My first weekend out of quarantine was like the first weekend out of, well, prison. I traveled in a horde of international students for the better part of Friday and Saturday, and on Sunday stayed in my dorm to do some homework and laundry before going out to dinner with Scott, a camp professional that I met in the States, and his family. I took a lot of great pictures, so brace yourselves for a long entry o’ fun.
The weekend started on Friday, a day full of rain and really really dark clouds. Because it rained pretty hard, I got a chance to see how Beijing handles drainage. I learned that drainage is handled in a mediocre fashion in the city (at least my area, the northwest district, Haidian) and that one must be creative when trying to avoid very large puddles on one’s way to class. For instance, I had to jump onto a ledge to dodge a gigantic pool of brownish water and figure out how the two-way traffic had to run on this ledge, which was not more than a foot wide.
More interesting than puddles are the mini floods that dot the city
after a long rain. On a walk with Renata after my morning classes, I discovered a street that was flooded up to the curb, but the street on the other side of it (it was separated by a divider) was just fine. I came across a few more of those streets on a short sojourn at to Central University of Finance and Economics, which is only a few blocks away from Jiaoda.
After relaxing for a bit in the afternoon, I headed out with a bunch of people to a small restaurant right off campus,
where we ate a lot of delicious food and drank Tsingtao, a beer that is only 3.1% alcohol (most beer is 5%) but comes in a gigantic bottle. (This weekend was full of Tsingtao – which may contribute to my returning to the States looking like a balloon.)
After dinner, I went with a few people to Sanlitun, the “hip” bar and club area on the northeast side of Beijing (my school is located in the northwest area) where you can find all of the young foreigners who are on vacation in the city. What is really cool about the area is that the most fun outside drinking spots are located in wide alleys. The layout is slightly reminiscent of outdoor seating in areas of the village, except that everything is much closer together and you really can’t tell which club you’re buying drinks from. After hanging outside for a while, around nine more international students showed up, and we headed to a bar
that featured specialty shots (or “shooters” as they’re called here). In all honesty, I’ve never seen a funnier array of shooter names in all of my life. I know there are some young people reading this blog (ahem, Maddy), but I have to post a picture of the shooter names. Vincent, a Spaniard who loves to party (don’t they all?), made me and my two friends Bolette (from Denmark) and Maria (from Sweden) take shots of Taiwan Duck Fart. The drink was actually quite good – Bailey’s and whiskey mixed together. After partying at the shooter bar, a bunch of us decided to go home while the others decided to go to a Salsa bar. Before grabbing the cab home, however, the early birds went to a Pakistani restaurant, where Habib, a student from Pakistan, wanted to eat a bit more before restarting his fast in the morning (as many of you probably know, it’s Ramadan). Though I was a bit drunk, I was coherent enough to watch a tennis match between Serena Williams and someone else (not sure…) while chewing on a lamb kabob with Barry, a software engineering student from Ghana. The night ended when we finally trekked home at about 3:00 am.
I wanted to sleep more than six hours, but was rudely awoken by a telephone ringing in our room on Saturday morning. It was Mei Mei’s friend asking her if she wanted to check out the bird’s nest, where all of the international students happened to be going. Mei Mei headed out with her Thai posse at about 11:00 am, but it took until two for us all to get out of our dorms. I, along with nine people, then started my ten-hour exploration around Beijing.
Before hopping on to the subway, we grabbed qian bing from a local vendor, which is kind of like a Chinese omelet. The ingredients are dough, egg, and various vegetables, and it looks like a folded pancake. I’m really happy that I’m not listening to people’s warnings against vendor food. The only things that you can really contract from it are hepatitis A and traveler’s diarrhea, and I’m vaccinated for the former and I have medication for the latter. I’m taking my chances.
After grabbing some food, we headed down to the subway, where Rob – an American from San Francisco – proceeded to assist Bolette and me with getting a subway card. In order to enter the subway station, you have to put your bags on a security belt; it feels like you’re in an airport. Grabbing a subway card wasn’t difficult, but it is hard just to buy one trip. Many of the automated machines don’t give change and don’t take $1 bills, so it’s kind of hard to buy one trip, which costs 2 RMB. Before heading out to our first destination, the bird’s nest, the site of the opening and closing ceremonies of the Beijing 2008 Olympics, Rob and Barry had a bit of a tiff over how to get to the north side of Beijing most efficiently. Barry won the fight, but ultimately lost it, because we ended up transferring trains three times. Rob’s route would have only required one transfer. Though the argument was all in good fun, it got a bit annoying towards the end of the night when the boys were still talking about it.
I usually hate going sightseeing to places like stadiums, but seeing the bird’s nest nest was quite an experience. The scale of the Olympic Park (or the niao chao if you want to be fancy) is almost jarring. It’s just SO BIG. A lot of us wondered how such a large park was able to be built – was this space always available? I haven’t been able to dig up any articles that say otherwise, but I am pretty sure that some businesses and homes kindly stepped out of the way for the Olympics to come through last year. Because the Bird’s Nest is so large, the government has had a difficult time renting it out to people willing to pay enough money to have an event there (or so says my friend Maria). Despite the absolute lack of events in the entire Olympic Park at the time, there were plenty of tourists paying 50RMB (about $7) to take a tour of the place. We decided to follow the crowd and did so, but luckily asked the right questions and got to pay the student discount of 25RMB (just divide by 7 to find out the USD amount), which wasn’t listed on the information board.
After spending an inordinate amoung of time in the park, we decided to hop back on the train and go to another area of the city for hotpot, a Japanese-style of eating that involves a steaming pot of hot water and a lot of raw vegetables. As one can imagine, I made a ridiculous mess out of my area of the table. Plopping raw vegetables and meat into boiling water and then scooping it out, all with one pair of chopsticks (let’s just call them kuai zi from now on), was fun and awful at the same time. I tried out some fishballs that looked like gefilte fish, but tasted a bit like the smell of what used to be the South Street Seaport.
While eating at the hotpot spot was a good time, the really good time
started when we went to wudaokou, an area of the Haidian district (the northwest district of Beijing) where all of the students/foreigners go for pizza, beer, Subway, Pizza Hut, KFC, and the restaurant/bar that we hit up, La Bamba. What’s really interesting about La Bamba is that there are absolutely no Chinese people there. However, the squatting toilets are surely there, just to remind you that you’re still in China, in case you had forgotten. At 11:30, I left La Bamba with Barry, and we headed over to a club in jisuitan, an area south of wudaokou and west of Jiaoda. In order to get to the club, you tell the taxi driver to let you off on the side of a highway-esque road. Then you walk in an absolutely deserted area with seemingly nothing around it. After doing this for a bit, you make a right down into an alley that looks like it leads into an oblivion. Right before you hit that oblivion though, the path opens up onto a lake, one of the many that was built by the Mongols in the thirteenth century. After walking along the lake for a bit, you come to our club, Club Obiwan, a structure that was once a house, and looks like a deserted one. On entering the club, you realize that there aren’t any Chinese nationals there, either. Renata’s friend was DJ-ing and had seemingly attracted all of the twenty- and thirty-somethings from CRI (China Radio International) and expat journalists from around the area. It was good to be around real working folk, but I quickly tired of the scene and peaced out with Barry at about 12:30.
So a little backstory before we go into Sunday: a few weeks before camp was over, a budding camp professional named Scott stopped by to talk to Jani about sending students from China over to CKM for an immersion/camp experience. Though he was all about business, Scott took a minute to talk to me about Beijing and offered to take me out for Peking duck when I arrived. When I was in quarantine, I gave Scott a call and asked if he’d like to meet up when I was out. He made good on his offer and asked me out to eat with his wife and four-year-old son on Sunday. Thankfully, Scott found me at Jiaoda, as it was pouring all day and I was up for subway exploration after Friday and Saturday’s long days and nights. Scott, his wife, Janet, and their son, Matt, and I ended up going to the fanciest place in town for Peking duck. Not only was the food delicious (there’s nothing like the fat off of a duck’s chest dipped in sugar), but I also got to see the best of Beijing’s restaurant entertainment. While the diners (all foreigners, again) ate, several dancers, singers, and
miscellaneously talented people came up and performed. Scott was also nice enough to give me a cultural lesson on corruption, capitalism, and politics in Beijing (”Everyone’s corrupt. It’s just a matter of who’s out of favor.”). After our dinner, we’ve since kept in touch, and Scott has actually offered me two jobs: one as Matt’s swim instructor and as an English teacher for a friend’s child. I really need some extra money (though I have the buying power of Donald Trump in China) to go to Ikea and buy a down blanket and to keep up my extravagant lifestyle here (just bought an electronic dictionary for 800RMB), so I think I’m going to take him up on his offers.
All in all, the weekend was one that I hope to repeat this upcoming zhou mo (you can imagine what that means). The following weekend’s posts won’t be as detailed, but I wanted to give everyone a chance to see what a weekend is generally like for me out here.