Cards

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Cards

I love playing cards and haven’t gotten the chance to do so in awhile, but that finally changed tonight! JK and I had a friend, SV, over to play some Rummy, which ended up also including Nines, Ninety-Nine, and more and more rounds of Rummy. Gotta love a Saturday night in with good friends and a deck of cards!

Chinese Chess

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Chinese Chess

A picture from my first game of Chinese Chess just a bit before I also suffered my first lost ever of the game. Woo! It might be because I’m not used to the game and the pieces, but I feel like the game requires a lot more thinking than the normal/standardized/international recognized game of chess. Learn how to play Chinese Chess in Chinese FTW. Photo cred: SV

枣糕 (Date Cake)

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枣糕 (Date Cake)

So JK and I decided to finally take the plunge and wait in the LONG line to try the date cake (date as in the fruit). This hole-in-the-wall cake place is right across the street from our apartment building and literally has a line forming in front of it EVERY SINGLE DAY. So yes, we decided to take the plunge and after 30 minutes of waiting, finally got 1.5 kgs of date cake. I know, I know, it seems like a lot but well, buy half a kilo and get another quarter kilo for free! It was only 9.8 yuan for the half kilo so we just splurged and said heck, we’ll get ourselves a kilo of it and another half kilo for free. Yes, this is mostly because we were silly enough to think that three quarters of a kilo isn’t enough for us and that 1.5 kilos is a good portion. Verdict: very soft and moist, but there’s about 1% date and 99% cake. Oh well, it’s very addictive though and JK has been having it for breakfast every morning. Picture above is of the date cake and the woman quickly stuffing it into bags for the long lines of customers.

Homework, sports, and a slightly bruised ego

So things have been getting a lot more difficult here at IUP. Not only are there more vocabulary words to learn every day, but the words are also more complicated and convoluted (don’t even get me started on the multitude of strokes to write out each character). And honestly, I’ve never (EVER) been great at grammar (in any language from Thai to English to French to Japanese to whatever else I’ve dabbled in) so all these grammatical errors and sentence patterns are throwing me for a loop. Bleh. Despite all this, I’m really glad that I’m in the program because I’m learning SO MUCH every single day and the people in the program are all really awesome. The one problem I have, though, is that I think I’m already pretty ingrained in my ways of how to say things and am having a very difficult time in correcting myself now that it has become habitual. Another problem is saying the “zh” sound. I suck at the “zh” sound. Digression: heard my first passive aggressive Chinese criticism the other day when a classmate forgot the meaning of a vocabulary word we had to learn the night before and got lambasted by HFLS – “you’re supposed to learn all the words and their meaning at home. You can’t open your book to check it. You’re wasting class time. You’re wasting your classmates’ time” (obviously not word for word and also obviously said very quickly and in very angry Chinese). Good times at school.

Well anyway, I’ve found that staying after school for a bit to do homework is very beneficial because I don’t get distracted by everything else I have going on at home when I return to the apartment. What sucks is that the “library” gets packed by the time class ends and I usually can’t find a seat since I get let out really late from my last class. Also, I say “library” because it’s basically just a reading room that has lots of books in it. Not complaining though because you can almost literally wade through the silence in the room. It’s great. So yeah, I’ve stayed after school for a few days and have been working in the lobby area of the building. Another digression: the building the school is housed in is seven stories high BUT the first FOUR stories are unoccupied and the school goes from the fifth to the seventh floor. WHY? No one knows. I’m not sure if I mentioned this earlier but there isn’t an elevator in the building so everyone has been getting a really nice workout just walking up and down the stairs to and from class (please also imagine doing this in mucky Beijing weather). OH! One thing I really have to say is that the bathrooms at the school are great. Although the exterior of the building screams out that this is the shooting location for a horror movie, the rooms inside are great and seriously, the bathrooms are awesome – perpetually packed with toilet paper and ridiculously clean. SOLD.

So the other day I decided to go join some of the guys in their (hopefully) weekly pickup basketball game. Little did I know that I was going to be the only girl there and the only inexperienced player and lackluster shooter. There were seven of us total so we split up into two teams of three and just did free subs. Almost instantaneously I was thrown into a testosterone (and skill)-filled match with swish shots, no-look passes, and godly rebounds. You can evidently see my n00b-ness by the vocabulary words I chose to use right there. Well anyway, the boys were really nice and definitely toned down the game whenever I got the ball and let me shoot multiple times. The egotistically sporty side of me hated every minute of it (LOL) but I’m definitely thankful for how nice the guys treated me and really let me get into the game too. I stuck with them for about an hour and after sweating buckets and almost fainting because of the ridiculous Beijing heat that day I decided to call it a day and stroll along home.

I was also recently introduced to a new sport called “jianzi”, which translates to shuttlecock. It basically is like a larger version of the badminton shuttlecock and is played like Tagraw is played in Thailand and Malaysia. After lunch one day a few of us just formed a circle right in front of the school building and started kicking it around. I’m making it sound like we looked like such professionals but really, it was just a kick or two, drop, and repeat. Needless to say a huge amount of skill is involved in even making one kick and I flat out fell the first time I played and even got a cool battle scar from it. In the end, we even managed to get the jianzi itself stuck in a tree when someone kicked it way too high. FM tried climbing the tree to get it while PH started throwing his water bottle at it, which resulted in the water bottle bursting and spraying water everywhere mind you. Here is the Wikipedia link about jianzi that you can peruse if you want to know more! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jianzi

Bullet trains, birthdays, and boat parties

Warning: another long post since it’s about the whole weekend!

A group of us decided to take a trip over to Tianjin for the weekend to check out the city and also attend an once-in-a-lifetime party on a decommissioned Soviet aircraft carrier. You know a trip is going to be epic when:

  1. You wake up to clear Beijing sky, sunlight, and clouds. Remember, this is after not having seen the sky/clouds/sun for about 2 weeks.
  2. You get on the subway to go to the train station only to find a kid squatting down in front of the door IN THE TRAIN to pee and poop.
  3. A group of people who don’t really know each other really well get stuck together at the train station for about 2 hours because one person had to go home since they forgot their passport.

So that is how our trip started: with public urination/defecation on the subway and a hangout session at the Beijing South Railway Station. To purchase a bullet train ticket (55 yuan) you need your passport (for foreigners) or your hukou (learn the basics about the hukou system here at Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hukou_system) since each ticket is issued to correspond with your identification number. After the wait, we all were extremely excited to board the train since we had never ridden on a bullet train in China before and were looking forward to the shortened transportation time between Beijing and Tianjin (approximately 2 hours by bus, but only 25 minutes by bullet train WHAT WHAT? :D). If it wasn’t obvious before, it instantaneously became obvious that we were foreigners once we boarded the train because we all whipped out our cameras and took pictures of almost every possible angle of the train. Although there are trains every 10 or 15 minutes heading from Beijing to Tianjin, every section of the eight cars were still packed with people. And when I say packed, I don’t mean packed in the sense that three people are crowded on a seat with chickens milling about, but packed in the sense that every single nicely-cushioned and spacious-legroomed seat was occupied. The seats even reclines further than seats on an airplane (Economy class airplane seats, mind you). Needless to say the ride was NOT long enough for our liking.

After the six of us checked into our badass hotel, we congregated in the lobby of the hotel to officially start our day in beautiful Tianjin at 3pm. I’m not sure whether the Tianjin weather is always beautiful or whether we just hit the jackpot and decided to travel on a smog-less day, but yes, Tianjin is beautiful with its high-rise buildings, meandering river, and calm pace (as compared to Beijing of course). We strolled through the city in the general direction of the Ancient Culture Street but decided to take a detour through a food street/local shopping scene where everything and anything was sold (think smaller version of Chatuchak). Digression: one really cool thing about Tianjin is that they have redesigned the stoplight. So instead of the usual red, yellow, and green lights lined up in a vertical column, the whole thing is replaced by one big vertical interface that shines either red, yellow, or green with the color slowly disappearing like an hourglass to indicated how much longer the light will shine that color. THAT is innovation at its best. However, my silly self did not take a picture of the stoplight or else it would be up for show by now on my blog.

At the Ancient Culture Street, we were exposed to just that: a modernized and reconstructed version of “ancient culture” through small shops and local flavors. One main thing Tianjin is known for is its “Gou bu li” bread bun which translates loosely to “even dogs won’t eat it”, which obviously meant that we had to try it. We entered the first restaurant we saw boasting Gou bu li and ordered ourselves a steaming container of eight Gou bu li bread buns and went straight for the kill. According to our residential food expert, FM, the buns got their name from the fact that the owner of a particular store in the long and distant past was always too busy to take care of his customers so that everyone was angry enough to say that even dogs won’t eat his food since the service is so bad (just so you know, if that is the real story then I’m not sure how much worse service here can be because service in China is already actually really bad since there are no tips to incentivize people to follow the “customers are always right” rule). I’m not sure what I actually expected out of the meal, but ended up actually liking the bread bun – it’s basically like any other bread bun with just a little bit more flavoring to it. Digression: I’m not sure if it was just the areas we visited in Tianjin or not but there is A LOT of artistic expression there. The area where are hotel is situated had rows and rows of art shops both selling pieces of art and also selling art materials like paint brushes and canvasses. I also noticed that the Ancient Culture Street contained a lot of artwork and calligraphy art as compared to the places I’ve been to in Beijing. Maybe it’s because Tianjin is known for its miniature clay sculptures.

After walking through the Ancient Culture Street, we meandered our way to see the different foreign concessions in Tianjin and ended up seeing the French and the Italian concession up close and personal. The buildings are obviously out of place amidst the modernized and faceless Tianjin architecture (read: it looks like any other building in any other big city) since the buildings in the concessions were designed and built in the archaic style from each country. We met up with another friend hanging out in the Italian concession’s Starbucks and decided on Thai food for dinner which meant I had an opportunity to show off my Thai skills during dinner (booyah!).

Another great thing about Tianjin is the Hai River that runs through its center. Not only did the government do a great job constructing large walkways running parallel to it, but they also have managed to keep the entire area relatively clean. Nearing sundown, the river area became a place for peoples of all ages to congregate and do everything from chewing the fat to taking a dip. And in case you were wondering, yes, we did indeed see a group of about 30 old Chinese men in Speedo-like swimwear taking a dip and hanging out next to the river). Since we really wanted to ride up the Tianjin Eye (think London Eye but in Tianjin) to see the sunset, we tried to walk as quickly as possible back towards the Eye, which is nearer to our hotel where we started off, but did not entirely succeed since we basically had too much fun observing people doing their own thing by the river. We sprinted to the Eye as we neared it and got our tickets literally right before the rush and managed to get a whole box to ourselves in under 10 minutes. According to the Wikipedia, the relatively trustworthy social encyclopedia, the Tianjin Eye is “The world’s second largest Ferris wheel and the only Ferris wheel built on the bridge in the world”. The five of us piled into the box (two passed on the ride and headed straight back to the hotel) for our 40-minute ride around the Eye. Since the Tianjin eye is built on a bridge connecting two sides of the river, traffic is definitely visible as it whizzes by the box in both directions as we ascend up into the sky. Although we weren’t able to see the sunset due to the high-rise buildings blocking the way, we managed to get beautiful views of the city and some Disney songs into the mix.

Since we saw a released paper lantern floating up into the sky while we were up on the Eye, we decided to go for it and bought ourselves a lantern at the foot of the Eye. After signing our names on it, getting lots of pictures in, and having the seller repeatedly yell at us to release it since the fire was starting to singe the edges of the lantern, we released all that is bad out with the lantern. The fun obviously didn’t end there as we also decided to have some fun with sparklers by the river. Interestingly so, we had to ask four men before we actually found one with a lighter (read: less men smoke in Tianjin than in Beijing).  

Since we were also in Tianjin for its Great Aircraft Carrier Party, we went back to the hotel and didn’t leave it again until about 10pm to head out to the harbor in which the aircraft carrier was parked in, which is about an hour away by taxicab. Continuing the trend, JC and PH forgot their party tickets and since they were both on different cabs, both the cabs had to make a U-Turn to head back to the hotel again and we didn’t set off again until about 11pm. Heading out again, I had to take a quick nap and was pleased to wake up right at midnight to people singing happy birthday to me in Chinese. Yay! This lights and sounds of the aircraft carrier could be seen for miles, but it was only when we arrived that we realized its massiveness. Apparently the Chinese government purchased this aircraft carrier from the Russians and has spent millions and millions of dollars re-doing the interior to create a destination hotel (aka a hotel with a starting price much too high for anyone except the Chinese nouveau riche to visit). Although the novelty of the experience got us all very hyped up, the music was subpar and the limited access to certain areas were a turnoff to the whole party. After dancing a bit and exploring all the places we were actually allowed to visit, we decided to call it a night and head back to the hotel to crash. I know it wasn’t safe, but we all fell asleep in the cabs we took back and only woke up again to discover a different driver behind the wheel (we found out later the drivers do a tag-team thing with the cabs so the cars are out all day while the drivers get some sleep) before finally making it home.

Starting off the day at 11am after a restful sleep, we headed to lunch at a food market where we were exposed to various different types of snacks and desserts we have never seen before. After lunch, we took the speedy bullet train ride back to Beijing (where we all fell asleep for the 25 minutes on the train) and then headed our separate ways. Note 1: CL did it again and left her passport in the waiting area before going onto the train, luckily we managed to retrieve it before it was stolen! Note 2: JK decided to drop all his credit cards while buying a ticket for the Beijing subway home and never even realized it until a Chinese man started flailing his arms in front of him. Note 3: the subway ride from the Beijing South Railway Station home was LONGER than the bullet train ride to Tianjin – HOW CRAZY IS THAT? Good times in Tianjin.

I definitely went to sleep a bit earlier and woke up to watch Spain DESTROY Italy in the Euro 2012 final match at 2:30am. It was absolutely worth it despite the fact that I could barely make it through the day (don’t worry, I still did well in classes and learned all my new vocabulary and sentence patterns!) and will probably fall asleep very early tonight.

And now we’re back to the grind of classes and homework! Let’s go!