Monthly Archives: September 2008

Happy Autumn Festival!

This weekend I joined the Chinese masses and went outside, stared at the moon, and thought about my family while I scarfed down some yue bing (moon cakes).  Johnson and Sunny invited me out to enjoy the Autumn Festival with them at the famous Summer Palace.  This was the first time I got to celebrate it and- appropriately- I did think about my family as I stared at the burnished moon as it rose over Beijing.  I thought about my mom who is now on Skype 24/7, either because she’s always waiting for me or because she just hasn’t figured out how to sign off.  I thought about my dad who works tirelessly and was probably just waking up to start his 6am day as I was out eating dinner.  I thought about my amazing sister who exceeds me in maturity any day.  I thought about my unique brother whom I could probably write novels about– whom I think about while on the bus or train and start laughing uncontrollably while onlookers ponder my sanity.  Of course, I thought of Jason who was probably scarfing down the same moon cakes (and avoiding the yolk, which I actually don’t mind) and all of my extended family and friends back home.  So I guess you could say this was my first real Autumn Festival… in every sense of the word.

The Summer Palace is HUGE.  According to Johnson (who printed out a 10-page guide to the Summer Palace for me, complete with a map and info on each landmark), it is 700 hetacres large and about five-sixths of it is water.  It was really crowded when we went because everyone had gathered to look at the moon, but was still lovely and a welcome escape from the metropolitan landscapes we’ve all grown accustomed to.

They were great and patient tour guides and taught me a few more phrases of Chinese and I tried to teach them how to pronounce “hetacres.”

In any case, here are some of the highlighted photos from our outing.  Enjoy, and Happy Autumn Festival!



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School, Paralympics, and Karaoke

My first week of school was certainly eventful and one of the most humbling experiences I’ve had in a very long time.  I’ve learned a few things—most importantly, if you put everything before Dad, he provides faithfully.  I can’t believe how much he has provided in this one week and the anxiety I was feeling only a week ago regarding my purpose here and my ability to teach and be a light in this city.  Here’s a bit of how it went down:

Sunday night, I was tossing and turning all night and got one of my worst nights of sleep since I arrived in Beijing.  Every time I went to work on my lesson plans or calendar for the semester, I got nauseous.  I was very anxious and even though I talked to Jason and to Dad and both assured me that everything was going to be fine, I was still scared about how I may come off since first impressions are very important in Chinese culture.

The first day of school arrived and the entire morning as I went through my routine, I was in constant mental communication with Dad, asking him to be present in my classrooms and in me as I met my students for the first time.  Well, needless to say he was there before me because while my first classes were challenging and exhausting, they went off without a hitch.

My first class is the “self-sponsored” class—meaning they are mostly about my age and are paying out of pocket (parent’s pockets, really) to be in class.  Other teachers told me  to expect them to be friendly and enthusiastic, but not necessarily try very hard in class since it’s like an elective course for them.  My other class, however, is a government-sponsored class filled with professionals—engineers, doctors, professors, scientists.  One of my students was telling me that he majored in architecture at Tian Jin University and some of his fellow alumni were the brilliant minds behind the Olympic Bird’s Nest and Water Cube!  It’s amazing to see learn more about my students and hear more about their backgrounds and their vast knowledge of Chinese culture and also see their deep hunger to learn English so that they can continue their research and continue their work abroad.

In the midst of my lesson-planning/teaching chaos, I got to go to TWO (yeup, count’em… TWO, baby!) Paralympic Events!  If you want to talk about humbling, it is difficult to find a more humbling experience than watching the Paralympics.  On my first day of school, I went to wheelchair basketball with my sisters who got free tickets.  To call it inspiring would be an understatement.  It was also my first taste of real Chinese patriotism, which, if anything, is really entertaining!  Chinese fans of course support their own team with the most enthusiasm, but are great sportsman and clap for both teams when they score.  It was also fun to be proud of the US for once and to be one of the handful of people supporting our country’s team.

I also attended the rowing event with three students and my friend, Lynn, who had extra tickets.  The rowers are mostly blind and sometimes have an able-bodied guide depending on the event.  It was a great opportunity for them to practice their English and for me to learn some Chinese.  It was a really blessed time of fellowship and getting to know one another.

Sunny, Vincent, and Johnson also invited me out to a class “party” to celebrate Teacher’s Day.  Well, I was not about to turn that down, so I accepted their gracious invitation.  I was expecting us to just go to a restaurant after the Paralympics and have a nice dinner, but when I asked Sunny where we were planning on going that evening, she said, “We will go to a place where they have a lot of food and you put it on your plate…”

“A buffet?” I offered.

“Yes, yes—buffet.  And there are many rooms to sing… uh… how do you say?”

My face went blank.  You’ve got to be kidding me… we’re going to KARAOKE?

We were indeed.  A HUGE karaoke establishment, actually, where there was a reception desk on the bottom floor and four floors of karaoke rooms and buffets.  It was such a surprise, but when I arrived, I saw my entire government class sitting on these black leather couches eating and singing like it was their j-o-b.  I’ve heard that the Chinese take their karaoke very seriously, but this was beyond anything I’d imagined.  Alas, my camera ran out of battery right before I got a shot of my architect student rocking out with the tambourine.  The majority of my class weren’t great singers, but what they lacked in talent, they certain made up for with expression, passion, and VOLUME! Some students would make small speeches before belting out their favorite song, welcoming me to China and wishing my time here to be enjoyable.  Some said that they were glad that I was their teacher because they enjoyed my lessons.  Some just wanted to explain that the strange man with the mullet I saw singing on the screen was from Mongolia. No matter what they said, I lifted everything up to Dad and was so grateful for how much he provides for me and how he even prepared this class before my first day of teaching to receive and welcome me as their teacher.

As we sang our last few songs (including the ever-popular “My Heart Will Go On”) and made our ways back to campus via bus, I looked around and my heart swelled with joy and gratitude.  Thank you all for your thoughts and support… I know that this week could not have been as meaningful or blessed without your thoughts!


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Cilantro by Bicycle

Some of you may not know this, but I am myself a big blog junkie.  One of the first blogs I ever got hooked on was a food blog (helloooo, my Skype name is gracelikespies, for pete’s sake!) called Chocolate and Zucchini.  Chocolate and Zucchini is written by an adorable French lady named Clotilde who proclaims that the best way to experience a different culture is to go grocery shopping.  Boy, is she brilliant.  If you think about it, it’s not something anyone would think to do while on a vacation or assignment in a different country, but it completely makes sense.

Today, I was rattled by the pre-first-day teacher jitters and was holed up in my apartment all morning.  After four hours of writing, rewriting, revising, and rethinking my lesson plan and calendar for the semester, I decided that enough was enough and took out my trusty bike for a ride around town.

This is the first time I’d been out on a random ride during daylight, so I noticed a pathway that ran along a small ravine and decided to venture down it.  To my surprise, a few minutes later I was in front of a huge market bustling with lots of locals.  DING DING DING JACKPOT!  This usually means lower prices and, sometimes, better produce.  It was such an experience!

I didn’t want to be an obnoxious tourist so I withheld every urge I had to take pictures of everything and made sure to buy produce from every stand I did take pictures at.  I managed to get by with the little Chinese I know and even met a really sweet girl selling peppers who was convinced I was Chinese until I explained that my mom and dad are from Korea, but I’m American.  She told me she went to Korea for 1 month and when I asked if she knew any Korean, she said (what else?) “Ahnyonghaseyo.”

The spice lady who I bought some mushrooms from thought it was hilarious that I wanted to take a picture of her and her stand, but smiled big for me anyway.

I arrived with just over 10 RMB and spent almost all of it, but got a ton of groceries!  Next up—I’ll experiment with some recipes.  I’m thinking of making a green grape, orange, and cilantro salad with honey and salt.  Then a chicken broth soup with mushrooms, onions, cilantro, red pepper and noodles!  I’ll let y’all know how they turn out… and hopefully eating all this cilantro will finally keep the mosquitoes away.

P.S.  The blue skies were short-lived… we’re right on back to gray, gray, gray, and even a little brown.  BROWN!!  Oh, goodness… brown skies are not natural.

P.P.S.  I almost forgot to tell you about one of my new favorite people in Beijing.  Unfortunately, I don’t know his name, but he is referred to as “Number 67” where he works.  It sounds nuts, but he is a foot skin specialist of sorts.  The photo I have here is of him scraping the dead skin off of my feet (yup, those are my stubby calves).  He said he is 20 years old, but Dana told me she thinks he’s 17.  In any case, he alone is worth the trip to Wudaokou… I’ve already decided I’m taking everyone who visits me to see him.  An added bonus—he can cure ALL foot ailments!  There are more than you think, believe me!

P.P.P.S.  I start teaching on Monday!  Please keep me in your thoughts and I’ll let you know how it goes!


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I know it probably doesn’t seem like a big deal…

… but I went to the Korean grocery store yesterday.

I think I could’ve cried walking in.  There was a frig filled with Kakdugi and Kimchee, shelves stuffed with Boocheem Kalu, and even this new Korean version of Furikake– one that was Bulgogi flavored!  Yup, I told Jason about that one and he almost cried too.

In a little way, this is just another example of Dad’s provisions in an unfamiliar place.  When I was living alone in Santa Cruz, I rarely ever made Korean food, but seeing it here was such a comfort.  Mmm… tasty, tasty comfort.

Oh, one last thing– they sell Spam.  REAL Spam!!

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Photos: Adventures in [Bird’s] Nesting

All right folks, so here’s the deal.  My computer can’t upload photos onto blog posts so Jason has been uploading photos onto separate posts that correspond with the most recent entry.  I hope you don’t mind bouncing back and forth between posts, but I know how much more interesting blogs are when there are pictures and pretty colors.  Enjoy!

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Adventures in [Bird’s] Nesting

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.

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