Archive for October, 2009

Beijing Trip Pictures 2

I’m posting via email – so the set up is a bit tricky, but it’s the only way we have around the Great Firewall of China. These pictures accompany the text in the previous post – please see captions 4-7!

Beijing Trip Pictures 1

1. Mom and Leo – right before I took off – Leo is actually not as sad as he looks. He was watching a cartoon and did not want to be distracted by saying goodbye to me.

2. Liz at Mutianyu Great Wall – The Fall colors were gorgeous! We took a cable car up about halfway, and this picture was shot right before we started hiking uphill.

3. On the hike – This part of the wall (and most of the Great Wall actually) is from the Ming Dynasty era. Although the wall’s history dates back more than 2000 years, most of the wall was built during the Ming Dynasty between 1450-1600 or so. The Ming were trying to keep the Mongols and then the Manchus from invading from the North, which didn’t work. The Manchus ousted the Ming in the 17th century and thus began the Qing Dynasty – the last dynastic era of China.

4. Just as I was thinking to myself, this place would be PERFECT for wedding pictures, I ran into a couple with the same idea.

5. The wall did serve as a useful communication tool back in the day. The wall is connected by a series of guard towers, and by day, the guards would send messages (warning of a coming invasion, for example) by smoke, and by night, by fire. This was a quick way to spread the word.

6. This picture was taken right before I scaled the stairs behind me to get to the top tower. This picture really doesn’t do justice to how steep the stairs are, and I’m sure my belly really isn’t quite that big, right? It’s gotta be the shirt. In any case, this hike was a great workout, and I feel like I earned my supper!

7. At the top – The view was well worth the climb. Awesome!

The Great Wall is really Great, and even though you really can’t see the wall from space (yep, that’s just a legend), it’s still a pretty impressive and fantastic feat of man. It does sort of boggle my mind that the Chinese spent so much time building the wall throughout history even though it wasn’t terribly effective at achieving it’s stated purposes, but hey – sometimes it’s about the process, not about the end result, right? I loved seeing it with my own eyes, and would really like to return to marathon on this Great Wall!

Dear Everyone in China,

Every once in a while, you and I need to have a talk. Although I dearly love living in your country, sometimes I want to wring your (communal) little neck.

For instance, when everyone herds ON to the bus at the same time, not paying any attention to the poor huge pregnant lady carrying a writhing 2 year old and a stroller trying to get OFF the bus until she has to yell, "Hey! Let me off the bus first please!", I sort of get a little grumpy with you.

Or when a black car comes barreling down on us honking it’s horn loudly right after we get off this same bus in the pedestrian lane, and I simply put up my hand (a la "talk to the hand"), and say (loudly, not to myself, which I’m sure made me look crazy), "Whatever, I think you can wait 30 seconds for us to cross the street." (in English this time, because it’s just not as satisfying to myself be annoyed in Chinese.). I sort of wanted to slash some tires.

Or, for example, when it’s 7am and the construction starts upstairs for the 15th day in a row. And doesn’t end until 10pm at night (and there are no breaks over the weekend). It’s especially fun when my son can’t nap through it, like today. While I appreciate how fast your country is developing, could you please develop yourself somewhere other than my apartment building?

The best part today was the impromptu fireworks display (which simultaneously accompanied the construction going on upstairs) right next to our bedroom windows as my son was trying to fall asleep tonight. A nuclear bomb would have had a hard time competing with this display. I’m sorry to say it China, but if I would have been armed, I would have been quite dangerous.

That is why I want to wring your neck, China. Maybe it has something to do with being a hugely pregnant and thus somewhat (ok, quite) irritable, at least I like to think it does. It also probably has something to do with being American and not Chinese. And I know, if I don’t like it, I can (and should) go home. But I’m not going home, because thankfully most days are not like this one.

So I’ve decided I will not wring your neck, dear China. You’ve become my home now – you are my friends and colleagues, my teachers and neighbors. And friends tolerate idiosyncrasies and weird habits, laugh about their differences, and live to see another day. Just as soon as the construction stops upstairs, I’m going to bed and we can start fresh tomorrow.

Love,
Liz

Happily Home Again

I got back last night after a whirlwind tour of Beijing, and couldn’t resist sneaking into Leo’s room to say goodnight. He was more concerned about getting his blankets properly arranged so he could go to sleep than he was with saying hello to his long lost mommy, so it was a bit of a letdown – but I was nonetheless thrilled to see him and JM once again. It was nice to be free in Beijing for a few days, but it is good to be back home with my family. This morning I received a much more warm greeting from my son, who was jumping up and down to see me when I went in to fetch him from his crib. That’s more like it! I think JM is happy to have me back as well. Caring for Leo and working and balancing the household by himself was no easy task, and regardless life’s always better when shared together! Big kudos and thanks to them both for letting me go!

My last morning in Beijing was spent going out to a suburb to visit a friend I’ve made online – another mom who lives in China. She’s lending me all of her English birthing books so I can refresh myself on labor and delivery. She and her husband have lived in China for 5 years and have had 3 children here. Hearing her experiences gave me even more confidence to deliver in China. We are now decided that we will not be sending me anywhere out of country to delivery our baby girl, but will stay in Nanjing. We’ve had a good meeting with a doctor at a big Taiwanese hospital here, and feel good about the place.

After that I made a beeline for the train station and just made it! Happily, pregnant ladies get to cut first in line and board the train before anybody else. Whew! I sat next to an older couple from Shanghai and their 5 year-old granddaughter who had been touring Beijing together. They were adorable – it was really touching to see how obviously close the granddaughter and especially her grandfather were to one another.

It was interesting though talking to them. While in Beijing, it was about 10 times easier to understand people, because Beijing Chinese is basically standard Mandarin, which I study in the classroom. It made me feel better about how we’ve at times struggled to understand Nanjing Chinese, because essentially the accent and much of the vocabulary is just not the same. Talking to the couple from Shanghai, it was equally difficult to understand. While we could certainly communicate, it was not as simple as it was in Beijing. I’m glad to have had this experience; it really helps me understand how different the dialects really are.

I am also now considered officially juts a little ‘off my rocker’ – my ayi has been telling everyone just what I’ve been up to and they all think I’m INSANE for traveling to Beijing, by myself, for a few days while this pregnant (as she gleefully reported to me this morning – she kind of likes to shock her friends and the neighbors with our strange ways). So did a lot of the folks in Beijing. I heard murmurs and had many folks outright ask me WHY I was doing such a thing. Plus the fact that Chinese people really don’t do things all by themselves (it’s actually considered a pity and even a bit strange to travel all by ones self – whereas I actually really enjoyed it!). It’s a huge cultural difference and at times I ceased trying to explain, and just went with it. The upside of this is that at every point along the way, I had my big Chinese family helping me out (whether I wanted help or not) – carrying my bags, letting me cut in line, giving me food, etc. It’s really not a bad way to roll!

For now, I’m jumping back into our home routine. JM is just getting back into running after a long hiatus to heal an injury, and will be participating in a relay team for a triathlon this weekend. Leo and I will be there to cheer him on!

Beijing on foot, Beijing on bike

Today marked my last day in Beijing, as tomorrow morning I will board a train home for Nanjing. I woke to a beautiful Beijing Autumn day – sunshine and clear blue skies, crisp air with a good amount of wind. My hostel happens to be about a 15 minute walk to the Forbidden City, so I wandered out through the nearby ‘hutong’ (traditional Beijing living quarters that are disappearing rapidly as Beijing develops newer and bigger apartment complexes everywhere) – greeting many yeyes (grandpas) and nainais (grandmas) walking to the nearby parks and markets.

I made it through the fabulous Forbidden City in just under two hours (which I’m told is quite quick). It is stunning. A paragon of Ming design, it is quite literally a city built for the emperor and his ‘family’ (aka – his numerous concubines and their children). Common people were forbidden to enter, and the entire place is simply replete with beautiful halls, temples, receiving areas, imperial gardens, and more.

Just South of the Forbidden City lies Tiananmen Square. The square is quite large, with the national museum flanking the East Side and Chairman Mao’s Memorial to the South. I walked the square with mixed feelings of the grandeur of the many ceremonies that I’ve seen on CCTV here (especially the recent celebration of the 60th Anniversary of the founding of the PRC) as well as the reality of the demonstrations repressed just 20 years ago. I decided to pass and skip viewing Chairman Mao’s body (which is on display for public veneration), and head directly to the Temple of Heaven Park.

The Temple of Heaven is also a Ming dynasty era architectural wonder. Set in a lovely forest of old trees and beautiful walkways, this Temple of Heaven served as the emperors place of Divine connection. The emperors came here to formally pray for the good of the country – for good harvests, for peace, etc. The main attraction, the Temple of Good Harvest, is 38 meters high and built in the round out of wood – without the use of nails or cement. It’s gorgeous and covered in intricate paintings of dragons and gold-gilded edges. I had a wonderful time imagining the rituals that occured during the Ming and Qing dynasties!

After this marathon tour of mostly the Ming era, I met up with my friend Robin, and we rented bikes to take a look at some hutong. I love biking in Beijing! I won’t comment on how risky it was to ride around Beijing 7 months pregnant without even a helmet, without reflectors, in a grey sweater, at night – but I will say it was a heap and a load of fun to get around Beijing this way! I highly recommend it!

We ate our hearts out at a local diner – taking in many different and interesting snacks only found in Beijing. And then we wandered around Houhai – a lake to the Northwest of the Forbidden City and a very trendy fun area.

Now back at the hotel (and ready to sleep)… and running out of time on the computer! I’m home tomorrow night and promise to post pictures soon.

Great Wall, Big City, Beijing Opera, and More!

I’ve got 3 minutes to write and send this – so it’s been a wonderful two days here. I have climbed the Great Wall! Eaten Beijing Roast Duck and Hong-Kong Style Hot Pot! Watched Beijing Opera! Wandered around Beijing’s Contemporary Art Scene at a place called Factory 798!

I have a good friend here who I’ve been touring with during the day, but tomorrow I’ll go solo to the Forbidden City, get a closer look at Tiananmen Square. After that I’ve got a plan to tour the traditional Beijing living quarters (called Hutong) on bike with my friend. It’s been an impressive couple of days.

More to come… for now, I’m headed to bed.

Beijing!

I (Liz) am in Beijing for the next few days. The interesting thing about this trip is that it’s my first time out of Nanjing in 1 1/2 years, outside of a side trip to Shanghai in the Summer of ’08. Having a 6 month-old baby on arrival, not speaking the language, and frankly, not being flush with cash have made it difficult to travel much. We’ve really focused our resources on learning the language, which for us is the greater need just now. Sitting side by side with my college-aged classmates at Nanjing Normal University, I can see that my experience in China is quite different in many ways. They are off on weekend trips and long trips to Sichuan and the outer reaches all the time, and when the teacher talks about Xian terra-cotta warrios or the Shaolin Temple or Kunming, many of them nod their heads knowingly. Whereas my base of knowledge is much more homegrown. I know things about the homelife and culture (and thus an entirely different vocabularly, including all the household vocabulary and raising children vocabulary), and I really know Nanjing like the back of my hand. These differences are as they should be, and I’ve been in college and had that kind of freedom (albiet not in China). So while it hasn’t bothered me, I’ve still been terribly eager to explore this big country!

So thanks to my husband, who is looking after our rambunctious 2 year-old boy this weekend and beyond, I am in Beijing. I took a train last night, and for the first time in two years, I was able to sit as much as I wanted to sit (iow – I had no toddler to amuse!). Being 7 months pregnant, I am quite a site to behold traveling by myself in China. I brought my school books, which betrayed the fact that I was able to speak and read Chinese, and so the conversations started. Some people describe the Chinese as ‘friendly’ – that is a huge understatement. I would go beyond that and describe them as one big family with no boundaries. People simply handed me portions of their food, as they did with all of their neighbors, strangers or not. I ate a very random concoction of things yesterday, so I hope my stomach holds out. I shared my Nature Valley granola bars with everyone, which I think went over fairly well. I actually couldn’t always tell who was with who, the way people were jumping in and out of every conversation going on around them.

By the time I arrived in Shanghai, I had two invitations to visit people’s hometowns, one invitation to cancel my hotel reservation in Beijing and stay with a friend’s family for the next few days, two offers to help me tour Beijing, and three phone numbers. This is partly because I am a foreigner, but it is also part of Chinese culture. People here do not live in individual bubbles, as at times it seems we do in America. I can’t imagine having this kind of experience or even imagine myself reaching out this way on a train in America (although people are helpful and generally courteous in America – it’s just not the same).

While I relished this opportunity to meet and talk with so many new people (and about something other than my adorable son), it was somewhat exhausting to communicate so non-stop for the train ride, and after a while, I had to simply close my eyes and rest! Being pregnant does not allow me to push as hard as I usually would, and after my rest, I surprised myself by eating basically everything I brought with me (speaking lots of Chinese makes me VERY hungry, apparently).

So after the train ride, I wandered past Tiananmen Square on the way to my hostel (where I was, upon arrival, upgraded to a single room because I am pregnant – yeah!). It was a site to behold at night – all lit up and vastly impressive. Beijing is huge, and I can’t wait to see more. This morning I skipped the 30 yuan breakfast offered at the hostel and wandered out to buy baozi and a youtiao (typical Chinese breakfast food) for 3 yuan. It pays to learn the language :). I am now waiting to board a bus to see the Great Wall. It’s hard to believe I’m finally here!