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It was a trying three nights in Beijing this past week, and we got a good dose of some of the challenges to come in Beijing. Sunday night we took the bus from Tangshan to Beijing to meet back up with Matt, and checked in to a hotel. It was a pretty crap one, with huge dips in the center of the bed and pillows, and the room stank of beef. Anyway, we headed to Wanfujing for dinner, but unfortunately it was a Sunday night and most things were closing down. We attempted to take a taxi to Hou Hai, the western bar and restaurant area, but the taxis weren’t using meters and only charging “foreign” rates, so we ate at one of the only open restaurants.

On Monday I woke up sick and felt like I had the flu. I wasn’t too tempted to stay home from work though…as sleeping in the crud bed was a nightmare, so I headed to the subway. I tried a few times to take a cab to work, but for some reason I don’t understand Beijing cabs seem very lazy and they always told me it was “too far.” When I entered the subway, I knew it wasn’t going to be fun. There was some type of back up, and I was shuffled into a large crowd of people waiting for the trains. One came, didn’t stop…and went by us. The second came…picked up a small amount of people, and left. By the third train I felt like I was about to pass out from heat, but I was literally shoved off of the platform and made it on. It was definitely uncomfortable to have no control of where the crowd moved me, but at least I made it on.

David and Matt also had transportation problems that day. They found the local buses going to the Great Wall, but the driver and passengers wouldn’t let them on. Despite the fact that David was communicating in Chinese, the Beijingers seemed to be saying that these buses weren’t for foreigners. Instead of causing a scene, they left the buses and shared a taxi with two nice guys that were also going to the wall. My best guess on that one is that they want foreigners to pay more to do touristy things. Fortunately, the Wall and visit to the Silk Market proved to be much better experiences, and Matt bought some sweet gear to bring home. A North Face jacket for $35, anyone?

On Tuesday I had to take a cab to a visa office, and was very worried, since it really WAS far away. The first guy we asked didn’t know where I was going, but I really got lucky with the second driver. He talked on my cell phone to the office to find out the directions, we chatted on the way there, and he even agreed to stay and wait to take me back into the city after the meeting. He was really good at understanding my Chinese, and even pulled out a little chair to wait for my appointment to end without charging extra! Unfortunately this excursion and work caused me to miss Matt’s last day, but I did get to meet two US Embassy employees who worked in cultural outreach. Apparently Hillary Clinton has set up a new office dedicated to women’s issues at the Embassy, so there should be some growth in women’s initiatives in Beijing. Also, one of the women is married to a guy who grew up in Vienna, VA, ahhh! On Tuesday night David and I also had a fun conversation with some locals in a Hutong outside of our hotel.

By Wednesday I was feeling better, but David was sick. I headed off to work, made some progress in planning the women’s program and headed off to another meeting at restaurant (Alla Osteria) that would potentially be a host for some events. It was an incredible stroke of luck that I found the place (I almost started crying when I realized I had no idea how to find my way around, I wrote down the wrong metro but the cab driver miraculously took me to the general vicinity), and the owners were such characters. The husband is an extremely laid-back and generous Italian who speaks very little Chinese, while the wife is a Beijinger with sharp business skills and no-nonsense attitude. Well, the place was great and so were the owners, so I was so glad I managed to make the meeting. It even turned out that the wife’s family is from Tangshan! Of course…after the meeting my phone died and I had to go to starbucks for free internet to try and find where David was in the city. We tried exchanging emails but didn’t connect and ended up taking separate buses home. When I got back, I was greeted by the nice surprise of our neighbor who had printed out the two photos we took with him.

What a roller coaster, and I’m sure there’s more to come. My only thoughts are that I need an iPhone. Odd conclusion, you ask? Not really. An iPhone would allow me to translate and show directions to cab drivers more easily, help when I’m lost and allow me to contact David! But alas, I will have to continue to be resourceful.

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Hey all, we are ready for another weekend of teaching starting tomorrow, so I wanted to make a quick post about some random things. Not a whole lot is new since we came back from Beijing, but I went out for the first time to some real Chinese night clubs last night. We started the night getting dinner at a restaurant with our boss, Eddie, and the other teacher, David, and had a nice meal. Eddie was pretty drunk by the time we left the restaurant, so Erin made the wise choice of staying home instead of going to the club called the Toy Bar. David (the other teacher) wanted me to go and I felt bad leaving him with a drunk Eddie (again), so I tagged along. It was a pretty hilarious experience, especially considering all the horror stories the Chinese teachers at our school told us about massive fights, drug use and other things at this bar. Don’t worry, this would have been the tamest club in the USA, so it is incredibly edgy for Chinese standards. There were 3 dancers that came out every 15 minutes to do a little dance show, involving some bad hip hop dance moves that was quite amusing to watch. Random guys kept coming up to me and trying to buy me drinks or talk to me, and were touching me a LOT which was a little awkward, but is totally common in China. It was deafeningly loud and the room was filled with smoke, but it was still funny to see the Chinese people dancing horribly and singing every lyric to some of the worst English pop music I have ever heard. Why they are playing English pop music in a Chinese dance club is beyond me, but every person knew every word, so I guess they really like it. We left pretty early, before Eddie could do any serious damage to the place.

Overall we have adjusted to life here pretty easily and are having a good time. There are some things that are really starting to irritate me though. Nobody here looks before they cross the street. Cars just go before they look to see if things are coming. People will walk right at you until the very last second, then stop in front of you, THEN move out of the way. I truly do not understand why they do this, and it is a miracle that people aren’t killed constantly while crossing the street. I have asked Chinese people if they look both ways before crossing the street and they all say “No, we don’t do that.” Don’t do that?! Why? WHY? WHY?! It makes driving, riding a bike, and even walking that much more difficult, dangerous, and time consuming, because you have to always move out of the way of people that are paying no attention to anything. In America this is some people, some of the time. In China this is all people, almost all of the time. I have seen lots of traffic accidents the past few weeks, almost all involve a taxi and someone trying to turn. People just turn, they don’t look. They just go and hope traffic stops. Most of the time it does, but again, why not just follow the obvious (to an American) rules of the road, which will save you time and cause less accidents. For now, I just keep both eyes on the road at all times, because you never know what people will do.

Only one more complaint, I know everyone is probably really enjoying my whining. I do not think a single person in China turns their cell phone on vibrate. You can be sitting next to someone on a bus that will get 50 text messages in 10 minutes, with their phone making lots of noise each time, and the only person that it appears to annoy is me. It is not just in those situations, though, because the Chinese teachers and the parents of students that are in class will let their phone ring away in the middle of class, and it is like nobody even notices. Obviously this is not a big deal most of the time, but it is pretty annoying when you are trying to teach and have to start screaming to talk over the noise. It is to the point that I think it is perhaps a sign of status to have your phone make a ton of noise, the more often the better. My mind often tempts me to grab the parents cell phones in class, smash them against the wall, but I try to remember good ol’ Kung fu Tze (Confucius) saying, “Let there be no evil in your thoughts.” Serenity now, as Cosmo Kramer would say.

Alrighty, we are going to watch an episode of our new TV series that we got, Madmen. We finished The Wire a few days ago, and if you have never seen it, you should watch it (it is for mature audiences only)! I have attached some more pictures for your viewing pleasure from our trip to Beijing. Time to teach all weekend for us! Get on skype so we can chat. Zaijian.

Ran Qiu said, “It is not that your Way does no commend itself to me, but that it demands powers I do not possess.” The Master said, “He whose strength gives out collapses during the course of the journey (or the Way); but you deliberately draw the line.” The Analects, 6.10

Ni hao everybody!  Erin and I just returned from our first trip, to the great city of Beijing.  Of all our traveling exploits, I think this ranks as the one I am most proud of us accomplishing (slightly in front of renting a car in South Africa and having no issues whatsoever) because so much could have gone very wrong on this trip.  The day started in Tangshan, getting in a cab for the bus station.  We jumped our first hurdle, which was getting the cab driver to understand that we wanted a bus to Beijing.  After a few minutes, he understood, dropped us at the station, and we purchased our tickets.  We hopped on the bus, listened to some guy try to sell everyone these cheap looking rings (and selling at least one to every person on the bus except us!!!), and then headed towards the Chinese capital.

We were dropped in the middle of nowhere, and wandered around confused, repeating the words “Tian’an Men” to various people, trying to get towards Tiananmen Square.  After about 40 minutes, we got a cab and were taken to the city center.  Unfortunately for us, the weather was pretty nasty on Monday.  Not nasty meaning rainy or cold, nasty meaning they sky was brown with dust blowing around constantly.  We have both had enough of the pollution/dust, but what can you do?  Luckily it cleared up substantially that night, so it wasn’t too bad.  Anyways, if you are standing in the middle of Tian’an Men Square, take a couple steps forward because you might be standing on Chairman Mao’s embalmed corpse!  In the middle of the square is…Chairman Mao’s Memorial Hall, which is basically his body and some sculptures.  The body is on display in the morning and afternoon, but we didn’t see it this time.  There is an obelisk in the middle as well, the Monument to the People’s Heroes.  If you are facing the Forbidden Palace, then the Great Hall of the People (aka Parliament building) will be on your left, and the National Museum of China will be on your right.  The most impressive aspect of the square, as I mentioned before, was the size of it.  Some pictures of the square and the buildings are attached, so take a look!

We wandered about the square for a little while, but we wanted to find a hotel ASAP, because we did not have our passports with us, which presented another potential obstacle.  We had letters from the government of Tangshan saying our passports were being reviewed so we can become resident aliens and luckily Erin remembered as we were walking out the door that we had copies of our passports.  We walked up Wangfujing Street, the main shopping street in all of Beijing.  There are huge malls on both sides of the street and the place is packed with pedestrians.  After getting our hotel room squared away, we got some food near St. Joseph’s Church, one of the oldest and most impressive churches in Beijing.  After eating, we walked towards the Wangfujing “Night Market”, one of the most famous food streets in China.  A food street is a street that has tons of street food, and every city in China seems to have at least one, if not many, food streets.  The Night Market is special in that it has gathered many of the street foods found in cities all around China.  It is a walking tour of street food around China, a tad overpriced, but we learned quickly that just about everything in Beijing, even if the price is listed, is negotiable.  I took lots of pictures of the foods found in the street; beef, lamb, potatoes, eggs, noodles, silk works, snake, sheep testacles, sheep penis, seahorses, starfish…you get the idea.  If anyone comes to visit us, seeing the Night Market is an absolute must in my opinion.  There just aren’t places like that, especially with foods like that in the USA.

We walked down Wangfujing street again, looking at more of the shopping areas this time.  We bought some books for learning Chinese, a map of Beijing, and I bought “The Analects”, the most famous book of Confucian teachings at the Foreign Language Bookstore.  The street looked very different and a lot more lively at night, and there were cheap souvenirs were all over the place (although the first price you hear is usually not so cheap).  As I mentioned before, prices are very negotiable in Beijing, and as our manager explained to us, you should expect to pay about 30% of the first price they give you.  Based on our experiences haggling, I would say expect to pay 10-30% of the first price they give you!  There are a lot of tourists in Beijing and many of them do not even attempt to haggle, so these places have to make an incredible amount of profit per sale.  The constant haggling is another fun aspect of Beijing (and most of China), but it gets tiresome, because you have to deal with salespeople telling you outrageous prices and then whittling the price down to 10% of the original.  Some pictures of the souvenir shops are also included, with some of the even odder delicacies we saw that night, namely LIVE SCORPIONS!  Why people were eating these still moving scorpions I do not know, but I guess there is a certain fascination with eating anything that weird.  Part of me dies inside seeing the way the Chinese treat animals and the environment, but there isn’t a whole lot I can say to change anyone’s minds.  If an entire country is willing to put up with dust storms and pollution that makes them get cancer, blocks the sun for months, and don’t mind not seeing a blue sky all year, how can you change their minds about other environmentally damaging things?  I don’t have the answer yet.  We walked in a few more shops, did a loop back up the Night Market, bought some street food for dinner, and then went to sleep.  Erin didn’t feel great (potentially because of the dust), so we wanted to get lots of sleep for the massive amounts of walking we would do on Tuesday.

Beijing is a great city that is incredibly hospitable to the large amount of foreign tourists that visit, but at the same time, many people in the city understand that it is almost too easy to fool a tourist that speaks no Chinese and has no idea what prices are like in China.  We encountered a common scam Monday night, which involves 20ish year old girls approaching you, telling you they are college students learning English, and are wondering if they can practice with you.  Then they ask to get coffee somewhere, where you are then potentially charged thousands of US dollars for coffee.  If you refuse to pay, gangsters that are part of the plot will make you aware that refusing to pay is simply not an option.  Don’t worry, we chatted with the girls for a little while just to see if they were scammers, and sure enough, they asked us to go for coffee, and we declined.  It makes you appreciate humble cities like Tangshan in a way, because we have not been given an unfair price at all since we have been here.  There is no haggling in Tangshan, even as an obviously foreign customer, because most of the shopkeepers are so stupefied that a foreigner is in their store in the first place.  All this considered, if you ever have had an interest in Beijing or in visiting us, you should do it.  Seeing Beijing would be worth the trip in itself.

This is just day 1 of our 2 day journey to Beijing, but I am too tired to finish it.  Maybe my lovely girlfriend can author part 2, but she is already asleep.  So for now you will have to enjoy part 1, and come back tomorrow (or later tonite I suppose) to see part 2.  I am going to leave a quote from the Analects at the bottom of my posts from now on, so put your philosophical thinking caps on.  Zajian everybody! (zaijian = goodbye)

2.2  (Book 2, passage 2)  The Master said, “If out of the three hundred Songs I had to take one phrase to cover all my teaching, I would say ‘Let there be no evil in your thoughts.'”

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