Category: Day Trips


Friday passed pretty uneventfully with the exception of my lunch — donkey liver soup with a side of donkey-jerky-filled bread. Sometimes I suspect that my coworkers enjoy my reactions to the stuff that they have me eat far more than they enjoy actually eating said stuff themselves, but you only live once so hey.

Saturday was one of the coolest days I’ve had in a while, though, until the end. Started, uh, dark and early at 6am, before sunrise. Every day there’s a big flag-raising ceremony in Tiananmen square that involves soldiers and thousands of domestic tourists; I couldn’t really justify living so close to the square and not going at least once, so I went to check it out. I got to the square by quarter past six or so, and it was already packed with people. Many of said people wanted to take pictures with me; there are few natural forces stronger than those that compel Chinese people to photograph themselves with random whiteys, and the pre-flag lull only amplified the effect.
I was able to convince one of the three or four people that I took pictures with to take one with my camera, too:

Looks a little photoshopped, doesn't it?

I’d heard from both my classmates who saw it last summer and my roommate that I shouldn’t be expecting too too much from the flag raising itself, so it’s only fair to pass the spoiler alert on to you guys now. That said:

Man, you know what this picture could really use? Another red flag.

You know, my brother once told me that a girl I was interested in 'raised more red flags than Tiananmen square.' Watching this, that's all I could think about

Heyooo

Now, to conclude, I’m going to offer up a Beijing-style sunrise. Said sun is trying feebly to struggle through the early-morning pollution, and it’s not a particularly pretty sight. It occurs to me though that I’m going to be jetlagged in Hawaii here in half a week or so; maybe my screwed up time schedule will permit me to catch a Hawaiian sunrise, in which case I’m sure I’ll appreciate the contrast –

~~~

Originally I was gonna go see Mao Zedong’s body after that but I wound up napping through the hours that it’s viewable. Went to the Silk Street Market instead, which is probably Beijing’s most well-known hub for counterfeit goods. I was going to see if I could find a friend of mine a fake ‘longchamp’ (is this even a brand? if this isn’t a joke / i didn’t mishear her I’m pretty sure that’s the worst brand name, like, ever. “Oh yeah, I’m carrying my longchamp today.” Who the hell could say that with a straight face? At least, like, ‘prada’ sounds classy. Whatever) bag, and failing that to at least pick up some souvenirs.

So multiply this image a couple hundred times over and you’ve got the scale of this building (it is indeed just a building, not an actual street). I was kinda curious how it operates from a corporate standpoint, so I bought stuff so as to endear myself to the workers to the point where I was cool with asking them about their commissions, boss structure, etc.

What I found out in a nutshell — although almost all the employees wear the same uniforms, they’re not affiliated with each other. Aside from your basic workers, there are three tiers of management, namely:

  • the senior staffer of a given stall
  • that staffer’s boss (who usually owns between 3 and 10 stalls out of the thousands in the store)
  • one big building boss who does things like set the dress code and charge rent.

The senior staffer, incidentally, is chosen not only by experience, but by number of languages spoken, which is something I didn’t really expect. You quickly see why it’s useful though; more than half the customers on silk street are white people, a huge portion of whom are from Europe. Each and every shop girl knows basic transactions English, but the better paid ones can switch to Spanish or German or French no problem. Oh, and also nobody gets commission at all, which means when you’re haggling with them they don’t actually have a stake in the game; all their anger is pretty much purely for show. I guess some of it can be fairly described as righteous indignation that ‘rich’ foreigners are haggling with them over a few kuai but still. It’s not like they get paid more for making better deals.

Speaking of Europeans, I saw this and couldn’t help but take a picture. Whoever said that dogs were man’s best friend had clearly never been to Europe, where the answer is undoubtedly the tracksuit. My poor roommate spotted this jacket and couldn’t help himself; it’s in his blood. I’m sure it’ll look good on him, but I just couldn’t stop laughing. Jakob, by the way, we’ve gotta get you one of these. If you don’t secretly have six in your closet already.

~~~

Later that night I met up with Kelsey and some of her friends and we went to a solid Thai place called ‘Serve the People.’ (Get it, get it?)
Wound up in Sanlituar, expanding my understanding of the phrase ‘喝醉.’ A little too much, mayhaps. Ooohwell.

Terracotta Warriors

Not the most original title around, I know. But hey. How about instead I make this post interesting by switching tense a lot and jumping around in time? That sounds like a good idea, right? I’ll be like those youtube personalities who use an obnoxious amount of quick cuts to hold viewer attention and ensure that nobody notices that they don’t actually have any real content*. Except that I will have content, probably in the form of some pictures of clay soldiers that I’ll throw in here and there. Then we’ll have ourselves a post, mmboy.

*Seriously, though, there are a lot of parenthetical asides inbound. I will not pretend that this sort of writing is anything short of sloppy, but I couldn’t think of any other way to present it effectively. English majors should probably just skip to the picture gallery and discussion of what the hell these soldiers are, at the bottom.

Righty then –

Pen and paper blogging again. On a bus full of Chinese tourists again. True to white-person form (yes, I can hyperlink on a piece of paper. What of it?) I actually enjoyed showing up at the combined railway + bus station and seeing nothing but thousands of domestic tourists. On the one hand it made me feel a little uncomfortable because the lack of other white people was predictably accompanied by a complete absence of sign translation, which would be good 汉字 practice if I was in the mood, but I wasn’t. So I just disregarded everything that was written and asked a lot of questions, which per usual works passably well. On the other hand, though, it makes me feel a lot more comfortable that I’m not getting ripped off, which is something that I literally cannot afford at present.

Sidebar from future, aka present: Man, and I thought my haggling was good before. This whole lack of wallet thing has taken it to a whole new level, though. I actually haven’t bought anything over 10 kuai for less than half-off since the wallet got stolen. It works so well because you can be like “well gee sir I’d normally be fine with paying you 100 kuai for that, but…” I’ve also lost whatever trace of guilt that I used to have while bargaining, er, effectively. As Connor likes to point out, if someone’s trying that hard to sell you something for 20 kuai he probably needs the $3.50 more than you do. Connor’s actually been known for haggling things UP, which creates so much confusion on the part of the vendor that it’s usually worth the extra buck or two. He’s kinda sorta a better person than I am, but he also has a real income, so that’s fine. Anyway now I can get really, really gutsy because it’s not just me dicking with people because I can; it’s kinda a necessity. So I’ve become completely shameless. Consider: buying everything I wanted today would have cost me 604 without haggling and bargaining. With it, I paid 245. Working from a total of 1800, that’s a pretty critical difference.

Back to the bus. Just had a winner of a conversation with the dude next to me. It starts as I pull out my breakfast, a box of chocolate pocky. Understand that I’ve reached the age where I have realized that I can eat pocky for breakfast whenever I want, but have yet to mature enough to convince myself that I shouldn’t. Before you judge me too much though, this wasn’t premeditated; I just bought them last night and forgot about them, so they were still in my jacket.
Anywho I take one out of the box and offer it to the guy, who immediately gets very serious and sternly tells me that I’m not allowed to smoke on the bus. I guess this looks like something one might smoke? Sorta? Moreso than this, anyway. In response to his concern I just bite off half of it, and in the space between when I did that and when I told him it was food (well, “food”) I got to bear witness to one of the more horrified expressions I’ve seen in a while.
Then he asked where I was from, and I braced to go into the good ol’ standard canned conversation. Fortunately, as soon as I told him he was American, he excitedly noted that I have a black… something? Did I hear ‘zongtong?’
“Wait, say that again?”
“O-BA-MA” (Only words that alternate vowels and consonants can actually be transliterated well into Chinese. Luckily for the leader of the free world, his name fits the bill)
I heard zongtong. “Oh,” I responded, “Um, yes. I like him.”
And that was the end of that rather unorthodox conversation. Although I wanted to return the favor and inform him that his president was in fact Asian, I opted to kill the conversation because he was wearing one of those sick masks — which everyone but Connor wears to indicate that they are sick, not to preemptivly attempt to prevent themselves from becoming so — and he kept taking off his mask to talk to me and was really close and I’m really trying to avoid coming down with something here, because unless your name is Su Ke once you get sick in China it’s really tough to get better again. Sukes does it by somehow remaining unconscious for 20 or 30 hours at a time. Us mortals have to just hope for the best.

Crap. I’m at 800 words and haven’t said anything about the Terracotta Warriors yet. Sorry ’bout that. Here:

Honestly this entire blog post could have just been this picture, and the words "I went and looked at these" and it would probably be funnier than the word-vomit full of parenthetical asides that I've decided to opt for instead, but too late now

Speeding it up. I get to the grounds, get accosted by a bunch of people wanting to give me a tour. Haggle myself one for half of what she wants, talk to her a bit. She realizes I’m college age and asks if I have an ID card. I didn’t see a ‘student ticket’ option on the ticket window so I didn’t know where she was going with it but, enterprising young man that I am, I found my old Qinghua ID in my backpack the night before and thought to bring it with me in lieu of my wildcard. God knows where said wildcard is now. Last update on the wallet situation is that we called the bar and nobody turned it in sans cash, so there goes that little hope. Anywho she directs me to like, an entirely separate ticket vendor and they sell me a ticket for half off. I wouldn’t have found it otherwise and the 55 kuai that it saved me paid for more than half the steeply reduced cost of the guide, so that was pretty sweet.

The guide was a pretty good investment, both as a source of some information that wasn’t on the signs and as a Chinese language partner. It was pretty clear that her English wasn’t actually that good but rather she had just memorized a two-hour long tour pretty much by rote (the Chinese education system has always been and continues to be heavily reliant on just straight-up memorization. This woman must have done fantastically). She was actually convincing enough that it took me until I started asking questions in English to realize this; she could only really answer me in Chinese. I think the best part though was when we got to pit two(sorry for the blur!), where as you may note almost all the people are headless.
I noticed this quickly and waited for a pause in her speech ask to ask why they didn’t have any heads. I did this in Chinese, and in mandarin she responded “wait! we’ll get to that!” which was a lil’ odd but sure maybe it needs more context, or something. When it came to that part in the speech though, she asks: “Do you know why they don’t have any heads?”
Call me crazy but I feel like if she knew sorta the subtleties behind what she was saying she would have skipped the whole asking-rhetorical-questions-that-I’ve-already-answered section of the speech. For those interested, pit 2 was a political headquarters (get it get it) of some sort, and the accepted historian speculation was that the emperor had most of them beheaded because they had done an unsatisfactory job. If that was the case I’m not sure why Qin Shi Huang would choose to be buried with incompetents but that’s not really my call to make.

Oh man I was going to jump back into present tense with some of my thoughts that I wrote down at lunch after the last part of the tour but this thing is already way longer than it should be, so instead I’m just going to insert a gallery of the rest of my pictures from the day. I’m in some of them, because the guide insisted that that was part of what I had paid for and that she was damn well going to take some pictures of me, so hey.

Alright, now just a little bit on what these suckers are. If you don’t want to just go to wikipedia, that is. But if you do, note that 4 of the pictures on the wikipedia page are pretty much identical to the ones in my gallery. I didn’t realize that until just now when I went to fact check, but I guess that means I take good pictures because what gets featured on wikipedia is clearly the golden standard of photography.
The Qin dynasty was the first to really unite China in any meaningful way, so it was host to the first Emperor in the history of the country. From what I remember of my Chinese history and literature classes, this guy was a complete douche but at least he got things done.
Emperors generally aren’t particularly renown for their modesty or humility, and this guy was no exception, so in a show of extravagance he called for 8000 clay soldiers to be constructed and buried in defensive position around his mausoleum to protect him in the afterlife. So they were, and these guys have been standing exactly where you see them since about 200 years before ol’ Jesus kicked the bucket, which is when the first emperor of China finally got around to dying. Pretty incredible stuff. If you’ve got any questions about any of the pictures or the soldiers, fire away in the comments and I’ll answer as best I can.

Beijing Happy Valley

Today was just a shopping day. Dan and I both had a few last gifts go get before we can go back; among other things, we’re still both trying hard to find stuff to give our fathers. On that front, we both failed miserably. Dads are really hard to shop for. If you’re reading this, father, you’re by all means invited to comment on what Chinesey stuff you could find interesting.

However, I can say that I have hopefully one-upped Russell in a pretty long contest we’ve been having to buy each other increasingly bizarre things in foreign countries. I guess it started in 2001 (has it really been nine years?) when I went to France. Some weird stuff has been exchanged since that time. Most recently, I got him a large fake rubber ear from Japan 08, and he responded with a keyboard wrist rest from China 09 that looks exactly like a baguette. I think today’s purchase gives that a run for its money, though. I’ll update the blog once I’m back in the states with what I bought, along with a picture. Pretty excellent.

Edit (2/3/2011):

The fact that these are _matches_ makes them the most offensive product I think I've ever encountered. So naturally I had to buy them...

Yesterday, though, was spent at a Chinese theme park called Happy Valley, which was every bit as ridiculous as one might imagine. I can’t upload pictures on this connection, so those will have to wait. EDIT: Can now. It looked like this:

Definitely not mustard gas. Noo

In the meantime though just imagine a Six-flags knockoff, down to the rides themselves. We rode carbon copies of the batman, superman, and even that one bugs bunny ride. Not that we weren’t completely ok with this, though – we in fact just took a class on why China is bad with enforcing safety regulations – so we’d rather them copy roller coasters that work than try to invent their own. Even so, I’ll readily admit that that getting on the Scream (the big tower that lifts you up and drops you) was a little more nerve-racking than usual, because it very plainly required us to put complete faith in the ability of Chinese hydraulic engineers to safely stop a large piece of freefalling metal. Which, to their credit, they seem to do admirably.

There was one thing that Happy Valley didn’t copy from us, though. It’s actually a phenomenon that we’ve noticed at tourist places all through the city, and even at the world expo; there isn’t really any price gouging. A big bottle of soda in the theme park runs you the same 5 kuai (75c) that it would anywhere else. It meant we could comfortably snack on stuff without breaking the bank.

Also, they put narrow benches all throughout the longer lines in the park, so that people waiting to ride don’t have to stand up for two hours. Pretty considerate.

PS the internet is getting aggressively, aggressively bad. Could barely log in to post this. Dan’s monitor is dying, and I can only find the LAN connection here once every few hours. It’s kinda a problem.

This post is as of right now largely a placeholder. I just like having a post a day. Check back tomorrow!

This’ll be another one of these retroactive blogs because today has honestly been all sorts of boring. Tomorrow looks to be much more promising, though! Full day planned. The rest of tonight just looks like it’ll be spent at the C store and then probably Mango of all places. Weirdly I haven’t been there yet, dunno how that happened. But yeah, not an exciting afternoon. Ate some tasty waffles this morning though…

Gonna keep with this theme of multiple posts per post till I’m all caught up.

Today: we slept in till one (kinda gross. Usually like to wake up by noon at least, but Ben Segal isn’t here to make that happen, unfortunately), then proceeded to sell four of our classmate’s bikes for a total of 260 kuai. Each of us took a hundred and then we bought lunch at Xiabu Xiabu — good call, Loren! — with the other 60. It’s like a personal hotpot joint, and is always packed with Chinese people for good reason. Dan went off to get his suit fitted, and I recovered some whiskey from the drying room in building 18, did some laundry, and sold off another bike for 80 kuai. Coulda gotten more but made a stupid bargaining mistake. Bah. Met dan eventually in SanLiTun (known colloquially in room 206 as ‘fuckin sanlitun‘ because we’re both sick of going there, but are often for various reasons compelled to), and used the 80 to buy dinner at a pizza place by the worker’s stadium near vics called the Kro’s Nest which was pretty rad. I’ve missed mozzarella sticks. Nothing too much else to note yet, because we haven’t gone out for the night (if that even happens at all, anyway… it’s pretty rainy and gross out).

Ooh except this one little kid on the subway who was grumbling about waiguoren (foreigners). As the only foreigner around, I assumed it with me and told him “zhege waiguoren tingdedong hanyu” (this foreigner understands chinese). He was pretty embarrassed but his parents seemed thoroughly amused; it’s funny to me that in America I tend to assume that everybody understands English, but in china people are perpetually surprised when discover that they can’t talk about you right in front of you. Relatedly, I hate being accosted in English by shopkeepers, and have on a number of occasions told them that i can only speak spanish and chinese (first in the former language, then the latter). I’ve yet to find one who knows any spanish, so this is generally pretty effective at stopping them from reverting to english the second your chinese stumbles at all.

Also, purely for the sake of good record keeping,  both Dan and I have agreed to a now-till-40-years-old total Vics tally. We both figure we won’t be completely done with Beijing for a long long time, and one night of each subsequent Beijing visit will probably wind up at Vics somehow, as nights are wont to do. So we’re gonna keep a big freakin’ tally of how many times this transpires between now and 2030 or something. And now for something completely different…

July 31st: Pretty cool day altogether. We started at the antique market, which was crowded and rather humid. Note when I say rather humid, our teacher would prefer I said “apocalyptically sweltering” or something. Both Zhang and Gu were actually freaking out the whole time about the heat, and were constantly checking to make sure nobody had heat-stroked out in the middle of the market. Granted I’m from Austin and was walking around with a Floridan and a Caribbean Islander so perhaps our group was a bit biased, but honestly we thought the weather definitely was tolerable. Anywho we saw a bunch of cool statues and artifacts, and I got some calligraphy done of my name (牧 克文). The calligrapher himself was really friendly, and let Andrew and I practice lots of Chinese with him and his family.

After that we went to the Temple of Heaven, which is where the emperor would come to pray, if I recall correctly.

I’d write more about this, but honestly when you don’t blog right after something happens, you lose almost all of the little details that make it interesting or funny. So really you’re just as well off going to wikipedia or something. Suffice it to say it was a neat historical site. I do remember that in one of the courtyards leading up to the temple, there was a spot where one could ostensibly speak to the entire universe. I learned this once we had already passed it, however, so I didn’t get to deliver any message onto all that exists. That’s a lot of pressure when you think about it. Wonder what I shoulda said.

Anyway the day didn’t stop there, but this blog is about to, because as ever I am sleepy. We went from the temple to the pearl market, which is shockingly a place where you can get real pearls on the cheap. I didn’t. I did get this awesome “Armani” belt for 30 quai though which has served me quite well. I think I also picked up some shirts or something there, but again, details fade. I do remember Ashley eating a big green tea blizzard though, notable because she is allergic to milk, so by the time we got to the acrobatics show, her throat was starting to close up, which was more than a little worrisome. The record can reflect that I told the girl not to eat it, but ooh well. She made it through the show ok.

Chinese acrobatics shows, incidentally, are every bit as impressive as you might imagine that they are. Among other things, they juggled twelve year old girls on to and off of a totem pole of people, put literally twenty girls onto a single bicycle, and did some tricks with diabolos that I can’t really even describe. Suffice it to say that the whole show was awesome in the true form of the word. Awe was inspired about every forty-five seconds. Absolute craziness.

Lama / Confucius temples


I actually went to these temples yesterday, because today’s (the 17th) post header wouldn’t have been particularly exciting. “Suits and sandwiches,” I guess. But yeah, picked up two tailored shirts and two suits from YaShow today (Alright listen. It’s YaXiu. 秀。 Xiu. Wade-Giles can go to hell for confusing me so much and making me unable to pronounce things properly. anyway–) for US $300 even, which is pretty incredible. Oh, and Dan got one measured, so when he goes back for fitting tomorrow I’ll be busy hawking my schoolmates’ bikes (shoutouts to andrew, david, ashley, anna, lauren, and chrissy for leaving me their keys) for lunch money in wudaokou. Also, mainly for my own benefit later, as a note to self I need to go back to Bocata and eat their local beef, bacon and cheese sandwich as frequently as is feasible. Holy god.
Also around Yashow, we saw a male version of a romper and a 70 year old woman wearing a polo clearly emblazoned with the playboy logo. Both pretty excellent. Both made me regret not having a camera on me.
Right now i just got back from City Mall, having seen a movie entitled “city under seige.” I was under the impression that this movie would be subtitled into english, mainly because A) it was an international theater and B) Dan told me that it was subtitled into english. In actuality it was indeed subtitled, but only into chinese. The film was absolutely terrible but the plot was simplistic enough so that I could follow it pretty well with the help of the subtitles; the forty quai ticket was almost worth it for the confidence boost that the experience of understanding at least 2/3rds of a movie in a different language bequeaths.

One of many Buddhas. Two stories tall. Shouldn't have taken this picture, but it was just too cool.

The temples yesterday were each awesome in their own right. The Yonghe / 雍和 / Lama temple is an operating Tibetan Buddhist monastery, and people there take things very seriously. They’re also making a racket on incense sticks, because in order to properly show respect to a given Buddha, believers or tourists are prompted to first burn three sticks of incense in their honor outside. There are at least thirty, maybe more Buddhas in there; the temple happily sells you the opportunity to be sufficiently devout. They also sell white people the chance to ring a bell obnoxiously in the middle of the courtyard. Every time this happened, the white person in question would grin like an idiot and the Chinese people around would generally throw him disapproving looks, at which point he’d either ring it again or hand it to the next 白人。 很好玩

The Confucian temple was cool enough, but weird for a couple reasons. First, it was pretty empty, relatively speaking. Normally anywhere this pretty would be packed to the brim with various chinese tourists, but I guess ol’ 孔夫子 isn’t quite as popular these days.
Second, it doesn’t make much sense conceptually, because Confucianism isn’t really a capital R religion so much as a set of social guidelines intended to inform how people ought to approach different relationships. It’d sorta be like building a big shrine to Rousseau or Nozick or something — it’s hard to find a Western parallel. If you have a better one, feel free to comment.  Third, ok this isn’t weird so much as funny, but Dan tried to buy a coke with a torn bill and the shopkeepers had to chase him down as he was leaving.  He has been trying to foist this bill off on people for forever, and it doesn’t really work. Upsets people even more than trying to pay for bus fare with nothing but dimes, which is a new favorite hobby of mine. Screw the Jiao, dude.

So now I’ve turned twelve in Tokyo and twenty in Beijing. Wonder where 2018′ll find me. Anyway, I’m starting out my third decade of life as of a week ago (weird weird weird), and had a pretty incredible birthday. Spent the afternoon at these two parks near the forbidden city.

The first one — pretty sure it was Jingshan — featured the tallest non-building point in Beijing, a lot of retired people dancing and singing, and a tree where some Ming emperor off’d himself. Oh, and dinosaurs. Gotta have your dinosaurs. The Jurassic-park-theme-on-infinite-repeat thing got old pretty fast, though. I think Gu laoshi also mentioned something about how the line that divides the forbidden city from this angle is actually the north-south line for all of Beijing; consequently posing in front of the little pole that marks said line on the tallest hill in the city was really popular among all the other tourists there. This resulted in sorta a wait, so some of the Chinese tourists got bored and instead opted to get pictures of the second best thing, namely themselves next to random white people. Photographing oneself next to uncomfortable-looking 外国人 is somewhat of a national pastime, really. Making them pose with your kids even moreso.

Next up was Beihai, which was less crowded and a lot prettier. It had ornate walkways and gates everywhere, and you could go paddle boating if you had the time to. We didn’t. Anyway nothing really stands out as particularly memorable but overall it was a nice place to kill a couple hours.

Birthday dinner was also pretty rad; we got to go to DinTaiFung — this incredible Taiwanese soup dumpling place that Mike showed us in Shanghai. It went over well, which was pretty much expected considering that they are probably the best things I’ve eaten in China. We’d gone dancing the night before (my first time at Vick’s, actually. Cool place) so after that I think we just went back. I don’t really remember much past that because my memory is fogged by the deliciousness of the dumplings. I’m completely ok with this.

Great Wall

长城

The haze was a little unfortunate, but I doubt it's the last time I'll see this

Went to the Great Wall (长城) this past Sunday. It was only two hours away from Qinghua – the bus left at eight – so it made for a really nice day trip. The wall is (shockingly) pretty long, so we were able to find a part that didn’t have many tourists on it until we showed up. The NU president came with us, along with a trustee couple and their eleven year old kid. I got along way better with said kid than I did with the adults, but that’s kinda to be expected.
I mean, granted, my only interaction with the president of Northwestern was to ask him to Ice my friend on my behalf. Now, I have been lead to believe that I might have a few readers who may not be familiar with the concept of “Icing” someone (shoutout to mom’s friends, potential future employers, or really anyone else over thirty. While I am generally a responsible boy and would of course never even consider drinking whilst underage, the alcoholic age of majority in China is eighteen, so such behavior in moderation is completely justifiable and socially acceptable), so here’s a very brief explanation: there exists a rather unpleasant drink called Smirnoff Ice. It comes in a variety of unnatural fruity flavors, and is widely accepted to be both very girly and something that even most girls have a healthy distaste for. You might imagine, then, that the market for such a beverage is fairly limited — and it is, with one exception. Smirnoff Ice is used as a weapon. By presenting someone with an Ice, you obligate them to “take a knee,” that is, kneel down, and chug the entire thing in one go.
The drink isn’t that alcoholic, so this isn’t as damaging as one might initially imagine, but chugging for instance a warm, Green-Apple flavored Smirnoff Ice certainly isn’t a fun experience. Refusal to drink results in excommunication — you can never Ice anyone else. The only way to block an Icing is to have an Ice of your own on your person when you are challenged, in which case the challenger is forced to kneel and drink both. This puts Smirnoff in an awkward position, because while it’s clear that the drink’s sales have skyrocketed since the game became popular, the company still can’t really endorse an activity that is only “fun” because their product is so awful.
Anyway, my friend Andrew Iced me the other day, and was doing some pretty heavy networking with the president, so I thought it’d be funny if Mr. Schapiro were to Ice him back for me on the Great Wall. Morty was tempted, but alas, some policy prevented him from pressuring a 20 year old student to chug terrible alcohol in a very public place. Damn. But of course the Great Wall was a lot of fun anyway. We were in a more run-down part of it, which actually proved to be much more of a blessing than anything; it apparently kept the bulk of the tourists away, and it made the experience feel like something more than just walking down a sidewalk. There were steep ledges that you had to climb, sections of the wall that had collapsed, all sorts of plant and insect life obstructing the way, and a dozen other tiny challenges that made the hike, if you want to call it that, a lot of fun. The eleven year old was actually a huge help here as well. He wanted to go fast and explore the further parts of the wall, but kept having to wait for his dad to catch up and was getting frustrated. Noticing this, I generously volunteered to accompany the lad so that he could go as fast as he liked. And by that, I mean I was grateful to receive social permission to go running down the Great Wall like an idiot, because really when it comes to climbing and exploring I’m still eleven too.
So while the group was taking their seventeenth or whatever round of pictures, on the first tower they found, two or three of us were basically just running around everywhere else. Because we were going quickly, we were actually able to get to the ‘end’ of our section of a wall – demarcated by impassable, dense brush ending in a barbed-wired barrier – unlike almost everyone else in the group. Needless to say I had a good time with it. I was honestly a little afraid that it’d just be a tourist-packed trudge past a ton of stands selling T shirts or something; the fact that the wall was totally empty aside from our group was probably the best part.

A side note about the wall: the old ladies who hang out there are insane. Like, will follow you a mile or so, trying to sell bracelets or drinks or whatever else. And you have nowhere to run except straight forward along a narrow path and you’re up against someone who does nothing but climb up and down the great wall all day harassing people. From what I could tell, there are only three options to make them leave you alone: you can ignore them for like twenty minutes, be really really rude to them, or haggle extra-unreasonably, which only works if you’re a native speaker and can argue for a fair price of like 2 kuai with a straight face.

MAO MAO MAO

Mao and I make a great team, again. I declare this a China Match theme.

Our history class took a field trip to the American Chamber of Commerce yesterday, and to a military history museum the day before. One of these trips featured tanks, Mao Zedong, and awesome fabrications about historical Party activities. The other just had some white chicks and PowerPoint slides. I’ll go ahead and give you some time to guess which one I’ll be focusing on.

Here’s a hint:

made in china I’ll be honest. Any building that comprises 30% Mao, 30% tanks, 30% exaggerated stories of communist victory, and 10% outright lies is gonna be fine by me. This one proved not to be an exception. It was a cool place in its own right, and I liked having more primary-source access to the stories that we’ve been hearing in class. By far the most interesting parts to me, though, were the aforementioned deliberate untruths; I’m not (at least I don’t think) used to museums straight up lying to me. I mean, I get the whole history-is written-by-the-winners angle, and that even the traditional American story brushes plenty of unpleasant things under the rug (Columbus comes to mind). The Chinese, though, go a step further. It’s time for a brief history lesson, so just humor me for a second.

So back in the 1930s the Communist party in China was still fighting for power with the KMT (sometimes GMD — same thing), led at the time by Chiang Kai-shek. The KMT was at the time larger, richer, and better equipped than the CCP, which consequently was forced to retreat into a few key base areas in the mountains. Eventually the KMT was sick of failing to break these, so they basically just built an entire ring of machine gun bunkers (funded in part by the U.S., if I recall) around the whole damn area and leapfrogged them slowly forward, in the aptly named fourth encirclement campaign. Of course, Mao’s forces break free of the bunkers somehow — I think via climbing a mountain and fording a bunch of streams — and so begins the long march. All well and good.

Yeah... this didn't happen. Whoops.

Mao wasn’t the only one with a base area, however. There was this guy named Zhang Guotao who had another base full of communists in Henan. He didn’t get circled in with bunkers; he was an entirely different province. He was running west anyway though, and his army met Mao’s as the latter was swinging northward, way out in West China. Zhang’s base and army get almost completely neglected by most history books, but that’s not really the interesting thing.

Once they meet up, here’s what the museum says happens: the two armies just happily combined and rolled out Northwards to Yan’an, a safe haven in Shaanxi. That’s all the attention this gets.

Now what actually went down is that Zhang Guotao tried to take power from Mao. Because so many of Mao’s marchers were influential Party members, though, Zhang got outvoted so he turned around and went back South, where his army of like 150,000 people got the crap killed out of them in Sichuan. So he turned around again and started heading for Yan’an, but an order came through from Mao to go pick up some weapons from Russia that were being delivered to northwest China. Zhang needed some cred with Mao at this point and the guys in Yan’an really needed guns, so he agrees.
Halfway there, though, he gets this order to just stop there indefinitely in this random part of northwest China which happened to be occupied by hostile Muslim warlords. Said warlords ostensibly had no problem with this communist army simply passing through their territory, but after Zhang’s army (still 50,000 people) had just been chilling there for a couple weeks, the warlords didn’t have much choice but to begin attacking. Zhang’s army couldn’t run anywhere, had no reinforcements or ways of resupplying themselves. They eventually ran out of bullets and were all slaughtered.

Mao deliberately sacrificed all those people purely so that Zhang Guotao couldn’t use his military to threaten Mao’s authority again, basically. What a classy gentleman. Just look:

The history lesson is done, incidentally, for those of you who got bored and just skipped down to the next picture

Anyway the rest of the museum was just Mao and tanks, Mao and tanks.

Ooh, and this one awesome, sorta terrifying statue.
~~~

Landscaping outside the American Chamber of Commerce

Not really much to report on AmCham, unfortunately. They told us about how businesses which want to work in China generally get forced into bad joint ventures, which creates a bunch of tricky implications. I thought it was really interesting but most people probably wouldn’t, so I’ll spare another tangent. Oh and they said I probably won’t be able to get a work visa, so I may have to intern on a tourist visa. Let’s keep that on the down low…

Longqing Gorge

we think this is actual fog, not pollution, but thats not really clear

As far as gorges go, this one was pretty sweet

Actually did this trip on monday, but haven’t had much time to post since then. There’s barely been fifteen minutes this whole week where I haven’t been either wandering around china, doing homework, or sleeping; I generally write stuff here when I feel like studying isn’t getting me anywhere. In any event, the gorge was actually incredible. We got up bright and early Monday morning to catch our 8am bus for a two hour ride to the gorge. None of us had even heard of the place, much less knew what sorts of things to expect. All sorts of things from bungee jumping to hang gliding had been vaguely hinted at, though, so we were pretty excited (W/r/t/ hang gliding — it turned out to be a mistranslation of zipline. Unfortunately, I was way more interested in hang gliding than I was in bunjee jumping, so when the former option dissappeared I ended up doing neither. You can relax now, Mom).

om nom nom, says the dragon. tourists are delicious.

Tacky? nahhh

Anyway, on the way to the gorge, we passed a big section of the Great Wall on the bus. We’re going there in a week or so with the president of Northwestern, which is cool. We have also been promised a very, very good meal at a relatively upscale hotel. I may or may not be looking forward to this more than the wall itself — this food is supposed to be incredible. 

Once we got there, the only way to actually access the gorge and its river was to take a really long series of escalators up a mountain. It made me feel really, really lazy but was actually kind of awesome, especially considering that the Chinese have tastefully elected to conceal the escalators via a gigantic yellow dragon. Thus:

After we cleared the escalators, we found ourselves at the edge of a huge lake/river thing, which we naturally then cruised down to get to all the tourist attractions. The cruise itself though was probably one of my favorite parts of the trip though, considering that it was absolutely breathtaking the entire way. It eventually pulled up to a really sketchy metal dock in the heart of the gorge. We toured through a few temples, and then were set free to paddle around the lake in canoes, bunjee jump, zipline, or eat.

i think that's allison. unclear

Bunjee jumping off the edge of some random Chinese gorge. What could go wrong?

I watched the bunjee jumpers for a while, ate, and then just wandered around. We weren’t there for too too long, and had to leave within a couple hours. We cruised back, then took a really cool alpine-slide style thing down to the base. Just, for a second, look at that slide thing.

Basically, aside from I guess the temples, there wasn’t a single man-made part of this trip that didn’t look hastily welded together and extremely unsafe. But the whole experience went off without a single hitch, which has forced me to reconsider a little bit – I think i’m gradually coming to accept that appearances aren’t everything here. Alternatively, I’m wrong, everything actually is super sketchy, and I’m just stupidly lucky and should probably already have died at the hands of an insane taxi driver or something. We’ll just have to see.

Wangfujing

pay no attention to the dude in the middle

Me, lookin' kinda awkward. This is mainly to give you guys some sense of the scope of this market. HUGE place.

Chinese lesson #47: only white people eat scorpions. Today proved it pretty conclusively. We went to Wangfujing, a big famous market about twenty minutes away from where I’m living. We took the subway there which was pretty cool, costs 2 kuai (a bit under 30 cents) to ride… transportation here is, as always, cheap to the point of silliness.*  Anyway we got there and went to the part where they sell all the disgusting food (Wangfujing is known for putting bizarre things like this on sticks and claiming that they’re edible) and it was populated — almost exclusively — by white tourists presumably thinking that they were getting real the “Chinese” experience by eating cow testicles or snakes or whathaveyou. The only actual Chinese people there aside from the vendors were laughing and taking pictures of said tourists, then going to eat at McDonald’s. As an example, take this picture, in which Chris, Lauren, Chrissy, and I posed to provide a front for Jackie to photograph more awesome white people. All in all it was pretty excellent. Knowing full well that not even Chinese people eat scorpions regularly, I bought a stick full (of live ones! they only kill them RIGHT before you eat them, so they’re still wiggling as you walk up to the stand) and had myself some very crunchy appetizers.**

even better action-shot coming soon!

om nom nom.

I’d say it was probably the most manly thing I’ve done here yet, aside from perhaps crossing the 8-way by 8-way intersection on a bike, diagonally, when a good deal of lights were green. Japan does this thing where for busy intersections they’ll just take a time off every cycle to freeze all the lights so everyone can walk freely. China is having none of it.
I also had to leave halfway through the trip to go to an interview for qunar.com, which is like the Chinese version of kayak.com. I had a pretty hard time finding the place (taxis didn’t know where it was) but after some vague directions from the local police i was able to make it there on time. What’s more, I got the internship! I can work there winter quarter. On the way back though, taxis didn’t think it was worth their time to take me, or they were going the wrong direction, or they couldn’t understand me, the latter being highly worrisome to say the least. Gotta get better at my beijing accent, I suppose.
Anyway that took like two hours and once i got back we ate hot pot, which is a dish we learned about in class and is generally pretty awesome. I was clearly pretty excited about it.
Overall Wangfujing’s a fun place to go, especially if you want to eat things that are not intended to be eaten, or drink terrible drinks that, while awful, are full of dry ice.

*I know I probably talk about the craziness of prices here more than I should. This sort of thing should calm down as I get more adjusted to it. Sorry!
**Scorpion-eating action shot coming as soon as I can get Lauren to email it to me

MAO MAO MAO

I'm tempted to just stop this post here. What else needs to be said?

We were supposed to start class today.  At the last minute though, our administrators realized that sending us to the forbidden city on a Saturday would be an absolutely terrible idea because of how crowded it gets.

It was, of course, still pretty packed. We were able to navigate only after lots of yelling and a little bit of aggression.  Overall though, considering that there were 50 of us, we did a pretty good job getting everyone through the whole tour. We only lost one guy, who unfortunately  had neither a cell phone nor any command whatsoever of the Chinese language. Cab drivers wouldn’t take him for some reason, so the kid literally just rode around on random buses for two hours saying “Tsinghua” a lot, and somehow actually made it home.

Relatedly, I am quickly becoming convinced that everyone in this program is a total badass.

Anyway, the whole trip was pretty awesome. We toured all the way from Zedong’s ever-so-phallic MAOsoleum into the forbidden city (a complex of 9,999 rooms that housed all the Ming and Qing emperors and their concubines and eunuchs) and out the other side. We saw the throne room, dozens of imperial art and gifts and sculptures, the garden, and a lot more. Of particular note was a really ornate, three-story opera house that you can see here (linked instead of embedded for fear of this post becoming too photo heavy). Basically the emperor sat across from this thing with his concubines or visiting officials or whatever and this whole building was used to put on massive cross-level plays.