Sunday, January 30, 2005

a hard seat to tai'an

this weekend i went on a trip to Taishan, a mountain in Shandong province about seven hours from beijing. we left friday night, climbed the mountain on saturday, and came back sunday night. i went with my chinese roommate, and three guys from kalamazoo college who studied here in the fall. it was without a doubt the most frustrating, interesting, tiring, exciting, painful, and fun experience i've had in china so far.

chinese trains have four types of tickets: yingzuo, ruanzuo, yingwo, and ruanwo (hard seat, soft seat, hard sleeper, and soft sleeper). the prices increase as the quality of the ticket increases. the ride to Tai'an, the city at the base of Taishan, is only about seven hours from beijing, so we got hard seat tickets for about eight dollars each.

the lunar (chinese) new year is on february eighth (i think). the holiday is, from what i can gather, a mixture of thanksgiving, christmas, new years, and the fourth of july (there is a particularly good quote about this in Full Metal Jacket, Tet being the veitnamese version of the lunar new year). In any event, the holiday travel rush started last week, so right now there are several hunder million chinese people trying to go home to spend the holiday with their families, and most of them travel by train. and the hard seat is the cheapest ticket. and we bought hard seat tickets.

needless to say, the train was ridiculous. the difference between hard and soft seat is not that one seat is hard (they're both padded), but that in the train stations continuously sell standing tickets. there already were people standed when we got on in beijing, we had to kick people out of our seats, and more got on at every stop. there were a lot of people. i ended up sitting next to across from three girls heading home from beijing and next to a soldier also going home. i talked with the girls only a little, they kept playing tapes of themselves signing pop songs, and was going to ask them if they were all sisters when i realized that was an extremely stupid question. so i just shut up after that.

in total i got about an hour and a half of sleep, i think, broken up into fifteen minute segments. the girls had this enormous bag on the floor between us, so i either had to prop my feet up on it or bend them back underneath the seat. at one point, these women came down the isle, squeezing between the people sitting or standing there, trying to sell dried chicken, a Shandong speciality. they tried to sell me some beer. i didn't buy any.

we got to Tai'an at 5:30 in the morning, when it was still dark, and after following my absent minded roommate around in a circle, we got in a cab and asked him to take us to an open restaurant. we went to a horrible fast food joint with the most disgusting dumplings i've ever had and i had a pretty good bowl of warm soy milk (doujiang, i think). we ditched that place once it got light out and went to mcdonald's (maidanglao) where we had coffee and used the extremely clean and nice bathrooms (quite the opposite of the states). there we waited for my roommate's friend, Hai Miao, who eventually went up the mountain with us (my roommate took off and went home, the lazy jerk).

christ i've written a lot already, and i haven't even started climbing the mountain yet. i guess i'll break this post up into two parts. oh, before i forget, just a little teaser for next time, usually you can only buy your return ticket at the station you are returning from, so when we got to Tai'an and went to get our tickets, we discovered that they only had standing tickets (buying a ticket like that at this time of year is like going to the airport and trying to buy a ticket on the day before thanksgiving). so we bought standing tickets for the seven hour train ride back.

below is another of the crazy chinese translations that i've seen. the word for "caution" is mistranslated as "anger." in any event, the stone described was nothing to get worked up about.

i hear that the pictures may be too big for the format of the blog, though firefox is handling it much better than internet explorer. let me know what's up and i'll size future pictures down if it helps. anyway, check back later this week for the rest of the story, including pictures.

your friend, BEN

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Am I Old?

Today was really cold or I am getting old, it was so cold today that my ankles and knees hurt. I felt like my dad, gimping around today. If I was smart I would buy long johns like everyone else, but I am not. So I will just have to walk around like my dad for awhile. Today was hella cold, but it was still hella fun. I woke up early to play basketball with some of the Chinese roommates. They are actually a lot better than you would think. But anyway we played outside, I thought that my hands were going to fall off. Every time I caught the ball it hurt. The Chinese roommates seemed to not be effected by it at all. It was like they were playing in the summer time. It was amazing. But after playing ball, I can back to CET and went with my roommate and Cahill to Gu Gong (The Forbidden City). It actually is not forbidden anymore that is why I was able to go. So the English name really doesn’t do it justice. It was a pretty interesting place. It is where the emperor used to live. We got to see all the places he got to make speeches and where all is mistresses lived. I would not have mind being one of his mistresses because from the looks of things they lived the good life. Overall, the trip was pretty good, the only thing that was killing me was the cold.
An interesting thing about the weather here is that sometimes there is this fog haze stuff in the sky. The Chinese roommates call it fog, but to me and the rest of the American students, it looks like pollution. I have never seen a fog that lasted all day before and stayed that high in the sky. But hay, maybe China has different type of special fog. I call it pollution, but who knows.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Buying Toothpaste in China.

When buying toothpaste in China, I have discovered you have two options. One, don’t ask the salesperson what the differences between these two toothpaste because she probably won’t understand that the two toothpastes are different in a very important way. Or two, you can buy an expensive toothpaste and not be cheap like me. Or I guess you have a third option and that is read the label carefully but that tends to be hard when everything is in Chinese and you can’t understand anything. Why haven’t we studied any words like tartar and cavity? Those would have been useful, but no we study Euthanasia Bill and a married woman’s parent’s home. I mean when am I ever going to use these words. But back to the point of the story, when in China it is very important that you know what you are buying, especially when it is toothpaste. Because you can end up buying a whole of Tea Flavored toothpaste like my friend Ma Du. And from what I hear Tea Flavored toothpaste is not that great. I do not know why that salesclerk did not tell that toothpaste was tea flavored. You look on the box and it has these little leaves that look like they are mint leaves but no. They are tealeaves. How gross is that. Next time I will read the box more carefully, I did think that the Chinese character for tea on there was a little unusually and I was also wondering why the box was yellow. I had never seen a yellow Crest toothpaste. But now I know and knowing is half the battle. G.I. Joe taught me that.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

"this sure is a great wall"

i know it's been a while since i last rapped at ya, but i got hit hard at the end of last week by the ganmao, chinese for a hardcore winter cold that everyone in north china gets, and my stomach all of a sudden decided to quite quickly process anything i choose to eat. but i'm back on the up and up now, so i'm ready to assail you all with some more tales and pictures.

not last weekend, but the one before, we went out to the great wall. the above quote is reportedly what nixon said when he visited in 1972. the wall actually is pretty awesome. there's really nothing like it. we went to a section called mutianyu, which is sort of the second most popular tourist spot, but since it was winter there's pretty much nobody there. we walked along it for about an hour, had lunch, and slowly made our way back. it's really slow going for some reason, but we weren't in much of a hurry anyway.

here is me on the great wall of china. i bought a cheesy yellow t-shirt. you can see it in the fall.

the weather was relatively warm last week, but turned bitterly cold again for this weekend, which was great (!), because i was sick and our trip took us out to the temple of heaven. oh, before i forget, i also headed out to the forbidden city, which is actually not all that exciting. but anyway, the temple of heaven is pretty cool. it is within an enormous park. the part where you enter takes you along the "porch" of an old building, where hundreds of old people come to chat, dance, play music, gample, excercise, and try to sell you stuff. we talked with a bunch of them, and they were all very excited to tell us that they loved being retired. they come out to the park pretty much everyday. the average retirement in china seems much better than in the states.

the temple of heaven is way in the background. i took this picture standing on the circle mound, which is part of the whole temple of heaven ceremony thing. read a china guide book if you want to know more.

otherwise life had been pretty uneventful. i watched an entire movie in chinese, with chinese subtitles, and actually understood it, which is exciting. i've found that most of the time i can understand what people are saying, though a lot of the time i can't understand why they're saying what they're saying, or what i think they're saying. sheesh. oh, we also all went to a traditional chinese music performance at a tea house on friday night. it was good. that is all. i will leave you all with a picture of a camel enjoying the taste of the delicious fences of the beijing zoo:

love, BEN

p.s. it appears that people are actually posting comments on our blog. i can only imagine what exciting interchanges and witty remarks are being held. however, i would like to reiterate that we cannot see them, so if you want to communicate with us, please do so by e-mail.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Be Careful When Eating the Ma La Xiao Long Xia

First, I would like to say Happy Birthday to my Aunt Moe Moe. I hope that you are having fun.

Secondly, Nobody told me China was going to be this freaking cold. Everyday gets colder and colder. It is almost like I am back in Middlebury. I left Middlebury to get away from the cold, I guess that is just how my luck goes. Anyway, this weekend was one of the most fun weekends I have I had since I have been in China.

On Friday, after getting out of class and eating dinner. Dinner by the way was really good. We had this banana caramelized thing that was really good. I don't know how to explain it but it was good. Trust me. But after dinner, the Chinese roommates, my classmates, and I all went to Cha Guan (Tea House) and listened to ancient Chinese music. I thought that some of the songs were very pretty, while others were just so so. However, all in all it was a good experience. I am glad that I decide to go because at first I didn't want to. I mean who wants to listen to ancient Chinese Music right? Lucky for me I did decide to go, because it was better than what most people would expect. Although, I think on time is good enough.

On Saturday, pretty much everyone took a class field trip to the Temple of Heaven and Hong Qiao Shi Chang, (Hong Qiao market). The temple of Heaven was very lively. A lot Chinese people were out doing performances and things like that. If I can ever figure out how. I will put up some pictures. The temple of Heaven has three main structures. A really tall structure, which to me looked like Chinese version of the Leaning Tower of Pizza, just that it was leaning. But of course no one agreed with me, so maybe it doesn't look like that. The other structure in the Temple of Heaven is surrounded by a wall. The wall is really cool, because if you stand on the East side and start talking at the wall, a person can here you from the westside. The converse is also true. I know from experience. The last structure was a tall big round circle. At the center of this tall big round circle was a little round circle. Everyone wanted to stand on this little round circle and yell. I do not know why. I guess because it was the cool thing to do. So yes, I also did it. When in China, do as the Chinese, I always say. Anyway this structure things kind of sucked so I didn't stay long. So, really do not know what it was all about. But apparently, the Temple of Heaven is where the Emperor would come to give his sacrifices to heaven. And each of these structures represented some type of specially type sacrifice type place type thingy. Yeah, I don't really know but if you are really interested, I recommended you google it. I have found that google is pretty helpful with those sorts of things. Oh, this place had another special thing. This really long bridge. Made out of stone. Ok that's it for that place. After leaving the temple of heaven we went out to eat at Lao Beijing. It was nothing special, it is just a noodle place. This Lao Beijing that we went to was not that good, the one by our school is better. So after eating we went to Hong Qiao Shi Chang and went shopping. I bought so stuff that I really didn't need. I wanted to but so shirts but they kept trying to rip me off. The wanted like three dollars for a shirt. Come on now, I know that I am an American but please, three dollars. One person wanted ten dollars. I laughed in her face and told her that she was "zhen de hei" (literal meaning, really black, but I think it was your evil; not to sure a Wang Wei Feng taught me that). But anyway I was looking to buy $1.25 t-shirts but had no success. The lowest I got was about $1.60. What, I did buy was another memory card for my camera which cost about $15 dollars. Later, I found out that I got ripped of and could have got it for about $12 dollars. I always seem to get suckered. I also bought an old Communist propaganda poster. It says something like kill the American Devils or American Devils Die, something about America bad China good. I think it is hilarious and quite scary at the same time. After Hong Qiao Shi Chang we went out to eat.

Clark, Mark, Clark's roommate (Guan Tie Cheng), Clark's roommates best friend (Wang Wei Feng) and I all went out to Wang Wei Feng's family's restaurant. It is my favorite restaurant in China. The food was so good. First, we had appetizers. Cold tofu, pork something. Beef something, tomatoes, other stuff that was pretty good. And then what I thought was the really good came out. It was a huge Hot Pot of lamb meat. Oh, I need to mention all this food is spicy. This is very important for later in the story. And you need to remember that beer is the cheapest drink in China, although this time we had tea. But anyway, there was this hot pot full of lamb meat. The lamb meat melt right off the bone, it was delicious. And then they gave you these straws to suck the inside of the bone, very flavorful. Sooooooo good. This hot pot was huge. Then the main course came out. The main course is called "Ma La Xiao Long Xia". Ma is a flavor that does not exist in America, Ma literally mean paralyzing. La is spicy, but this dish was spicy beyond belief, but still so good. Words can not describe how good this dish was. Xiao Long Xia means crawfish. This is definitely my favorite Chinese dish so far. So they Bring out this huge dish of Ma La Xiao Long Xia, A plate that looks like a bicycle tire and as tall as my sister. At first, I did not know how to go about eating these crawfish, because I have never eat them before. But after a demonstration and several crawfish falling in my lap, I figured it out. So this whole time we are eating this really really spicy food and chatting and drinking beer. I do not realize that I have probably drank one huge bottle of beer to myself. Everyone stops what there saying and starts looking at me and laughing saying that my face is really red. I had yet to feel the effects of the beer when another huge plate of these Ma La Xiao Long Xia comes out. So, I am eating and drinking, when all of a sudden I cannot eat no more. I have reached my limit. I am now full, as the Chinese say "Chi Chengle" (stuffed). And I am "zhen de zhen de he zuile" (really really drink). I do not know how much I drank but it was a lot. By the end when everyone was done eating, okay, before that I was about ready to go to sleep. I pretty much was falling a sleep in the restaurant. By the time I got back to the dorm, all I wanted to do was sleep. However, the food was good. The next time I go and eat that, I am going to spring the extra dollar and buy the more luxurious sprite.

On Sunday, I really didn't do anything special. Clark, Golze, and I went to the Beijing Zoo. All the animals there looked really unhealthy. We spent about an hour in a half there because it was getting cold and that zoo was really not that exciting. The zoo's biggest attraction is its panda bears. This was my first time seeing a panda beer, so in my mind I am picturing a huge majestic, graceful beast. But these pandas were none of that. They were actually small boring doing nothing animals, except eatting bamboo. Apparently, they like the stuff. I think my cat, Kaboodles is more majestic and graciful than these animals and all he does is lay around all day. All so every place in the zoo had, to say the least, an interesting smell. Maybe because it was a zoo, I have been to a zoo in a long time, so I don't remember what they smell like. But this zoo did not smell like the zoos I remember. And that was my weekend.

Today, I went to The Bamboo Park and looked at the bamboo. The bamboo was just being bamboo. Staying planted and being green, and maybe even growing. I don't know it was hard to tell. But yeah, that was the Bamboo Park. As you can tell it was very interesting. Well time for me to go and do something. Probably study. I don't know if I have time. Lata.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Is Lassie Biting Back?

Today, I came to the realization maybe my stomach has been acting fun because of the dog meat that I ate this week. And maybe, my stomach is not used to that kind of food? Hmmmm. Dog meat taste like beef and at home I do not eat beef, so maybe my stomach has been acting funny because of that. However, Lassie still tasted pretty good if you like beef.
Another thing about the food or should I say drink here is that beer is cheaper than pop and even bottled water. I think the Chinese government wants its people in a perpetually state of drunkenness. At least it seems that some of the people are in that state by the way they drive here. I swear everyday ate least three times a day, I almost get hit by a car. The drivers here do not care about pedestrians, all they care about is where they are going. At times crossing the street can be very scary. It is almost like playing frogger or pacman. But back to the main topic, the beer. At home, I do not drink beer, matter a fact I have the taste of it. But since I have been in China, I have been drinking it a lot when I go to restaurants. This is mainly because some restaurants do not have "Kai Shui", boiled water. And if the restaurant does not have kai shui, we can not drink the tea or the tap water, because tap water will give you la duzi. I realize that I could order a pop, but remember pop is way more expensive than beer, so we all normally order the beer. The beer here is not bad. Every province in China has its own special beer. And I must say with some regret I have become accustomed to drinking Yanjing Pijiu, Yanjing is the name brand and pijiu is Chinese for beer.
On an unrelated note, Today I want with some Tongxuemen (fellow students) and our Chinese roommates to buy a cell phone. I am so glad our Chinese roommates came with us, because with out them we would have been absolute lost, not only in Beijing but in our minds. The people working at the cell phone place talked so fast and used so many words that I didn't know. I mean how often does the text book have words like telephone charger and Simm Card. Let me tell you, not very often. Since our Chinese roommates where there everything worked out fine and I bought the cheapest cell phone I could find, 一共是六百六元. It is not he prettiest looking phone but it will do. If any of you figure out how to give China a phone call or you have the money to do this, my cell phone number is 137-18-773-014. Holla.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

How to Succeed at Being Sick in Communist China

Just let me tell you from experience, that being sick in Communist China sucks. Yesterday, I had a bad fever and along with that La Duzi. For those who are reading this that don't speak Chinese, La Duzi is "the runs". I do not know how I got La Duzi, because I have been eating the same thing as everyone else that I hang out with and they have had no problem with their food. Even though I was sick yesterday it was not so bad, because all my friends made sure that I was ok and helped to make me feel better, especially the Chinese roommates and Clark. The Chinese roommate are so nice and help you with everything. In America, if I was sick, I do not think I would have got the treatment that I got yesterday. It was nice to know that I had people watching my back. But other than being sick this week, my time in China has been great. Last weekend, I got to go to the Great Wall. It was magnificent, majestic even. We went to the part of the Great Wall that not a lot of tourist go to. So it was nice just being there with the Chinese roommates and my classmates. Also last weekend I went to a place call Bei Hai Gong Yuan. It is a park that has a big lake and some Buddhist temple on top of a hill. I really don't know how to describe this place but it was pretty. After going to Bei Hai, I want to a hu tong in the area. Hu tongs are old style neighborhoods. They have a communist Beijing look to them. The best part of going to the hu tong was seeing this old man ice fishing on the river, he was partly fishing, partly talking to the fish, and partly drink his beer. It was an interesting thing to watch. The last thing I did this weekend was go out with my roommate (Zhou Guan Wei) and his friend to LiuLiChang and to the gate of Gu Gong, Gu Gong is the forbidden City. I only went to the gate of Gu Gong because it is really expensive to enter. It is only 40 Kuai which like 5 dollars. But since I have come to China I have become extremely cheap. I do not know why. It has actually happened to all my friends. For some reason China makes you very cheap. Well, I can't think of anything else to write but apologize if my grammar and spelling have a lot of mistakes. I think I am starting to forget English.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

good advice

i'm trying to post a picture of a sign in the forbidden city. if it shows up please let me know.

thank you kindly.

Friday, January 14, 2005

So this is China

I have been in China for about a week and a half. And have seen many sites around the neighborhood that is by my school. I think my favorite thing to do is go to the clothing markets and bargain with the people. I have done many things while I have been here in this short amount of time. For example, I went to Tiananmen square, I went to a Buddhist temple named Yong He Gong, and I have eaten different kinds of Chinese food. But I would have to say that the highlight of the trip so far was when all my friends left me behind and I had to go out on my own. It was the first time that I actually felt like I was in China. Because before that it just felt like I was in a big Chinatown. While I was on my own, it was fun because I was forced to use all my Chinese knowledge, which isn't that much, I have quickly discovered. When I was on my own I got to bargain with people in Guan Yuan market, I ate my first Dan Gao, it is a muffin type thing, and I also got to chat with many Chinese people. The best part of my solo adventure was when I went in to this small village type place and saw this shopkeeper watching the Houston Rockets play the Lakers. It was the best part because I got chat with him about all sort of things. He was a cool guy and really liked basketball. I want to go back there and chat with if I can find that place. I forgot to mention that the whole time I was lost, but it was still fun.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005


long promised and finally arrived. here are some pictures i took on saturday (on an afternoon trip to a tibetan buddhist temple) and on sunday (a city-wide scavenger hunt with our chinese roommates). so without further ado:

this is, from left to right, joy, durrell, and clark (in his brand-new $20 "north face" jacket) crossing a square near our school. that rather impressive building in the background is the beijing exhibition center, an excellent example of soviet-influenced architecture. there are always a few people flying kites out in the square, but they're crazy because it's really freaking cold.

here is clark, as well as, from left to right, durrell, jamie, and mark (from amherst) on the path leading up to yonghegong, a famous tibetan buddhist temple in beijing. the thing was built in the 18th century, and has on display quite a number of artifacts from much earlier that were given to the various lamas as gifts from the chinese emporers. the standout is a two-story tall buddha carved from a single piece of sandalwood. it's some type of world record apparently.

here's joy, me, and durrell in front of one of the lions at the temple. to get the correct view turn your monitor on its side. i'm too lazy to go through uploading the correct version. it was really really cold that day (middlebury cold), and i was wearing way too little clothing. at least i didn't forget gloves, like durrell.

here's my attempt at one of those traditional vs. modern pictures of china you see everywhere. i am not a professional photographer.

this was taken on the scavenger hunt, also a bitterly cold day. its the entrance to gugong, the forbidden city. i have not been inside yet.

this is a street very near tiannamen square, to the east, which is the modern, upscale part of the city. our school is in the west, in a very typical residential area. i'll take some pictures of it soon. on this street it the beijing palace hotel and the hyatt regency. i had to go down here to find out how much a custom made qipao is, the traditional chinese dress for women (it's several hundred american dollars).

that's it for now. if you could please shoot me an e-mail to make sure these pictures actually show up, that would be tremendous. the response last time was overwhelming. it really makes me feel loved.

Monday, January 10, 2005

a secret missive

it appears that our blog is banned in china, which is really nothing special because every blog is banned in china. so i'm just assuming that these posts are working, etc. that also means that you no longer have to post comments, cause we can never see them. so if you want to talk to me or clark, have something special to say, or have a question, send us an e-mail.

anyway, i was planning to write quite a bit today, including posting some pictures, but logging into this crazy thing took so long that now i have to go to our academic orientation meeting. so..., this is probably the most uniformative blog post ever. i'm sorry. at least i'm doing better than clark.

Friday, January 07, 2005

it's 9:33 at night

and i'm about ready to head to bed. i'll be honest...the entirety of this post may be under the influence of two bottles of chinese beer, the fine brand of yanjing, which comes in probably about 20 oz bottles for 1.6 kuai each. that roughly translates to almost 30 cents.

we got in last night, late last night, and it had been snowing for quite a while. the pollution here is really bad. not only could we smell it immediately after getting off the plane, all the snow on the roads was totatlly black. not like the dirty stuff that's kicked up on the sides in the states, but black like a steer's toucas on a moonless prairie night (extra points for those who recognized the Big Lebowski quote).

this morning it cleared up, but i still don't get the sense that i'm in one of the biggest cities in the world. we walked down to a large department-type store today to buy some things, but it just seemed like a very large china town. i guess once i start hopping on a bus and really heading places will it hit me that i'm actually in china. i'm also proud to report that my chinese has indeed proved functional. a question about where to find the tea in the supermarket was answered with an intelligable response. i'm very happy about that.

anyway, this post has been sorta all over the place. we'll get some pictues up soon i promise. our chinese roommates for j-term are moving in tomorrow, which i'm excited about. we do this scavenger hunt thingie that takes us all over the city with them on saturday. i will keep you all updated on that. also, we're adding another member to our blogging team. durrell mack will be posting as well, once he gets the e-mail acceptance or whatever (the internet here can be kind of spotty. in fact, we can't seem to actually view our own blog, only make posts to it, so if anybody reading can see this please send me an e-mail and let me know you got it i would be forever grateful). otherwise, please remember this ancient chinese proverb: many men smoke, but fu man chu.