Archive for the ‘what I’ve learned’ Category

10 Things I’ve Learned in a Semester

Saturday, July 14th, 2012
  1. As the obnoxious travel quote goes: you can’t travel happy, heavy, and cheap; pick two. I’ve done week-long trips with a light backpack. It’s the best feeling, knowing you can grab a few things and go wherever you want. 
  2. The more absurdly inconvenienced you are, the more important it is to laugh. Beijing is full of situations like this. Also, I recently found out that the city-wide shift change for taxi drivers is in the middle of rush hour. Why change all the drivers at once? And why at that time of day? 
  3. There’s a flip side to issues I once thought were incontrovertible. How China views Tibet. Whether  people should be able to vote to elect their president. I could give you a more rounded perspective on these topics in ways I would never have thought at the beginning of the semester. 
  4. Slightly related, but I found out the other day that only a little over 30% of Americans have a passport, which scares me more than the upcoming election, actually.
  5. Bring your own shower shoes. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD. 
  6. Bargaining! I love bargaining. I want to write a book on the psychology of it. For example, if a vendor thinks you’re going to overestimate the price of something, s/he will let you speak first. So when you ask how much, the vendor will say “how much do you want to pay?” The lesson here: take the price that you were thinking and say 1/4th of it, because it’s probably not even worth that. Actually, just saying “5 kuai” ($.75) is a better rule. BUT here’s the tricky thing. If a vendor says the price first, she holds the power of suggestion. So if she says 500, you bargain it down to 100, you think you’re getting a good deal, because you think it’s worth 500. It’s not. It’s probably worth about 5 kuai. Don’t kid yourself.
  7. Lychee Martinis. 
  8. Communication isn’t based all on content. Context, gestures, tone of voice… all of these are ways I get around because, guess what…
  9. Chinese is really hard to learn, you guys. Even if you try to speak it for a semester and have a two hour class every morning. Two years of study, and it took me 3 tries to get the lady to undersand my pronunciation of the word “green” when I bought green tea yesterday. 很麻烦。
  10. Travel is for me. It’s an enormous, beautiful, gross, uncomfortable, lovely, crazy world. And I want to see more of it.

This will be my last post for this blog from China. It’s been fun to write, and I hope you’ve enjoyed reading. And as always, I love getting comments. Even from you, Mom.

Also, if I know where you live, I probably sent you a postcard! I paid the lady at the post office for postage, she set the stack of postcards to the side of her desk without looking at where she put them and went right back to her computer without comment. I stood there for a second to see if she’d oh I don’t know, at least stick some stamps on them, but then I remembered that I was  trying to get customer service in China (in a bureaucracy no less! haha!) so yeah I  just left. Behind her desk were literally hundreds of overflowing sacks of mail. I sent the postcards about four days ago, so expect to get yours… never. Good luck.

Speaking of luck, I have an hour and a half to get off the plane in San Francisco and get on my connecting flight to DC. I say this only to leave you with the image of me, sleep deprived, busting it through the airport with a clanking tote bag full of tea. You’re welcome.

P.S. I’ve been using Google Analytics on this blog. I’ve been pleasantly surprised with how many people from all over the word have read it. One side note. 25% of you are using Safari, and 8% are using Internet Explorer. Guys…

10 Things I’ve learned in a month

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012
  1. When people make the HRRRRCCCGGGHHKK noise indicating they are about to spit, your immediate reaction will be to whip your head around to figure out what sort of human could possibly emit that noise. DO NOT DO THIS. Spit is eminent either way. The only thing that will happen if you watch is that you will actually see it fly through the air. Fight the urge to look. Today at the bus stop, a woman in her 70s spit about 2 centimeters from my right shoe while I casually looked left.
  2. The word “keyi” (可以) is the best. Say there’s a crazy line at the grocery store. One lane is empty but the cashier is counting cash and looking angry… Just say to her 我可以?(can I?) and it turns out, she says 可以!You can! You buy those Oreos. You deserve them. Bonus: if you ask a question with this word in it, people will usually use the same word to respond. So if you ask “can I do this?” the person will usually say “you can’t, Mandarinmandarinmandarin” but that’s okay, because you got the first part. Just raise your eyebrows and nod while saying “awwohhh” or something similarly noncommittal.
  3. Someone told me today that there are about 200,000 foreigners living in Beijing. Does that seem like a  large number to you? Because to me, that seems INCREDIBLY SMALL. Sure, it’s about 50x the size of my university, but there are a lot of people in Beijing. A lot.
  4. Which brings me to this. In America, the amount of space around your body that you would consider your “personal” space is directly related to the number of people around you. If you’re not in a crowd, I would estimate that space at around an arms length, and there’s a bubble that surrounds you outlining that space. If you’re in a crowd, maybe that bubble shrinks to about 6 inches. In China, whether you’re in a crowd or an empty sidewalk, your bubble ends where your body ends. You don’t have a bubble. If you aren’t physically occupying airspace, it’s definitely not implied as yours.
  5. You can buy Skippy’s peanut butter here in Gogurt-like tubes for 1.5RMB ($0.25), which is amazing, however a small box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch is around $10/box. Bummer.
  6. Red bean is in everything. I honestly don’t remember seeing red bean at all in the US, maybe I just missed it? Anyways, it’s the filling for every desert dumpling, pastry, and bun you can imagine. That roll that kind of looks like it might be cinnamon? Red bean. Think that bread has chocolate in it? Okay, take a bite then. It’s red bean. Order a matcha milkshake (green tea)? They put red beans on top, right next to the whipped cream. That was the first time I actually saw those little guys not in a paste from. They’re really tiny, a little smaller than black beans, and sweeter.
  7. Our culture class professor told us yesterday that his generation (he is 29) considers Mao to be about 70% correct and 30% wrong. His parents and their generation are quite different; he said when he took his mother to visit Mao’s Mausoleum, she started crying about 100 meters from the building and was inconsolably sobbing by the time they actually got to the body because she was so moved.
  8. Beijing used to have insane underground tunnels! Check out this craziness. 
  9. Taking the bus is ridiculously easy! With your metro card, a ride is either 0.40 or 0.60RMB… I don’t remember which, but either way falls somewhere between a nickel and a dime. The stops are well announced both in Chinese and in English. This afternoon, there were several empty seats, but when a father and son got on with grandma and grandpa, two different girls around my age stood up from their seats and insisted to the grandmother 坐 巴 坐 巴! (Sit! Sit!)
  10. Watching small children (please note that by “small” I mean up to and including 10 or 11 year olds) go to the bathroom in public is a jarring experience, but not for the reasons one might think. The other day, as we were headed into our favorite bakery (to buy food that was inevitably full of red bean) I watched an adorable little girl pop a squat and urinate on the sidewalk in front of the shop. Okay, fine, just remember to avoid that spot. But then, you have to think: how many children are there in this city? And how often a day do they have to go to the bathroom? And that’s when you realize that the boots you’re wearing won’t be coming home with you.

Ten things I’ve learned in a week

Thursday, February 23rd, 2012
In no particular order:
  1. It’s expected that you bring personal tissue with you everywhere you go. For example, the cafeterias have no napkins. On the daily, I have a backpack with: wet wipes, TP, tissues, and “handkerchiefs,” which are basically paper napkins. To figure out which to get in the grocery store, I stood in the tissue aisle until a Chinese person came by and picked one off the shelves, and then I immediately bought two.
  2. Grocery bags are 0.10RMB each. If you don’t understand what the check out lady is asking you when she’s asking if you want to pay for a bag, people behind you will get a little antsy.
  3. Actually, if you don’t understand any question, it’s really just best to make a non-commital “hrnn” noise until the person just decides for you. (Please note this is not a foolproof method for getting what you want).
  4. Chinese elevator doors close very quickly.
  5. In class, we learned the word for “guess” (as a verb). This is very useful for when you don’t know how to reply to someone’s question. If a cab driver asks you where you want to go, just say ni cai cai! (You guess!) (Also not guaranteed to get you what you want.)
  6. Tsinghua is an extraordinarily good school. Hu Jintao went here. No joke! Hu Jintao! There are around 14,000 undergrad and 14,000 grad students. Most students here are taking 20-30 credits a semester. I didn’t see an open seat in the library when we went today. They were studying before classes started this Monday. We were talking to one of our Chinese “buddies” (a program run through the Foreign Student office), who’s getting his doctorate studying renewable energy through agricultural waste.
  7. Chocolate milk tea is AMAZING. Milk tea is pretty good… basically sweet milk with some tea flavoring. But chocolate milk tea? Just so good. It’s hot chocolate, but with a cozy, warm, spicy thing going on. Also one of the few things I’ve ordered on the first try without pointing to anything!
  8. As someone with a catastrophic sense of direction, I actually have a really good handle on which way is North at almost all times. A lot of street signs have an arrow designating 北 , and I guess when I’m on campus I’ve stared at the map so often that I can kind of orient myself. My map is in Chinese though (and inexplicably from 2006), so this internal compass does not necessarily mean I find my destination.
  9. Many times, when you get change under 1RMB, they come in bills. If you try to pay using a 5 cent bill instead of a 5RMB bill, nobody will be amused. Although coins are definitely still in use here, it’s kind of nice to have to cary less of them.
  10. When crossing streets, find someone holding a baby, or an elderly couple. Stick to them like glue, because when they go, drivers might give a vague thought about slowing down, possibly. Look to your right, then left, then right again, while keeping an eye to your left. Holding your breath is acceptable. When you’re across, it’s encouraged to feel proud of your survival skills.

PS. I figured out how to allow comments that don’t require a UMW email address… so feel free to comment!