The two month mark has once again crept upon us. And I feel as though it is only fair to let you guys know what has been keeping me busy as of late.
But before I begin, I would first like to warn you that neither February nor March have been quite as exciting as previous month combos; there have been no surprise meetings with Hu Jintao, no nonstop fireworks, and no cars trying to run my friends and me over. Wait! Actually I take the car part back. The whole "Pedestrian Right-of-Way" thing has not really caught on here yet.
Anyway, despite the lack of famous people and bomb-like noises until the A.M., I have still been making the best of my time in Beijing. There is still plenty to read about.
This time I have divided my letter into sections so that you can best time your coffee breaks, bathroom breaks, and i-thought-she-had-nothing-going-on-in-her-life-recently-so-why-is-this-so-long-please-make-it-stop breaks.
When I sent my last newsletter it was Chinese New Year. And, I may not have mentioned it in my previous email, but I had a personal goal over Chinese New Year Break. It was to become a 北京通(beijingtong), which basically means an expert on Beijing.
My goal became a hot topic within my host family. Whenever I came back home from another adventure, my host mother would half jokingly ask me if there was anything new in Beijing I could teach her about. (This is not as bizarre as it sounds, when you consider that my host mother and sister just moved from another province to Beijing two years ago.)
This leads to my most satisfying moment over Chinese New Year break. My host mother and sister were feeling adventurous, and although they do not typically enjoy Western food they agreed to let me take them out to an authentic "American" Diner. I took them there by subway, helped them order, made sure my host sister got to try her first milkshake, and explained what ketchup, mustard, and hot sauce are.
Unfortunately, aside from the milkshake my host sister did not enjoy her meal very much, and my host mother thought her first real burger was just okay. But, as we were leaving to get back onto the subway my host mother turned to me and said (in Chinese), "I have no idea how you found this place, or how you knew which route would get us here. You really are a 北京通!"
My heart must have skipped a beat. Even though I knew she was not completely serious, her words still meant a lot to me. And although I still might not be a complete expert on Beijing, I think I may be a virtuoso on finding Western restaurants.
Part Two: 回学校
When I arrived back to the Beijing No. 80 campus mid-February, I was greeted by the second semester NSLI-Y students. The new students from my program are five girls from all over the U.S.A.
In order to properly welcome the new girls, the other year-long students and I went to work translating things for them, purchasing internet, and basically doing whatever we could so that they could bypass the hard beginning stages that we endured back in September.
Meanwhile, school was starting, and all language students were immediately scheduled to take placement tests. Everyone pretty much ended up in the same classes they were in before, except they added a third class for students with very elementary Chinese proficiency.
I returned to the highest level Chinese language class, and later that week, in an International Department wide assembly, received awards for my first semester work, these included one for Highest GPA, Most Industrious, and a second place award for my "I Love Life" speech.
Part Three: 星期四
Soon after the assembly came one of the year-long boys' 19th birthday. And, despite his self proclaimed "unintentional” attempts to keep the rest of us out of the loop, we found out the day of. Never being one to let a birthday go uncelebrated, I quickly rounded up as many people as I could find, bought a cake and some candles, and invited John to a birthday party meal in his honor the next day.
The meal was a success. That Thursday we went to the same restaurant that we go to for most semi-important events, so I think that added an extra touch of "special-ness" to the occasion. I also believe that John was surprised by the cake with candles and the presence of all the new girls.
All the guests (excluding John of course) split the bill, which only came down to about $10 per person. One of the nice things about life in Beijing is the more people you have in your dining party the (significantly) less your meal costs.
That fact and the success of John's birthday party lead me to institute "Thursday." Yes, I know that Thursday already exists between Wednesday and Friday, but my Thursday was simply an idea that every Thursday whoever wants to join can go out with a large group to a pre-planned restaurant and split the bill. Basically, feasting on a dime.
We haven't missed a Thursday yet.
Part Four: 学校的事
After John's birthday, school continued as usual. Not everything stayed the same though. My classes have become more advanced and challenging, which is a good thing because I am scheduled to take the HSK 6 in June. The HSK 6 is the highest level test a foreigner can take to determine their Chinese proficiency level.
Another thing that has changed, I am sad to announce, is that improv club is finished for the year. Basically, the school cut the time slot for clubs from international students' schedules and arranged it so that all clubs had to go through a more rigorous application process and be teacher run.
I am still incredibly happy that I took the opportunity last semester when I had it. I might not have been the most prepared or able improv leader, but I think I made up what I lacked in language capability, support, and experience with a passion to bring everyone together.
Part Five: 家人
During the short period between late February and early March, I was visited by two relatives from the States. The first couple that came were my Aunt Liz and Uncle Fritz. They came to Beijing as part of a travel group and were busy learning about Chinese history and culture.
The second group that visited consisted of my Aunt Patricia, Uncle Steve, and their son, my god brother, Ben Blessman. They were on an exciting private trip through Asia, visiting family and friends and touring famous destinations.
Although Beijing No. 80's strict curfew cut our available time short, I still had a wonderful time with both groups. I hope they both enjoyed their stay in Beijing.
Part Six: 即兴表演
On Saturday, March 10th a friend and I finally had the opportunity to attend the show we had been wildly anticipating since we purchased the last available tickets back in early February. The day of Beijing Improv's Bookworm performance had arrived at last!
Before confusion sets in or you start shaking your head and thinking to yourself she is obsessed with improv let me take a few seconds to explain. Okay, remember my whole goal on becoming a 北京通? Well, in the process of adventuring through Beijing I became familiar with the Bookworm.
The Bookworm is a very awesome library/bookstore/cafe for (mainly) English books in Beijing. Every March they hold a huge International Book Festival, in which they invite authors and spoken word artists from all over the world to come give presentations and hold workshops.
This year Beijing's English Improv group was one of the performers. I knew that I just had to go. And, luckily for me, my friend and her host sister were interested in tagging along as well. Since my friend and her host sister live closer to the Bookworm than I do, it was arranged for me to stay with them after the 11pm performance.
The show was no Second City, but I was thoroughly entertained. I even participated in one skit. The skit involves three actors, two of them sitting in chairs, and two volunteers are called up to be "the hands" of the sitting actors. A situation, relationship, location, and task are then given to the actors on stage, and then, hopefully, hilarity ensues.
Part Seven: 母亲
The week after the improv show my mom arrived in Beijing to visit me for the second time. By this point we were pros at coordinating things to do together. Mostly we bargain shopped, ate street food, and strutted the sidewalks of Beijing.
We both had a fabulous time, but unfortunately all good things must come to an end. She flew back to the U.S.A. leaving me with magazines, pancake mix, the Goldfish snacks I had requested, various gifts for people and dinnerware for the banquet I had been planning.
Part Eight: 美国式聚会
As I just mentioned, in the beginning of March I decided to plan a banquet. Honestly, the whole idea developed from my craving for U.S. food. I had already talked to other NSLI-Y participants, and mostly all had agreed to purchase some "American" food as a group and have a mini feast at some point before we left.
Then, suddenly, the thought occurred to me that maybe this "mini feast" did not have to be so mini. So, I created a poster, planned a date, got permission from the school, ordered a bigger classroom, wrote a theoretical budget, printed tickets (no refund), made a signature form, contacted the owners of the local Subway Sandwiches and a gourmet pizza store, ordered desserts from Bread of Life Bakery (it is a bakery that sends most of its proceeds to help Chinese orphans), made decorations, bought prizes, created a playlist, and two days before the actual event, made mango salsa, tomato salsa, guacamole, refried beans and a spicy egg curry.
Tickets were 50元 each (about $8), and if you wanted to attend you had to buy your tickets at the latest a week in advance. I printed out 35 tickets with the goal of selling 30. In the end 32 tickets were purchased.
One of my friends, Sophia, had the idea that there should be Twister at the party. Unfortunately, no one knew where to buy Twister in Beijing. So, we did the next best thing and made one out one of those giant foam floor puzzles for toddlers. We also made mustaches, bow-ties, glasses, and eyes out of construction paper and taped them onto chopsticks for a photo booth that Sophia set up.
The banquet was a huge success. I had been nervously arranging things for two weeks straight and felt like I could finally breathe again when all the food arrived safely and on time. I led everyone in playing musical chairs and, of course, Twister. About a third of the group left with a prize. And everyone left full.
(Okay, ironically, everyone left full except for me.) I guess I was too busy trying make sure everything worked out to that I never made a mad dash to the brownies, pizza, sandwiches, or Subway cookies. All of those things were gone before my friends reminded me to eat. Still, 100% worth it.
Part Nine: 博瑞学校
Breck! Breck! Breck!
So, in case you do not know me that well, or have somehow forgotten, I am a student at Breck School in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I have been attending Breck since the eighth grade, when I started taking high school Chinese I.
In any case, nearly every year there is the option for Breck students to go on a trip through China. This year, the trip was scheduled during Breck's two week long spring break. Before leaving, Ms.Wong, the creator of Breck's Chinese language curriculum, emailed me to let me know what days they were going to be in Beijing.
Everything seemed perfect, until Beijing No. 80 High School informed students that they had finally chosen a date for our Xi'an trip. My train ride to Xi'an was scheduled on the same day that the Breck group was to land in Beijing.
The irony of ironies, though, is that the Breck group's flight was leaving from Xi'an, while we were preparing to go to Xi'an. And, Beijing No. 80's train back to Beijing was on the same day as the Breck group's return to the U.S.A.
Aware of this acute conflict, I petitioned my head class teacher and resident director for permission to leave campus an hour and a half before our bus to the train station left the school. Luckily, I immediately found a taxi, and was soon racing off towards the Four Points Hotel.
After a nerve wracking half an hour long taxi ride, I finally arrived at the hotel. To be honest, the first thing I thought was that everyone has grown taller except for Ms. Wong and me. I quickly whipped around talking to different people before my short twenty minute allotted time was up. Ms. Wong walked me out to my cab, paid for my fare and gave me a big hug before I sped off back towards school.
In all seriousness, it was wonderful seeing Breck people again.
Part Ten: 西安
Soon I was on a coach bus and on my way to the train station. We slept in sleeper cars that were stacked three beds high, six to a "room." Each room had a small T.V. that no one paid attention to, a pot for boiled water, and a mini table.
Once in Xi'an we visited several tourist hot spots, including the Terra Cotta Warriors, The Wild Goose Pagoda, The City Wall, The Forest of Stone Steles Museum. Our group mainly ate buffet style at an assortment of hotels, which was slightly disappointing because I was excited to try local food.
On the second day of our three day long trip, I caught some sort sinus infection that has left me worse for wear. Now as I write I am hacking away the last vestiges of the virus.
Despite the cold, I had a wonderful time in Xi'an. It is a beautiful city that blends the old imperial China with the new swiftly developing China. It is a very curious place to visit. And, if you do, be sure to try the noodles!
I have attached some photos and documents in this email as usual.