August 20th, 2008

birds nest

Wednesday, Aug 20 - Softball, Last-Minute Shopping, Hangouts with Snowy

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

Today was our last event, softball at the Fengtai Softball Stadium. It was only about twenty minutes away by cab, as it was in the same district as our hotel. (I went with Barlow, so he covered the van; also, we took a Chinese girl who was staying in our hotel for her first Olympic event ever!) The venue was pretty small, compared to the Olympic Center and the Olympic Green; it was also just a softball stadium with a warmup field. Next door was some other indoor stadium I didn’t notice, since it was rather early (9am game). The venue did have the standard complement of post office, boutique, food and beverage kiosks, etc.

The first game was USA vs. Japan. The stadium had an awful lot of Japanese people there, like, almost every Asian there was holding a Japanese flag. There were American contingents here and there, but Delaware was split up into a couple sections — the professors, the softball girls, and everybody else. We were out in the outfield seats, right on the third base line, but halfway through the game Rich and I said to heck with it and hoofed it over to some open seats almost behind the plate on the first plate line. That was a glorious idea, since we had a great view of how, during overtime after the seventh inning, America knocked a home run into the back left stands and brought in a full set of bases. That, I’m very sad to say, was the only time somebody made a MASSIVE OVERWHELMING KICK-JAPAN’S-BUTT time since, y’know, World War II. Please don’t kill me. The second game was Canada vs Australia. The crowd was cool, but I was good for my softball fix by then.

I also learned the joy of “trading” pins in China today. I was sporting my USA House lanyard covered in the Delaware pins my mom gave me to trade, so when I went to go buy a snack, the staff there asked to trade. I traded five or six to them for two: a big one of the Great Wall and a small Yanjing Beer one. I should’ve hid that beer pin, since I let some ground staff guy trade me it for a small USA pin. I also traded some of the volunteer staff metal pins for plastic pins, which was a silly idea too. An American guy from Boston approached me to trade pins, too, but he wasn’t really interested in Delaware pins — don’t blame him =p I just gave one pin to some other volunteer guy, too, since he asked for it and I went with Chinese custom: if somebody admires a possession or asks for it, you offer it. Shoulda been an ugly American, but the kid only had an Australian Olympic pin. (To top it off, I had the opportunity to buy a bunch of pins on the street today, but I passed.) So, China: six; Andy: dumb.

Better Late than Never

Since today was the official shopping day, I held off on getting most of my gifts until today. After the game, I caught a cab with the Goodwins and Linda to the closest subway station. It took some trials and tribulations. First trial: hailing the cab. Second trial: the cabbie wanted to turn the corner before dropping us off instead of just stopping and blocking traffic — god forbid.

We took the 1 line across town and I ditched the crowd to hit Wanfujing St while they continued to the USA House to buy some “amazing awaits” swag. Anyway, Snowy called me once she got off to work to find out where to meet me to go shopping. I was on the subway, so I lost the signal after a minute, but I called her back once I got to Wangfujing and told her to come down. While I waited I meandered a bit, trying to track down the shirt I’ve been ogling all month: it’s white with the red-orange cloud motif on the right shoulder and a China flag patch on the left breast. I keep seeing it on people, but I can’t find it anywhere! I’m hoping to order it online when I get home. I picked up some lunch at Yoshimoyo, a Japanese fast-food place in the mall: just some teriyaki tofu on a bed of rice with vegetables and a side of kimchi. Also, they served Pepsi, the first time I’ve seen it in this country! Yummy, but way too much rice. Whilst meandering back, Snowy called me to tell me she was getting off the subway, so we met up at the McDonald’s (aka Micky D’s) on the corner.

Without revealing too many details (a.k.a. what gifts I actually bought for you people), I’ll tell you about shopping. Snowy was very helpful, since she likes to see her friends get good deals, she speaks the language, and she doesn’t mind stretching the truth a little to get a good deal. Oh, and she’s Chinese. (Thank you for helping me, Snowy!) First place was Snack Street off of Wangfujing; it’s famous for exotic ancient snacks, like lamb testicles and silk worms on a stick. There’s also a small market on one of the side streets, so we dickered with a vendor there over a small’n’shiny and only got ripped off a little. After that, we hitched the subway over to the Silk Market and the underground market. The Silk Market is another big five-story market building, not including the market underneath with about a billion counterfeit goods. It was something, alright. Never before have I seen so many counterfeits. The Silk Market itself was pretty boggling, too, almost as many counterfeits in the purse section. We made our way upstairs, to the goods that interested me, and managed to get okay prices on them. They weren’t fantastic prices, since the vendors want to make as much money off the foreigners during the Olympics (and acquire pins, too — one had an entire lapel covered in them). The Silk Market, incidentally, is one of those “tourists go here, so other tourists go here” places. Snowy told me that Chinese people don’t go there to buy things, that the vendors wouldn’t even talk to them because they can make a better profit off the clueless foreigners.

I managed to get everything I was looking for, plus a little extra for fun. I wanted to give the hotel a gift for hosting us, so I figured we could get a calligraphy scroll with something nice and all sign our names. I didn’t have any good idea beyond “谢谢,” so Snowy said no, we’ll ask the calligrapher if he has any good ideas. After we haggled the price, he said to come back in ten minutes and he’ll think of something. (We went across the aisle and bought some things there, which took about twenty minutes to choose and haggle over.) The calligrapher suggested something which literally translates to “guests lodge feel at-home,” or “Guests who lodge here feel right at home.” We thought it a great sentiment, so he did it up for us for 70元. Looks real nice, a 2′x9″ white paper with the calligraphy and a red silk mounting for the rest. I’m having everyone sign it in the midst of finishing up journals and packing; the folks who already went to sleep will sign in the morning.

After I ran out of money, I mean, bought all my gifts, it was already time for dinner! A security guard suggested we walk to a small sidestreet across the road and go to any of those restaurants, so we went in to one that served 老上海饭, traditional Shanghai food. Shrimp dumplings, beef noodles, and vegetable wontons were the order of the evening. Snowy tells me that there are two different words for dumplings: what we think of as dumplings, the larger doughballs filled with whatever, are actually baodan (?); and the smallish ear-shaped things, which remind me more of wontons, are proper dumplings, or jiao4zi. Either way, they’re all yummy to me! but we ordered a little too much food and I couldn’t eat all of my noodles. At least Snowy taught me how to eat noodles: instead of biting off chunks of noodles, you’re supposed to suck/tuck all the noodles up. Yay proper table manners!

Afterwards, we wandered up Chang’an St (?) towards Tian’anmen Square, just for somewhere to hang out and chat, and ended up sitting by the fountains in front of the Malls at the Oriental Plaza (where we first met, incidentally), and talking about things. What I learned today about China: their school system is organized basically the same as ours, age-wise; and the dorms here are more like West Chester’s (20-some stories) than UD’s (three or four, or 17 in the Towers). Most Chinese uni students use Windows computers, because they’re cheaper than Macs (although Snowy notes that Macs are better design). At Snowy’s school, the beauracy kills the bedroom lights at 11pm, but the students go into the lounge with lapdesks and stay up working until 12 or 1, then sleep until 7am for 8am classes. Also, the Washington Monument is world-famous; at least, Snowy knows it — but she’s also studying landscape architecture. Furthermore, most of the Beijing Olympics volunteers are college students, but not all.

My evening ended when we had to say goodbye in the subway station so I could come home and pack. (Her uni is north of downtown; the hotel, to the south.) So, sad pandaface — but I’ll go pick up an MSN account or something when I get home so we can chat no the intarwbs.

I caught a cab back from the subway station. He had to put a new roll of receipt paper into his official cabbie moneycounter machine (which is mounted in the dash above the radio) before we pulled out, but he didn’t start the fare till we actually got driving. Last time driving back to Mingxin! Pretty anticlimatic, y’know? and nobody was out at the market again when I get back, around midnight.

That’s all, folks!

Come midnight, half of the group were partying — in their beds! I managed to track down the other half and have them sign the scroll for Mr. Zhang (张先生). Now that half is sitting out in the hallway finishing up our journals, which we have to turn in before the plane ride so our profs can read them on the way home. An auspicious ending to a fun little east Asian jaunt.