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.

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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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Turning Mayo into Lemonade

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As you groggily stumble down the steps into the subway station to escape the frigid wind howling outside, the woman in front of you comes to a complete halt to check her phone. You grumble and swerve around her only to become stuck shuffling slowly in wave of black haired commuters. After waddling in sync with the crowd, you wait for the subway and yawn as the guy next to you sneezes. Rather than covering his mouth, he intentionally shoots snot onto the ground. You shudder, imagining how many germs are infecting the surrounding air. Once you have finally shoved your way onto and off of the jam-packed subway, you seek happiness in ordering your favorite cup of coffee. To your horror, instead of receiving said coffee, you hear, “mei you” (which sounds like mayo and means we don’t have it). There goes your day.

Everyone has those days during which it seems that everything that can go wrong does go wrong. While being abroad, those days are amplified by such foreign and unfamiliar surroundings. It doesn’t help that “mei you” is one of the most frequently used phrases in Beijing. I’ve found that pushing myself to learn background about Beijing’s culture, studying the language, and having some Chinese friends helps to turn lemons into lemonade.

The English Christmas songs and strings of lights that have popped up around Beijing don’t hurt for a mood boost either 🙂

❝Language is the road map of a culture. It tells you where its people come from and where they are going.❞ ‒Rita Mae Brown


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I am in constant amazement of the people I meet from other countries while in Beijing. In the community of expatriates, I have found that English is the most common mutually spoken language. Those who are not native English speakers have such an impressive grasp on English as well as their own native language.

For example, I have met an awesome girl who is two years older than I am from Guatemala. She speaks her native language, Spanish, as well as [perfect] English, French, and is on the way to mastering Chinese. She knows four languages! That is astounding to me. My boss at my company is from Denmark and knows Danish, German, English and Chinese. His three and four-year-old daughters are also trilingual. 

This trait of knowing several languages is so common among people from Europe, South America, and here in China. It makes me feel a little silly knowing how to speak only very basic Spanish and struggling to learn Chinese. 

While my Chinese barely at a basic level, I am so lucky to have such great co-workers who are helping me learn Chinese. Our translator in the office teaches me one Chinese phrase each day and I’m hoping this will add up to my being able to communicate in Mandarin.

Wish me luck/ hǎo yùn / buena suerte / bonne chance 🙂