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.

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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 nonexistent expectations 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 xiǎo lóng bāo (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

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.