The last week was filled with bicycle rides through crowded, busy streets, shopping (not the fun kind), bargaining (never fun for me), eating lots of noodles and jaoxe, and learning more and more about Wudaokou.
After my mom’s urging to be more adventurous, I started taking greater leaps of faith and ventured out into the city on my bike. Fortunately, I’ve only gotten lost once, but in my blind careening through streets of Wudaokou, I managed to find a really great running route that includes going up and down the stairs of an overpass. I’m not sure exactly how long the distance is, but I’m guessing it will be a solid 30-40 minute run. Now I’ve just gotta prep my lungs for some serious thrashing…
My nesting progress is sure, but slow. I finally got some kitchenware at this giant market that sells literally every houseware you could possibly want to buy at wholesale prices—linoleum, speakers, wash basins, faucets, pajamas, you name it, it’s probably there. Alethea came with me to help me bargain, which was great because I am horrible at it and I’m sure once vendors figure out that it takes me two minutes just to figure out what prices they’re spouting off, I’d be charged triple for anything. I managed to get away spending about 230 RMB for a bunch of good loot. I also got a giant bowl of yummy cold chow-fun noodles in this spicy sauce for only 4 RMB! That’s about 80 cents in USD.
During the Olympics, Alethea entered a drawing at the House of Switzerland and won a free Panasonic Digital Camera! She asked if I would go with her to the Swiss embassy to retrieve her prize and it ended up being a really fun trip. The Chaoyang District is a really upscale area where all the embassies are located. There are tons of foreigners, hotels, and big brand-name stores like Adidas, Steve Madden, and the new Beijing Mac Store. The architecture is really interesting and there are tons of small pubs featuring foreign beers like Budweiser and Corona (clearly, not the best foreign beers, but I guess it’s a nice break from Tsingtao). Walking around, you’d never guess you were in Beijing… with its tree-lined streets and well-kept storefronts, parts of the district could pass for certain areas of New York or Paris. There was an added bonus of passing the Olympic buildings on our bus ride there! I’m planning to go back at night because I’ve heard the Water Cube looks amazing illuminated in the dark, but the Bird’s Nest is quite impressive, even through a bus window.
Today, I gathered up my courage and headed out to see Tian’anmen Square and the Forbidden City alone! It was much less of an adventure than I’d expected, but a wonderful experience nonetheless. I chose Tian’anmen because it is really easy to get to by subway and very close to Wangfujing—a big area known for its street food vendors. Tian’anmen and the Forbidden City were very impressive and I was tempted to buy an audio tour, but decided to wait until Jason visits in October, hoping that he might be willing to share the cost since it is 140 RMB (!!!).
I wandered into the Imperial Temple and was told to buy a ticket to go in. I figured I’d check it out so that when Jason comes to visit, I could tell him if it is worth going in or not. It was only 2 RMB to go in, and it had a nice garden with temples for making ancestral sacrifices and housing the supplies for the ancestral sacrifices. The temples are huge and nearly everything is ornately carved or painted. It was also a great place to take tons of tourist pictures because there were hardly any other people, but the architecture is identical to that of the Forbidden City, so I got to take a bunch of cheesy self-timed shots without feeling like an idiot. Well, not TOO much of an idiot, anyway.
I was glad to know that Wangfujing is only a 10 minute walk from the Temple, so I set out for some lunch. Wangfujing is huge, but the area that sells street food is a tiny, crowded alley, littered with little souvenirs and shopkeepers who probably speak better English than my students will. I poked around a bit and decided on this egg burrito mushu type of thing that was like a big egg pancake filled with bean sprouts and tofu. It was so-so, I’d probably skip it next time and go for some of the yummy deep-fried fare they had. Next, I went for meat on a stick because—honestly—how can you ever go wrong with meat on a stick? I eyed the dried seahorses, starfish, and roach-type-looking things, and decided to go for the ambiguous white meat that cost 3 RMB. I’m guessing it was mutton, but whatever it was, it was tasty and I’d rather not ask questions when my taste buds are satisfied.
I’m starting to wonder what my purpose here in Wudaokou is. There are tons of foreigners here, mostly students at the various universities. Because of this, there are tons of nightclubs, bars, and the promise of drunken fun, sex, and cheap thrills is advertised in various Wudaokou publications and websites. I was reading that while this sentiment is prevalent among the foreign students, it is starting to spread and affect the Chinese students as well. I hope that I’ll meet the right people in my classes who will be interested in what I have to offer rather than engrossing themselves in the lifestyle Wudaokou promotes. At the same time, I was really encouraged by Jordan who reminded me that I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be… maybe my own experiences in college may be an asset to helping me connect with the students here.
Or maybe we can connect on our mutual love for meat on a stick.