Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Escape from a Bad Day

After that test fiasco this morning, I didn’t want to think about school. I got ahold of Donny and we headed to the bank because we both needed to start accounts. On our way out, I saw something new happening in the already congested traffic. Four or five men were pushing a bus into the street from my school’s south gate. I’m surprised that they didn’t die.

pushing cars

Banking went smoothly, and I now have a savings account at Bank of China. (And the bitter part of me says, “Oh yeah, I can open a bank account using Chinese, but I can’t do anything useful, right?” I know, I should let it go. I’m saying all kinds of unnecessary things.)

After the bank we tried to locate a webcam. Things like webcam are difficult to communicate when you don’t know the word. We did find one at a local electronics store, and we learned the word for it finally – shexiangtou. That’s one I don’t want to forget because it took so long to learn. Finding it provided an extra challenge for me since I have an Apple Powerbook, and I lack Windows. Discussing things like compatibility and operating systems is so impossible to do without proper vocabulary that it’s actually kind of comical. These women I talked to kept insisting that because my laptop had USB ports that the camera would work with my computer. “I don’t have Windows, though,” I’d say. “It doesn’t matter!” Tell Apple that.

Because there isn’t really anything to do on campus lately, we decided to then go to Wangfujing, a huge shopping district in central Beijing. I was there last time I was in Beijing, so I remembered a back street with all kinds of fun snacks. One of my favorites was skewered fruit with a carmelized layer of sugar covering it. I got a stick of grapes, and Donny got a stick of plum halves. Unfortunately, eating these gets your hands and face covered in liquid sugar, which manages to make the humidity feel worse than it did already. We found a KFC to wash our hands in.

amazing fruit

I walked around a gigantic mall at Oriental Plaza while we were still trying to find webcams we could use. We stopped in a Sony store on the off chance that they might have them. Not surprisingly the Sony store did not have webcams. They did, however, have Aibo, the robot dog. I couldn’t play with it even though it was out – it was leashed to a security device.

After the Sony store, I saw store called Romana that had ice cream that looked distinctly like the gelato that I ate everywhere in Rome, Anzio, and Nettuno. I had to try it because I was having such a bad day. To my delight, it tasted perfect. I got chocolate and hazelnut, the combination that became my twice daily usual in Italy. I know where to go when I’m feeling really awful now.

We headed back to campus after a few approaches by girls who wanted us to go see their art exhibitions. For those girls, we started pretending to be German or French so they couldn’t talk to us and take up our time. We caught a cab in an illegal stopping area with a policeman watching, and began a slow, car horn-filled trudge through traffic.


As a final note, I’ve eaten at the Muslim restaurant on campus twice today. I really love their hot and sour potatoes. That place is going to be my food place during the school year. I don’t know when that year begins yet, but we’ll all hopefully find that out soon. It has to be soon, right?

Kicking and Screaming

Today began badly and I should have just stayed in bed when I realized it. Somehow in my sleep last night or this morning I managed to reset the time on my alarm clock to an hour behind and the alarm to an hour ahead. This resulted in my awakening at what I thought was 7.30. I thought I had overslept a little, but it was okay because I had been tired, and I felt really rested. I went to brush my teeth. When I returned, I opened widget, my laptop, and found that it was 8.40. There was no way that I took an hour and ten minutes to brush my teeth. What was worse was that I was supposed to go get my test results at 9.00, so this was probably going to be another morning without breakfast.

My new conclusion about life is that any day that begins without breakfast is bound to be a bad one. Yeah, put that on an Ad Council advertisement with my face on it. I’m standing by it.

I went to get my test results, and I found that I did terribly. It was just awful. Now, this isn’t to say that it was unexpected, but I do believe that the results were not reflective of my actual abilities. I think I got a real dose today of the differences in education between the U.S. and China. For the first part of my morning, there didn’t seem to be a soul that I could convince that my test scores shouldn’t be all that they consider because I had a really off day for testing and bad conditions in which to test.

The first person I talked to was utterly unconvinced that I could do anything in Chinese because of the scores, even though our whole conversation was in Chinese and I passed all of his little tests like, “Read this passage aloud. Do you know what it means? Write this character.” After performing like a trained monkey for about 5 minutes, he told me to wait while he got someone from the office. A tall, slim woman approached with him a few minutes later. He explained, “She’s studied for two years in the United States, but look at these scores! They’re so low!”

[Allow me to note here that all dialogue you will read regarding the test was in Chinese, and not English. With that in mind, please, read on.]

She looked at them, and then at me. “These scores are not high enough for a student who has studied for two years. How can you explain this?”

I started talking about the poor recording quality of the tape, and being nervous after knowing I did badly on the listening section. Then I explained to her that subjects that I scored the worst on were usually my strongest points. I told her that I didn’t think the test was really reflective of my abilities, and that I think I should be retested. I also told her that I looked at the books for the course that my placement test suggested I enroll in, and that I thought they were too easy because I had already studied everything in them.

I was just going on and on about how wrong the test was about me – in Chinese. “I understand that this test is very important to placement and assessing my achievement. I agree. I think the test is very important. But I don’t think that I tested as I normally would have, and so I do not think that the test is accurate in this case.”

After that, she took me to a room where a short haired woman sat in a chair talking to another girl who I think was in my same situation. Their conversation was drawing to a close, and the girl shortly departed. The tall slim woman explained the situation to the short haired woman, adding, “Look at how low her scores are!” I was getting a little tired of that. Mentioning it more wasn’t going to make me feel worse after that. I think it’s good that I reached my saturation point of being affected early.

The short haired woman looked at my paper and asked me how long I had studied Chinese. I told her that I had studied two years at a school in the U.S., and that I knew that my scores were very low for my length of study. She asked me why I thought that was. I could tell that she was going to be more willing to listen than the others.

“I think there were several reasons. First, when the listening section began,” I covered my mouth with my hands, “it sounded like this. Can you understand this?” I took my hands down. Her eyes widened a little and she smiled sympathetically. “I called a proctor to my desk and told her that I couldn’t hear it, but –“

“- she had no solution?” she asked.

“Exactly. So I was so nervous because I knew that I was going to do badly. And when the next sections came, I became more nervous. When the reading comprehension section came, I felt awful because I could read the passages almost completely, but there were a few characters in the questions about it that I haven’t studied yet; so, I couldn’t answer anything about a whole text that I actually understood! What was I supposed to do to show that I understood? And then when the writing section came I was so nervous and sad that I started to forget how to write all of these characters that I already know. My grade on the test isn’t how I normally test.”

“I’m convinced that these scores are not normal for you. I think you had a bad day for testing. I’m going to have you look at some textbooks and see how difficult you think they are.”

We talked for a few more minutes, and then we to look at textbooks. The first two were way too easy and things I’ve already studied. She told that 45 must be too low, and that I should probably use book 68. She took me to the office to talk to someone. That someone was unfortunately the tall, slim woman.

The short haired woman explained to the tall woman that these scores can’t possibly be normal for me, and that she thought that I should be in the class that uses book 68. The tall woman took my scores in hand and looked at them again. “These scores are just so low, though!” she said.

Before the short haired woman had to talk again, I said, “I know these scores are low. But if you place me in the class that you want to, I might as well go back to the U.S. because I’m not going to advance here. I’m going to be wasting my time, and I’m not willing to do that when I know that my Chinese is better that this. I know that you don’t think so because the scores are all you have to go on, but I cannot be put in a class that is too easy for me. It will be a waste of time for everyone.”

The tall woman looked at me and paused. “Well, we’re going to put you in a course higher than what the scores indicate. The scores say you should be in the lowest level because they’re so low. But I think that you’re better than that, so we can put you with book 45.”

“And what if book 45 is too easy? What will I do then? Go back to the United States? Will I be able to change classes?”

After another pause, she told me that I should come back on the 2nd to take another test and talk to a teacher. After that, she said, we will decide my placement. “And if your class is too easy, you will talk to your teacher, and she will assess your skills. If she thinks you can move up, you two will come to the office, and we will advance you.”

That was something I could agree to. I thanked her and told her that I would see her on Friday. I’m happy that I was able to argue in Chinese. I didn’t dare try it in English because that wasn’t going to prove anything about what I know. It’s okay that I’m not fluent in Chinese, but it isn’t okay if I’m not even making an attempt. I think all of the arguing is probably what persuaded her to give me this second chance. I hope I don’t screw it up.

Today has taught me a great deal about why young students are terrified of their entrance exams in China and Japan. Having to constantly hear about how awful my scores are, and having to hear it made into such a personal reflection of myself is something I would never wish to have to go through. To me, tests are one measure of ability, but they certainly are not definitive. If hadn’t already learned to detach my grades from my sense of personal worth, I would have been even more of a wreck today than I already was. I now feel so much empathy for high school students in China and Japan. One off day can really give you an off year, or off life. What an awful thing to have to go through.

The Campus

I think this campus is really pretty, even with all of the pollution. It's packed full of people, but it still manages to seem serene to me.

The building on the left is Student Dormitory No. 1, my building. The building on the right is No. 2. Don't let the outside fool you, though. I already posted what my cell looks like.

This is a pond that lies very close to my dorm.

These are some of the lotus flowers that grow in the pond.

I've gotten to walk around alot, and there are some more things I'd like to photograph. The campus looks so different than any other I've been to in the states, so this has been a nice change.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Strangeness Afoot and a Special Kind of Pie

Last night I decided to take a nap around 10.30. I planned to awaken around 11 so I could call Andrew on Skype. At 10.58, however, someone came banging on my door, jolting me awake. I had already had this happen four times earlier in the day with people looking for others on the floor who I don’t know yet. I was groggy and consequently terrified of the sound, so I got out of bed and answered the door.

A man dressed like a worker from downstairs came right and started messing with my television. Granted, the television hasn’t been working, but 11pm is an odd time to fix it, and on top of it all, I didn’t request maintenance. I was really confused. I started trying to figure out what was going on in broken Chinese. “Uh, excuse me, what are you doing here? And where did that remote control come from?” I asked. He replied with something generally related to the television. I could have gathered that without his mumbled Beijing accent.

He turned the television on and kept hitting buttons on the remote, but nothing was happening. Now, I’m no television or cable repair person, but I could tell you that the reason nothing was happening was the disconnected coaxial cable. It was lying on the floor next to the television stand. I plugged it in, attempting to be helpful, and the cable came on and he started yelling something about how the television works now. “Great,” I thought, “the remote makes the television work. Problem solved. That was fast.”

However, it was not fast. Instead of leaving, he sat down on my roommate’s bed. I still hadn’t seen my roommate since her initial ten-minute visit. “Okay, you owe 100 kuai,” he said. Confused, I inquired as to why. He said that the remote control cost 100 kuai. I told him that I didn’t even want television, so he could keep it. He said no.

“I don’t know what you want me to do, then. I’m not paying you for this. I didn’t ask anyone to come here to do anything about the television. I don’t care about television. You can take it away if you want,” I said.

He told me that my roommate wanted it fixed. I told him that I hadn’t seen my roommate for more than ten minutes and that I didn’t even know if she was still living here. “So, if she wants television, she can pay for it. If she wants it when she gets back, I’ll send her down to the office to get you.”

“Okay, 100 kuai,” he said.

“No. I’m not paying you. I don’t have any money. I don’t watch T.V. And in fact, I was sleeping when you came and banged on my door, so you can go back to the office, and I’m going to go back to sleep. If I need television, I’ll come down to order it when I’m more awake. Okay?”

Instead of leaving, he decided to correct my colloquial speech for saying that I don’t like television. Normally I would welcome corrections, but not from some creepy man who showed up in my room at 11pm out of nowhere. I started considering the various objects I could throw at him to get him to leave. I already had told him several times to go back to the office. I was polite the first few times, but I was getting very frustrated not being able to think clearly in Chinese, and I knew he knew what I was saying on top of it all. He just wouldn’t leave. If people aren’t going to take a hint, and not take a polite request to leave, then I’m not going to be polite anymore. He was being aggravating on purpose.

“Look, I have to go to sleep. I have a huge test in the morning, and I don’t want to fail it. So please leave. If I need T.V., I’ll let you know.”

“Okay, you don’t have to pay.”

“You’re right I don’t have to pay. I have to go to sleep! Please go!!”

“Okay, okay. You don’t have to pay.”


Finally he smiled, shook his head, told me to have a goodnight, and left. He understood everything I was saying. I wasn’t speaking incorrectly. I wasn’t communicating poorly. He was antagonizing me for no reason, and that was confirmed by how he left. He spent 12 minutes sitting on my roommate’s bed, screwing with my sense of correct speaking. I told a few friends about this today, and it struck all of them the wrong way. They told me to come to their rooms if that happens again. Luckily, I think my roommate will be living here now, so there will be two of us to beat him up if he comes back.

Let me be clear, however - I didn’t feel threatened at all by what happened. This was just a very frustrating experience, and I don’t think he belonged here that late. When I get my living certificate from downstairs in a few minutes, I’m going to tell the people at the desk what happened and see what they say. I hope I can communicate this clearly. If they’re unhelpful, I might go talk to a guard in the security office. I just want to be sure that there isn’t something I need to be worried about.

So that experience was one blow to my Chinese skills. The second arrived today when I had to take the HSK. I thought I was just going to take a short placement test this morning at 8.20. I couldn’t find breakfast beforehand, but I didn’t think that was going to be a big deal. When they passed out the tests, however, I soon found out that I was in for a standardized test in Mandarin. I’ll say that I was less than excited and leave it at that.

The test was 145 minutes long and was comprised of four sections. The first was listening, the second was grammar, the third was reading comprehension, and the fourth was vocabulary and writing. The recorded instructions for the listening section were crystal clear and repeated by three different people. When the test began, however, there was a collective gasp amongst the test-takers.

To get an idea of the recording quality of the listening section, I’d like you to place both hands over your mouth and mumble what you think Russian, or some other language you don’t know, sounds like. It was absolutely awful. And of course, nothing was repeated. We got one shot at every question, and no one could understand a word. I know this was the case because of how many anxiety-stricken voices I heard talking about how in other countries our test results would have been nullified for such a scandal of a recording job.

It was bad. Every section got harder than the last, and some people just left. I saw 20-30 people leave after the second section, and another 30-40 leave halfway through the third section. It was so hard. I’m going to place into the lowest level possible. I had no idea what was going on. I could read the passages in the comprehension section and get a general idea of what was happening, but there were characters that I just didn’t know yet that completely interfered with my understanding. Then I couldn’t answer the questions because they had 3-4 characters that I didn’t know. I could read the multiple choice answers just fine, but I didn’t know what I needed to answer. I don’t know if this test is representative of what I know or not.

So I was seriously humbled in a matter of 14 hours. I didn’t think I was being arrogant about my successes here so far, but apparently the universe did. That test was so demoralizing. I’m not going to worry about it, though. From what I can tell, everyone is in the same boat as I am, or in one that’s sinking faster. I’ll just have to wait for the results tomorrow to find out what that is going to end up meaning for me.

Ugh, standardized tests in English are ridiculous enough. But in Chinese? Yuck.

Monday, August 29, 2005

How I Imagine Hell

Today was the longest feeling day that I’ve had on record.

My roommate arrived today. She is from Kazakhstan. Her mother came with her to help her move in. I only saw her for 10 minutes before she left. She didn’t have any luggage with her. She also didn’t speak any Chinese. I don’t want to have to speak English this year. I’m going to tell her that my school requires me to only speak Chinese once classes begin. This may not even be an issue, however, because none of her stuff is here now, and I haven’t seen her since this morning.

I met Gerrie, my new friend from Bulgaria, in the hallway so we could head to lunch. We were going to meet our friend Ryan at his dorm, and then proceed to dormitory number 12 to meet everyone else. When Gerrie and I got outside, we ran into Donny, the other scholarship student from the states. He asked if we were ready for our medical exams today.

“Yeah, I guess. We’re about to go eat lunch, though. Do you want to come with?” I asked.

“Oh, I don’t think we’re supposed to eat. The Spanish students’ advisor explained everything much better to them. We’re not supposed to eat for 12 hours before the exams, and they’re going to do blood work,” he said.

The three of us worriedly discussed how much we didn’t want to have blood work done in China. All three of us are scholarship students, so we all had to have everything done in our home countries prior to coming to China. We also knew, however, that the Beijing Health and Quarantine Bureau (BHQB) doesn’t always agree to the validity of the tests from other countries.

Donny headed back to his room, and Gerrie and I went to find Ryan to tell him the news. When he told him, he looked fearful. “I don’t want to get my blood drawn in China,” he said. No one does, my friend. No one does. We tried to find the others so we could tell them not to eat, but it was to no avail. So we all went back to our rooms and said we’d meet at the South Gate to wait for the bus to take us to BHQB.

I went upstairs and began searching the internet for any indication of the quality of health care at BHQB, and for information on the procedure for the health certificate for foreigners who already have recent papers. Also, I thought about all of the horrible diseases I could contract from an unsterile needle. I started a list on a piece of paper of medical terms I didn’t know how to say in Chinese yet. You can be sure that I now know how to say, “I already had blood tests,” “I do not have HIV,” “I do not have tuberculosis,” “I want a sterile needle,” “I faint when I have blood drawn,” and “I am allergic to penicillin.” I was ready for a fight. I had all the characters written down, too, just in case I screwed up pronunciation while nervous.

At 1.30pm everyone was loaded onto a bus and driven to BHQB. The lobby was packed full of people, and I assure that this was no small building. The noise was overwhelming as there were about 1000 people speaking 300 different languages. Every face I saw was panic-stricken, I would assume from not knowing what line to be in, and the prospect of having to have blood drawn by a doctor who doesn’t speak anything but Chinese and broken English.

It took about 20 minutes to figure out what line I was supposed to be in. I had a French girl lead me to one line, and then spoke Chinese to a professor to find out about the number on my ticket and what it meant, ran into two Scottish guys who were completely lost, and then decided I’d stick with them in case they needed translation.

That’s when I met back up with Donny. We exchanged information from my two previous lines and his three. We knew that we had to get stamps on one form to indicate that we didn’t have to pay (scholarship exemption), and then we had to get into some other line where a doctor would decide if our medical results were good enough to skip the on-site verification exams. I don’t really know how we got this information. I think everyone was just piecing things together. There was no guidance for this process whatsoever – not in English, not in Chinese. None.

a glimpse into hell

I waited in one line for about 50 minutes. It wouldn’t have been so bad, but nothing was getting accomplished whatsoever. I was third in line for that whole time. I met some nice Canadians, at least, so I guess it wasn’t a total loss. When it was my turn in line, I didn’t initially get the stamps. They sent me away to the medical confirmation line, and I figured that’s when things would get worked out. However, three minutes into that last, I thought something must be wrong. Donny was getting his paperwork taken care of there, so I pushed through to ask him if I needed the stamps. Of course, I did. I shoved my paper back to the girl who processed it before and said that I was a scholarship student and that I had to have a stamp. No problem. Stamped.

I thought then that I should have been taking this approach all along. Unfortunately, after waiting and hour and a half in another static line, I had forgotten about it. One of the reasons this process was so awful was the fact that no one had eaten anything, and it was really hot. Long lines are bad, but they’re usually tolerable. This was becoming unbearable. By some stroke of luck, I ended up with three other Americans and those two Scottish men, so we were all able to take comfort in being able to converse freely. We had all grown a little tired of oversimplifying our English and speaking with perfect, slow diction.

I am happy to report that once I reached the doctor at the front of the line my results were approved. I did not have to get a blood test, or anything else for that matter. Donny, Gerrie, and the two Scottish men were also in the clear. Our two friends Ryan and Caitlyn were unfortunately taken to the blood room, though. I handed Ryan the list of words I had written so they could demand clean needles. I’m sure BHQB is a fine institution, but it doesn’t hurt to be cautious.

My experience in BHQB was the most inefficient thing that I have witnessed or heard of. I can’t imagine what this same task must have been like 10 years ago. I don’t want to think about it. Those three hours in BHQB were just about what I had always imagined hell to be like. I’m so happy to be out of there. Donny, his roommate, and I didn’t even wait for the bus to take us back. We hopped in a cab to hunt down some food. We were all ready to pass out. If I never have to go back to BHQB, it will be too soon.

Strangely Fulfilled Expectations

Through exploring the area around the school for the past few days, I’m come to realize that Beijing is what I thought New York was going to be like; polluted, very heavy traffic, continuously blaring car horns, densely packed with people, dirty, and full of tall building that are either ultra-modern, or with barred windows and breaking down. In my mind, this is what I thought a big city should be. Perhaps my idea was stuck in some industrial revolution stereotype, but even still, I didn’t feel completely satisfied with New York’s status of “huge city” as a result.

Here, it is truly an adrenaline rush to cross a street. When you have three turn lanes coming at you with no walk signal to guide your crossing, it can really feel like life or death just to get to the internet café from the school. I love it here! This city is making the mundane things I never noticed become exciting. I’m paying attention to everything around me partially because of how new it all is, and partially because I have to. The city is forcing me to take notice, and I’m so grateful.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Dinner and an Internet Update

I went to dinner with six other people tonight. I’ve become “the one who speaks the best Chinese” out of the people I’ve met, so I ordered everything. It was amazing – I didn’t have any problems with ordering! I’m excited.

However, things that I am not excited about include the very real block over here on weblogs. It isn’t an urban myth or something. I seriously cannot access blogger blogs. And yes, that means I can’t even view my own. This bothers me, to say the least. I guess there’s a list of about 200 kinds of blogs that are blocked. They haven’t gotten xanga or livejournal yet, though. I wonder if I can get around this with RSS feeds directing blogs to somewhere else.

This block is insane to me. Before I left for China I had heard of it, but I dismissed it as virtually impossible. How are you going to censor the internet of an entire country? Or even just one city? It can’t possibly be done. Well, unfortunately for me, it can and is being done. Maybe it bothers me so much because I just don’t know how they did it. And whatever they’re using isn’t tricked by domain names that don’t include blogspot (like or I’m going to try to get around it. If you have suggestions about how to do the RSS thing, send them along to hdemmon at gmail dot com.

A Triumph Resulting in Internet

My concrete slab of a bed isn’t too uncomfortable. I woke up around 1.30am and studied Chinese for about an hour and a half before I finally decided that I’d need sleep for more registration in the morning. I awakened again around 7am with quite an awful shoulder/neck ache. It hasn't gone away yet. Maybe I’ll just get used to it.

my bed

I got back to Run Run Shaw this morning about five minutes before registration opened. I was the first American there, so I wasn’t going to have a line. I needed to return some forms to further the progress of getting my student card and residence permit. I tried to give them everything today that they requested yesterday, but they didn’t want it all. I had to fill out a form twice, and I still don’t know what I’ll be using it for. I also don’t understand why photocopiers aren’t being utilized for duplicates when they’re sitting right against a wall.

I have to go to get rechecked at a health center tomorrow. I’m going to be boarded onto a bus with a bunch of other foreigners around 1.30pm. They haven’t told us if the bus will take us back yet. I get the feeling that it won’t. I’d better keep my eyes open on the way there.

While trying to find the College of Advanced Chinese Training today, a Chinese man from Vancouver stopped me and asked if I needed help. As we walked to find the building, he introduced himself. His name is Ping, and he is currently working in investment. He was very helpful on several topics regarding living in Beijing. He told me about cell phone plans, the wonders of calling the U.S. with Skype, and an internet café near the school.

We found the building after asking a few people for directions, and I got registered to take a placement in two days. I’m happy to say that I got that task accomplished completely in Chinese. I’m really excited about being functional in Mandarin. I didn’t know that I was, but it’s being proven to me over and over again with everything that I get done. I think IU must really have an amazing program for Chinese. I feel like I’m probably quite a bit further along than the people I’ve met who have had the same length of training that I have.

Ping told me that he’d take me over to the cell phone store so I could check out the plans. I needed to get my cell phone from my room, so I told him I’d meet him at the South Gate. On my way to the dorm, I ran into Ryan and invited him to come with. So the three of us went to the store, checked things out, and then headed to the internet café. I was so excited to have internet at my fingertips. It’s surprisingly fast here. The speed is comparable to cable internet in the U.S.

We had lunch about an hour and a half later at a place right next door to the café. Lunch was delicious. I had Mapo Dofu, and it was extremely spicy and wonderful. I loved it. The three of us sat eating and talking for about two and a half hours. I had forgotten how much of an emphasis my Chinese professors put on the fact that meals are a social time. Or perhaps I hadn’t forgotten: I simply didn’t fully realize how true their statements were. We talked for such a long time. I really feel like I learned a lot in the conversation, though. I’m looking forward to more meals with people here. I’m going to get a lot more out of those than any culture course I could take in the states.

After lunch, I decided that I needed to get internet today. I went to Cernet’s office on campus and laid everything out in Chinese. Let me tell you, I am extremely excited about how I did with this. I picked a plan, gave my information, scheduled an appointment, and paid for service without ever falling back on English or getting really frustrated. I even asked questions about my plan and when I pay, and what I needed to do at the installation appointment. This confirmed in my head that I’m functional speaking Chinese. That is really exciting. I can’t wait until classes start and I learn even more.

I have internet in my room now. I have a minute language triumph. This is something I need to remember on the off days I have in my studies.

In My New Room

I’d love to talk about registration, but all I can think about is the humidity. My room does not have air conditioning. I got the lowest kind of room possible because I’m on this scholarship. To upgrade, I’d need to pay the remainder. I must be feeling awfully defiant today, because instead of paying the fee, I bought a fan. Yes, that’s right. I’m going to tough out the summer. Twice. I’m going to get more of an authentic experience than I bargained for, right down to the public bathrooms. Check me out; I’m a Chinese university student.

I think part of the reason I’m not changing rooms is that I’m trying to break myself of being a pampered Westerner to some extent. Obviously, I still have plenty of amenities here. But I think I can live without air conditioning. I refuse to believe that I am unable to adapt to a new situation. If I can only handle living in the U.S. or Europe, then I am seriously limiting myself. We’ll see if I’m still singing this song in two weeks. I think as long as the windows block the sandstorms from getting in, I should be grateful.

Registration went more smoothly than I expected it to. I have some forms to return tomorrow that I got today. I got housing first, and then headed to Run Run Shaw building to get – umm – I don’t know what actually happened there. I think a lot of paperwork happened. I can say for sure that I’m happy I’m here in 2005 instead of 1980, or earlier. I get the feeling that this was the most streamlined process I could ask for.

Understand, however, that streamlined, in this case, means that I: went to a jumbled line of Americans, line 3; was told to fill out several forms and return them when finished; finished the forms and tried to return them; was turned away and told that I must have the residence permit form filled out, too (even though the man gave it to me as he mentioned it); then I was told to go to line 10 to collect my settlement payment and stipend; went to line 10 and was told to go upstairs; went upstairs and was told to go downstairs to line 10; went back to line 10 and found a new person working there; signed some papers in line 10 and had my form stamped; and was told by the man that I must go to some room on Monday to collect the money.

I’ve been running in about 70% Mandarin, 25% English, and 5% grunting and gesturing. Overall, it’s been a pretty efficient communication system. My Chinese wasn’t nearly as bad as I was expecting it to be during registration. I still had some problems, of course, but not as many as I certainly could have. I felt really bad for the students who were having the kinds of problems I thought I would have. I tried to help them out.

When I arrived in Run Run Shaw, there was an information desk with gruff looking Chinese woman attending. She was gesturing wildly and speaking very loudly to a guy who looked very confused. She kept screaming, “Visa form! Do you have your visa form?” I walked up behind the guy with mine, and the woman pointed to me. “That! Do you have that?”

That guy could have been American or European, I thought, so I took a chance with English. I asked him if he had his visa form, and he explained that the consulate took it when he applied for the visa, and that he didn’t have any copies. I translated for him, and the woman then just wanted to know what country he was from. He was Italian, so he got sent to line 4. I hope everything turned out all right for him. That visa form is important. I saw him a little later in the process, and he seemed okay.

While I was waiting in line 3, I met a guy named Ryan from Kentucky. I also met Donny, the scholarship student from Ohio State. I went to lunch with Ryan and his friend Steven, who is from Alabama. I got some really awesome eggplant. You always have to go to meals with other people in China. The portions are way too big for one person. I had sticker shock again when I realized that we each only paid about 1USD for two huge platters of food, three bowls of rice, and a pot of tea.

The three of us went to a grocery/generally whatever you can think of store after lunch to pick up some things. I bought my fan then, as well as some hangers and hand soap. I’m so happy with this fan. It’s sitting on my desk and keeping me very pleasantly cool. We also went to a Kodak store so Ryan could more passport photos. I had to order for him because he’s only had one year of Chinese. After shopping, we checked out Ryan’s room. His is very nice, and he has a balcony. I’m not going to be jealous, though. I’m getting an authentic experience. I haven’t decided if that last statement is sarcastic or not, yet.

I still don't know who is living with me. I wonder if she'll like the heat in the room. It's so comfortable.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

A List of Realizations

1) I don’t know where my razor is. I have all these cartridges, but no razor. I am going to feel like a moron if I forgot it.

2) I don’t know what I think I’m doing in China. I have had to speak so much Chinese already, and I am getting so confused. Hopefully this will fade and I will get better.

3) I now live in a very, very huge city.

4) I like China’s system of room lighting in hotels. There are several controls for all of the lights, set up in bundles, all over the room. I can control everything from my bed.

Lying in Bed

The flight to Narita was so long – over eleven hours. I watched two movies, slept, and ate. That’s all there really is to do on an airplane anyway. When we arrived at Narita, it took forever to get people off the plane. I realized that time was ticking away for me to get through the next round of security and get to my gate. I still didn’t know my gate number, either.

I walked as fast as I could to the gate listings, and I saw that my flight was boarding. I tried to make a mad dash for my gate. As usual, though, people in Narita airport were either walking to the tune of a slow death march, or completely stopped in the middle of a throughway. I finally made it to the escalator, where people were not walking, but rather standing on both sides, making it completely impossible to bypass them. There was a uniformed man at the bottom of the escalator barking gate numbers to people.

He looked at me and yelled, “Shanghai?”

“No,” I said, “Beijing.”

“Beijing is already boarding. You need to get over there! Gate 22.”

As I already knew my gate number and didn’t like Narita airport much anyway, I was a little irritated by the man taking up more of my time. I decided to stop walking on the people transporter in the middle of the airport. Unlike in the U.S., where people walk on the belt to get to their destinations more quickly, people in Narita stood in both lanes and made walls with their luggage. I really don’t like that airport.

By the time I got to my gate, my flight was down to boarding all passengers, so I got in line right away. I’m so glad I didn’t miss my flight. I kept muttering to myself on the way there, “I am not getting stranded in Japan. I am not getting stranded in Japan…”
The flight to China was uneventful. I was basically asleep the entire time. Toward the end, it looked like we would be in Beijing about 40 minutes early. However, that prediction was quickly discarded when we were all notified that a typhoon was keeping us from landing, and that we would be circling for a while.

When we landed, all the power went out in the plane. The generators came on, and then died after 3 minutes. I guess we must have landed at a good time.

I got through customs and baggage claim just fine. It took a long time, but I expected that. Yang Jun, Ning’s brother, picked me up and took me to the New Century Hotel. He spoke really fast and with a fairly think Beijing accent; so, given how tired I was, I had a few communication issues. At the hotel, there was some issue with the concierge not liking my visa listing the number of days for my stay as 000. I had a feeling that would come up somewhere. I explained that it was s student visa, but I don’t think she listened. Yang Jun handed her a cell phone, and then after a few minutes everything was okay.

I called my mom after Yang Jun left. I had to dial direct, so I think settling charges in the morning is going to suck. I really hope something doesn’t get screwed up where I have to pay the room bill. It’s 500RMB for one night. Actually, I guess that’s only about 62.50USD, but still. I called Andrew, also, to let him know I was okay.

During both of these calls, I had call waiting beeps come through. I couldn’t imagine who would be calling me. First, either a concierge or the driver for tomorrow called. I still don’t know which. Then Yang Hua called to see how things were going. She said something about making sure the driver’s time for coming in the morning was right, too. I figured the two calls were affiliated. I certainly hope they were. I then got a third call, again from the concierge, asking me if I wanted a wake-up call. I now have four alarms to get me up tomorrow. I think I should make it.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Flying to Narita Airport

I started in Chicago today. My mother, my father, and Andrew took me to O’Hare Airport for a 12pm flight to Detroit. When I got to the ticket counter, though, the agent offered me an earlier flight. My layover in Detroit with my scheduled ticket was only going to be fifty minutes, which wouldn’t have left much time for delays, gate changes, and other problems that may have arisen. I opted for the earlier flight. It cut my time down with my parents and Andrew, but I think it probably worked out for the best.

On my now early flight to Detroit, I sat in seat 6E. When I saw it on my boarding pass, I thought that might be a pretty good place to sit. When I got in the plane, that suspicion was confirmed. There wasn’t a seat in front of me, and I was on the aisle. Mine was the first row to have three seats. Let’s talk about legroom. I knew I wasn’t going to be treated nearly so nicely on the long flight, so I enjoyed it thoroughly by falling asleep before take-off and awakening only 15 minutes before landing.

When I got into Detroit and sat in my waiting area, the clock read ten until one. The flight to Tokyo wasn’t scheduled to leave until 3.20pm. I’ve never minded layovers when I’ve traveled with other people. Alone, however, I was a little bored. I watched CNN for the first time in a long while. I don’t like television, and I was reminded why by watching the same seven stories loop with slight variation for about half an hour. I couldn’t take anymore of the doping allegations against Lance Armstrong and Tropical Storm Katrina, so I finally got up and sought some food.

I was happy to find the Mediterranean Grill near gate A51, only 21 away from where I needed to be. I had a pita filled with hummus and tabouli. The tabouli was surprisingly good. Seriously, I think it may be some of the best I’ve ever had, and that’s strange considering that it came from an airport. It was very fresh tasting. That’s enough about the tabouli, though. It was a mess to eat.

I boarded NW flight 11 a little before 3pm. While I was standing in line, the thought crossed my mind that I was going to be sitting by a baby. I dismissed the thought, but knew that the universe may be holding that trick in its bag. Of course, it was. I don’t know what I did to the universe lately. I had been trying to be so good. I want this trip to go well.

I walked down the aisle to find seat 24J. On the aisle seat was a Chinese woman with her crying, screaming, very unhappy baby. She was completely blocking my way in to the row, too. I moved into row 25 to wait for some people to pass, and then politely told her in Chinese that my seat was the middle one. I figured I must have done something really awful to the universe to get a baby on my left and a middle seat.

Oddly enough, though, the baby stopped crying. I thought the flight was going to be a harsh, “Welcome to China. Prepare to have your space invaded with this crash course,” kind of situation, but the baby was just hungry. I even managed to sleep for a little while. When I awakened, I asked the woman where they were flying today, and had a short conversation in Chinese. I was excited to know that she understood me.

Later, her friend, or father – I’m not sure what his relationship to her is – switched seats with her so she could take advantage of the empty seat next to his wife. I talked to this man for a while. We started the conversation in Chinese. He asked, “Are you Japanese?” I found this to be humorous for several reasons. “No, no. I’m American.” We talked about school and my scholarship. He studies in the United States, and he is going to be in Beijing for one month doing research. He said that he would give me his card before we got off the plane in case I had any problems.

Every Chinese person older than me that I have ever met has been so helpful in every way imaginable. What a nice cultural practice. I wish people could pick up on that in the United States. Fortunately, I get to participate in this lovely practice for a year. Maybe I can teach it to people when I return to the states.

My return is going to be such a long time from now. I’m having trouble realizing that I will be there to live, and not for a two week vacation. Two weeks is the longest I’ve ever been out of the country. A year will be quite a difference for me.

Thursday, August 25, 2005


In 15 minutes, I'll be leaving my house to go to O'Hare Airport. I fly from there at noon. I'll stop in Detroit, then Tokyo, then finally Beijing. I can't really believe that this is today (and tomorrow. Growl.). Some part of me feels really unprepared, but I don't think I could have changed that with any extension of time.

When I started planning this trip in my head two years ago, I never factored in the sadness that may come with leaving for such an exciting kind of adventure. I always pictured myself confident and happy, reassuring my parents at the gate, and walking through security in some kind of triumphant, reaffirming display of my independence. Instead what has come of this is the true realization that a year is, in fact, a very long time, and it is difficult to leave behind people that I care about. I think this is a healthy thing for me actually, and I would rather be sad now than cold and obliviously alone as a result.

So many people are supporting this move for me, and I really appreciate that kind of moral support. I think my first month in Beijing may be difficult for me, and knowing that I'm in the thoughts of people who know me and care about me should help to get me through the adjustment period.

So, here I go.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005


I received an email from Ning today which answered questions I had asked her about banking. She told me that there is no personal checking in China, so I will only be able to have a savings account. With the savings account, she said that you normally get an account book that has your name, account number, and balance printed in it. Everytime you make a transaction in the bank, it gets recorded in the book. She also said that you may get a plastic card that functions as a debit. I would be able to use that at large stores and ATMs. She said, however, that at some banks, you have to choose between the account book and the ATM. Honestly, I may just choose the account book. I don't know yet. It would be nice to have a hard copy of the amount of money I have in the bank.

She suggests bringing alot of documentation of my identity. I would agree with that suggestion. It seems like good sense to bring my passport, visa forms, international student identity card (ISIC!), driver's license, and perhaps some baby pictures. Okay, just kidding on the last one. Who knows, though? I know I'm going to get confused trying to open an account, but I'm glad I have some idea of how it works now. Ning has been so helpful.

She suggested that I look into Bank of China, Bank of Beijing, Citic Industrial Bank, and Industrial and Commercial Bank of China. Bank of China and Citic Industrial are apparently the ones I would want if I need to have foreign transactions. She said that she thinks there are branches on campus of those. I think I'll probably go with Bank of China. Granted, I don't really have a reason why, except for the name. I'll be rational and check it out while I'm there.

Today is Tuesday. I'm at my parents' house. Thursday is the big day. I have a few more errandy things to do tomorrow, and then I'm out of here. Wow.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

A Little Change of Plans

Today I received an email from Ning telling me that her sister is going to be out of Beijing from August 25-28. As a result, there has been a change of plans. Her brother is going to pick me up at the airport, then take me to the New Century Hotel (the place where her sister works), where the concierges will apparently know my Chinese name, give me key for a room, and not charge me anything. Then, the next morning at 8am, a driver named Zheng Zhang will be arriving, giving me a wake-up call, and then driving me to BLCU, also free of charge.

This is extremely nice of Ning's family. I am very grateful. I hope everything works out okay. I felt like my head was going to explode with stress when I read the subject line of her email today, but now I feel better. Her brother will have a sign with both my English and Chinese names on them when he waits for me at the airport. I know the airport pretty well since I've already made the flight, so I can picture where he should be when I come out.

I'll be honest with all of you - I'm getting nervous. Packing has been kind of overwhelming, and I'm nervous about my first few days in Beijing. I know I'm being taken care of, but things like registration at BLCU still make me a little nervous. There is such a lack of detail in all of the things I have to do at that school (e.g., what time registration starts, what I need to do about getting a dorm room) that I never experienced in the U.S. I get the feeling that this is just something I'm going to have to get acclimated to. That's fine. That's part of what this trip is about for me. I don't think I realized how terrifying it can be to do it on my own, but that will be part of the excitement, too.

Monday, August 22, 2005


It's Sunday. On Tuesday I will leave Bloomington and drive to Hammond to spend my last two days in the country with my family. Tonight I'm packing. So far, it is going kind of slowly. The bed is covered in clothes while I figure out which few lucky items get to come with me, and which are doomed to the unfortunate existence of a cardboard box in storage.

It's getting close to the time I leave now. Thursday at noon I'll be flying out of Chicago. I'll have stops in Detroit and Tokyo before finally arriving in Beijing around 9.30pm, August 26th (Friday). I've already made this trip once, and let me tell you that I am not exactly looking forward to the long day(s) of travel that I have ahead of me. Luckily, though, I have someone to meet me at the airport when I arrive. Pauline, my friend/acquaintance Ning's sister, is also going to let me stay at her apartment the first night. I have registration in the morning, so she is also going to help me get to the school. I certainly hope everything goes according to plans.

I've already gotten word of a strike at Northwest, but according to Reuters yesterday, things are still running smoothly. I'll be calling the airline on Tuesday to make sure.

I should get back to packing. I still have alot to do.