A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: msarich

Welcome to Jingshan!

Or, the reason I was sent abroad in the first place.

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View Beijing in 4 months on msarich's travel map.

Before we arrived in Beijing, our host families were to give us a copy of our activities schedule. The schedule lists out the days that certain activites will take place, such as: our welcome luncheon, first day of school and when the school will be taking us on sightseeing tours around the city. Since the schedule is in Chinese, I had never seen it and was pretty much on a need to know basis with my host family. Before we returned from our 10 day vacacation/China travel tour to see the countryside, we found out that the day after we returned would be our first day to see Jingshan and to meet the teachers. Kristen and I immediately thought:speech. So on the train to Beijing from Shanghai, I composed my speech to the faculty with the help of two of the exchange students. I, of course, wrote it in pin yin and had planned on giving the speech to the faculty in Chinese. Now my Chinese is rudimentary to say the best. A Chinese toddler can run verbal circles around me at this point. But I was determined to say my speech in Chinese. I thought with a little practice, coaching from Miles and use of a cheat sheet, I would be on my way. I, of course wanted to state what I was feeling irregardless of my level of Chinese. Kristen was taking a different, and smarter, tact; she was using phrases that we had learned.
On Wednesday, our train from Shanghai got in at 7am. Mr. Zhang was there to pick me up and make sure I was ok. After each of the students and their host families arrived, Mr. Zhang and I set off towards the apartment. This time we came into the central Beijing train station, where before we left from the West Beijing train station. We were in soft sleepers on both the way down and back. These beds are comfortable and slippers are provided. There are 4 berths in each cabin and on our way back, our group took up two full cabins and Kristen took one for the team by sleeping in the last cabin with three Chinese guys, including an older man whose teeth occupied the night stand while he slept. Mr. Zhang and I took the subway back to the apartment because, as he explained to me, the central railway station is older and has no parking so the subway is the most efficient way of access to the railway station. My bags were pretty heavy and Mr. Zhang took hold of my duffel bag and we went back to the apartment. That whole day I re-organized myself for school and practiced my speech. I was tired, but couldn't sleep. Kristen and I compared notes and I was much more nervous than she. So, with many times practiced, and my speech filling my head, I slept.
On Thursday, Kristen and I met at the school entrance gate at 9am. Our meeting wasn't until 930, but we wanted to get there early just in case we got lost or anything. Miles accompanied me and Kristen's host brother, Alan, was with her. The boys led us through the school and to the VIP conference room where Mrs. Zhang met us.
20008.jpg We also met up with Gao Ying and Wang Chunjie who were the exchange teachers to America in the fall. We were excited to see them again and they read our speeches and gave us one final boost of confidence before leading us into the faculty meeting. Now, dear reader, please understand that Kristen and I had assumed that we would be meeting the English teachers, not the whole staff and not in the auditorium. But here we were, being led into the staff meeting of the entire faculty with Principal Fan and other heads of the school on the stage in front of them. We sat down and waited for our introduction. Finally, Wang Chunjie led us to the stage and handed the microphone to Kristen and she started her speech with "Good Morning" (In chinese, of course) which caused tumultuous applause. When she continued her speech in Chinese, the crowd again erupted in applause causing her to pause and then she finished her speech to more applause. Since I was second (I like to tell myself) the bubble was already burst and I received no such applause until after my speech was finished. This was good anyway, because applause during my speech would have probably broken my concentration and caused me to slip up alot. After our speeches, Principal Fan welcomed us to Jingshan and we headed over to lunch at the hotel across Dengshikou.
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After lunch, the students received their uniforms and with excitement turning our stomachs inside out, we all parted ways ready for school on Monday the 16th.

Posted by msarich 23:23 Archived in China Tagged educational Comments (0)

Back on the map

Now back to our regularly scheduled program...

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View Beijing in 4 months on msarich's travel map.

Thank you, dear reader, for sticking it out with me through my travels in Beijing and around China. I do promise some exciting stories, hilarious hijinks and miniscule pieces of advice as I try to make my way through Chinese customs, culture and some bizarre to me food for the next three months. It is amazing that almost 1 month has passed since stepping off the jet way on Jan 23rd at Beijing Airport. Through these last four weeks, I have learned a lot, experienced a lot and will share these stories and tribulations with you, dear reader. We have just returned from our trip through central China and Shanghai and I have posted these pictures to the photo gallery on travellerspoint. I will talk about some of this stuff, with you, dear reader, but not in too much detail. I tried to make each of the pictures tell their own story and act as a stand alone blog. Instead, here I would like to post my lessons learned, experiences and opinions. So stay tuned, look through my photo gallery and my map and come along with me as we experience the educational system in Beijing, how to mail a postcard to the US, and rooting for deals in the supermarkets. Zai Jian!!

Posted by msarich 21:56 Archived in China Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

From this point forward...

An apology of sorts...and an expectation of things to come

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View Beijing in 4 months on msarich's travel map.

Thanks for following the blog as I navigate my way through Beijing. I have seen some Wei guo ren (outsiders) as I walk through Di Tan Park (for the festival) but other than that, I mainly get stared at by everyone. Beijing post Olympics is very English friendly as the subway signs and some other stuff is in English. At least, people are speaking to me in Chinese, I just have no idea what they are saying.
So the group is off for a 10 day adventure through Central/Western China. We will not be in wireless or wired land, so no internet, therefore, no blog. I will have lots of catching up to do with the blog when I get back. This is really a full time job!
So we return on the 11th of Feb and we start school at Jingshan on the 16th. I have to give a speech in Chinese at that time. I haven't written it yet, but Miles said he would help me through it.
So I promise to have tons of pics and even video that documents our trip. You can follow along as I already have mapped it out on the map included with this blog. Happy travels to all of you as I prepare to survive an overnight train ride during the height of travel in China.
Zai Jian!!

Posted by msarich 01:48 Archived in China Tagged preparation Comments (0)

Getting around Beijing

Transportation and a really, really big, crowded city

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View Beijing in 4 months on msarich's travel map.

Beijing is a world of old and new trying to meld together. Boston has this same problem, although Beijing and Boston solve it different ways.
Beijing is laid out in a series of ring roads that start with the first ring road around the Forbidden City. This is the oldest part of Beijing and I have not been here yet. There are 5 ring roads with the 6th still under construction. The area around Beijing used to be all farmland and this is being eaten up by development and the need to house all of the denizens of Beijing. The Zhang's apartment is in the second ring road in Andimen district near the Lama (Earth) Temple. Their neighborhood is very convienient to everything. Ms. Xiao walks everywhere, to which I accompany her when I can. The Di Tan (Temple) park is right outside the building. Ms. Xiao ensures me that it is very beautiful in spring and summer when the flowers are out and the trees have their leaves. Ms. Xiao said she does not like the winter when the plants are dormant and nothing is green...Hmmm sounds like someone else I know....Ms. Xiao is a plant-o-phile like me. She has some beautiful plants in the apartment including a gorgeous orchid that she got for her and Mr. Zhang's 20th year anniversary.
The apartment is one of a few towers that lies behind a man made river (really a canal of sorts) that right now is frozen over, but I am sure will be beautiful when the temperature starts to climb above 4 C. There are lots of Willow trees all around the shores making a serene image which is in contrast to the bustle around the area.
The subway station is really close to the apartment and I take the subway to school everyday. It is actually easy to get around Beijing using the subway, although I have not ventured past line 5 or 2. The station is where line 5 and 2 intersect, making it a very busy station as line 2 goes around the second ring road and line 5 travels N-S from Andingmen to the Forbidden City in a straight line. The subway is very crowded but also very efficient. it costs 2Y to ride the subway and I have a card (no discount) that just makes it easier to get through the subway lines. If you do not have this pass, you have to purchase a card each time you go through the subway. This means you are spending lots of time in lines. The subway is mostly automated. The only aggravating part is putting your bag on the security belt which adds some time to your commute, but it is still efficient even during rush hour. The subway is also English friendly with announcements in both Chinese and English and the station names written in both characters and pin yin along with blinky lights to signal the next station.

Buses do go everywhere in the city and are cheap. With the transportation pass, the bus is only .60Y. However, the bus is not so friendly to the English speaker. You are on your own. Ms. Xiao and I took the bus back from Chinese Japanese Harrods. Since we live in a central location, there were a few different bus lines we could have taken. We decided on bus #61 which took a while to get to us. With the bus, you can really see what is going on street-side, but don't expect any help in knowing what is going on or where to get off. i have not found a bus map, yet or any signal of which bus line goes where...so I have pretty much avoided the busses, instead opting for the foreigner-friendly subway. Starting this weekend (Feb 21), I will take to the bike and see how I do dodging Beijing's cars, busses and pedestrians as I weave my way through the meandering city.

Miles takes his bike to school and I have been taking the subway. He beats me everytime. His commute takes about 20min and mine is 30 with all the walking, shoving and baggage checking on the subway. The subway is amazingly clean and orderly and very fast. Trains are about 3-4min apart and there is a tv that tells you when the next train is due. The trains are also really quiet unless there are some students aboard who giggle and laugh with eacher other. Usually everyone tries not to look at anyone else and pretends they are in the subway car by themselves.

With above ground transportation, the world is not so orderly. I understand that the car is not new to China, but lots of people owning them is. The traffic laws seem non-existent as far as I can see, with cars making left hand turns from the right lane on a red light. People have absolutely no right of way, even when it is green for the cross-walk, cars and busses still take right on reds and they just don't stop for anyone/thing. Bikes take the same tact and really don't stop either. So a pedestrian is as likely to get run over by a bus, car or a bike. On my way to school last week, I was the witness to a bike V car accident which may have been my fault. I was walking along the bike path and a car was travelling behind me, waiting for access to an offramp to the elevated highway along our road. A bike was travelling up the on-ramp (wrong way), swerved and hit the car head-on. I just kept on walking to the subway stop believing that the biker was looking at me as if to say: "Why is that white girl here in Beijing?" and not the road. When I told Miles I was apprehensive about biking in Beijing, he just told me that I should do it and it was "inevitable" for me to bike. So, Ms. Xiao offered me her bike and I will try it out this weekend. Wish me luck!!

Posted by msarich 04:25 Archived in China Tagged transportation Comments (0)

Everyday living in Beijing

Routine, routine, routine

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View Beijing in 4 months on msarich's travel map.

Everyday, the Zhang family gets up at about 7-8am and shares breakfast together. Right now, just about everyone in China is on holiday so this time is a bit later for them to get up. Typically the Zhangs do not have breakfast together. Ms. Xiao has made something different for breakfast everyday. We have had eggs in one form or another...fried and hard-boiled to today there was a kind of soup with eggs and sweet fermented rice with rice balls. It was good. There is also some kind of bread and I have tea, but the Zhangs have warm milk with honey which they drink out of a bowl. A popular treat we have had has been fermented tofu which is salty and used on the bread as a spread. A little goes a long way here....it is good, but very salty.
After breakfast, Mr.Zhang and I usually talk about the US and differences in economic policies, manufacturing and travel. Mr. Zhang and I have lots in common...photography and travel being two main ones, computers, business and world affairs being some others. I have really enjoyed my conversations with Mr.Zhang and it helps to broaden my perspective of the world and China in particular.
After breakfast, Miles will study. I always ask him what he is studying: Chemistry, math, English....he is studying for the TOEFL exam and even the SAT. Miles will come to the US in September with the Jingshan exchange. I told him that I would try to get him into the PSAT. He said he did not feel ready for the SAT, yet. I keep teaching him SAT-like words all the time: Spontaneous, epicurius, gastronomic. Miles' vocabulary is already really good, he knows cetacean!, that I am embarrassed about my own infantile knowledge of Chinese vocabulary.
After breakfast, I typically try to catch up on my blog. Fortunately, Mr. Zhang works in the wireless division of his company, so we have wireless (Thanks dad for letting me bring the computer!!) in the house. It works ok in my room, but better in the living room. So I sit at a desk and type, upload pics and check on the American students. Ms. Xiao does housework and loves to read the paper in this great sunny spot in the apartment by a huge picture window and Mr. Zhang will do work on his computer. It is a lovely, relaxing time and I feel transported back to the time when I lived with my family and all I had to concentrate on was my homework.
We have been eating out so much and have had plans everyday that it has been hard to settle into a routine. Once school starts, on the 16th, the routine will become common-place. The past two days have been lounging days with an easy, relaxed pace. After dinner, my host parents watch CCTV1 news because this is the best government news and it shows everything they need to know from the day. Yesterday (Thursday 1/29) Ms.Xiao was watching this Chinese tv show that takes place in the 1920s? and even though I have no idea what is going on, I'm interested. I just make up the story line in my head and imagine what the characters are all about. Chinese TV shows last longer than in the US and the commercials are at the hour breaks for about 10 min or so. This show is about 2 hrs long. Ms. Xiao watches it everyday and is hooked. It is like the soap operas in the US where it is on everyday, except it is during primetime.
So my family has been taking very good care of me and Ms. Xiao makes sure I have enough to eat. When I am working at my desk, she brings me and Miles a kiwi each for a snack. The Zhangs have really welcomed me into their home and made me feel at home. Ms.Xiao brings me around the grocery stores and buys stuff that I should try. I do eat everything. and I mean everything. Tonight for dinner, we had noodles and chicken stomach along with bamboo. I am determined not to miss out on anything.

Posted by msarich 17:43 Archived in China Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

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