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 Â¥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.

Sage Wisdom From A Man Named Bruno

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This past weekend I relished the opportunity to enjoy one of the most gloriously spring-like days we’ve had in a while. I know Beijing is not alone in this seemingly endless dismal weather, but I must say; the fact that every building’s heat was mandated to be turned off the day before a blanket of snow enveloped the city was simply cruel.

To say that I welcomed Saturday’s sunshine with open arms would be an understatement. It was one of those days where you couldn’t walk outside without smiling a little.

I met a few friends in the park with not much more on my agenda than soaking in as much sunshine as possible. Among one of the several new people I met was a guy from Uruguay named Bruno. We only had a brief conversation, but something he said stuck in my mind even a few days later. He was describing how he had lived in Beijing for a year and was planning on staying for a longer, undetermined amount of time. Someone joked about him wanting to learn more about why Chinese people spit on the ground the way they do and he smiled and responded, “no, I really just want to learn more of the Chinese language and get a grasp on the culture. I feel as though we are visitors here. It’s easy to think that something someone does is odd, but who are we to judge? It may be different to us, but I want to learn more about it.”

The way he said it was so free of judgement–of either the Chinese culture or the person mocking that spit is a common occurrence in public. It was one of the most open-minded statements I’ve heard since being here and sometimes I just need an obvious statement like that to remind me to be grateful of where I am and how much I get to experience while here.

My friends saving a kite from a tree

My friends saving a kite from a tree

Crazy Canadians

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Chinese shot girls and two crazy Canadians

Back in February while I was visiting Hong Kong I had met two goofy lads from Canada. They had told me they were about to embark on a four-month-long journey, beginning in Hong Kong and ending in Russia. After spending a couple hours, a few beers, and a traditional Hong Kong dim sum meal with them, we said our farewells and went our separate ways.

Fast forward a few months and I found myself meeting up with Alan and Geoff after they emailed announcing their arrival in the capital city. When we met up in Beijing, they were a little worn out from the hustle and bustle of Shanghai, but nonetheless enthusiastic to be in traveling. It seemed like just the other day I was giving them advice in Hong Kong on how to order food in Chinese and to beware of the bathrooms.

If you couldn’t tell by my lack of blog postings, the month of March has been a little dull and centered around work. It was definitely a nice break from my everyday schedule to meet up with people that had new and exciting stories from their experience in China. Specifically rabid dog stories.

I’ve found that some of the most interesting people you’ll meet while abroad are only with you for a fleeting moment, but you’ll remember them and hold the impression they made on you for even longer.

Saving Face

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I had read plenty about the cultural tendency toward “saving face” before arriving in China. Now that I’m here, I definitely see the far lengths locals go to in order to avoid looking silly, uneducated, or unsuccessful.

This accounts for the frequent occasions I have enlisted the help of a local on the street to help me find a place and instead of saying outright, “I don’t know,” they ponder the location I have shown them on a map for several minutes. They, then, point me in a direction, whether they know it’s the correct way or not. They simply don’t want to be caught not knowing something. I have also heard scandalous stories of ex-girlfriends seeking extreme variations of revenge on the men who jilted them because of the shame they faced after being rejected.

Just recently one of my favorite colleagues told me in confidence that he was leaving our company. To my surprise, his last day was the next day. He explained that the company simply didn’t have enough work for him to do and he didn’t want to waste its time or money. He also told me he didn’t want any other people in the company to know about his leaving, so I kept quiet. A few days later, my supervisors explained why the company let him go. The discrepancy in stories led me to believe he was saving face by omitting the fact that he was most likely fired.

It’s interesting to see this tendency in action, but it also makes me wonder how Chinese people view me. I’m great at making a fool out of myself, and even more so while abroad. Professing how terrible my Chinese is, admitting my lack of direction, and wandering into areas I obviously don’t belong, then sheepishly retreating are all things I do daily. I’m either amusing the locals or reiterating a foolish foreigner stereotype.

The Year of the Snake

IMG_1244Another New Year’s Eve celebration?!

Apparently there is a second chance at a new year if you’re in a foreign country that uses a lunar calendar. Since China follows the lunar calendar, the first day of the new year was February 9.

I had heard comparisons between the grandness of Chinese New Year and Christmas in the United States, but from what I saw, the two are utterly incomparable. For starters, fireworks are the main attraction during the Chinese New Year (CNY) and last for two weeks. Two full weeks of completely sporadic, exploding chaos. Without any apparent restrictions on fireworks, Chinese locals buy huge boxes filled with fireworks and set the entire thing on fire, rendering any unsuspecting passerby subject to inflamed flying bits of firework remains. Yes, it’s a little scary, but exhilarating at the same time.

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My friends and I spent the frigid Friday night leading into the CNY wandering through the restaurant/bars surrounding Houhai Lake, staring in awe of the thousands of booming pyrotechnics, and narrowly avoiding the exploding boxes.

It is also a week of mass traveling throughout China, with millions (literally, 10 million) of Chinese families venturing across Asia to spend the CNY with their family in their hometown. With plans to travel to Hong Kong for the week I entered the CNY optimistic and excited for [another] new year.

Favorite Things

Here are some of the wonderful moments that filled my days last week.

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1. Solana Mall: Sometimes it’s nice to see “normal” things, like a mall. I never thought I’d be so excited to see American Eagle! It was a wonderful day walking around the courtyards that were illuminated bright lights on [super fake] trees with friends.

2. Jason Mraz in Beijing: While on the subway with my roommate Katie, we were appreciating the musical delights of a random guitar player who was hoping for an appreciative and generous audience. As he ended one Chinese song, he transitioned into a tune that sounded oddly familiar. As Katie began jokingly singing the beginning to “I’m Yours,” he actually started singing the words too! Although his Chinglish interpretation of the words was less than perfect, Katie and I squealed and sang along excitedly. We definitely received a few more stares than usual, but we were so surprised to hear Jason Mraz that we didn’t care.

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3. Rainbow Dumplings: I had heard great things about this rainbow dumpling restaurant and finally got to try it this week! The restaurant, Baoyuan Jiaozi Wu, served dumplings that had been boiled in eggplant and other foods to dye the outside. It was a fun way to break up an otherwise mundane work week.

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4. Inappropriate Shirts: There’s a store in my favorite area of Beijing that sells graphic T shirts with random depictions of, apparently, flashing. I can’t imagine a store in the U.S. selling clothing that is equally hilarious or inappropriate.