Wednesday, August 19, 2009


So basically, for a month in China, I had no facebook, no blogger, and very little internet. What I did have, was food, family, and INCREDIBLE FUN! But with what internet I did have, I sent a series of emails, numbered with thoughts and observations on the motherland. Now that Im back, and battling a vicious case of jet lag, I figure my time is best used updating said blog.

Email 1:

Thought maybe you wouldn't mind hearing a few thoughts of mine as my first of four weeks in China draws to a close.. Forgive the mass-email format of the letter, please!!

1) My internet access has been sparse and spotty. For this reason, I havent quite been good about sending emails. I'd love to know what you're thinking and doing and what not!

2) Public transit is..wonderful. Getting on a bus or train in Beijing now gives me quite the feeling of being in New York City-- its easy breezy and beautiful to zip off to various locales. Knowing the language is a plus..thanks to all those years in Chinese school. I think I'll try to spend a day just riding buses. Plus, now it's incredibly easy with digital cards that you can just swipe! Obviously my dad is very worried about this since he still thinks Im a dumbass. One of the more wonderful things about Beijing is its general respect for the elderly. I almost cried on the bus one day when I saw someone offer their seat to an old man. There's a certain sweet nostalgia about older Chinese people-- maybe the way they joke about poverty, or gap toothed smiles, and still-wide eyes. It's a knowing, and a sincerity and depth that people can only exude when theyre quite young, or very old.

3) In the summer, Beijing sees a number o
f intensely cathartic summer rains, where the sky will ferociously outburst torrents of rain and then quit-- almost like a child when he first falls down. It wails for maybe 15 minutes and then its as if the clouds get distracted. Maybe I'm getting older, but I find it quite moving. Other than those (which provide for pretty cool air), it's been sticky. Stick-to-your-ribs type sticky. I used to wonder why my relatives weren't big on hugs. (As you know, Im a champion hugger!) I now have come to believe that its always a combination of things-- among them disgust for intense heat and adhesive sweat. Makes sense.

4) Don't worry too much for me, b
ut from the first full day we were in Beijing, I have had at least one alcoholic beverage. Its a pain to explain to restaurants that you want ice cold water, (that of which is a given in the States as you know) so "beer" is just as easy to say. I've also managed to imbibe some Chinese red wine-- which is abnormally sweet, and something called "er guo tou" --distilled from sorghum. Something like 46% alcohol. In my book, just a bit short of rubbing alcohol. And with liquor comes immense amounts of food.. seafood, innards, etc-- It makes me wonder and quite worry about the cholesterol levels of Chinese people. Or at least, rich Chinese people. Here, Grandpa and I are sharing our first of many beers.

5) Food is so manageable price wise that it seems economically dumb not to eat. My favorite stuff however, is still the street food.. equivalent to the pretzels, hotdogs and hallal of NYC. I've taken a number of pictures just of the dishes I've eaten. I've managed to develop a taste for frog. :)

6) Something bothersome-- it seems that this younger generation of Chinese people (in Beijing, at least) carry a most intensely self righteous sense of entitlement. I've discussed this a bit with an uncle of mine and we made mention of the fact that people born after 1980 in China are all only children. All sights: fiscal, emotional, etc are set on this one kid- in regard to getting into college, and having their success realized. There's an immense pressure, and it maybe translates into other
spheres as well. At the Shanghai airport, I waited well over 20 minutes standing at a station to check my email while people absolutely ignored any semblance of a line. 4/5 of these people on the computers were kids who were playing World of Warcraft. I notice this too in a cousin of mine too. Maybe it comes from their parents' generation, having to share everything. I think there needs to be some sort of social volunteering initiative in China. I'll think more about this one and report back.

7) On dancing. Apparently Argentine tango is not a big thing in Beijing. A contact of mine said that it was a community of maybe 100, most of whom are foreigners. Not that I mind, of course. I'm going to my first Beijing milonga on Saturday, I hope. Dancing, or rather, social partnered dancing, is not something terribly ingrained into mainland culture of the Han Chinese (meaning, there are a number of minority groups who do it from a young age)..which is probably why I took to Middle Eastern and Latin American cultures so easily. I think I'll try to go to a salsa thing outside too, this weekend. I'll have to see about the hip swiveling abilities of my countrymen!

8) Haggling. Ah. Well-- It's hard not to. After 4 years of college and learning about outsourcing and witnessing how poor people can be-- I had resolved to not haggle, and just pay the price given. But it seems as much a cultural thing as an economic thing. I've managed to become pretty good at it, over the years. Wonderful.

9) My parents and I have taken walks just about every morning in Beijing- its just about the only time that we can, (such that the temperature is bearable). It's pretty spectacular. Interestingly, I bump heads with my father much more than I have with my mother (not literally) this trip.

10) Went on a run in Beijing in the morning-- it doesnt seem like something that a lot of people do. I really dont generally like running-- but in urban settings it can be incredibly enlivening. On really hot days, I do some yoga and manage to perspire profusely without trying-- its a spectacular season for sweating!

11) Tomorrow Im going to walk around with the nice people from the radiation oncology department at the cancer hospital where my mother and grandmother worked. I imagine I'll have a lot to learn about patient care in a different cultural situation, and cant wait!

12) I've been waking up at 4AM. Just about every day. One of these days we'll go to Tiananmen Square and watch the soldiers hoist the flag up. That's about the only time I feel safe enough to ride a bike in Beijing.

Other than that, Im doing quite well. Usually I break out in hives, but thanks to a spectacular suggestion from a certain doctor friend of mine, I have been pretty okay. Mosquitos seem to have bothered me less this year than most. I'm getting used to being around such a large extended family and focusing on eating everything I possibly can! Will return to you a blimp! :D

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