So remember that time when Dana told her family and friends “oh yeah, when I go back to China I’ll definitely start up my blog again!” and then proceeded to fall off the face of the planet and five months later hadn’t written anything? yeah…my bad…
Well, here it is: I’ve been living in Beijing since January. I’ve been studying Mandarin Chinese in a program called IES Beijing and I’ll be here until August. So why exactly am I here? Why do I keep coming back to China? It’s honestly really hard to say. There isn’t any one specific reason but rather an unexplainable internal attraction to this place. And my favorite thing about IES Beijing is that this is something I don’t really have explain to anyone here. Everyone here feels somewhat similarly, especially those, like me, that chose to remain here for the summer. It’s not like I wake up every morning thinking about how much I love China. Actually, I often wake up to the annoying sound of feral cats outside my window, wondering why in the world they seem to have been in heat for the past four months… The reaffirmation of my love for this place usually comes at the simplest of times and always has to do with language. It’s when my cab driver enthusiastically wants to chat with me about the most random of subjects, or I’m able to order food without having to point at a menu, or those happily surprised looks some street vendors give me when they realize I’m one of those foreigners that can speak Chinese. It’s these moments that make all those hours of studying, worth it. Sometimes I think my motivation to learn Mandarin is similar to little kids that make up secret code words so the parents can’t understand what they’re talking about, even though they’re not actually talking about anything worth keeping secret.
Seeing as a whole semester has already passed, I know I can’t possibly cover all of my experiences and many will unfortunately be lost within my memories of this whirlwind of a semester. I will try to hit at least a couple of the main events that have influenced.
It seems only natural to start with IES Beijing. If I was to give an excuse for my lack of blogging this semester, the honor would definitely go to IES. I can honestly say that in terms of work load, this was the most intense semester of my academic career. However, despite the lack of sleep, the seemingly never-ending number of words to memorize, and long hours in class, I have never been more impressed with any other Chinese language program. It was almost intimidating the first day we met what seemed to be an army of small Chinese women that were to be our teachers. In the months that followed, they became some of the most patient, hardest working people I have ever met, challenging me to figure out how to communicate solely in Chinese.
I think one of the most fitting and hilarious pieces of advice we received about living in China came at the beginning of the semester from one of our RAs who was reiterating advice from a past lecturer: “Just don’t be a whiny little expat bitch.” This wasn’t my RA trying to be mean, it was a preemptive attempt to eliminate events to come. Honestly, China isn’t for everyone. It can get really dirty here, in the beginning the pollution made my lungs feel like I had been chain smoking every day, people can be really rude, there’s a lot of spitting going on, and Chinese logic often times makes absolutely no sense. I think a lot of foreigners in China at some point find themselves compelled to vent about these things and I know that I had my own adjustment period in the beginning. After being here for a while, though, most people realize that living in China means that the day-to-day events in your life are not always going to go the way you want or expect them to and it’s really not worth complaining about because everyone goes through the same thing. Perhaps because going through the trials of Beijing and learning Chinese creates a sense of camaraderie or maybe because this semester’s students were just that awesome, I ended up having an amazing time this spring. I never thought I would end up feeling as comfortable and welcome in this community as I do, and it was hard to get to the end of the semester and see a lot of my friends leave and go home.
Of course there were infinitely more moments from the semester that I’d love to share, but instead will try to condense to the most recent. Like the time IES took us to the Great Wall, hiked 5 hours to a hostel and woke up at 4am the next morning to hike up to one of the towers to watch the sunrise:
Or that time while walking through the Dirt Market and a random vendor from out of nowhere appears in front of me, points, and yelled “ABC!” (apparently the only english phrase he knew), to which I replied “HOW DID YOU KNOW?!” and we proceeded to have a hilarious conversation about how the university I attend is known in Beijing for having a really high percentage of girls, after which he blew air kisses to me as I left…
Or that old man selling crappy little wooden frogs on strings, calling out to anyone that looked vaguely interested at what he was selling: “十快，外国人，八十块!”(“10 yuan, foreigner price, 80 yuan!) Amused, Marjorie and I made a point to ask him in Chinese, which price would he give us? Do we get the 10 yuan price or the “foreigner” price? Surprised at being caught by two American girls, he told us that with such good 汉语 skills, of course he would give us the 10 yuan price. Tricky old man.
In one of the more ridiculously cute moments I have ever witnessed, one of my Chinese teachers, Deng 老师 (a very small women who already loves making awkward turtle references and hand gestures “尴尬!”) started humming the ‘Call Me Maybe’ song to herself during class one day.
Another highlight? Well, there’s this guy. His english name is Wang Leehom or 王力宏 if you will. If you have ever lived in China in the last 5 years or so and don’t know who 王力宏 is, then shame on you. You obviously didn’t interact with enough of China’s young adult population. To give you an idea of how big a deal this guy is, if you have ever bought a bottle of water in China, 王力宏 is that 帅哥 on the label of your Wahaha water bottle. Yeah, that’s right. His face is on MILLIONS OF CHINESE WATER BOTTLES. 王力宏 is one of China’s biggest popstars, similar in fame to N’Sync and the Backstreet Boys in the 90′s yet more like an infinitely more talented Chinese pops-style Michael Buble than a boy band with frosted-tipped hair. Through the help of my awesome roommate, I was able to snag tickets to his concert at the olympic center’s birds’s nest stadium and it was pretty easy to convince most of my friends to come with.
And I have to say, despite the fact that our view of him was likened to a where’s waldo book in our nosebleed seats, the guy puts on quite a show. At one point he had three different orchestras accompanying him onstage, soloed on six different instruments (including the violin…marry me?), and brought out dozens of cute lucky middle-school children for a duet. Of course he also sang like a champ and there is nothing quite like the sight of thousands of Chinese people waving glow sticks and singing along with him.
Now that I’ve sufficiently rambled on to the point of your boredom, I will end this ridiculously long post by saying that my favorite experience I have had here yet is seeing the progression of my language skills. The last time I was in China, I was excited enough to be able to exchange a few words or sentences. My level is still nowhere near fluent, but at least I can have conversations now (and at least translate for people that have no knowledge of the chinese language whatsoever). And for this expat, it’s exactly what I’m here for.