Tuesday, September 5, 2006

Back at home

Tonight, we arrived safely back to Cleveland after spending two months in China. The trip back was rather stressful due to the new security procedures, but we're glad that we made all our flights on time. More later. Now it's time for bed because we're really tired and I go back to work tomorrow morning. G'night!

Sunday, August 20, 2006

On the road through China

We completed our classes this past Friday. Though clich├ęd, time sure flies! It's difficult to believe that the six weeks of classes have gone by. We bid farewell to our teachers and some of the staff as well as other students, with whom we've become quite acquainted. We will surely miss them, and we plan to try to stay in touch with some of them.

This past week, we went with Starla's parents to the Great Wall. We went on a weekday and early in the morning, and the wall was still rather crowded. We were blessed with a beautiful bright sunny day, and we were able to see the Wall snake across mountain tops far into the distance. It was well worth the rather bad sunburn that Starla and I suffered, from which we're still peeling.

On Saturday, we also said goodbye to my mother as Starla, her parents, and I began our two week tour of central China.

We flew bright and early Saturday morning from Beijing to Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan (Szechuan) Province in central China, famed for its spicy food and tea houses. We're putting our newly improved Chinese to good use, though we're finding that the Sichuan dialect is still nearly un-understandable, and the accented Mandarin of most of the local people rather challenging.

We've toured the Chengdu area these past two days, including a couple of local parks dedicated to some historical figures such as the famed Chinese poet Du Fu from the Tang dynasty (around 700 AD) as well as a little town that still has some Qing dynasty (the last dynasty, whose reign ended in 1911) era architecture. Tomorrow, we plan to visit the giant pandas at a local panda breeding and research center, as well as see the largest Buddha carving in the world at Leshan. We hope we brought enough film! Until next time...

Monday, August 14, 2006

Starla's parents arrived

Starla's parents arrived safely in Beijing despite the terror threat on Thursday.

On Friday, they visited a couple of local tour spots with my mom and a family friend. On Saturday, I took them to a couple of historical parks. These were former imperial gardens or residences during China's dynastic period that were once off-limits to regular citizens. Starla was not feeling well and so she stayed home. On Sunday, the four of us visited a Taoist (Daoist) temple in which the air was filled with the smell of burning incense. We then went to a popular flea market that was way too crowded. In the evening, we met up with my mom and went to Lao She Teahouse for a series of traditional Chinese entertainment shows that included acrobatics, magic, Beijing Opera, Kungfu demonstrations, all of which was accompanied by tea and snacks. It was a fun time.

Today (Monday), Starla's parents are visiting the Forbidden City with my mom, while Starla and I are back to classes. The weather remains either hot or rainy, and humid regardless. We were originally planning to visit the Great Wall today, but the forecast called for rain, and we didn't want to repeat our trip 2 years ago when we could not see much of the Wall due to fog. Hopefully, the weather will clear up later this week.

Tuesday, August 8, 2006

Some photos added

I've added a few photos to various blog entries. Enjoy. This one is of the bicycles parked behind the building where we take classes. Though more and more people own cars now and the roads are incredibly congested, bicycles, along with scooters and mopeds, remain one of the main modes of transportation for Chinese people.

Wednesday, August 2, 2006

A bit of excitement


There was a bit of nailbiting this past weekend.

On Saturday, we went to a nearby restaurant for dinner. While eating, Starla began having an allergic reaction to something we ate. Initially we thought that she may be reacting to the several smokers nearby, but when the itching didn't stop after going outside for a while, we feared a food allergy. We rushed to the nearby China-Japan Friendship Hospital, which apparently has an international outpatient clinic in which all forms are in both Chinese and English, and all physicians speak English (and I'm guessing, Japanese).

While waiting, Starla began feeling better, and things cleared up soon after she took the doctor's prescription. Since the reaction was came and went rather fast, we suspect that it was either the fruit juice we had with dinner or possibly the fish and shrimp dishes. However, it's not quite definitive since she's had all of those things before and allergies are hard to pinpoint.

Other than that, we've been fortunate to have been having comparatively cool weather here in Beijing, with temperatures rarely topping 90 degrees, which from what I understand, is a major concern Stateside. We are, however, having a lot of rainfall. According to one news report this week, this is the rainiest summer in Beijing in 5 years. It seems to rain heavily one day, then hot and humid the next day, combining into one wet cycle. The humidity is staying as high as the temperatures, with people reporting interference with electronic devices. We were at this one place where the staff had to use a blow dryer to dry a keycard lock before the keycard would work to open a door. The below photo is a typical hazy day as viewed from the building where we hold classes.

Classes are going fairly well as we are going through our fourth week of classes. We're learning a lot, and probably forgetting a lot, too.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Week 3 begins


This past weekend, we went to visit the National Museum of China, formerly the National Cultural and Revolutionary History Museum. This museum is currently being renovated so only some exhibits were open to the public.

We saw an exhibit of selected archeological items from various periods in Chinese history. There wasn't much organization to this exhibit. It looks like the museum just took some notable pieces and laid them out. We then went to an exhibit on relics from the Inca, most of which were on loan from the National Archeological Museum of Peru. Another exhibit was a mini wax museum, which included wax sculptures of various historical, political, as well as modern figures of China. Some interesting foreign figures included wax sculptures of Bill Gates, Piccaso, Beckham, and Charlie Chaplin. This may be a sign that China has been really eager and successful at integrating the rest of the world into its own cultural development.

While we were waiting in the museum, a little boy of about 6 or 7 years old came up to Starla and asked if she's a 'wai guo ren' -- a foreigner. She said she was. He said that he learned English but had forgotten all of it already. He then wanted her to teach him how to say 'dan tong' in English, but we didn't know what he meant by it. We later found out that apparently it's a type of snow cone.

After dinner on Saturday, we went to Tiananmen Square and watched the soldiers lower the Chinese flag as they do every day at dusk. None of us have seen them raise it every morning because I guess it's too early for us. We stayed around a bit to watch the lights come up around the square and the many kite flyers displaying their skills. There were also plenty of peddlers selling kites, and many were sold to parents of young kids. The smart ones also bought string, while the less diligent ones were left tugging the kites on only about a foot of string.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Oh what a beautiful morning, oh what a beautiful day

Guess what? When we left for school this morning, wisps of clouds streaked across a blue sky and the sun warmed our faces.

This is the first clear and sunny day we've seen since arriving in Beijing, and we can see it on the faces of many people. On the radio, the DJs read text messages sent by gleeful Beijingers cheering the first beautiful day in a long time, but it promises to be a hot and muggy couple of days.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Things I learned so far in Beijing

1. It takes a whole lot of faith to cross the street when no one stops for pedestrians.

2. Non-smoking area? What's that?

3. When it comes to clothing fashion, anything matches.

4. The Clean Air Act, pollution control, clean water act, etc. are all great policies. I've forgotten what a blue sky looks likes because it's always smogged over here.

I've been trying to find a local church to attend, and I'm having some difficulty. There are several large Catholic and Protestant churches in Beijing, but they're all huge and not quite our style. I guess we've gotten really used to smaller churches. Being govenment-sanctioned, they also require that all attendees to be foreign nationals -- no Chinese citizens allowed. However, I have met a few people who are openly Christian. They all attend smaller house churches all over the city. One says that her house church congregation has over 300 members, and they meet in small groups at members' houses on a rotational basis. I'm not sure if they'd let us join them for Sunday worship or if that's not allowed. I guess it could also be kind of awkward. I found that even when discussing a shared topic such as Christianity, I'm not familiar with a lot of the relevant vocabulary. So attending one of these house churches, where services are completely in Chinese, would be an interesting and challenging experience.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Second week begins

Unfortunately, last Friday Starla and I both felt ill, probably from something we ate during Thursday night's dinner at a local restaurant. So we ate my mom's cooking at home all weekend and stayed in. We finally got over whatever it was on Sunday, and went to visit a long-time family friend and went out to dinner with them. They were our neighbors in Beijing before I was even born, so our families have been good friends for at least 33 years. They're such a nice family and it's always nice to see them again.

So the second week of classes begins. We hope to start planning our vacation soon and prepare for Starla's parents arrive in early August. That's it for now. Class is about to begin.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Tidbits of Life in Beijing

From Beijing

Some observations during our 1 hour 15 minutes commute each morning and evening:
  • Fashion has been smeared as if someone scooped up a broad sample of western and eastern fashion styles from over the past 5 decades and splashed them on the streets of Beijing. There are youths (not yutes) with shaggy hair akin to the Beatles or long sideburns like Elvis, and long shorts worn low like American teenagers today. Women's fashion is even more diverse. But there are also still older or rural people who wear the more traditional buttoned-down, wide-collared, pin-striped white dress shirts with slacks like what my father wore when he attended college in Beijing.
  • The shear crowd entering and exiting the subway stations can be one response to the question "how can the government tell people how many children they can have?"
  • To be continued...

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The first day of classes

Starla and I started class this morning bright and early. We each have three 2-hour sessions each day, totalling 30 hours per week for the 6-week course. In addition, we will have two 1-hour individual tutoring sessions each week. Each 2-hour session cover things like reading, listening, speaking, writing, and combined lessons. We will also be taking elective classes in taijiquan (tai-chi) and some caligraphy, mainly for fun. The classes run between 8:30 AM and 5:30 PM every day, with breaks in between. Plus, it takes us about 1 hour 15 minutes to commute between my grandmother's apartment to the classroom, so the next six weeks will be rather busy.

The placement exam put me in a higher-level C, while Starla is in the mid-level B. Most of the other new students fell in one of the four lower A levels.

Since I'm in a rather unique situation where I am natively Chinese and conversationally fairly fluent, I'm in classes by myself for the most part. Starla's classes have a few more other students, but one of the reason we chose this program is because they guarantee no more than 8 students per class so that each student receives enough individual attention.

One thing I had expected is that I may be the only ethnically Chinese student in the program. However, what I'm seeing is that about a third of the students are ABCs (American born Chinese), BBCs (British), and CBCs (Canadian). It makes me feel somewhat better. It's also quite amazing how already fluent some of the foreigners are in Chinese. We've seen many foreigners haggle with shopkeepers or talking with Chinese friends in fluent Mandarin. So I guess that means Chinese isn't so hard. Anyone want to come and learn Chinese?

Monday, July 10, 2006

First day of the Chinese program

Our first chance to post a brief update.

We arrived safely in Beijing on Friday evening local time. Our trip was uneventful, and this time, we did not get delayed in Tokyo. We used the weekend to get some utilities connected and we're basically settled in my grandmother's Beijing apartment, which is north of Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City, near the Third Ring Road.

Today, Starla and I started the first day of our Chinese class. Right now, we're in their office waiting on the results of our placement test to see which class we would be placed in. We've met our teachers and some of our classmates. They're from all over the world. The class officially begins tomorrow.

The weather has been crazy. The days have been hot, hazy, and humid, while the nights are filled with incredibly loud thunderstorms that keep waking us up, so it hasn't been easy to sleep well.

It looks like the class schedule is almost ready. We hope to write more later.

Wednesday, July 5, 2006

One day to go...

We found an inspirational point for our journey to the other side of the world.

Matt Harding from Connecticut has travelled to many locales all over the world, and in each place, he does a little dance. He has two short montage video clips on his website http://www.wherethehellismatt.com that are quite memorable.

I doubt that we'll get the chance to travel to all the amazing places that Matt Harding has been, and we definitely cannot dance, but these world travelers are still very impressive.

With apologies to the Mamas & the Papas -- all our bags are packed, we're ready to go. We're leaving on a jet plane, we know when we'll be back again (Labor day). Thanks for the prayers.

Monday, July 3, 2006

Packing...

We are in the midst of packing, with clothes and other items laid out on the floor. It's sometimes hard to figure out what to pack and what not to pack given the length of our trip. One thing is for sure - it will be hot in Beijing. I checked the weather forecast and it will be about 90 degrees when we land in Beijing on Friday.

We visited my grandmother and uncle yesterday and received some final instructions, such as how to turn on electricity, water, and gas in my grandmother's Beijing apartment. I'm glad that we got a preview two years ago when we stayed there for a couple of weeks. It should make this time less of a surprise. I guess here in the U.S. we take a lot of conveniences for granted.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

One week to go!

We will be leaving for our two-month trip to China on July 6th. We'll post updates, photos, and other tidbits here for our family and friends.

The plan is this. We will be in Beijing for six weeks to attend Chinese classes at a private language program. We chose this private program because of its flexible class dates and available different levels. Starla's parents will join us and my mom in early August and tour Beijing while we finish our classes. After the class completes on August 18th, we will be travelling to the city of Xi'an and then to Sichuan (Szechwan) province. All of us will return to the U.S. on September 4th, Labor Day.

Here's a satellite map of Beijing from Google maps.