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April 25, 2014 / windlessly

China Chronicles 4.25- A Day of Panda-ing

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You ever get those days where you wake up, mope around for a bit, then fall back asleep, and then end up not doing anything productive for the whole day? Yeah, that was me today. I think I’m finally sick-free, but I think I must have slept half the day away today. It’s not a super great feeling because I usually would much prefer to feel productive, but once I get trapped in bed it’s hard to get out. I had my second chinese flute lesson today (which I hope to blog and explain further… at some point), and managed to make a trip out to the gym, so I have that going for me, but it’s hard to believe the day’s pretty much over.

So what do I do with the rest of my time? Look up cute pictures of sleeping pandas, of course:

 

 

 

 

I also encountered two videos that I thought were absolutely fantastic. One of them reminds us of a valuable life lesson, the other reminds us that Frozen videos will never, ever stop showing up on YouTube.

April 24, 2014 / windlessly

China Chronicles 4.24- Acrobatics Show

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We went to the Beijing Chaoyang Theater the other day! It was actually super entertaining… I’ve never really gone to an acrobatics show before, so all of the things that I saw were pretty amazing. The acrobatics were impressive: a girl was doing one-handed handstands thirty feet in the air, there was a team of guys doing choreographed back flips and somersaults, and this one girl was balancing an umbrella on its edge… with her feet (though it wasn’t exactly acrobatics, it still would have put many futsal street performers to shame… she was spinning, balancing, throwing, and catching umbrellas with her feet, laying on her back. I mean, I can’t even balance an umbrella on its edge with my hands… how can she do that with her FEET??)

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And there was a great deal of creativity, which I especially enjoyed. There were these guys in straw hats that simultaneously put on hats and took them off while juggling them, all in tune with corny but fitting music. There was also a performance that managed to fit 12 girls on a single bicycle, as well as 8 motorcyclists into one motorcycle cage (that was actually impressive- we were on the edge of our seats, yelling at them to stop lest they crashed into each other, much less put MORE guys on motorcycles into the cage).

This pictures shows ONE motorcyclist. Add 7 more and you’ll understand how scared we were for them…

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I’ve always wondered about the culture of circus and acrobatic performers… on one hand, it must be awesome to do something that you love, and especially to do it with a group of other equally talented and passionate performers. But on the other hand, it must be extremely repetitive- everything hinges on your ability to perform. There’s no room for rest when you are asked to repeat, crowd after crowd, a talent or skill that you’ve worked so hard to perfect. I got extremely mad at the people who got up to leave as soon as the show was over… to me, that was a huge sign of disrespect. The least we as an audience could do was appreciate how much effort had gone into the show we had just enjoyed. The least we could do was stay in our seats for another thirty seconds and clap as the performers took their bows. To do otherwise would be to dehumanize the performers- you don’t simply leave after a concert as if turning off a CD, nor do you leave after a musical or play as if they were a film that had just finished playing. 

I thought the performers were fantastic. I would’ve like to have told them personally. It must be draining to perform such strenuous acts, week after week, but I really enjoyed watching them and really appreciated the show that they put together for us. Huge kudos to them!

April 24, 2014 / windlessly

China Chronicles 4.24- A Weekend in Chengdu

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Here it is. A build up of fantastic new wonders, sights, and thoughts-that-I’ve-already-forgotten from my visit to Chengdu, a renowned city in the southern province of Sichuan- famous for incredibly numb and spicy dishes, equally hot and “spicy” girls (this is a real thing by the way… apparently the whole rest of China agrees that guys and girls from this region are collectively more handsome and pretty than the whole rest of the population), and giant pandas!

We went to several super cool locations, including Mount E’Mei, the Chengdu Research Base for Giant Panda Breeding, and JinLi street. It was actually an incredible trip, the more I think about it- all the delicious meals aside, we got to see so many different things in a very short time. And of course, the company was infinitely hard to come by. There’s something about traveling with a group of other people that makes me really happy- there’s nothing like sitting on an airplane for a couple hours, or hiking up several kilometers of steps, or waking up at 5am to watch the sunrise for bonding with one another. While I was a little disappointed that this program wasn’t completely immersive and I didn’t get to stay with a host family, I am super glad that it’s given me lots of time to get to know everyone else on the trip. Our trip to Chengdu was organized by the BOSP program, and so getting all 20 of us on a plane across the country was quite impressive, and also a big adventure.

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Here is us arriving at the airport in Chengdu and having a tour bus pick us up. Ryan, our program administrator, has really outdone himself with every excursion that we take- there’s always transportation provided for us, complete with water bottles and never-ending packages of Oreos. He does SO much to make sure things run smoothly.

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Here is us at our first hotel:

 

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It was a full day of travel, so we were kind of hungry by the time we arrived there at midnight. KFC does taste better in China.

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The next morning, we woke up early to take another bus to Mount E’Mei, another couple of hours of travel. But the bus wass perfect for card games like Literature, an intense 6-person memory strategy game that is best described as Go-fish on steroids. Everyone seemed to enjoy playing, which made me happy.

Lunch was the perfect break from being on the road for so long:

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20140417_124048And of course, Oreos for desert. There are crazy variations here in China: banana, matcha green tea, and grape, to name a few.
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Here’s the entrance to Mount E’Mei:

20140417_134800Followed by another couple of hours on mini-buses as we circled further and further up the mountain. These drivers were crazy… accelerating up the mountain and passing each other at breakneck speed… IN THE FOG. It was so thick that at one stop when we got off, the road disappeared before we could even see it turn.

20140417_160644We later hiked a little bit and got our first look at the E’Mei monkeys, notorious for being hooligans and super FAT. Apparently with tourists coming so often, these monkeys have learned to drink coffee and eat all sorts of packaged snacks. And they’ve learned just exactly how to exploit the tourists… our tour guide explained that for safety, it was best to stay away from the monkeys. But if they approached you, you were to empty your pockets and show your empty palms, signalling that you had no food on you. I don’t know about everyone else, but I thought the monkeys were pretty cute.

20140417_162305We took a cable car to one of the summits on the mountain, which conveniently also had a hotel. But before retiring, we made sure to visit the Golden Summit housing the largest golden Buddah at Huazang Temple.

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20140417_173611And of course, later that evening, we brought out the Chinese chess board. Sometimes I think that I like playing board games and cards on these trips more than I like the actual trip =P

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Waking up early the next morning to see the sunrise… it was gorgeous. It’s hard to describe what it was like going up to the very summit and looking out at the ocean of clouds… first of all, we were 3,000 meters up, so the air was super thin and I could feel my heart beating pretty rapidly after only a few steps. Waking up and venturing out into the cold wasn’t fun, but once I saw the landscape, it just took my breath away. The temple and Buddha were behind us, beautiful architecture and awe-inspiring landmarks in themselves, but the view made it all worth it.

The wind was pretty strong, but I had James to huddle behind:

Our fingers did freeze after a bit, but only because we were intent on taking so many pictures. It was seriously an amazing experience to be above the cloud cover and to see all the way to the horizon. These pictures don’t do it justice at all (but it goes to show how amazing the human eye is, too).

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After our chilly morning, we ate breakfast and prepared to visit a few other historical sites on Mount E’Mei. That was fine by me… the cable car rides were really something else. It was so peaceful and quiet, and the scenery below us was beyond beautiful.

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Lunch at another restaurant on the mountain- food was delicious. Sichuan food has a good mix of spicy foods, but also freshwater fish and plenty of interesting new dishes that I never tried before.

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The mountain was huge. We took mini buses up and down for several hours in between locations. We easily could have spent several days here.

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More monkeys!

20140418_125243We went for a short 5km hike. There were plenty of small vendors all over the place, but also locations and scenery that were quiet and peaceful:

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I’ll admit that I was pretty exhausted by the end of the hike… too many photoshoots at too many locations really tired me out. Plus the mobs of people often detracted from the still beauty of the nature we were in.

We did occasionally get free time to recuperate, though. Plus we had plenty of bus rides to try to catch up on sleep, or to play even more cards. The next day was giant panda day. Chengdu, in addition to being declared a city of gastronomy by UNESCO in 2010, is also home to the giant panda! We visited the Giant Panda Research Breeding Center and had a blast watching pandas eat, poop, and sleep. But literally, that’s all we did. And IT WAS AWESOME. Pandas are such interesting creatures. I could’ve watched them eat bamboo for hours… it’s mesmerizing. They just sit on their hind legs, look cute, grab bamboo and munch for hours. They have this special technique down for shelling the outermost part of the bamboo stalk as they crunch away. It’s really cool. And then one of the pandas promptly stood up to poop out yellow bamboo paste onto the corner of his eating mat. Ahh, pandas are the best.

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The pandas in the souvenir shop were so stinking cute I wanted to buy twenty of them and bring them all back for friends. If only I had enough luggage space…

And finally, one of our last stops was Jinli street, a cultural food street where we got a ton of tasty food. Here’s Kevin and Nick being cute and going halfsies on a bowl of dandan mien (spicy noodles):

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20140419_192050And we had a fun time exploring around our hotel, which was primely situated in the heart of one of Chengdu’s major streets… there were all kinds of shops, malls, eateries, and plenty of people wandering about. It was super energetic, fairly clean, and just a really nice city to be in. And the best part- we had a Coco’s right in front of our hotel lobby!!! Bryson got his first taste of boba- a momentous highlight of the trip:

20140419_202534All in all, Chengdu was packed with a lot of great memories and experiences. Flying across China turned out to be a really, really enjoyable weekend, even if we were super busy with tourist stops and we rarely got time to sleep in. But I do think that it wouldn’t have been as fun if we didn’t go in such a big group. Sunrises and selfies with monkeys and watching pandas poop are experiences meant to be shared with others. And boba!! I can’t believe Bryson experienced one of life’s greatest joys for the first time just a few days ago- I’m so proud.

 

 

 

 

April 24, 2014 / windlessly

China Chronicles 4.24- A Day in the Church

Okay, I’ll admit it- I was trying to be all clever and do several posts with the theme of “A Day In…” but then I got interrupted by my trip to Chengdu (I was thinking ahead though…”A Day in Chengdu” was gonna be a thing until I realized I had way too much stuff to try to explain through a single day). There are two ways I do blog posts: ones that start with thoughts and ones that start with pictures. This is gonna be a post with minimal pictures, because 1) I didn’t take any pictures when I went to church last last Sunday 2) I believe God is reflected in every aspect of this universe, so it’d be a little redundant to try to include pictures of well, everything.

But here’s a picture of a church similar to what I experienced anyway, to give you a better idea of what it was like for me last last Sunday (we’re such a visually-oriented generation, anyway. A study by Hubspot in 2012 concluded that photos on Facebook generate 53% more likes and 104% more comments as compared to the average post. Which reminds me that I’m way more behind in uploading pictures to Facebook than I am blogging… the cost of being a rebel I guess):

From my perspective, it was a little more like this:

But there was still a LOT of people. I had contacted a friend who contacted a friend who email introduced me to email a study-abroad student from Oregon who WeChat-introduced me to Tom. Tom was the friend who took me to church Sunday. Tom is also a very nice guy, though it’s safe to say I never would have met him without the multiple degrees of connection it took for me to get his WeChat ID =]. Tom is also a study abroad student from Britain, which automatically makes him cooler than 90% of the rest of the world’s population. Not statistically plausible, but I was very fortunate to get in touch with him anyway. 

Church was great. It had been several Sundays of traveling, resting, and in general getting accustomed to being abroad without making it to service, so finally encountering some spiritual community made me extremely happy. Tom and I met at one of the gated entrances to PKU (something you don’t often see in US schools, for some reason), along with another friend that was studying abroad from South Korea. We walked to church, stopping along the way to grab some delicious breakfast at a small place on the side of the road, as well as pick up another British friend of Tom’s (I soon found out that Tom knows everyone in Beijing. There are also more British guys to come in this post). 

Interestingly enough, the church service was held in the third floor of a hotel, which was converted to an assembly type room. It was specifically an international service conducted in English that was probably regulated by the government, but I haven’t done extensive research to be able to explain the entirety of the religious situation in China. What was coolest to me though, was getting to see people of all different ethnicity and nationality gathered in one place, worshiping the same God. I felt a sense of wonder, and a sense that the world is much, much bigger than I know. 

Afterward I got to chat and eat lunch with a couple of other people that Tom knew in the church- more guys from Britain and even a couple of ex-patriots from the states (specifically Oklahoma and Ohio). They were here in Beijing teaching english and math, and were completely familiar with the culture and language of Beijing. But when the eight of us got together for lunch, it was nice to talk in English about things like the World Cup, where we were from, and our observations about how Chinese society differed from our lives growing up. It was quite the sight- five British guys and three Americans sitting in front of a Korean restaurant in Beijing, joking around in English and talking about our favorite TV shows.

One of the things about religion (and anything else for that matter) that I’ve been thinking about recently is how it’s impossible to separate your thoughts and opinions from your upbringing. As Americans (and I’m only saying this because the majority of my friends reading this are from the US), we will never be able to definitively say that we believe in capitalism and democracy as a result of our own intellectual, personally-generated conclusion. Our upbringing and the culture we were born in automatically makes us biased. Sure, we eventually do form our own thoughts (such as the tension and blurriness of Chinese people today, believing in socialism-with-Chinese-characteristics but operating more and more under capitalism), but we can never really make a fully objective statement. And the same goes for religion. That’s why getting to meet some of these international students was such a valuable experience. And that’s why I hope to travel more and keep trying to understand things from different perspectives. 

My wise teacher in a class we’re taking here that we nicknamed, “The Way” (a communications class), said this: “It is through the process of exchanging perceptions that communication creates what we call reality.” That’s personally why I think community is so important- it is in talking with others, learning from their upbringings and their experiences, that we understand a little more about our reality. As is visiting an international church in the middle of Beijing. But as I’ve said before in previous posts, I’m still barely on the board in terms of understanding the world from a truly Chinese perspective. I’ve gotten most of my observations and knowledge from my Chinese teacher Daniel, who is great, but next chance I get (hopefully this Sunday), I really look forward to attending a Chinese service and talking to some of the people there. 

 

April 24, 2014 / windlessly

China Chronicles 4.24- Clean

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Phew. It’s good to sit down to a clean room. I got my asian slippers on, which means it’s time to knock out a few blog posts to catch everyone up on what’s been going in my life on this side of the world. I still think that I’m unbelievably lucky to have my own single during my time at PKU. Well, it’s still a two room double, but having my own space to pause and think is such a luxury. Almost as much a luxury as it is to have a VPN here in China… I have no idea how I would complete my daily quota of procrastination without access to YouTube or Facebook.

Life has been good. I’m in a good mood. Though saying that is kinda cheating considering that it technically is “Friday night” for us (I just had my last Thursday class and we get Fridays off). I’m forgoing a taichi class and a trip to the gym that I’ve been wanting to make so I can catch up with blogging, so feel special if you’re reading this from back home! I care about you guys and want to make sure guys are getting your own daily fill of procrastination. “So what’s been going on in Andrew’s life?” you might ask. So many fun and new things in just the past week (as usual), I don’t know where to start.

I think I’m going to start with the most important thing: sweeping my room! It was quite the ordeal. I also changed my bedsheets, my comforter case (is there a more technical word for this?), and my pillowcase. I organized my desk somewhat. I’m the sort of person that would like to be super clean and neat, but very rarely gets to that point- I’m estimating an hour or two before my desk gets all cluttered. I already exploded an Oreo while sitting here, so there goes my cleanly-swept floor (edit: I felt the need to clarify. You know when you want to eat an Oreo, you twist the two sides apart and lick the frosting off the cookie? And upon trying to lick the frosting, the cookie part becomes structurally unsound and breaks in half and showers you with lots of cookie crumbs? Yeah that’s what I meant).

I guess the reason I’m talking about such mundane things is that I don’t feel like I get a whole ton of time to just sit in my room. In the past week, I’ve gone to Chengdu for a Bing-sponsored weekend trip, gone to an acrobatics show, gone to a taichi class, went to another Bing-sponsored dinner back at the Stanford center at PKU, had my first traditional chinese flute lesson, and dropped in on a hip hop team’s practice here. When I’m not running around doing all these fun things, I’m in my room finishing up homework or sleeping. I’m gonna try to blog about all of these things as quickly as I can- learning to blog well is definitely a skill. I’m not sure I’m even good at it yet, considering how long I’m spending wondering how I’ll ever be able to talk about all the things I want to talk about here. But I think I’ll jump around randomly for the next few posts. A little more time travel never hurt anyone, especially since I’m writing from 15 hours in the future anyway (if you’re in California).

Oh here’s a centipede that Bryson found in his room just an hour or two earlier:

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Centipedes don’t eat Oreos, right?

April 15, 2014 / windlessly

China Chronicles 4.15- A Day in the Life

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My alarm goes off. Annoyed, I fumble for my phone before turning it off and rolling back into bed. Light through the curtain illuminates my room faintly, signaling that it’s actually morning- I’ve woken up several times throughout the night coughing. The bed is modest but comfortable, and I’m tired enough to go back to sleep for another hour. My throat itches. I can’t stop coughing so I reach for a bottle of water on my desk, a desk much cleaner than the one back at Stanford. It’s long and rectangular, and on it are my laptop, a few pens, a notebook opened to a page of scribbled Chinese characters, a bottle of lotion, various chargers for my laptop and phone and iPod, a PKU campus map, my wallet and a mask to the far left, and also a book of classical patriotic songs that I’ve been using for bamboo flute practice.

When I wake up a second time, it’s already 10am, two hours later than I intended. My plans to go to the gym first thing in the morning now out the window, I swallow painfully at the lump in my throat and sit myself up. It’s still very quiet- having a single is good in that regard, especially when the walls are pretty thick. I go to the bathroom, wake up a bit more, and justify sleeping in by convincing myself that being sick warrants extra sleep. I’ve been sick for a while now- I wonder when I’ll actually be able to wake up and feel perfectly normal. It’s also noticed the trend that my throat feels the worst from around 1am until after lunch.

Lunch sounds good- I decide to go to the dining hall early today to beat the rush and also to grab the food when it’s hot. Coming out of the bathroom, I glance at Bryson’s door and see that the light’s already on. I turn on the light in my room, turn on my desk light, and start reviewing Chinese characters from the lesson that my textbook is already open to. I can expect a vocab quiz every day I have class, so I test myself as well as scribble characters over and over again in a scrap notebook.

Bryson and I decide to keep lunch simple- we head to the nearest dining hall at 11:30ish. I don my mask and head outside. The pollution isn’t that bad today, but millions of poplar tree seeds are still floating around like falling snow: a weird sensation for someone who’s accustomed to associating falling white crystals with cold and wet, not warm and smoggy. We pass by WuMei, racks of bicycles, and also sidestep several times to let electric scooters or bicyclists pass by on the narrow streets. Inside the dining hall, students are already lined in front of four or five different serving windows. I grab twelve dumplings to share with Bryson, go to the next window, and point at two of several large serving dishes behind the window. The server scoops a helping each into a bowl, then tops it off with a scoop of rice. They hand it to me through the small window, tap a ridiculously cheap price into the register, and have me scan my student ID.

Bryson and I bring our food upstairs. All the eating tables are situated in groups of four seats each, so we sit beside two random students. The dumplings are good, but nothing amazing. The rice and tofu are comforting to eat. While I wait for Bryson to finish his last few dumplings, I review some flashcards in my phone. On the way back to our international student building, we pass by a larger group of Stanford students on their way to lunch.

A few more minutes to review, so I look ahead a few pages in the textbook. I know that my reading comprehension is way behind the other 3rd year students, so I look up words I don’t know using an app called Pleco. At 12:45, Bryson and I gather our materials and head out. In the hallway, all the other students are doing the same, just closing their doors. We head out together, walking out the back door of the building and entering the building where our classes are held. The elevator is full- I walk up four flights of stairs to the fifth level, walk past a long hallway with hotel-like rooms, and turn to get to class. All three years of Chinese are held in classrooms right next to each other. I join Tracy and wait for Jackie- a three person class. Our teacher, Daniel, is fairly young, with yellow-sided glasses, medium length “sweepy” hair, a woven red string bracelet as well as one with clear beads, and a puffy light blue jacket. He’s a really nice guy, and I like the way he teaches. The next hour is filled with him pouring out knowledge to us and writing out new Chinese characters and phrases that he incorporates into his explanations onto the board. They’re explanations and not lectures… we regularly interrupt him to ask questions, and he goes through the vocab words in the textbook in order, occasionally going on a tangent to explain something relevant or interesting. The row of wooden desks are very close together- the classroom is very narrow, and we are sitting two feet away from where Daniel is standing against the whiteboard. I take notes, mostly listening to Daniel speak about the Cultural Revolution and a story of how his professor’s professor was taken and imprisoned for 10 years by the government before being allowed to return to teach.

The class ends- I’m all motivated to look up history on the cultural revolution, review all the characters in my study notebook, and preview the rest of the lesson to get ahead. By the time I walk back to my room, I’ve lost all motivation to study and just want to take a nap. Just today, I accidentally locked my room key in my room, so I grab a person at the front desk to help me unlock it. I sit down in my room and decide what to do. Studying can wait just a little bit,  I need to just take a quick nap…..

Ten minutes turns into an hour which turns into two… the bed mattress is low on the ground, unlike my lofted bed back at Stanford. I can’t resist just flopping onto and resting my head a little, so I often take unintended naps. But then again, I’m sick and so I need all the sleep I can get, so I don’t feel so bad. It’s nice not having any classes other than Chinese the majority of the week, anyway- Mondays are full with class from 9am to 6pm, but after I get through that it’s all completely up to me how I spend my time. I think about my friends back at Stanford and how they must be envious of how little academic work I have to complete abroad. I cough some more, thinking about a conversation I had with Chad earlier in the hallway before class- what should I do to get better from all this coughing and sore throats? Maybe Chinese herbal medicine. Or maybe some exercise to get it all out… I should probably go to the gym now. It takes awhile for me to get motivated to go to the gym, a routine I like to complete in the morning before lunch. So I turn on my laptop and YouTube a song that I’ve recently discovered that I love- “Turn All the Lights On” by T-Pain featuring Neyo. I dance in my chair a little, grooving to the strong beat, barely paying attention to the lyrics, which are probably obscene and pretty vulgar anyway. I’ve noticed that for a while now- my listening comprehension when it comes to songs is terrible… words just glaze over in my mind, and I can’t even differentiate swear words until I look the lyrics up, let along explain what a particular song is talking about. It must have something to do with how my brain was wired when I first started listening to the radio…. I feel and experience the songs more than I interpret the lyrics, which is probably why I enjoy electronic and techno music so much. It’s the chorus to “Turn All the Lights On” and I can’t help but do a couple of shuffling moves in my room, pretending I actually know how to dance hip-hop.

Man, hip-hop is so cool. It’s on my list of things to learn, but I’ve never had time to pursue it… wait, I’m never going to have more free time than I do now. What’s to stop me from getting into it? I sit back in my chair and go to YouTube, looking up if there are any dance choreographies to “Turn All the Lights On.” There are! I go through a couple, feeling more inspired the more I watch. And this one has a tutorial! Excited, I open up the video and am pleased that the person actually teaches at a manageable pace. I spend the next ten minutes trying to mimic the first eight counts… wow, I am so bad at controlling my body. How does he make it look so good? And wait, how does he do that? I’m so glad Bryson and I have separate rooms, because I must look so stupid right now… I go to the bathroom and try to use the mirror to help me control my movements. Nope. Well, kind of? I’m close, so I reassure myself that it will be a work in progress. I watch the video one more time for fun, then grab a bottle of water, my iPod, and head out to the gym.

The gym is a fairly long walk, so I put on my mask and my iPod. A few pop songs start playing, and I can’t help but dance a little as I walk… no one will notice. I blend in for the most part, right? But then again, maybe people can tell that I’m a foreigner if I wear the mask when the pollution isn’t “that bad.” The roads are fairly busy with pedestrians, bicyclists, and the occasional car. I make sure to look back every time I pass someone in the road, to avoid being run over by a bike. Most people have bells on their bikes that they incessantly ring to alert you of their approach, but I feel like I should be careful anyway.

The gym has a lobby and an inner room filled with equipment, much smaller than Arrillaga, and WOW it’s packed today. There’s even a significant line to the desk inside where you scan your ID. I glance around quickly- every single elliptical and treadmill is taken, and there are even a couple of people standing behind them and stretching, waiting for them to finish. I get in line to scan my ID, debating on whether or not it’s worth it to stay. It’s around 5:15pm, so I decide that I’ll stick around to work out on whatever machines are available, then grab dinner before the dining halls close. There are so many people here, something pretty unexpected, considering that it’s just about dinner time. I do a couple of machines, then grab a mat to do crunches. The person on the treadmill closest me suddenly finishes, so I check to see if there’s anyone waiting before getting on. It’s already pretty hot in here, and the AC isn’t that strong… I put in a good half hour of cardio before deciding that I’m dying. I stretch, do a few more machines, and head out to dinner.

Ahhh, Nong Yuan. The Arrillaga Dining Hall of PKU. It has two stories so I head directly for the second floor, hoping to find a hot plate of food before it all runs out. I’m a little late, it’s 6:30pm, but I go around to all the different stands to scope things out. This dining hall is structured much differently from the one closest to my dorm, and is set up exactly like a food court in a mall. I grab a plate of broccoli, swipe for 3 yuan, find another plate of cabbage and chicken (6 yuan), and also a bowl of rice (2 yuan), a total equivalent to less than two US dollars. Nong Yuan is the largest dining hall on campus, so there is actual ample amount of seating, unlike the other dining halls where you just sit down at a table of four with three other strangers and eat your food without looking up and making eye contact. The food is nice, but not as much protein as I would have liked to find. I muse over a couple of things while I eat, feeling much better now that I’ve finished my goal of getting to the gym and getting a productive workout. When I finish eating, I bring my tray and plates to a lady with a cart, who dumps excess food for me and stacks the empty bowls and collects the chopsticks. I head for the entrance of Nong Yuan and happen to overhear a group of students speaking fluent English. Other international students! I would never have known if I hadn’t heard them speaking, so it’s a nice surprise. I smile as I head down the stairs. Maybe one of these days I’ll sit down randomly with a group of international students and start talking to them.

The air outside is still slightly foggy. The clouds are gray, and it’s slightly cold. I stop by a fruit stand shop, next to a Subway’s, a convenience store, and other small restaurants and shops I haven’t ventured into yet. I pick up two oranges for 10 yuan. I see another dining hall that specializes in noodles, and so I duck in- I previously got a few fried sesame pastries “to go” (they just put it in a bag for me) here, but it looks like it’s around 7pm and so everything’s gone. Undeterred, I keep walking back to my dorm, knowing that I’ll pass by WuMei. Hmm, the soy milk that I got with Matt last time was pretty good… I decide that I need the dairy in my diet and go in. The steps lead to a much larger underground store than the surface shop would suggest. In the back are the drinks, and unfortunately all the soy milk is already gone. I wander around for a while looking for a replacement: WuMei is a small grocery and convenience store all in one, and mostly I’m looking at the snacks, wondering what to get. I eventually just grab two bananas, and a can of red bean soup, and then call it a day.

Bryson’s back in the room so we chat a little- he had to go do laundry today. We don’t have any machines in our dorm, so all of our laundry gets taken to this laundromat, whose worker I’ve sort of befriended. She’s really nice and smiles whenever she doesn’t understand us international students, even my Mandarin, which I suppose has too much of a Taiwanese/foreigner accent to be super clear. Bryson tells me that the laundromat we usually go to won’t be able to dry his clothes in time for our departure tomorrow to Chengdu, so he plans on taking it to a different laundromat on campus. These are the kind of things that we take for granted at Stanford, free laundry and flexibility in how you do it. It’s funny because the first time we all got our laundry back, we were appalled that it felt so crusty, the result of hang drying them and using detergent without fabric softener.

I head into my room, wondering how I’ll spend my time for the night. I decide to get right to blogging, thinking about my experience here in China as a whole. I get detracted by my ramblings about PKU compared to Stanford, and so I decide to make that a whole separate post. By the time I finish my second post, it’s 10pm and I haven’t even finished the post I wanted to actually write (this one). Rachel and a couple of others came back from dinner at Wudaokou (a lively and nearby hang-out area for many international students) during the middle of my blogging session, and were talking in the lounge area that Bryson and I share (they also had boba with them- my heart twinges with sorrow at having missed out) while I stayed in my room to keep writing. The lounge area is a nice social area in between Bryson’s room and mine… there’s even a table and some chairs for playing cards, and a television that we occasionally watch. Anyways, I feel like catching up with Rachel and so I grab an orange and go knock on her two-room double. On the way there, I realize that I have to finish all the fruit that I bought today by the time we leave for our flight to Chengdu tomorrow before dinner.

Rachel’s room is pristine, as always. We chat about everything fascinating (mostly Rachel’s life and her interesting stories at the product design lab back at Stanford), and I realize what an incredibly talented and thoughtful person she is (but then again, I already knew that). We both realize that we have a presentation for our communications class that we’ll be working on together due Monday, and that we get back from Chengdu Sunday night. We discuss possible topics of interest. I also feel excited to document our experience with Szechuang food, the name of food originating from that province (of which Chengdu is a sub-municipality).

It’s around 11pm and so I feel like I should get back to not-studying. I realize that with blogging and another vocab quiz to prepare for left, it will be another late night. I quickly realize that the economics class I wanted to drop in on tomorrow is become less and less of an option, especially when I’m likely to only get a few hours of sleeping after insisting to myself that I stay up to finish the blog post that I started (this one). So what I do? Turn on YouTube to get myself pumped up. Aaaaand Kevin drops by, asking for a piece of bread (from me) and some jam (from Bryson). You know you’re good roommates with someone when you share food like that. I’m always happy when Kevin drops by, even if this time it was just for food. So I call to him from my room how I’m getting more and more interested in hip hop. Kevin’s basically the coolest- he tells me he got more serious about joining Common Origins just this year, a hip hop group back at Stanford, but his moves are already quite good. He comes in and shows me these ridiculously good dance videos of groups such as Culture Shock and The Company. It’s amazing stuff… I’m still in awe at how coordinated the groups are, how much creativity goes into the choreography, and how much work and effort goes into body control and muscle isolation.

I want to have that kind of swag too. Maybe for now I’ll stick with dancing in my room by myself, but it’d be so cool to learn to control my body and be able to express the energy I feel when listening to a song I enjoy. The night is getting late, so Kevin leaves and I’m left to finish the two things still on my checklist. Tomorrow will be another full day. My throat feels slightly better than it did last night. The hallway is now quiet, so I determine that I will finish blogging before I start to review for my vocab quiz tomorrow. I get to work writing and begin to type out my thoughts, enjoying how meta I’m being by narrating in first person but leaving the time reference of my current sentence purposefully ambiguous.

So that’s a day in the life… I promise my next blog post will be more coherent and interesting, but I thought it’d be fun to try and chronicle a whole day for now. Now it’s time for sleep.

April 15, 2014 / windlessly

China Chronicles 4.15- A Day in Peking University

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So how has life in Peking University been? It’s kind of hard to describe all at once, and even these blog posts fall very short of representing my experiences here. It’s an accumulation of various observations during the day that remind me that I’m in a country across the globe from where I’ve grown up (okay except for the pollution because that’s just a constant in-my-face reminder… and I guess the masses of Chinese faces that I see walking down the street give that away too). Things like walking through campus and noticing the communal shower complex because not every student is lucky enough to have bathrooms and showers in their dorms, for example. Smelling the smoky greasy something-on-a-stick that a vendor is selling on the street, next to a stand selling trinkets, and across from a noodle shop with a curtain draped in front of its entrance. Walking down the street and having these rickety transport wagons and rickshaw-type vehicles loaded with goods swerve around you. Noticing the contrast between a polished black BMW coasting down the street next to a student on a rusty aged bicycle that creaks with every pedal. These kind of things are probably something I’d never experience in the states, but already it’s become kind of commonplace for living on campus here.

How does the campus of Peking University compare to a campus like Stanford? While both are prestigious and considered one of the best universities in the country, it is evident to me that loads of money and alumni donations are not what makes a university great. You go to Stanford’s campus where a random modern sculpture gets erected in between Stern and Crothers in the blink of an eye, or to Huang Engineering Center where there’s a wormhole portal to MIT, or to any facility really, and you see that it’s all pristine and neat and clean. You go to 北大 (Peking University), and you see run-down buildings with dusty cracked steps, unfinished dirt and brick areas in between dining halls, and facilities like the “music center” that are on the fifth floor of a decrepit building, complete with peeling paint and all of seven classrooms for all personal, orchestral, choral, AND dance practice use on campus. Stanford probably has an unlimited landscape budget complete with modern elite sprinkler systems to keep everything lush and green. Peking University feels like it barely has enough workers to go around and hose all the withering patches of grass.*

And yet it’s the same. Campus is still filled with a bustling amount of hardworking, dedicated and probably crazy-smart students that are discovering their paths in life. Professors are honored to teach at a campus that is so rich with history and legacy. Students that you see walking down the street represent the best of students from all over China. And people don’t mind a little dust here and there: there’s a beautiful lake and plenty of random quiet garden paths to make up for it. And what’s a wobbly desk or a squeaky chair when you’re here at a university to study and learn and make friends? The pollution certainly doesn’t stop people from going to the tennis courts and learning to swing a racket. The overly crowded dining halls and non-impressive food options don’t hamper any of the student’s abilities to laugh and have a good meal with friends.

It’s a great honor to stay here. We international students have been treated with the best of the dorms here, living conditions that Peking University students would envy but nothing that the average American hasn’t experienced going to a 2 or 3 star hotel. But it’s more than enough. And for such special treatment, I certainly appreciate everything that much more.

 

 

*Okay, not all of campus here is as bad as I described. But it is significantly different than what a campus anywhere in the states would look like. Its beauty shines in ways different from just a lot of money.

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