Monday, June 21, 2010

Jieru is trying to make us more Chinese...

This picture is a joke.  It is from our trip to the Summer Palace.  We came upon this scenic lilly pad area of the lake in Summer Palace.  Jieru was showing us how to be "Traditional shy Chinese Women".  She posed for us and tried to get us all to try it.  You are supposed to turn to the side, sort of bend one knee suggestively, I guess to accentuate your butt? Or to appear weak?  I really don't know.  For a woman that loves to lift weights, that was funny to me.  Another direction was to avert your eyes by looking at the ground, with little or no smile on your face.  We all gave it a shot.

All of that is soooo not me. In fact, Sara and I have been given the dubious honor as being the loudest room on the floor.  I feel like I may be the loudest one in the group.  People normally know where I am if they just take a moment to tip their ear to the sky I can be tracked down.  Sara and I laugh quite a bit, and although we are enjoying ourselves, it could very well be annoying to others. Anyway, obnoxious American or not,  Jieru claims I held the pose quite well!  Don't hold your breath though, it remains very unlikely that I will return home transformed into a quiet, coy, shy woman.  I will continue to ga-fa loudly and stick my foot in mouth as usual.

Summer Palace was built under the supervision of Empress Cixi.  She took the money that was budgeted to build the military and instead built herself this massive summer home.  The Chinese people are not a big fan of hers.  The woman did not know how to follow a budget, but she had great taste!

The Hot Pot Restaurant

(From the left: Catherine, Sara, Javan, Sarah)

On Saturday, we stopped by a new 24 hour hot pot restaurant for lunch.  Typical of Chinese construction time lines, the space was completely empty and undone when we arrived a little over 2 weeks ago.  Yet, it was completely finished and opened about 9 days later.  We watched and commented on the progress each day as we walked past it on our way to the subway.
Jieru loves hot pot.  Today was a perfect example why it is so great to be here with someone from China.  The menu, and most menus are all in Chinese.  At other places we've managed to order on our own by pointing to the large beautiful pictures of the food.  We point and then indicate how many of those dishes we want with the fingers on our hand.  But at this place, there were no pictures.  Lucky for us, Jieru took the dry erase marker in hand and started checking off exactly what we would eat.  Like I said before, she is literally our mother in many respects on this trip.
Hot pot is a large pot filled with broth that boils on a hot plate at your table.  After picking what kind of broth you want, this one is mushroom and chicken, you order different things to put in it to cook, much like fondu places.

Now, I am not a huge meat person, but it this lamb not beautiful?  Jieru ordered lamb, beef, sweet potato slices, lotus root, (which was new to me and so yummy), something that I swear was SPAM, that none of us liked much, and two different kinds of tofu.  I never knew that tofu came in so many different forms.  I really love this one type of tofu that is like a wide textured ribbon.  It is nothing at all like the cubed tofu at home.  They eat that kind as well, but the other types are so much better. When we leave I will miss the ribbon tofu.  Jieru said that even at the Asian Market you can only get it frozen and it is not as good.

Once your food is cooked, you fish it out with your chopsticks and dip it into another sauce.  Ours was a sesame sauce that you mixed cilantro and minced green onions into.  We also had a minced garlic sauce.  They were both so rich and fresh.  I ate so much that I needed to lean back in the booth to relieve some of the pressure on my belly! 

We were all pretty pleased with the hot pot experience.  You may notice that we are all wearing aprons.  They actually hand these out when you sit down.  I guess you are more likely to drop something on your clothes with the hot pot meal.  I wouldn't mind bringing that tradition home to my house.  Those that know me understand that too many times I napkin is just not enough for this messy eater.  Catherine actually won the award in that case. She told us that she managed to still get some sauce on her pants even with the apron.  Maybe we could start a messy eater support group! 

Quick Post

This will have to be a quick post.  Our chair has been hijacked by Jieru.  She is getting her wedding pictures taken today.  So, right now she has a photographer, make-up artist, husband and friends in her room.  She needed some extra seating, so our chair was volunteered for the job.  I am typing this bent over our desk.  I may have not mentioned this, but Jieru has two wedding ceremonies to do after she finishes this class with us.  One will be in her hometown which will have pretty much everyone in the town attending. She said about 300 people.  " I won't know most of them." She told me on our hike on the Great Wall.  As part of the traditional wedding, she and her husband must greet each visitor and give personally serve each person a glass of wine.  "That is my least favorite part."

The red dress is a more Chinese traditional dress and I think she is wearing that one in her hometown.  The other is obviously more Western and will wear it in her husband's hometown wedding. Doesn't she look beautiful?

Friday, June 18, 2010

Community Center

Yesterday afternoon we took a trip to see a community health center.  This is an experiential community set up by the government.  It is based partly on a Mao belief that the people should be able to access 10 community services in 15 minutes.  It is called the 15/10 rule.    It is set up in two concentric squares.  The outer square of the community is high rise apartment buildings. The inner square is community stores.  They have 8,000 people living in this community.  This picture is of one pathway.

This is just our group listening to the lecture.

The apartments.

They have all of this beautiful fresh food at their grocerry store.  The whole store was just fresh produce.

As far as I could tell, this was the only available meat for the day.  People just came in and chose which one they wanted.  No refrigeration. No gloves.

This was in the park and recreation area.  The woman facing the camera is 95 years old.  She was happy to show us how to do these exercises.  You push your legs back and are basically leg pressing your weight.  I am constantly amazed at the health of the elderly here.  You see 80+ year old people all over riding their bikes places throughout the city.  Although this picture doesn't show her face too well, I would've guess her 72.

I really liked this model of living.  I guess there is a move to try and incorporate this idea more and more in the US as well.  Living in the community is very expensive though.   It is either 20,000 US or $2,000 US dollars per square meter to buy an apartment here.  Most rent.  The community also included a school, bike shop, hair salon, elderly cafe for special meals, etc.

Sometimes we go to these agencies and we just sit around a huge conference table and talk.  It was nice to be able to really take and in depth tour today.

I am a new woman!

So here is the thing, being in China has been wonderful, but after two weeks, some of us were starting to lose a little bit of our enthusiasm. The homesickness started to creep into our group.  Suddenly, talk of grilled cheese sandwiches and homemade tomato soup started to taint my mind,turning me against the wonderful food here.  Normally at home, Chinese food, even great Chinese food is at most a couple of times a week.  Eating it for breakfast, lunch and dinner started to make us all feel a bit maxed out.

Last night Susan made a miraculous discovery, there was a TGI Fridays in Beijing near the Olympic Park!  My roommate Sara hopped right on it and made it her mission to get us there.  She has turned into "The Public Transportation Guru".  She made a plan, knew where we needed to go and six of us headed out. 

The trip was made even better by the fact that we were able to see Olympic Park at night.  We took all kinds of pictures in the park.  Then we were able to find the hotel with the TGI Fridays awning hanging outside.  We squealed with joy like kids entering Disney World once that red and white awning came into view.

This is my favorite picture of The Bird's Nest.  I love how it was reflected in the water.  It is amazing as you walk around Olympic Park, all the road construction they did to accommodate tourism. Those roads now are just long empty stretches.  They are shut off from the city now.  So you can walk down these huge four lane highways like a massive sidewalk.
It gave me sort of an eerie feeling, like it was almost a ghost town or something.  They turn the lights off and shut the park down at 9pm.  I have found that really interesting about Beijing, they seem to totally run on "Kate Time".  I am so not a night person.  By 9pm, I am almost always ready to pack it in and go to bed.  Here it is so quiet at night, not at all like the big cities in the US, where things don't even get started until 10pm.  Apparently, the Chinese are working so hard, they either do not want to go out at night, or are still working at night.  Many of our students work for their professors until 11pm each night.

One of the things we were so excited to get at TGI Fridays was "real Diet Coke".  Here they have "Coke Light".  It tastes different and none of us like it.  So the first thing we asked our server was, "Do you have American Diet Coke?"  And she happily replied they did.  Sara, a dedicated Diet Coke drinker was thrilled.  This picture captures her utter disappointment when the server brought her the dreaded Coke Light!  Augh!  Oh well, the food was still amazing.

Susan is loving her Sesame Chicken!  Can you tell she is happy?

Javan, who loves food more than any of us, including me, which is saying a lot, was giddy.  She was digging into some fried macaroni and cheese.  One of our requirements was that we had to try to eat at much cheese as possible.  Most of us haven't had any dairy since we've been here.  We're all missing cheese, even the processed kind!

I don't have the picture, but Amy and the other Sara also split a huge brownie sundae.  I was too full to have much, but they did let me have a bite.  Yum!  Since the park had closed, we weren't sure how to get back to the subway, since the stop is inside the park, so we took a cab home.  All of us glowed with full bellies, renewed energy and a sense of accomplishment.  It seemed applicable that at the end of our week of discussing mental health and different theories and therapies surrounding mental health, that we took our own mental health trip to TGI Fridays and found it to be perfect therapy for our homesick hearts and stomachs.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Afternoon at the Silk Market and Random Pictures

This afternoon we went to the Silk Market.  Normally I do not like to shop, but let me tell you, here it is so much fun!  You get to bargain for what you want.  I am loving the whole process.  It goes something like this,
"Lady, lady you want silk scarf?  Come look at beautiful silk scarf!"  and they will sometimes grab your arm and pull you into their booth. 

If you find something you like, you pretend you don't and you ask them what price they want for it.
"This very good quality silk. For you, you my friend, normally I sell for 350, today, you my friend, 300."
I take the calculator and type out, 30.  They act shocked and upset.
"30!  No, no lady!  This real silk!"  then they grab back the calculator and punch out another number.  250.
"No, 30"
This goes on, back and forth. Then I walk out of the booth.
"Lady, lady!  Wait!  150!  I give to you for 150!"
"No, no, best price, no joking with me, give me your best price."
"No, no, I make no money 130."
I walk out again, now I am acting mad and annoyed.  They call me back a few times.  Then I say, "You are wasting my time.  I do not appreciate this!"
"Okay, okay, 35. "  Then a few grumbles, they stuff the item in the bag and I walk off.  Or sometimes, they enjoy the game too and as soon as I pay I say, "So, have you guys been busy today?"  And we slip back into civil talk and exchange pleasantries.  Pretty fun!

So maybe this is a little passive aggressive of me, but I have gotten some great deals for myself and for some of my friends. They sweat over it or get very anxious.  But I find it strangely invigorating.  I am loving it. No one is more surprised by that than me! It's like acting.  My family would never believe how take care I can be in the markets here.  It's like a sport and I am really enjoying it!

This is where we ate today.  We could not resist the pull of a sandwich!   After so many days of rice and noodles and all Chinese food, a sandwich sounded gloriously American.  Notice the spelling on the sign, "Courmet coffee".  We see theses types of typos all over the place.
Sara said I could put this on here.  Javan ordered a slice of chocolate mousse cake that was divine.  We are all so food obsessed.  Sara jokingly was digging into the cake. You can see Catherine laughing next to her.  We manage to have a pretty good time each day! :)

I just thought this was an interesting little thing worth noting.  Along every sidewalk and public walkway, you will see these special tiles.  They are for people who are blind.  They walk along the striped path, the dots signify a stop, whether it is a stop light, a bus stop or in this case, a subway stop.  Pretty cool.

This bird is chained to the stick.  They seem to use birds as a way of attracting people to their shops.  I felt pretty sorry for this little guy.  But is it worse or better than a cage?   I don't know.

Doorways.  I have this thing for doorways in China.  When you are walking along a main road, there are often doors that open up into other interior spaces.  They are like little windows into someones home.  Here are a few I captured today. 

A day off for the Dragon Boat Festival

Today we had a day off of class for the Dragon Boat Festival.  To my disappointment, there are no Dragon Boat Races or any other real events to see for the festival in Beijing.  It is a time where the Chinese people all go back home and visit with their families.  According to the Chinese students, it is a good time to bring a new boyfriend or girlfriend home to meet your parents!  :)

Since we had no family to visit, we went to the Lama Temple this morning. 
People come to the temple with large packs of incense.  They light the incense in a large burning pot.  Then they offer their prayers like these women are doing. They finish their prayer by kneeling on the pad you see on the ground, and then place the incense in another area to burn all the way down.  This symbolizes their prayers being sent up to the Gods.  It was beautiful to see all of the people kneeling and praying, the smoke of the incense swirling about their heads, I couldn't help but wonderful what prayers people were offering up into those circles of smoke.

You were not allowed to take pictures in the worship areas with the different Buddhas.  One Buddha was several stories high and made out of gold.  He was quite impressive.

This is a prayer wheel.  You spin the wheel and rub your hand along the characters and offer up your prayer.  Here is my irony for the day, I wanted Catherine to take a picture of me with the wheel, but guess who forgot to pray?  Yup, yours truly.  I felt like a shmuck about that.  "Yeah, get my picture with the prayer wheel.  Let's get an action got it?  Oh good!"  Whoops! Forgot to vanity I'm telling you!  It is embarrassing.

I am amazed by all of the different ways to pray, incense, prayer beads, food offerings to the Buddhas.  It is really a beautiful thing, to travel across the world and witness another form of worship.  I kept thinking of our trip with Kai, and how the monks at the temple we visited held a special blessing ceremony for the parents and children.  We were allowed to take photographs of it as well, which is not normal.  I couldn't help but think of that and indeed feel very blessed today, three years later.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Pictures of the wall

Okay, so now the pictures would upload.  This picture marks the end of this section of the wall. The wall behind me prevents you from climbing further.  After I took this picture 3 men from Columbia climbed up over the wall to climb more on the other side!
The woman waving is Jieru, our Chinese professor from IUPUI. She is awesome and has been wonderful on this trip.  I really enjoyed hiking the wall with her. I continue to learn more about the Chinese culture.  I cannot believe I still have two more weeks!  We've done so much already!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Forbidden City and Tian'an Men Square

Today started out right.  We took the subway, which I now love so much because it is clean and so easy to take, to Tian'an Men Square and The Forbidden City.   Once again, we were so fortunate to have Leo Meow (That is how her name is pronounced, I do not have the spelling for it) with us as a little tour guide. 

This building is the first of many on a long street right off of Tian'an Men Square.  We all squealed like obnoxious Americans when we saw the Starbucks.  I had to run inside and get something!  The highlight of the day was the clean bathrooms in the Starbucks.  It was clean, was a Western toilet,had hand soap AND paper towels! 
This is a what some of the street looked like.  Oh course bikes are everywhere and I love it.  While the best part of my day was probably the clean bathrooms, the worst was almost getting hit by a bus crossing the street.  Here is the procedure for crossing the street. 
1.  Get with a group of people.
2.  Watch the traffic and look for a gap the size of an inchworm
3.  Start walking and pray that the vehicles will stop.
4.  Say, "Oh Shit!" when they stop 2 centimeters from your body
5.  Put your hand on your chest and feel your heart start beating again when you get the other side.

Today, I literally spun in a circle like a human top on tip toes as we started crossing the street and some people then said, "Oh, watch for bus!"  I turned, and there was a flat faced bus about ready to plow me down.  I swear, I thought I was dead.  I didn't know what to do and various people were yelling but I somehow jumped and was not smashed.  Then #4 and #5 took place with a little added vigor.
This is my fantastic roommate Sara.  She bought an umbrella in the square because it was so hot and sunny.  We all followed suit.  So we were 10 American women walking around the Forbidden City with colored umbrellas.  We are now true Chinese is what we say, as Chinese women take umbrellas with them everywhere to protect them from the sun.  Sara also ran into a high school classmate of her on the sqaure.  Small world!

Javan and I thought we were clever to let Chairman Mao join our little photo between us.  (He begged us to do it and who says no to Chairman Mao).
After the Forbidden City we went to the Laoshe Teahouse. Which is a famous tea house in Beijing. We saw a little bit of Chinese Opera and some Kungfu.  Here is part of our group.  Leo Meow is in the pink Micky Mouse Shirt.  She had never been to a show before. Watching her enjoy it was probably the best part of the whole show for me! 
Here I am with the host of the Tea House.  He was showing me his picture in a big Beijing Magazine.  I told him he was so famous!  He liked that! 
I will try later to post a little video I took of the music that was played on traditional Chinese instruments in the lobby.

We are off to the Great Wall today. I am so excited to take a tour bus where I will have a seat the entire time!! :)

Friday, June 11, 2010

Pearl Market Today

I am so happy I can access the blog!  Other people helped me get around the block here in China, so I will try my best to post at least a little bit.

Today we were to go to the Pearl Market.  Honestly, I almost stayed home.  I hate to shop and the last experience I had in Guangzhou was scary and overwhelming.  After a week of classes on some pretty heavy material, I felt whiped out.  BUT, I also didn't want to miss out, I I bit the bullet and went.

I am so glad I did too.  We took the subway, which was awesome!  One of my goals coming here was to feel comfortable and confident taking public transportation by myself.  I think I can really say that I can do all three, cab, bus and subway. The bus is the hardest because there is no English anywhere.  So we really need a student with us for that.  The subways were so clean and easy to navigate.  I guess they are really new.  I feel such a sense of pride each time we go out by ourselves and manage to get where we need to go.

I think it is about time for us to head out to dinner, Beijing Noodles.  YUM!  I have to laugh that I was so worried about the food, but the Peking University students have totally showed us around and now we know just where to go and what to get.  I cannot wait.  I have been eating so much.  Many of my pictures are of the food!  I will post more later now that I know I can get on!

Friday, June 4, 2010

"So kiss me and smile for me..."

"...tell me that you'll wait for me, hold me like you'll never, let me go.  Cause I'm leavin' on a jet plane, I don't know when I'll be back again, oh babe, I hate to go..."

Gotta sing a little Peter, Paul and Mary for the occasion.  Today, in about 3 hours, I leave for China.  I will meet the rest of our group of 10 at the Indianapolis airport.  I am completely ready to go.  I've been packing and making lists like someone with OCD for the past week. 

I thought maybe you might like to get to know the rest of the group just a little bit, so I'll share one of our little ice breaker activities with you to give you a feel for the group.

Susan Larimer, one of our leaders posed this question:  "If you had to chose to a super hero name for one of your special talents, what would it be?'

Susan -hers would be that she can write in cursive backwards and upside down.  I forget the name she gave herself.  Susan's daugher will also be joining us for the trip.
Catherine-"Frugal Fanny"-apparently she has a knack for stretching a dollar. 
Claire-"Concensus Maker"- she can get people who disagree to see each others' side and come to an agreement.
Sarah-"Pop Culture Whiz"-knows all there is to know about current pop culture.
Me-"Look Alike Girl"- it seems no matter where I go, people seem to think I am someone they know, unfortunately, I'm not.
Jill-I cannot remember what Jill said, but the girl has the most perfect teeth I've ever seen.  We'll call her "Miss Chicklet".  She's also the youngest on the trip.
Amy-"Time Bender"-she and her husband own 2 businesses, she just got her PhD, teaches in 3 different cities and a few other things.  That woman can manage a clock.  She is also my roomate.   I am hoping she rubs off on me.
Javan-"Foodie"- She loves to cook and try new foods.  She is also really good at helping ease other people into tryin gnew flavors and dishes.
Jieru-Our other fearless leader, who is also Chinese-"Hard Worker"- She told us of her time in high school and all of the hours she put in studying from early morning until late at night for 6 years in order to do well on the national exam for college.