Sunday, March 29, 2009

Random bits of Beijing

For this post, there won't be a specific theme, I'll just talk about several things I've done in the past few days.

Yesterday the Americans went to the Temple of Heaven (tiantan/天坛). It's a famous temple in Beijing, and it's one of four (the others being the temples of earth, sun, and moon). In imperial China, the emperor came here just once a year to pray for a good harvest, and now it's a tourist attraction (naturally :P). You've probably seen a picture of it before, but just in case I have this picture above for you to awe at. It was okay as temples go, at this point in the trip we've all seen more than our fair share of temples, and they all look relatively the same. Our guide, Wang laoshi, was wonderful. She came to America last fall so we know her well, and she has the amazing quality of always being chipper and positive and smiling. She's really great. After the temple we went out to lunch, where we ordered everything we've come accustomed to eating here in China (eggplant, sweet and sour pork, beef and noodle soup, fried noodles, etc).

After the temple, I went with Ms Richard, Ms Kamerik, Carolyn, and Rebecca to the clothes fair. It was a fair that was running through March 31 at Ditan Park (Temple of Earth Park). The best way to describe it was the Chinese version of a flee market. There were stands everywhere selling all manner of goods, from clothes to jewelry to Santa Claus pottery and nativity scenes. About 98.5% of the clothing was so ugly I had to laugh at it, since I've grown used to seeing people wear things I wouldn't be caught dead in. The one thing I did buy were silk scarves. My mom told me that the one thing from China she wanted was silk scarves for every adult female in my extended family, and when we were in Shanghai I forgot to get some. Luckily, they were less expensive here, and I hope I chose nice ones.

Saturday night I went out for Mexican food. This may seen like an unremarkable thing to say, but it isn't. America has a long history of immigration, and with it a long history of ethnic food. Immigrants came, and with them they brought their local cuisine. China's very different. There is no real history of immigration here, and 95% of the population of 1.3 billion is Han Chinese. There are about 50 ethnic minorities and different cuisine in different regions, but everything is relatively the same, with not nearly as much variety as we have in America. Lately I've been craving Western food, so we did some research and found that there are two Mexican restaurants in Beijing (yes, only two in the entire city). My host mom found the address of one of them, and Saturday night we went. It was a small restaurant, and I noticed two things as I walked in: the staff was entirely Chinese and there was no one there. Nevertheless, we sat down for a meal of quesadillas, fajitas, and nachos. Considering it was Chinese Mexican food made by Chinese people, it was amazing. It reminded me of home, and satisfied my craving for Western food. Perhaps I can go back.

Today I went to Chinese Whole Foods. I was bored, so I called up Carolyn and suggested we go to an American food market that Hannah told me about. We hopped on the subway and went. It was in southeastern Beijing, the same area as the Mexican restaurant. According to my host mom, this area is the best/most expensive shopping in Beijing, and boy was she right. The market was in a shopping mall that housed brands such as Gucci, Versace, and Bvlgari, basically really really really expensive stuff. These malls are not China, they are America. If it weren't for all the asian people, I would forget I'm here. We walked into the market, and looked in awe at what they had. There were many products that you can't find in regular shops in China, and even things that didn't have any Chinese on them except for a small label the supermarket put on them. The highlight was when I spotted the brownie mix. I haven't had brownies in two months, so I went straight for them. I was told before I got to China that Chinese people don't have ovens, but my host parents said that we did and I trusted them even though I haven't seen ours. Jimmy says that it can get up to 350 degrees F, and I'll take his word for it. I can't wait to make them.

Tuesday marks the beginning of a cultural festival that Jingshan's hosting. Becky and Elias are MCing the event, and the Americans are singing "Beijing huanying ni" (Beijing welcomes you, one of the anthems of the Olympics). They wouldn't listen to us when we told them we can't sing, so it should be interesting. The other exciting piece of this week is that the Austrians are here. Jingshan has a relationship with a school in Austria, and every year around this time a group from Austria comes to participate in the cultural festival, and they arrived Saturday. I'm so excited to have other foreign people to talk to, especially Europeans. Apparently they're only here for a week, but that's okay. I just need to get through this week, because next week I go to Chengdu, and that's going to be awesome. I can't wait. 

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