Elizabeth 07-08

i know, i know, i’m a bad blogger. i’m just not cut out for it. november was a busy month, and blogging takes quite a bit of time, believe it or not. i go for days without turning on my computer, so obviously no blogging occurs. the strange thing is, as i’m biking home from school every night, i think of many interesting things to blog about, but by the time i get home, sleep is pretty much the only thing happening.

speaking of biking, i am finally putting my bike to rest for the winter. i was biking home tonight and the temperature was in the 20s, with a wind chill of 18. i was just too cold, and it is not nearly as fun when you’re in a rush to get home. believe it or not, i actually really enjoy biking. i’m awake and refreshed, albeit a bit sweaty, when i get to class, and i really love the view. biking through the city makes me feel like i belong here, and it’s amazing the things i see. and it really is quite convenient, it takes about as much time as the bus, but the bus only drops me off on the far side of campus. thus i leave a good 10-15 minutes later than i would if i was riding the bus. sometimes i try to race the buses; i play a game of catch up with the bus i would be taking. i pass it at red lights, stops and traffic jams, than it passes me entirely to quickly. but it’s fun. so i will be quite sad not to be biking any more. but when the bus is only 5 cents per ride, the bus suddenly looks a lot more appealing.

yesterday was the first snowfall of the season. i actually didn’t bike through it, i figured it would turn to a sleety mix and that is just no fun. campus was quite pretty, and it was fun to hang out with the california kids that had never been in falling snow. it wasn’t a lot of snow, just a dusting really, and thankfully it melted before it could get too dirty.

in 10ish days we head off to Xiamen in Fujian Province, which is on the mainland across from Taiwan. i’m pretty excited to get out of the cold, plus we get to miss the last week of classes. only 3 more 8ams left! i’m not entirely sure what we’ll be doing there, but i suppose it’s like a christmas vacation. we’ll be there dec. 23-jan.1. maybe i’ll even get a tan.

speaking of classes, i suppose they are going well but i’m getting increasingly frustrated with my inability to speak chinese. everyone assumes that because i’ve been over here for three months, i must speak chinese fluently, and nothing could be further from the truth. i only had 8 months of chinese in the states, which compared to here was not intensive at all, and then i had almost 4 months of summer vacation to forget everything i had learned. additionally, although i have 22 hours of chinese class a week, i don’t actually speak a lot of chinese here. there are plenty of people doing master’s degrees in english, not studying any chinese, and doing just fine. you don’t have to speak chinese to live in beijing. most of my friends are foreigners, and almost all foreign students study english, so we naturally speak english. i have a lot of class every week, but i don’t do a lot of talking in class, mostly listening. so my spoken chinese is still pretty weak.

as such, i asked my chinese speaking friends to help me find a language partner, and i now have 2 language partners. well three actually, plus my tutor. the idea is that we just sit and speak chinese so that i get a chance to practice my speaking. we talk about everyday things, movies, the weather, classes, exams, etc. so i’m really hoping after a couple months of this, everything will really start to click. if i can’t speak chinese by the time classes end, i’ll stay for the summer and olympics so i can continue to work on it.

that’s pretty much it. i’m looking for an internship for next semester, but i don’t think people in the states can really grasp how much this country doesn’t plan. one of my friends taking actual classes in chinese will not know his exam dates until dec. 15th. the exam period is set to begin dec. 31st. coming from the states, where you know your exam date on your first day of class, this is sort of unbelievable to all of us. furthermore, i cannot predict what my chinese level will be two months from now, so i can’t really work in a job requiring chinese. i also don’t know my schedule or how often i’d be able to work. all of this makes finding an internship quite difficult. but i’ll keep working at it.

enjoy the holiday season! i’m actually kind of missing christmas carols…

i found a chocolate milkshake in china. at a baskin robbins, nonetheless, and it was absolutely delicious. it was a real milkshake, not shaken milk, and there was not a hint of the weird taste of chinese milk. granted, it was obscenely expensive, but that made it all the more delicious. so now that i found that, i really may never come home….jk ;)

after finding a chocolate milkshake, i’ve decided you can find pretty much anything you want here, at least in terms of western food. i had fish and chips for dinner tonight, and it was pretty damn close to the ones i had in london. the fish and chips place also had strongbow cider, which i have not managed to find anywhere outside of english pubs (ie i haven’t found it in the states). i had outback last weekend, which was also obscenely expensive but incredibly delicious. they import the steaks from australia, they had cheese fries with bacon on top, and real legit sweet tea, with free refills. outback is located one block from hooters, and i think we’re planning on trying out their wings this weekend. if i can find decent wings here, i will be so happy. it’s not just dinner foods that i’ve been able to find, last night i had french toast that would rival any american restaurant (i’ve never actually had french french toast, so i can’t comment on that). granted the bacon was a little weak, but i can’t be picky.

then of course you have the major american chain restaurants that are literally all over the city. i’ve seen mcdonalds, kfc, papa johns, domino’s, subway, starbucks and a zillion others. additionally, rumors are circulating that there’s a coldstone opening sometime soon as well. interestingly enough i think kfc is quite a bit more popular than mcdonalds. the menu is not the same as in the states, there are no bowls or anything too fancy, and i’m not sure if they do mashed potatoes and biscuits, but their chicken sandwiches are really good. this country does chicken very well in general. there are lots of subways around, but i don’t think they’ve really taken off because this country doesn’t really do cold food, or sandwiches. chinese lunch and dinners could easily be the same, and they are almost always hot, and not on the go. starbucks is all over the place, their menu is pretty similar i believe, although i know the states doesn’t have green tea lattes. i had some really good banana bread from there once, but i could never find it again. pizza is pretty easy to find here, and i’ve had a couple of really good hawaiian pizza’s that made me pretty happy.

long story short, i’m eating well here.

on a slightly different note, the other day, for the first time ever, i actually ordered something random and it turned out i actually didn’t want to eat it. there’s this small restaurant down the street from me that i go to fairly often, but i can’t read the menu so i usually just pick a random dish, ask for it not spicy, and hope for the best. i had never had a problem until the other day, when i picked something random and was given a plate of kidney beans. i am flexible and all but kidney beans is not enough for dinner, nor did i want to eat just plain kidney beans. when the waitress handed me the plate of kidney beans, i could almost see my expression in her face, that’s how obvious my surprise was. she immediately asked if i didn’t want it, and i said no, i didn’t but i had already paid so it was okay, and i didn’t want my money back (it’s quite common here to pay as soon as you order). but she was nice about the whole thing and took the beans back and let me order something else. what i ended up ordering wasn’t very good either, but it was a hell of a lot better than kidney beans.

okay okay i know it’s been forever since i’ve done an update. much has happened since i last posted anything, everything in china happens so quickly. for example, i biked into campus one morning and went around all the speed bumps, as usual. when i biked home that afternoon, all the speed bumps throughout campus were gone. don’t know why. when i biked back the next morning, the asphalt from one lane was all gone. don’t know why. still don’t know why. more asphalt keeps disappearing. i was pretty sure the old asphalt was just fine, but apparently i was mistaken. things literally come and go in an instant here.

i suppose that leads to a larger discussion about construction here. i’ve been here over two months and the pace of construction, and deconstruction for that matter never ceases to amaze me. most small shops close around 6:30, larger stores a bit later, but construction has no regular business hours. it’s 24/7. and honestly, i don’t understand the reason behind most of the construction. it’s like when they paved 270 this summer. every time you drove by it, you asked yourself why? i ask myself why all the time here. people say it’s for the olympics, but i really cannot see how some of this construction is part of their larger olympic plan. then again, as you could see from the pictures i put up of our trip last week, a lot of it is due to the olympics. in the pictures that look like a bulldozer ripped through the town/area, a bulldozer probably did rip through it. they are demolishing a lot of old and/or unsightly buildings all over beijing for the olympics. if i do end up staying for the olympics, i cannot imagine what the city will look like by next august. however, as part of their olympic plan, they are building a brand new subway line that stops at Beida, which would be awesome. that construction seems completely reasonable.

in other recent news, my midterms went well. well i’ve gotten one of two back and it went very well, so i was quite pleased. my kouyu midterm seemed very strange to me; it is a speaking class so i assumed it would be an oral conversation type midterm, but we were given a piece of paper and had to read the sentences and then answer the questions written on the paper. the teacher barely said anything. it took about 5 minutes. but i did well and slowly but surely my spoken chinese is improving, so i suppose the test is not so important. i have frequent conversations with my host mom, and she often tells me my chinese is improving very quickly because i am able to say more and more to her. however, i feel like the people that will most notice my progress in chinese are the people at the cell phone store where i go to buy minutes. i go in every two weeks or so, and the first time my host mom took me and she did all the talking. the second time i had this little red dictionary and it took me 45 minutes just to get minutes and was an utter debacle. i was their entertainment for the day. the third time i had my electronic dictionary, and it went okay, and then two nights ago i did it all sans dictionary or outside help. i was even able to catch what they were saying about changing my sim card so i don’t burn through minutes so fast, but i didn’t really want to deal with that at the time.

there’s a huge halloween party this weekend that i’m quite excited about. i’m going with my australian friend flick, she’s probably my closest friend here. we’re dressing up as devils. we even found little light up devil horns. then i broke mine trying to open the package so i have to go back to the market and buy more. yesterday we went to chaoyang, a district on the other side of beijing, to this costume store, on recommendation from one of my chinese friends and the day was hilarious and amazing and a huge adventure. we had decided to take the bus, because we’re cheap like that, but we didn’t know which direction to go, so we hopped on one hoping that it would go in a loop, not do a u-turn at each end. we’ll we were wrong, it does a u-turn, so we went to the summer place instead. good job elizabeth. we had to get off and get back on again, and two hours later we arrived in chaoyang (it was in rush hour at that point). then we had the name of the place, the name of the company, the building number, unit number and apartment number, and finding every single thing was a struggle. we asked so many people for directions, got completely turned around, oh what a day. literally every single piece of information gave us trouble, not because it was wrong, just because everything is so confusing here. it also doesn’t help that we don’t understand the directions people give us, other than left, right and straight. and let me tell you, those only get you so far. and on top of it all, the costume shop was a complete bust and didn’t have a single thing worth our time. but it was still completely worth the trip, just for the experience. so many things in this country are good for the experience. the actual event may not be that great, but getting there is always a trip. so we’re still missing half of our costume, and we have to go to a different market tomorrow. but we know where this one is, so i think it will be a bit better. i hope.

on a different note, i found out the american embassy hosts a thanksgiving dinner for americans on thanksgiving, so you can bet that’s where i’ll be. soooo excited.

oh, and kristina is coming to visit at the end of november. very excited.

that’s pretty much everything important. life is interesting here, it’s a big trip. but i really do love it.

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