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Got a bit busy with the holidays, but finally wrapping up my final week of the challenge, from Tangshan!

Tuesday, November 22nd
After waking up multiple days with neck pain, I thought it would be appropriate to make my first trip to a Chinese chiropractor recommended by a friend. Having been to a few chiropractors in the US, I found the experience quite similar yet overall less comprehensive than past experience. Instead of taking x-rays and asking about my lifestyle, I just pointed to where it hurt, got a massage, an adjustment and was given some magnesium to ease muscle tension. The massage was a nice component, which I have never received in the states, as well as the doctor being bi-lingual (since he also practices in California.) However, I only spent a total of twenty minutes with him and was quite shocked to get a bill over 700RMB! I’m interested in visiting a more traditional office, but my Chinese isn’t good enough to go without a friend to translate.

That evening I attended Carol Liu’s inspiring documentary, Restoring the Light, about rural blindness and healthcare issues in China. The movie was exactly what I needed, a good cry and reminder of problems bigger than paying too much for the chiropractor. Professor Scott Rozelle from Stanford also gave an insightful talk about healthcare and priorities, illustrating for example, that eliminating one-third of China’s budget to reach the moon could fund vitamins, food and worm detection for all of the children in western, rural China. In my eyes, the event also highlighted another theme of local culture; China’s discomfort with allowing foreigners (or anyone) to highlight social issues. More than one Chinese audience member responded on the defensive to Professor Rozelle’s statistics regarding rural poverty and healthcare, citing that Obama’s healthcare plan also didn’t make significant strides in solving US healthcare issues. It’s unfortunate that this is the message gleaned from such fieldwork, but addresses some of the sensitivities present in beginning to accurately diagnose social problems in China.

Wednesday, November 23rd
I had the pleasure of meeting up with Malaika Hahne, the new Executive Director of Little Flower Projects. She took me out to their orphanage in Shunyi, where I was incredibly impressed by not only the facility and organization of the center, but the compassion and dedication of the staff. Although each ayi is responsible for two babies, many of the staff seem to know each child intimately. Malaika’s compassion to help these children was genuinely heart-warming, and her efforts seem to be paying off, as Little Flower Projects is making quite a name for itself in the local community. Nothing puts a smile on your face more than holding a little smiling baby.

For lunch I had a locally-sourced lunch made from Chef Sue’s trial-run dishes for a future class, and hosted a charity cooking class at The Hutong.

Thursday, November 24th
On Thursday I either completely lost my mind, or decided that I really needed to go all out during the last week of the challenge. Fighting off the urge to go across the street to Jenny Lou’s for soymilk and kitty litter, I ran in the freezing cold to Jinkelong. The run back ended up being much colder and difficult than I expected, and it took all I had to waddle home clutching my bag of litter with both arms and freezing hands.

Thursday night was Thanksgiving, which I celebrated with a group of expat and Chinese friends; turkey and gong bao ji ding was quite the combination!

Friday, November 25th
I spent the morning biking around the city doing errands and buying supplies for a corporate holiday party. In the evening I met up with Joel Shucuat from The Orchid, who introduced me to the social networking wonders of WeiXin. I spent the night leaving voice messages, throwing bottles out to sea, and shaking to find friends. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, check out the WeiXin app, it’s a great way for foreigners to make Chinese friends and practice their Chinese! We also snacked on some local Hainan chicken while Joel frantically arranged dinner preparations for the guests at his hotel.

Saturday, November 26th
I taught in the morning and was informed by the school nurse that there was 500+ API…perhaps the most polluted day I have experienced in Beijing. I waited til the air cleared a bit in the evening, and went on my last training run before the half marathon. I know I shouldn’t have run, but it was my last reasonable period of free time before the race. Although I noticed the cold a lot more than the air quality, my clothes reeked of coal when I got home. This was the first time I had noticed the pollution is such a tangible way, and was quite disheartened to think about how much Beijinger’s lives are affected by the poor air quality.

Sunday, November 27th
On Sunday I was a real expat. I helped plan a traditional American birthday party alongside my co-workers, which included homemade birthday cake, baseball and rugby in Chaoyang park and flipping burgers at The Filling Station in Shunyi. It was incredibly fun and decidedly UN-local.

Monday, November 28th
On Monday I recruited my friend Tom Pattinson to show me his favorite Shaanxi restaurant around the hutongs where we work. We chowed down on their famed roujiamo and dumplings, which was perfect a perfect meal for a cold winter day. That evening my friends arrived from the US and we had a feast at Jing Zun duck restaurant. Eating local is quite ful-filling!

Tuesday, November 29th
On Tuesday I became tour guide for a day and took my friends to Dong Jiao Market, one of my favorite spots in Beijing. I showed them around some food stalls, the wet market and tea warehouse. During an extended tea ceremony we bought way too much tea and learned more about Nanjing greens, Taiwan oolongs and Huyi Shan blacks. They liked the black and oolongs, while I preferred the greens and whites. It was so fun to briefly introduce friends to the Chinese tea culture I love, and pick-up a bag of awesome An Ji Zhejiang cha. That night we also had hot pot on Gui Jie!

Wednesday, November 30th -END OF CHALLENGE
Appropriately, I celebrated the last day of the challenge with KTV! The Hutong staff and I donned Santa hats and rockstar gear and belted out tunes from Michael Jackson to The Carter Sisters, to which my Chinese colleagues knew the lyrics better than I. Chinese culture never ceases to amaze me.

Thursday, December 1st
I promptly went to Jenny Lou’s and loaded up on Silk soymilk and cereal, the two things I missed most during this adventure.

Saturday, December 3rd
I headed off to Shanghai to run in my first Chinese half-marathon. Race day was a story within itself, but overall the race was a big success and despite gaining a few pounds, my predominantly Chinese diet did not prevent me from crossing the finish line with a personal best.

Conclusion:
I think it’s pretty obvious that my lifestyle is far from local. Throughout this challenge I bounced between feelings of guilt and satisfaction, but overall feel content that this personal quest helped me reflect on my expat lifestyle and motivate me to seek out new experiences in the capital. I realized that while I loved living in the typically Chinese city of Tangshan, it’s the ability to choose between western/international and Chinese options that makes me most content about living in Beijing. However, this experience made me miss my Chinese “hometown” so much that I’m writing this conclusion from a brief visit back to Tangshan.

To sum up my experience, I thought I would give a few tips gleaned from living and traveling for nearly two years in China, for us lao wais who want to have a more local China experience:

1. Learn basic Chinese. Although I haven’t taken formal classes, I often carry around a dictionary, notebook and ipod full of Chinese lessons. I can’t tell you how much more fun China becomes speaking a bit of Mandarin. Learning Chinese doesn’t have to happen in a classroom; I prefer getting one-on-one Chinese lessons from taxi drivers, masseuses, shop owners, co-workers and even my elementary-aged English students. Start with pointing in markets and go from there!

2. Make Chinese friends…but how? Cheesy as it sounds, lots of normal and friendly local Chinese use social networking sites like WeLiveInBeijing, BJ Stuff and The Beijinger to find language partners and friends.

3. Spend time in a smaller Chinese city. It’s nearly impossible not to learn more about Chinese food, hobbies and language if you live in a place with far less foreign exposure, and there are a variety of solid programs that will assist you in this experience. My friend Robbie Fried runs the Chinese Language Institute in Guilin, which I would highly recommend for this type of immersion. http://www.studycli.org/ Additionally, Tangshan is only two hours east of Beijing, and private English centers there are always looking for foreign teachers; I would be happy to connect you!

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Happy International Women’s Day! (Sorta a bigger deal here than in the US, nice!)

So a friend of mine recently left China, I bought her bike, and have been whizzing around town ever since! The weather has been sunny and relatively pollution-free lately, and it’s not freezing, so I have really gotten a kick out of biking to work and around town. Biking in Beijing is certainly more dangerous than in Tangshan, but I’m still amazed at how well bikers are accommodated in this city. I mean yes, you are biking on highways and sharing a lane with commuter buses, but there’s literally a bike lane everywhere and cars are always (ok, mostly) letting bikers have the right of way. It’s more efficient to bike than any other mode of transportation, and I already feel more productive and active!

Sunday night was quite a personal biking adventure. After work I had a planning meeting for International Women’s day, and had offered to supply dinner. You should’ve seen the sight. I had a backpack on my back, a bag full of donations on my left arm (that I kicked with each pedal) and a basket filled with salad and topped with a pizza box. I balanced biking with my right hand and held the pizza onto the basket with my left. Luckily the ride was a short one. Hilariously, no one batted an eye at me, since many Chinese balance a heck of a lot more on their bikes every day! My arm was sore the next day from the awkward position, but that’s a small price to pay for transporting so much precious loot.

Today I was quasi-off work and spent the morning checking out the progress of the first events email I sent in Beijing to highlight the different projects I have been promoting and managing here. It’s certainly not perfect, but I have received a lot of great support and feedback, and look forward to using this tool for additional promotion! Afterwards, I biked to The Bookworm’s literary festival to see authors Emma Donoghue (author of Room) and Christos Tsiolkas (author of The Slap) talk about the issue of taboo through their texts and life experiences. It was a great presentation, as the authors eloquently commented on issues like homosexuality, physical violence as a child-rearing technique, the family, and even the appropriate age to wean a child from breast-feeding. I felt particularly connected to Christos and his background, and had a nice chat with him after the presentation.

I then had an incredible meeting with the founder of The Library Project in China. (http://www.library-project.org/) A few people had mentioned that I should speak with Tom, as our charity interests are aligned, and I’m so happy he took the time to sit down with me. The meeting changed my perspectives on many aspects of charitable work in China, including the importance of working directly with the government instead of outside its control. Despite the fact that Tom is not fluent in Chinese, he has managed to set up a government-supported NGO that has donated over 150 libraries to schools and communities all over China. His organization is fully self-sufficient and doesn’t even solicit funds directly from its supporters! The most incredible thing, in my opinion, about The Library Project is that it has truly been embraced by the Chinese people. Tom worked hard to truly understand the cultural nuances of charity work in China, and at this point he has thousands of supporters from all over the country who consistently contact him to support the cause. What a motivating and insightful meeting!

After the bookworm I snuck in a yoga class at Yoga Yard with Jess, one of the best instructors I’ve ever had. (Did I mention that I splurged last week and bought a 30-day pass to this place? The prices are western, but it’s worth it.) Check out my review: http://www.thebeijinger.com/directory/Yoga-Yard
My back has been killing me from being on the computer too much, and now I feel better in every way. Jess also introduced me to my acupuncturist, is a musician, http://blog.jessmeider.com/ and looks like Sarah Jessica Parker. I keep meeting more and more incredible women over here.

Rejuvenated after yoga I biked to Jenny Lou’s where I picked up quite a few western essentials that have been lacking in our kitchen, and a handy “Healthy Chinese Cuisine, a Restaurant Ordering Guide” to balance my cultural halves! I would also like to cook more in general, so I think this will be a good tool to having a more effective learning experience in the markets. (I was recently taken to Sanyuanli market and I forgot how much fun it is to learn and practice Chinese in that environment!) Anyway, I made a dinner of sautéed onions and mushrooms over brown rice and a fattoush salad! Phew, what a fun past few days made much more exciting and effective thanks to my new (bright pink/Avon Walk would be proud) bike!

*If you are reading this from Beijing, please come to the Int’l Women’s Day Benefit this Friday at Yishu 8. www.intlwomensday.org

*Below are photos from a few weeks ago when I spent an hour as part of the Beijing crowd to be featured in the upcoming “Dancing Matt” video. If you haven’t heard about Matt, please watch this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zlfKdbWwruY It brings tears to my eyes to think of how one spirited guy ignored the judgments of others and just welcomed cultures around the world to do a goofy dance together.
As one commenter on the YouTube so succinctly put it,
“I am utterly incapable of comprehending why any human being could possibly “dislike” this video. As a misanthrope through and through, this video makes my grinchy heart grow three sizes and creates an overwhelming sense of hope to me.”

I truly think Matt has united the world, in just a small way. He was also incredibly friendly.

*Also included below is my trip to Sanyuanli market, the meal I made after, and the Angel Mom charity dinner I organized at The Hutong.

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