A Travellerspoint blog

'How much? How much?'

overcast -7 °C

Were the words of two Korean boys who approached us at the Summer Palace yesterday. A little shocked, Jordyn and I tried to ascertain in Chinese exactly waht they wanted to know the price of- surely we weren't being openly approached as prostitutes or drug dealers? Turns out they wanted to know the time, which was a welcome relief.

It has been a whirlwind of crazy adventures China side over the last few days. We have now experienced KTV (karaoke) a major pastime here- we made like locals and went to one a little off the beaten track, fully decked out with the requisite tacky neon and even 'cave' themed rooms. There was Gaga, Black Eyed Peas, Disney, Taylor Swift, Usher- Jordyn, Jess and I sang and danced the winter cold (and our massive dinner) away and almost certainly scarred the staff for life.

New Year's Eve dawned bright but very cold. Friday excitement was in the air, personified by a bubbly Jordyn who ran into my class during break only to find my teacher mid-sentence as we were still avidly learning (cue embarrassed flee from Jordyn and much amusement from my class). After a morning of grammar-heavy class and an afternoon of hectic shopping, we were smashing the coffee at 5pm and dreading venturing back out into the cold. We had a huge dinner and then more KTV (we are practically Asian) before hitting up a local nightclub. We fought our way through the dancefloor, found a prime position and cut loose. The music was all western and great for dancing- I had soon rushed to the bathroom to stuff some unnessecary thermal layers in my shoulder bag, and a pair of tights or two. Dancing with a lovely blonde girl from Germany, Jasmine, who is in my class at uni, we certainly made quite the impression- while a student frequented club, we were still three of maybe 5 caucasian girls there and soon became quite adept at using elbows, hips, and even fists to remove unwanted male attention. However, we found a spot on the stage well within the eyelines of the take-no-prisoners bouncers stationed around the dance floor, and our unwanted male admirers dropped away. Had an amazing time, and will probably become Friday night regulars- nothing like hours of dancing to destress after a week of hard study.

On Saturday we headed to Silk Street after an amazing lunch at Jess's grandparents- a famous shopping market, i.e a complete tourist trap. Catering purely to foreigners, I could finally shop without feeling like a monster due to my inability to squeeze into a size zero. However, the prices reflected the increase in size range, but Jordyn and I were ruthless- being able to barter in Chinese certainly worked in our favour. Silk Street had everything from jade jewellery to Gucci wallets (the real deal, of course), fur coats to tailor shops, random classmates from uni to shedloads of Russian tourists. Jordyn even found herself a potential girlfriend- a petite female stallholder was quite taken with her; 'I like you! Do you like me?'

Yesterday we collected cameras, packed our lunch, put on our walking shoes and set off for the Summer Palace, one of Beijing's prime attractions. A half hour taxi ride from our apartment and still well withing the city bounds, the Summer Palace was a royal retreat back in the dynastical days. A man-made lake that is entirely frozen over, delicate, vividly-coloured temples, stunning imperial era buildings jutting out of a hill overlooking the lake with its myriad of islands and relaxed tourists strolling on the ice- words really can't describe the scope and serenity of this oasis (though that may be because my english has been increasingly struggling as I load insane amounts of Chinese into my poor brain). We wandered over bridges and through temples, clambered up circa-1700's stone steps and slipped across the ice. Tea that cost more than our average meal chased the chill away, warming our hands as we nursed the flimsy cups and watched children and adults alike playing on the ice. We finally wandered out past the stone lions dutifully guarding as the sun disappeared, somewhat regretful to leave such a place.
As the weeks slip by and days disappear into a blur of class, sleep, sights, and mighty cold weather, we are starting to get a panicky feeling that it will be all too soon that we have to pack up and leave. With the sense of desperation that brings we are embracing everything- the weather will not hold us back, and neither will class, or poor language skills, or anything at all.
Happy New Year to eveyone, hope everyone is well!

Much love,
Lu Fei.
-Below snaps are all from the Summer Palace, bar the food which was lunch with Jess's family, and one of the most delicious meals we have had so far.

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Posted by lucyfbaird 01:48 Archived in China Comments (0)

There's nothing like getting arrested on a Tuesday afternoon

sunny 8 °C

Now I have your attention I should probably elaborate before I have my parents calling people and people calling my parents. T'was a cold Tuesday afternoon when, unable to get a place to study at the library, I began a fateful stroll home to my apartment. iPod blaring out some sweet Shakira in my ears (don't judge), I was blissfully unaware of the police van at the entrance to our apartment complex until I was hauled inside it. Registration papers were demanded, thankfully in English once they realised my Chinese consisted of me saying 'Sorry! Sorry! I don't know! Sorry! I don't understand! Sorry!' However, my papers were tucked away in the very apartment I was trying to reach, which earned me a solid finger-pointing talking to. Luckily I was registered, and once I was found on the extensive database I was released, shaken and thoroughly told-off. Jordyn then thought I was trying to break into the apartment, and was very reluctant to both come to the door and then actually let me in. Just living up to my 'just been arrested' lifestyle change I suppose!
The weather continues to get colder, with snow this morning! Unfortunately the fall was brief and had melted by the time we got out of class to go and frolick. With the brief snow came the coldest day so far, which led to a rush to our market this afternoon for scarves and mittens. I have my haggling down to a fine art- I pretend I don't know what is going on (which isn't entirely pretending) and repeat my price until they get so sick of me they just agree. You can get everything for about 60% of what it is offered at, so my scarves went a little like this:
"(in broken Chinese) How much?"
"58 kuai"
"Sorry, I dont understand. I give you, 30 kuai."
"(cue fast paced reasoning as to why such a price is simply impossible)"
"Sorry. I speak Chinese very bad. I give you, 30 kuai."
So on and so forth, until I ended up with 2 for 65 kuai ($10) and a pair of mittens.
Unfortunately, when ordering in restaurants I would find my Chinese still to be inadequate- While I thought I had successfully communicated my vege-ness at a Korean restaurant the other night, my soup which was ordered with no egg or meat came out delightfully garnished with both. However, things are starting to look up- at a street-side baozi (steamed bun) stand a lovely, heavily-bundled lady gave me a selection of vego baozi, and while sometimes I may be overkilling it a little- telling the lady who only sells vegetarian noodles yesterday at lunch, quite unessecarily that 'I don't eat meat', at least I am becoming more understandable.
An amazingly cute Asian thermos has been a godsend for early classes, hot hibiscus or jasmine tea makes 8am starts bearable AND cute. Giving a speech about Australian sports to the rest of the class was quite a hoot, as they don't have words for cricket, netball, AFL, or kiteboarding, though I didn't find this as distressing as the poor French girl when she found out they don't have a word for 'petanque'.
Here are just a few snaps from the past few days, I hope that everything is awesome down under.
Will write again as soon as I have something of note to report- getting arrested, etc.
Much love, Lu Fei.

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Posted by lucyfbaird 05:52 Archived in China Comments (0)

To keep the rabbits out.

sunny -9 °C

I may have been a bit premature in labelling Beijing as 'frosty' last time I wrote- a few -6C days later and potential frostbite of my toes every morning on the way to class, I am only now truly coming to grips with winter in the crazy country. However we have still had a lot of sunny, clear days, which has lead to sunburn (!!) on occasion but also awesome photo oppurtunities and a wondeful reason to meander through the bustling main streets and winding alleyways of our new home.
This week was a week of firsts- first class, first taxi ride, first subway excursion, first tourist site visit... an emotional rollercoaster. Class has been hard- taught all in Chinese, its incredibly overwhelming and exhausting- after 4 hours of class and then 2 hours of one on one tutoring my brain doesn't know which language to be thinking in. The 2 or so hours of homework piled on top of that are a real struggle, but worth it when you understand just that little bit more the next day. Our tutors are lovely and eager to both help and laugh at our attempt to explain shopping, exercise, work and our country in very stilted Chinese. Its amazing to hear about their culture in return- much to our shock on Friday we found out that they can't swim, and in fact most people in China can't!
We spent Christmas day exploring the Great Wall; steps, steps, 2 pairs of gloves and every piece of thermal clothing I own, more steps, and lo and behold, more freakin steps. However, once we reached the wall aching thigh muscles and frostbitten limbs were soon forgotten in light of the breathtaking views and the amazing scope of the wall. Winding over sharp peaks to the horizon and beyond, watchtowers dot the stretch of the wall, causing the imagination to run wild with visions of Imperial China, of fires lighting up the sky from tower to tower, and messages being relayed over vast distances. We had an adventure of a time, clambouring onto the top of a watch tower, jogging down stairs to warm up and then de-layering at the top of steep climbs.

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No work was to be done on Christmas, so last night we headed out for some night shopping in another district of the city. With Jess's awesome memory and the help of a phone call or two to chinese relatives, we found XiDan shopping centre- a maze of yummy food-type smells, stalls, department stores both western and chinese, christmas decorations and (it seemed like) at least half the population of Beijing. A bit off the beaten tourist track, I attracted an awful lot of attention- I could get used to being an exotic beauty! The guy who made Jess's smoothie was quite taken with me, a lady let me pay cash for my food rather than going through the tedious process of a pre-paid card system- though when people touch my hair it can get a bit much.
The weather may be getting colder and the work harder, but settling into life here is still an adventure every day. Hard days of Chinese pay off when I can understand guys telling Jess what a beatiful friend she has, and immersing ourselves in the culture with streetside food stalls and tourist site visits makes the language come alive. Cultural differences are intriguing- explaining what sports Australia likes in class got a bit tricky when (much to the dismay of a few British guys) much dictionary searching revealed China dooesn't have a word for cricket but uses the same term as for baseball.
Hope to write again soon!!
Love, Lucy.

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Posted by lucyfbaird 22:07 Archived in China Comments (0)

Everytime you cross the road it's an acheivement.

sunny 2 °C

Ni Hao from a frosty Beijing. Jordyn and I have been here now for almost a week, and are already plotting how soon we can return to this city of smog, street stalls, unbelievably cheap shopping and hectic classes.
We have set up base in an apartment just a few minutes walk from Beijing Yuyan Daxue, our university for the next five weeks. We aren't home much, except to enjoy the children's channel of CCTV (which is still way too fast for me) or a steaming glass of jasmine tea.
From tai chi on a chilly morning to basketball and basking in the afternoon sun, our university is beautiful to meander through with a steaming sweet potato in its skin for lunch, or to race through at 7:50am to class grasping an apple or a stick of sugar coated sour berries (of which i have consumed large amounts). Avenues lined with winter bare trees wind through teaching buildings, a four storey (!!) dining hall, a fitness centre and numerous domitory buildings. Most of the students are Korean, which means my hair and Jordyn's height still draws the open stares, double takes and nudges to friends that accompany us everywhere we go.

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Shopping is a whole new ball game, with malls filled to the brim with warrens of stalls everywhere you turn. Bargaining is expected, and could be deemed an extreme sport: rapid fire chinese and feigned 'I'm leaving, no, I'm really leaving' results in exhaustion but seriously cheap, quality goods.
Food is a new adventure everyday- the four storey dining hall mentioned above should hint at this, and that is just the tip of the iceberg. Choose your own hotpot adventure, steamed corn on the cob from a street stall, an amazing lunch with a friend from Australia's Chinese grandparents, mystery pastry parcels and amazingly sweet, dense 'mooncakes', China is certainly proving a culinary tour of awesomeness. At night the bicycle fruit stands, chargrills and savoury pancake stalls come out of the woodwork and set up in the middle of a small road just near our apartment. The atmosphere at these chilly night markets is welcoming and a haven of yummy goods at the end of a long day- barbequed eggplant, tofu, mushroom... the locals recognise us as fixtures now but still laugh at our enthusiastic and well-meant but stilted Chinese.

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Only in China would you be able to go skiing when there has been no actual snow fall yet this winter: yep, an entirely artificial ski resort embodies the Chinese attitude of being able to do anything they want. However, the 'real artificial' snow as it was dubbed proved great skiing, and we had an exhausting but exhilarating time skiing until the moon was high in the sky. Highlight: Jordyn taking on a black run, but then falling off a slow-moving conveyor belt leading up from a green run. I laughed so hard I almost joined her!
Reality set in with our placement tests on Monday, conducted entirely in Chinese. Class began today: 8am -12, then 1-3pm private tutoring. Class is also all in Chinese, as are our books, the notes on the board... quite a shock to the system, but we will certainly improve quickly- we are doing the equivalent of one week of class back home per day.

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Between hilariously bad Chinese to English translations on signs, 6 hours of class a day plus my self-professed 'god of homework' of a teacher, $2 dinners, joining in with fan dancers outside our apartment, meeting awesome people from all around the world, we are quickly and happily adapting to life in this unbelievable city.

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I'll write again soon, as I am censored out of the facebook world (not even minding a bit) I can be contacted via email; lucyfbaird@gmail.com
Lots of Beijing love,
Zaijian,

Lu Fei.

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Posted by lucyfbaird 03:46 Archived in China Comments (0)

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