Friday, October 28, 2005

Adjusting to Sanlitun

This coming Saturday I will attend my first British Masquerade Ball in Beijing. I say first because it is my first ball in Beijing and my first British ball and my first Masquerade ball as well. Hmmm…

So, to prepare masks and practice eating ;-) one teacher who is going had us over to her apartment last Sunday night for dinner. Her parents were in town along with her aunt (who graciously did all the home cooking for us) and we enjoyed a night of great food, good wine and oh well – no mask making. But it was SO nice to sit around a dinner table with a family even though it wasn’t mine. We laughed for hours and although it doesn’t compare with being with my own family, the company was great. And she has an awesome apartment with a view of Beijing that is to die for.

On Monday I stayed too late in Shunyi (Chinese lessons and dinner with Bebe) and found myself at the clubhouse looking for a taxi at 9:30. Is this really too late? For a ride home to Sanlitun it is. No worries – the front desk said they would call me an illegal taxi. Luckily enough it was the same illegal driver I had had the week before and who I would have again on Thursday after a late basketball meeting. So it goes, I have a new friend in Beijing. And I actually like this driver more than the legal ones because he already knows where I’m going. He gave me his business card which is a great resource – except that if I call him I have no way to tell him who I am, where I am or where I want to go!

Wednesday night a group of us went to a Thai restaurant down the road called the Banana Leaf. There was much singing and dancing as a Philippino band performs the entire time. They will pull you up to dance even while eating. I had much fun followed by a trip to a jazz bar called The Big Easy. All musts if you come to visit. And this night allowed for one more exotic food – shrimp heads! Yep, that’s right – shrimp heads… they just chop the body off for someone who actually knows what they’re ordering and fry the heads up for dummies like me who grab the menu and point at something!

Friday brought a nice swim after school followed by a birthday party for Travis Tebo, another new teacher this year. He and his wife ordered pizza, served drinks and played plenty of 80’s music as there was an 80’s party following that night at the Pomegranate. We had a ball dancing and getting ready for the party. It is amazing how much frosted pink lip stick and the right music can take you back to your first dance, junior high and dreams of your first kiss. We later caught a cab to the village for the party at the Pomegranate (a “sports” bar in the village owned by teachers of ISB) where two bands made of teachers from ISB were playing along with a DJ – plenty of 80’s music to go around. I felt like I was at a 70’s Sigma Nu tailgate all over again – one decade of a costume later!!!

Saturday morning I was up bright and early to go market shopping with my new friend Annie. Annie is a native Beijinger and is dating an English teacher from ISB. She said she had a great market to take me to – very cheap and no louwai’s (expats) so no bargaining either. This place wholesales to the markets we go to. It is open from 3 am to 3 pm daily and this place… if you don’t like shopping this is your ultimate nightmare. There are people pushing and shoving in every direction, shouting from stall to stall and best yet - occasionally your foot gets run over by a little man with a cart selling corn on the cob. Annie is the person to shop with as Chinese is her first language and she knows where to go to get what you need. I got two winter coats (from a stall who wholesales to Russia so they had my size – nice, thick down winter coats and one is ZARA!), a pair of shoes, two pairs of thick gloves, six pairs of socks and a pair of earrings for 415 kwai – oh, about $50! This would have cost me close to $600 in the states and even here in a typical market – close to $100. So I really got a deal and an experience to go with it.

Sunday I went to the Lama Temple in the morning with Barry, Bebe, Kris and Kendra. Very pretty but to tell you the truth – I don’t really get it. All the big Buddha’s and everything – they are neat to see though. One is 24 meters tall and was in the Guinness Book of World Records until a few years ago. There were monks everywhere. What I don’t get is how this exists in a communist country where religion is pretty much forbidden. But it exists, I was there and then we went for dim sum, which is the traditional Sunday lunch here.

Afterwards I spent some time learning my way around my hood here in Sanlitun. Much to see and do. I stopped at a Chinese grocery store on the way home just to see what I could see and was hovering over a big bowl of… something when I heard a voice behind me ask “are you really contemplating buying some of that?” I turned around to find a man laughing at me. No, I replied – just looking. Turns out he is here on business from New Zealand and we talked for a while. To my amazement I was able to tell him several must sees in Beijing and also some easier ways for him to get around, etc. As I was walking home from the store I freaked out a little bit – how did I get here? How do I know where to go in Beijing, China? How can I help someone else find where he or she is going? A little culture shock I guess…

As I entered my apartment building, the guard recognized me and opened the door for me without me having to show my card. Now I know this seems to be no big deal but for a little southern girl in a big Asian city of 15 million – to be recognized is a damn good feeling and one I wouldn’t trade for anything. We are now having morning conversations on my way to school, the guard and I (as well as I can anyways) and I feel like I have a new best friend. Someone looking out for me and a good reason to practice and study more Chinese.
Xia jian!!!


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Blogger Sarah Forbes-Jones said...

Lillian, do you know how to post pictures on this blog? We bought an awesome digital camera for cheap (as you know) in China when we were there. If you don't have one yet, get one & posts some pics! I want to see what your hair looks like :) Also, is there a way for me to post pictures on this blog for you to see?

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