Thursday, February 19, 2009

Night Market attempts 1&2, Olympic Village, and Tian'amen Flag Lowering

I'm finishing up my second week of classes now, so it's starting to sink in that I actually have to work while I'm here. I have 2 and a half hours of Chinese four times a week, while my other classes (Chinese Political Philosophy and Chinese Medicine) are three hours once a week. The classes are challenging, but I'm learning a lot.

Since getting back from Yunnan, I've seen lots of other neat parts of Beijing. The first week we were back, my friends and I attempted to find the Wanfujing night market, which is famous for all kinds of weird snack foods like fried scorpions, chicken hearts, sheep testicles, etc. We took two taxis to get there. We told our driver to take us to "Wanfujing" which is a bad idea, because wanfujing is an entire street. Also, we really had no idea where it was or what it looked like. So we got dropped off in this random part of town with a kind of run-down alley of snack stands and stores. Our friends ended up on the other side of Beijing. Since we had no idea where we were, we met up with our friends at this mall downtown where they were dropped off. Below is the picture of the fake wanfujing night market that our taxi took us to.

Actually, funny story about the downtown mall where we met up with our friends. For some reason, we always end up at this mall without intending to. The first time was looking for the wanfujing market, the second time was meeting up with one of Colleen's friends who was visiting Beijing, and the last was a few days ago when we were at Tian'amen square (and eventually the real wanfujing night market. More about that in a bit). There must be some reason we always end up at this expensive western mall!
This was the random market we got dropped off at. I ate some fried bread kabobs here that were pretty good. I don't think I'll ever be able to find this place again because I really have no idea where it was.

We decided one afternoon to go see the Olympic village. It's really easy to get to. The subway has an entire line dedicated to the Olympic buildings. It was such a nice day, and we got there right before sunset.

Me and my friend Colleen in front of the Watercube.
Ah, yes. The traditional Chinese log cabin? I really have no idea why this was in the Olympic Village. There appeared to be nothing inside. And people were taking pictures in front of it. We actually have a similar structure on the UIBE campus where I'm studying. Except ours is a pigeon coup. We also have a goat pen. Yes, we have goats on campus. It's kind of exciting. We learned that the Chinese word for goat is shen yang today because, as we were copying characters in class, we could hear the goats bleating outside. It's pretty cold. I bet they just want to be inside. I would, too.

Tuesday afternoon we went to Tian'amen square again because some of my friends had to film the flag lowering ceremony for a class. Everyday there a ceremony for the flag raising at sunrise and lowering at sunset. It was very cold this particular day. And snowing. Since when does it snow in Beijing? Really? It's a very intense ceremony. There is very official-looking marching and one of the guards folds up the flag in what appears to be a very silly manner, but is probably very ceremonial and serious.
That night we finally made it to the Wanfujing night market! We were very excited. But it was so incredibly cold that we hardly enjoyed it. I didn't get any weird food here, though. Mostly I just wanted comfort food that would help make me warm. I got some fried banana bread, pineapple rice, and a chinese chicken wrap. I do want to come back so I can try the scorpions. That is one of my goals. As we were trying to catch a taxi back to campus from the night market, we stumbled upon the same mall I was talking about before. We discovered that the mall connected directly to the subway station from the inside. This was a godsend because we did not want to step foot outside again.

That's all for now! Love and miss you all!

Monday, February 9, 2009

Yunnan trip part 2

Here's the second and final installment of my pictures from Yunnan! Be excited.
We were in Dali for New Year's Eve and New Year's Day. Think 4th of July x100 with fewer regulations. It was pretty nuts. There were firework stands about every 100 feet, and in between were giant community punks so you could set off a nice explosion as you're walking down the street. Lots of small children took advantage of this. Since we tend to stick out in the crowd, we often became their targets. We learned to be afraid of children on Chinese New Years.

We did end up buying some fireworks ourselves. We got a bunch of roman candles and some sparklers.
When I was setting of my roman candle, some kids who were walking by me yelled, "Statue of Liberty!" I laughed a lot afterwards.We got some giant sparklers. Great fun.

This was a bar in Dali owned by some ex-pats from Brooklyn. I wouldn't say it was the best pimped-out pizza in China, but it was pretty good.After Dali, we went to Xishuanbanna which is an autonomous region in southern Yunnan. The weather there was absolutely amazing. It was so incredibly warm; we went out in tanktops and skirts.
Our first homestay was in a small Dai village in this area. As a welcome, they sprayed us with water that smelled like Jasmine.
This was the home I and my friends Stephanie, Sydnie, and Colleen stayed in.
This was our host-sister. She spoke Mandarin fluently, but we don't, so communication was rather difficult. The whole family was very welcoming and generous, though.

It was interesting to see that even in this small rural village people had tvs and stereos. We watched Tom and Jerry with our host family for a little bit. It was weird because they dubbed the show in Chinese, rather than just keeping the musical sound-effects.This was our afternoon "snack" at our house. They kept giving us food! It was so delicious. Those fried rings in the corner were made out of sweet rice powder and were crispy, gooey, and pretty much amazing.
Our host sister showed us around the village. At the end of the road, the path turned into a banana grove. I don't think I'd ever seen a banana grove before. I guess the blue plastic bags trap the humidity so the bananas ripen better. Also note that the electricity pole is a bamboo stick.
Our guys played the village basketball team. I believe they won by a small margin. A lot of the village came to watch with us.
These kids were right next to the basketball court. They loved when you took a picture and then showed it to them.
That evening the women performed for us.
We also lit Kunming lanterns, which are like hot air balloons, except that you don't ride in them. You just let them go.

The next day we hiked up a mountain. I really love the terraced farmland.

There was even a jungle-like area on the mountain. It kind of reminded me of the jungle at the Henry Doorley Zoo, except a little more legit.
I was really excited when I saw a cardboard stand-up of Jay Chou in a supermarket in Jianshui. I wanted to take it with me, but the people who check receipts outside the store would have frowned upon that.
The next homestay was in a Yi village. They greeted us with a dragon and shots of baijiu.
This was the home we stayed in. It was a courtyard-style house, so this room was entirely open-air.
Our host mom and sister (?). Except I never saw the sister (?) after this, so she may have just been another villager. They are wearing the traditional Yi costumes which they hand-embroider.

The Yi village.
It's kind of hard to see, but this Yi girl is on a cellphone. China is such a clash of old and new.

More dragon dancing!When we got back from the performance, our host mom brought out this space heater and some chairs. It was pretty cold out, so it was a nice gesture. Then she gave us this thick white wax-like disks to put on the heater. We thought it was something to warm our hands with, but then she motioned for us to eat them. It was a rice cake. Cooked on a space heater. She and her husband also gave us lots of fruit and nuts to eat. They all give us so much food!
We went on a hike in areas around the village the next morning. More really pretty farmland. Farmland in the US is not quite this photogenic.

Our guide lead us up to the roof of a house. It turns out all the roofs in the village are connected.
After the homestay, we went back to Kunming, the city we started in. We had a few days here to hang out in the city. The last touristy thing we did was go to the Stone Forest. It is a natural "forest" of tall stones that used to be at the bottom of the ocean thousands (millions?) of years ago. It was really amazing to see, but all of the tourist traps were distracting and very annoying.

These people dressed up in traditional costume. You could get pictures with them if you paid them.
For some reason, a lot of the Chinese tourists were wearing cowboy hats. They were selling them in nearby shops. I'm not really sure why, but it was pretty amusing.