Saturday, December 31, 2005


Today, December 31, had the first real snowfall I have seen since I've been in Beijing. I woke up, looked out the open door to the balcony (open courtesy of the evil girl who lives down the hallway and apparently loves to make it easy for everyone to get sick by converting our floor into a camping experience) and saw the snow coming down! I got my camera, walked onto the balcony, and took a video of the snow. There isn't very much, and there probably will not be in the coming weeks, but it's good for my sense of time to have snow finally. That just progressed the calendar in my head to where it should be.

So, in that case, Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Finals Approaching

Today is my last day of class for the semester. This is at once wonderful and sobering. My first final is on Friday. Then I have a few days until the real block of them starts. I have five finals for four classes. This means I have tests for reading, listening, general grammar, speaking, and memorization-based speaking and reading aloud. I'm less nervous about this series than the midterms. This time I have a good idea of what to expect.

The one thing that will make this time more difficult than the midterms is the fact that the mornings are as dark as the night. It's 8am right now, and the inside of my room looks like it did at 10pm last night. Our finals are supposed to be begin at 8am, so that is kind of unfortunate. Even if I feel like I'm awake at first, I'm going to get groggy from going outside.

Hopefully this illness will completely fade by friday. I've been rather delirious/miserable with this throat infection since it started on Sunday morning, and it's been difficult to concentrate on anything. I think it's letting up, though, judging by the fact that I am now losing my voice. That ends up being a good sign in this infection. So, here's hoping that I'll be back to normal for my tests.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Christmas in Beijing

Leave it to Beijing to make my Christmas experience the most surreal for me on record.

It all started last night. I was doing homework and review for my finals by myself in my room on Christmas Eve. I talked to my friend Megan, who is serving in Baghdad this Christmas, online for a while, and caught with her a bit. We discussed what it's like being out of the states for this holiday. As I was talking to her, I noticed a distinct feeling in my throat that normally comes around two or three times a year. Figuring that a throat infection was on its way, I decided to go to bed early to see if I could persuade it to go away.

I woke up this Christmas morning with swollen glands, a sore throat, and a bunch of difficulty breathing. There was no chance that I was going to go to a Chinese hospital today, though. I took Donny once, and I decided then that I would never go if I fell ill. I didn't write about that experience because it was pretty awful, and I didn't want to portray China in an extremely negative light. So, I searched my gmail today for the listserve from the US Embassy that had recommended medical services. I found Beijing United (BJU), and thought that they sounded pretty good. They came highly recommended from the embassy. Donny came with me to the hospital.

If I have something to be thankful for this Christmas, it is joint venture hospitals. BJU was just amazing. The hospital was started by an American company, and is staffed by expats and Chinese who speak amazing English. The facilities were just as clean as hospitals in the states, and the process from registration were very streamlined. I was in and out of the emergency ward in - get this - less than an hour. I had a Canadian doctor, and received the normal antibiotic I get for this infection. I was very impressed, and somewhat confused, by my experience in this hospital. I really couldn't believe that I was in China.

Donny and I thought this hospital was pretty close to an Indian restaurant we like, so we hopped in a cab to get there. It turned out that it was much further away than we thought. That was okay, though, because we had a very entertaining cab driver. This man couldn't find a station on the radio that he wanted to listen to, so he just started singing. This wasn't singing to himself kind of singing, either. He was gesturing like a pop star. It was insane. He kept this show up all the way to the restaurant.

So then Donny and I went into the restaurant to have our Christmas meal. I found it kind of comical that I was eating Indian food in Beijing while hearing little children singing Christmas songs through speakers. There were Santa heads hanging from elephants. All I need to see now is guards walking around with Santa hats, and I think my weird day will be complete.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Andrew's Visit

I had a really wonderful time with Andrew being here. It gave me a vacation that I really needed, and it was great to have a face from home here. We went to markets, Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, and alot of restaurants. I think he had a good time, too.

Picking him up from the airport ended up having more intrigue than I planned for. I was waiting in the Starbucks for about two hours a) because it was one of the only places with available seating, and b) because I got there way too early. His plane landed late, but I finally saw westerners pouring out of the international arrivals gate. I had been standing there since they landed. I waited and waited, but there was no Andrew. Then I realized that the guards were letting people out of boths sides of this metal gate, and I was only accounting for the one I was standing by. It was a reasonable thing to do, as the other side was marked, "Flight Staff Only," or some nonsense like that.

I moved to the middle, right where people were coming out, but I still didn't see him. I started to feel like I had probably missed him. I hadn't received a phone call from him, though, which was our plan B, so I thought I should just stay where I was. Suddenly, I heard a voice from behind me say, "Hillary!" very loudly. I quickly turned, and sure enough, it was Andrew.

Andrew didn't know he was standing right behind me. He had just put into action his plan of walking behind groups of people and yelling my name until he got a response. Lucky for both of us, he got me on the first try. I apparently blended in with the Chinese people around me.

It was a really nice week. I'm so glad he came to Beijing. I'm looking forward to going home to visit for a few weeks in February. Familiarity is really nice sometimes.

cab ride with andrew

The cab ride from the airport.

andrew and a door at the forbidden city

Andrew in front of a door at the Forbidden City.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Three Kinds of People

Today my listening class teacher told us that Chinese people say there are three types of people: men, women, and women with master's degrees. She explained that it's generally thought that men should have a little more education than women they are dating/married to, so the women who have attended graduate school have a hard time finding boyfriends.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005


Do you know what is happening right now? Andrew is at Indianapolis International Airport preparing to board a flight that will first take him to New York, and then to Beijing. That is some kind of awesome. I'm really excited. I'm going to the airport right after class tomorrow to pick him up. Tomorrow is his birthday, too!

It's really cool for me to get to be the person who goes to pick someone up at an airport, especially since I'm living in a place I'm not native to. So tomorrow I will twitch through my classes, then probably run out of the gate of my school to take a cab to the airport. I think I'll bring homework with me. I know I'm going to be waiting there for a long time. Maybe I can get something to eat dabao before I leave.

I hope for Andrew's sake that the line at border control is less intense than it was when I came in this time. So many people! And without someone to stand there and talk to, it seems to take forever.

And in other news, I found a videohosting site. Be prepared for some video in the near future. I'm not sure if you'd be interested in seeing old videos on here, so let me know.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Where Is the Information?

There have been some rather large news stories in China lately, and if it weren't for my family and friends in the states, I would have had no idea that they happened. I wondered if people I knew had heard the stories.

My reading comprehension teacher did not know about the water being shut off in Harbin (Ha'erbing), a city north of Beijing, for three days as a result of dangerous chemicals being spilled/dumped in the water supply. It wasn't reported here. The news was, however, released internationally, and Russia received an apology from China for the accident.

When I heard about the farmers' protests in Southern China today, I wanted to know if James knew about them. It's fairly large news, after all. More than 10 farmers have been shot and killed by guards/police, and their bodies aren't being returned to the families. He hadn't heard anything about it. After I told him a bit about it, he said, "I think the government has alot darkness. This why I don't join the Communist Party."

I'm going to give this statement a few more huge new stories before I say it officially, but China's opening to the world means very little if it's not opening up to its own people.

I really did use to sympathize with China quite a bit while studying policy back in the states. I was quick to give the government the benefit of the doubt, try to see things their ways, and be "culturally tolerant," to borrow a term from diversity seminars. However, now that I live here, I'm viewing the government like a concerned citizen, like I do in the states, and that's making me alot more critical of its actions. The "developing country" argument for human rights violations doesn't hold up with me anymore. Economics, construction, business; these things have very little to do with a human life, and their current status certainly does not allow the taking of a life.

I understand the developing country argument for political issues. I understand it for income disparity issues. I understand it for education issues. I understand it for a great deal of the challenges that China is facing right now, but I do not understand it in the case of legitimate authorities taking lives of Chinese citizens in the interest of quelling a protest that came about as a result of the government claiming land that belonged to farmers and not fully renumerating them, all in the name of building three power plants. And then to offer families of the dead money instead of returning the bodies? Keeping the evidence of the killing is not going to result in a successful cover-up.

The government had better watch itself. Who knows how many human rights violations it's going to take before the Olympic committee pulls the 2008 Beijing location? It's going to take alot for them to do that, of course, with the economic ramifications considered, but it's still possible. I can only imagine the chaos that would cause. It gives me a headache.

This is all very frustrating. After hearing about the Harbin incident, I said to my friend Gene, "Wow. They were so open about this with the world. Wouldn't it be something if this was just covering up something worse?"

Wednesday, December 07, 2005


There's no snow here yet. That makes it very confusing for my body to go outside. I can look out my window in the morning, see sun, not see snow, and think that it's a relatively nice day. I'm tired, so I might not remember exactly how cold it was the previous day. I still bundle up just the same, though, and then head outside into the wind tunnel that awaits me. The wind on the 5cm patch of exposed skin on my face is always shocked.

Donny, Gene, and I went to buy train tickets today. We ended up not purchasing any because we saw a sign that said they're only available 20 days in advance. We have to go back at the end of the month. Because we took such a long subway ride to the rail station, we decided to walk around a bit, even in the bitter cold wind.

This is what Beijing looks like right now.

my vision of beijing

This is Wudaokou, the area my school is really close to. I spend alot of time here, and I think that it's the place I'll think of first when I think of Beijing in the coming years. Click on the picture for a large version. You can check out the traffic situation. It's pretty awesome. Again, if anyone has an video hosting sites they know of that I'll be able to access through this block, let me know. I'll put up some video. I was very upset when I found out I couldn't use Vimeo from here. It's a great site, by the way. Check it out.

beijing train station at sunset

This is the Beijing train station, with Donny and Gene standing in front like tourists.

outside beijing train station

This is outside the train station in a square. I think that's a pretty area over there. The architecture is great.

Sunday, December 04, 2005


I think right now it is technically winter here. It's about -3C here every day lately, and most of the leaves from the trees are gone. I think there was also snow recently, but the workers around the city hid it like they did the falling leaves of autumn. They gathered those right up early in the morning, and rode around on huge carts tranporting the leaves to an undisclosed location. Similarly with the snow, I saw guards shoveling a tiny amount of it off the curb and into a dirty box of snow. I also saw a small amount one windshield of a car. Look, China, you're not going to be able to hide winter forever. Why not just let the snow stay so people can look out their windows and remember, "Oh yeah, it's cold enough to break my ice cubes of fingers against a wall."

I think the temperature isn't really much different here than in, say, Indiana. However, the winds are just terrible. Just today, I was not once, but twice pushed backwards and to the right by the wind while trying to walk. Every so often, if there's a strong gust, you'll hear girls screaming. Donny and I decided that we needed to buy warm clothes and better gloves today, so we headed to a market.

To prepare for the walk, I put on tights, socks, boots, and pants, and two jackets, two scarves, and a giant coat. I also wore a hat, the hood from one jacket, and the hood from my coat. It was still freezing in the wind. My hands were so cold, and here I thought I had warm gloves. Not so. I bought new ones today, and as a result, the walk home was much more tolerable. My hands actually didn't get cold. Good gloves.

My teacher said the other day, "It's December already, and it's still so warm!" People looked at each other, horrified. I'm scared to find out what the coming weeks and months are bringing for weather. I've never spent a winter so close to Russia in my life, and I'm a bit nervous about being unprepared.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Urban Gardening

It takes alot anymore for me to call something bizarre. Just when I think I'm pretty comfortable and accustomed to the culture around me, though, China throws something new at me. Today, it was this display of what I'm calling urban gardening.

urban garden

These cabbages were sitting outside of the cafeteria today just like this. This is bizarre to me for reasons that are probably quite a bit different than your reasons. I know the food I eat isn't clean. I know that it sits on the floor of the cafeteria where people walk, and then isn't washed before it is cooked. I know that it probably has all kinds of things on it that I wouldn't want to eat otherwise. However, I'm not dying from eating the food. I have grown to be okay with sanitation standards that leave quite a bit to be desired - and by "I," I mean my stomach.

I often see the food being delivered to the cafeteria by men on bicycles. They have huge carts attached, and they ride through the streets with the food only partially covered. The food is exposed to the elements and the pollution. Fine. So am I. That's wonderful. Often, I'll see food sitting on the ground waiting to be brought inside, too. This is slightly more disgusting. I'll get into that soon.

What I don't understand about this is that the cabbages are set up in a single layer, in rows, making a rectangle that cuts off access to a message board. Why didn't they just throw the cabbage into a pile like they have on the floor upstairs in the eating area? Why the rows?

The other things about the rows is that it assures that every cabbage is exposed to whatever is on the ground there. I'll spare you the full detail of that situation, but rest assured that no small number of people and animals have released various bodily fluids onto the area.


I guess what gets me about this is that they seem to have standardized the lack of hygienic considerations today instead of actually doing something useful about it. It looked like a celebration of poor health standards. A beaming garden of filth awaited those entering and exiting the cafeteria today. We know it isn't clean. Is the cabbage parade really necessary?

And what I find the most entertaining about this situation is that the disregard for sanitation is not what I find bizarre, but rather the lack of a pile. I wouldn't have even noticed this if it weren't for the rectangle. This did, however, prompt me to not get my usual lunchtime cafeteria fare - lettuce noodles.