Archive for August, 2010

Austin, blog stuff

Got in about five hours ago. Talked to parents till they went to sleep, then went straight to Ken’s Donuts. Met seven UT friends there, ate donuts, played xbox at their place till 2, came home, have been eating since. Bananas, fresh baked cookies, milk — Jesus I have missed real, cold milk — cranberry juice, the list goes on. I am a very happy boy, despite the fact that it’s 4am now and I’m not particularly tired, because it’s 5pm to my body. No matter that i went to bed at 4:30am in china last night, apparently.

More importantly I should tell you that this probably isn’t the last post on the China Match, for two reasons. First, there are still about six posts I want to make retroactively; about three of them are already drafted. Second, it’s looking very likely that I’ll be back in Beijing from January 4th to March 11th as a intern and ostensibly english tutor. Considering that I’m there during Chinese new year (a week long holiday) I’ll probably have at least a few stories to tell.

Also, I’m maybe maybe maybe considering turning this into a real blog as opposed to the glorified diary that it is now. In other words, instead of “let me tell you a story about today” it will be “let me tell you how I feel about [x] article I’ve read” generally relating to the Chinese economy or, if I become educated to the point where I have something worthwhile to say, the current political or social climate. As an econ and asian studies major, finding articles like this to talk about could only help me.  So not to worry, the blog would be entirely as self serving as it is now, just with a quasi-intellectual twist. Just like a real blogger. Maybe.

heading home

Very, very hard to believe i’m about to fly back to the states. It’s not that i’m not ready to go, but rather that i’ve just really gotten used to it here. the prospect of returning to a country where turn signals are used more often than horns, everybody is comprehensible, not every discernable experience involves a fight, and things cost seven times more than they should is at present a little bizarre to me. i’m looking forward to it though. back in austin at 11pm, ish.


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.

Changing location

All settled into the new hotel today. Said goodbye to Qinghua and Wudaokou; probably won’t be back for a while. Sold my bike and moved out relatively without incident — except that somebody stole the pot to our hot water heater, which sucked. Like, it absolutely had to have been stolen. Weird situation. Anyway we’re in the exact opposite end of town now, in southeast beijing. Gotta go northwest again tomorrow to do some internship stuff that I should have resolved when I lived ten minutes away, but I’m stupid, so now I get the privilege of spending most of my day subwaying around.
So far as the hotel goes, checking in was a pain in the ass because it always is, but now that we’re here the place is pretty nice, especially considering it’s only 11 usd a night. Hot water at any hour is always a plus. Lack of internet that actually works well is a bit of a minus. Won’t even load my blog properly without me waiting for like half an hour so posts might be a little slower coming these days. I’ll write stuff down on notepad though, and maybe publish everything when i get home.
Dan and i had a really interesting conversation at dinner today with a woman who took pity on us when we were trying to order food. Not that there should have been a problem in the first place — the dish explicitly came with vegetables and rice, but the fuwuyuan felt the need to double check that we really actually wanted rice or something, and it got really confusing. Anywho we talked about the chinese government, tibet, mao, perceptions of homosexuality, all sorts of fun stuff. Apparently it’s cool for guys to hold hands here but not cool for them to share a hotel room, so everybody thinks Dan and I are gay. As if we’re not getting stared at enough already, because there are no other foreigners around here, and we stick out rather severely. Apparently Chinese dudes traveling together will always get two rooms, even if there are twin beds in the room, to avoid coming across as gay. Seems like a waste of 22 bucks to me.
Also, I apparently look british? And strict? Chinese people are strange. Nobody in the restaurant pegged me as american though, which I guess i’m cool for the time being; there are certainly worse things than being taken for a brit. Alright it’s late and i gotta be up early tomorrow, so i’ma cut this one short.

Starting to miss america a little to be honest. Home before too long though; this last week really has flown by.

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…


Welcome to Panda! pretty much sums this trip up. They’re by far the most cared for animals in the zoo, put front in center in their own special five-extra-kuai-to-enter enclosure. But they’re cute, so I guess I can’t complain too much.
Aside from the pandas, though, the zoo is “depressing as all get out,” to borrow chrissy’s rhetoric. The whole place isn’t particularly well maintained, the animals were generally walking around on concrete, and the state of the cages is just pretty sad.

Black bear, surrounded by trash, getting fed random crap by people on the balcony. Really, really aren't supposed to do that, but nobody there cared about rules /=

Spoiler alert, there are some rather sad pictures of animals incoming. The bears were probably the worst, because they were both kinda dirty and walking around in concrete and trash. Not the nicest setup. The rhino, one of my favorite animals by far, was sporting a splintered horn and confined to a big muddy pit. Maybe not the worst pen possible but I feel like an animal that has focused millions of years of evolution purely into getting a big spike on its face is badass enough to deserve better. Maybe it’s just me. Bah.

The big cats were incredible, but had the most cramped conditions of all. It’s possible we just saw them during a special display hour or something, but each one was in a cage about the size of the double i’m sitting in now. Kinda a bad situation.

It wasn’t all bad, though. The monkeys seemed happy, and had a big roomy cage to swing around in. The pandas were certainly content. The emus get fed more popcorn than they know what to do with. There’s always a bright side, but sometimes it’s hard to see around all the crap that’s broken in this country. Speaking of — today, in line for the zoo, a homeless person asked me for some kuai. I initially ignored her, because I am an asshole, but then I watched her for a little bit. I noticed she was pretty deformed, and her hands could serve no other purpose than to hold an empty bowl, and even that just barely. So I grabbed two kuai because that’s what was readily accessible — mind you, that is thirty fucking us cents — and went to give them to her. She smiled at me and gave me the most sincere “谢谢” I have ever heard in my life. Absolutely, utterly heartbreaking. Literally almost drove me to tears.
It reminded me that by no fault of my own I’m in an extraordinarily advantageous position on this planet. I’m a relatively wealthy white male from the current world superpower. I have a stable family, loving friends, and a good education. At present I have perfect freedom to do basically anything I’d like. I can pretty much always spare thirty cents and not look back. But some people, most people, don’t even have half of these things. No matter how many poor decisions I make or good ones they make, I’ll always be better off. It’s a little ridiculous really, and I know I can’t help all of them, and I know thirty cents isn’t going to resolve anything. The best I can do is make sure I don’t waste what I’ve been given. Weird thoughts to have outside a zoo.

Baby monkey action shot! Guaranteed to lighten the mood of any post

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 it’s about nine in the morning, and here I am awake. “Why’s that, Kevin?” You may fairly ask, “haven’t you been unreasonably happy at the prospect of getting to sleep in as late as you’d like for the past like month and a half?”

“Well yes,” I would respond. “In fact, in lieu of any other concrete plans, the notion that I was going to spend about twelve hours a day asleep was one of the only stable parts of this trip. However, upon further examination of the dorm it would appear that there is a full battery of chinese workers who would rather sit ten yards away from me and repeatedly drill into the wall every morning for the next week at eight thirty.”

“Ah, damn,” you might reply. “That seems rather unfortunate. What’re you going to do about it?”

But alas, by the time you asked this question, I probably wouldn’t be able to hear you over the noise. The drills start up about every six seconds, and last for about ten. So that would be the end of the conversation unless I were to follow my absolutely overpowering urge to go downstairs and see what those drills sound like when the bit is firmly inserted deep, deep up the nose of whatever motherfucker decided 8:30 is a suitable time for construction in a residential space. Then I might get some goddamn sleep.

Pure rage. Sleepy, sleepy rage.

In any event, it would appear that my first mission in China has been selected for me: find a good spot to take naps in public. Or murder a crew full of construction workers and get away with it. We’ll see. The napping thing is probably more likely though; it’s fantastically popular among the chinese, so i’d kinda like to see what all the hype is about.

But Jesus. Really, guys?

Moving out

It’s been a rather bittersweet day here at Qinghua. Today was checkout day, which meant a lot of goodbyes. Wouldn’t really be that big of a deal, but some kids on the program won’t be back at Northwestern this fall, so the parting felt a lot more permanent; people are graduating, transferring (damn it, anna), and some never went to NU in the first place. Incidentally, the Chinese word for goodbye, 再见, literally translates to see you again. Made me wonder what you tell people whom you suspect are kinda gone forever. Hrm.

I actually almost missed saying bye to like thirty people because while they were leaving I was both having to check out and back in to a new dorm. I ended up running onto the main bus right before they left and just waving like an idiot to everybody, meriting big collective ‘bye’ in return. 很满意.

Speaking of the new dorm: we were pretty amused when we opened the door and discovered that our double had three televisions, and somewhat less amused when we learned that they apparently came at the cost of our desk space and internet connection. They told us they couldn’t help us out with the Ethernet cables, but we got the TVs moved — I’ve yet to watch television here — and had just started to settle in when the guy came back and told us that they had cables now, and we could buy one for eighteen kuai. Twenty seconds later, through either some miracle of bargaining or just generosity on the part of the TV-moving dude, he just gave dan one for free (I dont travel without an ethernet cable, as any good nerd should).

This kinda crap happens a lot in China, but it’s been off the charts today. Like, at lunch we tried to order fries, and they said they were entirely out of food from that page of the menu. A chinese guy we were eating with confirmed that. Ten minutes later, they come out with two big plates of fries? My chinese isn’t _that_ bad; this isn’t miscommunication, this is bizarre.

Even checking out of the room was weird as hell. We didn’t get our room checked for damage or anything because we were told to bring our crap to building 19 first, where they presented us with some form that said “this room is free of damage” or something. The other kids checking out were like yeah you’re supposed to go get your room inspected and get the inspector to sign off on it… but when I tried to go leave with the form, the checkout lady was just like “no! you sign here!” under the spot clearly labeled, in english, “receptionist.” So we signed it, and didn’t have to pay for the stuff that we broke in the room, which I guess is cool? Today has been one long exercise in strangeness. The fact that i went to bed at 5:30 two nights ago (yay mcdonald’s run!) and 4:30 last night and got up at 10 and 8 respectively probably doesn’t help much.

I’m kinda drained, to be honest. Oh and there’s a very high chance that i have pink eye (thanks, jackie), because i looked like i had it yesterday… but today the symptoms have completely faded (on jackie too), which is weird. In any event, if i do have pink eye, i almost definitely passed it along to ashley in a bid for worst-goodbye-ever (if you’re reading, i am actually pretty sorry about that. good thing you’re traveling internationally right now; i hear that does wonders for the immune system).

So now what? I honestly don’t exactly know what to do. As of now, I’m here without school, a job, my family, and all but a few friends. Every force I’ve ever had that either directly or socially compels me to take any sort of productive action is halfway across the world.

What i do have is a roommate, a burgeoning grip on this mess of a language, and the desire to eat tasty food and see interesting things.

Oh, and the urge to take a nap. For wont of anything better to do, i guess that means it’s bedtime. To my 同学们 — i’ll really miss you guys. China won’t be the same.

Just to lighten the tone of this post a bit. nomnomnom


I’ve got my last test tomorrow. after that will follow a bunch of little posts about the summer palace, temple of heaven, art district, beijing opera, 什么的。


Holy hell. I’m so excited.

Also, I hope that this can make up for the lack of posts recently:

I might not be able to wear this back in Texas, people would take it seriously