Finally, the fourth and final installment on China. I apologize for my absence from the blogosphere - getting caught up and working on a final project consumes inordinate amounts of time. Feel free to read parts I, II, and III to refresh yourselves.
Before I return to "normal blogging," I'd want to complete my series on China. This post is more introspective than the previous installments, and I apologize if that makes for more difficult reading. There are thoughts and emotions I'd like to scribble down before they become lost in the archives of my memory. Welcome to the journey in my thoughts as I travel "there and back again."
Where to begin but at the very beginning? I had applied to go on this specific trip. I was resolved to go, but I didn't know if they'd accept my application for this trip, being that I'm Chinese. Imagine my excitement when I was selected! But then I starting having doubts and second thoughts. How will they (the Chinese) think and respond to me? What if my spoken Mandarin fails me? What if, what if, what if . . . My mind races, like it always does, always in motion. I then began to wonder what I'd miss during that week in China. Would I suffer from internet withdrawal? How badly will my email build up? Will I be begging and bursting to wank? Will I miss certain foods and drinks? The one thing I knew for certain was that I would not miss the cold. Granted, it was cold in China when we arrived, but at least 20-30 degrees Fahrenheit warmer.
From the outset, I was comforted by the knowledge that another ABC (American-born Chinese) guy was going on this trip. We became roommates for this trip, and his presence - and perhaps our mutual interactions and anxieties - played a crucial role in what this China trip meant to me. We shared this common thread and I think we would agree that we reacted to it similarly. I'll call him DY-M for the rest of this post.
Flight to China
The flight to China was relatively uninteresting (first to the Tokyo airport at Nerita). I had an entire row to myself! I mostly read The Spanish Bow, the book I had intended on finishing over Winter Break. It's a really good book! I didn't want to sleep on the way to China (or sleep very little) to help combat jetlag. I didn't sit near anyone going on this trip, but that was alright. As my friend said, "When else do you have 14 hours to do NOTHING? Use it to relax, read a book, enjoy it." And that I did.
I did remember getting up once to go to the bathroom and when I returned, a Chinese woman had taken the 2 seats next to me. She was sleeping. -_- I didn't even recognize where my seat was at first! So yeah, I was really annoyed by her.
The flight from Nerita to Beijing was packed! You can read about it a little more in the second installment here. Not much to say.
First Night in Beijing
The airport was surprisingly empty when we stepped off the plane. Then again, we got in around 9pm or so. We were all exhausted. There were still things up from the Beijing Olympics the summer previous and I had taken some pictures (but these were lost). I was highly amused by the exit signs, or what I affectionately called "the green exit man" because the sign was green instead of red, and it showed a stick figure guy running out a door.
We made our way by bus to the Friendship Hotel. This was an amazing hotel, I really wish I had pictures of it (instead of just the lobby below). The first thing I did was call my friend, JW-M, who was studying abroad in Beijing for the year. Then DY-M and I crashed. The bed was SO HARD. I think there was either no mattress or no box-spring. Whatever, my back ached when I got up.
Breakfast was amazing at the Friendship hotel. It was typical Chinese breakfast food - steamed buns, steamed vegetables, stuffed steamed buns, various meat dishes, a nice assortment of fruits. JW-M found the breakfast lacking in China; his opinion that breakfast food is much better here in the US. I suppose he has a point. But we don't have kiwi juice here in the US! Kiwi juice = amazing. It's so green (and tasty)!!
Whirlwind Tourist Day
The next day was our "whirlwind tourist day" where we visited the Great Wall, the Imperial Palace, Tiananmen Square, and Laoshi Teahouse. You can read more about it in the the first installment here. But here are some more pics anyway. :P
By the time we got to the Laoshi Teahouse we were exhausted and on the verge of falling asleep. It was the first place I encountered the infamous squat toilets. I managed to refrain from using a squat toilet throughout the entire trip. Go me! Anyway, the food was amazing as usual. And we saw a kind of screen play (not exactly sure what it's called) before going upstairs for a cultural show (which we were all doing the head bobbing dance of sleepiness).
That night, and almost every night, DY-M and I bonded a bit (in the most non-sexual way, of course). We constantly talked about how exhausted the day made us, haha. We almost always went to bed between 9pm-11pm. We discussed about what it was like being ABCs in China. We were both impressed by how we seemed to blend in relatively unnoticed. This may be because we're usually juxtaposed by our non-Chinese friends on the trip, and we were always together to cover for the holes in each other's linguistic skills. This usually worked pretty well. Often times, the Chinese people we interacted would come to us first because they knew we knew Chinese and English, and could translate for them. It did feel good being "useful" as an ad hoc interpreter.
DY-M did get to practice his Chinese more than me, oh well. My spoken Mandarin is better than his, simply because he didn't learn Mandarin until undergrad (he speaks Cantonese at home) whereas Mandarin is more native to me. We watched a comedy sit-com on the CCTV. I was able to understand maybe 80% of what was spoken, and he understood about 60% (so he says) but was able to understand what went on due to the context. That's pretty impressive, in my opinion.
I'm really glad he was my roommate. We shared a certain connection by the singular fact that we are both ABCs. And he was a really sweet guy - always really nice, smiling, and helpful. But that's part of his personality as well as his life philosophy. It didn't hurt that he has an amazingly fit body. ;-) There was something about him, some kind of comforting aura, that almost made me come out to him (for no real reason).
We spent the vast majority of our remaining time in China in Tianjin, about 2 hours south of Beijing by bus (but only 30 minutes but their new amazingly fast high-speed train). The first day we were in Tianjin, we ate at the famous GoBuLi Restaurant. The food, again, was amazing. This place is known for their steamed buns and dumplings. I had pictures, but they were lost and were unrecoverable. :-( But a couple did survive:
We spent most of the week observing and working with the Tianjin CDC (TJCDC). You can read all about it in the third installment here.
While we were technically on "lock down" when we were at the hotel, some of us did sneak to the nearby Chinese Wal-mart to buy some things. DY-M bought a pair of unhemmed pants, so he had to get them tailored. There was tailor who did 15-minute pants alterations. She had the thickest Tianjin accent ever. DY-M asked me to come along for (linguistic) support, just in case. We both had problems understanding! This little old grandma person next to us in line just laughed at us.
I felt that this warranted its own category. Not much to say here really. Just that, the first few days I knew every dish in front of us (or at least I could identify what animal/plant it came from). As the days wore on, I became less and less familiar with the dishes as they became more and more local/regional.
Last Day in China
The last day in China we went to Ancient Culture Street in Tianjin. It was basically a long street with a lot of street vendors. I met up with JW-M for the second time during this trip (the first time was in the Friendship Hotel that first night). It was nice catching up, somewhat. There were so many things to buy/bargain for! I didn't know what to get and whom to get it for. I ended up getting a jade turtle bracelet for SR-F, two silk scarves - one for my researcher's wife and one for AG-F, a solar-powered apple thingy (it moves its leaves up and down) for my researcher, and a tea pot of some sort. I had gotten 2 scrolls earlier - one that went to RZ-F and one that I'm keeping for myself.
We stayed in a hotel near-ish to the Beijing airport the night before we left. Several of us went to a karaoke club/bar place. It was actually pretty cool! DY-M did much of the talking in Chinese, but I was there as backup should my "services" be required. I'm actually not sure I could've held my own as well as he did. After we went back to the hotel, DY-M wanted to get a pedicure/foot massage and convinced me to go (his older brother introduced him to pedicures/foot massages when they were in Thailand visiting an uncle, he also tried convincing others to go as well). When we got to the place, it was rather expensive and kind of sketchy, so we called it off.
Our flight was early in the morning (around 8am I think). I was actually woken by one of the hotel staff. He had very limited English but needed to communicate with some of the people in our group who had already started going down to breakfast. It took my auditory system a moment to calibrate to his accent before I could acquiesce to his request. Basically, he wanted me to let everyone know that they were supposed to check out before heading down to breakfast to make things quicker and smoother, as the staff needed to check the rooms before we left.
Flight Back Again
The Beijing airport was still pretty empty, though not as empty as when we first arrived. We lounged in the airport for a while. I talked to my roommate (well, I suppose now we weren't roommates) for a bit before boarding the plane.
On the flight from Beijing to Nerita, I sat next to a really cute French guy. I thought he was Australian at first from his accent, but no, he's from France. No idea where he picked up that Australian-like accent. The moment he said he was french, the Japanese guy next to him with a fro (what Asian has a fro?!) started talking to him in French. And they talked in French the whole flight!! Grrr, he was my French guy to talk to. You totally stole him Japanese fro-guy. Also, there were two babies bawling almost the entire flight. They sat all the way towards the front of the plane whereas most of us sat near the back, but we could still hear them all the way down the plane.
The flight from Nerita back to the US was rather uninteresting. There was a choir group of Korean girls on the flight. They took up a lot of space on the plane, and the plane was completely packed! I was mildly surprised that the Korean girls didn't know English, as I assumed they were from South Korea that was occupied by the US for a while (and was heavily influenced by both good and bad aspects of American culture). Our flight actually arrived back in the US about an hour early, which apparently is very unusual.
That was some of the highlights of the trip not mentioned in the previous 3 installments. There's so much more I could say. But perhaps now's the time to answer the question posed at the beginning of this post: What did this trip mean to me? It meant discovery, adventure, and escape.
I discovered that I could hold my own if I absolutely had to. I also discovered that the Chinese liked talking about me to each other when they find out I'm an ABC. At lunch in both Dagang and Jixian, some of the CDC people were talking about they were surprised I could understand and speak Chinese. I'm not sure they realized I could hear and understand everything they said. They toasted to me for that, haha. Red wine - toast away. White wine - it'll mess you up.
The entire trip was a super-condensed adventure. The Great Wall, the Imperial Palace, the CDC, the mountainside, Ancient Culture Street, karaoke, every moment was alive. There was so much to do, and we were so tired at the end of each day (so much so that I didn't even feel the urge to wank once the whole trip). For the first time in a very long time, I felt like I was alive and in this world, in this moment. And this brings me to my last point.
This was my escape. It was an escape from my daily life. It was an escape from being chained to my laptop and the internet and all that entailed. I did not miss the internet at all while I was in China. It was an escape from the academic stresses. Here, among the few people who went and among the massive populace, I - in a sense - escaped from who I was. It was like suspending reality in once place in the world to experience life in another. It was . . . relief.
Now, some final parting pics: