Published: May 26th 2012May 26th 2012
Sunday, May 20 Fernanda and I decided to take a trip to the Pan Jia Yuan flea market, over on the east side of town. The market was pretty cool, it had lots of random Chinese things and souvenirs. We didn’t buy anything yet since we have so much time to shop, but so far it seems like the best deals were at that market. Fernanda did buy herself a scarf which she successfully bargained down from 120 to 20 yuans (so she paid about $3.50 for it). Pretty sweet! We had lunch at a local eatery which seemed popular but which was most definitely the sketchiest meal we’ve had since arriving in Beijing. I ordered chicken and rice but the chicken was totally pink so I only ate rice. Fernanda got dumplings by pointing at a picture and to this day we’re not really sure what was inside them. But the good news is it’s been a while now and we have not suffered any repercussions from the meal! So we think we’ll survive anything. For dinner that night we just bought a garlic baguette from the local bakery and ate it with oranges. We just didn’t feel like anything
Home sweet hotel
The Long Xuan hotel
but the basics. It was delicious!
Monday the 21st
was back to work. My supervisor was supposed to be back from his trip to Chengdu but he didn’t come in all day. In fact, it seemed like most people had not returned from the trip. And those that did come in were definitely not working. I saw someone playing a full-screen video game! So I skipped out early and went to a local skating rink to fiddle around on the ice. It was a good life choice. Monday night Fernanda, Jeff and I went for dinner to the mall food court just down the street from us. It felt good to be somewhere so clean and trustworthy after that sketchy meal Sunday.
Tuesday, May 22nd
was Fernanda’s birthday! Our first surprise was a brand new American intern, Liz, who had come in from Chicago on Sunday. She came out with us in the morning to the local bakery to have a delicious breakfast that was the most amazing change from the hotel breakfasts (which were really getting old at this point. Jeff said it best – every morning they have a different vegetable but it always tastes the
Pedestrian unfriendly design
Seriously who thought this was a good idea? "oh let's put trees in the sidewalk that take up the entire sidewalk!"
same. See, they boil all the flavour out then douse the veggie in some cheap oil. Yumm…There are also super-bland buns, some boring soup and just mystery stuff.) Anyways, breakfast was European-style but with Chinese flare. I got what I thought was a grilled cheese but it had some curried veggies or something inside. It was pretty tasty.
That morning at work my supervisor still wasn’t back. So I still had absolutely nothing to do. Good times!
For lunch we also decided to take a break from the cafeteria. Though I will say the cafeteria at work isn’t bad, the food is usually decent and there’s always plain rice and noodles which is always safe. Plus, it’s free. Can’t argue with free! (Well, I’ll argue with hotel breakfasts which are free, but that’s an exception.) Anyways, we went to the traditional noodle house Fernanda and I had gone to on our first night in Beijing. It was reeeally busy and we had to wait for a table. Our server was not very helpful, not like the first time we’d come. When we asked for the English menu we had been given last time, he said they didn’t have
one. Then he never brought my order. I think he was trying to tell us I couldn’t order what I wanted at lunch time but he wasn’t clear and just brought nothing instead. But there was plenty of food anyways so we just shared. Portions really are ginormous. We then went to the bakery for some chocolate cheesecake cake. It was scrumptious.
That afternoon my supervisor finally returned. He didn’t really have much to report.
For dinner we had a big adventure out to Wanfujing street, which is known for having some very special food. The pictures tell the story the best but basically there are skewers of all sorts of fun things like maggots, scorpions (still alive and moving of course) and spiders. The first thing I ordered was a corn on the cob which was terrible. Like seriously how do you screw up corn on the cob? The Chinese have found a way. I couldn’t finish it. It was all dried out and flavour-less. So that made me not too optimistic about my food options. I stuck with safe things – I had some dumplings, fried bananas and candied strawberries. It was all overpriced and not
that great. But it was fun. Fernanda, who is normally the most picky eater, decided to go adventurous. First she tried stinky tofu, which she really didn’t like. Then she decided she would eat a seahorse. But not the head! The thing is so tiny but she did it, she ate all but the head. Which Liz then grabbed and ate. It was pretty funny. She said it just tasted like crunch.
The area around Wanfujing is all super fancy expensive stores. It was a really weird contrast. In general, the place was super-touristy. We are in such a non-touristy area that it weirds me out to see non-Chinese people. So we’re getting the authentic experience in our neighbourhood!
Wednesday was another normal day, Jeff and I were given the assignment of creating a presentation to introduce ourselves to our group. I wasn’t really sure how to go about the assignment but I did my best. It wasn’t a very difficult task so I still had lots of time to surf the internet. I was basically told flat-out by my supervisor that there isn’t anything for me to do right now – not until the new project starts
in June. So I’m just playing the waiting game for now. My supervisor also seems to have forgotten about the “make-work” project he gave me last week to research sustainable cities. Oh well.
The Chinese workplace is an interesting place. Lunch is two hours, which seems needlessly long, especially since lunch is served in the basement of our building. Tuesday was the only day we actually took a full 2-hour lunch. Then after the lunch, people around here just pass out. Seriously there is a nap corner right outside my cubicle where there is a mattress and a pile of blankets. So people just collapse on it in the afternoon. The guy in the cubicle next to me just sleeps at his desk – and he snores so it’s really obvious. It seems like it’s totally acceptable.
Wednesday evening, Fernanda and I went back to the mall food court for dinner. There was this dumpling place that looked really good but communication was going to be hard. We pointed at the picture of dumplings. They then handed us a long list of Chinese characters which seemed to indicate different kinds of dumplings. Oh boy. We managed to identify
the symbol for pork which seemed safe. There were of course two other symbols but we figured they couldn’t mean anything too weird. So we just picked one of the pork options that looked interesting. It turned out fine! After dinner, Jeff and I met up and headed to a field to play some ultimate frisbee! In my long days at the work computer, I’d found a club that does pick-up ultimate – so you just show up, pay a small fee, and you can play for 2 hours. It was really fun and really intense! Lots of ex-pats, so everyone spoke English. But ultimate frisbee is a game of constant running, and lots of sprinting. I think I lasted five minutes before I needed a sub. And I died before the end of two hours – I lasted about 1 hour, 45 minutes. And this is on a pretty clear day – so a day with low-ish smog levels (for Beijing, mind you). Anyways, it inspired me to keep running and try to build my endurance. We’ll definitely be back!
Thursday was another work day, nothing too exciting to report. I guess the one big piece of news
is that after Tuesday away from the hotel breakfast, I have not once returned. The thought of that dark room full of Chinese people staring at me and all that terrible food just keeps me in my room. I bought some bread and peanut butter, plus I’ve kept a stash of fruit so there’s plenty of much better stuff to eat in my room. I think that’s what I’m going to do from now on because hotel breakfast just makes me depressed and I like to start my morning in a happy way.
Thursday evening I headed out to the East side to Sanlitun Village for dinner with a fellow Canadian I’d met at the party last Saturday. It was fun to just be around a Canadian since I’ve been living out of the country for what feels like a long time now. Sanlitun is super-new and super-ex-pat-y so everything has English on it and everyone speaks English. It feels like I’m in a different country when I’m on that side of the city. I know I’m getting close to my hotel when there aren’t white people on the subway anymore. But on the subway over I saw a
black guy who spoke Mandarin on the phone! He is possibly the coolest person I’ve seen in Beijing.
The biggest different between Chinese places and more Western places is definitely the bathrooms. The Western places have full toilets (not holes in the ground) and the toilet paper is like actually in the stall instead of out in the main area where you of course don’t need it. I went to look for toilet paper in the main area and when I couldn’t find any I was concerned until I walked in the stall and was like ‘woh, toilet paper’. The one good thing about my hotel is I have a proper toilet and they give us toilet paper. Of course it sucks so we buy our own but at least “home” is comfortable.
Friday morning I went for a morning run. It felt great. And it’s so fun to get stared at. Yes, I’m a white person running on the West side of Beijing. I know, it’s crazy. I’m also the same white person you may have seen riding the bus or eating dinner here in Xicheng district. Apparently it’s ok for old Chinese people to run but
when I do it’s the weirdest thing in town.
Friday was also the day of my presentation! In the morning I was told it would be at 4pm so I had the whole day to polish it off. Jeff presented first and then I went, and they were really positive about both presentations. We talked about ourselves, our interests, and also our research interests and career goals. I guess this is how they get to know you - people were coming up to us and talking to us after the presentation even if they hadn't spoken to us yet. There was also a big bag of cumquats to eat so we all bonded and ate delicious fruit.
Friday evening, Fernanda, Liz and I headed back to the mall food court some more fun adventures ordering food. We're getting good at getting what we want from places with no English or even pinying (spelling out of Chinese words in a phonetic alphabet) on the menus WOO! After dinner, I put on my gym clothes and walked West to Capital Normal University. I of course got lost but I found lots of cool things while I was lost! Anyways, when
Guy asleep at his stall
Seriously they all sleep on the job!
I got to the University I headed to the badminton courts to play some games with my co-workers. It was really fun! I played against my supervisor and some of the other people in my group. Apparently there's a tournament on Tuesay so this was trainig for our department team. My supervisor told me I wasn't the worst player there so I feel I represented my country well! Haha. It was a really fun experience.
It's now Saturday morning and I'm taking it easy after a busy week. We're heading out to Houhai this afternoon with a Chinese intern that wants to show us around so that should be fun!
PS we're offiially part of the Beijing party scene: http://www.thebeijinger.com/gallery/The-Beijinger-2012-Reader-Bar-Club-Awards-Party/MG-0072
There are more photos below