We are coming to the end of the first month of the new school year. This morning I taught two classes, one was a sophomore class on international business, the other is an introduction to business class for freshman. Both groups have some great students who are very active in the discussion. During a break, one of the freshman told me that the first week of class he thought I sounded like Eminem. The student obviously like rap, and my voice, my speed, my tone sounded to him like the American rapper, whom he likes but sometimes has trouble understanding.
The student then told me that since then he has become accustomed to my voice and it's much easier to understand me now.
August 10 is the anniversary of Ecuador's independence in 1809. In 1995 and 1996, I lived in Ecuador and have many fond memories of my time there. This evening in Beijing the Ecuadorian embassy put on a grand fiesta with several hundred guests at the Sofitel hotel on Jianguomen, Beijing's main crosstown avenue. It began with the anthems of both Ecuador and China, a speech from the ambassador, a recorded message from President Rafael Correa, and the anthems of both countries sung to a video recording.
After the speeches, there was dining and mingling. The buffet included the usual Chinese and sushi plates I've come to expect at diplomatic gatherings with buffet tables. In addition, there were tables with Ecuadorian specialties. Shrimp in coconut sauce. Llapingauchos (stuffed potato patties). Corn and cheese bread. Flan. A Chinese colleague was with me at the event and I walked him through the Ecuadorian food, serving him things I haven't eaten in years and have missed.
There was no encebollado, the tuna and yuca soup I often crave and eat whenever I land in New York (I'm going to have to learn how to make it), but my appetite was well sated with the selection of Ecuadorian comida tipica on offer.
In addition to eating, the event included socializing. Celebrants from around the world, including staff at a range of embassies and executives and other honored guests from numerous companies and government organizations, joined the Ecuadorians in marking their dia nacional.
Summertime and the living is easy. Especially if you teach at a university. With my copious amounts of free time I've been studying Chinese, reading, swimming, and generally taking care of myself. In Beijing, taking care of yourself usually involves TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine), including massage. The best place to go for professional care of your aches and pains? The Beijing Massage Hospital (北京按摩医院), steps away from Exit A of the Pinganli subway stop on the 4 line.
Back in June, when I barely had a moment free from marking my students' papers and exams, I asked a Chinese friend who lives near me if she could recommend somewhere local for baguan (cupping), a TCM treatment that involves having glass cups placed on your skin, leaving bruises and a much healthier posture and range of motion afterwards. She and a mutual friend introduced me to the Beijing Massage Hospital.
Massage is not the only treatment available at the hospital. They also offer baguan, acupunture, and other treatments, and treat patients on both an in-patient and out-patient basis. Many of the massage therapists at the hospital are blind. Some even speak some English. Dr. Zou, who was recommended by my friends, speaks English well enough that he is one of the trainers of visiting doctors and massage therapists from overseas who want to study here. He's also a gifted massage therapist.
Dr. Zou had me see the head doctor, who ordered back x-rays, before he worked on me. Four x-rays cost ~US$18 and were printed and diagnosed in the time it took for me to have baguan. My Chinese friends looked at me like they were going to have to tell me I'd die a slow and painful death before telling me I have a "C-curve" on my back. I shocked them by laughing, explained that the English word is 'scoliosis,' and yes, I already knew that. I laughed even harder when the hospital's head doctor looked me over and told them I had a wider range of motion and was healthier than them.
The total cost of my visit? ~US$27, including hospital record book, card (to hold credit for future treatments and information about my visit history), handkerchief-like cloths for the massage therapist to use between their hands and my skin or clothes (which I take back with me when I visit), x-rays, baguan and massage.
In the U.S. I normally avoid hospitals, and in China I've been even more adamant about staying away. The beautiful siheyuan (courtyard house) grounds of this hospital and the bamboo and pomegranate trees decorating the grounds create a relaxing and beautiful environment here though, a restorative contrast to most hospitals. Since my first visit I've already been back a number of times. I enjoy to going to this hospital.
Last March my sister visited me in Beijing and took home some of the Gobi Desert, in her lungs, courtesy of one of Beijing's famous spring sandstorms.
This year we haven't seen as much of the famous red silt in the air. We've been grateful for more blue sky days, when we could actually see the sky. It's made me appreciate windy days more, as the wind blows the pollution away. The weather report for yesterday and today has been slightly disappointing though - blowing sand.
My plans for the day including doing some work and meeting a friend at a lakefront cafe, indoors, then dragonboating on Houhai with my team. The outdoors activity is dependent on the amount of sand in the air though. When I'm walking outside I can easily wear a mask or a scarf to cover my face but that's harder to do when I'm paddling in the boat.
This afternoon a friend and I set out for the Joy City shopping mall Apple store to purchase his first Mac product. The eight story den of consumerism was hopping - not with brothel-goers, as the name might imply, but with consumers itching to shop at Sephora, Calvin Klein, Zara, H&M and other international chains.
After a ridiculously bad experience in the Apple Store we decided to use several hours of waiting time to sate our appetite for Sichuan food and Dairy Queen, and then to buy me a new pair of sneakers. I decided to skip the New Balance shop, only gave cursory glances to Adidas and Nike, and headed to the Li-Ning store. Li-Ning is a Chinese sportwear brand, akin to Adidas and Nike, selling sports shoes, clothing and equipment to a mostly Chinese audience, with a reputation for quality akin to the international brands. The company has entered into the U.S. market but it is still building it's reputation for North American consumers.
Walking in, the usual "I am a giantess foreigner whose feet will not fit into anything you have" concern was foremost in my mind. I decided to try anyway. The first pair of shoes I asked about was not available in my size (European size 40-41) in women's shoes, but there was a men's version. The shop assistant did not bat an eyelash when I said I wanted to see the men's, he just said 'ke yi' (okay) and went to get them from the storeroom. Maybe it was because I'm a foreigner and I'm intimidating, maybe it was that he didn't care, but it was a complete 180° turn from my experience in the U.S. when I attempt to try on men's shoes. The whole time I was there the assistant seemed helpful and was willing to answer my questions using vocabulary for the Mandarin-impaired.
The first pair of shoes was a bit loose around my toes so I tried on several others. Mostly in blue. There was only one pair of women's shoes I tried, a fun pair of red running shoes with some black, but the largest size was too small if I actually want to do any moving in them. The final pair I tried, a men's running shoe in white and blue, was comfortable and fit well, and even stood up to the hard cornering and stopping I did as I ran laps around the shop to test them out. The chevron-like logo on the side was coming off so the assistant pulled a new pair from the storeroom for me which had the logo firmly in place.
If Li-Ning starts to make larger women's sizes I'll go back to buy the red sneakers. Until then, I'm quite happy with my new blue men's running shoes. I'll see for myself if the quality is comparable to the international brands and if they are as comfortable.
Yesterday some friends and I took advantage of the beautiful, warm spring holiday and had an afternoon picnic at Liuyin Park. It's one of the smaller public parks in Beijing, but the lake and an absence of crowds made it one we will visit again.
After our picnic by the lake we took a walk around the park. My two friends, their infant daughter and I enjoyed watching the koi in the lake, feeling a breeze in the trees and looking up at the blue sky. We stopped to chat with some of the other park visitors, all locals, along the way. While we were crossing a bridge we met a ten year old girl and her family and stopped for a quick conversation.
My friend: "Do you speak English?" (in English)
10 y.o. girl: "iPod"
While we all laughed the girl decided to continue, in Chinese: "iPods are made by Apple."
She may not be learning much English at school but the Apple media machine has certainly spread its message.
"Foreigners speak English. Whites are from America. Blacks are from Africa."
These are some of the most common stereotypes heard by foreigners living in mainland China. This afternoon I heard them strung together into one statement, made by a mother to her young son on the 635 bus across Beijing. She was responding to his finger-pointing and shrieks of "look Mommy, a foreigner."
While I've heard each sentence uttered separately before, this was the first time I have heard them all together. After I caught my breathe I said hello to the child and politely explained that there are many different languages spoken by foreigners: French, Spanish, German, others. I also told him that Americans are not all white - some are black, some are yellow, some are red. Not all black people are from Africa either.
People standing near us were listening in, of course. Some of them probably didn't believe me. That's their choice. I've planted a new idea in their head. If they meet foreigners who don't speak English in the future it won't be a complete shock.
After the mother and son reached their stop I took their seat. There was another foreigner on the bus, a black man. He didn't speak English. From the Central African Republic, he speaks French and has studied Russian. No Chinese yet. A young girl standing near us was obviously straining to understand so I explained we were speaking French and the man doesn't speak English. She and her mother were curious, as the girl studies English in school so they had thought she'd be able to understand at least a few words. It was a great example of foreigners (in Chinese: 'other country people') not speaking English.
Stereotypes about foreigners are regional. In Harbin, near the northern border with Siberia, my friends and I were assumed to be Russian. All bets are off in Hong Kong and Macau. They've seen foreigners of many shades and speaking a variety of languages.
Moving to Beijing? Thinking about it? I've put together a file of useful Beijing tips and news sources for new arrivals and those who are still in the planning stages. Send me an email and ask for the "Welcome to Beijing" file.