August 5th, 2008

birds nest

Monday, July 28, 2008 -- Class at the hotel

Breakfast of Champions Heroes

Today's breakfast was practically a smorgasborg. The hotel laid out a little more food than usual, especially some typical Chinese breakfast: rice porridge with grains, small steamed rice dumplings with a honey sauce, and the usual bread and eggs. On top of that, everyone brought down food from Walmart: peanut butter, bananas. Dr. Goodwin also handed out pieces of white dragonfruit, which has the feel of a watermelon and the taste of a delicious.

I tried my Trix. Tasted good! Three things: it's only 150g, maybe about a 9oz box; the inside wrapper was silvery, not wax paper like in the US; and they were the RIGHT SHAPE! I was sad when I tried Trix in the U.S. last year and found out they had changed the shape to Kix puff balls, instead of the fruit shapes, so this is pretty awesome.

Formal Study

More class. I told you, I might tell you about it later!

I'm late, I'm late, for a very important date!

Formal tea preparation A tea party came to our hotel today. Our hotel manager has some connections with a tea company, so he brought them to our dining hall to show us the traditional Chinese tea ceremony. We were told that people will fly across the world to see this tea ceremony put on. Well, we already flew across the world, and we get to see the ceremony -- close enough!

Before the ceremony proper started, the group laid out a whole variety of fancy tea sets, many traditional kinds; also, a set of Olympic ring tea cups, which had the rings painted on the inside lip of the cup. Quite precious! (Also, slightly expensive. They didn't actually expect to sell anything to us, but they did, and gave us a discount for being a group of students. How nice!)

Tea gong fu master!
The tea was prepared by a group of three girls, wearing silk kimono-style tops and fancy black silk pants; one girl described the ceremony, one sat and prepared the tea, and one assisted. The girls presented as very traditionally Chinese servants: demure, humble, efficient, skilled. The girl sitting first displayed each piece of the tea set: tea cups, tea sniffers, cup (like a carafe), filter, hot water pot, tea tongs, and several other implements. Next, she went through a process of warming each piece of the tea set with hot water, then pouring brewed tea over them (for the scent of it), then pouring that tea out and pouring in the tea again, this time to drink. The tea cup and the tea sniffer went on a little oval saucer, which the assistant took over to our honored professors (and wife, Mrs. Goodwin). Drinking tea is much like drinking wine: first, you sniff the tea sniffer cup; then, swish your cup and smell it; finally, drink the tea in three sips. After the girls formally presented the tea, we lined up and they quickly made cups of tea for everyone to drink. (Incidentally, it was jasmine tea.)

A variety of tea sets
The girl who was making the tea did so in a very stylized manner; flowing, yet measured and somewhat stilted. To display the pieces of the tea set, she picked it up, flourished it, displayed it to the crowd and glided it through the air, breast-high, from right to left, back to right, and to the left again, then replaced it in its home. To pour the tea, she carefully held back the hanging sleeve of her pouring hand and poured rapidly and precisely over the cups or tea pot.

Following the tea-brewing ceremony, the tables were cleared and re-set in a flurry of activity so that a ???? (gong fu cha ?, martial arts master of tea) might present his abilities: kung fu tea-pouring! He looked about twenty, maybe a little older, and wore a white mao(?) shirt (with a high, circular collar) with his title embroidered on the left half and a dragon on the right. They were some hella abilities. His weapon of choice was a bronze teapot with a long, thin spout -- about 3' long, I'd judge -- which he would twirl and spin about like a saber, then catch in various positions to pour tea spectacularly (and quite accurately) into tea cups. I'm sure my colorguard director would love to see the several videos I took of him spinning and jumping about. Marvellous!

On the Town

Utopia's bar
After dinner, a large group of us went out to Hou Hai ??, Bar Street, to party it up with Amy's cousin's boyfriend, Sam. Sam's in Beijing all summer on an internship / language program: Monday class, Tuesday-Thursday internship, Friday class, weekends off. He also works Sunday nights (the big night out) as a bartender at a little beergarden called Utopia.

We rented out our tour bus so that we didn't have to worry about cabs or getting lost coming home. When we got there, we called up Sam on my cell phone and he came out to the street to meet us and bring us back to his bar, Utopia. It was pretty chill, just a little lounge with a back room; they had a shelf-full of German and British imports for 40-45 kuai (USD $8) or Chinese beers for 10-15 kuai (USD $1-2). We hung out there for a bit, wandered up the street to some other bars, generally enjoyed the atmosphere and avoided getting run over by taxis.

The well-graffitied wall of Utopia
In addition to bars on Bar Street, you could find restaurants, boutiques, and little convenience stores selling popsicles. Delicious, delicious popsicles, but slightly overpriced boutiques.

After touring Bar Street for a bit, we tried to take our group of thirty and change up to Honey, a karaoke bar, around 11pm, but they didn't want us and I couldn't speak enough Chinese to ask why not. Shucks. So we went back to Bar Street, while a smaller group split off and checked out some other, flashier bars going the other way.

We all met up around midnight to count off and ride the bus home to the hotel. Fun night, relaxed, nice bonding time with friends. Good times in Beijing, good times.
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July 29, 2008 - Temple of Heaven, Summer Palace

This CD was made by Eric

Practicing tai chi in the park Eric, our tour guide, made a mix CD for us to listen to on ths bus. It was a selection of his favorite songs:
  • Hey Juliette
  • Queen - We are the Champions
  • Eric Johnson
  • The Carpenters - On Top of the World with You (the Great Wall song)
  • John Lennon - Let it Be
  • Backstret Boys - As Long as You Love Me
  • The Beatles - Hey Jude
  • A-Kon - Nobody Wants to See us Together
  • Britney Spears - Stronger
  • Chinese classical tune
  • The Beatles - Penny Lane
  • Ozzy Osbourne (?) - Crazy Train
  • Bon Jovi - It's My Life

By the time we got to the Temple of Heaven, we hit every song on the CD. Whee! Dr. Goodwin had to ask what most of the songs were. Jeanne, his wife, filled us in on the Carpenters.

Many group choirs were singing in the park
The Temple of Heaven used to be that -- an imperial religious area. The awesomely ginorgamous buildings are still there, like the Harvest Prayer Temple (a quite large pagoda, mounted upon several concentric rings); also, the Imperial something Chamber, built within the Echo Wall (a very large circle, quite acoustically reflective == you talk on one side and you can hear it around the other).

The park was full of older people, thanks to two reasons: Chinese custom of retiring at 55 to allow new members of the population into the workforce, foremost, and secondly, that the park was free to enter for retirees. They joined in many leisure activities, such as tai chi / shadow boxing, group chorus (many of them!), hackey sack (with a groovy hackey sack built out of one soft disk and several jangly disks; also, a variety of colorful feathers -- it was like a flamboyant shuttlecock), and this cool game with keeping a ball on a a medium-size racket. Lots of fun group leisure activities.

Harvest Prayer Temple; a.k.a., my roommatea
We've noticed something curious about the architecture in all these tourist traps ancient Chinese cultural sites: they all look the same share a similar architectural and artistic style. There's lots of blue fields with red, green, and white detailing, all with fancy motifs, distinctly Chinese. Lots of dragons an' all.

We missed the weather forecast today, which was for a thunderstorm and rain. It caught up to us when we were inside the Echo Wall. The thunder would go BOOM to the east and then it would hit the echo wall and then you'd hear it from the north and the west and the south. BOOOOOOOOOOOOOM. Eep! Then, it started to pour. Lots and lots of water. Oh, man. Some of us just kept playing hackey sack =D

Do you love this song? I love this song.

Lunch was nearly American today! It was at a buffet place, and the whole counter area looked like an Italian cafe. Most of the serving stuff looked like an Italian cafe's, too. The food offerings included several nearly-American foods, such as pizza (fried), potatoes, and assorted cooked vegetables. The meat was still stereotypically Chinese, though, with bones an' all.

After lunch, we walked around the corner to a pearl store. Before we shopped, Yoyo, a Korean girl who spoke excellent English and worked at the store, presented us with plenty of information about pearl production -- and an oyster! She popped it open and showed us all the pearls it had made. Salt-water oysters produce only one pearl, but fresh-water oysters can produce twenty to forty pearls! Thus, they are much less expensive. Yoyo was pretty sassy; she asked us if anyone knew Chinese (aka me). She asked me if I were Chinese. "Um ... ????" Matt asked her if she were Chinese. "What do you think? No. I'm Korean." Sorry, lady, we're American! She also told us that "we take these pearls, crush them up, and make pearl cream to put on your face to make you look younger. I'm 30, but I look 21!" Hmm...

All the other girls in the store spoke pretty good English. They gave us a 30% discount because we were a big group of students (except on sale items). Then, they tried to sell us $500 rings! We all flocked to the 100-kuai ring and bracelet section -- buy three, get one free! (Asian Lauren and I thought that we could only get that discount if we bought it all ourselves, so I bought her pendants as her "boyfriend." This is not twenty minutes after one of the sales girls asked Laura and me if we were dating.)

I love you as long as you love me.

Inside a temple at the Summer Palace
The Summer Palace was around the corner from the restaurant. We turned the corner, walked through a gate, and there was a beautiful park before us! The Summer Palace is a variety of structures built upon a lake. Among these structures are a marble boat, for the empress to look out upon the lake; and the Temple of the Buddha of a Thousand Hands, which was way up 'pon the hill. The Buddha didn't have a thousand hands -- it was more like thirty -- but it did have four heads, with three faces each. No photos, please, Buddha is sensitive about his hands.

Overlooking the lake of the Summer Palace; also, some temples Behind Buddha's temple is a great little area full of big boulders to climb around on. I climbed all the way up the hill to it, and then around it to the boulder area. As soon as I walked in, I noticed it felt like chill hang-outs. So, I sat down on a boulder and worked for an hour on macramé. I've been making friendship bracelets for everyone on the trip, all sorts of different patterns, and this one was a thin chevron box, so it was taking a while. (Instead of a regular flat bracelet with a chevron design, which goes by moderately quickly, the box has four sides, so I have to do all of them at once. Kinda adds on to the production time.) There I stayed till I heard American voices, instead of a multitude of Chinese and the occasional European; and, lo and behold, 'twas my friends! Liz, (blonde) Rachael, coupla other girls, and Tiffany Scott (our Olympian ice skater slash trip TA) had come up, too, so I joined their party and meandered about till it was time to go home.

Back at the Ranch

Dinner at home was pretty standard, followed by free time to hang out, play games out in the front courtyard, write journal entries, play chess or Uno, etc. Good Times, Good Times. A nice end to a full day.
birds nest

Wednesday, July 30, 2008 - Class, Billiards

Today was quite uneventful. We had class in the hotel, lunch in the hotel, more class in the hotel, and dinner at the hotel. Although class was interesting, it got a little long-winded. Fortunately, our professor tells us jokes at the beginning of class to get us into the mood, like this gem:
What's Mario and Luigi's favorite kind of pants?
de-nim de-nim de-nim!
(Try it out loud. If you don't get it, ask somebody who was born after 1970. Sorry, mom =p)

Riding home in the manager's minivan
After dinner was over, though, we had the chance to walk down the street to our favorite pool hall! All around our neighborhood, you can find pool tables, usually covered with a tarp until the evening-time. One store-front is a pseudo pool hall, with a roof but an open store-front and an window they can sell beverages from, for great prices: 2 kuai (about 20 cents US) for a 375ml (20-oz) Tsing Tao. China prices are amazing. We ended up attracting a crowd, too, since it was all Americans playing their two tables and then it was all American girls. Pretty hard-core, man, hard-core, rocking the billiards hall East-Asian style.

We fail again at weather, incidentally: there was a big thunderstorm coming in that we didn't hear about, but the manager got a minivan and drove around the neighborhood picking up kids and bringing them home before it started to pour. What a nice guy!
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July 31, 2008 - "Hutong" rickshaw ride, lunch at 7/25 restaurant, traditional medicine, acrobats

Rick-Roll -- er, Rickshaw

Christina and I shared rickshaw #0076 Our morning adventure took us down to the commoner levels, through a "hutong" town. These towns were built around hutongs, or wells, which the entire town would use. The wells are less-used these days, so "hutong" has come to be associated with the narrow, winding streets common to those towns. We toured those streets in pairs on a fleet of rickshaws. They were, um, windy.

As we were in the commoners area, all the brickwork was painted grey; pretty colors are reserved, of course, for the royalty, as are opulence in architecture: in the door-frame of the front door are shown ceiling beams and, the more beams, the higher the class. Two beams are civilians, four beams are servants, eight beams are military, twelve beams are royal family. Or something like that.

Inside a traditional middle-class family householdAlso in the hutong town was a traditional family home, four small buildings with a courtyard. One room was the (ahem) wedding room; one area was the boy's rooms (the east side, for the sun rises on them); one area, the girl's (the west, naturally); and the parents lived in the larger building to the north. On the patio, we found a Chinese chess board set up, so Master Sun taught me quickly how the different pieces move. (Chinese chess is pretty similar to European chess except for a few differences in pieces, board layout, and starting layout.) The owner of the house, whose family (张, Zhang) bought it in the late 1940s, told us about his house through a interpreter from our rickshaw tour company. He also took a large calligraphy brush -- a big stick with hairs on the end -- and wrote in water on the courtyard stones: "something something 美国同学们 (welcome American students)." Afterwards, Sun 老师 took the brush and write “谢 (thanks)" on the patio.

Over 120 bars were on this lakeWe dropped by 后海 (Hou Hai), a.k.a. Bar Street: 120 bars, all on an large lake/river. Preeeeeetty sweet. While there, I hit a public loo. It was a little disconcerting: you turned a corner on a 5' wall and there was a metal trench with a drain there, and then you went inside and there were four small porcelain tubs with holes. I walked in and met 王先生 (Mr. Wang).

Hen Hao, Mr. Hao

When we went to the restaurant for lunch on the 25th, we told Mr. Hao, our tour director, that it was hen hao (很好, very good). We like his taste in food. He brought us right back to that restaurant -- but this time, we were upstairs in a private dining room, instead of on the ground floor in the public room. As we walked down the hallway to the dining room, we noticed the Chinese version of the dumb-waiter: a pass-through shelf cut in the wall with a door placed diagonally; the kitchen staff could place a dish on the shelf in the hallway side, then the wait staff could open the door and slide the dish through, ensuring the privacy of the diners. The place looked like a mafioso hide-out.

Best of Seattle

 Descrip We needed a little moolah, so we hit a bank and a dozen people went to get money. The rest of us wanted a little piece of America, so we migrated to the local 星巴克 (Xing bake), Starbucks. It was the first we saw, but it was just the same as an American Starbucks (even the prices) except with some Chinese. However, they didn't have the green tea latte.

Bank lines in Beijing are horrible. We sat at the tables outside that Starbucks for over an hour, which was great to socialize in a low-key environment. Mike told us about his job as a lifeguard, how he usually just saves little kids and people who fall over in the deep water. Also, a lot of north Delaware people are on this trip, from Concord HS, Newark HS, etc. Turns out Karen Mandrachia went to Newark, graduated three years after me. Mad reppin'!

I yinned your yang last night

Following our caffeine fix, we suffered a little health care at a traditional chinese medicine school. (Oddly enough, slitterst, the lighting walking upstairs was an inconsistent mix of halogen power-savers, incandescents, and natural light.) One of the assistant professors gave us an introduction to Chinese medicine, comparing the American doctor and the Chinese as a mechanic, fixing after the break, and a botanist, maintaining a healthy garden. Also, the Chinese have a nifty system matching up elements (earth, wind, water, etc.), emotions (anger, grief, etc.), and sets of parts of the body. Go Chinar!

As part of our trip, we were given consultations by upper profs at the school on our personal health. As trained, experienced doctors of Chinese medicine, they can divine your state of health by examining your eyes (which are connected to the livers), skin (the heart), left wrist pulse (kidney), right wrist pulse (liver), face (general age, wellness) and other external indicators. I was told that I had a weak digestive system (legit), low circulation (except that I exude heat through the core and the extremities), and high stress levels (yes). Instead of being prescribed Chinese medicinal herbs, I was instead told to relax: go visit friends, listen to music, play games. Hooray!

Linda enjoying some traditional chinese medicine After the lecture and consultation, we migrated to a group massage room, where we were treated to foot and shoulder massages by students at the school. We started by soaking our feet in a wooden barrel with herbal water. The students dried off our feet after a quick soak, oiled them up, and kneaded (and tapped and pulled and popped) all the stress out of our feet. Also, the oil smelled nice. The shoulder massage was equally funky and pretty sweet, although it ended a little too soon for my taste. (Unfortunately, I didn't pick up any interesting new methods to use for massaging.)

General Tso's Brothers Karamazov

The preshow look for the Beijing Flying Acrobatics Show For our entertainment and astonishment, our next step on the way home: the Flying Circus. Not Monty Python's, but Beijing's! Well, technically it was the Flying Acrobatics Show, but either way, it was pretty awesome. I bought a DVD (original copy, I was sold) of two shows, should be sweet to watch.
The different acts were teeterboard, hoops (piled atop each other, to jump through), three girls doing h-to-hand on soapbox, Wheel of Death, girls with diabalos (devil's yo-yos), three guys doing hand-to-hand / handstands on a dual platform, lots of girls on bicycles, and then the curtain call with mummers.

Lights -- all moving lights, plus laser rig.

I'm glad to see that the theatre industry works the same world-wide: everything looked the same as it would as at home, but with slightly different costumes. Good show, good show.
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Participating in the blogsophere

The News Journal (the Wilmington newspaper) has been soliciting Delaware visitors to China for information on Beijing and the Olympic games, so my mom linked them to my blog. I got quoted in a sidebar (the slightly more potable quotes) with a link back to my Livejournal. So, if you linked here from DelawareOnline, hiya!

The article quotes a variety of people, including one of my program directors. Read it online at
birds nest

August 05, 2008 - Min 老师 (Master Sun’s martial arts master), Class, Olympic store, P.S. Haircu

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

Papa’s in Town

Would you believe this dude is 70ish? Today’s treat for wushu/taichi class was a visit from Prof. Min, Master Sun’s old martial arts teacher. Min laoshi waas even better preserved than Wu laoshi: at seventy-two years of age, his face still looked ageless and his knees were in better condition than some of the kids.

To come: copious amounts of notes

Last Class

This study abroad is 20% lecture, 15% touristing, and 65% Olympic Games. So, our profs made sure to finish with most of the former before the latter started. Opening ceremonies are the 08-08-08 at 08:08, so today was Goody’s day of class. (Barlow needs a few more hours for movies and lecture, so he’ll spill over into tomorrow — oh dear!) It was same ol’ discussion-talky-talks, nothing too fabulous. Also, he handed out the questions for the final, which will be due on Monday in whatever form you prefer: paper or text document on a memory stick. I haven’t written on a single piece of notebook paper yet this trip.

Olympic Store

After class and din-dins at the hotel as usual, a group of us walked down to the local officially licensed Beijing Olympic store. These stores dot the landscape, sporting the ubiquitous running man logo and offering various commemerative Olympic items: t-shirts, polos, shorts, backpacks, fanny packs, umbrellas, scarves, keychains of various sorts, pins (both singly and sets), coins, plushies (stuffed animals) of the mascots, mugs, replica torches, models of the new venues, and so forth. Asia is great at the merchandising and they’re taking full advantage of it. OF course, each store only has a limited selection, so you have to hit ‘em all to get ‘em all if you’re looking for something specific.

Since this is China, there’s some minor issues with copyright infringement. The major issue is that it isn’t, really; China has nominal copyright protection laws, but they exist mostly to pacify other countries for trade agreements and are very poorly enforced within the country. Hence, we can buy plenty of great bootleg DVDs and very few legitimate ones; when we’re offered DVDs at theatres, the vendors specifically point out that they’re original productions. To combat the flagrant piracy and ensure quality, all of the officially licensed merchandise has a tag denoting that. It’s a pretty high-tech dealie, pretty aimilar to our tickets: same color scheme, similar small print on the back, and a ticker of holographic material. The tags even tell you how to determine if a tag is legit. A little ridiculous, but definitely in the vein of the games.

Suffice to say, I did indeed get a few pieces of Olympic merchandise. There’s some pretty snazzy polos, which I’d get if I wore sporty polos, but I don’t, so I instead bought a white tee with the Beijing Olympic logo on the back and on the front a picture of the Temple of Heaven, which figured into the torch relay around the city. (This came in handy when we wanted to go see the torch at the Temple of Heaven — I just showed my shirt to the cabby!)

The store was about half an hour’s walk from our hotel, out of our neighborhood and into a slightly more expensive neighborhood. It was on the main road, so near bigger hotels, more bus stops, commercial drags, etc. On the way, we saw haircutteries which blasted music onto the street, athletic gear stores, restaurants (medium and small, indoor and outdoor), and lots of street vendors selling fruits and vegetables out of carts. There were plenty of people just chilling out on the streets, hanging out, socializing, getting their hair did.

Oh, the haircutteries! I didn’t go to one, since I don’t trust people with my head. It took a while to grow out this mop and I don’t know enough Chinese to say “just clean up the split ends.” Anyway, the haircutteries are many and marked like any old barbershop, with a spinning spiral barbershop pole out front. (Instead of the traditional American white and red one at head height, though, Chinese ones sit on the ground and come up to about chest height to show off black/blue and white stripes.) The girls who went to get theirs cut tell me that they spend twenty minutes lathering up your head with shampoo and water (no sink), rinsing, then they spend a half hour or two playing with your hair, then finish it off with a relaxing twenty-minute scalp massage. The haircutters are all chic, trendy-looking twenty-somethings, an even mix of guys and girls. Rachel was shampooed by a girl, got her hair cut by a guy, and head-massaged by another girl. The girls all came back with cute, trendy haircuts — definitely artistic endeavours by the guys on hand. All that and a bag of chips for 25元 — except for the chips, that is.