Favorite Weekend Adventures

Simply being in a foreign country like China has given me opportunities to experience things I would never otherwise get a chance to do. Here are some of the more recent and favorite ventures from last weekend:

Wall art that says inappropriate things in Chinese

Stage where the bar has live music

Giggle: My co-workers and I stopped at Giggle Bar and Restaurant for lunch on Friday and I instantly fell in love. I couldn’t resist the charm of the random Chinese cartoons painted on the walls, a [fake] tree in the middle of the room, plush white and black leather cushioned chairs, which were comfier than my bed, and even the broken English statements on the menu. And with a name like Giggle, how could I not love this place? Okay, so this isn’t the most adventurous or authentic Chinese experience, but I loved it anyway.

The many options of snack street: scorpion, starfish, seahorse, centipede, and lizard

Yep, I ate three of these little scorpions

Snack Street: Having heard about a “snack street” that allows us crazy foreigners to try cuisine like donkey, scorpion, and lizard, I decided this was a must-try while I’m here. The little street is crammed between a large, western shopping area (Forever 21, Zara, Sephora, heaven!) I guess the picture speaks for itself: among other things, like yogurt that is in a glass container that Chinese people drink like milk and some barbequed squid and octopus, I tried scorpion!

Awesome chair in the lobby of KTV Ibiza Karaoke

Marck and my roommate Keith singing their hearts out

Our awesome karaoke room

Karaoke: Karaoke is huge here. Huge! Every Chinese person I have met sings at the drop of a hat and isn’t afraid to belt out a tune when I request it (and I have). Because of this, karaoke is a common bar-time activity. This past weekend I got to partake in karaoke with some friends from my program. The Ibiza KTV was ridiculously lavish, with the lobby decked out in gold couches and crimson wall decorations.

Moon Cake: Yesterday was National Day, which celebrates the day the People’s Republic of China was founded on October 1, 1949. Along with having this entire week off from work, people celebrate with moon cake.

Now, I really don’t enjoy moon cake. I have tried, unsuccessfully, to enjoy it, but it’s just too dry for my liking. Even though it’s not my favorite, I was really excited that the company I work for gave everyone a big box of moon cake. Even though I don’t love the stuff, and have no intention of eating it, it made me feel like part of the celebration.

View of a temple in Summer Palace from across Kunming Lake

Summer Palace: I took advantage of my free Monday and went to Summer Palace with a few friends. The tourist attraction was originally constructed in year 1122. Hundreds of years later, it became a summer resort for Empress Dowager Cixi who blew a ton of money on its reconstruction and enlargement. The day was perfectly sunny and mild for walking around Kunming Lake, which surrounds the palace. It’s usually during tourist-y moments like this when it hits me; I’m in CHINA! Sometimes it’s nice to stop and just be amazed at where I am.

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Asian John Mayer

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Rich, Katie, me, Amy, and Lorena in front of Nanluoguxiang Ancient Alley

My roommate and I set out with some friends–three girls from the U.K. and a fellow American bloke–to Nanluoguxiang Ancient Alley. It was basically a long stretch of adorable coffee shops, food stands, and trinket stores within a hutong. We spent the afternoon sipping coffee on a rooftop coffee shop exploring our own cultural distinctions. We Americans learned correct usage of British phrases such as “bloke” and “proper” and we, in turn, taught the girls how to properly use the word “legit.”

Keith and Katie cheesin’ in front of lanterns in front of Nanluoguxiang Ancient Alley

Check out the lady on the side yelling at me to take off the fuzzy panda hat. Tehe

Me and the UK girlies

Yep, we bought ears

As the sun began to set, we ventured toward Houhai where the restaurants bordering the lake were glowing with a mixture of Christmas lights and Chinese lanterns. While we were enjoying drinks on an outdoor patio, a little Chinese girl started took interest in us. Somehow Keith got the child’s parents to cheers with everyone, and the parents handed a beverage to the 2-year-old so she could clink glasses with us! An infant cheersed us with an adult beverage; something that I can’t imagine happening too often in the U.S.

Pretty lights in Houhai

After corrupting the youth of China, we ended up at a venue filled with acoustic sounds of John Mayer. Once the Chinese singer/guitarist finished his set, he took a great liking to me and I found out that he was from Shanghai and he was fabulous at applying liquid eyeliner. After I tried octopus on a stick, swung around in a hammock strung over a table in the bar, and we all danced on stage a bit, we called it a night. I decided if all nights in Beijing were this randomly awesome, I just might love it here.

Asian John Mayer

Peepshow at the Park

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Looking like tourists at Houhai park with Matheus and Maki

I had made plans to explore Beijing with new friends so I headed to the subway station closest to my apartment. It was a normal afternoon with the sun shining and birds chirping in the park that I usually pass through. A young Chinese guy ran past me and I thought to myself, “huh, he’s in a hurry,” but I continued walking. I got about 15 feet away from a tiny gate I have to pass through at the end of the park to get to the subway and the running Chinese guy was standing at the gate. He had his *ahem* man parts in his hands. At first I thought he was just finishing peeing (public urination is way common here), but he continued to shake his junk for a full minute! I froze right where I was and freaked out because he was obviously intending for me to see this and I couldn’t get through the gate without passing him closely. There was no way I was going near this man while he was shaking his wiener at me. I ended up hopping over a fence to get to the subway. Maybe he was welcoming me to China?

After that little incident I met up with Matheus and Maki and after dining on a super traditional meal at McDonald’s, we headed to the drum tower (Gǔlóu (鼓楼), the drum tower of Beijing) to watch a drum performance. The tower was originally built for musical reasons, it was later used to announce the time, and is now a tourist attraction.

Performance in the drum tower

Afterward we walked around a scenic park and lake in Houhai. The best part was the adorable rooftop restaurants and bars that line the lake.

Houhai lakeside restaurants

According to my Chinese roommate, my little incident that occurred earlier in the park is not a normal greeting, so I [thankfully] shouldn’t be expecting any similar encounters.

Fist Pumping

Friday, September 14 & Saturday, September 15, 2012

Shopping Center in Sanlitun

This past weekend I got the chance to meet a bunch of people who are here through AIESEC. I was surprised that many of them had been here for years, while a few were newbies like me. The two newer AIESECers don’t speak Chinese either and we bonded over stories about our encounters with the language barrier.

One of them, a Brazillian guy, made me feel lucky about my own living and work situation. He said he was living with seven other guys who only speak Chinese and he communicates with people in his company solely through Google translate since they speak only Chinese as well.

On Saturday, Keith and I managed to drag our shy Chinese roommate, Jake, out with us to Sanlitun, a more Americanized area of Beijing where it’s common to see foreigners (hmm…I’m now considered a foreigner). Keith was determined to get Jake to talk to girls. His dance lesson made me think of the movie Hitch (okay, very different, but the same idea).

Watch Jake learn to fist pump.

Tài Guìle!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Bargaining at the Silk Market

After spending Saturday with Keith at the Silk Market my head is spinning from an abundance of shouting and bargaining. The market was gloriously crammed with purses, wallets, belts, shoes, clothing, sunglasses and everything else you can possibly imagine. The main idea of this market was to haggle your way to a price cheaper than the vendor requests.

The building buzzed with excitement from wide-eyed foreigners and shouting Chinese vendors luring them into their stores. Passing by the doors of the shops, Chinese women shook silk scarves yelling “pretty scarves for you!” and pleaded with potential customers to try them out.

Keith quickly established his love of bargaining and advised me on how to negotiate my way to the cheapest price. His methods included not revealing if and when you desperately want an item, standing firm on your price, and a skill I don’t yet have: busting out in Chinese when the haggling gets really intense. The vendors all speak English quite well which is great for me and other foreigners. Keith likes to speak to them in English, but when he wants to clinch the deal, he speaks in Chinese to catch them off guard.

The Chinese slyly butter up customers with compliments and insist that the material is real and top-notch quality. Unfortunately Keith left me alone for 20 minutes and I found it difficult to resist the vendor’s flattery. I managed to overpay for an adorable [fake] Tory Burch purse, but I’m viewing it as an experience that I will learn from and grow to become better at bargaining. I also learned a new Chinese phrase which is often exclaimed after the vendors show you the price they want you to pay: Tài Guìle (pronounced “tie quay la”), which means “too expensive” in English.

I also learned that although I admittedly have a [slight] shopping addiction, Keith may need to attend a shoppers’ anonymous meeting. He returned to the market three times after Saturday to buy more wallets and bags.

The Silk Market is now definitely on my list of favorite places in Beijing!

Watch Keith try to pay ¥100/$15 USD for a North Face jacket here

Rickshaws Are The New Taxi

Monday, September 3, – Friday, September 7, 2012

My office building

This week launched my normal working schedule. Everyone at the office was very friendly and seemed to get along well with one another. I especially appreciate little quirks like their knowledge of Mexican restaurants hidden in hutongs or that they take juggling breaks during the day. Over half of the office speaks English while only a few are solely Chinese speakers. Most are bilingual, which is impressive.

As irony would have it, I had cracked my computer screen a day before my first day of work. My new boss was understanding and told me several interns before me had also done the same thing before their first days. Maybe it’s a company curse?

After I had set up an appointment at Apple, I had to navigate my way there. As advised by my co-workers, I opted to take a cab. I had heard that cab drivers don’t like to pick up foreign-looking people, but I had no idea so many would pass me by with empty backseats. After several drivers had clearly seen me and waved me away I became frustrated.

Beside me in the bike lane was a man on a bike pulling a two-seat trailer. We made eye contact and I thought, oh, what the heck.

After crawling onto the little bench behind his bike we took off. Besides feeling absolutely ridiculous on this thing, I began to sense it probably wasn’t the safest mode of transportation. At several points during the ride I genuinely thought we would crash. I cannot even begin to put into words how severely he swerved through traffic, so I have posted a video to fully explain the ride. I thought I might as well capture what could have been my last minutes on earth.

Toward the end of my ride, I noticed several pairs of men in business suits taking rickshaws rides as well. Evidently rickshaws are a typical mode of transportation in Beijing.