Friday, August 29, 2008

Visa Trouble = Vacation

So last you heard, we were going to make our way to Mongolia to refresh our visas. However, that didn't work out. For one, you can't buy a round trip train ticket, and no one knows the price of the return trip, so that was all up in the air. Also, apparently in Mongolia they can't exchange RMB, so we'd have to change all our money back into USD before we crossed the border. That just blows my mind. Neighboring countries won't exchange each other's money so you have to convert to USD?? I hate to be a pessimist, but these days, the USD isn't exactly the most stable currency...there were a few other reasons, but finally we decided to try our luck with something else.

We finally found some cheap tickets from Beijing to Shenzhen, the southern border city between the mainland and Hong Kong. I'd been to Shenzhen a few times before (it's a land of cheap day spas, knockoffs, strange amusement parks, and factories) and enjoyed it, but the real draw is the hour train over to Hong Kong which counts for refreshing our visas.

Our cheap tickets ended up hooking us up with an adventure. Our flight was supposed to leave Beijing at 9 pm, arrive in Shanghai at 11 pm, and then we had a layover until 8 am the next morning. Marilyn's cousin and friends were in Shanghai so we were going to stay with them for the night. When we got to the airport, it was raining and there were some scattered thunderstorms, so flights were grounded. The plane we were supposed to take was rerouted from landing in Beijing to Tianjin instead. So we waited around the airport until about 10:30 when the weather cleared up enough for the plane to come back and for us to board. The plane taxied onto the tarmac, but we were informed that we'd have to wait on the tarmac for an hour. So we didn't end up leaving until closer to midnight. Marilyn and I dozed on and off during the flight, so we were groggy as we stumbled off the plane, but Marilyn was alert enough to pick up that we were at the wrong airport. Wait. What? We'd been rerouted to a different airport in Shanghai. And all of us would have to take a charter bus over to the original airport. By the time we arrived, it was almost 4 in the morning. The terminal didn't open back up until 5, so we had to trudge over to Mcdonald's to pass the time. Surreal...

Although getting there was a pain, being in Hong Kong was really refreshing. The post-typhoon weather was amazing (see below). Plus, our friends Lianne and Victoria, and Marilyn's cousin and friends were all in town. We'd all hung out in Beijing the week before, so it was like our little Beijing party had just moved south for a few days.

More later, but first some pictures:

When Marilyn and I went through HK on the way to Beijing, it was mostly rainy and gross those few days, so we didn't go up to the Peak. This time, however, the weather was so nice, it's one of the first things we did.

While there, Marilyn spotted a rare Bean tree.

Sunset on the Star Ferry

Just a normal day in Hong Kong as this Rolls Royce slowly pulls out into traffic.

The Hong Kong skyline at night. So gorgeous!

I wish we were better with a camera so we could capture all this better for you...but we're learning!

Monday, August 25, 2008

An Adventure of Olympic Proportions

Friday morning was my last day of summer camp, so Marilyn joined me for an English party with my students. We got really into a competitive game of Disney Monopoly. Marilyn and one of my students destroyed us. After the party, we headed back to our place to meet up with our friend Amy who flew in to hit up the Olympics too.

After meeting up with her friend, we ventured onto the subway, which was chock full of other Olympic spectator hopefuls...

It took a while to get through security, but once we did, we were rewarded with this glorious sight:
As far as I can tell, this is some kind of Mongolian Dance Crew, a little girl, a couple foreigners, and a devilish HuanHuan (the torch Fuwa)

In the distance, the great Olympus...if Olympus were the name of some gigantic bird's nest.

Our first objective (after documenting the Mongolian Dance Crew): Eat!
The only two choices in the Olympic Village? Mcdonalds or some weird self-steaming lunchbox...we decided to brave the mob and go for the arches.

A fatigued and weary traveler glances back disdainfully, the golden arch cheerily illuminating the disgruntled horde.

After eating, we made our way to the Bird's Nest. Only to find a strange mythical creature posing for photo opps.

Further along, we encountered a not-so mythical creature: ten-time Emmy award winner Al Roker. Marilyn and I hung around for a bit trying to insert ourselves into the background of various Today Show shots.

As we climb the steps to Nest Olympus, a sweet shot of the Water Cube:

The highlight of the event: Men's 4 x 100m relays. Look closely and you can see Usain Bolt smashing the competition and the world record. History is being made here, and we're watching it from about 200 rows back! Yessss...

A couple rows up from us? A group of Jamaicans.

Our Jingjing flag looks a lot like the Jamaican one. I wave it in solidarity.

Bolt and friends come by for a celebratory dance. We and the Jamaicans watch from 200 rows back.

Torch and Moon

Torch and Beans

So that's it, our Olympic adventure! Keep an eye on the flickr stream for more pics.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Olympic Teaser

We're back from our night of Olympic craziness. We had a blast. Of course, we'll post more later, but thought I'd put a teaser out there:

See if you can spot us in this video. Marilyn and I were alternating waving a green Jing Jing (the panda Fuwa) flag behind the camera during this interview. Eventually she sat on my shoulders, but most of the time she was on my shoulders the camera was on the volleyball player...

(if you, like us, are not in the US, then you'll have to use Hotspot Shield or something to watch it)

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Because I'm bored

I (Marilyn) thought I'd just post a quick update. Today is the first day in Beijing that I require some sort of jacket. (Besides in the overly air-conditioned classroom at BFA.) So, my little red hoodie that I usually wear almost everyday in the States has finally found its way out of my suitcase. (Yes, we are still using our suitcases because our wardrobe is small and crappy and the owners have yet to do anything about it.)

I started coming out to Caochangdi for my internship, and it's been fun. The people here are all really relaxed, a little quirky, and very nice and friendly. It's a completely different world from the rest of Beijing and a welcome change of pace for me. On most days, especially today because of the pouring rain, it's very quiet and peaceful.

I've been helping with translating some stuff, mostly film subtitles or program copy, and it takes me forever to do. It does help me practice my reading in Chinese, so that's pretty cool. The other day, the director who runs this place filmed my belly button.

According to our visas, Josh and I have to leave the country before Aug 28. Right now the most likely option will be a 30-hr train ride to Mongolia for about $120 (US). I may try to extend our visas sometime before then, but if that doesn't work, hopefully we'll have some cool pictures for you.

Also, we sprang for some tickets to the Athletics Finals Friday night, so we'll try and take lots and lots of pictures from inside the Olympic Green. Maybe try to chum it up with Matt Lauer? If any of you happen to watch the Today show Friday morning (7am, I think), you can keep your eyes peeled for a couple of beans.

That's all for now. Back to translating.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Only in China (iphone edition)

So I've been thinking, we do have to qualify this whole Only in China business. It's true that some of these Only in China stories/pictures probably happen in other places; yeah, yeah, false advertising. But you have to admit, some of these somehow capture the strange mixtures of 3rd world/developed, rural/urban, complete disregard for rules/hyper-ordinance that make China, well, China. Only in China moments are just those experiences that jarringly snap us out of normal living (that is post-culture-shock Beijing life) and make us go "Wuhh? Oh yeah, we're in China!"

Before we left, I got M Dou a nice camera for our anniversary. The only thing is, it's really conspicuous. I mean really. Our friend Liz calls it an NFA camera. Since we don't have the 3 foot lenses that our studly friends Jerry and Ingrid use (shameless plug for the best wedding photographers evarrr), it's really hard to snap pictures of Only in China moments with the big guns. So I've been surreptitiously capturing these moments with my iphone. I know the pictures are blurry and craptacular, but it's not about the picture. The picture's just proof that these things actually happened.

Without further ado, Only in China (iphone edition):

Chopstick Lock

Spotted this today at dinner. The bolt had come off the lock in the bathroom and the lock on the doorknob no longer worked (I think I spy tape next to the doorknob, too), so some industrious restaurant worker had improvised this sweet little setup. The moment I spotted this, a mental image went through my head: some guy in a hurry pushes on the door, the chopstick breaks, and the poor guy accidentally stumbles into the bathroom, makes awkward eye contact with the current occupant before hastily retreating.


One of my English students had his mp3 player on his desk when I spotted this little gem. I'm assuming the factory knew what they were doing when they made this guy, but the combination of shameless ipod knockoff/bathroom humor put a smile on my face.

Snake in a Manhole

Almost tripped over this guy yesterday. Not really sure what's going on here, but in the dark it looked a lot like some poor boa constrictor was being crushed by a manhole cover.

Computer Poom

Maybe I'm the only one who thinks it's funny...The thing that really got me, too, was the sign was two-sided and the other side correctly said "Computer Room." I like to imagine that somewhere out there are a bunch of sign translators with really poor eyesight. They know Computer Poom is wrong; their eyes are just too bad to catch it.

Chicken on the Grass

I was walking to the subway after work when I spotted this guy. I did a double take..."Wait, is that chicken...or a chicken???" ('sup J.K.). It most definitely was. Some random chicken just taking a nap next to some randomly strung cables, some hazardous electrical box, and around the corner from a public toilet.

My new reaction when I see stuff like this? Loud and slow, and all together now..."Yessssssssss...."

Wednesday, August 13, 2008



Reminds me of the Seinfeld episode where they're trying to help the Marathon runner not oversleep and miss his race.

On another note, the camp I was teaching at finished up today. It was weird saying goodbye to everyone; it's been a while since I went to camp, so the wave of nostalgic goodbyes was an unfamiliar feeling. I will miss the camp, but I definitely need the rest. My schedule as of late has been leave the house at 8:30, teach at a local camp from 9:30-12, quickly eat lunch, then hurry to meet the driver who drives me outside the city to the camp. Class from 2-5:30, quickly eat dinner, class again 6-9:30, get driven back to the city, take the subway, and make it home around 11. 9.5 hours of teaching + over 3 hours of travel time for over 10 straight days (not counting the 8th). It's been rough on us to have me gone so much. By the time I get home, I'm wiped out. The nice thing, though, is that I've made enough to take some time off from teaching to take some Chinese classes in September. It's like I did two months work in one month...

Here's a fun little highlight:

This was my last class with my favorite class. One of my TAs and I were singing the "Way Back Into Love" duet from Music & Lyrics (rent it and watch it if you haven't seen it) and the kids started to get really excited. After I took this video they started standing on their chairs and desks and rocking back and forth. Eventually someone turned out the lights and they all started waving their cell phones.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

...And we're off!!

Since most of you have probably seen the opening ceremony by now (wasn't it amazing?!), I thought it might be fun to post our experiences watching it at Wangfujing last night, engulfed within the most densely packed hoard possible according to the laws of physics. It felt the way Times Square on New Year's Eve always looked, except with Chinese people. Go ahead, let your imagination run with it. At one point, a man and his two sons tried to scoot into this spot in front of us and were practically sitting in Josh's lap for about 2 hours.

Anyway, it was definitely a night I will always remember. I lack the literary flair and acumen to adequately describe the energy and explosive excitement I felt all around me as the Chinese people welcomed the world to their door, and celebrated what can only be described as A Moment. Instead, I'll say what I can and leave the rest to pictures.

Now, I know there are all these issues floating around the 2008 Olympics (I italicize issues because the word is heavy with overuse in the states' coverage of this year's Games), and boy do issues suck. But, I can also tell you that what I see here is so much more complex than the issues we keep hearing about back home. Mostly, it's the story of a billion or so people trying to make it in this world. They don't always agree, they don't all speak the same language, eat the same foods, or wear the same clothes, and they definitely don't always do the right things, but they are fighting decades of living behind closed doors, and are now trying to capture the attention of others who had all but dismissed them from the global playing ground, writing them off as casualties of the other 20th century road: Communism.

So, maybe I'm too much of a nerd, but this is what weighs on my mind as the Olympics begin. I grieve over unnecessary violence anywhere, sure, (and I hope you don't mind my being a little vague...I am writing from China, after all :P), but there is a strange mix of desperation, ambition, and hubris here that sends a very clear message: for China, there is much at stake, and the nation's leaders are doing everything they can not to lose at the table.

That's why last night was so intoxicating: watching the Chinese nationals go crazy for what I personally thought was an innovative and dazzlingly impressive (if at times a little over the top) opening ceremony, we could feel both the buzz and bated breath of the people. It was epic.

Now, on to the pictures. If any of you ever get a chance to watch an opening ceremony in the host city, do so in a crazy public space with people from all over the world. Seriously. Josh and I were originally planning to stay home and keep it low key, but we are so glad we went, even if we were super tired and sweating sheets.

First, let's take a look at the crowd:

People as far as the eye can see!

So probably one of the most fun things about watching with a crowd is the Parade of Nations, which I'm ashamed to admit usually bores me to tears when I'm watching at home. (Yeah, I'm an ignorant self-absorbed American, what can I say?)

But here, people were popping up left and right representing their countries, so it was fun to see who was around and who the Chinese would cheer for.

Like this guy, from Colombia:

And these guys, from Costa Rica:

The Mexicans were super rowdy:

As were the Peruvians (ok, so maybe there was just one, and maybe it happens to be my friend Victoria).

And of course, we can't forget the Americans (the guy on the right decked out in Chinese gear and clutching at the American flag is our friend Ken).

It was sweet to hear all the Chinese cheering for us. Until of course we got out of hand with the "USA! USA!" cheers and the nationals began responding with their own "Zhongguo jiayou!"

It's also pretty funny to see people react to Bush. We got some clapping, some boos, and a little bit of laughing?

Then, when the Chinese flag finally paraded through carried by the great Yao Ming, of course the crowd went abso-freakin-lutely wild. Josh was smart and whipped out his iPhone to capture this video:

Good times! The throng screamed nonstop for easily 15 minutes, at times with much greater gusto than that captured in this video.

When it was finally over (and our butts were reasonably sore), we chased the fireworks to a street with lower buildings, then walked around for 45 minutes looking for an open subway stop. We'd been told Beijing was keeping its subway line open 24 hours so that people watching the opening ceremony could get home afterwards (usually they close it at the unfortunate hour of 11pm), but a lot of good that does if you won't let us onto the trains!

Anyway, that was our night in a nutshell (yes, a very large nutshell). I have to say, even though I find Beijing a rough place to live in, being here at this exact moment still feels insanely surreal. How did we end up here?!

Friday, August 08, 2008

Some Random Updates

Today was Chinese Valentine's Day. I got on the subway this morning and some guy was holding a huge bouquet of roses. I didn't know what they were for, but a friend told me later that, apparently, Chinese guys are screwed because the poor schmucks have to buy their girlfriends flowers and candy twice a year: once on the lunar 7/7, and once on 2/14.

The holiday here goes back to some story about a cowherd who tricked a goddess into marrying him but then the Heavenly Emperor got pissed and made them live as separate stars in the sky. Supposedly, every year on the lunar 7/7, magpies fill the sky and form a bridge between the two stars. Thus, only on that day can the two lovers ever unite.

That's sorta like me and Josh, only different. Instead of cosmic fate separating us, it's a bunch of rich parents who are paying top dollar for my husband to play hangman and 20 questions with their spoiled children. And sing them lots of Backstreet Boys. So, since Josh was busy all day and I found out about the special occasion on the bus at about 2pm, I decided I'd bring Josh a cake:

It's almond flavored, like our wedding cake. I thought it was cute.

Also, we took a trip to Tianjin last week that I've been wanting to post about, but the super highlight of the trip was getting to ride on the new bullet train (27 min from tianjin to beijing...shorter than it takes for us to get home from the train station!).

They even gave us snazzy Tibetan spring water...ooh...

The night before, I watched this spot on CCTV about how the trains are ultrafast but also ultrasmooth, so you can put a bottle of water upside down and it'll stay put. So of course, I decided to try it:

Neato, huh?

So that's all I got for now. I'll post more pictures from the Tianjin trip when Josh isn't passing out next to me.

Tomorrow's a big day:
1) It's Josh's 25th birthday, on 08/08/08. (I also look forward to Josh's birthday because it's when I stop sounding like I'm 2 years older than him...)
2) The 2008 Olympic Games begin tomorrow.

We're kind of excited that those two events are coinciding. No wonder Josh is so lucky. And this time, his uncanny luck came through again, because the government declared tomorrow a holiday, which means Josh doesn't have to teach in the morning and gets to sleep in for the first time in a pretty long while.

中国加油 !!

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

A Bug's Death

This is kind of an old story, but I was looking for some interesting pictures to post so I thought I'd post this one from last month at the Beijing Film Academy dorms.

At this point, I would like to make a disclaimer:

If you plan on eating anything in the next 12 or so probably don't want to look at this picture.

Here's the backstory:

We were all living on the third floor, but the kitchen was on the sixth floor. Apparently it was pretty gross; people would just leave messes overnight, and in a stroke of brilliance, the cleaning schedule mandated a morning cleanup instead of a night one, which gave the cockroaches ample opportunity to feast the night away. So there were cockroaches on the sixth floor. Big, fat, healthy cockroaches. Midway through July, most of the foreign students at the BFA started moving out, except for us. One of Marilyn's classmates ominously foretold: "The cockroaches will find us..."

One day, we saw a huge dead cockroach near the service counter on the 6th floor. Gross, but tolerable. A few days later, there was an even fatter cockroach dead on its back on the stairs between the 4th and 5th floors...casualties of the search for edible remnants of human life. (Now it's getting a little close for comfort.) Another few days pass, and the same friend who spoke so portentously before announced that she had killed one of the suckers in the hallway in front of her room. Oh no! They were upon us...(and I, for one, will not welcome our new insect overlords.)

A few days before we were scheduled to move out, we were sitting around in our room when I looked down at the ground and spotted one of the buggers. I shrieked and looked frantically around for something to kill it with, but missed my opportunity as he ran under my bed. By now everyone else was in a panic; Marilyn and our friend Liz had jumped onto beds, chairs, whatever they could find. "It's a three inch cockroach under my bed," I yelled. Armed with a shoe, we gingerly moved my bed aside, only to watch him scamper past me into the corner where Marilyn's open suitcase lay. As he ran past me, I screamed like a little girl and jumped up and down in hopes of randomly killing him. I'm about 60% percent sure I landed on him, only to glance off his armored exoskeleton.

Our quest became even more frantic, as we feared he would hide in Marilyn's suitcase. I zipped up her bag, then chased him away from the suitcase; this time he hid under Marilyn's bed right next to my open suitcase. I quickly grabbed my suitcase to zip it shut...and (I shudder remembering it) I''m 75% sure that he ran onto my hand. I screamed in horror and shook him off my hand...onto my suitcase (all the while Marilyn was screaming, "I'M SO MAD AT YOU!!! I TOLD YOU NOT TO LEAVE YOUR STUFF ON THE FLOOR"). By this time, reinforcements had arrived. (Somewhere in here, I kicked a hole in Marilyn's bed while trying to scare the roach out from under the bed) Stan was standing on Marilyn's bed poised with shoe in hand. As I shook my suitcase, he came flying out and ran along the wall. We chased him back around to my bed (yelling gibberish versions of military strategies..."Flank him, flank him! Code blue. Omega, foxtrot..."), where we cornered him. Stan, oh great warrior, slammed my shower slipper down onto the roach, momentarily stunning him. "He's still alive!!!" I screamed as his myriad legs and antennae wriggled vigorously. **BLAM** a second swing split him open, white cockroach guts spilling onto our carpet.

As the dust settled, we stood around him, hearts pounding, stomachs churning. A round of high-fives and some commemorative photography later, one of our friends suggested we add something for a size comparison and lent us a cigarette. The roach's corpse was unceremoniously flushed down the toilet. Marilyn and I slept, uneasily, ringed by haloes of Off bug spray. The following morning we had the unfortunate dilemma of showering with the bug gut shower slippers, or braving the tub with our bare utterly disheartening decision.

Now we're just praying that none of them laid any eggs in our suitcases. I don't think I could handle an 'incident' in our own place...

PS: The following night, an enraged retaliatory cockroach warrior breached Stan's room. Only this time, Stan, oh great warrior, was ready for him. Armed with spray can and a lighter, he scorched the roach into oblivion...