YOGTVO is not a real acronym

25 06 2014

I wrote this short account of Vietnam a couple months ago and promptly got super busy and (lazily) forgot to post. Apologies.


An inevitable benefit of working in China is the relative proximity of southeast Asia. Now that the spring semester is over and we have some time off before our summer program starts, I decided to go to Vietnam! Everyone and their mom talks about Vietnam’s amazing food, beautiful scenery, bustling cities, etc. and it’s all true. I usually like my coffee black, like my evil soul, but I swear I’m addicted to this sugary “café sua” stuff they sell everywhere. I dream of simultaneously zooming around this country on a motor scooter and chugging coffee, for the rest of my days.

One of the most interesting things I observed was during a travel day in which we spent 9 hours getting stuffed in and out of various cramped vans and buses, trying to make our way to the city of Canh Tho. I was sitting in the back of this van underneath my backpack with a fever, sweating through my clothes, deliriously watching this woman at the front of the van run the entire show. During the 3 hours I spent in this particular van, we probably stopped at least 15 times in random places to pick up and drop off various people and packages. Each time we stopped, this woman would jump out, throw open the back of the car, and exchange wrapped packages sometimes twice her size. Sometimes we’d just slow down near the side of the road, the woman would throw open the side door, point to a guy (how did she know which guy?!), he’d jump into our van, and she’d slam the door behind him as we continued on our merry way. We could have been transporting drugs for all I knew about the comings and going of items in our vehicle. All I know is that the woman running the operation was efficient, tough, and didn’t take bullshit from anyone. I want to be her when I grow up.

We’ve stayed in hostels throughout our travels, which meant that we also met a lot of people from all over the world. Perhaps due to the proximity of southeast Asia, we met a lot of Europeans that are also currently working in China and/or Hong Kong and Singapore. One of our many roommates was in the middle of traveling for months all around Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand on a motorbike…an inspiring adventure to say the least. We met three girls from Holland in the first hostel we stayed in and, after realizing that we had similar plans, decided to travel together for the next week. We went to Canh Tho together and got to take a beautiful tour early morning tour of floating markets on the Mekong Delta. It’s amazing how much work these people can get done by 5:30am. Cruising around in our little boat, sipping on coffee, watching women throw watermelons to each other was definitely the highlight of our trip.

Here is some photo evidence of the adventure:

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Crazy forests and renewed Beijing love

26 04 2014

I just threw my GRE test prep book at the ceiling in my attempt to kill a mosquito in my room (don’t worry, I killed it on my first try, no big deal, at least I’m getting some use out of the book, Dad!).  Sometimes people here think I’m crazy.  Or at least named “crazy.”  Part of it has to do with my Chinese name, 凤林 (Feng Lin).  The name was given to me by my grandmother when I was born and it technically means “phoenix of the forest.”  However, if you pronounce the first character “Feng” with a different tone, it means “crazy/mad/insane.”  So sometimes people think I’m introducing myself as “crazy forest.”  Or at least that’s what I assume they’re thinking when they give me a weird, confused look.  People also look at me like I’m crazy when I go running by the water canal near my school.  This doesn’t really get me down because in my opinion it’s the old Chinese guys in speedos jumping into the most likely polluted canal for a brisk swim that are ACTUALLY crazy.  Some sights cannot be unseen…

March was a busy month.  I was luckily enough to find time and resources to do some traveling over a couple weekends.  I took a train down to the southern Anhui province and hiked around the picturesque (yet also freezing and snow-covered) Yellow Mountains, which proved to be a really nice refreshing break from the then smog-filled Beijing.  I present to you a couple pictures:

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Towards the end of March, I went to Shanghai for an ultimate frisbee tournament!  I’ve been playing off and on with a local ultimate team based here in Beijing called “Big Brother” and in Shanghai we played against teams from all over China.  In some ways, the tourney was very similar to all those I had participated in the states.  Ultimate is still a very new sport in China and the majority of the traveling teams were made up of foreigners.  The rules and tourney structure was all the same.  However, it’s been cool to hear the plays, cheers, and commands that I’m so familiar with in the states also being yelled out in Chinese.  With the exception of some, more conservative, Chinese teams, ultimate frisbee culture in China is everything that I’m used to in the states.  Playing ultimate with Big Brother has definitely been a nice post-college transition.  Honestly, my life in Beijing often makes me feel like I’m still in college…

We’re now coming towards the end of the IES spring semester, which always gets me nostalgic and a little sad, thinking about the good friends that will soon be leaving.  Foreigners in Beijing have always been a very fluid community, there aren’t too many of us that end up staying here for multiple years at a time (in the grand scheme of things, my 9 months here hasn’t been long at all) and those that do end up seeing a lot of friends come and go.  I’ve been really lucky that a lot of people from my previous IES community as a student have also been back in Beijing this past year.

My work with IES will end in August, so I’ve been trying to make some preparations for my own upcoming transition.  I came to a realization the other day when I had a job interview over skype, conducted in both English and Chinese, that everything I’ve studied and worked for over the past couple years might actually make me qualified for employment.  It wasn’t until the woman said “and now I’m going to ask you a couple questions in Chinese” and I felt no fear, that I realized how far I’ve come since I came to China the first time.  One of the greatest things about Beijing is how international this city is.  Sure, everyone in my neighborhood speaks (or is trying to learn) Mandarin Chinese, but a lot of these people are foreigners from lots of different countries.  IES is located on the campus of Beijing Foreign Studies University, which attracts a lot of Chinese and international students alike trying to study foreign languages.  Just the other day, a friend of mine invited me to a barbeque for Easter Sunday that essentially was a mass gathering of Italians, with just a few of us outsiders.  Spending an afternoon with these friends meant that our conversations switched between English, Italian, and Chinese, sometimes mid-sentence.  It was beautiful moment and I’ve always admired the fact that these kinds of mixed languages are not uncommon in Beijing.  I love this city and no matter what kind of moves I make in August, I will always be thankful for the time I’ve spent here.



18 02 2014

I knew this would happen.  It’s been a while and although it’s true that I lead a busy life, my neglect of this blog is more due to the fact that I’ve been spending what little free time I have watching The Newsroom, an addicting show that I just discovered late in the game and of which has furthered my obsession with the always hilarious Olivia Munn, ever since her tiger mother bit on The Daily Show.  There is much to be learned from China, but seeing as I technically live at work, sometimes all I want to do is lay in bed and pretend I don’t actually have any responsibilities.

Lest you think I am an unsociable hermit that stays in my room all day, let’s talk holidays.  Honestly, I was a little bummed around Christmas and New Year’s.  While it was relaxing not having to work for a while, I didn’t end up going back to the states and it was weird not spending the holidays with my family.  That being said, 春节 (Spring Festival/Lunar New Year) totally made up for the holiday spirit missed throughout December.  Halfway through January, all Chinese friends and acquaintances suddenly became very concerned that I was not returning home for the holidays.  A summary of the month-long madness and mass exodus from Beijing that goes on for Spring Festival is unnecessary for my purposes, but it is safe to say that I was well cared for by friends,especially on 除夕 (lunar New Year’s Eve).

Despite the fact that Beijing is a ghost town during Spring Festival, all those left in town still manage to come together as a massive hoard to the Temple of Earth’s temple fair.  I partook in this large spectacle for the first time this year.  Josie gleefully warned me that it would be “a horrifying experience,”but I managed to fight my way through the sea of people and was actually pleasantly entertained for the brief time we spent perusing the over-crowded yet beautifully decorated park. Some photo evidence:

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Adorable children are in abundance in this country.

Adorable children are in abundance in this country.

Yes, I might have gone a little wack with the photo filters on my phone.

Yes, I might have gone a little wack with the photo filters on my phone.

Time has flown by and we are now in the midst of interviewing candidates for next year’s IES Residents Advisors.  Remembering my own interviews for this position and how anxious I was going through the process a year ago, I’ve been feeling a sense of déjà vu.  Interviewing others has certainly taught me how to judge people (a skill that I’m not completely sure I like having) but even more importantly, we’ve had some amazing candidates whose interviews have inspired me to adopt their manner of speaking in my own future.  Figuring out how to impress during a job interview is a constant effort, but being on the other side during our current hiring process has given me different perspective of which I appreciate.  Jobs vs. careers, resumes, cover letters, references, etc. it’s all that’s been on my mind lately.  Should I move back to the U.S.?  Or stay for another year in China?  What kind of job do I want?  Do I want to go to graduate school?  What’s my priority in my job search?  Location? Community? Language?  If I move back to the U.S. will all my Chinese studies have been for nothing?  Like any normal self-absorbed 20-something expat, these questions have consumed my mind for months.  To anyone that has ever asked me anything of a similar nature, my face looked at you in that pitiful way because I have probably asked myself the same thing a million times over and still do not have an answer.  I’m confident that I will figure something out, but until then I’ll try not to neglect this blog again.  Sorry for the long wait, dad.

Silk Road Travels

10 10 2013

Another sweet perk of my job? Traveling. Each semester, IES takes their students on different two-week long trips around China.  I was lucky enough to be assigned as the R.A. on one of these trips.  Our first stop was the city of Lanzhou in Gansu province.  We like to use these trips to give students a chance to travel on overnight sleeper trains.  Overnight trains are arguably the epitome of Chinese travel culture.  You’ve got the beds stacked three people high, carts going by with overpriced fruit and questionably looking meat and rice meals, the hot water dispensers as the center of action for making everyone’s 方便面 (ramen noodles), and of course the squatter toilets (that contrary modern myth, are no longer simple holes in the train directly above the tracks).  To a new foreigner, especially the tall ones that may or may not be able to fit on the beds, these trains may be a bit of a rough experience.  To most Chinese, this is the normal way of traveling.  Unless I’m stuck on a train for 3 or more days, I actually like traveling on overnight sleepers.  I’ve met many interesting people on train rides.  You know what’s actually uncomfortable? 24 hours on a hard seat or standing room train.  I’ve never put myself through it, but I’ve heard the stories…

Yu Laoshi and Shen Laoshi (the teachers leading our trip) ended up giving me the one ticket we had that was slightly separated from the rest of our group so that none of the students would feel uncomfortable sleeping next to strangers.  I ended up in a compartment with a bunch of pretty Chinese girls that were all part of a professional dance company returning home to Lanzhou.  We watched the last couple episodes of a Chinese drama called 小爸爸 on one of the girls’ bright pink ipad and they told me all about the various traditional dances they perform.  Needless to say, I think some of our IES students were jealous of my new friends…

We stayed in Lanzhou just long enough to eat some 兰州牛肉面 (Lanzhou beef noodle soup) and then took a bus to the small city of 夏河 (Xiahe) where we visited two different Tibetan monasteries.  The first 拉卜楞寺 (Labrang Monastery) is the largest Tibetan monastery in Gansu province.  Despite the fact that it rained pretty hard the night before, the weather cleared up nicely by the afternoon, making for some great views.







From Xiahe, we took our bus back to Lanzhou and then an overnight train to our next destination: Dunhuang.  Now, having gone to school in eastern Washington, I have experienced a fairly dry climate.  I have even seen some small sand dunes along the Oregon coast at one point in my life.  Dunhuang was a different story altogether.  Our tour guide described Dunhuang as “an oasis in the middle of the Gobi Desert.”  Once outside of the city, the mountain-like sand dunes seemed to stretch forever.






My favorite city ended up being Xi’an.  Most people associate Xi’an with its main attraction, the Terracotta Warriors.  And sure, the site is pretty neat, it’s a crazy number of clay statues that the Qin emperor had made for his ridiculously large tomb, and swimming through hoards of Chinese tourists all trying to look at the same thing is always an exciting type of sport in it’s own way… However, I also had multiple friends rave about the food Xi’an had to offer, so I was particularly excited to explore Xi’an’s street food.  And the city did not let me down.  The Muslim quarter had an awesome assortment of outdoor food stalls with everything from lamb to rice cakes and candy galore.  Thus, some pictures of food and Terracotta Soldiers:












If nothing else, this trip ended up being a humbling experience.  I’ve traveled before, but never as an employee or leader of such a group.  Most of my responsibility involved translating any announcement our Chinese teachers had for the group as well as backup help for our tour guides who had varying degrees of English fluency.  Translating for tour guides definitely brought me down to earth in realizing how far I have to go in understanding this language.  We had a couple of wonderfully patient tour guides, but to this day I still don’t know how to say all the different names of the Buddha in Chinese…what I DO know is 8 different ways of saying that the wind has deformed the Buddha carvings in the Yungang Grottos…every. single. one.

By the time we returned to Beijing, it felt like I was coming home.  Don’t get me wrong, I love traveling and feel really fortunate to have the opportunity to see so many places around the country.  However, there’s something to be said about coming back to a place that you’re familiar with.  Traveling around to different cities in China has always given me a greater appreciation for how much I’ve become accustomed to Beijing.  I’ve recently been thinking a lot about how long I want to live in this city…do I want to stay here or return to the states next year?  First world issues of a twenty-something…

And so it begins…

13 09 2013

I’ve been here for about a month now, all the Fall 2013 students have arrived, finished orientation week, and are now in the midst of classes. Because of orientation, class, and taking care of various customized programs, the past couple of weeks have been crazy busy. Despite the chaos of it all, this is what I’ve been looking forward to, welcoming new students to a program that holds a special place in my heart. The night the first round of students arrived, we loitered in the courtyard between the IES building and the Beiwai Café, waiting for their midnight bus to arrive. The act involved hanging out with the ever adorable Dingling and watching her zoom back and forth around the courtyard on a small motorized bicycle. At one point she handed the bicycle over to a semi-inebriated Wang Ayi who subsequently put her highly esteemed dog “Maomao” in the front basket and proceeded to ride around in a surprisingly semi-successful display of balance and coordination. The café, conveniently located right outside our building, has many different locals, like Wang Ayi, that frequent the place almost every night. It is a favorite hangout center of the IES community and the source of many great memories of my time here as a student.

One of the perks of my job is that I am still able to take IES Beijing’s language courses. I’m currently taking IES Beijing’s 4th year Chinese course and the 90+ words a day may or may not be kicking my ass. However, our teacher, Su Laoshi, is pretty awesome. When a small adorable Chinese woman shows you her intricate arm tattoos and tells you that she loves Quentin Tarantino movies and Harry Potter, you know she’s a friend worth making. Hanging out with Su Laoshi both during and outside of class has been a lot of fun. As an IES Beijing employee, I have inevitably had more contact with the rest of the IES staff than I did in the past as a student and so far it has been a truly awesome and hilarious community to work with. I am excited to see what will become of this year.

In terms of pictures, below are couple of shots I took (with my new Chinese smart phone!!) of the Great Wall. We have numerous customized programs from different U.S. universities that IES hosts and provides programs for. I was recently assigned to accompany a group of students from Babson College on an a hike and overnight stay at the Great Wall. IES Beijing also takes their own students to this particular section, so this was the third time I’ve done this hike. However, I had never seen better weather in Beijing than this:


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part of the deal is that we make the students get up at 4am to take an (optional) hike up to the highest point of the Great Wall to watch the sunrise.  I took this picture around 5am.

Part of the deal is that we make the students wake up at 4am to take an (optional) hike up to the highest point of the Great Wall to watch the sunrise. I took this picture around 5am.


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You can’t get rid of me that easily, Beijing.

15 08 2013

Despite the fact that I’ve had to pack up and move countless times over the past 4 years, I’ve never been very good at it.  I always find myself waiting until the last possible moment before I leave and then, since I never really know what exactly I need, I end up packing way too many things.  I am always THAT person at the airport: the woman that’s half the size of her backpack.

I’ve known about my move to China since April, so this moment isn’t entirely bittersweet and shocking, I’ve been expecting this change for a while.  I think the hardest change this summer, was leaving Whitman.  I’ve had a wonderful summer being home and working in Oregon, yet it was also hard leaving Walla Walla, a place I’ve considered my second home for the past 4 years.  It’s weird thinking about the fact that I won’t be returning this fall and there are many people that I’ve been missing since the day I left.

I originally planned on working elsewhere for the summer, but in retrospect I’m really glad I came back to Oregon instead.  It’s been really nice to reconnect with the valley, family, and old friends.  For the first time, I’m not entirely sure when I’ll be back (I will be at some point though, don’t even worry. HA.).  However, I’m really excited to be going back to IES Beijing to work as a Resident Advisor.  I am incredibly lucky to be given this opportunity to return to the program and country that has the incredible ability to kick my ass, yet make me a better person for it at the same time.  My plan is to start up this blog again for the year, but I’ve failed that promise before.  We’ll see what happens.  If nothing else, I’ll hopefully have pictures in abundance.  Thanks for everything America, I’m sure I’ll see you again soon.

Yes, it does feel a little crazy to leave this backyard view for smog-filled Beijing...

Yes, it does feel a little crazy to leave this backyard view for smog-filled Beijing…


Am I turning blue yet?

4 06 2012

Remember when that movie Avatar came out and everyone went through that crazy phase, wishing they could live on Pandora and dressed up like blue people for halloween?  Well, that place exists.  And it’s in China.  Taking advantage of our break from classes and the affordability of traveling by sleeper trains in China, some friends and I decided to take a trip down to 张家界 (Zhangjiajie) which is now a national park in the southern province of Hunan. It is said that this place was the inspiration for the Avatar movie (actually that’s just what the Chinese government says, apparently James Cameron claims the inspiration came from some place farther north…but of course there is no arguing with the Chinese government…), check it for yourself:

Pretty amazing, huh?  During our first day in the park, we hiked up to and around our hostel.  Along the way, we of course encountered monkeys.  Yeah, that’s right, just some 猴子 chillin with us, walking along and swinging in the trees as we climbed endless amounts of stairs.

Our hostel was probably one of sketchiest ones I have ever stayed in, but was blessedly cheap and we found some amazing views just a short walk away:

Our hike on the second day was much easier yet also filled with the many Chinese tourists that had chosen to take a cable car instead of climbing the mountain with us the day before.  However, the fog and mist made for some beautiful and eerie views

and when the hike got flat and boring there were obstacle courses to entertain!

After Zhangjiajie, Binh, Caleb, and I decided to hit up 杭州 (Hangzhou)  and 上海 (Shanghai) for a couple of days on the way back to Beijing.  I realized in 杭州 that there’s something about lakes in China that I’m really attracted to.  Ever since last summer, I have considered 昆明 (Kunming) to be my favorite city in China, but I think at least half the reason has to do with its 翠湖 (Green Lake).  In the same manner, 杭州 also has its own beautiful “西湖” (West Lake) of which is its main tourist draw.  And like a tool (yaanahiii!), I loved it.  Even the day we got there, when it rained on us the whole day, I was liking the vibe.  I think living in Beijing for so long has made me forget how nice it is when everything is so green!

We were lucky as our second day turned out to be both sunny and rainless.  We rented bikes and made a loop around the lake, stopping at some of the many gardens and parks along the way:

I have to say, another highlight of 杭州 was the hostel we stayed in.  The West Lake Youth Hostel was not only impressively cheap (“三个人一共是40?…元???”) but the environment was homey, the people that worked there were really nice and friendly, and they even had a hostel dog, “Sunny,” that was actually really well trained if you spoke to her in Chinese.

Shanghai was far more comfortable than the last time I was there, seeing as I didn’t break out in sweat the minute I walked outside.  While looking for an antique market that we mysteriously were never able to find, we stumbled upon a random back alley filled with all sorts of cutesy stores and snack stalls.  It was of course catered to students, being conveniently located at the entrance to a school, making me realize that going to high school in Shanghai might have actually been really awesome.

 We of course also hit up classic places like the Bund, People’s Square, French Concession, and Nanjing road.  Our train ride back to Beijing had the potential to be miserable (overnight seated train) but was actually not too shabby after we ended up playing cards and talking with the other people in our car.  I was lucky enough to be able to reorganize some of our luggage and find a place to curl up and sleep for a little before we eventually made it back home to Beijing.  :)