Friday, August 22, 2008

I'm leaving for America today. Beijing has been very busy, and I regret not posting more often. Regardless, my blog will take a bit of a hiatus until I go abroad again or decide to write something. Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

798 - part 1

798 was originally the name of a secret military weapons complex, but in recent years cheap real estate has attracted hundreds of young Chinese artists, who live, paint, and set up shop in and among the mostly-abandoned warehouses and machinery.
The complex covers many city blocks that would take days to cover thoroughly. I am very impressed at how, in the face of serious consequences, passionate Chinese artists have managed to penetrate every crevice of this complex, like determined ants descending on a hollow insect carcass. Every artist represents himself in a different way - some own track-lit galleries, others rent dingy studios in converted second story factory worker dormitories, some are content to paint aerosol murals on factory walls.

Friday, August 15, 2008

photos from the temple of heaven

Singing on a Saturday afternoon in a park.

Friday, August 08, 2008


The Olympics opening ceremony starts in two hours. The city is super-saturated with anticipation; it seems impossible for any expectations to be met. The streets were eerily quiet today - thousands and thousands of cars and highways have been blocked from use. My usual Friday test was postponed until Monday. Get ready for the country's coming out party.

Monday, August 04, 2008

birthday recovery

After surviving my 21st birthday, I set out with some friends to wander among the Beijing hutong, the traditional courtyard houses martial arts movies have familiarized you with. Like many medieval European cities, hutong developments have narrow, winding streets and high walls. The only unobstructed views are down alleys. Many of the hutongs have been renovated to attract tourists, their insides stuffed with Italian espresso, Indian curry, and Belgian beer instead of Beijing families of less money and more tradition. Still, given Beijing's track record, the revamping has been remarkably unobtrusive and tasteful.

After a 2pm breakfast of ricotta ravioli, Chimay, and surprisingly good espresso, I felt inclined to a massage. My more experienced friends suggested a medicinal massage clinic a stone's through away, and I paid the equivalent of $7 for a thirty minute foot massage - what seemed like the safest way to test the waters. My therapist was quite friendly, and we gossiped about Beijing in Chinese while he scraped the dead skin off of my feet with a chisel. Most of the massage was below my pain threshold, but about twenty minutes in the guy's fingers hit the mother of all nerves on my right sole. My therapist immediately looked up and, through a mixture of infant Chinese and impromptu sign language explained that my unnaturally sore sole was a result of tension in my shoulders. He suggested cupping to ease the tension. He was insistent. My comfort zone was in need of stretching, so I decided to try it out. Two minutes later, I was face down on a table with flaming glass bowls sucking on to my skin. I'm sure this is old hat for lots of you, but I had to try hard not to whimper. Fortunately, though, the glass parasites were removed in a few minutes and I limped home in one piece. My shoulder should be pretty loose now.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

ge gong

One of the most heavily touristed areas in the city, ge gong is still lots of fun. What you don't realize from photos is that the palace is very long - this is a photo of the central courtyard, but many other gigantic courtyards open up after each consecutive gate. The effect is dreamlike, since you can easily lose your bearings, and many courtyards look deceptively similar.

Red walls run everywhere - shutting out, keeping in, guarding, supporting. They are kept up pretty well, but sometimes peeling paint livens them up a bit.

Monday, July 21, 2008


I'm on a one-week vacation in Hainan, a former place of exile for disgraced Chinese officials. Funny though, because it's a tropical island paradise. Hainan was on of Deng Xiaoping's first special economic zones, and the development here is just incredible. Thousands of apartment buildings and complexes are being built around the coast. This is my first dose of southern Chinese culture, and I'm loving it. People tend to speak Hainanese first, Cantonese second, and Mandarin third, so moving within Chinese accents has been interesting. I think it's good for my listening comprehension though. Ok, only 20 minutes left of my hour of internet. See you soon.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

the square

My workload has been pretty heavy - 40 to 50 new characters to memorize every day. Every character takes me a little closer to Mandarin fluency though, so I can't complain.

Last weekend my program organized an outing to ge gong, the "Forbidden City." We walked through Square on the way there. Just as I imagined it - dreary, dull, and closed circuit televised. Security guards with dark sunglasses slouch at regular intervals, and every few minutes a small bevy of slender soldiers march through the square for no apparent reason.
There is hardly any decoration on the ground, just a rectangle pattern repeated forever in two dimensions, like a lonely checkerboard with only one team. Still, it's a square filled with history, and China takes care of it. Here, women are painstakingly scraping gum and dirt off of the cement with chisels.

As we approached ge gong, my mood lightened as I mingled with countless, color-coded Chinese tour groups, mostly kids, all laughing and posing in front of Mao's picture, which is said to be untarnished be the elements since it's creation.

Friday, July 11, 2008


Sorry guys, it's been a really hard week. Updates soon.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

five feet from paradise

I took a little walk tonight to get circulation going and to try to withdraw some money. We've been really lucky with the weather - 75 degrees and humid all week, with the occasional bit of acid rain. This week it's scheduled to be 100 F and humid.

I pass Paradiso Bar on my left - the only bar within walking distance. This might seem odd for a college town, but in China drinking - and it happens a lot - usually takes place in restaurants along with food. Going out for drinks after work is an imported concept. I like the Chinese way best - more familial and communal. The family that drinks together stays together, right?

The intersection outside my dorm is an exercise in Orientalist cliche - gritty, bright, and exotic. I love it though. It's 10pm and happy college students walk hand in hand, play in the streets, or congregate around street vendors selling questionable snacks from luridly steaming baskets. Kids line up to by chicken (any part of the animal) on a stick. Farther down are bootleg music stores, trinket sellers, and massage par... clinics... sporting thin, scantily dressed girls bathed in dim red light. Apparently this district used to be a drug clearing house, although it's been cleaned up fairly well.

Crossing this intersection requires some finesse. In China, you learn quickly that cars have priority over pedestrians. Also, anything short of running a red light is pretty much permitted, which includes stopping in intersections, running down cyclists, neglecting turn signals, driving on the sidewalk, etc. Add silent, deadly grandmothers on electric mopeds and sleek black government Audis to the mix and stir.

The noise fades quickly after crossing the street onto campus proper. I roll up my sweatpants to the knees to avoid the grime, and walk along the street past the cell phone store and supermarket, pictured previously. There are still a lot of people out and about, which makes me really happy. I'm thinking about translating that last sentence into Chinese as we speak - Chinese 24/7 does that to you. I go to the sketchy ATM booth in the middle of campus and thankfully 4 bright pink bills fall out - I've been having VISA complications but maybe I've finally but them all behind me. 400RMB = 21 plastic umbrellas, or 100 bowls of rice at the local cafeteria, or two wild nights out in the city. So many options. I hope nobody robs me. (Nobody did)

On my way back, a convenience store crouches against a building corner a few feet from the road. A pudgy man guards the entrance, smoking and thumbing away at his phone. The store looks like it was constructed out of corrugated tin in three separate stages, one of which definitely predated the Cultural Revolution. Dirty plastic flaps hang down from the door, and inside the floors and ceiling slant in different directions. A pile of watermelons lies next to the fat man. He doesn't look up at me. Inside is a long cigarette counter with two more people anxiously thumbing at their phones. They don't look up either. I peek into a few ice cream freezers looking for American ice cream. No luck. I circle around the store's one aisle - crackers, coat hangers, tampons, Oreos, bottled water - all jumbled together. The three phonesmen continue thumbing as I pass - I could have taken half the store with me and they wouldn't have noticed. I nod anyway just in case one of them looks up. I've finished my walk.

Paradise taunts me on my way back to the dorm, but I have to study.

Friday, June 27, 2008

day 5

A lot of students graduated today. They all crowded around the taxi stop in clumsy lines outside of my dorm. I feel that their goodbyes are sad, because most students at my school are minorities, from all for corners - actually, the western two corners - of China. They probably won't be seeing each other again for a long time.

I just finished my last test for the week - feeling pretty fine. We have a written final and an oral final - I'm still waiting for my grades, but I'm pretty confident (= you jingshen).

Emily, William, Chris and I went to Maliandao this week - Tea Avenue. Consisting wholly of tea shops. We stopped by this place beforehand for food. A larger than life golden bust of Mao greeted us in the foyer - picture forthcoming.

Fatty braised pork was a highlight.

William had a little difficulty with the noodles, arousing the sympathy of a kind, toothless laotaitai at the next table.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


The Central University of the Nationalities caters to Chinese minorities, of which there are many. Many people I pass on the way to class look more Turkish then Han Chinese, and it's fun to see bright local costumes mixed in with jeans and sports jerseys. This is the view from my dorm room - the top of a restaurant named simply "Muslim Restaurant." I had my first dinner here and enjoyed it, although someone later confided to me that the guy in red is actually preparing food for the restaurant down below. There's so much that goes on behind the scenes. Oh well, I haven't gotten sick yet.

I've thankfully tested into second year Chinese, so I attend 6 hours of solid Chinese class every day. It's very draining, but exciting at the same time. I've never once come close to falling asleep, something that would easily happen if I had 8am classes in the US every morning. Our teachers know how to push us to the limits, and fire questions at each student regularly throughout the lecture. I feel like a goalie on the defensive, always ready to spring, desperately trying to repel everything that's thrown my way.

After class, I often go to the campus supermarket to buy more bottled water (.15 USD), mechanical pencils (.20 USD), or bottled Starbucks lattes (4.00 USD). China is turning me into a miser - I get indignant if I have to spend more than 5 dollars on almost anything.

At first, I thought this was a small shrine to Coca-Cola, but it's actually the entrance to the campus supermarket, which is in the basement of a large multipurpose building. Interesting.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

first week


Thank you for reading. This is my first post for my summer study abroad in Beijing. This will be a very visual blog about Beijing and the stuff I'm doing in it. Enjoy. Click on archives for life notes in Japan.


Through immigration, interminable bag shuffling, cramped bus rides, and a first-class traveler's head cold, I couldn't help grinning excitement during the first day. Beijing is a composite of two of my favorite things - metropolis and foreign countries.

I didn't sleep on the plane, but spent my time pretending to study flashcards or watch the little airplane tick it's way across the Pacific on the screen in front of me. It took its time. Finally, though, it was over. Swinging my bags around me, I gained momentum as, one after another, obstacles appeared but failed to stop my progress out of the Boeing and into the new city - officious state servants sniffing at my visa, baggage carousel, customs - nothing could touch me. Finally, grey sunlight from the enormous terminal windows hit my eyes. For the uninitiated, large Beijing buildings all smell vaguely like auto body shops - smog. Smog smog smog; get used to the word. Smog for breakfast, smog for lunch, smog for dinner. Smoggy dreams.

I found my classmates inside the terminal and dared each other to try to buy bottled water while we waited for everyone to disembark. We took a chartered bus to Zhongyangminzi daxue - "Central University for the Nationalities" - our new home. More on that later.