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April 9, 2014 / windlessly

China Chronicles 4.9- Update (and exploding thoughts)

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Brace yourself. I feel like I’m about to unleash a torrent of random thoughts, tidbit observations, half-reflection-half-analysis of my past few days here, and several different trains of thoughts that are about to derail and crash headlong into each other in a major catastrophe of a blog post. It’s also 3am here, the best time to catch up on blogging. I purposefully sat down about 30 seconds ago with no plan whatsoever on what I’m about to write. Because when I start to outline, I start to feel the pressure of writing, like when you sit down to take the SAT and the prompt suddenly seems like the most boring thing ever and you just can’t formulate any thoughts worth talking about to paste onto those neat lines… and oh look you have 2 minutes remaining of 15. And also because so much has happened in the last week or so, that trying to formulate my thoughts would be like trying to gather a gallon-full of marbles with my bare hands… I’d grab two fistfuls, then try to grab some more but then end up dropping more marbles in every which direction in the process. My brain would explode. And then, defeated, I’d go to bed another night without having blogged.

Sometimes, you just feel like you’re in the mood to do something. (It’s not often that I get this- in my self assessment, I have determined that I still lack the self-discipline to write every day.) But what I have learned, is that when you feel that wave of anticipation, of expectancy to accomplish something, you have to ride it out the whole way. Sleep can wait. This page will be my bucket for the next x amount of hours. Bear with me as I start collecting my marbles.

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Pictures. Pictures are good. They help me sort through my thoughts on what to blog about. Pictures are also powerful things- capable of eliciting entire memories, moving a person to nostalgia, and trapping a person in a room for days mindlessly scrolling through Tumblr. (haha just kidding about that last one, I really do appreciate Tumblr blogs. I’m just of the opinion that a picture is not worth a thousand words… I’m only at 371 so far in this post for those who are counting. And just try representing all that I’ve said so far in a picture!). Pictures help my posts become more concise, anyway. And people rarely read through every single word here unless they are super meticulous or just really like me as a person.

I think I left off blogging on two distinct notes: 1) about to depart the next day to visit The Forbidden City 2) feeling like my priorities have been out of whack. It’s a funny thing, going from Stanford to life in Beijing. My actual workload has been reduced many times over, and yet I feel just as “busy” as I would back in sunny sunny dorm room at Stanford, California. I feel like “tourism” and “visiting historical places” has become my homework, because it sort of has. I can’t expect to go somewhere new and stay inside all day maintaining my old lifestyle. Part of life is adapting to new circumstances. And since I’m going to be here for 2 more months, it’s worth making an effort to make it a lifestyle I’m proud of. But needless to say, I’m still in the process of figuring out my priorities, a fine line between maintaining spiritual discipline and my extracurricular pursuits, and taking advantage of my time abroad to delve into improving my Chinese and experiencing wonderful and spontaneous new things.

Basically, I think that I’ve discovered that I’m a bad tourist. I get tired out easily from all the walking and traveling, the obligatory pictures and Facebook updates, the repetitive eat-sleep-tour cycles. I’m still immensely enjoying my time here and all the cool places we’ve visited, but I think my threshold for tourism is much lower than many other people. This week has been really good though, and today especially has been a very fun and very chill day.

But back to what I’ve been up the past week:

A 1.5 ton portrait of Chairman Mao hanging in front of The Forbidden City (shot taken from where we stood in Tiananmen Square):

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A very cute kid getting towed around on a suitcase:
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Sooo many people. This is a shot from inside The Forbidden City. I forget how many gates we’ve passed through already in this photo… they all look the same anyway =P And it stretches on for some distance.

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Jinshan Park was also a ton of fun. There were a lot of beautiful trees, rocky steps, and a nice view of The Forbidden City from the top. It was also super windy- we saw these massive bumblebees hanging around and deduced that they were normal bumblebees turned super swoll from flying through the heavy gale all the time up there. Also, bamboo shoots! Random fact from Wikipedia: “high quality bamboo can be stronger than steel.” Not sure in what regard, but an impressive fact nonetheless. And compounded with the fact that bamboo is one of the fastest growing plants on earth- a whopping 2 meters per 24 hours in the right conditions… there’s a certain allure that the shoots have aside from being pretty backdrops and places to carve your name. (Just FYI: I totally thought I carved a “2014” in the picture, but I’m not surprised my handwriting was so bad that it looks like a “2011.”)

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The name of the restaurant we ate at after visiting The Forbidden City but before Jinshan park: (I was negligent and forgot to take actual pictures of the food, that’s how good it was)

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On Saturday we all decided to go visit Tianjin, the 4th most populous city in China (after Shanghai, Beijing, and Guangzhou). It felt a lot more open than Beijing, with massive streets and shopping complexes, as well as peaceful scenes by the river and the old guy we met on the bridge flying a kite. It was a lot of fun, minus our dinner fiasco and our inability to flag down a taxi, though.

Getting there by high-speed rail was quite enjoyable:   Image

Little Italy in the middle of Tianjin! Such an interesting combination… European architecture with masses of Chinese people
ImageVanilla-coffee flavored gelato bar:

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Guwenhua Jie (Ancient Culture Street) in Tianjin where we waited a looong time for jianbing:
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ImageThe Tianjin Trade Center (one of the tallest buildings in Tianjin… and yeah, there were people hanging off it cleaning the windows)

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The “pringle” bridge and open blue sky:

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A random snippet of a thriller that I will never write:

Dusk is settling in nicely, turning people on the streets into silhouettes and turning the horizon into a blandish gray. Streets lights and the illuminations from the windows of the towering skyscrapers glow faintly yellow: darkness is falling, and the city is coming alive. You glance around nervously, first suspiciously at the passerbys near you, then behind you and finally up. Up in the corners between building and sky. Up at the number of perches in which your eyes can no longer discern between color and black, shape and void. You take in a sharp breath, hands suddenly cold and clammy. It is no longer safe in the open. 

You walk fast to the intersection, looking immediately for the next taxi that never comes. Traffic is slow, but with each passing minute, more anxiety presses onto your chest. The light changes and traffic switches, the oncoming stream of cars instead turning left. You hurriedly walk toward the next intersection, hoping it will be more fruitful than the first, checking backward every so often to make sure no taxis are passing you by. There’s one! You wave it down urgently, but the taxi doesn’t even slow down. It zooms past you, whipping cold air across your face, smelling of exhaust. You grit your teeth, tapping your foot nervously, checking the horizon as the light falls further and further away. Right when you need a taxi the most, too….  You curse your bad luck, then strain your eyes even more against the road, searching desperately for that tiny red sign signalling an unoccupied taxi. There! The chance comes- you wave both hands this time, stepping out into the street even, but the taxi pulls up just short of where you are, a prissy young woman and her accompanying escort skipping off the sidewalk and ducking into the vehicle. They had not even been waiting there a moment before- such insulting injustice! You feel like screaming at the taxi as it accelerates by, rejoining lanes of traffic that are all oblivious to the impeding doom. 

Finally, a second taxi emerges from the stream of vehicles. You see the glowing red signal from all the way down the street, anticipation rising inside you as it slows. Without hesitation you walk into the street before it stops completely, jump into the backseat, and close the door a little too quickly. “Get me past the city limits.” The car starts moving- you breathe a sigh of relief. Settle back into the leathery seats. Allow yourself a moment of respite, trying to relax your tense back. “Safe for now,” you mutter. The driver says something inaudible. “Excuse me?” you say, an icy tendril of fear racing up the nape of your neck. The driver repeats himself in a low, monotonic voice, frighteningly devoid of emotion, “They’re here, aren’t they? Tomorrow, this city will be gone.”

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Wow, so that was morbid and creepy. For some reason I thought of the spirit town scene in “Spirited Away” when I was writing this. But I totally had to make up some scary background story to exaggerate the story. I mostly wanted to write about hailing the taxis, though. They were super cheap in Tianjin, but the one we needed to go back to the train station took forever. We honestly walked around for 30-40 minutes without success, hopping two if not three intersections to see if we could find a better spot, all the while glancing on the street for the telltale red sign behind the windshield of an unoccupied taxi. We had our taxi stolen twice, and we were contemplating taking the bus when we finally got one that would take us where we wanted. Fun times.

So yeah, the weekend went by so quickly. There’s always something fun to do, whether it’s grabbing food off campus or taking public transportation to some new location.

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Monday came around all too quickly, but with it came a fascinating trip to one of the rehearsals of the China National Orchestra! Professor Cai, conductor of the Stanford Symphony Orchestra, was leading the orchestra in the “Yellow River Piano Concerto,” a very famous piece based off the original “Yellow River Cantata” written in 1939 as a patriotic call during the Second Sino-Japanese War. It was so cool to see all the traditional Chinese instruments up front and close. And the sound of the orchestra was much different than that of western orchestras… for one, I noticed that the Chinese bamboo flutes (dizi) were featured much more prominently in solo melodies. As a whole, the group also had very little bass. And finally, the composition of the sound was just different. There was definitely a little bit of that telltale “twang” of classical Chinese instruments.

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Also, so many floating seeds from poplar trees here in Beijing (signalling the arrival of Spring) that it looked like it was snowing outside:
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A classic. Watching Mulan in Chinese but knowing every single line in English by heart:
ImageAaaaand the best for last. A boba holding Andrew is a happy Andrew. Today was a good day:
ImageI already feel short on time here in Beijing. Two weeks have come and go, just like that! But every day has brought a bit of adventure on its own. Here is a line of poetry from Rabindranath Tagore:

“Let your life lightly dance on the edges of Time
like dew on the tip of a leaf.”

I’ll try my very best.

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2 Comments

Leave a Comment
  1. akshaykagrawal / Apr 9 2014 10:58 pm

    What a delightfully presented stream of consciousness — looking forward to hearing more about your musings and adventures!

  2. absolutehegemony / Apr 10 2014 7:42 am

    But really, you should actually write that thriller! 😀

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