Saturday, January 28, 2006


I'm sorry that I haven't kept up daily with the blogs. I will update everything soon. It might be after I return to the states, but it will be done. I need to make sure I keep having experiences so I can write about them, though. I think a good amount of time on the plane may be spent on this.

Just note that Chinese New Year is the best thing ever. Period. You'll hear about it soon.

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Shanghai: Day 5

Today we went to the Jade Buddha Temple. This place houses scurrying monks, beautiful plants, and its namesake, a 6-foot tall jade Buddha. It took a while to walk there from our hotel, but I think it was well worth it. The outside was painted yellow, and we entered through large wooden doors. Once inside, the walls of the interior were painted bright red and yellow. The whole place was very quiet and smelled strongly of the incense that was burning in the center garden.

jade buddha temple

While I was exploring, two lines of monks came walking by quickly, with some dressed in bright yellow and some dressed in bright red. I followed them and saw that they were going into an eating area which happened to be a vegetarian restaurant. I didn't eat there, but it made me happy to see yet another Buddhist-run vegetarian restaurant in Shanghai. (The people at Godly certainly made my eating experience excellent.)

doorway to garden

I particularly loved the doorways inside the complex. There were so many circles to walk through, and what they framed always looked interesting enough to walk through and check out.

Eventually we made it to the Jade Buddha. It was housed on the second floor of a building it had to itself. The room it was in had incense burning in it and soft music playing. I stood there, marvelling at the Buddha, for about fifteen minutes. (Photos were understandably not allowed in this area, so I am forced to attempt an adequate written description.)

The Buddha sat in lotus position, looking humbly downward. The craftsmanship of the Buddha was impeccable. The main reason that I stood for so long staring at it was the small details in the hands and face. The Buddha's tears were so real looking that it seemed the jade it was made from was really crying. The more I looked at it, the more I felt my own tears welling up behind my eyes. I was told later that the tears are the Buddha's pity for mankind. While I admittedly know very little about Buddhism, I feel like this Jade Buddha must have spoken loudly and subtly at once for some of its main principles.

tallest building in shanghai

After visiting the temple, Donny, Gene, and I met Gene's father at the tallest building in Shanghai. We stayed there for a little while taking pictures, and then headed to dinner. We ordered far too much food, and found new favorites in the process. Donny was introduced to tipang, which is some cut of pork that is higher on the leg than usual and is cooked until the point that it can fall off the bone. I, however, being vegetarian, gorged myself on kaofu, xiancai, and miantiao.


Kaofu is made from wheat gluten and has a thick, spongy texture. It soaks up the sauce it is cooked in very well, which, in this case, happened to be both salty and sweet. This particular dish also had two kinds of mushrooms (woodear, and another, very thin kind) and peanuts.


Xiancai is pickled assorted vegetables. I love this, and according to our friend Mr. Liu, this makes me "very Chinese" because most foreigners don't like it. It's vinegary and sweet, and it stings the tongue a little while taking a long time to chew. I ate almost this whole plate by myself.


Miantiao simply means "noodles." The miantiao at this restaurant was fried with onion and served with a seaweed garnish. I think that just by looking at it, you can tell that it must have tasted amazing. The noodles were fresh and handpulled, which resulted in a great texture.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Shanghai: Day 4

Today we headed to the French Concession. If I were to write Zhou Enlai a letter, I would write the following:

Dear Zhou Enlai,

You are a bourgeois hypocrite. I went to your Shanghai residence today. You and your comrades should have never claimed to be uplifting the proletariat. Your beds were nicer than the one in my dorm. They were softer. I poked it to check. And that porch of yours? Oh man. When the KMT was spying on your activities from across the street, I bet they were calling you a hypocrite, too.

With a red star on my heart and lots of love,

Ding Mei

We went to the Shanghai residence of Sun Yat-sen (Sun Zhongshan) today, too. These guys had really nice places. It was all western architecture, and they had very nice gardens. It was fun for me to go see the places where some political figures I've read alot about lived. That made them a little more real and less like characters in an oddly written novel.

Before the French Concession, we went to Suzhou Creek, an art district. I wish the works I saw would have had accompanying statements. Sure, it's nice to look at a piece completely on your own, but it's also nice to know what the artist's intent is/was with the piece. I wondered if some of them had intent. A statement would have been nice.

We walked into one studio today called Deconstructionist Art, and that place was pretty entertaining. The artist was there, because he works and sleeps there. He had long, shaggy hair, and wore pants with an elastic waist slightly above his navel. He looked like he wanted to talk to us, but he didn't at first because he was busy with these three students from another city in China who were asking him questions. Eventually, I was the only one from our five person group in the room with him, and he said hello in Chinese. I replied in Chinese, and that broke the ice a bit. He invited me to sit, and we talked for a few minutes. That was cool. I like being able to speak Chinese. I still speak really badly, but now people understand me and I understand them. I'll take any progress I can get.

So jumping back ahead, on our way to find a cab from the French Concession, we passed a little park where there were alot of children and two dogs. One dog was normal Chinese dog sized (about the length of your foot to your knee, and three-fourths of that for the height), but the other was the size of my hand. I couldn't tell what it was from far away. Gene's dad walked over there, so I followed him because I wanted to pet the dogs.

I crouched down, and the little dog came bounding over. It looked like a really small baby lamb, but it didn't hop, so I knew it was a dog. I put my hand out, and it crawled into it. I couldn't believe how small it was. The little kids who had been playing with it came over and started talking about it. Haha, this story doesn't have a point. I was just overwhelmed by the cuteness of the situation. I'll post a picture and possibly a video of the dog.

For dinner tonight, we went to a restaurant called Gong De Lin (or Godly, in English), located at 445 Nanjing Xi Lu, which is a vegetarian restaurant that has been in place since the 1920s. Everything there is vegetarian. I was amazed. They call the dishes by the names of the meat dishes they're mimicking, so I was a little wary at first, but everyone assured me that there was no meat at all. The food was delicious. If you're in Shanghai, I suggest going. It has a very nice interior, and a lovely shrine to Buddha. The incense burning inside has a very pleasant scent, too.

While alot of Shanghai doesn't feel like China to me, I still really like it as a city. It's quite lovely.

Welcome to the revolution of blogging. Here is the video of the tiny puppy.

Shanghai: Day 3

Today we got our train tickets mostly taken care of. We don't have the tickets in hand, though we've already paid for them. We're supposed to pick them up on the 25th. I'm being optimistic and hoping that everything goes as planned. It's important for all of this train stuff to work out so I make it back to Beijing in time for my flight on the 8th.

Also today, we headed to a large market called Xiang Yang Chang (I think. I'll double-check tomorrow.). Just when I was beginning to think that vendors in Shanghai were calmer than those in Beijing, we were assaulted by people with booklets screaming, "DVD! CD! Purse? Bag?" They had the booklets because if you wanted their wares, they had to lead you to a back alley-ish kind of place to surreptitiously sell the items to you. Pirated things are illegal, and while that's never discouraged vendors in Beijing, people apparently have to be more careful and quiet about selling them in Shanghai.

I did some bargaining today with relative success. Donny was checking out a jacket with Gene and his parents, and during that I went to the next stall over to look at necklaces. I've wanted to get a jade circle on a red cord to wear under my shirt for quite a while, so I checked the price of some that I saw. The vendor told me it was 180 RMB, and I started cracking up and walking away. I won't go into the detail of the theatrics of bargaining again, but the end result was that I got the thing for 20 RMB. This conversation followed:

Man: Aiya! Ni zheme lihai a! Ni zenme rang wo gei ni zheme pianyi de? (Man! You're so skilled/cruel/strong! How did you make me give you this so cheap?)
Me: Wo shi cong Beijing lai de. (I'm from Beijing.)
Man: A, zheme lihai. Zheme lihai!

Gene's dad saw the necklace after I bought it and asked how things went in bargaining. After I told him the asking price and the final price, he said, "Wow, no wonder people say you bargain better than a Chinese." Hehe. I don't know about that, but things went well with Donny's coat, too. I always do better when I'm helping someone else with bargaining because I care more.

The woman he was dealing with kept showing me the tag that said the coat was supposed to be 828 RMB. I kept replying that there was no way that it was worth that much, and that it didn't even look that warm. Donny said she'd gone down to 200 RMB, and that that price seemed okay. I said it should be 150 RMB. Gene's mom started laughing to herself. The vendor started yelling at me and punched me in the chest. After more arguing, we started walking away because she wouldn't budge. Everyone got away but me. This woman put a death grip on my wrist and nearly pulled my arm out of its socket. We argued a bit more and settled on 170 RMB. That seemed more reasonable to me.

Bargaining is pretty fun if you're up for it.

And as a final note: I don't know about the water here. I boiled it, and it tastes like mushrooms. I'm still drinking it, but that's an awfully strange taste. I wonder what chemicals are in the water around here.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Something Beautiful

Today, I had something really awesome happen to me. I was packing up my tripod in a little gazebo/pagoda thing inside Yuyuan Gongyuan (a park), and from below, a little boy put his hands on the railing and we had the following conversation.

Boy: Hei, ni gan ma? (Hey, what are you doing?)
Me: Zhaopian a. Ni ne? Ni gan ma? (Taking picture. And you? What
are you doing?)
Boy: Chi dongxi ::smile:: (Eating stuff)
Me: A, zhen de? Shen me dongxi a? (Oh yeah? What are you eating?)
Boy: Qiaokeli ::bigger smile:: (Chocolate)
Me: Ai, ni xihuan qiaokeli ma? (Oh, do you like chocolate?)
Boy: Hen xihuan a! (I like it alot!)

Then his mother called him back over. He turned, waved, and smiled at me. This was a wonderful experience for me. This kid came and looked at me for about 10 seconds, and just spoke Chinese to me. He didn't hesitate like I couldn't do it. If kids don't understand your Chinese, you know it immediately, and we had no problems communicating. I talked to this kid like I'd talk to one in English.

It's not really a big thing that happened, but it made me feel really good. I totally wanted to hug that kid.

Meanwhile, because I'm tired at the ends of my days, I'm posting my photos on flickr and not taking the time to html code them into my blog. I apologize for my laziness, and there's a good chance that I will come and edit these posts at some point to make the whole thing more cohesive with the photos. Until then, however, keep up with things visually... clicking on this link.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Arrival in Shanghai

Last night, Donny, Gene, and I boarded a train at Beijing Train Station for a 7pm departure to Shanghai. We rode first class in a sleeper car, as it was the only available type of ticket at our time of purchase. There were four beds in the car, and while it almost seemed like the three of us were going to have it to ourselves, some business man showed up at 7.15pm. How did he do that?! The train was already moving for 15 minutes! We got over it quickly enough, I suppose.

I spent a good portion of the ride staring at the window at the changing scenery. It's so nice to be out of Beijing for a bit. I saw really big hills, and empty space. I was shocked to see that somewhere in China hasn't been inhabited and run over by factories. At one point while the business man was gone, and Gene had gone to smoke, Donny and I were staring out the window and saw a tent in the middle of the nothingness, with seven people sitting at a fire. I thought that was beautiful.

Eventually I fell asleep, and stayed so for what I would guess was about 4 hours. I was awakened around 7am by the sound of ratcheting coming from above me. The business man was taking all his stuff down and moving it out of the car. I made a question noise at him while I turned to look out the window. I saw the shang of Shanghai as he said, "Dao le," which means, "We're here." Donny and Gene were both dead asleep, so I roused them quickly and started a mad packing dash to get out of the car. I met them outside.

While I was waiting for them, a man approached me and said that I needed to take my bags upstairs. He had quite a thick Shanghai accent, but he was thankfully still speaking Mandarin and not Shanghainese. He kept insisting that I take everything upstairs, but in my tired haze it took a few times of his insisting before I shut him up. "Here, here, I'll help you," he said, as he grabbed my bag. "No, no, no," I said, grabbing it back. "I'm waiting for my friends. I'll take it up on my own, thank you."

"Ah! Ni shi cong Beijing lai de!" he exclaimed. That means, roughly, "Ah! You're from Beijing!"

I confirmed his assumption, and he started complimenting me on my Mandarin. During this conversation of compliments and declining them, Donny and Gene emerged from the train. After the man babbled at them about taking luggage upstairs, we left him and took our bags up ourselves. Once upstairs, we started trying to think of ways to find an internet cafe, because a necessary email with directions to our hotel was not printed ahead of time.

I asked some woman about an internet bar, and she had no idea what I was talking about. It wasn't that my speaking was bad. She knew everything that I said except for "internet bar." My tones were right, too. I checked them later. Eventually we ended up going to a hotel and using their internet. We got the address, but we had to take two separate cabs to the place because we had too much luggage, apparently. I went by myself and got driven around. Blah. Oh well.

I didn't talk to the cab driver until we arrived, and it was only to confirm the price of the ride. All I said was a monetary amount, and the cab driver freaked out. "Beijing ren!!" (You're a Beijing person, or rather, You're from Beijing!). I didn't realize that my accent was that recognizable.

Later on, Mr. Liu, Gene's father's business partner, the person who's arranged the Motel 168 (our hotel) stuff for us, met us at the hotel, and we all had lunch at the nearby Ocean Hotel. That hotel has a revolving restaurant on the top, so we got a nice view of the city while eating for two hours. After lunch, we walked around and Mr Liu showed us the subway system. I swear, being in Shanghai is like having done time travel. The subway was immaculate. I couldn't believe it. This place is such a stark contrast from Beijing.

We made our ways out to Waitan, and got to see the skyline against the water. The area on the way to Waitan is a huge pedestrian area kind of like Wangfujing in Beijing, but bigger, with more people, and with more lights. I took ridiculous amounts of photos during our excursion which will be posted after I get the chance to edit them a bit.

I need to sleep now because I need to get up for breakfast tomorrow. My trip is going really well so far.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

A New Kind of Dorm Problem

Today I'm going to board a train for Shanghai. As is many people's custom, I went to take a shower so I could be clean for the long trip. I got into the shower, turned the water on, and waited for it to warm up. This is my normal routine. It took a little longer than usual to warm up today. Just as I began to think that the hot water might be gone, the water turned warm. I waited a few more seconds, and stepped in the water.

About 30 seconds following my entrance into the water, I was greeted with nearly boiling water. The water didn't ever stop heating up, and it was really unbearable. I turned the cold water up, and the water got hotter. When counter-intuitive things like this happen, lately I mutter to myself, "Damn it, China. What are you doing?" Today was similar, but involved a bit more cursing as my skin was being scalded by the water bouncing off the floor even after I jumped out of the water.

I turned the hot water off, and found that then no water was coming from the showerhead (read: open pipe). "Are you kidding me?!" But, in fact, it was not kidding me. There was no cold water. None. I turned the handle for cold as far as it could go, and all I heard was air in the pipes. I showered as much as possible until I couldn't handle it anymore, and then left the shower. I checked the sink faucets for cold water, and again there was none.

To me, this seems like a strange problem to have. I'm sure I'll find out soon that this is not uncommon, but for right now, I am throwing out a huge "What the hell??" to my dorm.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

A Day of Snow and History

Two days ago, it snowed the most I've seen in Beijing thus far. Donny, Gene, and I decided that it would be nice to go see old things in Beijing in the snow; so, we hopped on the subway and headed to none other than Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. I really love those two places. And now, as a result of several factors at work including Gene's good aim and my not paying attention, I can say that I have gotten into a (very brief) snowball fight in the (non-museum portion of the) Forbidden City. I got hit straight on the nose with a snowball after I took a picture. It was hilarious. Of course, there were pictures taken, too.

snow on a wall of the forbidden city

The snow was sparse still, but it was there. This is the evidence. This is a wall inside the Forbidden City.

if touching them is good luck...

I touch these bolts for good luck every time I enter and leave the Forbidden City. Taking my picture inside one seemed like it could bring even more luck. (Dear Forbidden City door bolt, I would really like to speak Chinese better...)

donny's going to be the new emperor

Donny loves China, and speaks Chinese really well. He's going to be the new emperor when the right time comes, so we set up a shot to show where his picture will hang at that time.

we love china

Yes, really, when it comes down to it, we just love China.

Friday, January 13, 2006


My sleep schedule is so awful right now. I will describe last night until right now to illustrate what it is like.

Last night, somewhere between 2.30 and 4.30, I went to sleep.
This morning at 6.40, my alarm went off. I freaked out and hit it.
This morning at 6.45, my alarm went off again. I screamed and growled, and hit it off the table to shut it up.
This morning at 6.50, I got out of bed and realized why my alarm was going off. I was supposed to go to breakfast.
This morning at 6.55, I made a joint decision online to not go to breakfast, and instead sleep more.
This morning around 11, I got up and talked online. Then I went to lunch.
This afternoon around 4, I fell asleep.
This evening around 6.45, I woke up and started making dinner plans.

And now, this night, at 11.53, I am wide awake, with my only recouse being to watch a movie and wait a couple of hours to get tired again.

Friday, January 06, 2006

End of Semester

Countless hours of study and five tests later, my semester is finally over. I took my last test today. I really feel like studying 6+ hours a day for over a week and a half really helped me. I've never studied so hard in my life. I think that's because it wouldn't have done anything before. The only times I can think of where studying has really done anything for me is for Professor Kennedy's tests/papers at IU for Chinese Foreign Policy and Government and Business in East Asia. Coincidence? I don't think so. I studied similarly for those, but not for the same kind of stretch of days.

I feel like I did pretty well on my tests. I watched my teacher write down a 90 for my oral exam, which made me extremely happy considering that I'm pretty sure she thought I was the dumb one in the class all semester. The written test for that class went well, too, I think. Much to my surprise, the listening test seemed rather easy. Certainly I made mistakes and got things wrong, but it was much easier than what we do in class. I studied for 6 hours straight - no breaks - listening to tapes for that class. It was maddening, but ultimately helpful, I think. My last test was today, as I said before, and it was my hardest. I was expecting that. Even still, I don't think it went too badly. All the study for the other classes helped me on it.

So that's it. I'm leaving for Shanghai on the 19th, and I think I'm just going to chill out for a while until then. I'm going to go get Indian food now to reward myself for not jumping out the window this week. (hehe, kidding. I didn't really think of doing that. I actually thought about launching my tape player out the window, though.)

Tuesday, January 03, 2006


I am now in finals territory. I took my first exam Friday. It was a speaking exam, and I don't think there were any colossal screwups. I'll take that to be a success at this point. Tomorrw starts the real period of exams, though. Starting in the morning, I have one final every day for the next four days. Wish me luck. Hopefully I won't need too much of it - this is especially considering the number of hours I've put into study - but it wouldn't hurt to have some anyway.

I doubt I'll be writing much for the rest of the week, so I'll update soon after the exams are over.

P.S. We bought tickets to Shanghai today. Vacation is really going to happen. I'm going to rock Chinese New Year in Ningbo. This is going to be great.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Happy New Year

It almost looked like I was going to end up skipping New Year's celebrations like I've skipped other holidays this year, but that ended up not being the case. I got fairly adamant that we all go out and do something, because my sense of time has been all screwed up with having not really had Halloween, Thanksgiving, or Christmas, and not much snow to speak of. So Gene, Donny, and I went to this Japanese restaurant in Wudaokou first, and had some tasty sushi. While there, we decided that we'd check out some bars in part of Wudaokou and settle into one of them for our midnight hour. After checking a few places out, we eventually ended up going with the old standby from several months ago, Propaganda.

We found it really funny that we were going there, and thought that if the three of us were going, we should probably reunite with the people who we went with previously. Donny called Jason to see if he wanted to come. We always joke that Jason loves the Propaganda, but we found it to be true. He was supposed to meet other people, but when Donny said we were at Propaganda, he changed his plans and was there within 7 minutes. We also got a hold of Ryan, who came with his girlfriend Luna.

It was getting close to midnight and all of us were dancing. They were playing fairly normal dance music for most of the night, but just a few minutes before 12, a dance remix of Jingle Bells came on. I kid you not. Jingle Bells. People who didn't know what the song was just kept dancing like it was normal, and those of us who did thought it was really strange/funny. Dance Remix Jingle Bells played through the changeover, so I found how I celebrated the New Year to be really entertaining.

I bounced around in a large group of people singing and dancing to Jingle Bells. Ahahaha, leave it to China to make my New Year experience really strange.