Friday, August 28, 2009


Those who know me at all will know how important food is to me. Large appetite aside, I think that food is a window into a foreign culture. And so far, China has not disappointed.

Here I am with two baskets and two bowls of soup. The soups are both wonton soup, and the baskets have baozi and jiaozi (both are types of dumplings). Baozi are the white round ones on the right. They look really laborious to make. The dough is a fluffy, sticky rice dough made through what looks like endless kneading. They're filled with anything; vegetables, pickled goodies, or meat, generally. These ones were meat, probably pork. Jiaozi are the yellower, half-moon shaped ones closer to me. Those are your classic pot-stickers; thin, pasta-like dough filled with meat and spices.

The restaurant featured in that picture is a new favorite. I came across it last night after accidentally traipsing across Haidian with my doppelganger, Ian. (Seriously, though. To those who aren't used to seeing foreigners, we probably look like a carbon copy of one another. Our fellow students didn't know we were different people until a few days into the program.)

Anyway, about the restaurant. Tiny place inside, but they're happy to grab the tables and move them into a little plaza outside, when the weather is nice. And the price can't be beaten. A bowl of wonton soup is about four kuai. That's less than a buck. All told, our two bowls of soup and two plates of dumplings? Twelve kuai, or $2 USD.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Haidian District

A post from Lauren on my Facebook page got me thinking that it would be high time to describe where I am, and what Beijing is like on the surface.

First, Beijing is huge. I mean, really, really big. Geographically enormous. The flip side of that, however, is that the 13 million continuous residents there are quite a bit more spread out. The streets are busy, of course, but nothing like the endless swaths of people that you might expect from a country with 1.4-1.6 billion people.

Now, just because you don't see lots of people doesn't mean you don't know they're there. One telltale sign reminds you exactly how many people are cruising around Beijing. I refer, of course, to air pollution. There are days when I can't see even a half-mile down the road from the haze, and the sun is just a dim glow in the sky. People keep assuring me that it's just fog, but t'ain't no fog like I've ever seen. Now there are good days and bad days, to be sure. The first few days were bad days, but you could have mistaken today's pollution for that of Denver's. Really not too bad.

I live in a relatively sleepy part of town. It's called Haidian District, and is known for having a number of universities within its border. It's not exactly a wild-college-town kind of setup, though; there are a lot of gated apartment communities and little food stalls. It's also got some absolutely gorgeous parks. The one linked here was one I visited two days ago at around 7:30 am, breakfast in hand.

(This breakfast, to set the scene, was freakin' sweet. You take a freshly fried biscuit, cut it in half to make a pouch out of it, put in an egg over-medium, some chicken meat, sausage, and assorted mystery-veggies, and put it in a bag. All off of a street vendor for the equivalent of 81 cents.)

Back to the park. Like everything in Beijing, it's big. Wide green open spaces, dense bamboo forests, a stream running down the side, and a big lake filled with lily pads five feet tall and three feet wide. There were veritable legions of old people doing Tai Chi, a couple people fishing, and some few playing wooden flutes. Really quite pretty.

I move in with my homestay family the day after tomorrow, which I am really excited about. I should still be within Haidian District, but I'll be about 20 minutes walk from campus. When I have some nice pictures to share, I'll update this post.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Welcome to China

First post from China!

Sorry it's taken me so long to get this post in. Blogger, Facebook and Twitter are among the casualties from censorship here. Turns out, however, that a good VPN client can get you around it... :)

The flight in wasn't too bad at all, despite some delays. Got held up in LAX for two hours longer than expected, and when we arrived in Shanghai (a quick stop-over on the way to Beijing), we got held up for another three. These delays, however, did give me the opportunity to meet some great people. The woman on the left is Debbie Tao. She just got her MBA, and was headed back from vacation in the United States when we met. She lives in Beijing, somewhat close to my university. She gave me lots of good insight into where I might want to travel between semesters this winter. The fellow on the right is Wang Baiyu. He's 15, and was on his way back from vacation in the United States in celebration of his graduation from junior high school. He and I had a nice long conversation about Chinese internet culture and gaming. Our conversation on this topic led me to sing Rick Astley's "Never Gonna Give You Up" in the middle of a crowded Chinese airport. It turns out that the Chinese internet literati are indeed familiar with the Art of RickRolling.

I'm really glad to have met these two. Meeting such friendly and helpful people seems like an auspicious start to this project.

I'm off to lunch now, so the farthest I can catch up on the blog is Sunday morning, but more posts will follow when I get back.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Introductions are in order...

Hey folks,

For those who don't know, I leave for China on August 21st to study there for one academic year. I'll be in Beijing, studying with an independent, third-party program called IES Abroad, housed at the Beijing Foreign Studies University. Most likely, I'll be living with a Chinese family a short bus-ride away from campus, but those arrangements aren't finalized until students arrive.

This is going to be my online journal/post-every-picture-that-I-take spot while I'm in China. I should begin posting regularly once I arrive.

Please leave (vaguely tasteful) comments on this blog; they'll be a nice reminder of home when I start to 想家 (feel homesick).

T-minus 10 days and counting...