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I’m happy to say that last week helped me accomplish one of my goals here in Beijing, to get published in a magazine! (Actually, I got 2 articles published in Agenda and one in The Beijinger. Can’t say I like the pic much in Agenda, but you can download my letter from the Editor if you so desire! pg. 3)

The following (for you loyal readers) is the full first installent from the Local Local Challenge, not just the editor’s cut!

It’s the last week before hosting the biggest event I’ve run in Beijing, I just moved to the expat-friendly area of Chaoyang Park West Gate, I’m training for a half marathon and I get a call from my friend.

“Hey, remember that local local challenge idea we were talking about? Let’s do it this month!”

Of course, being the impulsive and excitable person that I am, I don’t think twice and dive right in. The idea of the Local Local Challenge came about as myself and a few friends were discussing ways to more authentically participate in local culture in Beijing. The girls participating in the challenge and I have found our lives becoming increasingly western due to our jobs, lack of Chinese speaking skills and the comfort of participating in activities that are anything but local. We often hang out in Sanlitun, eat at burger and pizza joints, shop at Ikea, and buy groceries at Jenny Lou’s. To be honest, I probably would not have made it nearly two years in China without most of these creature comforts, but it’s a far cry from my initial six months in Tangshan, where I was one of the only foreigners in a “town” of 1.8 million people, was forced to carry around a dictionary because I couldn’t speak a word of Chinese, and avoided western restaurants because the only three were KFC, Pizza Hut and Alba Pizza. For a brief period of time I truly immersed myself in local Chinese culture, and still experience personal and professional benefits of that experience.

Since moving to Beijing my life has gotten a lot more comfortable, but I find myself less and less likely to explore the city and culture that initially brought me to China. Supported by my commitment to blog about my experiences for The Beijinger, I figured that this challenge would force me to re-discover Beijing, or at least push me to get outside of my increasingly expat comfort zone. The idea is simple; try to eat and play locally as much as possible. Chinese lessons and TCM are encouraged, as are riding bikes over taxis and supporting local farmers and food street vendors. My overall completion of the challenge, as judged by The Beijinger staff, will be based on a qualitative analysis of my effort to make cultural connections throughout the month of November. There’s no pretending I didn’t make a late-night McDonald’s run, or have a glass of imported Italian wine; opting for baozi and baijiu would be much more suitable.

The challenge began on November 1st, and I have been taking photos and notes about my experience for a week now. Day one started out quite strong. Breakfast consisted of a TCM-appropriate meal of oatmeal and a hard-boiled egg. I donned a sweater and shirt I recently bought at the Ladies’ Market in Liangmaqiao and headed off on my bike to register at the local police station. What could be more authentic than good ‘ol Chinese bureaucracy? Next I headed to Yoga Yard, which isn’t exactly the most local of activities, but the bi-lingual classes are a good place to practice my Chinese listening skills. Thinking about lunch was causing me anxiety as I headed to work in Guomao. My limited speaking and inability to read Chinese characters often dissuades me from conversing with local shop owners about what’s on their menu, because I have to point at food or simply ask if they have certain items on the menu. They often look at me like I’m a bit deranged, pointing to the poster-sized Chinese menu on their wall. Fortunately, I came across a di gua (sweet potato) street vendor and baozi shop when I purchased lunch with dou jiang (soy milk) for 9.5RMB. Simple, yet delicious and filling. Unfortunately my schedule was so hectic that I only managed to grab a quick peanut butter and jelly sandwich for dinner, but overall a good first day.

On Wednesday morning I biked down the third ring road and really paid attention to just how many breakfast vendors are out in the morning. Before 10am it’s quite easy to find these kiosks anywhere from Jinsong to Beitucheng along this route. I made a mental note and headed onward. I had to make a pick-up around Chaowai SOHO, and bought lunch at the very local but traditionally Chinese establishment of 7-11. I always get a kick out of seeing how this American franchise has adapted to the Chinese market, with slurpees and Doritos being replaced with Chinese buffets and to-go noodles. Clearly the strategy is working, as the lines out the door for 7-11 lunch in China far surpass those in the States. One culinary delight that is a staple in both countries are the hot dogs, mmm. I bought pears, chestnuts, to-go noodles and sliced bread. Incidentally, there is a great Chinese canteen on the 6th floor of Chaowai SOHO building A, but I didn’t have time to stop in. On my way back from work I stopped for the first time at the fruit vendors under the Tuanjiehu bridge and purchased bananas and persimmons for 16RMB. I was so happy I took a break to stop and chat, as the vendor a jovial guy who threw some free zao (Chinese dates) into my bag! I was a little disheartened to see that despite my efforts to buy local, the bananas were from the Philippines!

Thursday morning I was making program deliveries for Chi Fan for Charity to the Sanlitun restaurants, and really noticed just how little Chinese food exists in the Village. Since the evening food vendors weren’t out, I grabbed a quick lunch of fried bread with bean paste and lettuce (jidan guanbing) from the only vendor available, and staved off my extreme desire to get a mango and red bean ice drink from Herbal Café. I almost made the exception due to the red bean…but I’m committed! For dinner I was in a rush and stopped by for the first time to eat ma la tong on the Sanlitun food street. I soon realized that this dining style is not exactly the ideal selection for a quick meal, and ended up waiting for about twenty minutes for a bowl of veggies. I do miss healthy, quick options like sandwiches and salads…but I digress. A big bowl of ma la tong was satisfying and only 16RMB (1 kuai per stick.)

On Friday morning my roommate made me a “Chinese sandwich” with jian bing, spring onions, cured pork and hoisin sauce. A car hit me on the way to work (I’m ok, minimal bruising, and what could be more authentically Beijing?) and the Chi Fan for Charity silent auction team ordered a great Chinese dinner of dan chao fan (egg fried rice), tu dou si, di san xian and spicy green beans. (name?)

On Saturday morning my knee was a bit swollen, so I opted to take a cab to work. I teach at an international school on Saturdays and we always order a local Chinese feast for lunch. I stopped by Jinkelong instead of Jenny Lou’s to pick up some groceries and purchased a seasonal favorite, nan gua xiao mifan jo (pumpkin porridge.) Unfortunately for the challenge, after the porridge purchase my weekend morphed into an entirely indulgent 3-day expatty rampage. I helped run the 3rd Annual Chi Fan for Charity dining event and ate at Hercules and drank imported alcohol at Hatsune. However, we raised over 300,000RMB for local Beijing charities Bethel and New Hope, so that has to help me gain back a few local points!

By Sunday I was completely wiped out from work and thinking about going local. At the request of friends (and a party to which I had previously committed to help host) I bought German bread, imported cheese and wine, and generally failed to do anything local. On Monday the most local thing I managed to do was fix my internet with the phone company, and attempt to eat at Noodle Bar in Sanlitun with a friend. Unfortunately the noodle bar was completely packed and we opted for nachos and Vietnamese at Luga’s Pho Pho. Aya! I WILL make up for these non-local splurges!

Conclusion:
The intricacies of going local as an expat in Beijing are challenging in different ways than I expected. Yes, language and general lack of time pose significant barriers, but I found it most difficult to balance the inconvenience that it causes other expats in the bubble. After a long day of work, it was hard to suggest to a tired friend that we explore the city and perhaps have a frustrating experience in efforts to discover an awesome hole in the wall restaurant. Scheduling a business lunch at a local dive or food street isn’t exactly practical, and I run the risk of seeming unprofessional to make this suggestion with clients. I wanted to suggest going completely local for my friends’ party, but they were already excited to offer champagne and cheese, so I didn’t think it was worth a fight. Despite my best efforts to remain frugal, I still spent 642.50RMB (325.50 if you don’t count the party I helped host), which is far more than I should really need to spend. Overall I made much more of an effort to go local than during my previous time in Beijing, but I still didn’t get far outside the bubble.

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So, its been a crazy past 2 weeks. I spent all waking hours trying to prep and then lead an educational trip to Inner Mongolia while managing Chi Fan for Charity, teaching on Saturdays, and training for my 9K. The great news is that the trip went very well, all 52 of us back home from ChiFeng safe and sound, smiling and stinking! *Post to come later. I also ran in my first official Chinese race, a Li-Ning 6K which according to my watch was actually a 7K, and got my personal best time! Seems like Heyrobics running camp is paying off.

I arrived back into Beijing at 5am on Saturday morning from an overnight bus and spent the next few days furiously trying to get the charity ticket sales going. That’s has been one of my biggest work challenges ever, as I am NOT computer savvy and don’t exactly have a paid staff to help. Stayed up til 3:30am on Monday night finishing the Paypal integration and headed to Hong Kong at 6:30am for the beginning of yet another trip. Unfortunately my plane was delayed and I arrived in late in Wenzhou for my connection. I skipped baggage claim and headed straight to check-in, but was sadly too late. Despite my misfortune, I got two lucky surprises:
1. I actually understood (in Chinese) what the woman was telling me. (That it wasn’t their fault because I didn’t book directly through the airline, the connection was too short of a time, and that I would have to pay to stay in the Wenzhou Airport hotel til the next morning because there’s only one daily flight from Wenzhou to Hong Kong. Terrible news, but at least I was also able to express how I thought it was the airline’s fault!)
2. Another Singaporean girl booked the same exact flight, spoke perfect English, and agreed to share the hotel room with me.

SO… my new friend Christina and I have been in Wenzhou for the past 24 hours, in a hotel room that we’re paying for but at least eating free meals courtesy of China Eastern. She somehow slept like 20 of the last 24 and I’ve been catching up on work via the surprisingly fast internet. I haven’t ventured out of the hotel because of work, but I’m not sure I’m missing much, as my text from a co-worker kindly informed me:
Sorry to hear about the hassle for you, on the bright side wenzhou is supposedly the ugliest big city in China.

Soon headed to Hong Kong to help set up and participate in Erin Manfredi’s charity dinner and visit the Kligler’s, I’m hoping for better luck!

Bob Soong, one of our most awesome blog supporters, gave me the inspiration for the title of this blog post. Clearly, David and I have large wings, because the most powerful capital city in the world wasn’t enough to hold us…we had to expand to the most populous one as well! We were lucky enough to visit the US this summer for two weddings, a visit with newborn Holden Jacobs and lots of additional visits and shopping (for me.) I just arrived back in Beijing with over 100lbs of clothes and American food…mostly food. Although my bag was checked three times, once by a cute little beagle, I made it back with all my bounty in tow.

A lot of you have asked about our jobs, so I’ll give a quick overview. I am freelancing in the world of events and PR/marketing and am currently working on charity events and educational tours and programming with The Hutong (www.thehutong.com) culture center and helping to run a November charity dining event called Chi Fan for Charity (www.chifanforcharity.org). I believe that David and I will both be returning to teach English at a British international school in August, and I should be taking on an additional leadership position there. (So yes, we will be here another year, but will be visiting for the holidays as well. Frequent fliers anyone?!)

David is actually in Orlando, FL at the moment, helping to run his company’s summer camps. He is already dealing with a lost passport, but the kids seem to be having a good time. He will be there until mid-August, then back home for a family reunion, and finally a meeting in New York before heading back to meet me. We will probably spend a few weeks together before I lead two different tours, one to Inner Mongolia and another to Yunnan in Southern China! *There are still spots available for this awesome bike, tea, and culinary adventure.

Below are photos from:
*Our last day of teaching just before our trip home
*Tim and Courtney’s pre-wedding festivities in Charlotte, NC
*Coles and Randi’s farmhouse wedding in Roanoke, VA
*Holden at Meadowlark Gardens
*Kenilworth Gardens and its Lotus ponds/fields, where we spoke with some native Beijingers and learned that water lily’s grow IN the water and lotus flowers grow ABOVE the water.
*My visit to the most authentic Chinese Tea House in the area, Ching China Cha in Georgetown and cupcakes from Baked and Wired. (And photos of Gtown on a sweltering but great day downtown!)
*Jane and I before completing Jane’s first 5K!
*My stocked Beijing pantry, thanks mom

Jane, David and I also spend a night with Dad at his new river house on the Yeocomico river in the Northern Neck of Virginia, but I was too busy taking in the rays to snap any photos. We also had a really nice visit with the grandparents while meeting Holden.

PS…did I mention that woke up bright-eyes at 5am this morning ?! I’m blogging because nothing is open yet, good ‘ol jet-lag.

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Well, my experience in Beijing has certainly done a complete 180 over the past few weeks. For the first time since coming to China I really feel like I’m in the right place in my personal AND professional life. I have been doing a mix of marketing, events and teaching…and getting a kick out of it! I also booked my flights home for the holidays, so I will be visiting December 19-Jan 2nd and David is also likely coming home, but just working to figure out his work schedule.
If you are interested in seeing the details of the first two events I have helped organize, look below:

11.11 Get your singles Rum Truffle making on at The Fig Tree! http://www.thefigtree.cn/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=79

HAPPY HUTONG; The first charity event I have helped organize in Beijing: http://www.cityweekend.com.cn/beijing/events/77161/

This past weekend was the first I didn’t have to work Sat/Sun, and I got to attend Beijing’s Chi Fan for Charity fundraising event (http://chifanforcharity.org/event.aspx) which raised over RMB 200,000 for three different local charities. I invited Betsy and Jessica and we ate gourmet Chinese food at LAN, and I tried my first sea cucumber. This dish is quite a delicacy in China, and although I’m not sure I ever would’ve ordered it myself, I was happy to have had the chance. It looks like an over-sized, dark brown, spikey caterpiller, but has a gelatinous texture and actually tastes pretty bland. For the dish they smother the poor sucker in gravy, so it reminded me of a Chinese version of Thanksgiving turkey. If I had known I could’ve ordered the vegetarian version, I would’ve, it looked the same but was made out of flour!

Our table was mostly filled with very successful Chinese Americans who were all living in Beijing for one reason or another. Our table sponsor was Chen Daming, an up and coming Chinese writer/film director. He just directed Gong Li’s newest movie, which is a remake of Mel Gibson’s What Women Want for the Chinese audience. He was a friendly guy with some good stories about Hollywood, so I certainly ate that up! LAN also had a great atmosphere that looked like Alice in Wonderland, and of course the three of us hosted a mini photo shoot for the occasion. We also attended the after party for the event, where we had a good time eating a few free cupcakes and schmoosing with the local Expat community. People say the expat community here is small…and they aren’t kidding! It’s kinda nice though because after only being in Beijing for about 3 months I see some familiar faces. I chatted with the founder of the event, Michael Crain, who should be really proud of hosting such an excellent fundraiser!

On Sunday I volunteered to host a UVa table at Tsinghua University and answer questions for prospective students. Although it’s quite a trek to Tsinghua from my house, it was great to see so many nervously excited kids. I was really impressed with their knowledge of the admissions process and handle of the English language.

And now that I’m officially little miss Beijing Carrie Bradshaw (officially meaning…its been up for 9 months and we’re almost at 20,000 clicks) I have been introduced to a whole new world of high-class writers, also known as my friends. Anyway, my friends keep awesome blogs here if you are interested:

http://faruppereastside.blogspot.com/ First of all, how great is the name of this blog? Alison and Adam are from New York and have only been in China a few months. They just recently posted about an incredible trip to Xinjiang in Western China.

http://blog.sina.com.cn/laowaidianbao Caroline is an aspiring journalist and writes for an English magazine for expats interested in Chinese language and culture. Her entries have a really great voice, and I have her to thank for my marketing position.

http://betsybecky.wordpress.com/ For sure Betsy has the most off the wall blog, her references are hysterical and she’s very creative. She just started up again after a year in Shanghai, so get ready for more Betsalicious antics.
*The most interesting thing I have EVER seen in a vending machine…only in China:
http://www.presstv.ir/detail/149434.html

NEXT UP…Barbara and Mark Jacobs do CHINA

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