Digging For Gold

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“I’d rather be crying in the back of a BMW than laughing on the back of a bicycle.”

A friend recently told me this quote has become quite symbolic of the way Chinese women currently view dating and marriage.

One of my roommates, who was brought up in a very traditional Chinese home and is currently single and in his late 20s, recently revealed to me that his parents habitually call him to suggest potential wives. After I heard this, I pestered Jake with questions that probably made him feel even more single. From my badgering I learned that in order to be considered a “catch” as a man in Beijing, you need to have money. I mean, let’s go buy a BMW then drive you to Louis Vuitton/Gucci/Prada so you can max out my credit card┬ákind of money. Since my roommate, bless his kind heart, is not raking in major cash, he admitted to having a hard time meeting someone he could afford to make his wife.

According to him, women that are pretty and desirable know they have an upper hand and can choose the very best suitor. Based on a long history of gender favoring, the male to female ratio in China is about 1,000 to 800 which puts males at a complete disadvantage when it comes to pairing off. It especially hinders males that earn less money to spend on women. So when a prospective wifey announced to Jake on their third date, “I expect you to purchase an apartment for me before we get married,” he did not even flinch. When he told me the next day, however, I coughed up the tea I was sipping. The fact that Jake couldn’t meet her financial demands ultimately led to his relationship’s demise.

If you consider the way boyfriends are expected to carry their girlfriends’ purses without an ounce of shame and the frequency of female hissy fits where women burst out and literally smack their boyfriends across the face in public areas, the tendency for gold digging is one of the many reasons why I may never understand the dynamic of relationships in Beijing.

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Ice Rink Nostalgia

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Everyone has that song. The one that comes on the radio and immediately takes you back to a moment at an unforgettable concert. Or that one film that instantaneously transports you back to an occasion when you watched it with your best friend. Those nostalgic moments seem especially poignant and frequent when abroad.

This past weekend while ice skating with friends, my mind wandered back to when I was a child and my parents would take advantage of the frigid winters in Minnesota by making a weekend outing to a nearby ice rink. My poor parents usually had to drag me to what I then perceived as the most miserable family activity ever. I would, more often than not, whine about the stiff skates cutting off circulation in my toes, rendering me numb. Even though I didn’t appreciate ice skating as an opportunity for the family bonding that it was, it remains a vivid memory. It’s funny that something that was a tradition so long ago raced back into my memory so immediately while ice skating with friends this weekend.

It’s gratifying to know that I can still actually skate. Ice skating is now on my list of things to do next winter ­čÖé

Take a Picture, It’ll Last Longer

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During my first few months in Beijing, I received more stares than I had ever gotten in my entire life. At first it flattered and amused me. Later, that amusement grew to irritation, and eventually I began to ignore the stares. Now, the hundreds of looks I receive daily are just background in my commute to work or the supermarket. There is definitely a comical variation of how people look at me.

The Obvious Gawker: Most often, the perpetrator is an older male. This stare remains persistent and is often accompanied with an open mouth. It is unbroken, even after eye contact or a gesture, such as a smile, that would normally render the perpetrator embarrassed or indicate friendliness. The only way to avoid this type of stare is to leave the vicinity of the unbreakable stare.

The Stealth Starer: These kinds of oglers either know it is impolite to stare or do not want to appear uncool. Their gaze is felt just as much as the Obvious Gawker, but instead of maintaining their stare, they slyly avert their eyes to avoid eye contact. Despite their attempt at surreptitiousness, they are just as guilty as the others.

The Gossip Gaze: This kind of stare is commonly committed among several people in a group [typically teenagers]. The onlookers not only stare, but also proceed to whisper about the object of fascination despite the possibility that said object may understand them.

The Busted Onlooker: These are the perpetrators who, once they are caught staring, have no other tactic than returning a smile. Whether the intent of the stare was to establish a connection with the stare-ee, this onlooker usually gains the notion that they now have an established relationship and may attempt to make verbal contact.

A Big City & Bright Lights to Welcome 2013

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I’m not a huge fan of New Year’s Eve. I usually find the holiday to be over-hyped and underwhelming. My expectations were lowered by the fact that this year I am nowhere near my usual family and friends with whom I usually celebrate significant holidays. Despite (or maybe because of) my┬ánonexistent┬áexpectations for NYE, I ended up having a fantastic time!

I had been waiting for an opportunity to take the bullet trains in China and when friends mentioned going to Shanghai, I jumped at the opportunity.

[The train travels the five-hour trip via a 1,318 kilometer rail (711 miles) from Beijing to Shanghai at about 304 km/hour (165 miles/hour). Pretty speedy!]

Once we arrived in Shanghai, the two friends I had traveled with, Christian and Nandini, joined me in walking around the French Concession which is a neighborhood filled with cafes, tree-lined alleys, and quaint tudor houses. Then we were off with more friends to [ignorantly try to] get a spot overlooking the Bund for NYE. Well, evidently every other person in Shanghai had this brilliant idea. Since we had waited till just minutes before the clock struck midnight, we raced out of our cab to find the roads leading to the Bund blocked off. I was disappointed by this, but became amused by watching the locals decked out in light-up animal ear headbands and other festive NYE garb. Suddenly a woman standing near me lit up in excitement and I followed her gaze to see fireworks exploding over the Pearl Tower. I can only describe this as one of the coolest moments ever.

After celebrating late into the night, we woke up the next day feeling a little less than fresh, but toured with enthusiasm just the same. We took the Huangpu River Cruise to take in more towering city views and wandered around the Old City Area to see the Yu Garden. Later we reunited with some friends who gave us insider knowledge of where to get Shanghai’s traditional xiăÄo l├│ng b─üo (basically a dumpling with soup inside of it–very sweet tasting and difficult to eat).

The following day we took advantage of our proximity to Suzhou with a day trip to the small city. Its claim to fame is the beautiful ancient gardens that have been preserved. We visited the Lingering Garden (one of the 4 most famous gardens in China built during the Ming Dynasty) and the Humble Administrator’s Garden. Although they were pretty, I couldn’t help thinking how much more scenic they would be during a warmer season.

Overall, my favorite thing about Shanghai would have to be the palm trees that lined the streets. It was comical to see lingering snow that had fallen a few days before on rooftops behind such tropical trees. But it was definitely a treat to see green leaves in the dead of winter!

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The French Concession

My friends think they're hilarious

My friends think they’re hilarious

The group at the end of the Huangpu River Cruise

Us on the Huangpu River Cruise

Me on the Yuyuan Garden bridge

Yuyuan Garden bridge

Bright fruit in Suzhou

Bright fruit in Suzhou

Breakfast anyone?

Breakfast anyone?

Humble Administrator's Garden in Suzhou

Humble Administrator’s Garden in Suzhou