Thursday, July 19, 2007

Some Thoughts on Homestay

Here might be something of use for future fellows who might want to opt for the homestay option at DSIC:

What is the main purpose of staying in a traditional, Chinese home rather than the international hotel? Of course, it is to have more interaction with the natives and to observe a completely different culture.

However, this is not always guaranteed. Right now, I live around 35 minutes walking or 15 minutes biking from the school. There are no direct bus routes, so you would have to make several connections to get to class. As you can imagine, going to and from home is not that convenient.

In the morning, I wake up early and go over the previous night's homework and vocabulary. Then, I say my goodbyes to the host family. I stay at the school for most of the day (until 10ish) because everything and everybody is there. With one-on-ones (一对一) to do and language partners (语伴) to meet, I don't really have time to go home during the day. Plus, teachers' office hours are at night from 7PM-9PM. By the time I do get home, it is quite late, and all I can do is say my greetings to the family before they go to bed and I start my homework. As you can tell, my interaction with the family is not exactly where I want it to be.

I've talked to other students who are living outside the hotel. The ones whose houses are only a five minute walk away seem very happy. Once you get further than 10 or 15 minutes, it seems that the advantages cancel out the disadvantages to a point that the student is indifferent to the two options. Once you get even further than 15 minutes, the prominent attitude is slightly negative. Thus, it seems like distance from the school has an enormous impact of convenience and the amount of interaction you have with your hosts.

Some of it is definitely my fault. For example, I don't eat very often with the host family. Also, if I tried much harder, I feel like I could definitely make it home earlier some nights.

Am I going to stick with the host family option? With three weeks left in the program, I think so. However, if I had to choose again, I don't think I would make the same choice.

Friday, July 13, 2007

报告!(bao4 gao4 = report)

I think one of the interesting and unique things about this summer program is that, once a week, we are required to mingle with the natives and discussed with them a topic relevant to what we are currently studying in class. We usually bring up the topic, try to give them an overview, and then listen to their views/experiences before sharing ours.

In the first week, we discussed how the educational system in China is quite different from that of the States. Additionally, Chinese parents are so much more demanding than the average American parent. To find out more,I went to the most well-knowned high school in Beijing: School 101. That place is huuuuuge! I felt like I was on a middle-sized college campus, no lie! Very pretty as well. Anyways, I met a high schooler who was willing to share his life stories with me. Apparently, he has to start studying right after school. The only break between that and his 11:30 bedtime was a dinner at 7. Intense. I definitely would not be able to survive that. I really admire the student for his ability to keep up the hard work and to know so clearly what he wants to do when he graduates (not a doctor nor a lawyer, but an ambassador to the States). I wish I did...

In the second week, we talked to regular Beijing people, whether in the streets or in the markets and in the third week, we were to interview Capital Normal University students. We discussed similar topics for both. Most of them believed that the States stick their hand in too many world affairs. But, I think everyone agreed that the government in the States is better because of its transparency.

This week, we went to the Capital Museum just to get a feel for Chinese history. I really enjoyed the displays of traditional weddings in the old times. The bride is lifted up on a sedan chair and taken to the groom in a "Bride's Procession." This procession is filled with loud gongs, drums, other musical instruments, and fire crackers. Of course, there are a whole lot of other important events that take place both before and after this procession. All together, they make for a very interesting wedding.

Arriving at the museum

A drummer leading the bride's procession

Munchies for bride to promote fertility.

A pair of shoes for some lucky child.

A clay model of how the Chinese use to make their famous porcelain china.

Anyways, tonight, I am going to Xi'an, home of the Terracotta Warriors! Update you when I get back!

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Tip-Toeing On the Banana Leaf

So, I must blog about the restaurant I just went to last night: Banana Leaf!

What was the special occasion? Tao's birthday! He is Thai, so of course, we went to a Thai restaurant.

After getting on a hot bus and getting stuck in a traffic jam (like always), we finally made it to our destination of Zhong Guan Cun. Banana Leaf appeared to be like any other normal Thai restaurant, but after ordering and chatting for a while, a group of Filipinos (what?! Filipinos working at a Thai restaurant in China?!) swamped our table with music and dance!

First, since it was Tao's birthday, they sang a upbeat rendition of the Happy Birthday song in both English and Chinese. Then, they sang Thai songs, Chinese songs, and American songs. We all danced, drank, and had a merry merry time!

Tao dancing with Dulce

Group shot with the Filipinos!

In other news, I got a bike to ride to campus today. Beijing traffic, once again, is ridiculous! I think if I suffer any injuries this summer, it'll be from riding the bike. Plus, the bike doesn't have any brakes... I forgot about that when I decided to ride down these steps today. The result? I almost went over the railing and into the freeway. Yay.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Scaling THE Wall

After four days of classes, we took a overnight trip to the one and only Great Wall!

We spent the night next to the Simatai section. The place where we stayed was beautiful and serene - right next to a lake with the outlines of the Great Wall in the background. At 2:00AM, we started our trek. Our goal was to make it to the very top in time for the sunrise, which would have been gorgeous.

Going up the wall is hard enough in the day. Going up when it is pitchdark was so much worse! Guided by the light from our handy dandy cellphones, we were tripping all over the place. Needless to say, our speed was slowed to a crawl. Plus, we failed to achieve our goal in that we did not make it to the top before daylight. Plus, the fog was too dense anyways to see the sunrise.

Anyways, in the Simatai section of the Wall, everything after the 11th tower (12th? I lost count) is forbidden. "Dangerous climbing." Of couse, we did it anyways. It was probably the worst and best decision of my life. When they warned that it was dangerous, they were not kidding. Most of the path was less than a yard wide. Past that, well, it's straight down for a thousand feet. Not much room for error, eh? Also, we had to climb up and down towers that did not have any steps or ladders. The most difficult and scariest challenge was at the very end, of course. It was basically a vertical, 90 degrees climb up to the last tower. Once you're at the top, however, the view is incredible! Definitely worth the trouble and fear, in my humble opinion.

View at the beginning of the climb

Crossing into the unknown... dun dun dun!

Cliff side... don't fall!

Ruins, hundreds of years old

Trekking along, you can see the peak in the middle of the picture

The WALL - To climb or not to climb?

To climb! Of course!

After getting back from the Great Wall and getting a day of rest, I had to move out to my host family's home. I had some reservations about this, but I think it is going to work out really well. First of all, my family is extremely nice! I have a 'mom' (Zuo Mama) and a younger 'sister' (Xin Xin) right now. Zuo Mama does research on radars, and Xin Xin is some kind of karate champion in Beijing! Xin Xin is also trying to go to an American university at the moment. Hopefully, her application for a student visa will be successful.

I have my own room that is pretty big along with a queensize bed. There is no mattress on the bed, so I am sleeping on wood and some blankets. It's not too bad though. I'm more worried about accessing the internet. They pay by the minute. Plus, they are using dail up and windows... 98. Windows NINETY-EIGHT! I haven't seen that in ages! However, sometimes, I get a signal from a wireless server and I can use that to access the net. It comes and goes, and the signal is quite weak. However, it is still much easier than using their computer, which requires a lot of passwords and codes...

Anyways, the best news about the host family is that my mom is a good cook! That is important for me... hehe.

Well, it is really late and homework calls. Have a good night! (Day, in the States, I suppose)


Monday, June 25, 2007

First Week!

I got through my first week!

Classes were... hard- verrry hard. The teachers here would assign 80-100 characters a day to memorize. Note: assigned vocabulary. That is not including all the characters in the daily reading that I don't recognize. To keep you from slacking off, they give a quiz everyday on the vocabulary and the reading. Plus, the size of the classes is very small. I am usually in class with only four other people, so the odds of me getting called every other minute for three hours are ridiculously high. Stressssful to the nth degree.

Am I learning? Yes. Definitely.

I really do like the teachers though. There is Zhu1 laoshi, the director. She's the one who gives me money to eat every week. :-) Then, we have a Hao3 laoshi, who is just really happy allll the time (hao3 means 'good').

The participants here are pretty awesome too. I've met a lot of new people from all over the country with whom I have become fast friends.

What do I eat? Well, life is pretty good since I have to eat out pretty much every meal. I found this jiaozi (dumpling) stand nearby that is incredible! The cost of one order of jiaozi is only 3RMB (which converts to just under 40 cents). As a result, I've eaten there three times in the last two days. :-D

This weekend, I went to but not in Tiananmen Square. Since i've been there before and with all the construction going on for the '08 Olympics, it is just not worth seeing. Instead, I went shopping. Yay! My friends and I went to XiuShui, the mecca for counterfeit items. Well, I guess that is China in general. I bought two Polos for around 30RMB each, Armani wallet for 20RMB, and sunglasses for 20RMB. The salesperson's starting price for these three items were all way over 100RMB. Haggling, it's fantastic!

This thursday: the GREAT WALL! Can't wait!

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Diving Right In

First weekend in the motherland was... interesting.

First off, food is phenomenal! I haven't had a bad meal, no lie. Lots of red meat, just the way I like it. It is like I'm back in Brazil! Americans and their 'sustainability' need to learn!!! The food here is also incredibly cheap! Eight of us went to this Korean BQQ where the staff brought out this huge platter of... beef! We got to grill the beef ourselves and ate it all. Huge meal... price? $30 total. Deliciousness.

On friday, I took an entrance exam for placement into one of the language classes. Since I've only taken level one Chinese, I was expecting to get into level two and maybe, hopefully, three. Well, they put me in level... four?


I speak pretty well, but I can't read or write well at all! FBI - remember?! Fluent But Illiterate! I looked through the first assignment, and I have to look up every other word... it's not good. Furthermore, I don't even know the meanings of some of the chinese characters' english translations! Like... what is a leaderette? A female leader? A young leader? Hm...

So, after thinking about it, I am going to try this level four business for a while. If it is really over my head and I can't handle it, I will have to talk to Zhu laoshi.

Another dilemma - host family or no host family? Right now, I'm living very comfortably in a building with AC, internet, TV, shower (with a tub! don't take tubs for granted!), and fridge. It is where everyone else is living. It is also right next to the building where classes are held. Do I want to give this up to live elsewhere where those conveniences are not guaranteed?

The pros of a host family, for me, is that the family could be amazing and could become life-long friends. They would really help with my chinese. They probably know the city very well and could direct me to awesome destinations. Also, they would probably feed me (I hope).

However, the house might be really far away. I might miss out on 'bonding experiences' at the dormitory. Getting to class will require much more effort.

Hmm... like the level four challenge, I think I'm going to give the host family a shot. It could very well be the best experience this summer.

Interesting 'encounters' thus far:
- Being startled by random guy jumping out of the bushes. What was he doing in the bushes? Use your imagination...
- Laughing at jokes posted above urinals. Badly translated jokes.
- Meeting random people in the streets and then having lunch with them.

Finally, I want to apologize for the lack of pictures in this post. The internet here is so slow! I would open up a page, go to lunch, and come back just in time for it to be fully loaded. It crawls. Hopefully my host family will have a faster connection, and I will be able to upload away!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Obrigado Para Um Tempo Bom, Brasil!

Brazil was AMAZING!

I'll start with my favorite: Food
Yumminess. Deliciousness. So, at several restaurants that we went to, the cooks would just bring out huge slabs of meat and cut off how ever much you want. Beef! Chicken! Pork chops! Ribs! Lamb! It was meat heaven! They really know how to eat over there. We, over here, have so much to learn.

What we actually went there for: Concerts
The Yale Concert Band played six concerts at various venues in Sao Paulo, Campinas, Santos, Sorocaba, and Rio de Janeiro. I thought we played pretty well, but the audiences went crazy! They are crazy over there! I've never seen any crowd get so excited over a concert band performance! Ah! It was ridiculous! They exploded after every song and, strangest but coolest thing ever, clapped simultaneously when they demanded an encore. We played so many encores during each concert that we literally ran out of music. It was glorious.

Rush of a lifetime: Hang-gliding
Wow. Highly recommended.

The scariest part of hang-gliding was jumping off the mountain. After that, it's smooth sailing - just enjoy the view. I did it tandem, and right before the jump, my pilot tells me that two weeks ago, a pilot forgot to clip himself in after he had clipped his passenger in. After their jump, the pilot promptly fell off and left the passenger all by his lonesome. Thankfully, he had a parachute and was able to crash into the trees without fatal injuries. Poor passenger... can you imagine seeing your pilot fall? I would have freaked out. The passenger crashed into the trees as well and survived. =)

Anyways, here's a video of my lift-off!

Geography: The beaches and the mountains
Rio de Janeiro is gorgeous. GORGEOUS. Fifteen miles of beaches, surrounded by rolling mountains. If I knew Portuguese, I would probably live there. I really don't know how to describe Rio's beauty, so these pictures that I took will have to do:

Anyways, as I write this post, I am waiting in Detroit for my flight to China. Even though I've been back a couple of times already, this time is especially exciting. I won't have my family to rely on, and I will be with lots of students my age. Hopefully, the transition will be painless.

I will let you know.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Before Brazil...

While I had expected the days leading up to Brazil to be boring, reality has proved otherwise.

First, I hung out with these two slick dudes:

Ben and Sam!

We hung out in the city for the most part. I made a trip to the famed B&H store. That store is incredible - loaded with what every man fantasizes about (electronics...)! I couldn't resist the urge to splurge and bought a Canon Xti camera.

So, armed with the camera and my two partners in crime, I attended my first baseball game ever: New York Mets vs. Chicago Cubs. Honestly, the first eight and a half innings were probably the most boring two hours of my life. Ben fell asleep. However, in the bottom of the ninth, the Mets (down 5-1) made an incredible comeback. They loaded the bases and managed to score five straight runs to win the game! So, it turned out to be an amazing first time.

Anyways, here are some photos taken with the Xti. Keep in mind, we were on the upper deck when these were taken:

To cap off a fantastic first week of summer, Ben, Sam and I watched Michael Jordan's video "Come Fly with Me", visited the International Center of Photography, and hung out in the city.

Up next: Brazil!!!

Monday, May 7, 2007

Summer '07!

Freshman year is FINISHED!!!

Well... almost. Three more exams and I'm out!

Looking ahead, this summer has a chance to be really special. For the first couple of weeks, I will be staying on campus to perform a couple of concerts during commencement. Then, I will be flying down to Brazil for concert band tour. I have never been there, so that is going to be really sweet. Really, really sweet.

Finally, thanks to the Light and Greenberg fellowships, the majority (2+ months) of my summer will be spent in China! I am reaaally pumped for this trip. I will be studying Chinese at the Capital Normal University in Beijing. My oral skills are decent, but my reading and writing skills are quite shabby. Basically, I started out this year as what my roommate (Dan G!) calls "FBI" - Fluent But Illiterate. Anyways, I hope to improve my overall Chinese skills considerably this summer.

What do I look forward to? FOOD! Well, I've been before, but this will be the first time I will be alone and without my family there. Um... I hope to travel a bit and see things I haven't been able to with my family, such as Xi'an and Guiling. Also, I am very excited to see the transformations that are taking place all over Beijing due to preparations for the Olympics! Hmmm... I really like meeting new people, so I am sure I will make some great friends while I'm there.

Oh, yeah, I am looking forward to learning Chinese, of course.

What will I miss from the States? FOOD! I really like food... I'm going to miss the many conveniences I have here, such as being able to drive everywhere. More than anything else, I am going to miss my brother Devon! I haven't seen that kid at all this semester and I won't be seeing him this summer. :-(

Devon and me

Well, my first post is up and out of the way. I will update this blog whenever something new and exciting happens! Until then!