Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Lines and Cutting Corners

A lesson quickly learned here, is nothing is ever simple. A quick walk to the bank, to exchange money, turns into a merry-go round of which no money actually passes into my hands. Instead, I am tossed from person to person, like a ping-pong ball, all the while repeating the same four words 我要换钱(Wǒ yào huànqián) as if they will deliver me from the circus I find myself being a part of. 

The issue seems to be that you need a passport to do anything of importance here, and yet they were quick to take away my passport within the first few weeks in order to apply for a resident visa. The bank won’t accept the numerous photocopies I have, though the resemblance is striking, since nothing will do unless it is run through by their own hands. This leaves me in the loop of having lots of money yet none at all.

Thankfully it is very cheap to eat here and seeing as that’s where the bulk of my money goes I am doing just fine. We have a cafeteria here 食堂(Shítáng) were you can buy heaping bowls of rice, noodles, and a variety of other dishes. It is very foreigner friendly, they will only yell at you in Chinese the first 3 times and then give up, and if you can muscle your way through the crowds you’ll do alright.

That reminds me of something else important I must mention which is there is no such thing as “lining up”. If you line up for food, for the subway, or for your visa application, you’re a sucker.
This rule also applies to the little store by my classroom that sells snacks and drinks to fatigued students during our breaks. The first few days I lined up to get my delicious bread; which is a combination of cornmeal, chocolate swirls, and heaven. I waited in line for about 10 minutes and by the time it was my turn there was hardly any selection and class was about to start.

Once I finally caught on, and headed straight to the front for my food, I realized it is supposed to be served warm! The added warmth which I imagine is fresh from the oven, but most likely is just micro-waved, makes it taste ten times better. The other day as I was zoning in towards my personal snack a man actually stepped out of the way for me and let me go ahead. This made me feel a bit guilty, and I ate my food much slower that day. I now prefer a combination of waiting in line, but moving ahead when the opportunity arises.  If others really don’t know what they want to eat, who am I to rush them?  I will politely go in front and make my selection while they wallow away their precious time.

My quick synopsis of a day in Beijing wouldn’t be complete without mentioning a few of my classmates. I’m in a class with 24 other foreign students, and we are split evenly when it comes to the amount of guys and girls. My seatmate is from Australia and we get along really well. We always are performing dialogues for the class which he hates but I find quite fun. I make it up to him by always having the biggest part and asking the questions, so he really has nothing to complain about.

In front of me sits Igor, from Russia, and he is hilarious. He has this heavy accent that becomes more pronounced when he speaks Chinese so whenever he can’t say a word he just says it louder, and LOUDER.

Last but not least, to my right is a girl from the Philippines who draws during class when she’s bored but instead of making happy faces, or squiggles, creates detailed fantasy characters. I’m half in awe, half in fright of what she draws.  

There’s a lot more I could tell, but I’ve yet to meet everyone on a one-on-one basis. We do group excursions to 798 Art Distinct, and WangFujing, so I’m slowly meeting everyone and trying to remember all their names. I definitely think though that we have one of the best classes and it makes learning Chinese that much better. 

Monday, 10 September 2012

Hello Again

Hello All!
This is mostly a note just to say “Hi” and put your mind at ease about my abrupt disappearance. This is my second week living in China and so much has happened. The days are these odd conglomerates of study and vacation. The weekend does not seem so different from the weekdays, and it’s playing topsy-turvy with my head.
I have finally set aside some time to write, read, and take a break from life in general.
I’m over my head cold and feel in good health! I signed up for a gym membership, and plan to go at least twice a week; this way I’ll keep my body active and be stronger in case any other type of illness tries to attack me. I’m even lucky enough to have a personal trainer, named Shaun, who is basically forced to be my language partner when I exercise. He speaks to me a bit, but laughs at me mostly, than tries to crush my spirit by making me lift heavy weights and do repetitious drills. One day, I will be strong enough to throw him across the room but until then I must grin and bear it.
My classes have started and I’m really pleased with them, they’re fast-paced but not overwhelming, and I have really good teachers. My main teacher, who is a male, speaks completely in Chinese which might have scared me before, but now I see it more as a challenge to overcome. He gives us plenty of chances to speak, and to write characters on the blackboard, which reminds me a lot of elementary school.
In fact I feel very much like a little kid again, I have to remind myself to be patient and to be easily entreated. I know repetition is what solidifies what I’ve already learned, and makes it easier for me to grasp new concepts, but it can be hard to remember when I’m still writing out characters I learned 6 months ago. Yet like always, the Chinese characters amaze me in the many uses of one character and how one slight change in the pronunciation can give it a whole new meaning. For example, in my Chinese name Měilè (美乐) the second character lè () means to be happy, but pronounced without emphasis le () it’s a word particle used to indicate a completed action. So depending on how you say it, you are either paying me a compliment on my temperament or insulting my reputation.
As you can see there are a whole bunch of mispronunciations just waiting to happen and it’s pretty funny when they do. When eating out with others I’ve met in my dorm, or on campus, we swap stories. Since most of us don’t have a fridge we tend to eat out a lot and gather together in big groups. I’ve made friends with two Italian guys, who are hilarious, and will most likely be the stabilizers of my life in Beijing. My closest classmates are from Sweden and Australia. I make fun of the latter because when he pronounces “A” I swear it sounds just like a perfect “I”. He says it was impossible for him to order water when he traveled in the U.S. and I’d believe it.
 My roommate as I’ve mentioned before is from Mongolia and we are getting along great. She has started classes, and I even help her out with her homework now and then. When I washed my sheets, and had nowhere to let them dry, we devised a plan that basically turns our dorm room into a tent fort. We hung strings from the door to the window and then hung the sheets horizontally to make a type of roof. All we needed were marshmallows and hot chocolate and we would have been camping.
 I’ve also met some of her friends who are very sweet but hardly speak English as well. One of the first words one of them said to me was我爱你 which startled me so much that I’ve decided to now stick to English whenever I’m around him.
Life is good though, and I’m very happy to be here. There is still a lot of changes happening but at a slower pace. I have a new phone with a Chinese number and I’ve survived the subway station! I must say that after that experience I’ve felt much more confident, but I still don’t know if I'm brave enough to ride a bike, that might still have to wait a couple of weeks.  

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Somethings in the Air

The last couples of days I have been attacked by a nasty cold. At first I thought it was just the result of an impulse decision to go to all-night karaoke right before leaving Taiwan, but it’s been very persistent.

Asking around, that is until I couldn’t anymore because of the hoarseness of my throat, I found out is a relatively common thing for foreigners here. As you’ve probably guessed it’s a result of the pollution in the air.

Some friends told me that they were warned beforehand by respective governments or embassy’s but not me, I get the joy of experiencing it firsthand. I’ve been advised to try a ton of remedies from drinking raw eggs and milk, to tea and special concoctions. I have done my very best to refuse while all the while acting very interested.

I think I am on the last leg of the sickness since I can now breathe through my nose, and I only sniffle every once in a while. The worst part was the beginning when my throat hurt too much to swallow, and I imagined my vocal chords slowly swelling up until I wouldn’t be able to get any air in. That was a bit of a rash judgement but you’re prone to exaggeration when you feel ill.

  On top of all that I had to redo my physical examine because I only had photocopies and not the originals. I desperately tried to act like a normal human being and not give anything away. I’m glad I had already done it so at least I knew what to expect. The Swedish girl I was with was quiet shocked when it came for the ECC since she wasn’t warned that they would take your shirt off.
Being poked and prodded, surprisingly, didn’t make me feel any better and I promptly went back to my dorm to take a rest. I’ve been sleeping and napping a lot lately due to the mixture of the hot temperature, and demands of registration; registration here is an extensive 2 week process. I was able to find Tylenol and faithfully rationed out the 10 pills to last me the longest time possible. I was also fortunate to get a very kind roommate.

My roommate is from Mongolia, and doesn’t speak English or Chinese. I was stuck on what to do since even Google translate failed me. Eventually we just used the language dictionaries she brought alone and word by word asked each other questions. We are now comfortable enough to speak to each other in our own language and jus assume the other will understand. Once she starts studying Chinese it will be a lot easier to communicate, but for now we are enjoy each other’s presence and broken sentences. I explained best I could that I had a cold and she promptly brought over her supply of medicine. Most of it I recognized from sleeping pills to nose drops. The latter I was coerced into using and after vainly struggling I gave in. Right away I felt like sneezing but I stopped myself and in no time it cleared up my sinuses. I had a very restful sleep that night and I owe it all to her.

I have to say though that there is one bright light amidst all the gloom and that is I have lost my acute sense of smell. This is extremely helpful since the public washroom facilities are not exactly on par with western standards. For the most part I am not bugged, and by the time all my faculties are restored I will be too grateful to complain. Any day now I should be back to normal, I really hope that day is soon!