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 😀

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

Forbidden City, Jingshan Park, and culture shock

The initial plan for the day was to visit the Chinese National Museum with JK and JC, but since the plans fell through, I set off to explore Beijing again as a lone warrior after a tasty (albeit sweet) Korean BBQ lunch with JK. The lunch special at this particular place indicates that after ordering two servings of meat, the table will be presented with a complimentary noodle hotpot. Not knowing our limits, JK and I set out to order the two servings of meat and ended up with an excessive amount of food sprawled over the table. Interestingly enough, the fuwuyuan (waitress) cooked all our BBQ for us right at our table (includes grilling, cutting, and plating) under our salivating mouths. Honestly the condiments (mashed potatoes, jap chae, kimchi soup, mungbean kimchi, steamed egg, and beet soup) were less than par, but the ribs we had were succulent and just chewy enough to make it an enjoyable dining experience.

I arrived at the Forbidden City only to discover that the ticket booth had “Palace Museum” written all over it. To my surprise, the government here has chosen to name this particular locale the Palace Museum despite its lack of resemblance to one. I bought my ticket and prepared for all the glory that waits behind the southern gate, but discovered, to my own astonishment, the lackluster spread before my eyes. Although beautiful in its architecture and exterior renovation, the Forbidden City does not quite live up to its name when it comes to renovation of interior areas since many of its cavernous rooms have been left to mold and rot. The entire establishment, similarly to much of Beijing, has morphed into a commercialized plane selling standard kitschy souvenir comparable to those found at other famous locations. Despite all this, the traveler’s worry is quelled by the structure’s magnificent courtyards and pavilions where people of all ages have come to hide away from the glaring sun. As I weaved through the different sections of the Forbidden City, I suddenly stumbled upon a crotch-less pants kid quickly urinating in the middle of the walkway. His mother, seemingly without a care in the world, has lifted the kid’s legs up so that the hole in his pants is enlarged and he can freely urinate to his liking. Talk about Culture Shock!

After drinking in the many sections of the Forbidden City, I left straight out its Northern gate and crossed the street to Jingshan park, famous for its mountain-like dirt mound created from the dirt lifted out to make the Palace Moat. The serenity offered by the park drastically contrasts to the hustle and bustle within the Forbidden City that sits just across the street. Clambering up to the top of the dirt mound (for some reason I’m making this sound small, but really, as pictures will show, it definitely is not), I was able to get a panoramic view of Beijing. Well, a panoramic view of (tiny) parts of Beijing anyway that the smog lets me see through to. Welcome to Beijing (haha). I took a long rest at the pavilion atop the mound (it helps that it was very windy up there), read up on the different descriptions of the park, and looked down to the Beijing that is today. Despite the beautiful misty haze that can be observed in my pictures, the reality is more stark as the smog has formed an unrelenting cloud around Beijing, shielding its residents from sunshine and clear blue skies (seriously, I physically cannot see the sun). After drinking in the smogery (smog + scenery), I leisurely walked down the never-ending steps and meandered around the park, discovering to my excitement, a little book of Mao Zedong’s quotations which I quickly purchased. Claiming one of the many benches strewn around the tree-lined park, I sat and read while time slowed down almost to a stop underneath the cover of the trees.

Side note from today: Today was the first day I actually felt like I was drowning in my own sweat. The unforgiving Beijing weather ranges from scalding hot to cloudy and humid to muggy and rainy in an instant. All this under the cloud cover of the infamous Beijing smog, mind you.

Walking out of the park towards Tiananmen, I peeked into many of the hutongs (alleyways) lining the street and got a glimpse of the old Beijing lifestyle still encompassing (according to Lonely Planet) about 20% of the city. When I reached Tiananmen, I heard a loud whistle and saw three PLA guards marching by (to the tune of, I shit you not, 108 paces per minute) so I obviously took to their heels and stalked them all the way to the flag in Tianamen Square. Turns out that I came just in time for the guard-switching process that draws a large crowd every day. I decided to stick it out until the flag-lowering ceremony at 7pm, hunkered down in the square, and just people-watched (I creeped especially hardcore on the really cute Asian babies stumbling around the square with their parents in tow). 10 minutes into my wait, I spotted a crotch-less pants kid stumbling by. 20 minutes into my wait, a woman literally a meter in front of me sat down and whipped out her breast for her hungry child. 30 minutes into my wait, a child five meters or so away from me squatted down for some good ol’ public urination. Good times.

The crowd stirred at 7pm when lesser guards came out to secure the perimeter, but nothing exciting happened until almost 8pm when traffic was halted to allow PLA guards, marching out from underneath Mao’s picture on Tiananmen, to cross the street to the flagpole. The guards lowered the flag and marched back across the street and into Tiananmen again as the night was welcomed with the illumination of the Gate and the Square.

Side note: How Beijingers know I’m a waiguoren part 2: I was not able to procure an umbrella or rain coat from the depths of my purse when it started raining today and had to suffer through walking in the rain (blasphemous!!!). Honestly, I probably got exposed to weak amounts of acid rain and should get myself checked out ASAP.

Getting home again did not mark the end to my night, but rather the start of another adventure as JK and I planned to meet up with other IUPers at a bar nearby (5-minute walk) called Lush. The second-floor bar was modern in its interior design, but still afforded an old-Beijing atmosphere in its wooden tables and chairs. The intimate atmosphere (and the Tsingdao beers we were able to procure for 10 yuan/bottle before Happy Hour ended) allowed the 9 of us, all crowded around a small table, to break the ice late into the night.

Edit: For some odd reason, it’s really not weird to go around Beijing lugging around a suitcase behind you. I see this sight everywhere (and I mean everywhere) I go (picture of this to come)