Thursday, April 26, 2007

And We're Off!

As of two hours ago, midterm exams are officially over and a week-long vacation begins in 45 minutes when we leave for the Beijing West Train Station. We are leaving for Yunnan province, which is the southernmost province in China on the border of Burma and Vietnam. We don't have many plans yet, other than a train ticket because life has been so hectic...but we have 23 hours on the train to talk about it.

The landscapes in Yunnan are 180 degrees different from Beijing. It is mountainous, humid, intersected by the Yangtze river, has waterfalls, gorges and rainforests. Needless to say, we are a little excited to leave the city for 10 days. Just wanted to bring an update and let you know that the next few blogs are going to be very exciting!!!!

Sunday, April 22, 2007

An African Lunch

A guy from Eritrea, Africa sat down next to me at church today. Until today, I didn't even know it was a country, but it borders Northern Ethiopia and won its independence from them in 1993...if you were wondering. He seemed starved for conversation. I quickly learned he had only been here for five days and was applying for refugee status because he couldn't go back to his country for numerous reasons. He had been orphaned as a child, imprisoned for disagreeing, forced into certain types of governmental work and not allowed to practice his religion. Finally sent to China on a governmental delegation, he was looking for a brighter future. I sat there marvelling at the many reasons people could end up in Beijing and the relatively grandiose life that we Americans live compared to some. Some Americans wouldn't set foot in China because it might make them uncomfortable...and here it is representing someone else's safe-haven and an opportunity to live.

We ran into some people he met the previous day and ended up eating lunch at someone's house with an Ethiopian, and Eritrean, and Irish-Ethiopean, and an English guy. What an experience!..and what good food! The Irish-Ethiopian woman and British guy were engaged. One is an art teacher and the other manages an organization that has placed 100,000 Chinese children into foster families. Isn't it amazing the people you meet and end up hanging out with in Beijing? There is so much left to do and learn...

Friday, April 20, 2007

Music Week and some more

This week had a definite concert theme. We started out by seeing the Roots on Tuesday at a theater/club downtown. It was excellent hip-hop from the States and with a very crowded, mostly foreign audience.

Wednesday was Malte's birthday. He is one of our 6 USC students, so naturally we offered up a mid-week birthday party at our house. We decided to have a dinner with homemade sushi for 10-12 people. A few hours later it was 15-20 and then when it came down to it, I was told to expect 30. 30!..and on a Wednesday. We made a ton of sushi and had a great time. There was salmon and eel sushi, many unexpected wasabi surprises, good music, some dancing, and three small Häagen-Dazs ice cream cakes to top it all! Once again, the guards from downstairs came-a-knockin...but we don't let that trample the fun too much!

A few of the peeps at the party with Malte in his black silk Chinese birthday attire:

Following the craziness on Wednesday was a trip to the London Symphony Orchestra on Thursday. I really wanted to go, mainly because I knew they were playing a great Beethoven violin concerto and Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique, so I got Sarah and Baptiste to go with me. Yes..between the orchestra and the hip-hop, the music part of our brains was a little confused this week. The best part of this concert was the encore: Star Wars! This was the orchestra that originally recorded the music for the movie 30 years ago AND this was one of the last times that the original trumpet soloist would be playing it in the orchestra. Amazing! We are talking 8 tympanies and 4 harps. I'm just sayin.

It is now Friday night, and needless to say, we are too exhausted to leave the house. ..even if it is the weekend. So we are having two Frenchies and a Mexican over for cheese, sausage and wine instead! (Midterms are next we should start studying...tomorrow)

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The weekend in review...

I went back to the same part of the Great Wall that I went to two weeks ago because the Rusus and Adrian wanted to go. It was fun because we rented a little van and got a driver and a tour guide for the day, all for about $36. This must have been my fifth time to the wall, but every time I have a great time. The flowers had opened over the last two weeks, making for much more beautiful mountains. I took off in the other direction and got to walk on a part of the wall that was crumbling and had not been restored. We went as far as we could go and then had to turn around.

The best part of this trip was the end. We took a SLIDE from the top of the Great Wall all the way down the mountain to the bottom. We sat on a toboggan thing that only had a break and went for it. We only got yelled at a couple of times for going to fast... I can't wait to go back and do it again!

This was our last dinner with the Rusus before they headed to Hong Kong. This restaurant was really cool- I liked the lamb the most, and the two Chinese girls in the picture are really wearing those crazy square hats.

One night after a particularly good meal, we had to take a picture of what I like to call the "Little Mihaelas.." named after Adrian's mother:

A good weekend! I am looking forward to a fun week: Tuesday- Hip hop concert, Wednesday- birthday party for a friend at our house, Thursday- London Symphony Orchestra, Friday- Classmate's housewarming party. Whenever will we find the time to study for next week's midterms?!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

A Beijing Easter!

How do I begin to describe everything that went on during Easter Sunday here in China? It was great...despite the nontraditional celebration. I got in the cab Sunday morning with the happiest cab driver I've ever had. He cracked jokes and said that laughing keeps you young. Definitely showed a lot more emotion than your typical Chinese. He brought me to church, which is an international congregation with English/Chinese services. I had to show my passport to get in because the church is not "official," unregulated by the government, and therefore unavailable to Chinese citizens. The people were from all over the world, and I had quite a few Southerners come up to me and tell me how they loved South Carolina.

Our Easter lunch was fantastic. It was a very long, very large Romanian meal prepared by Mrs. Rusu. We had about four courses with everything from appetizers to soups to desserts and cheeses. I particularly like the egg game, which is shown here in this video:

The Easter cake, chocolate sauce and cheesecake were all particularly outstanding. By the end of the meal, we all collapsed on top of each other on the couch...all 6 people...and watched some American TV. Somewhat reminiscent of an American Thanksgiving.

An interesting part about our Easter, is that we also made plans to go out that night with friends from school. An Italian girl arranged a dinner at a Chinese man's house in a historic part of Beijing. It is a little house with a dining room set up where he entertains foreigners for a true experience. Here's my little tour of the place before my cell phone rang and cut me off:

After dinner, our charming host played the Chinese Erhu for us...which is two-stringed instrument that sits in your lap with the bow stuck between the strings.

I gave it a shot and could barely even get the thing to make a sound!

This is the French boys giving it a shot:

This is a photo of the whole group who ate there that night:

Happy Easter Everyone!

Monday, April 9, 2007

Saturday: Pre-Easter

I have to do this one day at a time sometimes, because I can never keep up with everything that happens. Saturday afternoon I wandered around Ritan park with Adrian and his mom...somewhere near the Russian district and the Western grocery store that we love, Jenny Lou's. It was a beautiful day with lots of people out and about.

Towards the end, we stopped so that Adrian could practice with the Chinese yo-yo and we attracted a mini audience...again!

In the park, and everywhere I see a lot of pregnant women in China because this is the year of the golden pig. The pig sign comes through the cycle of animals every 12 years and is good fortune. However, the "Golden" aspect only happens once every 5 cycles, meaning that this year is 1/60 and all of the women timed the babies just right. China might see a tiny population spike this year in order to catch all the possible good fortune that could come their way...

Saturday night we went to a concert at the Forbidden City Concert Hall, as an Easter gift from Mrs. Rusu. We got all dolled up and went out on the town to hear the China Philharmonic Orchestra perform with Renee Flemming, a soprano from the States. Her debut was so well received by the Chinese, that they sang FOUR encores! I've never heard that many in my life...the max. is usually 2. It felt so nice to listen to an orchestra again in a beautiful hall of marble and chandeliers. Like always- is this really China?

Friday, April 6, 2007

Haircut and Salsa

Another crazy week in China...did a lot of stuff. Tuesday we went out dancing. That's right: a school night. (Don't tell my Mom....she would have wanted to come.) We went to a club called Latinos with a group of 10-12 and did some lessons and then danced it up for most of the night. I met the owner, Antonio and his Chinese manager, David and they sent a free fruit tray to the table. We are definitely going back...I can never get enough Merengue!

Thursday I went and got a haircut! My first one in China. It came out pretty well...a lot more layers than I'm used to...but it's ok. I paid 4-5 times what a Chinese would, but it still only cost $15. I went to a Western place, but a Chinese girl named "Apple" cut my hair. She was rock-starish in style but had good technique. I'd definitely go back!

Friday night we danced again, and woke up late on Saturday to try to get Adrian's vaccine taken care of. We went to three places before we found someone that would do it. Chinese hospitals are always an adventure. But hey! I learned how to say Hepatitis A and B in Chinese :-)

Adrian's Bday Celebration!

Sunday was Adrian's birthday and it was a blast. It started at midnight when Sarah, his mom and I all sang and gave him presents. Then we had a drink and a piece of his favorite cake, brought all the way from Romania.

We spent the day getting ready..this is a picture of us with two carts from the Japanese department store. We had to leave our IDs and bring the carts home b/c it was too much to carry!

And then had a huge party Sunday night. There were around 30 people representing 10-12 countries in our apartment, including almost all of our friends and classmates that we have met so far. Yes, the guards came to our door and had to ask us to be more quiet. The music was up and everyone was dancing...but we only turned it down for a couple minutes :-) Sarah's rice-patty hat got passed around quite a few times. The rule was, if you were wearing it, you had to dance...and dance in the middle of the circle! These are just a few of the fortunate folks who got to wear it.

Here is the birthday song video...I apologize that you have to hear me sing!

This was our best attempt at a group shot. We set the camera on timer and got most people in the picture...except for a few that had already gone home:

Last but not least...because it was his birthday, Adrian got a picture with all the ladies! Lucky man...wouldn't you say??

We may be in China...but we still know how to celebrate a birthday! I would have never dreamed that we would have this many friends and peers only 4 or 5 weeks into the trip. We constantly sit back and ask ourselves, "Are we in China yet?"

Monday, April 2, 2007

A few new videos

This is another Great Wall video of the steep part as we were descending...

This is Sarah's 12 second introduction in Chinese while she is wearing her new rice patty hat that she bought at the bottom of the Great Wall!