Thursday, August 7, 2014

The Doom of Finals and the (In)Famous Sanlituan

      Finals are upon us! It is crashing around us like a hurricane. We have battened down the hatches, closed the doors, and are clinging helplessly to the flickering light of our computer screens. We know that only a nights worth of fervent studying and the caffeinated aid of coffee will get us through this ferocious storm. But fear not for there is a light at the end of this tunnel, for tomorrow once the storm has passed and we can all relax again, we shall be released from our language pledge!
      In other words, I had the first portion of my finals test today, the writing part. Which means my wrist is still aching from writing pages upon pages of characters. Tomorrow is the oral portion of the test. All we have to do is just talk about one of 5 topics for a certain point of time. Then after that we have the Graduation Ceremony where we are officially released from the language pledge and we can speak English again. Seeing as I have already finished writing the essay that I will use for this I decided to give myself a nice break. I'm going to use this break to tell you about my adventures in a well known part of Beijing called Sanlituan.

     Sanlituan is one of the most expensive parts of Beijing and probably the most westernized. The reason being is that there are many ambassador offices and residences in the area. It's also a very popular Ex-Pat area so there are plenty of westerners who work in Beijing for one reason or another that live there. But, that is not why Sanlituan is famous. It's famous for two reasons, 1) it has a really nice sort of out door mall area with loads of name brand stores like Calvin Klein, Hollister, American Eagle, and plenty of other really expensive stores (Oh and Starbucks which is pretty much the only store I could afford), 2) it has a lot of very popular bars, clubs and karaoke spots and is a go too spot for many of the young people who come to China. I have had the privilege of experiencing both sides of Sanlituan.
     I experienced the first with a good friend of mine from school. We had just finished tackling the Silk Market where my wonderful friend earned her weight in gold bargaining with shop owners for souvenirs. Her tactic was to look and sound as pitiful as possible and keep insisting on how expensive the plane tickets were and how we don't have much money but we really want to by X because it would be such a great reminder of our time in China. It was masterful, really. I couldn't understand everything she was saying (she is fluent in Chinese) but it sounded pitiful to me and certainly worked in convincing the shop owners to give us fairly cheap prices. So after that triumph, laden with souvenirs for myself and my family, we went to explore Sanlituan.
     Driving to the shopping area of Sanlituan (I think it's called the village) I instantly knew we were in an area drastically different from where I had been living for the past two months. There were intricate and twisting skyscrapers, bridges attaching different stores on multiple stories, a fountain, a luxury car show, and a Starbucks (otherwise known as Heaven on Earth). There were westerners galore and most of them were dressed to the nines. My friend told me that many of the people our age or younger are children of ambassadors or children of people who work for ambassadors. We even found a two story book store with books in English and Chinese. As a self-professed book-aholic I was particularly excited about this. So my first impression of Sanlituan was fun but outrageously expensive, even for American standards. However getting to have Starbucks for the first time in weeks was magnificent.
     I experienced the second thing that Sanlituan is famous for (bars, clubs, and karaoke) several weeks later. We went with a bunch of other CET students, all of whom needed a break from the stress of daily life at CET. Gallantly off into the night we went, our first destination was a bar called Smugglers. It was small, and almost had a bit of a pub feel with lots of bulky wooden tables and benches, small rooms, plain walls except for the many names and messages scrawled by previous visitors from around the world, and one short counter right by the entrance where people were crowded around ordering drinks. Once there, we sectioned off into our smaller groups. My friend's roommate was nice and bought us all several rounds of beers. We just talked, laughed, and hung out. I let the atmosphere sweep me away from the stress of classes and the general frustrations of life in Beijing. Instead, I was just another student with her friends having a good time, not thinking about vocab or proper grammar or the upcoming test. We spent the rest of our night walking through Sanlituan, having fun at karaoke at several other clubs.
    We didn't return to CET till late in the night, or I guess you could say early in the morning. We were tired, disheveled, and utterly happy. My friend's roommate even went out of his way to tell us what a fun night he had had which was very sweet. Ultimately, it was just a great night to let loose and enjoy being in China and being young.

     Well that's all for now. Once more unto the breach dear friends, once more! AKA I need to get back to studying.
      With the graduation ceremony tomorrow (Friday the 8th) and a whole weekend ahead before I leave for the states on Monday, I hope to have at least one more post up before I leave for that States. However, we'll see how that turns out.
      Until then be safe, be happy, and remember

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Chinese Barbeque

       This past weekend I had the privilege of having dinner at my friend’s house and experiencing my first Chinese barbeque. I also got a really nice look at what live is like for an average family in Beijing.  
      My friend picked me up from the school midafternoon on Saturday and we took the bus out to her family’s apartment. Thankfully there is a huge bus station very close to my school and once we got off the bus he apartment complex was right across the street. So, overall it was incredibly convenient.
    That’s actually one of the things I really like about Beijing. The public transportation systems are all fairly user friendly and easy to figure out. With one card that I have so far only had to reload once, I can use the subway and the bus systems. Without the card, the bus cost 40, which equates to about .06 US cents, and the subway costs 2, .30 US cents, so not only is it convenient but it’s also super cheap.
     But anyways, I spent some time at my friend’s house and got a chance to meet and talk with her parents a little bit till it was time to go to her uncle’s place. It was a roughly thirty or forty minute drive from where we were.
     The Uncle’s house was in what is considered to be Beijing’s suburbs. Here, there weren’t buildings upon stacked on top of each other but they didn’t have the same kind of cookie-cutter housing developments that are so prevalent in the states. Instead, it was an interesting mix of apartment complexes and strip malls. The apartment that we want to was on the first floor of the complex and had a tiny little patio where we ate. But it also had two floors much like you would see in a house with a small little staircase connecting the two. Overall, it was a beautiful apartment and very nice to be some place that wasn’t a dorm or a restaurant.
            Now for the most important part, what was the food like? I will tell you right of the bat that Chinese barbeques aren’t like American Barbeques. We didn’t have burgers or hot dogs. There was no beef in sight and not even the slightest scent of ketchup. But that was perfectly fine because everything was still mouth wateringly delicious. However, the factor that separates it the most from American barbeques is what was used to cook all the food. Instead of a hulky metal beast of a grill and a galloon of gasoline to match (because those both take up a lot of space and are really expensive), they used a small metal box sort of thing. At the bottom of this long rectangular box, that was open on the top and on either end, they put wood and coal or whatever else to start the fire and then they would balance the skewers of meat or veggies or whatever else on the ridges. Or they would put a small grate over the ridges and places vegetables or breads on there to cook them that way.
            The main part of the meal was lamb, lots and lots of very delicious lamb. I don’t know what kind of seasoning they put on it but it probably some of the best lamb I have had in a very long time (sorry dad). Also probably had about ten skewers of it. It really didn’t matter how many times I said “我吃包了”(I’m full) they just kept giving me more and more food. There was a time when I was literally hold four skewers of lamb. My friend’s aunt was especially accommodating, telling me several times to eat as much as I want, to consider her home my home, and making sure that all of the food I ate stayed clear of any spicy ingredients or sauces. Besides lamb we had a lot of grilled vegetables, my favorite being grilled sweet potatoes, and this type of bread grilled and salted that was super tasty. Our cold dish options were very extensive as well. My favorite was this potato salad sort of dish that was very American cookout-esque.
      Something else that was different from all the American cookouts that I’ve been to is that no one ever stopped cooking. Even when we left they were still putting shrimp and corn on the grill. So instead of cooking everything before hand than eating around a table after words, we were all just gathered on the little patio talking, as someone else would cook. Then they’d put a bunch of hot off the grill lamb or shrimp on the table in front of us and keep cooking while we chowed down. So not only did I have a lot of food, but basically from about six till about nine I was just eating and eating and eating. It was fantastic and most definitely the best meal I’ve had in a long time.
      I left feeling full and happy. It was really nice seeing what life was like for the average Chinese family and really great to talk with someone that wasn’t a Chinese student or one of our teachers. I know it was incredibly kind of my friend and her family to share their home and food with me, even for such a short time, and I am so very grateful.

      That's all for now. I'm going to have that Sanlituan post up soon I promise. Until then be safe, be happy, and remember 

Monday, July 28, 2014

To Pass The Time

"Two more weeks! Two more weeks!" I constantly chant to myself as my time here in China slowly comes to a close. This adventure has certainly been an amazing experience but I can't seem to stop daydreaming about my beautiful campus and a bed that feels more like a mattress and less like a concrete slab. Talking with my fellow students, I don't seem to be the only one who feels this way. As much as we love China and learning Chinese, many of us are hitting a wall and are now counting the days till we can return to the states. But, to make the time go a bit faster I'm going to tell you about our Midterm trip to An'Yang and a different side of China that we got to see.

   What is An'Yang, you ask? Now, I'm not surprised that you don't know. I myself have never heard of An'Yang before my time here. An'Yang is a smaller, more typical Chinese city. It's not as developed and not as touristy as Beijing, which is why no one has heard of it. Why, then, you must be wondering did we go to An'Yang if there is nothing to see? Ah, well that is where you are wrong. Inside the city itself, An'Yang may not be much to look at, but there some truly remarkable destinations just outside the city. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's start with day one of our weekend excursion.

THURSDAY July 10th -
    Midterm completed, brains weak and limping, the students here at CET piled onto first a bus than a bullet train for a total of roughly four hours before reaching our destination. We got to the hotel around 9 at night, and immediately saw the difference between Beijing and An'Yang. An'Yang is noticeably smaller and less developed than Beijing. There were less cars and more bikes and, surprisingly, more pollution. Our hotel was...fine...comfortable, but the bed was still concrete-esque (I've come to the conclusion that the Chinese people have an aversion for soft mattresses), however we had the most important thing of all air conditioning so we were content. We spent an hour or so wandering around the neighborhood looking for a place to eat, however none of the surrounding restaurants didn't quite suit our fancy so we opted for snacks instead. Then, exhausted and rung out from our early morning test, we went to bed.

FRIDAY July 11th -
    Up at the ungodly hour of 6am, my roommate and I prepared for a day of sun and sweat. Our itinerary for the day; an early morning hike of Wang Xiangyan Mountain in Taihang Canyon than in the afternoon we were going to hike through Peach Blossom Gorge. So, we anticipated a lot of walking, sweating, and exhaustion.
   After a two hour bus ride from our hotel to the Wang Xiangyan Mountain, we piled through the gates of the Canyon and began our ascent. At first, all the CET students were clumped together, moving as one big mass through the bridges and up the stairs. But as the inclines became gradually more and more steep, and the climbing more treacherous we separated into smaller and smaller groups. I ended up in a small group of four that consisted of myself, my roommate, and my two friends Eric and Kiera.
Our first look at the mountain range after getting off the bus
The gate into the Canyon
There were a lot of gorgeous wildflowers around the gate
to the Canyon so I took a picture of one with the
mountain in the background.
 Climbing up the mountain was probably the greatest test of stamina I have experience so far in my 20 years of life. Though the climbing itself wasn't hard (we often had rickety stairs up the sides of the mountain or metal ladders with wooden planks) it was just a very long climb, which made it so challenging. However, for the most part, the most challenging section of the hike was at the very beginning. Once we were past that it was almost like a leisurely stroll through the mountainside.
Important direction on how to climb up the mountain.
Go up the climbing up path.
A shot of one of the less rickety
staircases we had to go up.

And success! We climbed up half
the mountain.

Most of the rest of the hike was like
this or just stone pathways. 

Ran into my boyfriend during the hike.
Unfortunately he's a bit of a statue when
it comes to taking pictures.

      There was one other portion of the hike that was particularly challenging. That was the ridiculous I’m-not-going-to-even-attempt-to-guess-how tall staircase we had to climb up to get to the top. Till then we had just been walking over stone paths and admiring the beauty of the canyon with its glimpses of waterfalls, and the mountain range in the distance. Then we encountered that staircase. Now, at my school (JMU!!!) we have what we like to call the Staircase of Death. It’s somewhere between 5 or 8 staircases to get from the football field to the road that goes through campus. However, in comparison with the gargantuan thing I climbed in An’Yang our Staircase of Death is a mere step stool. Despite its height and more than a handful of students refusal, my friends and I continued ever onward/upward (wells…sans my roommate). 

Ladies and Gents, the Staircase to Heaven
Also note, you can't see the bottom in this picture
because I wasn't able to get it all in one shot.
My roommate, right before she decided
she wasn't exactly keen on climbing up.

"Mind your safety"
Thank you helpful sign, because I was totally fooling around
and being careless on this staircase 20 feet above the ground
before I saw you.
      The first half of the staircase wasn't bad. I figured out a useful tactic that gave me both security and speed, however, about halfway up I started regret my decision but I had no choice other than going up just to get off the damn thing. But, never fear I (obviously) made it to the top with no problems. However, that was not the last feat I had to conquer on this epic hiking trip. Next was the (drum roll please)....zipline! That's right, there was a zipline across the entire gorge...canyon...thing and I rode it.
    Earlier, before we had climbed the staircase of the gods, I had seen the zipline from the bottom of the ridge. I had marveled at the bravery of the people I saw riding but never, for a moment, entertained the thought that I would get on it as well. However, once we got to the top we were led to believe that the only way down, other than the staircase, was to take the zipline to the other side and go down an alternate path. So, the zipline became our only option because none of us had any desire to go back down that god awful staircase. 
    The picture below can give you a taste of the expanse of the gorge and the zipline across. You can also see the staircase in the background, so it kind of hints at how high up we were. 

A shot from the other side.
I did it!
    Being on the zipline was amazing and terrifying and beautiful. With the thick orange straps wrapped around my thighs and middle attached to four thick wires as the only thing keep me aloft I whizzed across the gorge. My heart hammered in my chest and my hands clutched the straps for dear life, but I made sure to take in as much as a can with my eyes. During those few short moments across I made sure to really think about what an amazing life I have. Here I was, twenty years old, in China riding a zipline across a Mountain gorge. I'm pretty lucky. 
   So remember how I said that we took the zipline because that was the only way down? Well we were wrong. So we still had to climbed to gargantuan staircase back down. In my opion, climbing down was much worse than climbing up. It felt longer and we had many more students on at one time so I could here the creaking and clacking of the staircase as we made our decent. But, obviously, we survived and had a casual stroll down the other side of the mountain and onto our air conditioned buses.

   There isn't much to say about our next destination, the Peach Blossom Gorge, besides the fact that is probably one of the most beautiful places I've been in my life. None of my pictures can really capture it's beauty but I sure tried anyways. What you see is only a handful of the hundreds of photos I took.

     Our first day in An'Yang cam to a close after Peach Blossom Gorge. Back in the city we were able to find a good restaurant for dinner. Then I took a shower to wash off the dirt and sweat of the day and collapsed into bed. That's how you know you're really tired, when your concrete slab bed actually feels comfortable.

SATURDAY July 12th
    We woke up at the more reasonable hour of 8 o'clock and after breakfast and checking out of the hotel we headed off to An'Yang's museum. This museum is famous for housing an exhibit of what is called the Oracle Bones. The Oracle Bones are the oldest recorded form of chinese writing and from this ancient script you can trace the origins of current chinese characters. In other words, they're super cool and super old.
     Looking at these old characters is especially interesting because they look so much more like pictures than the characters we have today. For example the old version of 女, which means girl, looks a lot like a woman praying. However, my favorite character is probably 心 which means heart. Not only is it very easy to write, but if you look at it's original form (the picture below) you can distinctly see a heart and two hands. I especially like this because it reminds me a lot of an irish claddagh which is a very important symbol in irish history and culture. So seeing the similarities between what I was studying and something that's a huge part of who I am was really cool.

心 heart in ancient Chinese
       After the museum our next stop was Chenghuang Temple which is a small and very pretty temple in An'Yang. There, a local performance group of adorable old chinese women did a bunch of cool dance numbers for us and even let us dance along with them. Then they pulled out a bunch traditional chinese toys and games for us to all try. We spent a solid couple of hours just in the little temple in the middle of a random hutong just laughing and playing and dancing. It was a lot of a fun and a great way to end our time in An'Yang


Me attempting to learn their dance

We're all so confused, but still having fun.

      We left An'Yang the same way we arrived, by the bullet train! But what's interesting about the bullet train is that in less popular stops it only stays for a very brief time. So we had 2 minutes to get 60 kids from the platform and onto the train. Several minutes before the train arrived we lined up in our carriage spots ready to dash onto the train as soon as the doors opened. However, we didn't anticipate that there would be people getting off the train as well, so this severely depleted our time. So there we were, 60 kids, watching anxiously as person after person calmly gets off the train as our two minutes tick away. Thankfully the door to the carriage on down from ours was pretty empty and at literally the last minute we all dashed on and squeezed our way into the train before the doors closed. Thankfully, no one was left and we all made it back to the beautiful Beijing.
     As much fun as I had at our destinations in An'Yang I've decided that I really much prefer Beijing. Beijing is much more developed and lively, there are many more places to go and things to do and, for what ever reason, I felt safer there. So as cool as it was too see a little bit of what life was like in a less developed city, I definitely like being in Beijing better. I have to tell you, when we walked out of the train station and saw the wonderfully familiar cityscape of Beijing we were ecstatic. 

    So that was our midterm trip! It was lots of fun and a good break from the daily pressure of classes but unfortunately I am now back in the thick of homework and tests. With two weeks left to the program we are quickly coming to the peak of our classes. Next Friday is the final and it's sure to be even more brain numbing than the midterm. However, thankfully we have an entire week of review before that happens so we should have plenty of time to relearn everything...or learn everything.
    Speaking of homework, I should probably get started on mine now. I will have a new post up very soon about my adventures in a famous area of Beijing called Sanlituan very soon. 
     Until then be safe, be happy and remember


Friday, July 18, 2014

Weekend Adventures and Other Fun Shenanigans

I am terribly sorry for taking so long to update you all on my adventures. Between class, homework, exploring Beijing and still trying to find time to sleep, updating regularly has been proving difficult. But, to make up for my lack of updates, today I am giving a "masterpost" (as it is often called in Internet Land) of these past couple weeks and the amazing adventures I’ve been having. So, without further ado....

FRIDAY JUNE 27th - A Stroll Through The City
    If I remember correctly, this day was the first day in several that the sky was blue and the air was clear, so my friends and I decided to take advantage of this rare occurrence and head out into the city. With our student survival guide in one and hand a bottle of water in the other we began our exploration. Our first destination was Beijing's national library. It is a short walk or one subway stop away from our school so we figured it'd be a neat local attraction to visit. 
   Some interesting facts about the National Library of China. Apparently, this is the library to go to. It is the biggest in all of Asia and one of the largest in the world. So being the self-professed book lover that I am, I felt it my duty to see what this literary monument had to offer.
   The result? Well, I didn't read much, mainly because none of us wanted to go through the trouble of acquiring a library card (which you needed to actually read any books) but it was indeed HUGE and apparently home of some of the most comfortable chairs in the world. When you first walked into the building you were met by a huge wall of glass windows that looked into this large room of books and tables with many people studying, reading, and sleeping. Directly to your right is an escalator taking you up to the next floor, a short ride on this quickly revealed the expanse of this place.

The pit of books
    As you can see in the picture above, they weren't joking when they said this was one of the largest libraries. But, if you don't think this is impressive let me tell you, this is only one part of the library. There were other rooms and hallways that we didn't explore as well as a whole other building.
   So, seeing this ginormous library and all the people working at tables I thought of my library at JMU and how which ever floor you are studying on hints towards the urgency and amount of your work load. With this library, I imagine you must be pretty bogged down with work if you choose to sit in the center of this pit.

   While exploring the second floor we stumbled upon a whole hall of chairs, all filled with people sleeping in them. The must have been some of the comfiest chairs in the world because nobody looked like they were getting up any time soon.

The front of one of the library's buildings

    So after we had see our fill of the huge hall of books and comfy chairs, we made our way down the road to the Bamboo Park, or Zi Zhu Yuan Gong Yuan. This park is a beautiful refuge from the hustle and bustle of the city. With it's cluster of bamboo patches, stone walk ways, arched bridges, and lakes covered in lily-pads it was really nice to just causally stroll through the area.


    We spent most of the day just walking around, talking, and admiring the beautiful landscape. It was also a lot of fun to see other local Beijingers going about their daily life. In China, and especially cities like Beijing, parks are an important part of the culture. Though many are marketed as tourist attractions, it seems to me that their primary purpose is as a way to escape the roar of the city and relax. It seems especially important to older people and their daily lives. We walked by so many groups of older men and women doing taiqi and dance routines and playing all sorts of card and board games. 

A view of the river with the city scape behind.

Random little disney world, smack in the center of Beijing.
Not quite like the original though.

       This park is one of my favorites that I have been to so far. The Temple of Heaven park was gorgeous but I loved this one because it was so peaceful and not very crowded even though it was Friday and the weather was beautiful.

They even had a little fishing area for locals.
       We strolled the day away until we were all tired and our feet were sore. But despite the aches and pains we opted to walk back to campus as opposed to taking the subway. Along the way we stopped at some sort of noodle fast food restaurant that Max was familiar with, they had several of them in California and he said it was very good. 
       The restaurant was crowded and full of people so while Max and Eric waited in line I saved a table for us. When it was my turn to get in line and order I had prepared exactly what I was going to say to order my food, I have master the art of pointing at menus and using exaggerated hand gestures. However, the lady at the cash register went of book and suddenly I had no idea what she was asking or what I was supposed to say. She wasn't exactly a patient sort of person, plus it didn't help that a line was quickly piling up behind me. Thankfully, a kind stranger come up next to me and told me what she was trying to ask so I was able to return to use the correct hand gesture to indicate what I wanted. 
      After dinner, and a nice rest in the air conditioning, we headed back to campus to prepare for the next day, when we would be climbing the Great Wall of China.

SATURDAY JUNE 28th - The Great Wall - Take 2
     The Great Wall of China! As those of you who have been following my blog know, this was my second time going to the great wall, but I promise you it was an entirely different experience from what I had before.
     At the way too early hour of 8 o'clock myself, my roommate, and all the other CET Students stepped out into the already burning heat of the day and onto a bus. The ride from campus to the wall took roughly 2 hours, most of which I slept through on account of it being so early and all. Once we arrived at the bottom of the road that would take us to the wall I quickly realized it was the exact same placed I'd been before. The portion of the wall I have now visited twice is called Mutianyu and is one of the largest and most well preserved portion of the wall. 

My roommate 舒放 (shu fang)
and my friend Mario as we wait
to begin walking towards the wall.
A map of our section of the wall
    After several of us purchased lunches and water at a nearby Subway (yes, theres a Subway restaurant even at the base of the Great Wall) we were told when and were to meet and set loose on the Great Wall. It was then that I understood, we were actually climbing up to the Wall. We didn't have the luxury, like I had previously, of taking a cable car up, instead we climbed up stair case after stair case after stair case to get to the wall. So now I can actually say I climbed the Great Wall.

stairs upon stairs upon stairs

Our first sighting of the wall!

So close, the wall is so close
        Within a couple yards of the wall, and at the top of the mountain we decided it was lunch time. For me lunch consisted of a loaf of bread and dried cranberries. Not exactly five-star cuisine but it was fine at the time. Plus, the sweltering heat (it was upwards towards 90 degrees) and the climb had taken my appetite for anything but water. Then, once we'd munched our fill. It was time to clamber over the last stretch before we were actually on the wall.

Victory! We made it!
舒放,Kiera, and Eric

Where in the world is my JACard?
Showing my JMU Pride

CET was here!
     Tired, sweaty, dirty, and filled with accomplishment we meandered our way down and away from the wall, got on the bus, and made the 2 hour journey back to the school, officially all of us a Hero of China!

FRIDAY, JULY 4TH - 798 Art Gallery District
    After surviving another week of classes and our 3rd test, we went off into the city to explore one of the more unique portions of the city. It is a district in beijing that once was a bunch of factories built by East Germans. Today it house one of the leading concentration of contemporary art galleries. It's this really cool area. It's like an eclectic, factory, neighborhood, where you have no idea what you're going to see when you turn the corner but you do know it will be something cool. And the art wasn't restricted to certain buildings and corners. It was everywhere, hanging from the street, lining the sidewalk, carved into the walls, and sitting on a table. The whole are was chock full of statements, and thoughts, and ideas made visible. No, I'm not going to say I liked or even understood all the art that I saw there (and I only saw a fraction of the whole district) but I did appreciate it. Especially in a country that is so controlling about the right of expression, seeing a whole district dedicated to turning thoughts and feelings into things you could see and touch I thought was truly amazing.
   In terms of the pictures I took, I'm not big on photographing exhibits (for me taking pictures kind of depletes the meaning of being about to actually go and see it in real life), whether they be museum or art or what not so I don't have many pictures here. But what I'm putting up is, I think, an interesting sample of what 798 had to offer even outside of the exhibits.

This is from the first exhibit we saw.
It's a horse completely made out of

A typical street lined with graffiti murals
An interesting mural depicting Chinese and German relations
These graffiti suit men where everywhere. They gave me
the sense of always being watched and controlled.

Interesting combination. On one side you have a child
crying behind bars, on the next you have Captain America.

It's a

An outside view of some of the exhibits. Here you can
definitely see how it may have looked when it was still
an operating factory.
Then...there's a plane wing, just chillin'

I'm just gonna leave this here for you guys

This translates to, not interesting.
My friends and I took it as the Chinese version of
"Nothing to see here" which is, of course, ironic as it was in
an art gallery filled to the brim with things to see.

      When our exploration of 798 came to a close my friends, Eric and Max, and I ventured off to another part of China to meet with Eric's roommate. One of the many things that makes CET such a strong language immersion course is that part of the program is being assigned a Chinese roommate who is there for you to practice talking with and give you tips about how to improve, 24/7. However, up till that point, Eric's roommate had been MIA. He had a lot of things to take care of since he was graduating from university and wasn't able to move into the dorm till several weeks after the program started. The day before he moved in he decided to take us out to dinner with some of his friends.
     We went to another portion of the city that had a surprising number of westerners, I think it is because there are a lot of universities and schools in that area, and experienced our first Chinese rush hour. The picture below shows what the subway looks like during rush hour in Beijing.

Ladies and Gentleman, the legendary Beijing Rush Hour

   After, making our way through the waves of people, meeting up with Eric's roommate Ethan, and by some miracle finding a Taxi we made our way to the restaurant. It was a family style sort of place with lots of students and people around our age. There we met several of Eric's classmates and had a really nice dinner. We were there for a solid couple of hours just talking and laughing. Ethan order loads of food (roast duck and dumplings included of course) and made sure we always had at least some beer in our glasses. Ethan's friend April told us about her plans to study in America this coming semester and we talked about the differences between America and China. All in all, it was really great meeting some other Chinese students and getting to know more about what it's like to grow up in China and live in Beijing.

    We left the restaurant around 10 and, with Ethan and his friend's assistance, got a taxi to take us back to the subway. Now up till that point we had had no trouble what so ever when it came to using the subway. Beijing's subway is fairly user friendly and even has a lot of english so non-chinese speakers can easily figure out where to go. The only catch, is that it closes at 11pm, which we had forgotten. And while trying to get back to the school from the restaurant we ending up going the wrong direction twice. The first time was the station we had met Ethan at. I, with my terrible sense of direction, trusted Eric and Max that we were going the right way. However, thanks to a small subway map lent to me by my roommate, I realized we were going the complete opposite direction we needed to. So we got off and walked around the station to get on the opposite side. This seemed like no big deal until we got off at the transfer and saw dozens of locals sprinting through the station to the trains. It was there that I remember one of the teachers at CET saying how the last trains leave at 11pm, and it was 10:45pm. We joined the sprinting masses, quickly finding the line we needed and dashing through the station. Downstairs and around a corner, our train was there and we dashed on with only seconds to spare before the doors closed. But just as the train was leaving the station we realized that we, once again, had got on the wrong side. We got off at the next station, fingers crossed that another train was coming. Thankfully, with 5 minutes to spare, we made the last train of the night and got back to our dorm with a fun story to tell.

SATURDAY JULY 5th - Another Park
    Saturday we opted for something a little more low key, so we decided to explore Beihai Park. This is a park in Beijing that is more famous than the Bamboo park we had gone to the week before. To prove that, it was much more crowded and you had to pay to get in. The park it's self was beautiful and interesting with a sort of pagoda in the middle as well as a buddhist temple. But, in all honesty I prefer the Bamboo park to Beihai.

The very pretty lake at the center of the park

It's the forbidden city

Prayer cards from the Buddhist temple

The apparently famous 9 dragon wall that we just
stumbled upon while trying to find the exit

SUNDAY - JULY 6th - Hot Pot Shenanigans
     That Sunday one of our teachers took my classmates and me to get a tradition chinese dish called Hot Pot. Now, I have had hot pot before and loved it so I was certainly very excited, but my classmates weren't entirely sure about the whole concept so my teacher wanted to show them how amazing it can be. I like to say Hot Pot is a little like fondue, except replace the cheese/chocolate with boiling water or oil or some sort of spiced water. All you do is decide what you would want to eat, stick it in the water for the appropriate amount of time and eat it. 
    We went to a popular mall a couple subway stops away from our school, and while waiting for our seats got a chance to wander around some shops. Overall, it was a very fun and tasty break from the mountains of homework I had been wading through earlier that day. 

Aren't we adorable

Well that's all for now. Keep an eye out for my post about our midterm trip to An'Yang and prepare yourself for loads of pictures.

Until then be safe, be happy, and remember