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  1. Reflections

    June 3, 2013 vasmith89

    I have realized that I suddenly dropped this blog at one point, and I had meant to pick it up again or to at least write a conclusion.  With the busy-ness of the last month of the semester, I didn’t have time and too much was happening for me to sit down and describe it all online.  But I thought it would be most appropriate to share my reflections on my study abroad experience and how I have changed as a person over a year since I first went to China.  Now that time has passed and I am (mostly) over my reverse culture shock, I feel that I can now define just what it was like to go and study in another country.

    I am still in some disbelief that I actually left the United States and lived in Asia for four months.  I’m not sure why that is, but it just is.  I didn’t get to see, experience, and do everything I had hoped to do, but the things, people, and places I did, met, and saw were pleasant surprises and unique moments.  I never had the opportunity to go outside of Beijing Province to, say, Inner Mongolia or Shanghai, but I did get to visit a Chinese kindergarten on a military base – how many foreigners can say they did that?  I may not have visited the famous hutongs in the older parts of Beijing, but I did rub shoulders with some of the upper echelons of Chinese society at the Beijing Concert Hall, and I met an internationally-recognized astronomer who is also the curator of the Beijing Planetarium.  And although I never tried hot pot, I made friends with locals who were very kind to invite me into their homes and cook delicious meals for me; I got to experience authentic Mongolian cuisine and homemade Chinese meals.  I shopped in Chinese grocery stores and markets, wore Chinese-brand clothes, watched Chinese television, and spent time chatting with my Chinese friends.  The geographer in me has been satisfied that I got to see and experience real, daily life in China.  I may not have seen all the historical sites and tell you what they were like, but I can tell you what China is right now on the street.  That’s the China I was most intimate with.

    After arriving in Beijing, things at first were more difficult because I was not well-prepared as I normally like to be.  This was the first time I left North America and was away from home for more than three months, and I didn’t know what to expect, nor what to pack besides the basics.  In a foreign country where you stick out worse than sore thumb and barely speak the language, the things you normally didn’t have to worry about before suddenly become the biggest concerns.  Perhaps it was fortuitous, then, that I got so sick when I arrived at Capital Normal University and had extra help from Catherine, my student coordinator.  I tend to have a quick adaptative response to new surroundings, so I think that kept me from panicking and I just absorbed my initial surroundings.  I think things calmed down for me at the beginning once I found English-speakers (including one of my teachers) and found where I could buy supplies and food; knowing where my next meal is helps me establish a routine and keeps me from going crazy.

    I won’t sugarcoat my experience and pretend that every single moment was the time of my life.  There were certainly times when I was really frustrated, really lonely, really stressed, really embarrassed and really confused.  And I had one of the scariest times of my life where I had briefly wondered if I would die so far away from home.  Now I think I know how immigrants to the United States feel.  It’s annoying when you can’t read street or building signs, or the little “Sale!” signs in grocery stores, but it’s frustrating and scary to struggle to tell someone what is wrong with you and you don’t know the words or phrases to make them understand.  It’s embarrasing when you try to ask someone a question or order food, and you’re struggling to find the words and pronounce them correctly.  And it’s depressing, angering, and very embarrassing when you are speaking enough to get what you want, and that person mocks you and invites their friends to leer at you, an alien in their world.

    Through these experiences, I have come to appreciate just how wonderfully diverse and modern the United States is where we aren’t shocked to see a person with different skin color, and where we can get quality health care.  I am someone who suffers from occasional irritable bowel syndrome and am sensitive to heat sickness; to be in a country where both these conditions simply do not exist is terrifying when you have a possible medical emergency and you’re met with blank stares, confusion, or even laughter.  An entire ethnicity of people are different from others not just because of their food, houses, clothes, and languages but the many whys behind each one.  I did not know that the Chinese have an entirely different perspective on the temperature and weather, so how could I make them understand that people can get sick or even die from being in the heat?

    Of course it is difficult to be in another country and culture, but the difficulties, the frustrations, and the scares are, I feel, a part of life and a part of learning and maturing.  I now appreciate what my troubles in China have taught me, but thankfully they have not overshadowed all the good times and all the good things, people, and places I came to know.  While some Chinese looked at me like a strange creature to be gawked and laughed at, I was deeply touched by the many people who were generous and open-hearted towards me.  I am particularly blessed to have met Maggie Zhang, her husband, and her daughter Nina, my student coordinator Catherine, and my language partner Lisa and her parents.  I wish I could return the generosity they have shown towards me, and I am forever grateful for their friendship, their help, and their company.  Getting to know so many students from around the world was my biggest surprise, though.  I had expected to meet and befriend locals, but I did not expect to make friends with my fellow international students.  Through them, I not only learned about China but about their countries, their lives, and their cultures.  This experience, to me, was like the savory second course of a delicious meal.

    There are things I miss about China: the food, the people I met there, walking to nearby stores, fresh produce, getting around on public transportation, and seemingly little things like sweaters, packages of toilet paper with handles, that Iced Tangerine flavor of Gatorade, hanging up laundry to dry, and sidewalks fully shaded by trees.  I came back to JC Penney catering only to teens and no sweaters for sale anywhere, having to walk everywhere or wait for a ride, big box stores at the edge of town, no social life, and suddenly bland American food, for the most part.  But longing for certain things and learning to adapt is also a part of life and a part of maturing.  As a result, I have been experimenting with new ingredients when I cook, and I try to buy more locally-grown produce at small stores.  I look at the clothes and jewelry I bought in China and am making a change in my fashion choices.  And I am trying to change some of my habits in the hopes of bettering myself and making my life simpler and more efficient.

    China has changed me.  I was pushed out of my comfort zone in more ways than I can count, in particular my social abilities.  I came out of my shell, unfortunately, only at the end of the semester, so I had missed many opportunities to make more friends, go on more outings, and most of all, to further practice my Chinese.  I have also become more outspoken and more assertive (sometimes to a fault!), and to better express myself (in English, at least).  Without a doubt, I have certainly become more adventurous in my eating habits as well as little things that used to make me a bit nervous; riding public transportation, handling money at the check-out, crossing the street, and ordering food.  I’ve actually been working on these through the past decade, but there is no room for nerves in a big city where the streets are crammed with traffic and you can’t cook food in your dorm.  I look back on these now and have a good chuckle; I guess I was shier – or more anti-social – than I thought!

    One of my professors at Cortland, Dr. Hunter, remarked that when I come back from China, my room would feel smaller to me now that I’ve experienced a larger world out there.  Funnily enough, he was right!  One of my frustrations in coming back to the United States is coming back to a literally small bedroom in a small city.  A small life?  I hope not!  Right now, I feel I am stuck here and stagnating when I know there are places to see and things to do.  I have definitely been humbled in those four months.  To see how different humans can be from one another, but also how similar they are has been a sort of overarching theme to my Chinese Adventure.  I actually became even more patriotic while in China, and while I am near the point of jingoism at times, I realized I also learned a great deal about my own country and have pondered the things we need to change here in the United States; I am thankful that a dip into a Chinese lifestyle has given me that necessary perspective.  I know I want to go out there in the world and see more of it and my own country and do something.  Mentally and emotionally, I am ready to set sail again, and once I get my things in order, I’ll be off again.

  2. Just for Miles

    May 11, 2012 vasmith89

    I can’t seem to get my rear in gear to post about Beihai before I write about anything else, so I’ll put up a post just for my brother Miles. I think that he may be very interested in seeing the Chinese fan I have in my room. Surprisingly, it has no timer on it, but it can sit on a hard surface, be hung on a wall, or clipped to an edge. It’s an oscillating fan with only two settings, but that’s enough for me.

    I have a video as well, but I don’t know if it will be too big to post…

  3. Hair, Weather, the Gym, and the Titanic

    April 30, 2012 vasmith89

    For almost US $35, I got my first haircut in China, and the first haircut from someone other than my favorite hairdresser.  I went to Joy Zone near Wu Mart to get my haircut, and at first I was intimidated by the seven or so people who greeted me at the door.  In broken Chinese, I said I wanted a haircut and was lead straight in.  After putting my purse into a locker and covering me up, a lady started lathering my hair.  That took a much longer time than expected, and while she was raking my scalp, I was given a cup of boiled water.  She probably washed my hair for about 10 minutes straight before taking me over to the basin and rinsed it out.  She also cleaned my ears and massaged my neck, shoulders, arms, and hands before I was taken over to the hairdresser to finally get my hair cut.

    Mind you, nobody spoke English, so you can imagine how this was both a little scary and a little funny.  And I also had no idea how much this would cost, so I kept asking how much the package would cost (only realizing later that I purchased a package).  The lady kept saying “28″ but that didn’t sound right.  Well, turns out she mean 280 kuai!  Anyways, I had to do a lot of gesturing and more broken Chinese to tell my hairdresser how I wanted my part and how short I wanted my hair.  He did a great job, even though I couldn’t understand everything he said to me.  I did understand him when he asked if I went to CNU, and it’s a good thing I did, because they apparently give all students a discount.  Instead of 280 kuai, I only had to pay 200 kuai.  It took a while for me to figure out when they gave me an appointment card that each time I came back, I should present the card so that I can get a discount for the 10th haircut.  I even joked with one of the other hairdressers, apologizing in Chinese for my bad speaking and saying I was an American.  He replied that he was from China and his English was bad (well, it was funnier than how I put it).  Despite my lack of knowledge of Chinese words for hairstyling, it was a pretty good experience and everyone was very nice.  Right now, you can hardly tell my hair was cut since it’s curling up and outwards like last time.  But it feels good that it’s shorter now.

    I learned firsthand how short spring is here in Beijing.  Within a week and a half, spring disappeared and was replaced by summer-like temperatures, leaving me to scramble to get more summer clothes.  It no longer matters that they’ve turned the heat off…but I wish they’d turn the air conditioning on!  There were a few days I started getting sick from the heat, and it doesn’t help that the only place I found that had air conditioning was the Beijing Planetarium.  I went there again with Zhang Laoshi and Nina to see a few movies – including my first 4D movie – and I got to meet the curator, Dr. Jin Zhu.

    I also started going to the gym this month.  I bought an Adidas t-shirt and a pair of sweatpants with an awkwardly placed panda face on it from Dongwuyuan.  The gym is located in the basement of the International Culture Plaza, and is only open at night.  It is small but never gets crowded, and has strange music playing over the speakers as well as strange workout posters that are meant to be inspiring, I guess, but they seem like they’re really dated.  I’m hoping that I’ll improve my immune system and build up a bit of muscle by working out a few times each week.

    My language partner, Lisa, invited me to go see “Titanic 3D” with her on April 15th, the 100th anniversary of the ship’s sinking.  The movie was in English with Chinese subtitles.  The last time I saw Titanic I was in the 3rd or 4th grade, so I didn’t remember a lot.  I will say that the 3D effects made it no better than the 2D version and that “Titanic” is really not a bad movie at all, but I don’t recommend going to see the 3D version unless you’re a diehard fan.  I think the best part, though, was when the credits began rolling Lisa and I turned to each other, and we just burst out laughing.  I don’t know why we laughed; maybe it was our way to combat feeling so melancholy from witnessing a re-enactment of the deaths of over a thousand people, or maybe we just felt so awkward wearing the 3D glasses for so long.  Afterwards, Lisa took me to have Mongolian cuisine for lunch.

    It was straighter than how it looks above, but at least it was good for headbands!

  4. Earlier in April…


    …I relaxed and enjoyed our 5-day weekend from Tomb-Sweeping Day, and celebrated my 23rd birthday and Easter.  I had a very fun time with friends, the result of planning my first post-childhood birthday party.  They sang to me in English and Chinese, gave me a delicious cake as well as a present, made me wear a paper crown…oh, and I should mention the cake fight the waitresses and waiters had after we gave them some leftover cake.  Apparently, we made them so giddy in giving them cake that they went wild.  It probably helped that after a while we were pretty much the only customers at the restaurant, so they were bored.  One guy with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth saved us women after Sam ran out the revolving door and made it spin very fast (thanks a lot, Sam!!).  In a feat of strength, the smoking waiter suddenly stopped the door and allowed us to leave, but not before wishing me a happy birthday.

    This is the birthday cake my friends gave me!

    My birthday fell on Holy Saturday, so I wasn’t able to attend the Easter Vigil.  On Easter Sunday morning, Nicole and I took a bus and two subway trains to get to Xuanwumen Church, also known as the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, and to the locals, “South Cathedral”.  It is the only (Roman) Catholic church in Beijing that offers English Masses and is under the Archbishop Joseph Li Shan.  When Nicole and I arrived, we were dismayed at the huge crowd of people OUTSIDE the church, meaning that there wasn’t even room to go inside.  We discovered that it was the Chinese Mass they were there for, and so we explored a bit, stopping to speak to a few Chinese nuns and some Catholic schoolgirls who were selling handmade rosaries and bracelets.  After a few purchases and wishing them a Happy Easter, we attempted to join the crowd of Chinese people.  We were told by some other foreigners that the Chinese Mass was still going on even though it was over time.  At the time we joined the crowd, it was shortly before they sang the “Our Father”.  The crowd was following the Mass via large TV monitors and speakers installed on the outside of the church.  It was very interesting to see how a Chinese Mass was so similar to the Mass I was used to back home.  After doing research on the Chinese Catholic Church, I was prepared for things to be quite different, but that wasn’t the case.  They even sang hymns that I had sung back home (albeit in English).  And of course, instead of shaking hands during the Sign of Peace, people bowed to one another.

    Here and there, I did see a few members of the Chinese police and armed forces, but many of the ones I saw appeared to be practicing Catholics.  It was extremely moving to see how so many of the faithful here in China were still drawn to the Eucharist despite China being an officially atheist state.

    We were able to sneak in during Communion to line up for a seat, and good thing we did – we got a good pew, and it turns out that Xuanwumen Church is hardly bigger than Holy Family Church back home in Auburn.  As I had expected, a number of people in the crowd for the Chinese Mass were onlookers who wanted to know what the Christians were doing on Easter; there were a number of those at the English Mass.  Six people were received into the Church that day; about 30 or so were received at the Chinese Mass, and at the Easter Vigil, over 130.  Some of the received were over 50 years of age.

    The lyrics to the hymns and many of the prayers were broadcast on the TV monitors during Mass

    Instead of a rectory, they had the priests' cells in a Chinese courtyard

    Outside the cathedral was a small shrine to the Blessed Virgin Mary

    Nicole and I, and other people, were taking pictures throughout Mass of the church itself and of the TV monitors that displayed the hymn lyrics.  I did not expect, however, that the English Mass would be following the New Roman Missal!  Or maybe it was following the old Mass style?  The readings were given in English followed by French, and during Communion, instructions were given in both English and Chinese that only baptized Catholics who had already received their First Communion could receive the Eucharist, and that all others could go up for a blessing.  Prior to the Mass, they handed out English bulletins to everyone inside, and I found out a little too late that the Sacrament of Reconciliation was being offered in the back of church.  Overall, it was great to be back in a Catholic church.  I was surrounded by fellow Catholics from around the world and felt at home.

    The English Mass began late and didn’t end until shortly after 1 p.m. (Mass was supposed to begin about 10:30 but began about 11:00.)   That was pretty much the highlight of my Easter.

  5. Busy, Busy, Busy!!

    April 24, 2012 vasmith89

    I haven’t posted in a while because I’ve been so busy. The last post was on my birthday, and since then, it’s pretty much been one thing after another. And now midterms are coming up at the end of this week!

    I have a lot to report on, so forgive me for not writing for so long. To give you a short summary, my birthday was fiery (in a good way!); Easter was in English; I got my hair washed and cut, a massage, and an ear cleaning all at the same place; spring is over; Titanic in 3D is no better than Titanic in 2D; I now work out a few times a week in a gym in the basement of my hotel/dormitory; I will never go shopping again at either Dongwuyuan or Xizhimen for a good reason (Wudaokou); and Beihai Park was just breathtaking. If it doesn’t make sense now, it will later. Or at least one can hope.

  6. Tomb-Sweeping Day Weekend

    April 7, 2012 vasmith89

    We got a 5-day weekend for Tomb-Sweeping Day (also called Clear and Bright Day) from March 31st to April 4th .   The week before, I witnessed people building fires on the curb at night to burn money and paper goods as offerings for their deceased relatives and ancestors.  I have also seen the aftermath of ashes and burnt spots on the sidewalk.  It felt so good to have a mini-vacation, especially right after I had my first test.  I got a 93.5 on my Jingdu/Intensive Reading test!

    I mainly relaxed and slept in during those days, although I also had to go to an international hospital in Chaoyang District to see a doctor.  Here in China, if you need to see a doctor, you go to a hospital; they don’t really have their own practices.  The Beijing United Family Hospital was really nice and after filling out the forms, I was able to go right in and see a doctor.  Thankfully, nothing was seriously wrong with me, and I got some medicine to help me feel better.  Everyone spoke English, although some people had very thick accents and were a little difficult to understand yet they were still pleasant.

    Nicole and I together took a bus and then two subway trains to visit the Beijing Natural History Museum.  We’re rather proud of ourselves that we made it there in one piece, being white and all.  Unfortunately, the museum did not live up to our expectations.  We expected it to be something like the Natural History Museum in New York City, but it definitely was more of the opposite.  The museum was rather small and all the exhibits were rather simplified…it was basically geared towards children.  It wasn’t interesting, and it only had a cafe which was more of a snack purchasing area than a place to eat lunch.  The gift shop areas here and there were also more aimed at children and although they had nice jewelry, almost everything did not correspond to a specific exhibit.  The only semi-interesting exhibit was the basement where the Human Body exhibit was.  However, it was also quite disturbing, as it featured actual human body parts and spliced human torsos and parts.  This wouldn’t be so disturbing had the exhibit not feature so much on private parts.  The Human Body exhibit seemed to be about 50-60% on human development (complete with preserved embryos and fetuses) and human sexuality.  I can’t believe how many preserved sex organs they had on display!  Everything obviously looked preserved, so none of it was salacious.  It wasn’t that it was bad that the exhibit gave information on human sexuality, just that it was surprising that it featured so much of it…and that they came from humans!!  There was also a spliced child’s torso, and with that said, I’m not going into any more detail.

    We didn’t see all of the exhibits, and after a while we just left because it was not interesting enough (the kids running all around was also a bit off-putting).  We decided to return to campus, but felt that we should take a shortcut through a park rather than having to walk all the way around it again.  That park was the one that contained the Temple of Heaven and other sites like the Echo Wall.  Of course, you have to pay an entrance fee and then pay more for any other sites you want to visit.  That decision saved the day, as the park was really nice to walk through, and it gave me a chance to do a little shopping at one of many gift shops and see the Temple of Heaven for myself.  The place was crawling with tourists and it was very windy, but it was worth it to see the beautiful Temple.  To me, it looks almost ethereal.  See for yourself!

    The Temple of Heaven is an UNESCO Heritage site; it is where the emperor would take part in religious ceremonies.  I forgot the dates to correspond with the facts – sorry!

    We walked through another part of the park that was connected to the religious ceremonies of old and found people relaxing and vendors trying to sell their items.  A lot of old men were playing cards, and in one place, we found a crowd that had gathered to sing songs.  Interesting how this place, once reserved only for the emperor, his subjects and religious men, is now open to everyone.  A light stone path set in the wider path to the Temple marked where only Heaven could walk – even the Emperor would not step there.  However, tourists and I myself walked on it without giving it a second thought.

    Students returned to school on Thursday, which I personally think was a really bad idea.  As expected, a lot of students skipped classes or came in late, and the ones who did come in were very tired (myself included).  Friday wasn’t much better in way of attendance and student performance, either.  The Chinese students and their teachers, unlike us international students, had to go to classes on Saturday and Sunday last week to make up for the three days off they would have this week.  Why not just give us all one day off, then, if it’s such a problem to give us a few days off in a row?  Just wait until the May Day holiday; we’ll go to class on Monday, have the next three days off, and then go back on Friday.  I never thought anyone could be punished for being on holiday before I came to China.

  7. Purple Bamboo Park and the National Library of China

    March 31, 2012 vasmith89

    On Tuesday the 27th, the weather was really nice and warm, so everybody was outside.  Wei Laoshi/Professor Wei from Pasadena Community College invited Nicole to go to a park with her, and Nicole invited me to go along with them.  Both Nicole, Wei Laoshi, and a number of American students (mainly from Pasadena) are here through CAPA International Education.  So we walked to Purple Bamboo Park to check out the scenery and hopefully to catch a glimpse of what the locals do in the park.  We also paid the National Library of China a visit.

    Before I let the pictures (and video!) do the talking, I will say that as soon as we entered the park, I stopped hearing the traffic noise.  Although the only verdant plants I saw were the bamboo, it was still a beautiful park.  As we left, we saw a man doing calligraphy on the sidewalk, a unique Chinese experience!  The National Library was very modern and big.  We intended to go in and have a coffee, but ended up having both coffee and dinner there.  Because we left at night, we got to go back to CNU through the park where we saw what the locals do there at night.  And it’s not at all what you’d think!

    Pagoda gazebos like this one are found throughout the park. People relax in them, or use them as meeting places to sing or play.

    This is a little teahouse in the park.

    People carve their names and messages on these bamboo stalks, much like how Americans carve tree trunks and deface wet cement.


    Since the water is very low in this part of the park, people are fishing for little eels. The group down in the mud just got one.

    Another example of Chinese graffiti.

    This is the top to a little bridge. You can see swastikas on the eaves, although I don't know if they are meant to be there. The swastika is an ancient symbol used in both Hinduism and Buddhism and is a symbol for water and good fortune. When inverted (a la Nazi style), the swastika becomes a Hindu symbol for evil and magic.

    This calligraphy is done with water and a giant paintbrush.

    This is the National Library of China nearby Purple Bamboo Park. The stone is actually carved with traditional, not simplified, Chinese characters.

    When we came up the escalator inside the library, we suddenly saw this area filled with tons and tons of books on three levels.

    There are no water fountains in the library because you can't drink the tap water in China. You have to bring your own water bottle and fill it up.

    Nicole's hot chocolate and my tiramisu latte sitting side by side at the library's cafe. The latte was okay.

    I had this bowl of wonton noodle soup for dinner. It had black fungus and tiny shrimp in it and was quite good. The cafe served a lot of American foods as well.

    This is Purple Bamboo Park at night. Look really closely...they're dancing! It is common to see groups of people gather to dance in the park after dark. These people were practicing Taiqi when we came and then did a number of dances. There was also ballroom dancing a short distance away, as well as another group of Chinese dancers.

    Sidewalk Calligraphy Video

    Click on the link above for the video of the ticket-taker doing calligraphy with water and a giant brush!

  8. Beijing Concert Hall


    On Sunday, March 25, I had the opportunity to go with Zhang Laoshi, her daughter Nina, and Nina’s friends to a concert at the Beijing Concert Hall.  The concert was sponsored by Milk Deluxe, the brand of milk with the highest quality in China, and we went because Zhang Laoshi’s husband and his company created an ad for Milk Deluxe, and if I remember correctly, I think they also worked on the concert program and created a display for Milk Deluxe at the concert.  It was a huge affair, with lots of photographers around (I was probably in some photos), and the concert was to be televised the next night.

    The orchestra was a Western one and was really great.  I found out that if you keep clapping when the conductor has left, he or she may come back and play another song or two.  (Yeah, I don’t go to concerts much, so sue me.)  I got to hear some familiar songs that I only remember from the old cartoons and some others like “March of the Toreadors” from “Carmen” and the Cancan from “Orpheus in the Underworld”.  There were three pianists as well – one of them was a young teenaged boy, another an older girl, and then a very well known pianist in China whose name escapes me.  There was a contest halfway through, and the audience had to text an answer a question posed by the emcee.   There were two prizes, both one by young men.  I didn’t take part because everything’s in Chinese, and my phone doesn’t do Chinese characters.

    At the end of the concert, I got to meet the manager of the Milk Deluxe company and everyone who presented their ticket to the ticket desk got a free box of milk!  A lot of milk here in China is not always refrigerated because both the container (usually a box similar to a juice box) and the milk are treated so that the milk can keep for up to 6 months.  The milk tasted kind of like whole milk to me.

    This is what the concert hall looked like. There are three levels for the audience to sit in, though it wasn't a full house.

    I snuck a picture of the orchestra near the end of the concert. I think they were playing "Orpheus in the Underworld" when I snapped this.

  9. Xizhimen

    March 24, 2012 vasmith89

    Yesterday afternoon, we took a crowded bus to go clothes shopping at Xizhimen.  It’s like Dongwuyuan in that each vendor has their own stall, but the quality was a bit better and there was much less haggling.  There were also lots of vendors selling other things like phone cases, jewelry, shoes, wallets, purses, and more.  I didn’t really find anything that interested me clothing-wise, so I bought accessories.  I was really impressed with the jewelry and accessories available; there was a wide selection of most things and they were very cute and/or very pretty.  Prices weren’t bad, either, and I think it helped that it was definitely not as crowded as we expected.  I didn’t bring my camera because I figured it’d be crowded and too hard to take photos, but once I was back in my room, I took photos of what I bought.  By request, I have also posted a photo of me in the apple hoodie.  I was going to post photos of my clothes from Dongwuyuan, but I don’t think I took very good photos of them, so you’ll have to wait and see.

    I bought these for 25 kuai.

    The purple flower one was made in Korea, and the short one on the right is a cube with a crystal inside.

    This is actually a metallic ball of flowers. On one side, the stigmas are crystals, and on the other, they're gold balls. You can also see part of the scarf I bought.

    This is not something I would normally buy. I told Nicole to try it on and it looked very cute on her, but she insisted I try it on and then buy it. I do like it a lot and now I'm determined to build a cute summer outfit around it.

    It's very long and colorful. I like it a lot.

    Here I am in the apple hoodie! I have to wait to wear it until the weather is warmer because it's pretty thin. This was the item that I really had to haggle for.

  10. A Taste of the Middle East


    On Thursday night (March 22nd), Sam took us to A Thousand and One Nights in Sanlitun, Chaoyang District, a highly decorated Arabic restaurant with authentic food as well as entertainment in the form of belly dancing.  The food was excellent, as well as the tea.  For once, I didn’t feel like one of the few white people in the establishment and that all eyes were on me.  There were many people from southwestern Asia there as well as some from North Africa, and there were some white people (maybe Americans?) and people who looked to be a mix of Asian and Middle Eastern.

    Sam took the picture while we posed. From left: me, Ana, Monica, and Flavia (from Italy). The restaurant has a lot of colored lights all over the trees and has very nice landscaping.

    This is what the dining area looked like, as well as the "stage" for the dancer. Many of the tables were long and had hookas at the ends.

    The walls were covered in relief art and had fake torches. There were also stone columns here and there.

    The lights were covered with intricate designs and gave off a pleasant glow.

    We had bread, hummus, and salad. The tea, which we drank with sugar, was very good.

    A whole fish and falafel were also served. I didn't take a picture of the lamb kebabs and the little "pizzas," sorry.

    The belly dancer danced several times and changed outfits as well. Sometimes she'd come around the dining area and dance for us. It was interesting to see, although I personally found it a bit embarrassing after a while.