My pink bike

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One day I borrowed JK’s bike to go back to school to join in on some sporting fun and discovered a whole new world (yes, Aladdin and Jasmine were basically on their magic carpet ride beside me singing the song along with me). The convenience and speed offered by the bicycle cut my travel time to and from school usually by more than half (walking = 20-25 minutes while biking = 7-10 minutes). I was initially scared to purchase a bike since the Beijing traffic and road rules (that are nonexistent) would mean that I had to literally fend for myself despite the “right of way” and blending into the pack of bikes. But after this one ride, all my troubles and worries quickly faded away as I looked to a whole new world of possibilities. Since I was also looking forward to all the different sporting activities that people set up every day (soccer, basketball, volleyball, and badminton) I was ready to take the leap and get myself a bike. Despite not being particularly fond of the color pink, this particular bike was basically calling my name as I walked up to the little rundown hut on campus that was selling used bikes. Everything from the size to the feel to the quality was just right when I tested it out and I bought the bike on the spot for 150 kuai (including a bike-lock, which is absolutely necessary considering the bike thefts that happen every single day).

Gotta love the bike! ❤ 😀

 

798 and IUParty

Today JK, PH, FM, and ER decided to hit up 798, a modern/contemporary art district in Beijing. The place came into our radar through the Lonely Planet guidebook and through raving reviews from our peers. The whole district is fenced in and consists of a grid-work of little streets with small art galleries and exhibitions all lined up and down the area. Each little art gallery and exhibition has their own theme and there were “famous” ones we had to go see (again, according to word-of-mouth and Lonely Planet), but it turns out that the smaller and more obscure places tended to be much more interesting than the over-popularized ones.

One thing to note about this whole experience is that no matter how crazy and incomprehensible the art pieces were, it was an implicit understanding that art is one of the only methods in which contemporary Chinese are able to use to express their innermost feelings. To make this less of a euphemism, artistic work is one of the only channels available for the Chinese to spout out any political protest or dissent since it is one of the least governed aspects of Chinese culture. I honestly believe that this reason contributes to the fact that the modern art pieces we saw were mostly incomprehensible since repressed feelings towards the government and life in general become deluged out to these external forms in whatever means necessary to portray meaning.

After going through the entire 798 Art District (yes, we went through the entire place, it took us HOURS and HOURS…) I still don’t understand modern art. What is this sculpture supposed to represent?!

BUT!

I did meet Bumblebee and an Optimus Prime lookalike which were BOTH made from old car parts. I don’t know about you but it was definitely a win in my book.

Some of the art places were totally bizarre. One exhibition even centered around white space and a lone rose. Literally, the whole building (which was relatively large compared to the other smaller galleries) was painted white inside and there is a lone rose attached to one of the walls.

By the end of it, I was actually glad that we came to see what the Art District was all about, but really wished that I had done more research about the significance of more of the artwork and exhibitions in order to more fully comprehend the impact of the work. We ended the night with dinner at a pizza place that serves “the best” 炸鸡 (Fried Chicken) according to FM.

Turns out both the chicken fingers, the salad, AND the non-HFCS ketchup were DELICIOUS. Absolutely delicious. I’m basically drooling right now while writing this blog post…

The night ended with an IUParty at CL’s place (hey wait, where’s your passport?! <– sorry, had to insert that inside joke there. Please refer to the post where we traveled to Tianjin in order to get the significance and hilarity of that statement) where we all finally got together and mellowed out with some adult beverages and good conversation 🙂

Good times with the IUPeople at the IUParty 😀

Food outing #2: IUP vs. 北京烤鸭 (Beijing Roast Duck)

So our little foodie group decided to have an outing to have some good ol’ 北京烤鸭 (Beijing Roast Duck). Since there was a total of 12 of us, it took a ridiculous amount of energy and strategic maneuvering in order to travel through the whole subway system as a group from Wudaokou to Sansishitiao where the restaurant is located. Oh and by the way, all this was smack right in the middle of rush hour mind you. You might not believe me, but rush hour in Beijing is hardcore. You need to know where you’re going, who you’re going with, and what you’re doing at all times since there are people coming at you from all directions and you are being pushed and shoved and dragged along (by the stream of people) in every direction. Needless to say it took us about an hour to get from point A to point B, but luckily I actually made a reservation for the group and we were able to get seated right away despite the jam-packed restaurant. I wrote about this restaurant earlier when JK, JC, and I explored it prior to the start of the IUP program so I’m going to skip most of the food-description part and just talk about the ridiculousness that we brought upon the restaurant.

Since there were so many of us there, our order was almost as complicated as it could ever be ranging from the different juices and drinks that everyone wanted to the different dishes and vegetable categories we all preferred. In the end we just dumped the ordering responsibility to LY who was gracious enough to take it in style and speak her fluent Chinese to the waitress to get all our orders through. The large group ended up ordered five (yes, FIVE) different ducks. This would have been far from extraordinary except for the fact that this restaurant attaches a carving chef to each duck that is ordered. Ergo, we had FIVE DIFFERENT CHEFS carving roast duck at our table. So yes, we were the center of attention for quite awhile as the chefs slowly and painstakingly carved every part of crispy skin off the duck and beautifully plated it. Below is a picture of just a few of our chefs at work 🙂

By the end of the meal we were all ducked-out and could barely even finish the meal. HAPPY INDEED!

Adult playgrounds, bicycle rides, and badminton

It’s the start of a new week and it’s already been full of firsts! SV and I finally decided to hit up the adult playground at the bottom of the apartment complex last night and it was a blast. Since the Chinese take on “exercise” is rather different from that in which I’m used to (getting the blood flowing vs. losing fat and bulking up), I wasn’t really able to use any of the machines for a long period of time before being bored or sore from it. I don’t think my explanations will do any of it justice so I will post a picture of the adult playground another day (I forgot to take a picture of it – shame on me). The place has a gazelle machine, an arm bike, pivot machines, walking machines, and even a “treadmill”. And again, the quotations are there since the “treadmill” is basically inoperable because it is constructed from lining tubes side by side so whenever you get on it, you practically slip and fall flat on your face. Good times. All my faux names for these machines are not doing any of it justice so I’m just going to leave it at that and post a picture hopefully tomorrow! I’m glad SV was with me for my first introduction to the adult playground though because I would have been totally lost and confused without her since the machines all look so foreign to me (I like doing stuff outdoors instead of within a gym).

Today was also a day of firsts. It was the first time I rode on the back of a bike and the first time I played badminton in China. So I was terrified to ride on the back of a bike, because well, it doesn’t look safe at all with all the cars zooming about and the whole you’re straddling the back and can’t see where you’re going thing. Well anyway, KM, CL, and FM were all on bikes so in order to get to the nearest badminton spot in the shortest amount of time, everyone encouraged me to try it. I’m glad that they did and even coached me (and FM through it because he’s never had anyone on the back seat before either) because it was so fun! It was nice to get from one place to another in basically no time, all the while just hanging out in the back and chitchatting. So this might have been super obvious to everyone out there reading this but apparently the trick is to ride fast so that the momentum keeps you going instead of giving into gravity and toppling over. And apparently straddling is more dangerous than riding sideways (for the back person) since you can just hop off any time you feel danger encroaching. Well come to think about it, these tips are actually pretty obvious, I was just never put in a position to actually do it.

Well anyway, the four of us arrived at one of the small parks on campus and hit the ground running with the two rackets FM brought over from the States. We took turns playing while a young Chinese boy longingly looked to us. At one point he gravitated so close to where we were playing that we were basically hitting the shuttlecock back and forth right above his head. At this sight, CL decided to ask if the boy wanted to play and he immediately perked up and jumped right in. The little boy turned out to be out for the kill and smashed the shuttlecock every change he got, which in turn almost took some heads. While KM and CL left after about twenty or thirty minutes, the boy never gave up and stuck with us for about forty minutes.

ImageKm playing badminton with the little boy in the park. Woo!

After that FM and I decided to go to a “real” court. And again, quotation marks are necessary here since the outdoor court did have a net and we had to string one up from one tree to another weight machine within the adult playground complex on campus. Good times in Beijing again. FM and I played until the game devolved into us just standing in front of the net slowly hitting the shuttlecock back and forth. I’m so glad I got to pick up a badminton racket and play again – I truly love this sport and wish I had stuck with it through college.

FM and I strolled through parts of the campus I’ve never been to as he introduced me to the little supermarket located near the South Gate of campus and we even splurged as he bought himself a little fan for his bedroom while I bought myself a toothbrush to clean my watch with.

And now, HOMEWORK TIME UNTIL I PASS OUT TONIGHT. WOOOOO!

Friday night food fest #1

So a group of about 10 of us decided to get together on Friday for a nice little dinner. Our residential food expert FM has been talking nonstop about a 烤羊腿 (literally roast lamb leg) place he knows (and already took a group of IUP people to) so we decided on that and headed on out on our food adventure. Being the silly 老外 (colloquial for foreigners) that we all are, we decided to meet up at the subway station at 5:30pm but ended up leaving at 6:00pm anyway – just in time for the rush hour to start. So now, I’ve been trapped in rush hour train rides in many countries from Bangkok to Luxembourg to Paris, but NOTHING beats Beijing rush hour (but then again, I’ve never been there for the Japanese rush hour where people are literally hired to shove passengers into the train cars like sardines). We weaved, pushed, and were carried by bodies through train rides and transfer stations as streams upon streams of Beijingers rushed to get home. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that there were an insufferable amount of people packed within the trains, it’s just that there were SO MANY PEOPLE IN TOTAL that were simultaneously trying to get from one point to another that it became quite overwhelming to say the least. At one point CL even pointed out that it might have been faster to only make one transfer and walk the six blocks to get to the restaurant instead of trying to make it through the incredulous fray of the second transfer only to have our walk shortened by four blocks. Our tactic became one that had us forming an amorphous blob with interlinking bodies in order to gain enough momentum to push ourselves into the train.

After about an hour we finally reached our station and set off on foot to a nice little hole-in-the-wall a few blocks away. Although the alleyway was teeming with grime and the little room next to the tables was a sorry excuse for a “kitchen”, the food looked delicious. It was obvious that this meal was not only going to be scrumptious, but also a battle as all the big-bellied men who have finished their meals and were downing the last of their beer all had their shirts off and had sweat pouring down their rotund bellies. We were provided with personal long knives and long forks so that we could individually cut chunks of meat we desired. This was an obvious photo-opportunity that was not wasted. As we waited for our lamb legs to go through its preliminary cooking stage in the “kitchen”, the group ordered up some cold vegetable dishes of cucumber, cabbage, mushrooms, tofu, and peanuts, and loudly munched away over loud conversation. The moment finally came when a hot coal stove was brought out from the “kitchen” and placed into an opening in the middle of the table. Note: I’m glad I followed MF out of the alleyway to a store to get some water while we waited for table since the intense heat of the stove and the extra spices I added to the meat had me sweating buckets.ImageA snapshot of the charcoal grill and the lamb leg! Nom nom nom!

Our eager selves almost couldn’t contain ourselves as the skewered legs of lamb, nicely roasted to perfection, floated out from the kitchen and onto our personal stoves. Well, maybe also because we had to wait for almost an hour before we could get a table at the restaurant, but then again maybe it was just because of the lamb. Well anyway, needless to say, we all instantly dug into the succulent meat with our long knives and forks and happily ate away. Honestly I was never much of a lamb fan until I came to Beijing and was introduced to the local foods like 羊肉串 (lamb skewer) and now 烤羊腿 (roasted lamb leg). But now, I almost couldn’t get enough of the soft meat and crispy outer layer of the leg as my knife and fork went back again and again to the meat hanging in front of my face.  After multiple toasts to random things from good food to world peace, intense struggles of foraging for leftover pieces of meat on the skewered legs, and countless dangerous grease fires, we all survived in one sweatily filled piece.

ImageRoommate picture with our battle weapons!

After dinner, I got to experience my first bout of Chinese non-privacy in a public bathroom. I really wasn’t prepared for the situation when I walked into the public bathroom near the restaurant. Digression: I don’t think I’ve said this yet but the Chinese government has done such a great job at installing public bathrooms EVERYWHERE. I don’t have facts to support this, but I’m pretty sure that it was basically because the whole world had its eyes on Beijing for the 2008 Olympics and the government didn’t want people to be watching locals peeing in public in front of the cameras. Digression number two: so obviously as a girl there are two ways to squat and pee: we can either face towards the water hole or away from it. Personally speaking I’d rather face towards the water hole and basically take aim at it because it comes to (much) less splashing than when facing away from the water hole and peeing into the ceramic toilets. I don’t know if anyone really is reading this blog, but if you are reading this and have an opinion about it let me know! I’ve always wanted to hear others’ take on this subject.

Well anyway, I walked into the bathroom to find four squat toilets partitioned off from each other by a wall that goes up to about my hip. Yup, there it is. SV and I took our separate spots at opposite ends of the bathroom and went about our business. Right as a put down my pants in that first makeshift stall by the doorway, an older Chinese woman comes in, looks down at my bum for just a little bit too long, and continues on to the next stall. Yup, there it is again. Ok, so that wasn’t too bad of an experience at all actually – I’m just ranting about it now because I just wasn’t mentally prepared for it at all. But hey, I’ll totally be ready for it next time!

The food fest continued as we reached our residential area as there is a place nearby that boasts delicious Taiwanese shaved ice desserts. Since I am not much of a sweet/dessert fan, I sat this one out and just ordered one sorry excuse for 珍珠奶茶 (bubble tea). I understand that we got there really late and was their last order actually putting our orders in after their “last call” time, but come on at least make me some milk tea that I can gulp down! Although everyone else enjoyed their shaved ice with grass jelly, red beans, mochi, and bubbles, I had to pour out my “milk tea” and settle for just munching on bubbles throughout dessert. Note: since we were the last order, they basically did not really give a damn about us and gave us crappy shaved ice, too little food, and all this in paper to-go bowls. Don’t worry, the place definitely redeemed itself the next day when we hit up the place again long before closing time.

After such a successful food outing, we’re all eagerly looking forward to next Friday and the awesome food that is to come!