a tremendous amount of Asia and Europe, plus the other ocean, if you go the other direction, and I mean that seriously!
  • While we were traveling, I started to read the book “Hot, Flat and Crowded” by Thomas Friedman.  Among his many points is that the Earth’s resources are being not taxed not by just the sheer number of people living in the world, but the number of people who live and consume like Americans.  In other words, a few million more Chinese living in small villages, walking or biking around, planting rice, and eating a mostly vegetarian diet, are not going to have a huge impact.  But a few million Chinese who move to a city like Beijing, buy cars, cell phones, air conditioners, washing machines, and TVs,  and start to eat more meat and processed, packaged foods, will have a huge impact.  Don’t get me wrong – I love living like an American, but it seems clear that the environmental impact of one typical urban American is more than that of one typical rural Chinese person.
  • In addition, China seems determined to copy many American or other foreign things, and it can only do this by losing it’s charm to visitors like me.  For example, you can find KFCs and McDonalds everywhere, along with Armani, Haagen Daas, and Nike brand stores.  The more it becomes like just any other country, the less I want to spend time there.
  • Despite the unbelievable crowds, the constant pushing and crowding, and the absolute disregard for staying-in-your lane, I have been amazed to not see any anger or mean gestures between motorists & pedestrians or fellow bus riders.  Wait – I take that back.  On Sunday, during Mass at at the cathedral in Chengdu, I saw a near fight break out between several women when two female ushers tried to direct Communion-goers up the side aisle.  I was too busy praying to see who won…  But otherwise, the people seem remarkably used to living, eating and moving very close to their 1.3 billion countrymen.  I’m not used to it, but they apparently are!  And we never felt in any danger (other than when crossing streets…see below) except when we were walking around the Chengdu train station.  A lady told Cis and Maria to watch their purses, so we got a little uncomfortable then.  But otherwise, we have walked down many streets at all times of the day and night, and never felt uncomfortable.  I’m not forgetting that China is still a very closed country with a very authoritarian country, but I was struck by how nice everyone seemed to be.  We were told many times, “Welcome to China”, or something of that sort, and many people smiled shyly at us, asked to take pictures with us, or tried to engage us in some form of halting English.  
  • China is like Texas on steroids.  The crowds are huge, the buildings are huge, and the cities are huge.  The people are small, but they make up for it in sheer numbers.  This means the concept of personal space and common courtesy is completely different than we are used to.  To put a twist on a common saying, “Common courtesy isn’t so common in China”.  If you are waiting to board a subway or drive through a toll booth, or even drive down a straight road, you’d better be prepared to defend your place in line to the death.  This gives rise to a frequently used expression between Cissy, Maria and I: “You just got China’ed”.  It means someone just cut you off or jumped/squeezed in front of you in line.  Cissy, being the most passive and polite of the three of us, frequently gets China’ed because they can smell politeness/reticence a mile away, and they love to exploit it!  The other day she flagged down a taxi for us and ran alongside it until it stopped for us, but another couple had set up a classic NBA-style pick and body-blocked her, jumping in the cab while she just stood there looking sweet.  It was hilarious!  We have also been China’ed in checkout lines, boarding gates, and subways, but lately we’ve been holding our own.
  • You also have to completely un-learn the rules of traffic and public safety.  In China, size and speed rule.  Buses yield to big trucks, cars to buses, scooters to cars, bikes to electric scooters, and the pedestrian yields to bikes and everything else.  It’s very hard to remember this because the “pedestrian crosswalks” are marked with white stripes exactly like they are in the United States, but you will absolutely be blown off the road if you step out at the wrong time because you’re daydreaming and thinking you’re back in Minneapolis or Tulsa.
  • In my mind, one of the strangest Chinese customs is the habit of leaving doors open in most buildings such as stores, restaurants and hotels.  Apparently they believe in the health benefits of fresh air – even if it’s freezing cold outside!  This is coupled with what is surely an attempt to conserve energy, especially in cavernous public buildings like train stations and airports.  Bottom line – I couldn’t live like that for long!  It was so cold in the Wuhan Airport that I left my coat, hat and gloves on, and still was miserable.  When we finally boarded the plane, I shocked the heck out of the stewardess who welcomed us aboard by wrapping my arms around her and hugged her in glee, so thankful that the plane cabin was wonderfully warm.
  • The most unappealing aspect of China to me as a Westerner is the poverty and the accompanying dirtiness, disrepair and obvious wear-and-tear.  I’m sure there are many beautiful places in this country, and I’ve seen many majestic mountains and great sights, but there is an level of dirt, garbage, disorder, cobbled-togetherness, and chaos almost everywhere.  In this way, it reminds me very much of Mexico City.  I’m really quite thankful that we came to visit in the winter because I can only imagine how much stronger the smells must be in the hot summer.  China is a nice place to visit, but I couldn’t live here – for many reasons.  Of course, I wouldn’t live in New York City either (sorry, Deb…), or many cities in the United States.

Maria has had her patience tried more than Cis and I, because she has had to take care of herself, plan our entire trip, tell us everything we needed to know along the way, (as well documented in her blogs, where she describes how the normal parent-child roles have been reversed on this trip), and answer our thousand-and-one questions.  We have seen her engage various Chinese citizens in countless situations under difficult circumstances (including blaring loudspeakers, regional dialects, over traffic, with speech impediments, etc.), and she seems to understand almost everything.  We have seen her Chinese language skills complemented by almost everyone she engages, and without her help we simply would never have thought about tackling such a trip to the Middle Kingdom.  She really is amazing, as many of you already knew, or have gleaned over the past few months from her perceptive, humorous and educational blogs.

I’ll end this little blog with the last bit of Chinglish found on the notebooks Maria gave us when we landed in Xiamen three weeks ago.  It’s perfect thing to say as a tribute to Maria, our intrepid daughter and wonderful tour guide:  “Yeah – just you.

I Hope The Summer Palace Is Nicer In Summer …

In Uncategorized on February 2, 2010 at 11:58 pm

Another early morning . . . We got up well before dawn today and were on the road while it was still dark.  This was all necessary because we were headed for the dawn flag-raising ceremony at Tiananmen Square.  We were excited to go, but thought it an unfortunate coincidence that everything was so dark before the sunrise.

The flag-raising ceremony is precisely calibrated to the sunrise so that the flag reaches the top of the pole as the sun crests (although the sun was not visible today).  Thus, the waiting was dark and bitterly cold.  There was a crowd there already, a few people deep across the whole square, and we pushed up close to them for warmth.  With Mom’s arms around me, I could just barely stand it. 

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As we waited for the ceremony to start, I watched the face of the young guard standing in front of us.  Guards are everywhere in China – from the 保安 on the first floor of my dorm, to traffic cops, to the guys who check IDs at West Gate – but I tend to think of them as kind of a joke.  With the exception of the heavily armed men who move money between banks, none of them seem very threatening and they usually don’t seem to take their jobs seriously, so I just don’t pay them any attention.  This guy was different though.  I don’t know if he was armed under his coat, but he was using his eyes like weapons.  He was constantly scanning the crowd for potential trouble, and he looked so nervous that he was making me nervous.

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Guards like him were everywhere, especially before and during the ceremony.  Even after the concentrated crowds disappeared though, I felt like we were being watched.  Outside of the sight of the guards, every lightpost sports a stack of surveillance cameras. 

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Anyway, about the ceremony: The sunrise today was 7:22.  (While it seemed early, I’m trying to be grateful that we weren’t here in June for the 4:45 a.m. sunrise!)  A few minutes beforehand, a huge block of soldiers marched out from the Tiananmen Gate under Mao’s portrait and crossed the street (where traffic was temporarily stopped) towards us.  Then, at precisely the right moment, they unrolled the flag (which was rolled, not folded) and it started up the flag pole.  One soldier grabbed the end of the flag and flung his arm out as they always do, sending the flag billowing majestically as it began its ascent to the tune of “The March of the Volunteers”, China’s national anthem. 

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It was a pretty impressive ceremony, and even worth the miserable time and weather to watch once. 

Once the ceremony was finished, they let us get closer to the flag pole and everybody took pictures – including us.

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I wanted to join the mob of people lining up to visit Mao’s mausoleum, but my parents weren’t up for the wait in the cold so we headed for the subway instead.  We went as far northwest as we could on the metro and then took a taxi to the Summer Palace, which is one of those things that you just have to see when you’re in Beijing. 

But . . . it’s not called the Summer Palace for nothing.  The emperors went there to escape the summer heat of Beijing, not to find warmth in the depths of the winter.  Instead of centering around lively water activities on Kunming Lake and featuring outdoor snacks and vendors, it’s pretty much a frozen wasteland this time of year. 

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There were some pretty parts, but we saw them quickly as we had to keep up a brisk pace to avoid hypothermia. 

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Finished with our whirlwind tour of the Summer Palace, we went back to the subway and headed for 中关村, China’s Silicon Valley.  I had heard about people making trips out to Google China’s headquarters to leave flowers or messages and wanted to see and participate in this.  We found the building thanks to Mom’s sharp eyes, but found no signs of a memorial.  Apparently the government was not happy about this public expression of solidarity with the company’s stance, so they removed the flowers, calling them a 非法鲜花, or “illegal flower tribute” (a term that is apparently now blocked in Chinese search engines – oh, the irony).  We hadn’t seen a flower vendor nearby, so I settled for leaving a little note for the guys at Google: “Dear Google – We will miss you if you leave China, but right and wrong aren’t a matter of personal comfort or financial gain.  Do what’s right!”

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In answer to my father’s questions, I’m not 100% sure what “right” is in this case.  This quote sums up my thoughts, both on this issue and my personal involvement in China:

Google’s choice echoes the dilemma that many companies, non-governmental organizations, countries, and individuals face when dealing with China. At what point does being complicit in an illiberal and undemocratic regime outweigh the value of engaging, and thereby influencing, the Chinese public and government?

We had lunch across the street at an Indian restaurant.  We weren’t super clear on the portions, so we ended up with two small bowls of curry and 6 baskets of bread.  The proportion suited us just fine, though, and we all enjoyed lunch.  There were two Americans at the table next to us, so most of the time I found myself being quiet and listening to them.  They spoke pretty loudly, without any concern about people overhearing them, which made me wonder if it’s an American thing or a habit of life in China.  They spoke so fast, the way only native speakers do with other native speakers, and used way more slang than I’m used to hearing (or using) recently.  They used “awkward” a lot and the girl said “I know, right?” several times, which made it easy for me to remember conversations with my friends back in America.  Between that and a phone call back to Tulsa, Oklahoma last night (in which I had to ask the woman to repeat herself because I didn’t recognized “apreeeeeved” as the word “approved”), I’ve heard a lot of American English recently, and it feels a little strange.

After lunch we took a side trip to return a credit card that we found on the sidewalk to the local China Merchants Bank.  It was important to me because 1) it’s the right thing to do, 2) it’s what I would want/have wanted others to do with my lost things, and 3) I’m hoping for some good karma to come my way.  In the last two months I’ve lost a cell phone, camera, and leather glove and am now waiting for one/all to fortuitously return to me.  Any time!

We were all nodding off during the subway ride home, so we all agreed to a late afternoon nap.  After at least four very early mornings in a row and fairly late nights (at least for me) filled with lots of walking in between, we were all exhausted.  I must say, that nap was one of my favorite things that we’ve done in Beijing!

We barely even went out for dinner; Dad and I just went next door to get takeout.  While we waited for our food, we perused the English menu, which is almost always good for a laugh.  Some of the pictures were a little much for Dad (like the row of duck tongues or the turtle who looked like the bowl of soup was an shallow pond) but the descriptions were sometimes even worse.  For your entertainment, here is a selection of the best food names:

  • The noodles drag along small yellow fish
  • The North Pole shell stabs a body
  • Shanghai inebriates the chicken
  • Sprinkle fatty cow of juice
  • Bad and fragrant feng claw
  • The fatty intestine of hang jiao
  • Oil explodes river shrimp
  • The stone database door vegetable three fresh
  • The hair blood is prosperous

It makes my mouth water just thinking about it! 

Our trip is coming to an end quickly; my parents head home the day after tomorrow and I leave the next day.  To lift my spirits, I looked at the weather forecast back home and saw that I can expect temperatures in the 20s (60s in F) when I get to Xiamen!  Unfortunately, I also looked into the details of the train I’m taking back home, the K307, and found out that it will take me almost 32 hours to get home.  Sitting the whole way.  With a few thousand of my closest friends. 

Ummmmmmmmmmmmm . . . ‘kay.

I Climbed Up (And Slid Down) The Great Wall

In Uncategorized on February 1, 2010 at 11:47 pm

We got up quite early this morning for the trip to the Great Wall.  After much deliberation, we chose the Badaling section of the Great Wall.  Although Badaling has been rebuilt in places and some say it is excessively touristy, it is the most frequented part and thus (I hoped) the easiest to get to.  After yesterday’s failures, I wanted to get to the Great Wall, the easier the better.  Anyway, it was also the section where Obama visited the Wall during his visit, and what’s good enough for my president is good enough for me.

The weather got cold overnight in Beijing.  The last two days had been beautiful – clear and warm and sunny – but today was bitter.  The walk to the Wall was miserable, but we warmed up as soon as we began climbing.

The good news about the weather is that the Wall wasn’t as packed with vendors as we had feared.  In fact, besides a few people selling gloves and hats and one guy selling “I climbed the Great Wall” certificates, we were hardly bothered.  We were on the Wall pretty early, too – by nineish – so the tourist crowd was especially thin.

The climbing was a little tough.  There were tiny tiny snowflakes falling around us and a thin layer of packed snow on much of the walkway. 

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The Wall follows the contours of the mountains, so it has a lot of ups and downs and is quite steep in some places.  There was a sign cautioning us to “please lose headway” (which we assume meant to go slow), so we tried to be careful.  Sometimes there were stairs; other times we stepped carefully on the slope and hauled ourselves up using the handrail.

The view was great, though.  I bet the Great Wall has its charms in any season – green countryside in spring and summer, autumn colors in the fall, and snow-covered hills in the winter.  I liked the impressive monochrome look of the scenery, with just shades of gray and white. 

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I happen to like my mountains in the distance, fading gradually into nothingness, so it was just my cup of tea. 

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My favorite views were of the Wall snaking over the nearby hills, perfectly framed in the window of a watchtower.

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We climbed to the first peak and stopped for pictures in front of the path not taken.

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Then we headed back towards the entrance.  By this time it was after 10, and more tourists had made it out to Badaling. 

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When we got to the top of one particularly steep descent, we found an entire watchtower packed full of tourists waiting to go down.  The line (which was really more of a mob, huddled together for warmth) was clearly going nowhere fast.  My clever father, however, saw that the real holdup was the single handrail that everyone was waiting to use on their way down, and figured out a way around it.  Instead of waiting who knows how long, he just sat down on his butt, pushed off, and arrived at the bottom in seconds.  He made it down safely (although he may have undone all the benefits of the acupuncture), so Mom and I quickly followed him down.  The rest of the visitors, confined to either side of the walkway, watched us slide down, cheering us on and pushing us away when we threatened to knock them down with our uncontrolled slide. 

It was awesome.  It was like sledding, but ON THE GREAT WALL.  Plus there were the cheering crowds, a liberated feeling from avoiding that ridiculous line, and I bet we made it down in near-record time.  Yeah, awesome.

[One humorous note about the Great Wall: Admission is free for the disabled.  We have no idea why, as the Wall seems to be the very antithesis of handicap-accessible – I mean, it’s hard for fully mobile people to get around on!  I would almost go so far as to say that the Great Wall (indeed, like most of China) is handicap-hostile.  I don’t know about the free admission thing; maybe the idea is that, since you have to leave your wheelchair-bound friend at the entrance anyway, they may as well not charge you for a ticket.  More on China and my longing for a Chinese Disabilities Act later.]

We had lunch at KFC, which officially brings the amount of Western food I’ve eaten in the past three weeks to ridiculous.  We caught the bus back to Beijing and by the time we arrived, our butts had finally dried.  Yay!

Because we were in the neighborhood, we decided to go to the Drum Tower.   

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Because climbing the Great Wall wasn’t enough, we had to make it up a flight of incredibly steep stairs.

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We hoped to catch a drum performance at the top but were misinformed about the times, so we settled for the pretty view of Beijing’s 胡同 (hutong, or alleys) surrounding a frozen lake.

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We liked the way it looked, so we went exploring on foot for a while.  The alley we chose was filled with interesting stuff, namely a little sort of bakery.  I bought almost a jin (a little less than a pound) of delicious cream puffs and little flaky sugared twists, which fortified us for the walk.  We also made friends with a rickshaw driver and policeman!

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When we came out of the alley, we were by the frozen lake, where we got to see locals enjoying the ice.  In addition to rental skates, they were also offering two-person chairs and even a clever ice bike!  It looked like a lot of fun, more suited to my abilities than ice skating, especially when they formed trains.

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On our way home, we stopped at the train station.  My parents travels in China are almost done, but I still have to get home to Fujian after they leave.  I was hoping to go north to see my friends in Jilin, but decided the last few days before the Spring Festival probably aren’t the best time.  Instead, I’m leaving Friday night for Xiamen, riding straight there on an overnight train!  I’m not exactly sure how long it will take, but it really can’t be less than 19 hours.  And, as I’ll be in a seat for the first time (because sleepers were sold out), it will probably seem even longer. 

For dinner, we went to a jiaozi (dumpling) place near our hotel.  Apparently the Chinese do with dumplings what my grandmother does with burritos – that is, put anything and everything inside.  We tried pork-and-eggplant dumplings, lamb-and-onion dumplings, roast duck dumplings, and kungpao chicken dumplings.  The variety was pretty wild, considering I’ve only had one dumpling filling in my life.  The kungpao chicken one was especially surprising – kind of like biting into a burrito and finding spaghetti. 

After dinner, my mom and I went for massage.  For 70 glorious minutes, the aches and bumps of the Great Wall were smoothed away by two nice young women, who told Mom that she looked 40-something and me that I should be a model.  What a wonderful end to a wonderful day! 

Confucius Say, Man Who Run Behind Bus Get Exhausted

In Uncategorized on January 31, 2010 at 11:35 pm

Dad was not feeling well today.  The day before yesterday, he started going a little bit hoarse, and by last night’s dinner he was not speaking at all, trying to conserve what little voice he had.  (Lucky Bisterbosch family, right??)  Because of this, he stayed home today to rest while Mom and I went out adventuring.

After spending much of my night on Beijing’s public transportation website, I had complete information on how to get to the South Cathedral for Mass.  We walked to the nearest bus station, caught the 104快 to 崇文门西 and got off, just as planned.  We also caught the right bus from that stop, 特2, but – you guessed it – in the wrong direction.  We got off to change directions at the train station, which so confusing that we ended up just grabbing a taxi.

Even resorting to a taxi, we barely arrived before the 10:00 Mass time that I found on the internet.  Good thing Mass started at 10:30!  In the end, all my attempts at choosing the right route came to nothing, but the fact that I found the wrong time saved us.  Oh, the irony . . .

The South Cathedral isn’t exactly what I would call beautiful, although the outside is striking in a European-church way.

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The inside is kind of random, looking like a second-hand shop for church decorations.

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Once Mass started, though, I found myself appreciating the patchwork-like decor of the church because it seemed to reflect its congregation.  The South Cathedral is the center of Beijing’s international Catholic community.  Interestingly, their ‘international’ Masses (of which they have two) are not just ‘English’.  The readings were read in French as well as English (and let me tell you, it was a treat to hear 1 Cor 13 read in French).

It was nice to go to English Mass – almost my first one in 5 months because I’ve barely understood the few I’ve been to in Xiamen.  It was certainly the first homily I’ve understood more than 10% of since coming!  Instead of murmuring English to myself throughout Chinese Mass, I now mutter a combination of Latin and Chinese after the English responses.  It was also great to hear some familiar church music, but it kind of made me miss my wonderful Newman choir even more :(

After Mass we went to check out the gift shop.  It was a good call, because they had so much great stuff!  I laboriously pored over Chinese titles for quite a while before making some great finds.  I found a tiny tiny [what I think is a] breviary in Chinese, as well as an English-Chinese Catholic Dictionary and a Chinese-English Catholic Practical Handbook.  The last thing is so amazing because it’s just what I wanted – in fact, it is so exactly what I wanted that I never even considered that it might actually exist!  But there it is, with such hard-to-find translations as the Prayer of St. Francis; the names of saints, the books of the Bible, religious orders and missionary societies, the ecumenical councils, important encyclicals; a list of China’s seminaries and important missionaries in China’s history; and a Chinese version of O Sons and Daughters (one of my favorite Easter songs).  I was so happy . . . I bought two!

Mom and I had a good lunch and then headed out along the rest of my perfectly-planned itinerary for the day.  Unfortunately, this morning’s misadventures were a mere foreshadowing of the afternoon.  I wanted to go see the North Cathedral but after taking the indicated bus to the indicated stop, we had to walk at least a mile before even finding the street we were looking for.  After numerous backtracks, a kindly woman directed us right to . . . a Protestant church, were we nearly walked in on a Korean service.  We gave up on that and went looking for the tomb of Matteo Ricci, the first Catholic missionary to China (and possibly the first Westerner to enter the country after Marco Polo), who was buried at another church in the area.  Although I had a wonderful time telling people we were looking for a place “where they put people underground after they die” because I didn’t know how to say cemetery, this search was also a failure.  (In my defense, I have found at least two addresses online for the location of this tomb, neither of which come with a Chinese name for the church they’re buried at.)

Despite my failing record in Beijing, I would like to point out that I have basically mastered 8 other Chinese cities and gotten myself and others around pretty well.  Also, Beijing suffers from a complete lack of decent maps; the only one I’ve found depicts the entire city, making street names illegible and even the Forbidden City almost too small to see.  I find out each day how inaccurate Lonely Planet’s maps are, so I basically have no resources to rely on.  What I’m saying here is . . . it’s not my fault – blame Beijing.

Despite the logic presented above, I was feeling thoroughly defeated by this time.  We were 0 for 2 on the day’s planned itinerary.  We got on a bus to go home and, since I had triple-checked the posted route, was fairly confident we were going to make it.

Then our bus got in an accident.  Yes, I’m serious.  It was ridiculously minor – in fact Mom and I didn’t know anything had happened until the driver turned off the engine in the middle of the road – but apparently the driver of the other bus thought it was a big deal.  They got out and started yelling at each other in the streets while Mom and I got out to take pictures of the perfectly-intact buses.

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We opted not to wait for the resolution, and got out to walk.  Luckily, we were on an interesting road.  Apparently we were in Trophy District, because every store for blocks and blocks sold personalized trophies, banners, coins, and buttons – but mainly trophies.  (Okay, there was one store selling long underwear but they probably won’t last long.)  Seriously, I want to know who was the 40th guy to open shop on this street?  Did he look around and think to himself, “You know, there’s a niche in this area just waiting to be filled by my custom-made trophies.”?  How much of a market is there for this stuff in Beijing, and how much business do each of them get?  I’m fascinated even by the idea of a Trophy Street.

For an idea, here are photos of a very few selected shops on Trophy Street:

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We had plans to stop for noodles on the way home and, since I was hungry and my pride was at stake, I vowed to find the restaurant no matter what.  Although it took us 2 phone calls and one helpful Chinese passerby, we did eventually find the Ajisen ramen shop, in the basement of an enormous shopping mall, a block away from where LP said it would be, and with a different name.

We caught a motorized 三轮车 (three-wheeled vehicle) home, which turned out to be the second high point of the day.  The driver was a jolly man, sort of a mixture between Santa Claus and Grandpa Garibay.  Unlike the taxi drivers we’d had so far – reticent to the point of being mute – he talked to me like I had heard Beijingers would.  He told me I need to stop enunciating so much, made me practice saying “yī èr sān sì wǔ liù qī, qī liù wǔ sì sān èr yī” (1 2 3 4 5 6 7, 7 6 5 4 3 2 1) over and over, and sang us a song.  Wonderful.

Going Dutch

In Uncategorized on January 31, 2010 at 12:24 am

As I fell asleep last night, a very appropriate song came up on my iPod’s shuffle: 北京欢迎你, or Beijing Welcomes You.  It’s a cute song that was written, I think, for the 2008 Olympics, but felt very fitting.  Happily assured of the warm welcome awaiting me, I drifted to sleep on my rocking berth. 

The welcome wasn’t exactly what I was expecting, though.  Our train arrived around 7:30 a.m. – although the distance was longer our previous trip, this was my shortest-ever Chinese train ride – and we were woken up around 6:30 to exchange our cabin passes for the tickets we need to exit the train station.

I couldn’t find mine.  Call it payback for mocking my dad yesterday, but I looked everywhere and couldn’t find it.  I was feeling really panicked as I checked every single bag and each pocket therein.  The conductor just watched me, saying “If you can’t find your ticket, what will we do?”  Envisioning my fate as Charlie on the MTA, I really wondered if they were going to let me off the train.  Then, right before we arrived, the conductor mentioned that there’s a 5 yuan penalty for losing the cabin pass.  Seriously?  He had me all worked up when I could have just paid the 80 cent fine?!?

Safely out of the train station, I found a bus stop and we got a bus in the direction of our hotel.  We came in at the Beijing West Station and were headed into DongCheng (the eastern part of the city) so we drove right through the middle – passing Tiananmen Square on the way.  It was so weird to pass such a place while riding public transportation.  I was straining to catch street signs and the like, and then bam! there’s Tiananmen Square.  And then we just kept driving by.  Tourism on the cheap!

It was also weird just being in Beijing.  It’s the capital of China and I’ve technically been there 4 times, but the only familiar places to me are the airport and the KFC in one of the train stations. 

When we got off the bus, we opted for a taxi ride to track down the exact location of our hotel – many experiences have taught us asking directions in China often includes switchbacks, and it was too cold and we had too much luggage to enjoy that sort of hunt.  The taxi driver had a lisp and the heavy ‘er’-laden Beijing accent, which was almost too much for me to handle at 8 in the morning. 

Then we got to the hotel where my travel agent had booked us a room.  When we went up to look at it, we found two small beds in a tiny room.  We told her that was unacceptable, but she replied that they were going to add a bed . . . and then,  pretty much in the same breath, said that the room was too small to add a bed.  So basically, they sold us a room that didn’t exist.  Great.

There we were, in an unfamiliar city with no hotel, no map, carrying 3 suitcases, 3 backpacks, and about 200 kuai ($30).  After looking at 4 rooms and swiping 3 credit cards, we finally found a mediocre room in a chain hotel for twice what we’ve been paying in other cities.  I was not happy, but at least we could set our stuff down finally.

After a short rest, we went to the Forbidden City.  It’s a short walk from our hotel, including part between the wall and a moat that was quite pretty.

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The museum is pretty cheap, so we decided to splurge and get an English-speaking guide.  I’m glad we did because she had some interesting stories to share.  My favorite was when she told us about the 金砖, or ‘gold bricks’ in the emperor’s throne room.  They’re not gold at all, but are called that for a few reasons.  First of all, the stone used was very time-consuming to make and thus very expensive.  Secondly, most Chinese never got to enter the Forbidden City (it ain’t called that for nothin’!) and figured that the emperor’s throne room would be paved in gold.  My favorite reason was that the people who were transporting the bricks from the place of manufacturing (in Suzhou, near Shanghai) to Beijing were southerners, and so in their accented Mandarin they said jīn zhuān (金砖, or “golden bricks”) instead of jīng zhuān (京砖, or “capital bricks”).  I have to put up with the southern accent all the time, so I really appreciated that story.

It was a beautiful day in Beijing (for real!) with sun, warmth, and blue sky.  The palace, especially the parts repainted recently, were truly brilliant.

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After our guide took us through the emperor’s palaces along the main axis of the City and showed us the residences of the Empress Dowager CiXi and the Last Emperor PuYi, we went through the artifacts exhibits by ourselves.  There were some ridiculous pieces of jade, gold, and silver, even such mundane items as ear picks!

Coming out of the Forbidden City, we saw a line of taxis.  What a welcome sight, we thought, after the trials of public transportation in Chengdu and Xi’An!  We happily ran towards one . .  . then another, then another, as each one waved us away.  We’re still not exactly sure why, but apparently the taxis outside the City are not for taking people to other places.  Obviously . . . sorry, that was a stupid mistake on my part.

By the time we got a taxi home, we were all pretty frustrated.  I can take 麻烦 (hassle) from China up to a point, but then I get frustrated, angry, and extremely tired in quick succession.  I felt like I had been in a physical struggle with Beijing – and lost. 

We recouped at the hotel for a few hours, then met up with the Bisterbosches for dinner.  Aleid is my good friend from XiaDa, and she had just arrived in Beijing with her parents (visiting from the Netherlands) as well.  We managed to find each other on the streets of Beijing, and then walked together to 全聚德烤鸭店, a chain of restaurants well-known for their Peking roast duck. 

It was great to see Aleid again; we compared travel stories and commiserated about our parents.  Apparently hers are like children too – she told me, “I remember the first time my dad said to me: ‘Aleid, I need to go to the toilet.’!”  They want to eat bread every day for lunch and are still mastering basic phrases in Chinese.  I guess parents the world over are pretty much the same!

The dinner was excellent, too.  After a whole day of wondering if this was what the song meant, I finally got a taste of Beijing’s welcome.  We got a few side dishes, but the main course was a duck.  It was carved right at the table and then placed before us for our dining pleasure. 

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We ate the crispy skin after dipping it in sugar, then started on the meat.  To eat it properly (as we had to have a waitress demonstrate), you take a piece of meat with the attached fat and skin, dip it in the mystery (soy?) sauce, place it on a super-thin pancake thing, add a scallion, roll it up like a burrito, and eat.

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Delicious!  Afterwards we got a little certificate so that I can prove to everyone that we ate Duck #131410. 

We split the check.

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Back at the hotel, the kiddos went to bed (Dad’s sick and lost his voice) while I stayed up preparing for tomorrow.  I still don’t have a decent map so trip-planning requires integrating Lonely Planet, Google Earth, and Beijing’s rather impressive public transportation site.