HAPPY CHINESE NEW YEAR
It has been over two months since I last sent a group email. So, my sincerest apologies to the curious. Before I once again type until my hands are numb, I would like to first do some housekeeping. First off, I recently purchased some postcards and was very excited to send them to people until I suddenly realized that I am in China and all my addresses for people are six thousand three hundred miles away. If you are interested in receiving a postcard please, please email me your address, and I promise to send you one before I get back to the states. Secondly, I am currently on Chinese New Year Break, which lasts until February 12. If you are interested in sending me a package or card, it will have to wait until school starts again. Otherwise, you can email me and I will send you my host families mailing address.
Okay, I believe my last email ended with Caesar from Planet of the Apes screaming, "Booooo!" I am going to trust that you all followed my advice and watched the movie. Wasn't it great? Well, a couple weeks after seeing the Chinese version of the movie it was time to celebrate Thanksgiving expatriate style. On Thanksgiving we attended classes as usual, pausing only when one exasperated American boy could not take it anymore and shouted out, "This is so unfair! Not only do we have to attend classes today, but I also did not wake up to the smell of cooked turkey."
Thankfully (pun intended), we had some time after school ended for the day to go out in groups and feast. Some friends and I went out to a local Chinese restaurant and ordered a roast duck in replacement of turkey, sugary sweet pumpkin fries in replacement of pumpkin pie, stir fried eggplant, well, just because Chinese eggplant is delicious, and got stuffed on other Chinese delicacies instead of eating actual stuffing.
After feasting, some U.S. students, myself included, went to a Thanksgiving-Holiday musical, hosted by an international school in Beijing. The script and dance routines were written and choreographed by the students themselves and a few faculty members. I must admit the show was a bit too evangelical for my tastes. (The theme basically was that "cool" kids who party are the devil and can only be saved by Christianity.) Nevertheless, my crew of fellow Americans attendees, which included one Christian, one Catholic, two Jewish girls, two atheists, and an agnostic, all agreed that the musical was entertaining and well worth coming to.
Thanksgiving weekend brought new adventures. Our resident director found expat families who were willing to host American students for dinner. On Saturday a few friends and I took the subway to a faraway stop, and then took a taxi to our hosts' condominium complex. Upon arrival, we were greeted by a tall second generation Chinese-American high school Junior and his friend. They drove us through the gates to his home, where we were greeted by a first generation American immigrant, busily cooking, and her other son, a short, round nine year-old who was in the middle of playing HALO on a Wii in the next room over.
As normal as this may all sound, I can quite assure you that this is an anomaly in Beijing. Before that point, neither my friends nor I had seen a "house" in four months and a HALO siting is similar to that of a U.F.O. The food was just as fantastically out of place with the reality we had spent the past few months living. They served us pie, cookies, corn chowder, turkey, mashed potatoes, and a few Chinese treats. I felt as though I was back at home...almost.
Later that night, on our way to return to our host families, my friends and I witnessed a car crash happen literally a few feet in front of us. We were about to cross in front of a taxi that was waiting at a red light, when suddenly a car came zooming up from behind and smashed into the taxi. The front fender of the rear car was decimated and liquid was dripping from the underside. The taxi was propelled at least three meters further forward than it was before. No one was injured, and my friends and I breathed a sigh of relief that we had not crossed the street a moment sooner.
Not much happened for a few weeks following the epic Thanksgiving. I sketched a few drawings for art class (I attached a few in this email), lead the last improv meeting of the semester, saw another international school's play production, and took the HSK (basically the TOEFL for foreigners learning Chinese). There are six levels in all for the HSK; 1 is the equivalent of pre-toddler level Chinese, and 6 is supposedly graduate school ready. I decided to try for five, which if you pass reading, writing, and listening, allows you attend college in China. (More on the HSK later).
By December 22, 2011 things were buzzing again. The entire International Department of Beijing No. 80 High School (over 200 students) boarded coach buses and rode to a hot springs resort hotel for a department wide talent show. Everyone had to compete in at least one act. In addition to directing a group of classmates in singing “不得不爱,” a fast paced Chinese pop song, I was also a hostess of ceremonies. The show concluded with a small graduation ceremony for the fall semester students, who would be returning to the U.S.A. the following day.
The next day we woke up at the hotel and said "goodbye" to the fall semester NSLI-Y students. It seemed as though time had passed so quickly. We did not have much time to contemplate, though, because we were soon swept onto coach buses and were on our way to the Beijing Aquarium, where we saw a dolphin show and fish of multiple sizes and varieties. After visiting the aquarium, we once again boarded the buses and went to a Chinese-Interpretation-of-Itallian-Food Restaurant before returning to Beijing No. 80.
Actual Christmas was not that big of a deal in China. Sure their were Santa posters everywhere and a few mall guards wearing Santa costumes, but it did not feel the same as Christmas in America. Shopping districts did not have Christmas music blaring from the speakers, there were no cookies or gingerbread men, and there were no Christmas trees except for a few showy wire ones in areas where foreigners shop. Nevertheless, we did our best to celebrate. I organized a Secret Santa between the international students in language classes. And, on Christmas Eve a few friends and I went to a shopping district to take pictures next to decorative lights and eat dinner together.
Around this time I also went to synagogue for the first time. One of my friends here is Jewish, and the only other Jewish person in our group was a fall semester student who had already returned to the U.S. Not wanting to celebrate Hanukkah with a with a group of complete strangers, my friend invited me to go to service with her at one of the few synagogues in Beijing. I immediately accepted her offer. And, although I do not understand a word of Hebrew, I am still really happy I went. Not only did I learn more about Jewish customs while reading the appendix to the Torah, but I also got a bowl of matzo ball soup out of the deal.
After Christmas passed, our class began buckling down and preparing for finals. We attended classes until Friday and then had a week long break for New Years. Then, on Saturday the 7th and Sunday the 8th we took our first semester finals. After taking our last final on the 8th, some friends and I went out to an Indian restaurant to celebrate my seventeenth birthday. (My birthday is January 7th). After eating we went to KTV (karaoke where you rent your own room) and then returned to the dorms.
The next day I went online and found out my HSK 5 scores. I passed each section: listening, reading, and writing! I later also found out that I earned the highest grade in my class overall and received the second highest scores on the final exams. It was a superb ending to my first semester in Beijing. Since taking finals I have been on Spring Festival (AKA Chinese New Year) Break.
Recently, I have been exploring Beijing and have found several surprising locations. I have found a Vegan restaurant creatively dubbed "The Veggie Table." I have also seen a Vampire Bar not so creatively named "The Vampire Bar," where "humans enter at risk of getting bitten." I have spent my time reading, bargain shopping, watching movies, drawing, riding the subway, and I even cooked for my host family (pasta and guacamole, separately of course).
Outside it sounds like the set of a civil war movie. Fireworks start going off at around four in the afternoon and do not stop until two in the morning. I thought they would stop after actual Chinese New Years day, but they have only escalated. Whenever I walk down the street I can see sparks flying up from the sidewalk and chemically induced colors whizzing through the sky. I am guessing that the fireworks will stay until the last day of Chinese New Year... The holiday is fifteen days long.
That is pretty much my life in nutshell, or at least as much I could squeeze into an email without your eyes glazing over. Please do not forget what I said about the postcards! By the way, the new movie recommendation is Sherlock Holmes II, which really surpassed my expectations for a sequel. (Sherlock Holmes also sounds surprising "Sherlock Holmes-y" with a Chinese voice over.)
Have a wonderful 2012!