Time Flies When You’re Having Fun

I’ve been a little negligent about recording the activities that have made up some of my favorite moments in Beijing. April and May were my last two full months in Beijing and they passed so quickly with all of the birthday celebrations and music events.

April 12
The Beijing Olympic Stadium

I can glance outside of my living room window to see the Olympic Stadium (also known as the bird’s nest), but it took me about seven months to finally tour the stadium grounds. I spent a beautiful, sunny afternoon wandering around the structure, reading about the 2008 Olympics on plaques, and reading a book alongside the [fake] river.

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April 12
Teppanyaki birthday celebration

A friend within the group of people I usually hang out with in Beijing celebrated her 25th birthday by inviting everyone to a Japanese Teppanyaki restaurant. Although I have been to several in the U.S., it was a special treat to spend time with everyone around the enormous Japanese grill while watching the master chef at work.

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This is why these people are my friends :P

This is why these people are my friends 😛

May 17
I finally saw a PANDA

My friend Vicky and I decided that it was unacceptable to leave China without seeing a panda, so we wandered over to the Beijing Zoo to see the animals. It was almost as entertaining to see the crowds of Chinese people snapping their cameras and forcing their children to pose for endless pictures as it was to see the animals themselves.

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…and then Vicky touched the zebra

May 18
Surprising a friend on his 30th birthday

While a good friend, Christian, was anticipating (I think he actually used the word “dreading”) his 30th birthday, his girlfriend was scheming his surprise party with his roommates and closest friends. His best friends gathered everyone to create a music video for him. We spent a hilarious Friday night dancing around Beijing (and somehow ended up in a bathroom) to make the video. A friend who works as a sound engineer and another who is a master at video editing polished the whole thing. We presented the video to him after surprising him at his apartment and I could tell he definitely felt better about turning 30.

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May 25
Intro Festival

Although I missed out on seeing David Guetta at the Great Wall due to my Silk Road trip, I did get to experience this festival held at an abandoned steel factory. Although electronic music really isn’t the most played genre on my iPod, it was a unique venue to run around and enjoy the beautiful day and great DJs. My crazy friends even managed to make CCTV news in Beijing after they kissed, then picked up the anchor reporting from the festival. Watch it here (hint: it’s at 18:20)

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I <3 Beijing

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As my time in Beijing is approaching its end (I now have less than a month left) I’m realizing each day what little things I’ll miss when I return to the U.S. Of course there are things that have bothered me immensely. My close friends and family members are fully aware of these irritations and on bad days, they’ve have heard about them in detail and on repeat. Bless their hearts. Despite the craziness that often seems to occur simply to irk me in this smelly and smoggy city, there are things I absolutely love about it.

The high likelihood that I’ll hear a mixture of English, Hindi, Chinese, French, German, and Spanish during any given stroll down the sidewalk in Sanlitun. The ability to get street food for about „6 or less than $1. And then, on the other end of the spectrum, my ability to get amazing Japanese, Indian, or Thai cuisine for a lot more. The subway system that costs $0.32 per trip that will take me to almost any part of the city that my heart desires. My friends I have made here who are always willing to go out and enjoy a drink no matter what their status; single, in a relationship, it’s complicated, whatever. The cozy rooftop seating available in most coffee shops and restaurants. My potential to learn endless lessons from the abundant amount of cultures clustered together in this bustling place. Oh, and of course those T-shirts that declare your love for the crazy city.

It’s a weird mix of excitement and sadness to be thinking about my quickly approaching departure from a place I’ve called home for the past nine months. I fully intend to take delight in the little joys in each day during the rest of my time here.

Beauty Is Only Skin Deep

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During a recent Chinese lesson, my teacher began explaining the sentence structure to describe going to a local theme park. My teacher, Amy, enthusiastically interrupted her own lesson to digress into a story, as often happens during her lessons. She asked me and my co-worker who is learning Chinese with me to guess how she gains free admittance into a local theme park. My colleague and I shrugged prompting her to explain further. She giggled and exclaimed, “It’s not just because I’m pretty! Well, I could get in for free because of that. But I also work as a tour guide and my tour guide license gets me in for free!”

I obligingly laughed along with my co-worker, but her point was pretty much lost on me after she declared she was beautiful enough to gain free admittance to a park. Amy is strikingly beautiful. She’s extremely petite with enviable cheek bones and a great sense of style. Her beauty is something that everyone in a room undoubtedly notices instantly. Although her blatant remark about attractiveness is common among Beijingers, it remains a cultural characteristic that still makes me uncomfortable.

Within just a month of living in Beijing, the standard of beauty was very apparent. Chinese people are, in general, naturally petite. If someone is overweight, they stick out like a sore thumb. There is an obvious admiration for people who are tall. I’ve been told that there are height requirements for men entering the military and that taller men generally are the most successful in business in China. There is also a general desire for an job that allows the comforts of the indoors. Farmers that work in fields and develop golden-brown tans are stereotyped as lower-class citizens.

Therefore, if you are thin, tall, and pale, you are automatically considered beautiful. This standard of beauty is as rigid as a Chinese gymnastic coach. There is no variety (as far as I can tell) in what the majority advertises as beautiful.

While I can see why they consider women to be attractive who are statuesque and slender with creamy white skin, it makes me wonder why they don’t seek diversity in beauty standards. Sure, the U.S. still has a long way to go as far as equality racial and size equality, but it’s refreshing that North American media praises women across a variety of racial entities like Sophia Vergara, Gabrielle Union and Reese Witherspoon. Not to mention the praise that women like Mother Theresa and Princess Diana received for holding such inner beauty that provided for the less fortunate. I don’t believe there’s one way to be beautiful and I’m happy to be from a country that doesn’t think so either.

So maybe I’ll spend the rest of my time here scratching my head at why everyone is seeking to attain the same look. Maybe I’ll continue to squirm uncomfortably at immodest statements about one’s own beauty. But I’ll know that my country understands me and my zany idea that beauty is not a cookie-cutter definition.

Toto, I Don’t Think We’re In Kansas Anymore

The Silk Road Adventure, Part IV

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April 30-May 2, 2013

Turpan–I abruptly learned how distinct Cantonese is from Mandarin after a slew of Cantonese-speaking women stampeded through our train to Turpan at 3 a.m. and woke me and my friends from our sleep. If anything, I could say that this rude awakening was a foreshadowing of how different I would find Turpan, and the Xinjiang Province in general.

After a rough night of sleep post-Cantonese squawking, we arrived in Turpan early Tuesday morning and found the little town to be much more dingy than all the quaint cities we had previously visited. At one point, Erdem declared that the area looked as though “God had forgotten about it.” A depressing statement, but not entirely inaccurate. There were also glaringly obvious physical differences about the local people themselves; the majority of them were taller, had darker, olive skin, women wore head scarves, and a lot of the men had mustaches. The people are known as Uyghur, which is a completely different race from Han Chinese people in Beijing and they all spoke Uyghur (this is also the name of the language). It may have been because many are originally from Kazakhstan  but the whole area had a faint middle-eastern vibe.

The bus system wasn’t especially organized, but we lucked out with a bus that happened to be going toward the city center. While we were being jostled around a bus of strangers, Ivy, being the bubbly extrovert that she is, sparked a conversation with a woman wearing a head scarf and bouncing a baby on her lap. After speaking to her in Mandarin (all Uyghur people are required to learn Mandarin in school), we discovered that she can speak English, Mandarin, and Uyghur and she attended a university in Shanghai. Our conversation was interrupted by two police officers who suddenly stalked up the steps of the bus. I soon realized they were demanding identification from all passengers. The gun slung over the officer’s arm was intimidating, especially when he demanded identification from Bow, who was sitting beside me. He didn’t request my I.D. and we concluded that he asked her because he, like most other people, thought she was Chinese. It was a scene that felt as though it were taken straight from a movie, but the Uyghur woman assured us it happens all the time and everyone in Turpan is required to carry identification at all times.

Once we arrived in the city center, we bargained with a cab driver and a tour bus driver. After comparing the two against each other, we realized the men knew each other and quickly agreed to the cab’s fare and promises to take us around before they could devise a plan to hustle us.

We clunked through town in the man’s rickety old VW while, much to Erdem’s delight, our eardrums were blasted with Turkish music. Turpan is best known for producing excellent grapes and we stopped by a vineyard with rows and rows of grape-less vines. Apparently we were four months early for grape season. There wasn’t much to see in the fields, but we wandered into someone’s backyard courtyard and became fascinated with the beautiful patio, fenced in goats, and two little kids

As the mid-afternoon sun blazed to an almost intolerable level, we paid an entrance fee to tour an “ancient city,” which turned out to be a bunch of rocks with no shade to be found. After falling victim to a bird poop attack, I decided I had my fill of tourism in Turpan and we headed back to the city center to wander around the local markets while our hands became sticky from juices of the fruit we bought. Eventually we bid Bow farewell since she was heading north and as Erdem and Ivy and I were waiting for our train to Urumqi, a crazy old man began to converse with Erdem. Since Erdem speaks almost no Chinese, Ivy had to translate and she concluded that he was asking where we were all from and declaring that people are all the same no matter where they’re from. It was a pleasant thought that turned awkward as we realized that the old geezer who was missing a few teeth had also lost his marbles. He began ranting loudly and we received uncomfortable glances from the employees of the restaurants as he grabbed his walking stick and stalked off down the road.

Our train ride to Urumqi lasted only two hours but felt like 20 because of the extremely sketchy characters staring at me like I was a juicy piece of steak and they were lions who hadn’t seen food in days. It didn’t help that Erdem’s seat had been taken purposefully and rather rudely by a local guy which, evidently, angered him. For the rest of the ride, Erdem began making generalizations criticizing the local people which began to mess with my head. Naturally, his paranoia rubbed off onto me. I began to fear that Urumqi would be similarly grim, but when we arrived, it was just as developed as the first few cities we visited.

Instead of the intense touring I had done with Bow, Ivy and Erdem in the previous week, I wandered around the city aimlessly during my last day of travel, which I spent alone. It was a great change of pace and a relaxing way to end my trip along the Silk Road. Overall, it was a crazy trip full of new experiences and lots of staring, but, in the end, I was glad to be going back to Beijing.

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