Spring 2005

Posted by Matthew Corcoran on 11/4/2014

Spring 2005

(Rebecca Razulis, student)

This past week the whole group has had a chance to explore China more through independent travel experiences with host families and wandering around the endless hutongs and side roads of Beijing. I have been busy with both kinds of exploration during the Spring Festival. The Spring Festival started February 8 and is a constant time of fireworks and banquet dinners with extended family in celebration of the new year.

The Chinese New Year is a holiday celebrated passionately here in the capital. It is a time for families to get together to eat and (naturally) do karaoke. My family spent New Year's Eve driving between apartments where relatives were waiting for us. During allthe driving,we circled Tiananmen Square, beautifully lit for photos.

The following day my family and I left Beijing and drove two hours to a small village in the countryside.We stopped in a field and visited the graveof my host father's great grandfather before going into the village and meeting my hostfather's distant relatives for the first time. We bought fireworks and set them off and sat down for a lunchof freshly grown vegetables and an assortment of meats. The Chinese countryside is exactly as it sounds: barren land with small brick homes built on top. Most of these homes lacked doors and were shielded from the heavy wind by a thin piece of cloth . People live in close contact with the livestock they raise and, needless to say, indoor plumbing is non existant. Despite all these adjustments, my family and I were greeted with such kindness that made out trip to the countryside unforgettable.

The next day we drove to the outskirts of Beijing where we stayed at a resort with my host father's co-workers and their families to celebrate the New Year.We ate at a traditional Chinese banquet and then went to a karaoke bar.I have learned that even when the list of songs forthe karaoke clubs do not include English language songs,there are always two songs that can be requested: the theme from Titanic and Edelweiss(bothof which arealways requested on my behalf and I am forced to sing). After (what felt like) hours, we went outside the gates of the resort and set off pounds and poundsof explosives. The fireworks we set off were more impressive than those on the fourth of july. The next morning the whole party drove to a ski resort and hit the slope (the resort had one chairlifeand thousands of eager chinese skiiers). We got in two runs beforeheading home for Beijing.

The chaos of New Years has not yet ceased. I still go to sleep to the ring of fireworks bursting mid air and wake up periodically through the night to the same snap crackle pop.School begins on monday and each american student will have to recite (from memory) an introductory speechto the student body and faculty of the Jingshan School.With all the traveling it has been easy to long for some form of consistancy here and the start of school should prove to be just that, even though i might make a fool of myself during my brief speech.

Feb 6

(Martha Moyer, teacher)

Why I love my location

I love it here so much primarily because my district has not been "Americanized." Where my friends are staying they are surrounded by Department stores, the Gap, McDonalds, KFC, Star-bucks...Bill-boards, kind of like Time-Square. And the class-ism is more apparent.

Where I am everyone seems more what I would expect from the traditional Chinese setting. My host Mother has worn the same wool brown sweater everyday this week. My host sister wears her school uniform every day.

The children in the neighbor hood wear the quilted traditional warm clothes. The old men wear the baggy pants and long down jackets and pull heavy carts attached to one-speed bikes. Food is sold on the street (I never buy it)

Another reason I love it where I am staying is because my host Mama and host sister and I laugh a lot and connect well. Host Mama¡¯s father was an Actor, and her husband is an Actor, so she is pretty animated and funny and I feel relaxed and animated and we all have belly laughs every day.

And there is something enjoyable for me to live where you can only run one water faucet at a time. We have to juggle around shower schedules. And God forbid someone flushes the toilet before someone wants to take a shower, because that means it will be about 15 minutes at least before the shower will be the warm (scalding hot actually) The plumbing is something they are very proud of, but I gotta tell you there is a lot of duct tape in this dwellingAlso, my family are starving artists, so they think and constantly study practice and read and draw and paint and they don¡¯t waste time sitting around beautifying themselves and watching t.v.


Tap dancing

Yesterday Host Mama said I looked like I needed a nap, but I said, "I need exercise" and I went outside with Jane to the park where Kids were playing basket-ball and out-door pin-pong (with bricks lined up for a net) she jumped rope while I tap-danced. Thank goodness I could find a place where the surface was smooth. Jane jumped for 30 minutes like it was as easy as sleeping. It was a huff and puff for me, since it has been a while. According to Jane I attracted a lot of attention, but the Chinese have a way of staring at you and you NOT knowing it. I felt much more awake after my work out.

When we came inside Mama wanted to teach me how to use the keys and take a walk to the gorcery store. The three of us walked A FREEZING cold walk.

You'd think tap would have warmed me up. But no!

At the super- market

all the doors have rubber strips you pass through, like at a meat market. I suppose that helps keep out the wind. The first floor of the grocery store is a restaurant. Host Mama ordered lots of vegetables. and Bean porridge. During lunch Mama wanted to know how My Baba was. And I said that he wants me to learn to speak Chinese. (Whether that is true or not makes no difference, if they think MY DAD wants me to learn, I figured they'd start to help me more.) I continued to explain, "He thinks that it is an extremely important language to know and he wants me to learn as much as possible while I am here." Jane argued, "No! English is the most important language!"

I said, "Well in America some people believe that things are changing politically and economically so many Americans believe that we need to know Chinese just as much." She translated all of that to her Mama. Her Mama said a lot in Chinese. Jane's translation was, "Mama says First your speech, first write your name, then she will be your Mama teacher."

The grocery store has three maybe four levels. Mama took me all over and pointed, just so that I would know where to get supplies, and have independence I suppose. I even saw where I could get fire-crackers!!!!

Wow! Everything was Cheap and if it wasn't cheap enough Host Mama complained loudly "Tai quaile!" Even in regular super-markets one can bargain. She went up and down EVERLY isle, shops much like my brother Tom does. Looking thinking shaking her head putting it back...

Baba's play

The theatre is the most famous in Beijing, "The Beijing Peoples Arts Theatre." The play was a controversial drama. it took place in a garden, several generations through the cultural revolution to present and since I could only pick up a few words I marveled at the set and how there were homes in the back ground of the main scene with curtains in the windows candles and shadows of people moving, like a real neighborhood. And I also noticed the details of the scrim and how at the beginning of the play the sky was blue and the plants looked healthy, and by the end the sky was smoggy and every thing looked like it was dying. I think that was one of the points to the drama. There were reporters and camera crew taking video clips. And the actors were interviewed.

I suppose this Theatre would compare to The American Repertoire theatre, but I think MUCH more talent and more money goes into it. It seats 1500 with lots of leg room.

Baba phoned today, and since they saw my garden pictures and he knows I like flowers, he wanted me to know that he got lots of flowers last night and he is going to give them to me. How kind.

What I don't understand, is why he doesn't live here when he is in a play. The show will run 90 days, then he will come home for a bit and go off and do other work.

I wish I could write shorter notes, but that takes editing, which I don't have the time for.

Much love to ALL


P.S.

You know one can actually pick up a lot of words quickly without help when you just listen. We were going up and down an elevator, and I chuckled, jeeesh, all one would have to do is ride the elevator for a bit and then you know how to count. I've struggled so much with the number seven and nine. The nuances are similar. And it is easier to figure out your way around and directions too when your in a foreign country because you are looking at everything and you see the landmarks.

Feb 3

(Renata DeLellis, teacher)

yesterday was a big day because it was the first time since i arrived that i ventured out on my own. my first trip was a walk to the bank to get chinese money, called yuan, in exchange for my american traveler's checks. you get about 8 yuan for 1 american dollar. i entered the bank and went right to the teller's window, which i soon learned was not the correct proceedure. one of the tellers directed me back to the front door of the bank to take a numbered ticket and wait until my number was called. i was a little confused because 8 tellers were standing behind the counter helping 2 or 3 people! eventually my turn came around and i got the money.

i left the bank searching for a phone card that would call the united states. i stopped by a hotel and asked if they sold phone cards. they didn't, but directed me to a local supermarket. i used as much chinese as i knew to explain that i needed to buy a phone card that could call the united states (meiguo). about three different women tried to help me figure it all out. i finally bought the phone card and headed out to use it. unfortunately, i coudn't figure out how to use it as the recording on the phone was mostly in very fast chinese. so, i went back to the hotel and asked for some more help. about three more people tried to help me, but to no avail. i was feeling a little frustrated at this point. this situation reminded me of how much more chinese i need to learn in order to communicate effectively with people!

i wanted to stop back home, to make sure i could find my home. turn left at the red lanterns, i thought to myself. however, red lanters, i learned, are not a very distinctive landmark to use during chinese new year, because there are so many of them everywhere! i finally found my way back home and tried to use my set of keys to open the front door.

after a few tries, i finally got it!

next, i took a walk to wanfujing street, where i had visited with my sister a few days ago. this time i was doing it by myself, so i paid very close attention to where i was going. i met many chinese (english speaking) art students along the way who wanted to chat in english and show me their art work. i chatted a bit, declined on the art work offers, and walked on. i finally arrived at a gigantic mall where i bought some things i needed (like kleenex!). some of the stores in the mall were familiar to me, but many weren't. i walked by many tables of people selling bright red chinese new year decorations, chinese candy, nuts, and other items. after my mall excursion, i returned home. and guess who was barking at me?!

back to the phone situation. my homestay dad knew i was having trouble with the phone and insisted (he even dialed!) that i call my parents number on his cell phone. after a few unsuccessful attempts, i finally reached my parents and asked them to call me back here in beijing. it was great to finally talk to them in person. as i spoke to them, i learned that my homestay parents have a pot full of large, bright orange goldfish next to their bed. i watched the fish swim around as i shared my chinese experiences with my parents on the other side of the world.

we had another great dinner at home last night (a whole chicken, a whole fish, pork and pepers, cabbage, rice, and tofu soup), followed buy a dessert of fruit (starfruit and green apples cut up into small pieces and skewered with toothpicks). some relatives came over to visit us after we ate dinner. my sister and i visited their home for a few hours. we ate delicious pieces of papaya and dragon fruit at there. dragon friut is red on the outside and white with black seeds on the inside. eating it reminds me a little of what it would be like to eat a white kiwi fruit. i liked it.

when we returned, i found a green, frog-shaped humidifier spewing moist, cool air into my bedroom sitting on my floor. my homestay mom is worried that i am coughing (there is quite a bit of air pollution here) and thinks this will help. i think i like having a big, plastic frog on my bedroom floor! anyway, i was very tired by the time we got home and went right to...sleep.

my homestay dad has told me that he wants to take me to a hot spring and to go skiing this weekend, so you may not hear from me for a few days.

know that i'll be having many adventures that i'll share with you when i get back from my trip.

Feb 1

(Jared Zeizel, student)

Day #2, Journal #1

Wow a lot of Chinese people. Though it doesn't feel that weird. It kind of reminds of a mix between my Grandma's house and Chinatown. I live right next to this street that is similar to Times Square. It's a filled with huge malls, giant billboards, various banks, Americanized stores, and other places of interest.

Note: I saw a store called Hoso. It was filled with clothes for the kids who are into retro 80's, post 90's pop-punk, Seth Cohen, Bandwagon jumping, and other rebelling in a sensitive-way styles. If that doesn't make any sense, then it is a shop for the coffee-drinking kids of SoHo, NY, NY. This all brings me to the question, did the creators of the store Hoso, get the name SoHo mixed-up?

Today (Monday, Feb. 1st) me and Shane (Shane and I if you want to be proper) explored this central shopping area. We did the following things in no particular order: ate, exchange money at the bank, looked around. What I found interesting was the amount of art students trying to sell us art. For some particular reason they were only going after Westerners. Well, they only got us once. As we were leaving a mall, some "dude" started talking to us. He asked us our names, where we were from, if we were on holiday, etc.

At first we just thought he wanted to practice English. He then invited us to an art gallery. Thats when I started to ponder if he was going to sell us something. We had nothing better to do so we decided to go. As we were walking he said that he was going to write our Chinese names in calligraphy.

Bam! That sealed the deal. He was going to sell us something. But I didn't fret, like they said in D.A.R.E., "just say no." So after about 15 min. of looking at some really nice art, our new-found "friend" started to ask us which piece of art we liked the best. We told him a couple and he "suggested" that we buy it. Shane was smart, he said that he had no money.

I said that all I had was American money. He told that they accept that...Damn. I continued with the excuse in a dialogue similar to this:
Me: But I only have a small amount.

Him: That's ok, we make bargain.

Me: How much? (Not that I was going to buy any, but I needed to procrastinate.)

Him: 60

Me: In Yuan?

Him: Yes, but it's $8 in U.S.

Me: Oooo...not bad (once again, procrastinating) (Side Note: If it was $8 U.S., then it should have been 64 yuan. What happened to the 4 yuan in the currency exchange. Those 4 yuan are my 50 cents and I don't wanna lose that.)

Me: I can come back in a couple of days, with more money. (Not that I was going to, I just wanted to get out of there) Him: We will be closed in three days.

Me: Ooo...well i'll have to return before then.

Him: You come back to day, ok?

Me: Sure.

Him: Ok, see you in two hours.

Me: Sounds good, see you in two hours. (See you ... never)

After that me and Shane had our laugh, of how we kind of got conned. We promised that we would never get ourselves into that rut again. Through next 45 min. we ran into two more Art Students. We politely said that we were not interested. Though they kept nagging at us. We finally told them that we had to go meet some people. (A day full of white lies.) We discussed the rudeness and decided to make it interesting. First plan of attack say we are form a different country. A non-english speaking country. For what ever reason we chose Germany. (Ironically German, based on word structure and grammar, is the closest to English.) Sure enough, no more then 20 min later, we are approached by another Art Student. Like all of the other Art Students, he starts by asking where we are form. I say, in a really bad, Gov. of California-inspired German accent: we are from Germany. He says excellent, then says something in German. Shoot. This kid knows German.

Then he switches back to English. Whew. Keeping up the crappy German accent, I once again explain that we have to go somewhere. After attack number one failed we brain stormed on what language no one in Beijing knew. Our end result: American Sign Language. "What country are you from?" Show-time. I turn to Shane and Shane turns to me, and for about 5 seconds we put our make-shift signing to use. The guy continues to ask, "Where are you from?" Repeat. A couple more rounds of this and he starts to ask us if we need help. Crap. This guy doesn't think we are deaf, he thinks we're in need of some sort of medical assistance. Trying not to break character, I mouth "We can't speak." Of course he ask us once again, "Do you need help?" I don't blame the guy, we probably look ridicules, but this guy just doesn't get. So I just say "good-bye" and walk away.

The rest the day was fairly uneventful. A police officer told us not to go down some run-down alley; we went home; I set-up my computer; I realized things I forgot at home, I realized things that I should have left at home; I started writing this journal entry.