Monday, December 31, 2007

Coming Home

What was my first impression coming back to the US? Diversity. I never realized how much I appreciated the U.S. for its diverse population. It was neat to go through customs and see white, black and hispanic, male and female customs officers, all stamping passports. That really makes up a lot of what the U.S. is, and it was fun to jump back into the "melting pot" after being away for a year.

I also enjoyed stepping back into Christmas. It finally felt like December when I got home and saw the lights on the house, the trees, pointsettias, garlands, stockings, etc. You don't realize how many little traditions there are in Christmas until you have none of them. In Beijing I found myself wanting to make and frost sugar cookies, or go Christmas tree shopping, or drink eggnog, or light a fire in the fireplace. I certainly got to experience all of that when I got home, so it was worth the trip :)

Most important of all, is the flocks of family members that made it down to Beaufort, SC. From Mom and Dad's side of the family, I saw about 35 folks all somehow related to me. Here is one of my favorite pics, with my Grandfather Ned and every one of his grandchildren:

Beaufort was also so warm that we spend many-a-night around a little fire chatting, eating and just spending time together.

One fun event that occured over Christmas week was the "1st Annual Ned Brown Family Photography Competition and Exhibition." With three professional photographers from the family as judges, everyone else competed over a 7 day period to take the best picture in the categories of Family, Beaufort, or the Christmas Spirit. I won the "Beaufort" category with this shot...don't we live in a beautiful place?

I have a few days left here before I go back to Beijing, and a few more friends to see, but I've done a lot over the couple of weeks and am glad I got the chance to spend Christmas here. As long as I live out of the country, I will probably always make the trek back for this time of's my favorite.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Goodbye Beijing!

We had a great End-of-the-semester/Birthday/Christmas party at my house on Tuesday. I got a chance to see all of my classmates for the last time and exchange presents. Below is a shot of our class. My teacher is to my right with her little girl in front of her.

And some of the sillier classmates in the group...

Treats were from around the world including Indonesia, Thailand and Korea! No one was shy, all just stood around the table eating and chatting!

Then we did a going-away activity where we wrote notes to each other on a piece of paper taped to the owner's back. It was a fun process and a meaningful piece of paper to keep in the future.

Now I'm off to the U.S. for Christmas, New Years and other festivities. Coming back January 17th. Goodbye Beijing! See you in 2008!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Adidas 2008 China Ad Campaign

Excuse the MBA in me coming out here, but this blog is about the best ad campaign I have seen in a long time. A big shout-out to a team of 5 creative directors in Shanghai and to Adidas for their 2008 Olympic Games advertising campaign. This was the first set of ads that stopped me in my tracks and made me stare at the wall in the subway. They did an excellent job of combining the excitement of the Olympic games with the passion for the people to come together and show the world what they are made of. The government could not have done a better job to convey the messages of passion, cohesiveness, national pride, and a will to win. It truly conveys and appeals to the "People" of China. The ads take on all forms from TV commercials to still shots in the subway to billboards and installations in the business district. I was moved by the ads, and I am not even Chinese. Incredible effective- the slogan "Impossible is Nothing" has never found a better fit.

I have included three still shots below, or if you want to watch it on Youtube:
(Adidas Ad- Youtube video)

Thursday, December 13, 2007


I saw my first Chinese Santa Clause the other day. Way too skinny, wrong accent, no rosey cheeks, and his beard was falling off! Christmas in China is almost comical. Yes, it is commercialized in the U.S., but it still has foundations. Americans know (and some celebrate) the true reason it exists. Others treat it as a time to return home and see family. All the while, of course, spending money and exchanging gifts. But imagine a country that sells Christmas trees and red and green-wrapped presents, and a population that buys them, and no one knows why! They are all at work on the 25th for goodness sake! No one sees their family, it is not celebrated for religious reasons, they don't even exchange presents. I've yet to figure out why anything Christmas-related is sold in a store.

I called my Dad sometime around the 10th of December, and told him that one of the things I was looking forward to the most was walking into a decorated house with the tree, presents, stockings, baked goods, etc. Do you know what his response was? "Oh, well we'll go buy the tree tomorrow!" Haha. Wouldn't you know it, they've all been too busy to put up the tree.

Thanksgiving, the 4th of July and Halloween were all interesting to celebrate in China, even though not quite the same as the US. Christmas, however, has hundreds of tiny little traditions wound into it that you don't realize exist until they are missing. Frosted sugar cookies, hanging garlands, ornaments, egg nog, stockings, yard decorations, singing carols, ribbon everywhere, candy canes, wish lists, musicals, writing cards, seasonal movies, fireplaces and hot chocolate...just a few of the many parts of Christmas that I am looking forward to in the States. Of all the holidays, this would definitely be the hardest to miss.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

A couple more pictures never hurt!

I feel like I've left out a lot of friends recently, so just wanted to post a couple more pictures. This is a group that went for Karaoke in "Korea town" here in Beijing, mostly Thai and Indonesians classmates + one American!

And this adorable Korean gal is one of my cutest classmates. She spent last Saturday afternoon at my house patiently teaching us how to make some Korean dishes :) I can't wait to visit her one day in Korea!

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

In case you were wondering what would happen if...

And some of you thought I could never have more Chinese characteristics!

I was testing wigs so that I could surprise everyone with a new haircolor when I came home. Watch out :)

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A Walk Through Wal-Mart

I now work directly across from a Wal-mart in the business district of Beijing. I've only been in one once before in China, so I decided to give it a walk-through yesterday after work.

I get such mixed impressions when I go in there. In the U.S., Wal-mart's identity is "Always low prices." And why? Because everything is manufactured in China. Now what does that mean for Wal-mart stores in China? What is their identity? Prices still seem slightly lower then other stores, but the selection remains enormous compared to the traditional tiny Chinese booth-style stores. Unlike the U.S., the produce section was amazing, filled with everything that you couldn't find in other places. Additionally, there were plenty of cashiers making it one of the only places without a line during rush hour. They also still embrace the idea of having everything including the kitchen sink in inventory, just with a Chinese flavor. Here, that "everything" includes hundreds of kinds of tofu, animal parts that you don't recognize, or even a good wine selection for the foreigners.

What are my feelings on the whole thing? I'd go again. I still don't like the enormous inconvenient size, but I love the selection, no check-out lines and the crazy culture clash feeling I get when I go through the door...and as an MBA, I will always admire the company's ability to do what they do on such a large scale. It's quite the machine.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

A Beijing Thanksgiving! 在北京的感恩节.

10 Things I learned celebrating Thanksgiving 2007 in Beijing:

1) Thanksgiving is a tremendous challenge without an oven.

2) Chinese produce is not what you think, and definitely not the same as the U.S. (i.e. what you think is a sweet potato is actually just another type of orange root)

3) Ordering a turkey was a great idea! May even be better than most we have eaten in the U.S.

4) Toaster ovens can hold up for 12 hours of continuous usage, we only had 1 knob fall off.

*5) The Chinese people have a hard time with "TH" so it comes out as "S." Combined with a bad vowel pronunciation, this effectively becomes "Happy Sexgiving Day" instead of "Happy Thanksgiving Day." This was a point of continuous laughter throughout the party for all cultures involved. When my best Chinese friend said it, I laughed for about five minutes, gained composure, translated what happened, and the Chinese laughed for another five minutes.

6) Wine is key. We went through about a bottle per person between 6pm and midnight.

7) Huge advantage: having your housekeeper scheduled to come the next day. Thank goodness we're in China!

8) Introducing other nationalities to the traditions is half the fun. This year we had Americans, 7 Chinese, a German, 2 French, 2 Mexican, and a Romanian.

9) It is incredibly hard to translate the story of Thanksgiving in other languages. Try saying "pilgrims" or "American Indians" or "Mayflower" in Chinese. You won't find the words!

10) There is nothing better than filling an extended table with 17 of your best friends, holding hands, saying a prayer of thanks, and then having a nice, sit-down dinner followed by talking and laughing till you can't keep your eyes open anymore.

(Notice the sign overhead that says "Happy Turkey Day")

(Only a small part of the feast)

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Big City, Small World 大的城市,小的世界

Every now and then in Beijing you get the opportunity to bump into people from your school, state or hometown and talk about things like relatives you know, friends you have in common, your favorite places back home, etc.
I tracked down a group from the S.C. Chamber of Commerce that came to China to explore the export market for S.C. companies. I had the opportunity to join them for the ever-popular Beijing duck dinner with the group and their hosts from the U.S. embassy and other organizations here in Beijing. It was exciting to hear about the successful meetings and events that had gone on during their travels in China, everyone seeming optimistic about US- and SC-China relations.
It was also great to meet so many people that knew my family in Beaufort or Aiken, had graduated from my program at USC, or just had authentic Southern accents! (You don't here those in Beijing very often and start to miss them.)

This is a shot of the group crammed in around the tables. Go SC!

Monday, November 5, 2007

Halloween, Midterms, Jobs, oh my!

I don't know if I've ever gone more than two weeks without updating the blog. Just goes to show how busy it's gotten here in Beijing. In the world of study, we just finished midterms. Turns out it is incredibly hard to study just language for two semesters. We're all wearing down in our motivation.

In the world of funner things, the last two weeks have seen three birthday parties and two Halloween parties. Who would've thought you could celebrate Halloween in China. Turns out you's how the MBAs chose to live it up:

No comments about the devil horns please...I ran out of time and had to borrow them at the last minute from a roommate in order to have something to wear!

In the more serious world, it looks like I've secured not only an internship, but a full time job as a Marketing Director for a start-up internet and software firm looking to launch at the end of the year. Talk about hitting the ground running! I started the job presenting a preliminary marketing strategy to an all Chinese-speaking staff on the first day of school midterms...and it has been crazy ever since. On the good side, I'm incredibly challenged and have an enormous amount of responsibility. On the risky side, this is a new business with sound technology that has yet to go live online, so who knows what will happen. In the end, I'm thankful for the opportunity, busier than ever, and willing to take the risk.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Skills Exchange Website 换技能的网站

I recently made a discovery. China has all kinds of cool websites connecting you to whatever you need. You can find websites that connect people looking for carpools, tutors, social/work connections or "Guanxi," and even skills exchanges. I thought this was an interesting idea, so I checked it out. As it turns out, English is the most requested skill- surprise, surprise. Other listed skills are physical training, software, typing, foreign language, music lessons, cooking, etc. I decided to post an ad exchanging English tutoring for lessons in Chinese cooking. I can't come back in 18 months without being able to cook, right?

I ended up removing it in only 5 hours because there were so many requests. Apparently listing that I was American made everyone jump for the English. I set up two meetings, met four people, and turned down a bunch of others. So far so good. And what a great idea! Here's a pic with some of the folks and the food. One day I met two guys, and the other day I met two girls.

Both times I pulled in other friends and we had 4-5 people eating together. I wish we could do this type of thing in the States, but no one would trust each other enough to meet strangers like this in a big city. Just shows how safe China is...

One last picture- I have the most adorable Korean classmates. They took me out the other night for Korean BBQ. We sat outside on tiny little stools and cooked the meat over coals. VERY yummy, and very good company.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Paintball in China! 在中国的油漆球!

Yes, ladies and gents, you can even play Paintball in China. A little American-run operation out of the back of a jeep and viola!- you're in the game. It was a mixed group of friends, some professionals and some first-timers. I was a first-timer, but that didn't stop me from volunteering to being a terminator during one round. This is the oh-so-tough group starting out.

This was the hardest hit I took to the neck, but I took out many soldiers before I died that round...

The only three brave girls. Surprisingly, the Mexican chica on the right was the best of all. Her sniper positions and skills took everyone by surprise! She was the last one off of the field most of the time, lasting long after everyone else came dragging in.

I highly recommend a good round of Paintball if you've never tried. I can't believe my first experience with it was in Beijing, of all places. We had such a good time, that I'm sure there is more to come...

Monday, October 8, 2007

"Thank you" as an insult? "谢谢"是侮辱吗?

From the time I was little I have memories of my father listening to my phone conversations with adults and hollering in the background, "I better hear you saying 'Yes Mam, No Sir, Please and Thank you!'" Polite words were ingrained in me partly because that is how English is used, and partly because I grew up surrounded by "Southern Hospitality."

This part of my culture is something I have been made very aware of here in China, and not in such a good way. Oddly enough, I have had to unravel some of that training so as not to offend my friends. I called a good friend of mine later on in the evening to thank him for dinner and say that I had a really good time, just wanting him to know that I appreciated it. He asked me why I called and said what I was doing was wrong in China. Apparently by expressing gratitude I was saying that I didn't think much of our friendship but considered him more of an acquaintance that I should use polite words with. True friends feel that these polite words show you are keeping track of giving and receiving and should only be used with new acquaintances and more formal situations. Again last night a different friend invited me to eat dinner sometime this week and I wrongly replied to the invite with a thank-you. In both situations I'm glad that they were good friends understanding a cultural difference and helping me prevent offending people in the future.

Finally, I realized that this is very evident in the language alone. Look at the English "You're Welcome." It seems like you should be thanking me, and I'm telling you that you are welcome to whatever I did for you. In Chinese, "Thank you, 谢谢" is followed by "Don't be so polite, 别客气!" Meaning you should not have thanked me, but I should have done what I did. There's a lot of culture wrapped up in little words sometimes...

Saturday, October 6, 2007

October Holiday 国庆节

October 1st was the 58th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China. Most of China took a week off of work and school and a good 10-15% of the population will travel during the week. A friend and I made a mistake of going to the Wangfujing pedestrian area and Tian'anmen square to walk around and check things out. Easier said than done. This is a picture from the street, turns out walking wasn't so easy. It felt like 1B of the 1.3B Chinese population were in the same city as us.

Tian'anmen was decorated with fresh flower models of landmarks like the Great Wall, the Olympic torch and the Temple of Heaven. Guards were also in formation and very numerous. My favorite was a group of soldiers jogging and the drill instructor stops and answers his cell phone. "WEI!? I'm jogging in formation now!" I nearly doubled over laughing, but answering a cell phone here has a much better connotation than it does in the States. It gives you "face," makes you seem important, so people often answer them in the middle of important meetings and at the dinner table. Takes some getting used to.

Because I didn't travel during the week, Beijing has been slow, relaxing and a lot of getting together with friends for dinner parties, karaoke, etc. I think we managed to fit about 35 people in our apartment Saturday. We had a get-together at our house where a lot of our friends brought a dish, a sort of international pot-luck. The door guards only came by twice to tell us we were being to loud. We don't really have a relationship with our neighbors because everyone keeps to themselves, but if we did, it probably wouldn't be doing to well. Well, it's back to hard labor on Monday. Time to do some studying!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Less Words, More Culture. 字越来越少,文化越来越大

I have an incredible Chinese culture professor. He's an older gentleman that has taught for more than 20 years and is full of stories about China's past and his own experiences. We were talking about how complicated the Chinese language is because each character, word or phrase can be tied to a long line of history or customs and possibly an entire story behind it. He said Chinese is very different from English in that the less words your can use to express yourself, the more culture you are thought to have. (字越来越少,文化越来越大) By these standards, my blog would definitely be marked as the work of an uneducated peasant! I like this unique part of Chinese, because English seems to be a race to use the longest, flowery sentences with the largest vocabulary words in the dictionary. Chinese has books full of idioms (成语)that are four characters but take paragraphs to explain in English. Mastering these is nearly impossible, but learn to use a few and you can certainly impress some locals!

I also have a truly wonderful set of classmates this semester. The class is more lively and willing to get together for fun than last semester. Friday we celebrated an Indonesian classmate's birthday at his house with homemade Indonesian and Thai food.

And Saturday I spent the afternoon at a Chinese family's house chatting about everything under the sun and learning how to make 饺子,or Chinese dumplings. I met their daughter on the plane coming to Beijing in February and have been in touch ever since. They were so sweet that I will have to go see them again!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

And a new semester begins...又开学了!

It is time to get back in the mindset of school again. No more spending my time with part-time slang/conversation classes, meeting friends every night, traveling sporadically, etc. At the moment I have class from 8-11:30 and again from 3:30-5:30. That's a lot of Chinese. But I have a newspaper-reading class, and international business class, a slang class, a business writing class (first assignment: translate my resume), and a Chinese culture class. Very well rounded and enough Chinese to make you dizzy.

In other news, I sometimes teach Koreans and Chinese English for spare Yuan. Boring, but true. Weekends in Beijing are so much fun that I will miss them dearly when I leave. Still doing acupuncture a few times a week, only God knows if it actually has results. And it's time to get the internship search rolling. I will be doing more research and making contacts in the next few weeks, in hopes to have something tied down before I come home for Christmas. End of life summary.

Lastly, thought I'd share a couple photos. Went with a friend Chi to a gorge outside of Beijing.

Sang Karaoke again, and I'm little embarrassed to say that I really had a blast this time!

This is what a rock stage looks like in Beijing before the lights go down. I went one day to the Beijing Pop Music Festival and had a great time watching the young punk Chinese crowd.

And then it was Elsie's birthday. We all got carried away with this pink wig, wearing it on and off. As if the Chinese don't have enough to stare at already!

The group that went bowling for the birthday...

And myself..always unable to turn down a crown!

Monday, September 3, 2007

Sichuan 5 and Final! Chengdu- The Capital City. 成都,四川

This is the last entry about my vacation...I will revert back to Beijing soon. I started and ended the trip in the capital of Sichuan, Chengdu. It is a pleasant city with a slow pace to it. I especially enjoyed the parks with the older people playing cards, chess and drinking tea all day long. Here are some of the highlights of the city...

Pandas- just around 1000 left in the world and most of them are from Sichuan, China! I went to the breeding reservation and even saw the hairless babies!

Sichuan Opera- it was a variety of plays, singing, face changing, acrobatics, fireblowing and instruments. Very cool!

The friend I stayed with while I was in Chengdu!

Let the locals order, and you never know what you are going to get! These are rabbit heads. (Sorry vegetarians)

Famous spicy roasted fish. Enough peppers to set your mouth on fire! But that is what this whole province is famous for.

A video of us on the first afternoon in the pouring rain riding a rickshaw. The two umbrellas proved useless and we showed up dripping. The rickshaw didn't even want money from us because we looked so pitiful!

Sichuan 4- The village of Songpan 松潘,四川

Different from the National Parks I went to, Songpan was a relaxing village with its colorful minorities and slow pace of life as its best assets. Settled in a mountain valley, most people went to stay there because it is inexpensive and in a central location for seeing other parks or going on a horse trek. I enjoyed meeting the locals, seeing all the animals wander around the street, and hanging out at the hostel.

This was a wedding that I watched...each friend presented the couple with a white scarf and put it around their neck to bind them together...

Being very close to Tibet, dried yak meat and yak butter tea are favorites in the area!

All of the older people sit around and talk all day if they are not playing Chinese chess, wearing straw hats to keep the sun out.

This charming man sat next to me on a bench because he was curious. He wanted to talk to me and see what I was writing in my notebook. We stumbled through the local dialect, but understood each other, and he agreed to a portrait!

Chinese chess. Rules vary according to the province, but very similar to Western chess.

Minority women also watching the wedding.

The streets don't just belong to cars, but to a whole host of animals. There is some patience and a lot of honking.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Sichuan 3 - Munigou Park 牟尼沟,四川

The third and final National Park I went to was Munigou. The least known, and only a couple hours of a hike, but it was still relaxing and beautiful. There were probably 10-15 other people in the entire park, which was such a relief after the last two places I mentioned. The water was again beautiful, and somewhat reminiscent of Jiuzhaigou. Just look at the fallen trees underneath the water!! (And I promise I did nothing to the picture to enhance that intense color!)

This is me with the three Beijingers that I went with! Although we met by accident we live within a couple of blocks of each other in the big city.

At the top of the mountain we got to rest, have a picnic, and put our feet in natural hotsprings!

On the way out of the park, we saw two Tibetans herding yak across the road. As I videoed it, he thought I might scare the yak and actually spit at me! He didn't speak Mandarin and I didn't speak Tibetan, but I'm not sure I liked his methods...

On the other hand, we met these two very nice locals that lived in the village nearby. We stopped to take pictures and they were naturally curious. We stumbled through Mandarin/Sichuanese, but we got our point across!