Chris Richards

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China Archives

I started a blog for my semester abroad in Beijing in 2008, but never kept up with it. I’d just like to save it here for consolidation purposes! Please don’t judge it for any spelling and/or grammar mistakes…jet-lag, people!

chinese cooks

So, I woke up at 3am this morning, after going to bed at 9, and I felt ready to start the day. Now its 6am and I’m definitely ready. 

In terms of my living situation, all I can say is that I lucked out! My doubts were all erased almost as soon as I met my host mother at the airport. Something about said that she was well off, and that I wouldn’t be staying in a single room apartment in the city. To add to that she’s incredibly nice and has hosted 3 other Dickinson kids before!

After a moment of panic exiting the airport, I soon found Xu Shan (pronounced Shu Shen) holding a Dickinson sign. Relieved and excited, and speaking more Chinese than I have in 5 months, we headed to her car parked in the garage of the airport.
As we walked I was seeing, Audi, Volkswagen, BMW, and was getting really excited to see what she might have; she finds the car and to my surprise the car has a logo I don’t recognize! It’s a Crown. But as soon as we head to the back trunk, I see a Toyota symbol and it makes sense. Its just a modified Camry, but its really, really nice!

The ride home took forever, but on the way there we had a chance to talk more, after I of course explained as best I could that I couldn’t really speak well yet, that I’ve forgotten a lot of what I know. She understood and said that after 5 months I’ll be excellent, and not to worry. Our conversations were short, brief moments of enlightenment on my part. A certain word would come to me, and then, and only then could I start a convo around that topic. For example, I wanted to find out if she had Internet. So I asked in Chinese, “Ni yo INTERNET ma?” She didn’t recognize that word, but some Chinese do, so I thought I’d try. But so then, I was silent for a minute thinking and thinking about how to rephrase that to get the answer I wanted. So I then just asked, do you have a “Wang Ba” (computer/internet café) and she said, “ooohh wo men yo DianNao”. So they have a computer, and as it turns out, I have an internet connection at the desk in my room…!
But the moral of the story is that here, I’m planning every thing I want to say so far. I have to make an effort to think ahead and go through my brain and plan on what to say. I’ve found though that I’m good at figuring out what they’re tying to say even if I don’t understand 50% of the words in a phrase; context and intonation help me figure out the rest.
I wish I could retain new words better, but already I’ve learned shower ‘Ci Sao” (See Sao) and a few others. It’s just hard when I ask ‘hey what’s this in Chinese?’ to remember the word just five minutes after. Unless I repeat or write the word multiple times, I usually can’t retain it. But I’d say I’m proud of what I am able to get across and understand. Thank you Professor Zhou…! haha.

The entire host family is very nice, and in general what you’d think of for a middle class Chinese family living in an apartment complex. Apparantly the school Bei Da and my home are both located along Beijing’s 4th Ring. For you Americans, that’s like a loop of the beltway around DC or MD, so picture that and add 4 more consecutively bigger rings outside it and that’s what you get in Beijing. I’m sort of confused right now as to where the school is in relation to this, but it’s not far, and she pointed out the rout I’d need to take to get there by bike each day. Also, we passed Mai Don Lao (McDonnand’s), Papa John’s, and Ken Duh Ji (KFC, Ji meaning Chicken) on the way in between school and the apartment.
The mother is 56 and I guess her husband is somewhere near there, maybe older by the looks of it, and they have two kids – a son who’s 16, plays piano and a little guitar and looks very athletic, and a daughter who’s actually 30 but looks about 15 I’d say. They’ve both shown kind interest in me in just the couple times we’ve interacted so far, more so with the son, as the daughter doesn’t live here. The father hasn’t said much, and I’m a little intimidated to talk to him because he’s harder to understand, and I think he realizes that because he just tries to speak bad bad English to me. But he did manage to tell me before I went to bed last night that “On next day tomorrow after at eight thirteen we go P..ppoliiice. Hao ma?” I corrected him in Chinese in terms of the timing, he meant eight THIRTY on Thursday. So I guess he’ll be taking me there to register with the local station so that I don’t get deported. Haha.

Oh yeah, this is going to sound crazy, but it’s true. It almost seemed natural when it was happening, but then I thought about how funny it was. I sat down with the mom and she handed me a menu, imagine a Chinese take out menu, in Chinese and with prices, and asked me what I liked. I couldn’t really read the different options so I just told her ‘I don’t know, get what you like’. But basically, for my first night in china I had Chinese food take out delivery! It was just so ironic, like that’s a typical American thing to do, yet I guess it’s just as common here! I asked if she cooked in her kitchen (she might not, as she is a government worker) and she said yes, so that’s cool too.
But the food was great! Slices of pita-like bread with a little sweetness to it, a hot bun, some shredded pork or beef in a sweet brown sauce, battered chicken or pork in a general tso’s like sauce. I was very surprised, it was almost like American style Chinese, and I explained that to them, and that American Chinese is very different than real Chinese, which they thought was Hen Yo Yi Si, very interesting.

The dog is cute and pretty nice, about the size of muffin but sturdier and a boy. His name is LeLe (LuhLuh) and at first he kept yapping at me, but like muffin, as soon as he got a sniff and walked up to me, he loved me. He actually tried to jump up on me, but instead just sort of got half way up and nuzzled his head on my leg, which they thought was Hen Ke Ai, very cute.

Okay people seem to be stirring now, its 7am, I’ll go see what’s happening! Bye!
Oh yeah I’m sending these to Katie to post for me, since china seems to be blocking use of blogging sites!

Tuesday September 9, 2008

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Now that Katie’s left for Spain, and I have about a week before I leave, I’m feeling kind of in limbo. I want to start packing but I can’t exactly pack everything because I still need clothes to wear now…It’s weird having to think about sweaters, pants, and other warm things when it’s still (or was still August). I could probably just buy an entire winter wardrobe over there for less than the price of a single item over here, I know I wont be packing a winter coat – a Chinese Northface rip-off will do.

I do hope that internet access will not be too difficult to come by over there. Hopefully, hopefully my host family will have a connection, but I really have no idea how common internet service is for families in China. I’d expect with the abundance of Wang Ba – Internet bars – that people wouldn’t bother paying for internet service, but I can hope.

Unrelated, but on my mind, I think its funny that we’ll all be studying at China’s TOP university. Any Chinese person that I’ve told i’ll be studying at Bei Da (Beijing University) just says, ‘Wow! That’s the number one school in China!” And i think its just funny that we ‘automatically’ got in. I’m really greatful that Dickinson was able to provide us this connection to Bei Da, as it really is a very prestegious place (equal to our Harvard), and I know any local Chinese person would absolutely love to be accepted there.
I will definitely appreciate the experience, and I feel extremely lucky to get a chance to study there.

September 2, 2008

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So, I never want to have to get a visa again. I’ve been to the Chinese visa office downtown in D.C. about 5 times now. And only until the last visit has my quest for a Chinese visa become complete. I’m now finished and ready to go. See, when I changed my flight date, of course the visa entry date didn’t change with it…! My original visa said “Enter before Sept. 9”, and when I changed my airline ticket to the 8th that meant I’d be arriving in Beijing ON the 9th. I emailed the visa office and they said that as long as I arrived by 12 noon on the 9th that I should be OK. Of course, my plane was scheduled to arrive at 12:25 that day. Out of precaution, I HAD to get a new visa. It was funny, both times I was at the visa office recently the workers there asked me “why don’t you just get a new plane ticket??” I laughed and told them “sorry that’s not an option” but they didn’t seem to get it and even consulted some higher authority deep within that office and returned with the same question!
hah, it’s just been an interesting experience, and I’m glad I dont have any horror stories like some poeple I’ve heard talking about getting visas. I mean, I even heard a man in the office on his phone talking to some friend of his in the state department trying to see if he could pull any strings because he had randomly been denied entry to China two times from two separate visa offices! I felt bad, I just imagine them mixing up his name with someone on the terrorist watch list or whatever…haha

A Manager at work told me how the two best English-to-Chinese translations were for Coke and BMW. Coke translating to “Ke Kou Ke Le” literally meaning “Good Tasting in your moth drink” or something like that. I think that’s cool.

August 15, 2008

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So, I’ve just started this blog tonight in hopes that I’ll keep it updated as i experience life in china as it comes at me. The only thing is that i’m not there yet! Had i stuck to my original plan I would be there now, having flown in a cramped jet, watching every movie they have to offer, but for now i’ve decided to stay here. I know i’m missing the olympics (and the CROWDS of people that come with that) but i decided that staying home to see people here was more important for me to do before i ran away for like an entire year! So yeah, I would have been on my way to settling in at the Central University for Nationalities in downtown Beijing, but i’ve already been there! Last summer I spent 5 weeks traveling around china with my college’s China Practicum program and received one course credit by doing so! We were paired with English majors from CUN for two weeks and interviewed in order to write a report on their views and opinions of the china around them. So it wasn’t much work, but a lot of fun! So from my point of view, having been in china for only 5 weeks, i already know that things are cheap, sign translations are funny (try Engrish), and that everyone there is interested in talking to you because you look different! Well anyways, I’m glad i now have time at home to myself to work at a chinese restaurant – Charlie Chiang’s PING – and make money (expecting i’ll be a billionaire when i get there!) So maybe I’ll post more as it gets closer to my arrival, but if not, i’ll see you in china!

July 18, 2008

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