And You Thought American Elections Were Bad…

11/4

So, you all thought the elections in America are bad? Think again. This just in, this year is election year for China as well. Unfortunately for me, the Chinese do not just sling mud as we do back in America. Oh no, they take their elections much more seriously. In fact, they take it so seriously that the current party in power as taken it upon themselves to cut off all access to American search engines and news sites. This means Google barely works, I cannot even get to The New York Times and only if I am very lucky, can I get to local Gig Harbor news. If that isn’t bad enough, sometimes, they decide to just shut down the internet connection all together, which would be just fine if I did not have research papers to write. Finally, to show how serious they are about winning the election, they will randomly shut off power to different sections of the city. In the past week, I think we have lost power four times.  Now, the only reason I know that all of this is happening due to the elections and not just because of an unfortunate series of events is that our program director emailed us, warning us that these events may occur and that it was nothing to worry about, just the elections. Sure enough, she was right. So, in four years from now, when everyone is groaning about all of the election ads on television, I will be able to look back on this and remember that at least I have electricity and internet. If I can have electricity and internet, I will be glad to suffer through a few political ads.

In other more exciting news, it’s snowing! Although it is suppose to all melt off over the next two days, it is still thrilling to have snow this early in the winter. In hindsight, I may not have brought the appropriate clothes for a ton of snow but coming from Gig Harbor where we are lucky to get traces of snow during the winter, I cannot help but be a little giddy.  In the words of college students everywhere, I hope it snows enough that they will cancel classes and I can spend the day playing in the snow and drinking hot cocoa. It sounds like a dream come true to me. When else in my life will I have a chance to have a snowball fight in China? It will definitely be worth the frozen fingers.

In more exciting news, the government finally said let them have heat and heat we have! Beida is officially a heated campus and I could not be happier. I cannot imagine being without heat right now. I feel terrible for the people who won’t get their heat turned on until November 15th. With snow already hitting Beijing, it is said that this winter will be a cold one. Hopefully they will get heat soon.

Finally, going back to the topic of elections, there is a little café in WuDaoKou that is hosting an American election day. They are serving half price apple pie and playing the elections live. Thus, that is where I will be most of Wednesday. Should be exciting!

Finally, to everyone back in America, hope you enjoyed your extra hour of sleep this weekend!

Until next time,

Ashley

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Happy Halloween

10/31

Happy Halloween! Well, for those of you in America anyway.  Although I don’t do a lot when I am home, I am a little sad that I won’t get to do anything for Halloween this year.  Not only do I have a night class, but here in China, they don’t actually celebrate Halloween. Don’t get me wrong, the American places around here decorate and have parties but the Chinese people themselves don’t really do much.  Their ‘Halloween’ is actually during June and July but it is only celebrated in some parts of the country. According to my teachers, the younger generation is starting to pick up on the American Halloween tradition but more in the sense of dressing up. No one goes trick-or-treating. My Chinese teacher actually told us that if we tried to go trick-or-treating the Chinese people were likely to call the cops on us. Thus, my Halloween night is filled with eating chocolate, reading scary stories and listening to The Monster Mash over and over and over… Boring huh? I guess that is the consequence of growing up.

As for what I have been up to: Last weekend, I went shopping with a friend from high school. Small world huh? A friend from high school, that I haven’t seen sense graduation, just happens to be in China at the same time as me! It was great to see her and spend time with her. It gave me a much needed taste of home.

We ended up going shopping at a place out near Tiananmen Square called the Pearl Market. They ended up having amazing deals and thus, I was able to buy a ton of Christmas gifts. I plan on doing a lot of my Christmas shopping here in China as everything is less expensive but I can still find quality stuff. Plus, I figure, I will only have about a week to get all of my shopping done once I get home. If I can get stuff in China, it will make my life so much easier. Besides, who wouldn’t want a little 中国特色 (Chinese style items) in their lives? I think it will make for interesting gifts.

Going back to the subject at hand, Halloween, I thought I would share with you some Chinese superstitions that I have learned while being here. I know it isn’t exactly Halloween style, more Friday the 13th but it will have to suffice as a little treat from China. Here it goes:

  1. The number four is China is bad luck because if you say it in the wrong tone (third tone) it means death.
  2. My conversation partner told me that although turtles are okay to eat, they should never be kept as pets as they will bring bad business luck.
  3. One should never praise a newborn baby because it will invite evil spirits and ghosts.
  4. Clipping toenails or fingernails at night is bad luck. If you do, you will be visited by a ghost (according to our maid).
  5. Never give a clock as a gift. It is considered bad luck.

I hope everyone has a good Halloween! Eat some candy corn for me!

~Ashley

Honesty

10/24

Happy Halfway Everyone! As of last Sunday, I have officially hit the halfway mark for my stay here in China. Since my blog posts keep getting further and further apart, mostly due to my increasingly busy schedule, I thought I would take some time to sit down and really reflect on what it has been like being in China.

Overall, I would have to say that being in China has been a bitter-sweet experience. Being thrown into a culture so different from my own, I can honestly say that the first week was a struggle for me. All I could think about was wanting to go home to the familiar. It didn’t help that my body refused to adjust to the food and the environment for the first week and thus, my dreams were haunted with images of cheeseburgers and clean air. Despite this rough beginning, I slowly began to adjust to the ways of life and to my surprise, I found myself actually having fun. It seemed so easy to slip into the daily life of the Chinese people that at times, I almost forgot I was in a different country. Of course, there were times when I wanted nothing more than to hop on the next jet home, even if it was just to visit for a short time. These moments seem to occur when I found myself in a stressful situations such as being sick, having to get my visa fixed or simply being overwhelmed by the amount of homework that suddenly seemed to appear. I think the hardest thing that I have had to deal with is frustration with myself. I have let too many great opportunities pass me by because I was too afraid let myself go. I am very conservative by nature and putting myself out there has always been a demon of mine. I promised myself that I would be the person who I have always wanted to be while I am here but thus far, I have not lived up to my own expectations. I can only hope that within these next few weeks I will be able to find the resolve within myself to be what I want to be and to do what I want to do. As it was said in some movie somewhere, failure is not an option.

Now, enough with the bitter and here come the sweets. I have met some amazing people here in China. People that I hope I will be able to stay in contact with for a long time. The one thing I really have picked up on here in China is that having friends to spend time with when you are down in the dumps seems to lighten the load. Secondly, I have seen some amazing places here in China and I have learned so much. My biggest regret thus far in this trip has been that I spent too much time worrying about getting homework done or worrying about having time to relax and forgetting that I am in a foreign country, one that I may not get to see again for a long time. I have five weeks left before I leave on my two week train trip around China. I am determined to not let the opportunity to explore slip through my fingers. I want to see every corner of Beijing that I can in the short amount of time that I have left. I have even gone as far as to create a list of places to visit and things to do before I leave. I have about ten things on that list and I am determined to do them all! Now, once again, it is time to turn my attention back to homework. I still have to finish preparing a half an hour lecture on how the financial crisis affected emerging economies. To all of you teachers out there, I don’t know how you do it. Preparing just a half an hour lecture is a lot of work, I can’t imagine preparing lectures for an entire day worth of class. Wish me luck!

Until next time,

Ashley

Ramblings of the Week

10/19

As I stated in my last post, this last weekend I went to the Forbidden City. I have been to the Forbidden City once before but for some reason, this time it seemed so much bigger. My little group explored the area for almost two hours and we still probably only saw half of it. It was interesting being there again as it brought back a lot of memories. As we were walking around I would see a building or artwork of some sort and it would strike a feeling of déjà vu. The most interesting memories I had were those pertaining to the historical significance of certain aspects of the city. For example, the Forbidden City has 9,999 rooms within it. The reasoning behind this was that 10,000 was considered the number of the Gods. Since the emperors believed that they was simply a step underneath the Gods, they felt entitled to 9,999 rooms. Also, the roofs of the Forbidden City are painted in gold as that was the color of the emperor and the Gods. As the day went on, I honestly began to feel like a tour guide for my group.

After our exploration, we all decided to head over to Wu Dao Kou to grab something to eat. We ended up at Steps, a local hangout, where we all scarfed down huge 汉堡包(hànbǎo bāo)or hamburgers. Not only were the hamburgers good, their fries were amazing. Lucky for some, unlucky for me since I have class, Steps has 15yuan hamburgers on Mondays. I think I may have to have some of my friends pick me up one and bring it to me in class. I believe it would be incentive enough to continue to survive my three hour class. After walking back, we all went back to our dorms, our tummies full of food, and watched movies for the rest of the night. Overall, I would say that it was a good afternoon and night.

I am not sure how the semester flew by so quickly but on Sunday I sat down to make a To Do list and found out that I have a lot to do. I have two research papers, a group project, book report and a lecture to prepare all due within the next three weeks. Thus, Sunday and Monday became homework days. Luckily I got a good chunk of it accomplished so I am not as stressed out now but I know I still have a lot of work ahead of me.

In my last post, I mentioned having a midterm that was supposed to be a surprise. I will admit that I was nervous for it. It was; however, a lot of fun! Our teacher split us up into groups and gave each group a stack of newspapers and twenty-five minutes to build some sort of structure as tall we could. He gave us certain rules we had to abide by and then let us go. I will say, with pride, my group won! The teacher had stated at the beginning that whichever team won would receive the A for the midterm; whether he was joking or not, I have no clue.

Now, it is the end of another week and the weekend is here. Today I spent the first half of the day at a tea house learning how to make tea/serve tea. Surprisingly enough, it is actually pretty complicated. There are quite a few steps if you want to do it the correct way. As for the second part of the day, I spent it debating whether or not America is in decline. Although I always love a good debate, this one got a little heated and thus, I was glad when it was over. According to the judges, the other side won but considering they copy and pasted a transcript from a television program talking about how America is in decline and used that as for their opening statements, arguments and closing statements, I think our side should get more credit than we were given.

After it was over, my roommate and I decided we needed to unwind and thus we walked out to Wu Dao Kou and got 15yuan Burritos at La Bamba. I feel as if I am turning into such a city girl. I am constantly on the outlook for discount food days, I am a pro at hailing taxis, I can stroll across a busy street without flinching and I walk everywhere. Whether becoming a city girl is good or bad, I haven’t decided yet.

Well, I am off to go do some homework so I can play tomorrow. Thanks again for reading!

Until next time,

Ashley

10/12

Wow, it has been a while since I have updated. I do apologize but in my defense, I have done nothing but study for the last week. It was midterm week this week. That meant hours of studying aided by chocolate bars and Nutella sandwiches. As far as I know, I have done well on my midterms so far. I still have one left but the professor will not tell us what it is. All he would say was that it will be a “fun team building surprise.” This of course makes me worried as I cannot study for it. I guess I will just have to wait and see how it goes.

Since I have nothing spectacular to talk about, I thought I would share some fun (and not so fun) facts that I have learned about China and the Chinese culture. Hope you enjoy!

Not so fun fact #1: The traffic here in China is outrageous. Everywhere you go, there is a traffic jam. The Chinese government has actually had to put a lottery into place to determine who is allowed to own a car. Each family that desires a car must purchase a license plate and wait until their number is drawn before they can actually own a car. Although this may seem unfair, when you see the amount of cars and traffic China has, you will understand.

Not so fun fact #2: Anyone remember the old game Frogger? This is what the pedestrians play here, every day of their lives. I have come to the conclusion that it may actually be safer to run across the road when I have the red light than walk across when I have the green light. At least I can anticipate the cars when it is their light. When it is my light, they can do some crazy stuff. There are four rules to walking across the street here in China:

  1. Don’t mess with the busses.
  2. Never hesitate. If you do, you will be hit. The cars do not stop.
  3. Always have someone between you and the cars.
  4. Walk with purpose or as if you owned the place.

If you do not follow these rules, the chances of you being hit are increase by quite a bit.

Not so fun fact #3: There is a rule in China that if a person hits a pedestrian or biker and injures them, the driver is responsible for paying medical for the rest of that pedestrian or biker’s life. However, if the driver hits them and kills the pedestrian, they only have to pay one flat fee.   Moral of the story, drivers tend to go for the kill.

Now moving on to the fun and happier facts!

Fun fact #1: 90% of the black Audis in China are government vehicles.

Fun fact #2: If you have ever seen Chinese architecture, you may have noticed that all of the doors have a piece of wood or stone that one must step over in order to enter the building. Usually they are decent size and if you are not watching where you are walking, you will end up falling face first into the ground. The reason for these lips is so that the demons that hang on your feet when you are walking cannot come into the house. They will get stuck on the lip, will lose their grip on your feet and fall off. Or so say the Chinese.

Fun fact #3: Magpies are very common here in China. They are, in a way, like the pigeons of China. However, they are bad luck and thus, if one is seen, the person who sees it must solute it in order to get rid of the bad luck that it brings.

Fun fact #4: My mother always told me that eating with your mouth full and/or eating loudly were bad manners. Here in China, both are perfectly acceptable. In fact, eating loudly is actually encouraged as it shows the cook that he/she did a good job cooking the food.

Fun fact #5: Another eating fact: sticking one’s chopsticks out of one’s rice is very bad for business. For Chinese people, this represents death.

Well that’s it for now but I am sure that I will come up with many more facts over the next few months. I would like to point out that the facts that I write here are facts that I have heard from Chinese people, not Americans. This, in my mind, makes them even more interesting.

Anyway, tomorrow I am off to the Forbidden City so there will be more updates to come!

~Ashley

Chengde and Stairs

10/3

Well, I made it back safe and sound from Chengde. I have to say that overall it was an interesting adventure. It all started at about 8:30am on Saturday morning. Making the mistake of not buying food the day before, I rushed to take a shower, get dressed and get everything organized before I rushed out the door to grab snacks for the road. Although the program was providing some meals for us, the rest we either had to bring or buy ourselves. Unfortunately our convenience store was not fully stocked that morning so I ended up with some cookies and cranberries. Nutritious lunch, huh?

By 10:30am our whole group had clamored onto the busses and we were on our way. For the first half an hour of the ride, excitement filled the air in the bus. However, when people started realizing that it would be a three hour drive to our first stop, the excitement dulled and sleep overtook most of the bus. I personally spent most of the time reading and listening to music. Part of me is happy I did not take a nap as I probably would have been groggy when we got to the Great Wall but another part of me still wishes I had taken that opportunity as it might have given me more energy.

I believe it was around 1:00-1:30pm by the time we reached the JinShanLing section of the Great Wall. This section of the Great Wall had very few tourists. The benefits to fewer people being that it was relatively quiet, one did not have to fight for picture space and the walk was a lot easier.  The stairs on the Great Wall are uneven, there is no pattern to the steps and at times, the stairs are simply rocks from the mountainside the wall was built upon.  Needless to say, not only is it a long climb, it is a difficult one. Yet, when you make it to a tower and you can climb up and look around, the view is breathtaking and completely worth the climb. The wall stretches as far as the eye can see. It lines the mountain tops and dives into small valleys. It is unbelievable to think that this was built without modern technology. Few people understand the sheer magnitude of the wall until they have been there in person.

I think that my group probably walked along the wall for about two hours. It was probably the most exhausting thing I have done in a long while. By the time we finally sat to rest, my legs were shaky. I consider myself, for the most part, in pretty good shape. I worked out all summer and I went on many long walks and hikes but there was something about this wall that drained my energy. I will say that the people who walk the wall on a daily basis are probably some of the most in shape people in this world. You may wonder why the Chinese are so tiny. Well, here is your answer: stairs.  Everywhere we have gone so far has had stairs. Stairs, stairs and more stairs. I am starting to think that perhaps the people here in China think that Americans are fat and lazy and thus, they are taking us to these places to help us lose some weight (I say that jokingly of course).

When it was finally time to head back down and meet the rest of the group for dinner, we met up with this little old lady who led us down a windy trail through the woods. Oh, and when I say trail, it was more of a deer trail: a small, unkempt dirt path that had just enough room for one person to squeeze through the bushes. But hey, we all survived, thanked the lady and went off to dinner. After only having approximately ten cranberries and two cookies for lunch, you can rest assured that I ate my weight in food for dinner. I do not know exactly what I ate but whatever it was, it was good.

The rest of the night was spent hanging out at the farmers’ compounds. There were a group of about ten people in each compound. I have to say, before I left, I was imagining myself sleeping on bales of hay with pigs snoring next to me. This was not what it was like at all. In fact, it kind of reminded me of a dorm. Each compound had a two story concrete building and within each building there was a common room that led to some bed rooms. Although others were not so lucky in the bedrooms they got (they had concrete slabs for beds) I got a bed that was probably the softest bed I have slept on thus far.  As for the burning question that is probably on all of your minds, yes, I conquered the squatter. It actually was a pretty nice one considering the environment we were in. It was a porcelain bowl and everything! Exciting, huh?

That night we all went to bed early as most of us had plans to get up early. We were getting up at 5:00am to climb the Great Wall, once again, and to watch the sunrise from one of the tall towers. It was gorgeous. As we were just reaching the tower, the colors of first light were starting to paint the sky. On one side, I could see the moon lighting the wall as it slowly disappeared over the mountains and on the other side, a sunrise was lighting up the wall in a golden hue. It was a sight that few have probably experienced and I feel extremely thankful that I was able to see it.

Over the course of the rest of that day and the next day, we visited two Buddhist temples and a mountain resort. Guess what? All of them had stairs. Despite this, the temples were extremely interesting. Not only did I get to see the world’s largest wooden Buddha, I got to learn a lot about the Buddhist faith. The temples were a place for people to go and pray but it was also an information center in which visitors could learn about the different Gods and practices of those in the Buddhist faith. At one of the temples, I was able to sneak in on a tour of a main hall in which the Buddhist monks used for mediation and schooling.  It was interesting to hear the monk talk of the different paintings, histories and symbolic meanings of the hall. I feel privileged to have been let in on this seemingly secret world.

At the second temple we visited, there was a chain link handrail running up the side of a hill that was filled with locks. Apparently it is a tradition that when a person visits this place, they are to leave their mark in the form of a lock. By putting a lock on the chain, you symbolize a hope for good luck, happiness, fortune, or whatever lock you happen to pick. I picked the luck lock. I figured that luck was an encompassing idea that would cover various aspects of my life. Thus, I carved my initials, my fiancé’s initials into the lock and hung it on the chain. I do not know how long it will stay but I saw a lock on the chain from as early as 2002 so my hope is that my lock will stay on there for years to come. With any luck, if I ever come back to China, I can visit this temple and find the lock.

As mentioned before, we also visited a mountain resort. It is not exactly what it sounds like. The mountain resort was actually a place that emperors and others would visit during the summer for relaxation. The resort itself was not that interesting but walking out the doors, I was greeted with the sight of a beautiful lake. There were pagodas surrounding the lake, small but intricate bridges crossing the smaller water ways and a grassy strip near the lake’s edge that allowed for relaxing. Lucky for us, the weather was extremely nice that day and thus, a big group of us decided to take some time to relax and enjoy the sun and fresh air (yes, there was actually fresh air here). We did not explore as much here as we did other places we visited but I think sitting by the lake was the perfect way to spend our time there. I loved every moment.

Overall, I believe the trip was a success. Although I was exhausted when I got home, I enjoyed my time away from Beijing. This trip made me realize that although this experience has been difficult at times, I will never have a chance like this again and I need to take advantage of every moment.

~Ashley

Leaving for Chengde

9/28

Chengde is almost here! Tomorrow I leave for a three day vacation to a mountain resort in Chengde, China.  From the sound of it, the location we are staying at sounds beautiful. My only concern is that the day before we get to Chengde, we are stopping overnight at a rural village near a section of the Great Wall. Although I believe this will be an incredible experience, I am worried about the bathroom. Apparently, our group, along with entire village will be sharing one bathroom. To make matters worse, the bathroom is a squatter. For those of you who don’t know, it is basically a porcelain hole in the ground. However, if this village is anything like the village I visited last time I was in China, there will be no porcelain hole but rather, a wooded deck with a hole in the middle. No disrespect to the Chinese but I don’t think I will ever get used to squatters.

As for the beginning of this week, it was not very exciting. It consisted of homework, sleeping, class and eating. It seems as if I have finally fallen into school mode. Despite the strange surroundings and the horribly hard beds, I could almost believe I was back at Linfield going through the daily motions of this life I call college.

Finally, don’t forget, October first is the national holiday here in China! If you can find them, I suggest you all celebrate it by buying and consuming a mooncake!

Thus ends this blog post. Short but sweet.

~ Ashley