Spring 2002

Posted by Matthew Corcoran on 8/14/2014

This diary chronicles the experiences and reflections of Newton's Spring 2002 Jingshan Exchange group, which was in Beijing from February 4th until June 1, 2002.

Leaving Logan
Spring 2002 Jingshan Group leaving Boston's Logan Airport
(Left-to-right: Andrew Yousef, Richard Shum, Nate DeLong, Another NNHS student, Steve Ford, and Laura Mayer)

Monday, February 4, 2002

(Steve/Mr. Ford)

It’s my first morning in China, 6:30 am. I can hear members of my family up and about preparing for their day. It’s still dark outside but I can already hear some cars on the roads and when I look out my bedroom window I can see a few people walking along the street and even more riding bicycles. I wonder what this day will be like for me. I’m looking forward to walking around my neighborhood to get a feel for where I’m living.

Tuesday, February 5

(Steve)

Went to fax an important document at the post office. No problems. Went to the police station to get my residency card. Problems. Apparently, even though my host family has been living in their apartment for a year now, the police still have it registered to the family that lived there before they did. I can’t legally stay here until my host father’s hospital writes a letter stating that this is where they live. Who knows how long this may take.

Found the electrical outlet to recharge my camera batteries. No problems. Plugged it in. Problems! (How many times will this theme repeat itself?!) Just blew out a fuse and apparently this whole floor of apartments, from the commotion I hear in the hallway. I also fried the electrical component to my recharger. Guess that voltage converter I got on sale was worth every penny! Now the battery on my computer is running low. No way I’m plugging it in until I figure out this electricity debacle.
Just got back from walking to the bank down the street to exchange money. Bank of China is very close by. Had my passport, driver’s license, etc. No problem. My pen ran out of ink while I was signing my traveler’s check. Problem. They had to have 3 people check all my I.D., look at me for long periods of time, then talk quietly among themselves before someone decided I could have my money. Stopped at a small market (a wedge in a wall, really, with a sliding glass window in it). Wanted a bottle of water. No problem. Paid 2 Yuan for it. Problem. I don’t know if I paid 50 cents for this water or 50 dollars! I’ve got to get this money thing straight before I pay 100 dollars for a chocolate bar. OK…got it now. It is about 8 Yuan to the dollar. That means this one liter bottle of water costs only 25 cents. Got to go back for more water at that price!

Wednesday, February 6

(Steve)

Walked around the outer ring of the Forbidden City yesterday afternoon as the sun was setting. I was filled with very strong emotions at being here. A military group was drilling and practicing for the taking down of the flag at sunset. My host brother said that the raising and lowering of the flag are things I must see. He also said that at sunset the emperor in the Forbidden City would cry because he knew that one day his reign must end but that in the morning he would be happy because he was given a new day to reign. There is a large deep blue rectangular painting that hangs high over the entrance to the inner walls of the city. It is there to invoke a sense of awe among the common people just as looking out at the horizon on the ocean makes it difficult sometimes to tell where the ocean ends and the sky begins. This represents that the emperor is the center of all things sky and earth ­ and that both come to meet him here.

We could not find a good spot to watch the lowering of the flag so we walked around the Forbidden City by way of the moats. We had a very long walk along narrow streets with all kinds of shops and alleyways leading into hutongs. The spirit of the Spring Festival is really building in the city and it is exciting to walk the streets and “feel” the anticipation!

Thursday, February 7

(Steve)

I just got hooked up to the internet (Ed.: This was actually Steve's first e-mail) and wanted to let you know personally that I'm alive and well here in Beijing as are all members of our group. We will be meeting together today at Ditan Park to check in with each other. I'm sending along the first picture I took in China. This little girl was helping hang lanterns outside a police station on a narrow alley. The second picture is my view from my bedroom window of the North Gate of the Forbidden City with the mountains in the background that harbor the Great Wall and the Ming Tombs. This is an amazing experience. I can't believe I'm here. More later ...

Monday, February 11 and Tuesday, February 12

(Steve Ford)

New Year's Eve in China. Welcoming the year of the horse. The fireworks have been going off since sundown. Now it is midnight and the city of Beijing is trembling with the concussions of fireworks. Everywhere I look from this 7th floor balcony overlooking the Temple of Heaven, the night sky is filled with bright flashes of light. In the distance it looks like an entire summer’s worth of heat lightning is erupting, reflecting off the clouds and buildings. These are not little bottle rockets and sparklers but the real thing that you see over the Charles River on the 4th of July. They are being set off from rooftops and courtyards, street corners and hutongs. The blasts are so loud nearby that car alarms are going off, adding to the din that is made to drive demons away. At times the sound drowns out conversations that we are having with one another on the balcony. On the streets below people are streaming out of their homes and apartments with steaming platters of dumplings to bring to neighbors.

Forty-five minutes later. This city-wide display has been going on so long now that I no longer jump when a blast goes off right outside my window. The sound is like a gigantic clap of thunder that refuses to relinquish its power. More people are joining in the celebration in the streets and while I can’t believe it is possible the noise is continuing to grow. Do they have a cannon next door? If this is what happens on New Year’s Eve in a city with a ban on fireworks then I can’t imagine what the sights and sounds would be like with an official sanction.

1:30 am and I am still so excited from the evening that I can’t fall asleep. The sky is still erupting with fireworks. There aren’t as many people on our street now and the car alarms have stopped going off. There is a constant rumble in the background with staccato bursts of gunpowder (that ancient concoction first made here many hundreds of years ago) erupting in the foreground. It is like a symphony for drums. I will keep my bedroom curtains open and watch the reflecting light of the fireworks dance off the ceiling walls as I try and fall asleep.

6:00 am. Can it be? Yes. Fireworks are still going off. What a day this will be!!

(Pictures: Here are a few more pictures of the New Year's/Spring Festival, taken on the first day of the Festival. The first is of the temple gate at the Taoist temple called Baiyunguan Si (White Cloud Temple). Part of the festivities include eating dumplings and dressing in fine traditional clothing like this little child has on. Red lanterns hang from almost anything that will support them: shop windows, doorways, rear view mirrors, and trees.)

(Laura Mayer)

Last night was New Year's Eve/ Spring Festival Eve. During the day we shared our meals, with Emily, my host daughter/sister, being the conduit and reason for our conversations being as fluid as they are. I cannot mention enough, how warm, generous, gracious and fun this family is. We enjoyed some traditional rice cakes for breakfast which we shopped for at 10 the night before. One cake, which is really a sticky flat orange colored rectangle, is made from peas but has a taste reminiscent of yam. Another cake name translates into donkey roll, because its rolled pinwheel design is reminiscent of a donkey rolling on the ground.

There seems to be a related aspect of their written and oral languages, as well as these traditional cakes they all share the common element of having a lot going on within a small, constrained space. Written: a lot is going on within the confines of the space allotted for a calligraphic character. Auditory: the tones add subtle variations to pronunciation within the confined space of an utterance. For my unpracticed eye and ear I have to concentrate to distinguish the subtleties contained in these limited spaces. Also, with these traditional cakes, the gustatory differences are subtle. As I improve in distinguishing each taste from the other, there seems to be an entire little gustatory world within each cake.

After a lunch of warm winter melon soup, a tofu dish and a savory carrot vinegar dish, the dad and I returned to the flower market to buy two perfect pots of 4 orchid plants each. I could be quite happy waking up some morning in that market, surrounded by such beauty. Although there are a few plants that are new to my eye, for the most part we have the same plants available in the United States — Holland bulbs, etc. (by the way, I’ve also enjoyed gala apples, granny smiths, and grape tomatoes here).

After returning home, we napped a little and then drove to grandmother’s (mother's side) apartment for New Year's dinner. Grandma, a retired surgeon (grandpa passed 2 years ago), had prepared the fillings for the dumplings. A round table was set up within the small living room area and we all gathered around making dumplings, my early attempts being defective (I volunteered to eat them later). Eventually I got the hang of it. The edge has to be just the right thickness and the finished shape has a specific requirement as well. It was very interesting to watch the mom prepare the small perfect circles of dough for the dumplings, maybe 200 of them, each individually hand rolled in rhythm: the left hand turning the flattened dough ball, the right hand pressing and rolling with a small rolling pin…the hundreds of dumpling skins made uniform in size and thickness in a steady rhythm, while chatting ...

Friday, February 15

(Steve)

Just went to the post office by myself and sent mail back to the States. Used Chinese to do it too! Then I had a nice walk down an alley of shops that opened into an large market square. I had fun looking around at what I guess was a flea market. On my way back I stopped in a camera store and bought another batter re-charger for my camera, one that will work on 220 volts. I had been shopping around for one and new that this was the best price so I bought one, again using Chinese to do it. I have to work on a few phrases at a time and practice them on my walks to the shops, restaurants, taxi stands, etc. and although my intonation is very poor I am making myself understood and that is a good feeling.

On the way back home I saw my first bike accident. Two men in suits were riding together talking when a car hit the outside bike. The man went flying head over heels. The driver got out, saw that the man riding the bike had a cut on his head and gave him a handkerchief. The bicyclist’s companion didn’t even do anything. Neither did two police officers that were standing and watching the whole thing. Bikes and taxis swerved around the scene. The two men involved looked first at the bike, then at the front bumper of the car, then the driver got back in his car and drove off. A nearby bike repairman had walked over by this time and helped the man walk his bike a few feet away where the mangled back tire was replaced in a matter of minutes. By this time the cyclist had stopped bleeding, his suit had been brushed off, his back tire was replaced and he and his companion rode off down a side street laughing and talking as they had been before the accident. No shouting. No punching. No police. No lawyers. No multi-million dollar lawsuits. It was all very civil and over faster than I’ve seen lunch ordered for 4 people.

I’m fascinated with the culture of bikes here in Beijing. A great deal of thought and effort has been made to continue to accommodate bikes in the city. Bike lanes are found on major streets, smooth ramps are available on highway over and underpasses to allow for bikes to be walked smoothly on stairways, and people will sit and attend to bike parking lots for just a few cents. Bikes are used not just for transportation, but also to sell food, deliver pizza (notice group member Richard Shum contemplating a career as a Domino’s Pizza bicycle delivery boy!), and to collect compost material. (Pictures of bikes 1, 2, 3)

(Laura)

A brief note to mention that yesterday's original plan was to go shopping with the mom's brother, but about 30 min before we were going to depart I learned that we were going to the Lamasary (Tibetan Buddhist) which was just fine with me, although I had been there on my first trip. It was still very wonderful to be in the numerous courtyards and see the various Budda sculptures...including one that stands 18 meters high plus 9 meters(?) below ground, and is carved out of a single piece of sandalwood! the building was built around the statue.

Also in the Lamasary is a small building dedicated to butter flowers and other sculpture depicting historical scenes all constructed of butter. At first I thought it was a misspelling...Butter Flowers for Butterflies...but no..there were indeed flowers made of dyed butter(!) with sculptural foundations made of straw. Can't imagine how it lasts through the summer heat!

From the Lamasary, we headed over to the oldest mosque in Beijing, dating back to 966, and still a functioning mosque for the Hui people (Moslems). To get there, we travelled on a 21st-century-type road, parked the car and entered by foot through a dilapidated fence. All was suddenly quiet and we were on a dirt road, seeing vendors selling fruits and vegetables from their mule drawn carts. ..a sudden and striking time warp.

Feeling a little culturally fractured, the mom had a delicious pigs' feet soup waiting for us when we arrived home. I was told that many Chinese do not actually eat the feet, although some do, so I felt I was off the hook. A classmate of Emily's joined us for dinner and he gave us a demonstration of his shadow boxing practice...which is a form of chi gong...very powerful and beautiful to watch.

Steve and his host brother, Jimmy, came to this home after dinner and we all sat around the table enjoying lively conversation, snacks and a little Bailey's Irish Cream....definite wrong move for Jimmy.

Today, in keeping with the heavy family visit schedule of the holiday celebration, we joined the dad's elder brother, his family and the grandparents for lunch at a restaurant. Check out this lunch: spare ribs, a barbequed beef dish with sunny side egg on top, a delicious beef soup, cowerie meat with wasabi, a squid, shrimp, tofu and peanut dish, shredded pickled tofu dish, some small sesame breads filled with sesame paste, and finally...some fresh lettuce, cucumber and turnips. Finally... or so I thought. Then came out the roast Peking duck with requisite pancakes, sauce etc. Then a large round bread cut into large wedges, served with a very sweet vanilla sauce for dipping. Finished? Not quite. Out came a dish of fried pancakes filled lightly, with green onion. Then truly, finally, out came pork dumplings. I thought, for sure, they were serving all this food to the wrong room! But not so.
A portion of the family, including myself, drove to the Beijing Botanical Gardens, where, although quite large, many of the plants can also be found either in my very own Needham home or the Wellesley College greenhouse. One strange exception, though, was seeing the largest Suguaro cactus in China, from Arizona, right in front of me in the desert room.

One of the mom's co-workers is visiting right now, so I'll end this Diary portion for now, to participate in the visit.

Tuesday, February 26

(Steve)

The Peking Opera was an experience that I knew I should have but went to it with the same enthusiasm as I do going to get a root canal. What I expected was an evening of screeching voices, loud cymbals, and no action from the performers. What I got was an experience I can’t wait to repeat. Prior to the 3 operas performed, I was able to view the performers preparing their makeup (pictures 1 and 2). The shapes on the faces and the color of the makeup tell something about the character they play. It became clear to me that the people who perform in Peking Opera not only have to be established actors and singers, but superb athletes as well. The dancing and acrobatics that are required for a fine performance are beyond belief. Rather than sit and have an experience that I had to suffer through, it was one I applauded through in-between sips of Jasmine tea and bites of fresh fruit and light sesame cookies. It was one of my best evenings yet in Beijing. This type of opera is so much a part of the identity of Beijing that the faces of Peking Opera characters can be found on large balloons outside of temple fairs to the exhibitions put on by common street performers.

Monday, March 6

(Nate DeLong)

"China the Country vs. China the Town"

hey, guys.

you've probable been wondering what happened to me since i haven't written in a while, so here's the deal. the internet over here is not like it is in america, especially when dealing with american websites. if it's traveling overseas, it takes a while, and if it's really busy, the pipeline gets jammed. anyways, it's been taking me over an hour to get to the first page of my mail box, and i don't have the patience to try and go any further.

that aside, here's what i'm up to. Hip Hop has officially arrived in beijing. rich and i have formed a breaking crew that practices 2 times a day (watch out break-fast!) and along with the and1 mixtape that is circulating around school like a virus, i just bought a boombox so we can have music while we try crazy and1 moves in basketball games.

bargaining for everything here is awesome. really fun. i went back to the night market where i ate all those crazy foods, only this time i was wearing my school uniform and i bargained down every price. it turns out i had been paying 3 times as much as i should have been. the reason i didn't know was because it still seemed cheap to me. imagine, 3 whole scorpions for 2.50?!!! outrageous. i won't pay anything less than 1.20.

there is a market near temple of heaven park that is famous for its pirated merchandise. everything from stolen dvd and md and vcr players to leather jackets and brush paintings and electric razors and timberland boots, north face and nike and adidas and pearls and jade and swords and silk and pretty much anything you want to buy, all for negotiable prices (it didn't cost them anything). the police overlook it because it brings a lot of money into the city. it's funny to watch all these chump french people get suckered out of their money. not me though. the trick is not to think in terms of american dollars but to think in terms of chinese yuan. it's not hard if you're living here. 30 yuan is about 3.50, which seems like nothing for a box of 16 d batteries, but considering that the same amount of money will buy a friend and me lunch (2 number 1 value meals at mcdonalds) then it's worth it to bargain for.

i went to a couple cool places. first was xiang shan, or fragrant mountain. its a beautiful mountain 40 minutes north of beijing, and rises above the smog so the air is really clean. a lot of people go there to exercise, and it's beautiful with ancient temples and stuff. i went with my host mom, and we decided that from now on they aren't going to speak any english at all, ever. whenever they do, i just tell them that i can't understand. it's working out well, and already my chinese is improving.

later i went to gu gong, or the forbidden city as it's called in english. it's amazing. if you dont know, it's that conglomeration of buildings you always see in movies where the emperor lives, with the 9999 rooms and intricate carvings and roofs and courtyards. it's awesome. it's relatively young (built in the 1400's), but you still get the amazing sense of history. plus, from the high points, you can see the modern beijing around the walls, creating an interesting contrast.

after it, i went to the free market, and after separating from my teacher, decided to just walk. i started heading north from the south end of the city, and just walked for a few hours. i stopped in a cd store and was looking at some hip hop, and a young dude who worked there asked me about my musical tastes. he was surprised when i answered in chinese, and we got into a discussion of american Hip Hop. he said he really like wu tang, but he hadn't heard of biggie. i conveniently had my cd player, and gave him a sample. i think the big man got another fan.

i kept walking and every now and then i just started smiling because i realized that i was in the middle of the coolest city ever. Beijing vs China town? Beijing wins!!! a guy tapped me on the shoulder and wanted to practice english. he asked me questions about the "gay problem" as well as questions about public toilet use, etc. after dropping some liberal knowledge on him for 30 minutes, i set off again. eventually i wandered into a part of the city that i knew, and took a bus. the bus apparently wasn't the right bus and i got lost again. i took a cab home and had an awesome conversation with the cab driver.

today at school we had a kung fu class. i had to translate for the group and i was absolutely overjoyed when i could translate 90 percent of the esoteric dialogue. later though, i encountered a cultural difference that pisses me off to no end: in china, if people want to tell you something, they are either overly blunt or so vague that you have no idea what they're talking about. i was sitting in chemistry class. CHEMISTRY!!! AAAHH F--K!! and i was reading lord of the rings (nerd!) and this kid says, "nate, why do u never study chinese?"

this made me mad to no end. every day i read the dictionary (nerd!) and write down characters and talk to random people and don't allow people to speak english to me, and here this guy is telling me i'm a slacker. I take notes on my hands for god sakes!! my skin will probably fall off because both palms and both backsides are completely covered in pinyin pen notes. it pisses me off. but i judged their english contest later and took it out on them in the scores. (hehe. now who needs to study? :)

the day was saved when playing basketball, i put the ball through this dude's legs to rich, who went behind the back to me in the air, and i got it and did a 360 and tossed it off the backboard for the points. it was hot. then i went to buy the stereo. the bargaining was fun. she wanted about 30 dollars for a boombox, which is crazy, so and rich and i got her down to about 20, but she wouldn't go lower. we started to walk away and she dropped the price, but we wanted lower still and walked. the woman at the next booth had heard us bargaining and immediately gave us a good price which we took. it was cool.

anyways, i'd love to hear news from home, no matter how trivial it is, so what ever you're up to, let me know.

peace from the far east
nate

Tuesday, March 12

(Andrew Yousef)

Last Wednesday, I took the group on a tour through the Beijing Ancient Observatory, which I had been to the Saturday before. While a lot of things did occur to me between my first visit and the tour I gave specifically, questions about how the astronomers managed to notice so many celestial phenomena one thing never occurred to me until I came to reflect afterward. That is, I never saw a telescope in that place, nor read about any that the astronomers used. Now, I want whoever is reading this to stop and think for a second. Without any telescopes, these astronomers were able to track comets, with records of Halley's comet going back to the seventh century B.C., comet showers, meteors, supernovae and novae (one record of an important supernova dates back to 1054 A.D.), and many other phenomena.

That's quite a feat. I remember, when I wanted to see that comet that came a few years ago (Hale-Bopp, or something like that), it was only with a telescope that I could make out the comet; otherwise, I would have thought it was just another star, and searched in vain for some time. So, to think that people were able to make out all sorts of phenomena without any magnifying instruments or anything of the sort is quite amazing. However, the one thing that truly amazed me was the fact that the astronomers were able to detect sunspots. In fact, among other things, China has the oldest records of sunspots, with one dating back to a book written in 28 B.C. This really got me thinking, "How did they make out sunspots?" Obviously, looking at the sun would not only accomplish nothing, but would probably be a stupid idea. A telescope would not have helped even if they had one because it would not have been powerful enough. I imagine that they probably had boards with circular holes in them, so that the sunlight could pass through the hole onto some surface, much like a camera box. Then, by looking at that surface, they would essentially be looking at an image of the sun, and might be able to make out some sunspots. Right now, I am almost sure that was their method. But it is still pretty amazing that they knew about sunspots because I always thought that the discovery of sunspots was relatively recent and was only possible with satellite telescopes. So, if I stretch my definition of "relatively recent" to about 28 B.C., my original notion would have been partially correct.

However, to get back to my main point, I really like the observatory, and I recommend it for anybody whether s/he is planning or not to come to Beijing. If you definitely want to come to Beijing, come and see the observatory. If you definitely want to stay away from Beijing, come to Beijing and see the observatory. It's really a wonderful site.

As for other places I want to see or am planning to, I have quite a few on my list. Apparently, there is an art gallery-cafe, which seems to be pretty interesting. I am interested not only in old Chinese art, but also in modern (yeah, don't ask what's happened to me, for I thought I would never live to see the day that I would say I'm interested in any modern art), and so I hope to see this place. I also am aware that there is a puppet theatre very near where I live, and so that's another place on my list. I do not know quite where it is yet, but I hope that, with a bigger map than the one I have, I can find out, and drop by at one point. It would be the bomb seeing a show with shadow puppets, and, maybe if I am lucky, I will understand it (just to let you know, that possible dilemma did not occur to me until just now, and should add a twist to the experience). I am able to understand much more Mandarin now than when I first arrived, and am pushing hard in strengthening my grasp of the language. And so, those are the places that I want to see.

On Wednesday, I am going with the group to the Confucian temple. I am looking forward to that, but I hardly have any idea what to expect (so don't tell…I want to find out on my own). While I have learned about Confucius at school, I still don't know much about his philosophy in depth, and so I hope this visit will enlighten me somewhat.

As for any other places I'm going to, I really have no idea. I just plan to have my hands and feet guide me wherever, or maybe, I'll just pick a random spot on the map and go there, one day, to see what it's like. That's probably the best way to become very familiar with the city, and so I think I'll try that and see what I get out of it. In any case, till next week, yours truly, sincerely, and all the rest. (Andrew wrestling lion trash can; setting watches by sundial)

(A NNHS Exchange Student)

The last month has been amazing. I learned so much about Beijing and Chinese culture already. My host sister, Googie, and I get along really well and my host parents are wonderful cooks. I'm getting used to all the people, cars and buses and I'm starting to know my way around. My host sister's English is so good that I think I'm falling into that trap of avoiding Chinese. The group saw the Forbidden City last weekend and we've got another outing planned for next weekend to The Temple of Heaven. I like seeing the land marks, but I like being at school and feeling almost Chinese better than feeling like a tourist.

Sorry the group hadn't written you sooner, we'll be in touch more often from now on!

(Nate DeLong)

"Confucius Versus the Germans: The Ultimate Showdown"

On Sunday morning, I woke up at 10 and began to figure out my plans for reaching the Confucian Temple, or Kong Miao. I tried calling Steve but his line was busy, so I opted to try and figure it out my self. I checked the map, wrote the directions on the back of my hand, and set off.

The weather was beautiful, and my bike decided not break its self on the ride, thus making for a very pleasant trip. The first part of the trip was easy. I had arrived on AnDingMen and simply needed to find the road called GuoZiJian. I rode up and back on AnDingMen and couldn't find it. Finally I found a large wooden gate, done up old school style, with the Han zi going from right to left in big gold letters, stating Guo Zi Jian.

I turned down this street, and rode for a little ways. First I passed an old style structure, but I wasn't sure what it was. I rode past it slowly, acting like I knew exactly where I was going. Then I passed another one. I wasn't sure again, but there was a statue of a man who looked like The Man himself, so I parked my bike and walked back. I asked a soldier near by: "Kong Miao zai nali?" (where's the Temple) and he smiled. Then I looked up and saw the sign in English that said "Confucian Temple."

It took a few moments but I convinced the woman at the ticket counter that I was, in fact, a student at the JingShan school, and she only charged me 3 instead of 10. I walked in the gates and took in the scene. The first thing that I noticed, which Steve had told me about earlier, was the sense of quiet and peace. The constant rumble of the city is almost completely shut out, and there are even birds singing.

The second thing that I noticed was the sound of angry Germanic voices probably shouting about leiderhausen, and the stench of bratwurst. There were about 60 German tourists following a man waving a flag, all being loud and dressed in tight pants. They were being so loud that other people who were visiting were staring at them. I was worried that they might mar the experience, but they soon left through the gate and went back into the city to get lost and be overcharged. Suckaaaaahs!!! But I digress.

The Confucian Temple was originally part of the Imperial College, the first structure that I passed on GuoZiJian street. The Emperors used the temple to perform cermonies, and scholars studied there so that they could pass the Imperial Exam. On either side of the main internal gate, the Gate of Great Acheivment, there are giant stone steles containing 51, 624 names of scholars that passed the Imperial Exam during the Yuan, Ming, and Qing Dynasty.
 
The top part of the steles uses the old style of characters, so I guess that the scholars or artists that carved the steles had a very high literacy level. On the top of the stairs that go to the Gate of Great Achievement, there are stone "drums" on either side of the door. Each one weighs several hundred pounds. I know this because I spent about 3 minutes engaging in sensless macho activities by trying to lift it up.

The tops of each one have a poem written in old style characters (Keep in mind that "new" characters are still over 2000 years old) describing a hunting tale. Each was built in 1736 and are mimics of Qin Dynasty stone drums. There is a large drum that is elevated on a stand, that I at first thought was a water basin for fighting fire like in the Forbidden City, but in fact it was more of an "Introductory Drum" that was inscribed with the characters that read: "By the Emperor," even though he didn't write any of them.

Through the gate there are 11 pavillions. During the temple's active period, they were used for study. Now they each house statues. There is a larger building that houses temple and period relics, most of which are writings, but the captions are not in English so I couldn't figure out their meaning.

There is a very large building with one large room inside with a very high ceiling. It houses more relics but it was interesting to me because it seems to have been unmodified and stands as it did several hundred years ago.
 
A few of the statues in the pavillions are rather interesting, but to me the most impressive acheivment at the temple is called the "Forest of Steles". To reach it you have to walk to the back of the temple. I was pessimistic, as I assumed that the "forest" would be more like a shrubery, but I should have known. The Ancient Chinese didn't mess around.

Underneath a large protective hangar, there are 190 giant stone steles arrayed in rows. 189 containing over 600000 chinese characters and forming the 13 classics of Confucius, and one containing the order of their creation by the Emperor. I walked among them and was completely awed by the precision with which the daunting task was undertaken. The characters are each about an inch tall, and there are quite a few of them. Also, I was very impressed by the fact that of all 190 steles, only one had been noticeably repaired. The rest appeared to be in perfect condition.

I left the steles and went back to the main courtyard. The scene was so peaceful that I decided to sit there for a few minutes and just enjoy it. Eventually, I set back out into the smog and chaos of the city, dodging taxis and buses all the way home.

Friday, March 15

(Richard Shum)

There are times when people realize they need to change. For me, it was on Feb. 4 2002.

Beijing is fantastic. I gained 10 pounds since I landed here (see Richard after a foot massage and having a taste of "home"), and bought plenty of CDs for a bargain. I love this place. My host family is cool; they treat me like an adult now. But before they were too overprotective and wanted me home "early". I fixed that problem with the help of Steve and Laura, piece of cake. My host bro is a bookworm, but I don't blame him because he has piles of homework everyday. The apartment I'm in is just a simple small one. Nothing fancy. Though, they don’t have a VCR or a DVD player which is a need for me (I'm planning on buying a portable one).

School is... just school. The classes with the other students aren’t fit for me. There is no way possible I can pay attention in those classes. No translator in sight. I just read a book. The students are super nice. I made many friends, very cool. Break-dancing is such a head-turner. We are now currently teaching some students how to dance. Fun, fun, fun.

I spend my free time going out...shopping! Beijing is the place for me, definitely (see Richard running over Nate with rickshaw). What would I be doing if I were still in Newton? *shrug* I'm having a blast. I can already tell I’m gonna burst into tears when I step into the airport. Thanx for making this trip happen!


Monday, March 18

(Nate DeLong)

"No Medicine is the Best Medicine... the hacking and sniffling adventures of Steve and Nate"

It all started when my host mom called from work and asked if I wanted to go to a concert. I seriously needed to consider wheather or not I would go. I mean, it was a school night and everything, and it might mean exposing myself to something I had never seen, and well, I dont know, you know how dangerous it can be to try something new. "Sure" I told her. "Great, i'll be home at 6, we leave at 7," said she.

We ate a rushed meal of fantastic food at home, and then rode our bikes to the concert. It was right around the corner from our house. I live at the north end of the forbidden city, and the concert was at Zhong Shan park, on the south end. The ride was nice, but the wind this time of year in BeiJing is a little crazy: Fast, and packing sand. A dangerous adversary. Considering I've already been hit by 2 buses, I rode slowly.

Anyways, we arrived at a beautiful park and went inside the concert hall. Everyone was dressed in tuxedos and stuff, and I fit right in with my backwards hat, dirty hooded sweatshirt, and baggy pants. We found our seats (second row, center) and prepared for the xizang (Tibetan) Chinese orchestra. I asked my host mom how they could be Chinese and Tibetan, and she didn't understand me. Then I remembered that Tibet is technically part of China, so it's all the same to them.

Looking around the audience, I saw a lot of people dressed in traditional Tibetan gear, as well as several monks, one of whom was speaking on a cell phone and gesticulating wildly. I guess everybody's wired these days.

The first part of the concert was just standard classical music. It was nice I guess. Didn't have any lyrics though :) The second part was awesome. Tibetan throat singing. Two men and a woman belted out these beautiful melodies from their throats. It sounds sort of like a castrated man yodeling hebrew. Its the bomb. Dont sleep on Tibetan throat singing!!!!

So I enjoyed the concert thoroughly, but I got sick that night. Ayi decided that I was too sick to go to school the next day (hehe) so I stayed home. All day Friday I watched pirated dvds.

On saturday morning, I called Steve to see how he was doing. He had missed the entire week of school due to a lung infection from the air here. It involves coughing and hacking blood and what have you. Very nice, and I'm sure he'll tell you about it if you ask him. Anyways, he said he was feeling better, and wanted to go out, but he needed to take it slow. I was still feeling a bit sick, so we decided to go out together. I met him at the east gate of Jing Shan park and we hiked to the top of it. It is a giant hill with a pavillion on the top of it that is in the dead center of the city, overlooking everything. From there we enjoyed the view and the spectacular wheather. I told him about the other park I went to, and how it seemed like it was relatively quiet. We decided to explore it.

We walked around the Forbidden City, and two men got excited when they heard us speaking English, and invited us to see the fish in the moat. It was nice.

We reached the back of the palace and were greated by throngs of, you guessed it, Germans, following flags and talking loudly and listening to kraftwerk on super hi tech disc-trons. We cut through their lines like Operation Market Garden and entered the park. It cost 36 cents each, and I decided to be the big man and pay for Steves ticket. Yeah, I'm livin large.

The park is amazing. one of the coolest places i have been to yet. It is tucked in the back of Gu Gong, between the palace and Tiananmen Square. It's entrance is small, and people think it is just another entrance to Gu Gong, so they don't go there. There were very few people inside, and no tourists at all. It was awesome. so quiet. It had willow trees overlooking a pond, and a walkway lined with ancient cypress trees. It was spectacular. We spent a good deal of time exploring, and then came out on the south side into Tiananmen square. When we looked back at the entrance, we saw that you wouldn't know that there was a great park inside, and that is why everyone misses it.

So we walked further south and we ended up in a bustling street market with vendors shouting "You like it, okay? So have a buy!" and telling me that I needed to "Looka looka yes?"We declined to by any of their goods, and kept wandering. we got into a old neighborhood and found a small restaurant.

I can read a little Chinese, but this menu was all hand written and I couldn't understand anything. I ordered the food for us by pointing randomly to a thing on the menu, and saying "Bring one of these" to the waiter. I didn't keep track of how much I was ordering though, and when all was said and done, I had 60 dumplings, a bowl of squid and shrimp soup, pork spine, batter fried shrimp in pepper, and two bowls of beef ventricle soup,to bowls of rice, a coke, and a beer. No problem. We attacked it with tenacious tenacity, leaving a significant dent, at least.

We paid our 10 dollars (in America this would have been a 60 dollar meal at least) and set off again. we wandered into some hutongs. We were choosing our path by going down increasingly narrower alleys, until we were walking down one that we couldn't have fit through if we walked abreast. it was old school. Very nice.

Steve eventually had to go home for dinner with his family, although we had just gorged ourselves an hour earlier, so he grabbed a cab and I decided to keep exploring.

Eventually I made my way north, bought forest gump on DVD and went home. At the end of the day, a good time had been had by all.

Wednesday, March 20

(An NNHS Exchange Student)

Hey guys,

Another week in China.

This week, Laura and I have been checking out the Beijing modern art scene. My favorite of the two exhibits we stopped into was one set up at the Crowne Plaza down the street from school. It was a small exhibit featuring three or four Chinese, college educated, female artist's art work. It was interesting to see a break from tradition of Chinese painting. These were not classical chinese brush paintings but very expressive, large oil paintings and surealist sculptures. There were elements of of traditional Chinese sculture in only one of the artist's work. This artist had done several large, bold paintings that incorporated the zodiac signs with western images such as the outlines Venus de Milo and David. My favorite pieces in this exhibit however, were by another artist. Her oil painting were of everyday scenes painted in bright, almost glowing colors. I liked the natural positioning of the figures in them and also that the artist chose to leave some areas of the paintings sketchy and others brilliantly detailed.

The other exhibit we saw was at The Courtyard Gallery near the Forbidden City. It was a photography exhibit and it didn't interest me nearly as much as the paintings. What was interesting about our visit to The Courtyard Gallery was our eventful little walk though a nearby hutong afterwards. After stopping briefly near a man selling pears, we found ourselves talking to a family that lived near by. I was really surprised to find myself somewhat understood and to be able understand them. It was just another example of how friendly people actually are here. They were very interested in where we were from and what we were up to and the whole time we were talking this little Chinese baby was reaching his little hands out towards Laura from his mother's arms. The mother actually handed the little guy over to her and let her hold him for awhile. It's little experiences like that that make me think I must be seeing more of the real Beijing than the average tourist.

Take care!

Thursday, March 21

(Steve)

Hello from China!

I had heard the stories. I had seen the pictures. But nothing prepared me for what a hard hitting and fast moving Beijing sandstorm is truly like.

Many people said that this was one of the worst ones in recent memory and it was very surreal. It had the feeling of a blizzard without the snow. According to today's paper, visibility was cut to just over 100 feet at times and the particle count in the already thick Beijing air was more than 100 times normal levels. Warnings were issued to stay away from trees, billboards and other items that might be blown down and health officials cautioned people to wear gauze masks and handerchiefs to protect the lungs and eyes.

At its height the color of the sky was a rusty orange. It was like living on Mars. I could literally smell and taste the sand. At times I could even feel the gritty particles crunch between my teeth. There was even what can best be described as a "sandy" smell in the air. Today there were fresh breezes that actually gave us a rare day of blue sky. It's strange, but I suffered no ill effects from the storm. I think I'm pretty lucky considering the illness that I'm just getting over.

Words could never capture what yesterday was like, so I took several pictures 23 hours later. I have not retouched any of the pictures and the camera settings were the same. All who have seen the pics have said how remarkably accurate they are, so have a look and enjoy.

We are almost at the halfway point in our exchange and all is well here in Beijing. Over 1000 digital photographs already reside on my computer and I've got over 2 months to capture some more. Thanks to all for your continued good wishes. It's really nice to get news from home. See you in June.

Wednesday, March 27

(A NNHS Exchange Student)

When you are this far from home, you are bound to have your ups and downs. At least the way I operate. In any case I think I'm in a up place this week. Maybe it's the weather because my mood seems a lot happier since that dusty orange cloud lifted.

I don't think I can pin point a highlight but this week has had some nice moments. Sunday Nate and I went a-walking for a few hours. It wasn't too eventful but the company was good and it was nice to go exploring. We just walked through an old hutong for awhile and then hopped in a cab over to the Tiananmen area.

Monday I went to see yet another art exhibit. This one was at the millennium monument which is just this big ugly monument to celebrate how long China's been around. The space was nice, though, and I did manage to get a student discount. Modern art is fairly new thing in China (only about 20 years old, really), and there aren't too many places to find it in Beijing. This exhibt had a whole lot of books on display and because I'm a big nerd, I spent some time crosslegged on the floor of the gallery glancing through them.

Tuesday night, Nate and I checked out a Chinese slang class that's organized by the Chinese culture club. I'm glad we went, but I don't know if we'd go back. Today was a pretty typical, yet pleasant day. I convinced the group to try a vegetarian place and when we got back we judged the school's Engligh competition.

So things are going well for me in the land of China and I'm looking forward to another week. :)

Wednesday, April 3

(Laura Mayer)

Sunday night I slept at school in order to be picked up at 5:45 Monday morning and taken to a second grader's home to take pictures all day...a day in the life...

I am so priviledged to be having this experience. I know I sound like a broken record. But almost daily, I walk down the most famous shopping street in Beijing, just two blocks from school and each time I almost pinch myself, being in this wonderful and diverse culture...now going into two other homes...allowed to take pictures, joining the family with meals...etc. I am touched by the gentle precious regard in which this one particular family holds their daughter..in which many families hold their children. The continued generosity and warmth never ceases to warm me. Part of me doesn't want to leave.

I know also how unique this arrangement is. The two English teachers who are on contract here, one from the US and one from Canada, to teach English to the primary students, are not having this extreme generous experience. They live at the school. We live with a family. They get their meals from a different place than we do..not as lovely I think. We are taken by faculty on tours to different historic areas of the city, and so far they are not ...etc.

Last Friday evening, my host father took me, his daughter, and one of the Newton students to the hutong where he grew up. He knew every twist and turn of the alleyways and was able to point out the more recent construction so we could get an idea of how open the space used to be. we saw the school he attended as a boy, the tree he used to climb, writing on the wall from the time of the cultural revolution, etc. I think his is one of the hutongs that is slated for demolition in the not too distant future. And it's sad... the hutongs are such a distinctive part of Beijing. As you walk along the streets here..you see all sorts of smaller businesses and exquisite signature architecture. And if you peel away, sort of roll back, that layer, underneath is revealed the deeper, older beijing...mazes of narrow, complex, networked (to the uninitiated eye) alleyways, of living and marketing streets. If you stick to the main streets, and never turn down an alley way, you would miss this other world. Bit by bit it is disappearing. I hope this is not arrogant of me to say, but that somebody here has wisdom enough to preserve a significant amount of this aspect of cultural heritage.

Saturday I was feeling a bit frustrated for one reason or another, and decided to go on a dance hunt. I scooted down to Jingshan and Ditan parks and walked around. Every morning and evening thousands of people are out in parks and streets all across the city, doing taichi, ballroom dancing, and all sorts or other exercise. Someone told me people are dancing in Ditan park all day..so I went on a hunt. Turned out not to be true, the all day aspect, but I did encounter some other wanderers for the day and we spent time together wandering and enjoying the parks. later that evening I went to a jazz club called the big easy, new orleans looking place...4 chinese jazz musicians...very good with an African american vocalist. I was quite surprised and also happy to be hearing music that that got my toes tapping and my soul rocking. another example of my ignorance about Beijing. Who would have thought...

We seem to have reached a turning point...not only the mid point of our visit but also, we're each more self sufficient and finding other people to inhabit our lives here...not just our host families and school cohorts.

As I'm writing this I'm listening to morning exercises in the school yard. While they want to learn from our teaching methodology, I think there is something for us to gain as well. I love that four students each morning, along with a teacher, greet each arriving person at the gate with a "good morning" or "zhao shang hao". I like the invigorating aspect of morning exercises and eye exercises...although the students probably don't value it. I also see and like that students have fairly extensive room clean up responsibilites, even in the primary school. It's taken in stride.

That's all for now.

Thursday, April 25

(Nate)

I went to the great wall today. To be honest, it wasn't that great. I mean yeah, it was okay. It's a nice wall and all, and it is pretty big, but something about hundreds of thousands of tourists all wearing matching hats and following the flags of their respective Scandinavian countries robbed me of my "oh shit I'm standing on the great wall" feeling. We're gonna try to go to the wild wall, which is basically anywhere else on the wall that is too remote for a lot of people to go to.

One highlight of the trip was practicing some important Chinese phrases. As I was walking up i passed a group of kids who were eating lunch. Like all good Chinese citizens, they upheld their responsibility of saying "hello" to anyone that is not of Chinese descent. Instead of saying "hello" in English, I, get this, said it in Chinese. That totally blew their minds. Then, to follow it up, I said (in Chinese) "oh f--k, he speaks Chinese!" and the crowd went wild. Some watching Germans muttered something to themselves about lederhosen and sauerkraut, but I paid them no mind as I leapt nimbly up the thousands of steps humming the Chinese national anthem.

The view is wicked nice. There is one really nice vantage point from the highest point on the wall that looks on all the surrounding mountains. You can see everything for miles around. I looked both far and wide. And there, at the foot of the mountain, I spied an ostrich, not one actually, but several ostriches at the bottom of the mountain. Now I'm sure you'd be inclined to ask me: "Nate,oh great master of Chinese lore, what are ostriches, and not just one but several ostriches mind you, doing in China?" And in response to your question, after thoughtfully staring in to space, I might reply with something along these lines: "One must make sure not to brandish one's axe in front of lu ban the master carpenter, for when one rides the tiger it is difficult to dismount, and let us remember that even a single monkey in the road can prevent the passing of ten thousand men." And you might be inclined to ask me a follow up question: "Nate, what the hell do you mean by that?"

And in response to your follow up question, I would be inclined to say: "I have no idea, because I have no idea what the hell an ostrich is doing at the bottom of the great wall in China. I do know, however, that I have also seen a camel in China, and that therefore, the only logical conclusion I can draw, is that ostriches and camels have formed an alliance and are attempting to overthrow the t-shirt and post card monoply at the great wall, BA Da Ling." Clearly this is the only logical explanation."

In other news: I went to a cd store and talked hip hop with a bunch of guys. One guy saw me and yelled "oh yes! motherf--k!" in English and I thought that was a really cool way of saying hello, so I replied with the Chinese equivalent. We traded slang for a while, and then I bargained for some cd's. Then I ate a yang rou chuar. if you don't know, that's goat on a stick. It costs 12 cents per chuar, and it tastes really good. It's also really fun to say the word "chuar."

The other day I ate some sheep testicles. A damn fine cut of meat, let me tell you. Talk about tender. Jeez! and the sauce is exquisite. I didn't even get sympathy pains as i attacked it voraciously with my teeth, spraying sauce and juice all over my school unform. (The next day, some kids asked me why my uniform was so nasty, and I told them I had an accident with some sheep nutz. They understood completely, as it's a common occurance in China.)

I have decided it is almost impossible to buy clothes here if you are over 6 feet tall and more than 120 pounds. That is not to say that there are not enormous Chinese people, because let me assure you that there are. They simply must custom order their clothes. I currently wear a 5xl school uniform, and it fits a little tight. Even 7xl isn't really satisfactory. Some of my friends at school must be rockin's 12 xl's. That's big. Oh well, my quest continues.

I bought an elephant. It's made out of wood, and I like it. They wanted me to pay 500 yuan for it. I said I wanted to pay 30. Having thoroughly insulted them, we slowly worked towards the final price of 100. Not bad for an elephant.

I also bought more dvds. Dvd's are like crack to me. It's cheap and it gives me a good fix, but I can't stop buying them. It's a dollar each. That's pretty good vs. the $25 in America.

Anyways, I'm running out of stuff to say. If you have any idea what ostriches are doing in China, please write me and let me know. Or write me just cuz you like me and want to say hi. Either one is OK.

Monday, May 13

(Nate)

So I got back from my trip around the country. It was so terrible that it was awesome. The weather sucked, the food was terrible, but we had some good times.

First we flew to Nanjing. In the Beijing airport, I saw some kid just take a piss right on the floor. Some of you might think that that's how we do over here on the far east side, but let me assure you that Beijing airport is one of the most modern buildings/places, and Beijing is a very cosmopolitan city. It's not like this is Brookline. Jeez. But it was good for a laugh.

We arrived in Nanjing and boarded a bus, and our guide was speaking in Shanghai dialect. I had such a hard time understanding, but it was cool, cuz all the other people from Beijing didn't understand either. We went to some cool sites, like a giant Buddha the size of the Statue of Liberty, and along the 1000 year old grand canal where we watched mile long trains of fishing barges.

The hotel rooms were terrible: entirely moist, with a new species of animal being discovered by Steve and me which we have dubbed "pubesicus tapewormicus," some sort of hellish fiend spawned from the unholy union of a tapeworm and a white length of body hair.

Shanghai is the bomb city though: super modern. I bought mad good stuff there. Steve and I found a calligrapher on the street and got our names carved. His chinese name is Wang Pijiu, which means "king of beer." We had a good laugh. I tried to get some [chops] for a few friends, but I couldn't break down all those long Jewish names like Herzbergowiczstein into 3 syllables [for Chinese characters], so I scratched that idea.

Bargaining is the bomb. I finally got ill at it. It's all about the walk. Example:

vendor: Hello, friend. Have a look. Buy this singing Chairmain Mao lighter!!

me: How much? v: 30 kuai, very cheap, very good!!

m: I'll give you 5.

v: No no. Very bad. Hello. I'm already giving you very cheap price. Hello. ( I should explain that every Chinese vendor is equiped with a 2-phrase English vernacular: "hello", and "have a look." "Hello" can be used to mean anything from "I disagree with that suggestion," "It's ludicrously too low," or "I find it insulting," to "goodbye.")

me: Fine. 6.

v: I'll give you this lighter and I'll throw in this melon for 25.

m: I'll give you 25 for 2 singing Chairmain Mao lighters, sans melon.

v. No, no good.

Now here it comes. the walk. I'll try to describe it:

me: I won't buy. (slowly turn around and take a step, then another one, and finally one more step.)

vendor: Okay okay okay. 2 lighters for 26.

m. Ok.

vendor: You're a very formidable opponent.

m. Thank you for letting me pillage your store.

v: My pleasure. Please come again.

I bought mad stuff like this. Mad art, and even some authentic Red Guard gear, which is kinda scary.

Steve and I were chillin' on this old shopping street [liu Li Chang?], and we wanted to get some ice cream. Steve opened the freezer door at a little shop, but the wood broke off. The big ordeal followed, and Steve told me to wait for him at the meeting spot. A few minutes later, I saw Steve briskly walking towards me. "Where do you want to go?" he said. "I want to buy some silk." said I. "O, good. cuz I can't go back that way." said Steve. Apparently it was going to cost 800 kuai to fix it, even though I could have fixed it "macgiver style' with a toothbrush and some vinegar. but when a kid came by and broke it even more, Steve made the smart move and exited stage left.

Our hotel room in Shanghai was fairly decent. The tapewormicus population was still relatively small, due to the fact that the room was too clean for them to survive in. Outside, the hotel was covered in bamboo scaffolding. I did what every invincible 18-year old male has a responsibility to do. I played on it. It was fun.

Then we ate a massive meal and Andrew choked on a peace of melon. He didn't die though, and afterwards we had a good laugh.

That's my scattered summary of my trip. If you want, I could briefly include that most of the trip was spent on a bus rocketing through the most bombed out pot holes in China, while the bus driver drove the bus with one hand and gripped the mike and sang opera with the other.

Oh, this is pretty cool. When I got back to Beijing at like 1:30 a.m., Steve and I split a cab. Our cab driver was [bad], so I got out at Steve's house and was going to get another cab. By this point, it was 2 a.m. and there weren't that many cabs around. Beijing at night is pretty cool. Already, the rule is that if something has wheels, you can drive it on the road. Late at night, all the farmers and stuff come in from the countryside, so you have a wide assortment of vehicles, from donkey pulled wagons to 3 wheeled trucks to motorcycle pod trons. As I was walking in the direction of my house looking for a cab, a guy on a three-wheeled motorcycle pod saw me and yelled to me. "Hello, friend!!!! Where are you going?" I yelled back "I'm going to Di An Men Street." He said, "I'll take you there for 10 kuai."

Thinking it over, I weighed my options. I could walk home a few miles carrying my suitcases at 2 in the morning, or I could get in this guy's rickety motorcycle pod whom I don't know and go home quickly and cheaply. By the way, did I mention I'm an invincible 18 year old male? So i got in this guy's pod and he drove me to my house. It was the bomb. A few times I thought we were going to be obliterated by a passing donkey or 3 wheeled truck, but my friend operated his pod very skillfully and got me home safely and soundly. I paid him my 10 kuai and got out. He waved good bye, and I went inside and crashed.

A good end to the trip.

Saturday, June 1

The Spring 2002 Exchange has officially come to an end, with the group returning to Boston today from Beijing!