Public Indecency, et al.

I hope you had a good Super Bowl Sunday. In China, it’s technically Super Bowl Monday. The game started at 7:30 am, so I had the breakfast of champions — barley, hops, yeast, and water. Unfortunately, today’s blog title has nothing to do with the halftime show. More information below

With that said, readers, this is our second date now. You know what that means? Ground rules. As far as I’m concerned, I’m your one and only blog. I don’t want to hear about the Brooklyn-based Indie music blog or the cooking blog you’re reading. Mario, tell ’em. As far as I’m concerned, we have something special. Truth be told, I just needed a reason to link to that song. It was cool in 3rd grade, and it’s still cool now. What I do wanna know, though, is what questions you have about China and the 北京生活 (Beijing life). It’s a win-win. You sate your curiosity, and I guarantee myself a reader that isn’t my mom.

One question that I’ll preemptively address is traffic, but I don’t think I really need to use words. Pictures after all, are worth a thousand words.

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This picture of R. Kelly reincarnated as a Chinese man is a great metaphor for all Beijing traffic. In order for someone to whip out their member in public, you know there’s gotta be a pretty laissez-faire mindset regarding, well, anything. Ranking as the worst in the world, Beijing traffic is a sight to see. Combine this with the fact that road rules are more guidelines than anything else, and you have a spectacle more interesting than my begrudgingly best source of entertainment, the CBA.

With the change of a light, intersections delve into anarchy. Pedestrians, bikers, cars, buses, and unidentified vehicles made of scrap metal and tuna cans, charge head-long into each other. This blog, despite being 5 years old, made me laugh out loud because of its accuracy.

Below ground, the subway is cheap, quick, and incredibly reliable. The one downside is that during rush hour, you are literally jammed into the cars. Personal space is just one of those things that goes out the window when you land in China.

Our Chinese friend also reminds of another cultural normative that would be taboo in the US: bodily functions. Whether its babies pooping on the sidewalk, excessive spitting, or burping, the Chinese seem to accept that these are natural things you can’t prevent. A chacun son gout.

On to things I can talk about without making assumptions, Chinese classes and my internship have been interesting. My spoken Chinese class only has three members, and it’s one of the most frustrating and humbling things I’ve ever experienced. Even more so than those not-so-memorable nights on Mission Beach. Our teacher claims she speaks very poor English, but I suspect it’s more of an excuse to make us use Chinese. She’s so machiavellian that I wouldn’t put it past her. Class consists of us nodding or heads and feigning understanding, God forbid you don’t and she makes you demonstrate whatever phrase or structure we’re learning. Multiple times we’ve come to class, and we’ve had quizzes that we didn’t know of because she mentioned them in lighting-fast Chinese the previous class. Despite this, we’ve already learned a lot. It also makes you realize how ineffective Chinese Classes in the US are. Tones, which give words their meanings, are largely ignored in the US. As a result, you may say some words correctly, but if the tones are off, your point may be lost on a Chinese person.

My internship has been equally rewarding. I work at a Spanish management consulting firm. The lingua franca of the office is a bastardization of English, Spanish, and Chinese. If I were to intern at a similar management consulting firm in the US, I would be babied and coddled through everything. China has a sweet tooth for cheap labor, and they seem to think internships are the paragon of cheap labor: free labor. I’m no where near qualified for the things they have me working on, and it’s equal parts terrifying and exciting.

Outside of the office and the classroom, I’ve been able to explore more of this 20-something million person city. The Forbidden City was a great experience mainly because it’s impossible to visit any 603 year old structure in the US. What US historical sites, like the Alamo, lack in age, they make up for with old-fashioned American badass-manship. To some Chinese tourists, the large group of American students was more of a spectacle than ancient buildings surrounding us. When we tried to take a group picture, about 30 Chinese people took a picture of us taking a picture. This is a picture, albeit bad quality, of them taking a picture of us taking a picture. Inception. Call me Christopher Nolan.

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Stepping outside the Forbidden City into Tiananmen Square is the soberest reminder that we live in a police state. Tiananmen is the largest city square in the world. While it’s relatively bare of anything besides paving stones and a few monuments, the square bristles with cameras, some hidden and some in plain view. Clearly the PRC knows that Tiananmen Square’s most striking feature is its history; Tiananmen is a dormant political volcano. When one group of students from William & Mary tried to take a picture while holding their school crest, police officers quickly ran over and stopped them. For all they knew, the banner said “Free Tibet,” or some other anti-Chinese political statement. Tension was palpable.

While the Forbidden City was nice, my favorite cultural experience so far has been visiting a 早市, a Chinese morning market. The smells, sights, and sounds were something you would never find in the US, and most of the fruits and vegetables were equally as foreign. Tucked in the back, there was a fish and meat market, but the smell made me think I was coming upon a dead body. They had Eel, crabs, lobsters, and countless fish, which I hope weren’t caught in Beijing’s waterways. If you’re looking to get tetanus and the Hepatitis suite, this is your one-stop shop. The meat section was equally impressive. They had enormous racks of beef ribs, pigs heads, and every other slab of meat you can think of just hanging from the ceiling. I half expected to turn a corner and find Rocky Balboa going to town on some slabs of meat.
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The real lesson, however, was when I looked up at the sky scrapers that surround the market. Beijing has distinct sense of anachronism. While there are some examples are utter poverty and technological simplicity, there is amazing technology that has yet to even find its way to the US. In that sense, China is like a kid going through a growth spurt. He is outgrowing some of his clothes, while some articles are still much too big for him.

Speaking of clothes, the Chinese clothing markets are a spectacle. These huge buildings, most around 8 floors, are crammed with tiny stalls, each floor selling the same type of item. Due to this competition is fierce. A la Macklemore, you may only have $20 in your pocket, but that’s more than enough to pop some tags.
Upon entering, vendors use their limited English phrases,”Hey you, looky looky,” all the while trying to yell over each other. The most audacious ones will grab you, assuming this makes you want to buy from them. Out of annoyance, you offer an almost-insulting price, hoping they’ll let you go. You just made your biggest mistake. Chinese bargaining might as well be Kabuki. Vendor makes an offer, you counter offer. Rinse and repeat until they refuse to go any lower, then you walk out. Once again, they grab read:border-line assault you and agree to your price. You typically aim for about one-third to one-tenth of the original offer.

That’s it for now folks. What other blog provides you with Asian male genitalia, a gratis? Don’t answer that.

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Ain’t Nothing But a Beijing.

In Paradise Lost John Milton writes, “I’d rather rule in hell than serve in heaven.” Apparently my boy, John, was alluding to his raging times in Beijing because this best embodies my time so far. The following post will be more of an aperçu of Beijing life so far, since I’ve had unreliable wifi this first week. No specific day to day stuff to bore you yet.

First, my paleness, which life on the beach couldn’t even fix, height, and blonde hair, are ingredients for a Sino-ethnic wet dream. Almost all things western are adored, but the aforementioned traits are the basis of all Chinese idol-worship. I’ll take my fifteen minutes of fame.

Secondly, everything is incredibly cheap. Most things here are about 1/5th the price they would be in the US. I can buy my Taiwan Pancake, my afternoon 包子 (dumplings for you non-Sino-philes) and my 牛肉面 (literal translation: cow meat noodle) and still have time to make it rain. That’s a joke mom. Some of the cheapest things are electronics (no promises on reliability) and clothes (probably too small). Knock-off stores are blatantly placed on most heavily trafficked boulevards. There is nothing convincing about them. Typically, the name is completely butchered, and the logo is could’ve been made on MSPaint. Fake Apple Stores are in every district, but it’s almost if they want you to know they’re selling fake knock-offs as opposed to the real thing. Apple is actually more expensive in China than the US.
Some other Western things are not widely used in China, so they’ll be more expensive. Transportation is dirt cheap. A cab ride is typically 10 块,less than $2, and the subways and buses are 2 块。

Nightlife is as backwards as it gets. In 五道口, the area near campus, a white male can get in with no cover charge. That’s right. White males are a sought after commodity in the club scene. Once in said club, everything is pretty western. All the music is from the US, with the exception of Gangnam Style. The alcohol is typically recognizable brands, but the Beijing signature drink is 白酒, something along the lines of industrial bleach. 三里屯 is an ex-pat heavy area that makes you feel like you’ve been transported out of China. You’ll hear more Russian, German, and English than Chinese. The club scene is also a little better, but more expensive. My theory is that the club scene has alway strived to be so western that there really isn’t an authentic Chinese club. I’ll have to do a bit more scholarly field work on this thesis.

If you’ve ever been witness to my dance style (Moment of silence for that poor, poor Theta), akin to a Dee Reynolds and Wacky Wavable inflatable tube men, you’d be happy to know it’s alive and well. The white people are typically clustered in one spot on the dance floor. At one club, the Chinese male to female ratio was so bad that most Chinese men just watched. If you look closely enough you’ll notice a keen-eyed Chinese people mimicking a few American dance moves. We can only hope none adopt any of my moves.

Another one of Beijing’s attractions is the plethora of historical sites. Despite their backwards Commie ways (‘Murrrrrrica), the Chinese people are the kind of heartless capitalists that only Cornelius Vanderbilt could love. You typically pay to enter the grounds, but then you have to buy more tickets to enter the actual sacred and historical places. Beijing’s history and electric atmosphere make up for the lack of natural beauty. I’d really like to go see a living tree, but I don’t want to be making ridiculous demands. On a serious note regarding Chinese milieu, China is just as, if not more, capitalistic than America once you get beyond the facade of the state. The lack of regulation, crippling tax codes, and work-ethic create a wild-west of business opportunities. America’s Main St. is alive and well in China.

My other form of entertainment is watching the CRT TV in our room. I can either watch state-run news in Chinese, the occasional table-tennis match, or the Chinese Basketball Association. It’s widely agreed among analysts that the CBA skill level is something like that of a 6th-grade girl’s B-Team. Fans are abuzz about the introduction of weak-hand dribbling in the coming season. It’s worth mentioning that the highlight is Stephon Marbury literally running train on his opponents. Averaging over 40 points in the playoffs, Stephon Marbury must feel like Kenny Powers in gym class.

If you thought Beijing was all fun and games, you’d be sadly mistaken. For travel abroad, it’s more academically rigorous than your typical program. I have 9 hours of Chinese a week, an internship an 18 hour a week internship that ends up being 24 hours if you factor in a commute, and 3 3-hour once a week classes. Don’t pity me though; pity the immersion kids. They have something like 8 hours of class a day, five days a week, with a chinese-only language pledge. The inner-masochist in me really wishes I had done immersion, but thanks to USD’s absurd core requirements, I’ll just have to watch from afar as a few of them flirt with the slippery slope that is insanity.

If any of you immersion kids are reading this, save your limited time of english exposure and read something worth your while. Go.