Archive for July, 2010


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.

(Mis)adventures in Shanghai

Kinda reminds me of japan

Or, perhaps more accurately, “How to lie to the Chinese.”

Today’s just going to be some random highlights from the Shanghai trip, because I don’t really have time to cover the whole thing and this gives me an excuse to be lazy with regard to fluidity. In return you get a bunch of little anecdotes as opposed to the standard long-form craziness. Everybody wins!

Day 2: Mike took us to People’s Square, which is a pretty standard Wangfujing-esque street ‘o’ chaos. Notable for: its pretty substantial, utterly nonsensical, almost certainly dangerous vehicle traffic; having at least three pizza huts within one mile of one another; the HJ building (Connor and Mike have very dirty minds. Plus we’d just been talking about how KTVs — usually karaoke bars — in China are occasionally “all inclusive,” if you understand); and the fact that it dead ends into the Bund.

The Bund basically consists of another mile-long stretch of buildings that some brits set up in the early 20th century. It’s one of the biggest attractions in Shanghai because it’s so damn pretty, plus it runs along the bank of the Huangpu river and consequently has an incredible view of the city skyline.

Moreover, the Bund area features a way to cross the Huangpu river called the Sightseeing Tunnel. This was the sum total of my knowledge about the thing until it was time to get on, at which point Mike asked “you remembered to take your hit of acid first, right?” God, I wish I had. Turns out the Sightseeing Tunnel is an experiment in “Personal Rapid Transit.” All well and good, except that after they load you into the little gondola-sized subway, they play techno music and flash lots and lots of lights at you and drive you past a bunch of creepy wind-flail dolls and say random shit like “Nascent Magma” and “Paradise…and Hell” in creepy English and Chinese and basically it is terrifying and ought to be avoided. Whew.

P.S., the other side of the river is also really pretty.

I like the contrast here, actually

Day 3: Started with a temple nestled quaintly under a bunch of skyscrapers, because this is China, dammit. Zoning laws are for scrubs.

After that, though, I had my first practice with lying to people in China. We were attempting to go up this building (the one that looks like a bottle opener) because it’s the tallest one in Shanghai, and is actually the tallest observation deck in the world, which is kinda cool. After our first three lines (as evidenced by the expo, the Chinese love their lines), we were able to actually buy a ticket, at which point we realized there was a student discount. For kids seventeen or under. Which would be a problem, had my Qinghua ID not been misprinted to say I was born in 1900…
Long story short, the people at the desk were presented with a six foot tall kid with like 4 days worth of scruffy beard presenting a Chinese college ID that says he’s 110, insisting in Chinese that he is seventeen years old and fervently denying that he has any other forms of identification on his person. They were, understandably, kinda at a loss for thirty or so seconds, after which the people behind me started complaining and they gave me the discount. This was a good warm up for later that night.

"...it's like a riot on an airplane"

Anyway after I believe five lines we actually made it up the damn thing, at which point Connor became really uncomfortable at the combined height and ever-churning chaos of Chinese dudes running around and yelling a lot, which is pretty standard. If you’re curious, this is what Shanghai looks like at night from the tallest observation deck on Earth. And here it is from over a urinal. Coolest pee I’ve had in a while.

Ok last story for the night, because this post is getting long: after the bottle opener building, we went back to the world expo. Unfortunately it was about 9.30 by this point, and the expo stops selling tickets at 8 and stops letting people in at all at 9. Of course, we only learn this after we buy tickets from a scalper (an expo parking lot attendant) who promises that the doors are open until ten. We buy his tickets, and go to a random exit of the fair to make sure we can get in. The guy tells us the actual entry times, which is disappointing. So we turn around, and have made it about twenty yards when I turn to Connor and say “F*** it, this is China, lets bribe them.” Mike freaks out a bit and retreats, which sucks because his Chinese is better than mine. Connor’s all for it, though, so we go up to the entry guards and I tell them how important the expo is to me (in chinese of course) and offer the two of them 200 kuai. Considering that it was $30 US, that’s not very much of a bribe. They refused the money, sadly, but they were happy enough with me for trying to take me to their buddies at the actual entrance. So he walks me over there, and the entrance people are like “hell no, doors closed forty five minutes ago.”
So I start lying.
A lot.
“I’m going back to Beijing tomorrow,” I say. “I promised my friends I’d take pictures, and the swindler (new vocab word!) who sold me the tickets said I could get in! I’m very sorry about this, but the expo is very important to me, and I’d like to see it just once” This stream of lies continues for maybe a minute, at which point they cave and go ask the police officer if it’d be ok to let us in.
The police officer is having none of it, at first. But then I start complimenting China, telling him how this expo is famous all over the world, and how important it is for the country and how much I want to show China off to my friends. He liked this. We got in. It was definitely the best Chinese I’ve ever used; Connor told me afterward that he’s never heard me that fluent before. I suspect this is because my real first language is deceit instead of English — when I was trying to lie to the officer, I was way more concerned about making the lie convincing than I was thinking about the actual Chinese, which just came automatically.

We rounded out the evening by getting some beer and Irish cream in the pub next to the Ireland pavilion — naturally the very last building on the grounds to close — and running around the Expo at night. A lot of the groundskeepers were actually really cool about letting us poke around their pavilions a little bit, so even though most things weren’t open the trip was definitely worthwhile.

Shanghai World Expo Photoblog

So I’m back in Beijing safe and sound (平平安安!), and I’ve got a lot of new stories to tell from the trip — they’ll be up on the blog shortly — but first I thought I’d just publish a collection of some of the coolest pavilions that I saw at the Shanghai 2010 world expo. I went three times, so all three days will be mixed together. It won’t be hard to tell which is which, though: day 2 was rainy, day 3 was a late-night visit, and day 5 is everything else.
I apologize in advance to my benevolent webmaster, Mr. Geoffrey Hill, for any data charges he incurs for this post being rather memory-intensive. I promise I will pay you moneys, please to be not breaking my kneecaps.

Without further adieu, the 上海世博 :城市,让生活更美好。

Might as well start with the China pavilion. Only 50,000 tickets to it are sold each day, and they sell out usually within an hour of the booth opening at 8. Since we never came earlier than 1pm, we couldn't even get close to this one.

The United Arab Emirates Pavillion.

This one was modeled after sand dunes. Look at it from farther back.

The UK pavilion was just a big lighted koosh ball. Unfortunately it wasn't on right now, and when I came back at night it was already off. Sad times.

Madagascar and most of the rest of Africa was pretty disappointing... but the lines were super short to see them, so we went to most of the continent.

Mike and Connor (right). He just had to have the leopard print...

the land down under wasn't particularly creative. beats the US though

Dont actually know which one this was, but it's pretty

The Kazakhstan pavillion appeared to be covered in bacon. Pretty rad.

Japan had a bizarre, pink, entirely-sellf-sufficient bubble filled with robots.

Connor in front of north Korea AND Iran in the axis-of-evil section of the grounds

Connor inside North Korea.

South Korea was pretty cool. Had a big acoustic drum show inside the day we went

One of the only almost-entirely-outdoor pavilions. A lot of fun to run around in at night

Germany's was cool but kinda bleak. They had a dance party under it after hours, though.

Mother, er, poccnr? I think I can see this pavilion from my backyard.

The giant face was a lil' creepy, but oh well

India. We really, really tried to get into this one. Unfortunately, like seventy-five thousand Chinese people had the same idea. Bah.

That should be about everything! I have a couple more expo pictures but I can mix those into the next couple blogs.

Shanghai trip, day 1

It feels very odd to say it, but I think I just had my first solo Chinese excursion that I can label “authentic” without any qualification. No tour guide, no teachers, no fluent friends to mediate conversations, no other white people anywhere, and most importantly not a word of English. It was really, really cool.

Basically this entire district is younger than I am

I’ll elaborate, but first I want to talk just a little about the trip itself. As you’ve probably surmised, I’m sitting in my hotel in Shanghai right now; I consider this an accomplishment for a few reasons. First, ordering a taxi last night whilst still just a little drunk (hey, it was the last day of finals) was pretty tricky. It is worth noting here that when the phone robot tells you that there is an “English” option, empirically it actually means “you are still basically going to have to do this in Chinese, but maybe we’ll let a few English, taxi-related nouns slip if we really have to.” Also, my cell kept constantly dropping the call halfway through the reservation, so I switched to Anna’s. Of course as soon as I did they kept calling my phone back so I was at one point forced to hold two simultaneous conversations in Chinese on both phones, which was pretty sucky.
Anyway the reservations got made, and I picked up my four hours of sleep for the second night running, and would have kept right on sleeping had the taxi driver not angrily called me at like 6:05 and demanded to know why I wasn’t outside. Or at least, that’s what I’m pretty sure he was demanding. You’ll sympathize if you’ve ever talked to a Beijing cab driver before — they are a famously heavily-accented bunch, and past a certain point the Beijing accent just sounds like one is attempting to speak around a mouthful of gravel. Add this accent to a crappy $20 phone and the “I have slept for 4 hours and been awake for 20 seconds” state of mind, and you’ve got today’s wakeup.
Turns out that I had forgotten, silly me, that my phone’s alarm clock doesn’t work when the phone is charging. 当然。
Funny thing was that Anna’s doesn’t either, so I called her and woke her up as I ran down stairs, and was able to stall the guy a little bit by loudly grumbling about how long women take to get ready, and apologizing profusely. In actuality Anna got ready even faster than I did (I took four minutes, she took two) and we actually both made it on the cab by 6:10 or so. Not too bad.

The airport was straightforward enough, because most things were translated. There was a small hiccup near the start though, when I went to the desk of my airline and asked for my boarding pass and they told me they were for flight changing only, and that I should go to the “Q.” So I walk until I find a big row of kiosk-style boarding pass machines labeled in groups from A to M. They’ve all got pretty lengthy lines, and several of them have my company’s logo on them. I am here briefly torn between trying to find the missing letter Q and assuming that the lady was trying to tell me in English to get in the Queue in front of one of the China Eastern kiosks. I look everywhere for the former, fail, then decide to pursue the latter. This doesn’t work, and irritates the kiosk people who helpfully yell Q at me some more but won’t show me where it is.
how could you resist?Eventually I just get super confused and embarrassed and wind up having to ask a Chinese lady what the letter Q means (真丢人) at which point she laughs at me and points to the special China-Eastern-Airlines-flying-from-Beijing-to-Shanghai-Hongqiao booth, labeled Q, crammed in some corner alone across the hall from A and B. Damn it, China. Whatever. At least I got to eat some 包子 at the Flavor Tang, which was awesome.

Anyway, the rest of the journey was pretty uneventful. Once I got to the hotel though, I realized I had no plug adapter, and thus couldn’t power my computer. A nerd and his internet are not long parted; as any XKCD fan will tell you, it was an unacceptable situation. So I talked to the front desk about it and they wrote down the address for some random mall like 40 minutes away. The gas station lady said to go to the same place. I grabbed a taxi and had gone maybe a block and a half, though, when I passed this store. “Well gee,” I thought. “Those sure look like the characters for ‘electronic’ and ‘devices’ but surely everybody wouldn’t be sending me 40 minutes away if I could just buy my plug here.” And then I passed this one, at which point I just yelled at the cab driver to stop, paid him like 10 kuai and got out maybe three blocks from where I’d gotten in. If I had just walked for a few streets, I would have passed two very large, very imposing electronics stores. Finding the right adapter inside the second one took me maybe two minutes and thirty kuai; a forty minute taxi in shanghai is like 80 or 90 kuai. Each way. Lesson learned yet again: always wander around a little before you commit to anything here.

I’m glad I went to the second store though, because on my way back I wandered down a side street and started talking to this dude about where he liked to eat. He pointed at the place he was standing in front of, which I hadn’t realized before was actually a restaurant. I wonder why. I’m not sure that calling this place a “hole in the wall” would really do it justice, because half of the store was haphazardly strewn around the street in front of it. I do know, though, that they don’t get a lot of 外国人 (foreigners) coming by, because when I showed up like the whole family came and chilled on the porch-ish-thing with me and just talked about anything they could.

Nicest people ever

As a slight aside to my classmates who bash the 新实用汉语课本, our textbook, it absolutely saved my ass today. I see the menu in this place and the only thing I can fully make out is 炒鸡丁, an extremely recent vocab word which translates — admittedly awkwardly — to (stir)fried chicken cubes. What’s funny though is that just yesterday, I had an oral examination in which I had to tell my teacher what I’d do when a friend of mine presented me with a tasty dish. I had rehearsed a speech about how to praise a good 炒鸡丁 chef and display my gratitude sufficiently. I definitely used about 3/4ths of it today as I was talking to the cook and her family; it was incredible (as was the dish itself. 很好吃)Plus it, along with rice and a fanta, only ran me 10 kuai. Probably one of the best meals I’ve had here.

In any event, I hung out at this place and just talked to these guys, their kids, and their friends wandering by on the street for about an hour. Combined with my hour-long conversation with the dude next to me on the plane, I’ve spoken more Chinese here in one day than I’ve done in probably my past week here combined, and I honestly enjoyed every second of it. I’m going to have a really good time here, I can tell already. Plus, Connor shows up in like 3 hours, so I don’t have much of a choice.

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.

I’m still alive

A number of factors have combined to delay me blogging this past week. Doesn’t mean cool shit hasn’t been happening. Life in china just moves really, really quickly. I’ll actually elaborate on what’s been going on in a few hours; I have two real posts to make first. I’m just using these few sentences as a placeholder so i can edit stuff later and the posts will still come out in the right order, and the shanghai / great wall blogs are at the top of the site (instead of this semi meta, random info-post)

Edit 8/15/10

Whoa. Totally forgot to come back to this one. I guess all I was going to talk about was the finals workload, plus the nonstop travel, plus trying to expand socially a bit was just too much. But I wound up with 4 As on this program, because I am a badass. But yeah, the days leading up to the break were stupidly chaotic.

Edit 3/1/2011

Hah! Found this while making my archive thing. Anyway if I recall properly the specific things that were keeping me busy were: A) studying for tests, which I ended up opting not coming back to write about because that’s boring as hell B) exploring the city’s many ridiculous haggling markets / Houhai, which I didn’t write about because I’d just covered one of them and they’re not that dissimilar and C) breaking up with my then-girlfriend, which I didn’t write about because ostensibly I’m not a complete and total prick. We’re cool again now, though!

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…

Haggling

“Open at 10, 15% of what they offer,” they said, “especially if you’re obviously a 外国人(foreigner).” A few months ago, I was hearing this kinda thing all the time — in this case from one of the study abroad briefings, but also from my brother, his Chinese friends, and apparently everybody else who has ever been here. That all sounds well and good, but for those of you who haven’t done this before, imagine finding a jacket on sale in mall or something being sold for $60, and just take a second to think about how weird it would be to look the shopkeeper straight in the eye and tell him “yeah, I’m only paying six for that.”

Because it’s weird as hell. I mean, I guess I’ll get used to it but for now it’s still extremely bizarre, particularly considering how cheap things are to start with. In that example, for instance, the jacket wouldn’t be 60 bucks, it’d be 60 人民币, or roughly nine USD. And you have to act like paying nine bucks for a jacket is outrageous, because obviously paying ninety us cents is much more reasonable. They of course won’t do that, so they’ll haggle you up to 25% of original asking price, and you leave with like a $2 jacket. Most normal thing in the world.

the targetSo yesterday, I was in this mall down by the Beijing Zoo, which I actually haven’t been to yet but I’m sure will happen pretty soon (get pumped for future pictures of pandas incoming). It looked like this, except this was by far the neatest, most quiet, and most organized corner in the store. Anyway, this lady in the middle had a bunch of shoes in a very small space, and I wanted some. I hadn’t ever haggled on my own before but it’d seen it done, and I wanted to go out that night for July fourth.

So I go in, ignore the salesperson, and pretty quickly pick out some Nikes that I _kinda_ like; I can’t overstress here how important it is to only appear moderately interested, because the more you look like you want something, the more you’ll have to pay — which might (I don’t actually know) be one reason why girls on average get worse deals than men. I mean, I bet when a girl finds that one purse that matches perfectly with her most adorable dress and she absolutely has to have it, the salespeople can tell and exploit that.

I ask how much they cost, and she won’t tell me, probably because she wants to see how much she can trick the stupid American into paying for fake Nikes. She instead goes to get them in my size and lets me try them on and walk around before she’ll even start to discuss price. Eventually, though, once I look relatively happy with them, she offers 280元, a little over $40. I say I want to pay 50, because I’m not quite ballsy enough to ask for 4 dollar shoes yet.
Note: Her price wouldn’t be particularly unreasonable in the US, but then again shoes there would have been real, and therefore probably wouldn’t have such obvious issues with quality. Here, though, paying anywhere in the ballpark of 300 kuai for anything short of a full, tailored suit is utterly ridiculous.

To the victor go the bootleg spoils

She tells me my Chinese is great — she is lying — and that she’ll offer me a good price, 230. I tell her to stop joking around (别开玩笑, one of my favorite phrases), then ask for 50 again. She shakes her head, so I get up and just leave the store. I’m maybe five feet away when she pulls me back in. She doesn’t look happy, but says me she’ll go down to one hundred, and that’s her lowest. Which is a shame, because my highest is 60. I walk again. Ten relatively uncomfortable seconds later, I’m paying $9 for nikes. A little while after that I paid another 60 kuai for a dress shirt, but only down from 100.

In any event, I probably could have done way better, but I’m still proud anyway, damn it. Was gonna talk about July 4th here but the post was getting a bit long and it wasn’t that interesting anyway. 再见!

Day-to-day

Alright friends, here’s the deal. Because the ostensible subject of this post isn’t necessarily that interesting — I’m going to write about my dorm and my classes, and it’s going to be pretty long — if you read it you get to look at a small sample of the outstanding Engrish (poor attempts to translate Chinese into English) that I’ve encountered so far. For instance, you might enjoy reading the fire safety sign on my door as much as I did when I first moved in. This photo is incredible for at least five reasons. Can you spot them all?

My Location Place.

Anyway, purely for the sake of good record keeping, I live in this room at the end of this hall. And yes, that’s literally just a picture of a hallway, not hidden awesome Engrish. We live in a building that is indistinguishable from any building around it — on the first day, Dan and I had to go all the way to our room’s equivalent in a nearby building before we realized we were in the wrong place — in the Northeast part of the campus (清华大学东北门口 is sufficient to get you here by taxi if you’re ever in the neighborhood). We go to class for four and a half hours a day in a building nearby that is home to not only classrooms, but also a bank, supermarket, a small electronics store, and all sorts of other random crap. It’s called the C building (or C-store, if you’re feeling nostalgic for NU) for obvious reasons.

Our Chinese class, running from nine to noon, is nothing short of absurdity. In I think seven or eight days of actual class, we have already covered almost a full quarter worth of material. Our teacher, Gaoning 老师, is a very sweet, well-meaning lunatic. I mean, she kinda has to be a little crazy to cram four and a half chapters of material down our throats so quickly via nothing but note cards, powerpoints (the chinese word for these, incidentally, is “pee pee tee,” or .ppt, the file extension) and charades. She refuses to speak a word of English, so to explain new vocabulary words or even grammatical concepts she just acts everything out in a bizarre pantomime. Doing this for every new word and structure takes her some time, of course, so she compensates by speeding way, way up for these sorts of explanations. She also has this really fun exercise where she finds whoever is paying the least attention at that particular second and then either has them make up new sentences or waves index cards frantically in their face, which they then have to read aloud as quickly as possible. Rinse and repeat dozens of times in a row, then add some frantic puppet-show style mock-conversations, and you’ve got a pretty good picture of how we roll in Chinese 3. Not gonna lie, it’s pretty awesome. I have way more fun with it than I thought I would after our first day.

Oh shit! This picture is on the left! Madness!

While it isn't necessarily conventional Engrish, the gay car still brightens up my ride to class

Our history class is just a slightly older, significantly more Asian version of Ryan Cooper telling us stories for an hour and a half. If you don’t know Ryan, and most of you don’t, that’s kinda unfortunate but there’s not much I can do. He’s sorta like a sarcastic teddy bear, though. Of note is the video camera in the back of our classroom that Victor (the teacher) often makes passing reference to, immediately before he spits out the relevant, obviously-fabricated party line for us. He then explains the actual situation — remember, we’re learning the history of Chinese communism — and the contrast between the two has yet to be anything short of hysterical. It probably wouldn’t be quite so funny if I was an actual Chinese citizen and actually had to live in the same country as this Party, but hey.

My roommate asked about the Falun Gong the other day, and Victor just started laughing really nervously. He mumbled something about how he really shouldn’t be talking about that in China, then looked straight at the camera and says “The Falun Gong are an evil cult that has been completely expunged from this country.” A little later, he decided to gamble on the camera not actually being watched, and began to actually tell us, albeit quietly and quickly, about who these guys are. This type of Jeckyll and Honorable Chairman Hyde style back-and-forth storytelling is actually really engaging. Too bad the class ends in like ten days.

That’s all for now. I have a field trip coming up in history to some military museum pretty soon, so I’ll either be talking about that or the fourth of July in China next.

For making it all the way down here, you guys get a special bonus Engrish. This one’s actually been independently spotted by two of the Shepherd brothers, three years apart. My photography skills, however, evidently exceed his.