August 2nd, 2008

birds nest

Friday, July 25, 2008 - Tian'anmen Square, Forbidden City, Parks

Funnel cake: it's what's for breakfast

Mixing bowls as carafes
Breakfast: Chinese-ish. Fried dough sticks; rice dumplings; big bowl
of powdered rice; and bowls of hot coffee, hot OJ, hot milk, ... yeah.
And one of the water coolers had hot water.

All the way to 天安门 Tian'anmen Square

Worshipping in Tian'anmenSquare
Today was a good day: it was sunny! ... well, you couldn't actually
look at the sun through the smog, for once. Although it made it a
little warm, we still took the walk through the largest public square
in the world. Huzzah! There were a couple Disney World-esque
displays, both in size and style: a large (20' tall) Beijing 2008
Olympics logo, slowly rotating; a "cycling circuit" with the stick-man
cyclers biking up towards a peak; and another one currently under
construction. They were lifting the flowers in.

Natasha, badass soccer player
The square also has a few monuments and statues. Mostly it's just a
big open space. Really, really big, and open. Also, empty.
Unfortunately, it was pretty sparsely populated when we came through.
Who was populating it, though, was the USA women's soccer team!
So we got a buncha cool pictures with them and ended up walking with
them on route to the Forbidden City.

Entering the Forbidden City
Beyond the square is the entrance to the Forbidden City. To enter,
you pass under a giant portrait of Mao Zedong. Rockin' it old school,
Mr. Mao.

Forbidden City: Tourist Zone 1

Door into the Forbidden City
The Forbidden City has a pretty epic entrance onto several imperial buildings, which all have various imperial uses. We just kept walking
through doors and seeing the same thing: big courtyard, big building,
lots of red roofs and blue-green detailing. Each door we walked
through was covered in large brass studs, nine to a row; nines
represent the emperor. So, it was good luck to touch the studs.

Roofs, all red, of many kinds
The City is indeed a city. It centered around the emperor, with all
of his servants, military, etc. all living in this one imperial city.

Now it's a good tourist spot. At one of the little tourist shops, we
all bought ice with cold water ice-cold water because
it was steaming hot. Seriously, our waterbottles were a hunk of ice
with a little water. Also, a cold bottle of sweetened green tea cost
less than water.

Imperial Garden, where theconcubines would amuse themselves
Beyond all the big stone and painted wood buildings is hidden a large
garden, where the emperor, empresses, and concubines "amused
themselves" -- no lie, that's what said the sign. It was definitely
Secret Garden-style, with lots of old, twisted cypress trees and
curious rock formations.

Although we saw neither emperor, empress, nor concubine, we did see
two Chinese kids with mini javelins sparring in a moat. They kept
chasing each other around while the Americans cheered them on and gave
well-intentioned advice -- in English.


We dropped by some restaurant which had good food, real good food;
also, good service. However, we were limited to one glass of water
per person, to the Americans' chagrin. Barlow taught us "很好 (hen
hao)" so that we might properly express our pleasure with the
restaurant to Hao 先生, our tour director. He has good taste in
restaurants, and we want to acknowledge that from an American
perspective. The restaurant is actually part of a hotel and they have
a nice courtyard / tea room behind the restaurant with interesting
things for sale, including a variety of opera masks. The Beijing
Opera masks are pretty fearsome, one of the very stereotypically
antique Chinese items.

A stroll in the park

A gate in Beihei Park
We visited 北海 (Beihei) Park, which was beautiful! On a river; there
were paddleboats.

Overlooking the Forbidden Cityfrom atop a hill
Then, a short walk to another park, Jianshang Bird's-Eye-View Park,
where we walked the path up a "small hill" (maybe 5-6 stories' walk)
to a lookout structure atop the hill whence you could see the entirety
of the Forbidden City. Well, maybe if the city weren't so smoggy.

Home again, home again, too-la-rah-doo.

A typical dinner at the hotel,Coca-Cola and all
Dinner at the hotel was nothing unusual; another plates of various
dishes, some vegetables, and fish balls. Think meatballs, but with
fish meat (and less gristle and spices). Also, there was Coke as
birds nest

Saturday, July 26, 2008 - Class, Market

Home on the Prairie

Breakfast was same ol', same ol': white bread; jelly; fried dough
sticks; bowls of hot coffee, milk, and OJ bug juice.

Shortly following breakfast was our first formal class. Since we were
booted from the hotel in the Zhouzhuo University campus, we had to
make do with our facilities at the Mingxin hotel: History of Olympics
was downstairs in the dining room (餐厅) and Women in Sport was upstairs
in the hallway outside our rooms.

We had class. We discussed interesting things. I wrote some of them
down in my paper journal. I may or may not come back and reflect upon
them in this journal.

Lunch was also same ol' same ol'. Saturday looks like leftover day
around here. Nothing special.

Also, more class after lunch!


We were granted a few hours to ourselves after class today. Most of
us took a little walk-see around the neighborhood to see what there
was to see; also, Vicky wanted potassium: bananas! Our first stop
took us to a billiards parlor, by which I mean a couple of Delawareans
drinking beer and playing pool on some outside pool tables. They
directed us to a fruit stand, where I tried to ask if he had bananas.
I pointed at a watermelon and motioned a banana shape: "红色的 (hongsede,
yellow-colored)." The proprietor: "ummm.." I noticed he had a
computer, so I asked if I could use it real quick. We pulled up
Google Image Search and the YellowBridge Chinese/English dictionary,
so we got a picture of a banana ("oh, banana!") and I copied down the
Chinese word for it: 香蕉 (xiang1jiao1). He didn't have any, but he
told us to go down the street and around the corner, to the market.
At another produce store, we asked -- and won! Vicki took pictures of
their kids, all cute-like, while I practiced my mad Chinese skills and
bought tne bananas.

After banana-ing it up, we meandered a little further and found a
great open-air market, full of ... all the same junk, at each booth.

Karen and my attitudes towards the socioeconomic state of the people
in our neighborhood. Our hotel isn't really in the best neighborhood;
it's not too sketchy, but it's a developing area. There are a decent
number of stores with good-looking signs, but a lot of them are based
out of homes. The area is a bit dirty, the trash ends up in big piles
here and there on the street or in a large open shack. A moderate
amount of people just sit around on the street. There's no beggars
and no hobos, it didn't look like. Karen leads a very feminine,
metropolitan lifestyle: she works a desk job analyzing these kinds of
areas from afar. It boggles her a bit to actually walk through it, to
be there in the midst of it. For me, it just reminds me of a
moderately poor South American town, or the outer parts of a city, but
it doesn't faze me at all. The people look like they're managing
okay, just with a lower quality of life.

So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish

Dinner was the leftovers of the leftovers, except for the fish! They
served us an awful lot of random things, and then they served fish
tempura. It was the whooooole fish (all five inches of it), except
for the guts. As the staff brought out the plates of fish, the room
fell quiet. Then, Mary-ann picked up a fish and bit off the head.
Whoa, man, whoa. A few other people tried it out, or Christina and
Abby just picked apart the fish to get the meat off the bones, instead
of eating the whole darn thing. It was bony!

Bruce Lee, eat your heart out

Master Sun led us in a wushu training/demo session. Specifically, 功夫
(gong fu, or kung fu in Cantonese). Forty-five students, centered
around Sun 老师. It was a real good time; Rachael and I both enjoyed
the martial arts experience, since both of us used to take classes
(four or six years ago). There was a variety of skill levels and
innate ability and form, interesting to observe. We learned two
stances (horse and bow i.e. front) and some hand movements: punches,
upward blocks, front kick; and one short form. I was a bit morose at
how little I remembered and how my form and technique had suffered
over the years; also, my stretchiness.

When it came time to move around more, we migrated to the courtyard in
front of our hotel. We attracted a crowd, all right: hotel staff,
locals, random passers-by. Must be something to see, to watch
forty-five Americans trying to grasp basic wushu. We weren't too bad,

After wushu, everyone migrated back upstairs to socialize. Some
people played Mafia (a politics game), some played cards. I sat in
the hallway with people and chatted, wrote up this journal. It's like
being back in freshman year, sitting around in the hallway getting to
know each other. Good Times, Good Times.

Nonetheless: sweeeeeet.
birds nest

July 27, 2008 -- Ming Tombs, Great Wall, Walmart

Prepare for Great Antiquities

Breakfast was the standard bread, eggs, fried dough, hot coffee, hot
milk, and hot OJ-crack. The beverages were served by one of the staff
out of huge ladles: round 6" metal pots on long metal handles. Master
Sun invited Rachael (Amanda's roommate) and me back to his table for
some authentic Chinese breakfast: rice porridge. Looked better than
the white bread, but it could have used some brown sugar ;-)

We schlepped out a little earlier than usual, at 8:30am. (Breakfast is at 8am.)

Exquisite jade, I give you friendship price

Hard at work, making jade forthe tourists
Our tour agency has planned into our itinerary stops at various
stores. We didn't really understand why till Barlow dropped that the
government requires our tour agency to bring us to these stores. We
appreciate the opportunity to see these products and purchase them,
but some of the stops are a little random.

A hen on a cock
Today's government-mandated store of the morning was a jade factory,
an "exquisite jade" factory. Although the front lobby was a little
trashy with women noisily hawking their wares from behind a counter,
the factory and the sales floor itself were pretty epic. They gave us
a tour through a display factory area, where a handful of workers were
crafting jade products. There were a variety of products in a variety
of sizes, from tiny charms of the Chinese zodiac animals to those same
zodiac animals as tall as my chest. We then walked past 3'-long jade
junks (several thousand dollars), 7'-wide wall pieces (several
hundred thousand dollars), etc. The sheer amount and scope of
jadework was stunning. Of course, what did everyone end up buying?
Jade sand paintings with their names painted on.

Goin' Down, Down, Down

Walking up to the Ming Tombs
At the Ming Tombs, Master Sun ran a wushu review session in a plaza
just inside the gates. 45 American kids doing wushu on a cultural
antiquity area: awesome.

Exiting the Ming Tombsapproaching the Soul Tower
The tombs themselves were impressive, but in a different way than the
Forbidden City's architecture was. Instead of lots of grandiose
detailing and large roofs, the tomb is very spartan and simple, but
still quite grandiose. Also, it's 27 meters underground. It's a
basic tomb, but it was still Quite Large. Also, there was a Soul
Tower above-ground to symbolize the tombs. Our only regret: not
enough tour-guiding to make the Tombs more significant.

Whatever Mao Z wants, Mao Z gets

Lunch was at a nice restaurant, a large banquet hall with a number of
tables. They had already set the food out for us by the time we
arrived. It was the standard variety of food, but quite delicious.
Also, they had french fries. French fries, man! With little dishes
of ketchup! Coulda used salt, but they went pretty well with the
sauce from the chicken. Other highlights: tiny little cups, about a
teaspoon big, to use with the 112-proof rice wine on the tables.
Whoa, man.

We got to lunch a little after 1pm and finished aboug 2pm, but we had
to stay there till 3pm. It seems that the government also requires us
not just to go to certain stores, but to stay there for a certain
amount of time. Well played, communism, well played. So, we
meandered around and looked at an awful lot of Stuff. Oh, Stuff. I
spent most of the time chatting with my classmates, getting to know
each other better.

Today, You are all Heroes

Climbing the Great Wall
After lunch, we took on the GREAT WALL. It was pretty great. Also,
it was pretty steep. We walked about, dunno, half a kilometer as the
crow flies. We went up about half a kilometer, too. Just like the
dogs outside our windows say every morning, that was "ruff."

On the way down, a couple people counted the steps and concluded that
we walked 1650 steps. (I'm not sure whether that accounts for the
flat slopes.)

We had a big party on the watchtower on the top of the hill. Facebook
will have nigh on hundred photos of everybody and their
sister roommate. (That is, once we get the internets
working and people can upload photos.)

Steven Dotts is a HERO
En route to the bottom, a bunch of us picked up "Hero Cards," small
souvenir plaques verifying that we climbed the Great Wall, upon which
they would carve your name and the date. 40 yuan wasn't too bad -- we
were also paying for these people having walked almost as high up the
hill as we did. (Furthermore, it was the only stand still open by the
time we came back down the hill, around 5:30-6pm.)

Walmart Superstore

Olympic Coca-Cola rings at theWalmart
That pretty much speaks for itself. There's a mall on the way into
the city from our hotel, so we've been making noises about going
shopping. Today was the day -- but we had to skip dinner at the
hotel. Shucks!

Chinese Walmart is pretty, um, Walmart-y. All the price tags are the
same typeface. The signs marking the aisles off were in both Chinese
and (pretty good) English. The food was all Chinese, of course. One
international constant I found was the Coke display, which was an
Olympic Rings display made out of Coke cans (and their associated
brands, like Fanta).

To our chagrin, granola bars appear to be unique to the United States.
Kim told me how one of her Greek friends, who had moved to the U.S.,
was fascinated by granola bars: "it's cereal ... in a bar!"
Apparently the Chinese do not share our fascination. At least they
had Cheerios and Trix. I also bought a lot of yummies and gummies:
chocolate-filled wafer koalas, cookies, and fruit gummi snacks. Om
nom nom!

Noodles from the food court.Appetizing!
Since we missed dinner at the hotel, we had to buy it at the mall.
An awful lot of people spotted a KFC and headed over there, but I
deigned not to stoop to such Americanisms. I went upstairs to the
food court on the fifth floor, where I was promptly embarrassed by my
naivetë. After wandering around a bit deciding what to eat, I went up
to a counter and tried getting food by pointing at the sign of meals
on the wall. The servers demurred and guided me towards another meal
they were apparently serving. When I tried to pay, they showed me the
proper method: one guy walked me up to a front desk at the entrance to
the food court, where they transferred my 20 kuai onto a debit card;
then, he walked me back to his register, where he debited the 8 kuai
(about $1.15) for my dinner from the card; and finally, the women at
the front desk cashed me out and took back my debit card. It makes
sense in a culture where you take a bill from the counter to the
cashier, then bring back the bill marked paid. In addition to helping
me get food, they served me some delish food: boiled cabbage and
peppers with noodles in broth. It was sooooo good, hot, and filling.
There was also noodles in multitude, since the bowl was wider than my
face is long! After eating for twenty minutes, I unfortunately had to
ditch half my meal and run to catch the bus. I should eat out more
often: a buck and change for a ginormous bowl of noodles? I love

You win. Excellent

Chinese TV is a little ridiculous. They have the corresponding shows
for StarSearch and whatnot, but we ended up watching some epic serial,
like a martial arts drama filmed in the soap opera production style
(lighting and camera work). Quite Epic. I can't say we watched it,
per se, because Rachael discovered that you can play the TV in
Othello/Go. It's just built in and you use the remote control to
choose which tile to put your stone in. After playing a couple games
and failing miserably, Matt dropped in and offered expert strategic
advice. We finally won, and the TV acknowledged its failure:
birds nest

August 2 - Class, acupuncture, pool hall / market / going local

Originally published at Andy Does Beijing. You can comment here or there.

Mm-hmm, sho nuff

Vanna White likes lotus, too Class again. Lunch at the hotel again. More class. Dinner. That was pretty much the whole day.

Interspersed with this was the little things of life: checking the emails, laundry, walking down to the market, all that shebang. One of the big little things: lotus was served at lunch! It’s thick and flat, crunchy, holey, and a pretty cool vegetable to eat.

The cake is a lie Today was also Dr. Goodwin’s birthday (we have an awful lot of July-August birthdays in the class), so Mark, Lauren, and I went down to a bakery at the market with Master Sun to get a cake for him. It was a two-tier cake with a frosting dragon on it, very cute; also, it came with a lotus blossom slash fireworks topper, very cute: first it put out a 6″ flame, then the leaves opened up, and finally it played “Happy Birthday” like a gift card.

Poke — but not on Facebook!

Our treat for today was an accupuncture demonstration. A professor of accupuncture and her assistant, who spoke English, came from the same school of traditional Chinese medicine that we visited two or three days ago. The professor was a bright-eyed, older women, sporting white hair but an ageless face (as I’d hope from someone who works daily with TCM). Her assistant discussed the concepts of yin and yang with us, the two opposing and balancing forces in the universe, and then put it in terms of accupuncture.

Amanda has about twenty pins in her stomach and a washbasin to cover them Yin-yang is a concept from daoism, the Eastern philosophy of the universe. They are two opposing forces and each thing can be characterized as one or the other (or a mixture of both). Yin consumes yang; yang consumes yin; through balance of the two is harmony. Yin is cool, closed, dormant, female, the lower portion of the body, and found in cool fruits like grapes. Yang is warm, active, male, the upper portion of the body, and found in “warmer” fruits like bananas.

Accupuncture works on the basis that the human body, which has 365 pressure points across it, also has various channels connecting these points; and that these channels should be opened to allow circulation of blood and energy through them. Specific points are pierced with the needle to open the channel; certain points and channels are chosen depending upon your malady: earache, backache, and so on. To demonstrate, the professor used Amanda, who had some lower back pain, and pushed about a dozen needles into her abdomen. Then, Amanda laid down on a portable cot that was brought in for the demo for a period while other people were given accupuncture treatments: in the head, in the arms, in the legs, in the knees. Everyone felt better after getting poked!

If we we were interested, we could each get a one- or two-pin sample poke, since the women wanted to go home after a long day’s work. I took a pin to the shin, which opened a channel going down to the muscles in the in-step of my foot. As soon as I was poked, I felt a tingling and a warm sensation travelling down my shin to the instep. Curious, groovy, and rather nice.

On the Town

After accupuncture, a handful of people went down to the billiards hall to play some pool and cards, then down to the market. I learned Vegas-style blackjack, where you can’t look at your face-down card, but the dealer has all his cards out. Curious. Good to know, though.

In addition to meat on a stick, I ate chicken feet Down at the market, we hung out and played Up the River, Down the River. Also, a few girls were eating at the next table over and they ended up chatting with Rich, my roommate. I ended up sitting with them for a while and chatting; two of the three spoke pretty good English. They both work for a Dutch company which has been in China for nine of its last thirty years, teaching “soft skills” — interpersonal relationship skills, instead of the typical hard skills, like craft and technical skills. Their training pretty much boiled down to three things: be cognizant of other person’s needs; be cognizant of your own; and assertively (firmly but politely) find a middle ground that works for everyone. Definitely a Dutch concept, not a traditional Chinese one, where you bend over backwards to get the job down, even if it’s to your detriment. I was impressed that such a company was working in Beijing; I’d hope to see such training in the U.S. as well!

In addition to chatting about the girls’ work, they also fed me some chicken feet (where you eat the skin, since that’s nutritious but there’s no meat to speak of) and grape tomatoes (which I tried despite warnings against street food). Apparently the water and street food is clean enough around here, since I’m writing this a while after eating those and I feel perfectly fine. Hooray! The girls liked this particular part of town where we were because it wasn’t too slummy, but it was casual enough that you could just throw chicken bones on the ground and nobody would bat an eye. Anyway, my roommate got their business card, so we may call them up to go hang out sometime or we might run into them again at the market. Good times in the city.

Bad times, though: I took my camera out to photo some little kids playing around on the pool table and dropped it on the pavement! Now the darn thing won’t turn on, which is a shame since it’s served me well for a year, year and a half maybe. (It’s just as well, though — it had a few faults and was starting to get kinda buggy, so now I have a good excuse to get a nice, shiny, new one.)