Tuesday, June 25, 2013


This past weekend was a great one. My frisbee-playing, workaholic, polyglot of a friend Peter is second on the list of generous hosts.  Saturday was rainy, so we started out a mall full of modern glass structures, vintage bikes on display, my favorite ex-pat grocery store City Mart, and some luxury retailers.  Then we went to this enormous, futuristic dome called Galaxy Soho, where Beijing's second annual craft beer festival was held.  I went to a festival in Shanghai, and it was set up the same way with brewers from around China and their choice brews at 30 RMB ($5) a glass.  There were food vendors and a killer band later on that played throwback music from the 50's and 60's, which made for an enjoyable afternoon.

This punching pink apartment is where Peter calls home (though he's moving in a few weeks)!
The best discovery of the weekend was that Beijing is unbeatable by bike.
Suddenly, this vast city seemed so accessible!  The city has a flat grade, the main roads are aligned very logically, and the bike lanes are enormous-- it made for an amazing afternoon of riding.  I was ecstatic to see the city heart at ground-level, yet not be shoving through crowds of tourists or confined to a seat in a taxi or bus.  And, the air was clear enough to see for miles.
Tianamen Square.
(apologies on the quality, these are from my iPhone)
The memorial of Dr. Sun Yat-Sen (other wise known as Zhongshan), the founder of the Chinese Communist Party.  Every Chinese city at least has a Zhongshan road, park, temple, statue, or memorial-- or all of it!
I pedaled around the entire eastern side of the city, even pushing farther down to The Temple of Heaven Park.  Since it was already 5 PM I didn't purchase a ticket to enter any of the temples, but I certainly will be back because the park was splendid.
One of the several, centuries-old Juniper trees.  This one was especially praised for it's twisted bark structure, climbing into the heavens (so the plaque said).
And lastly, I just have to show you my #Chinaproblem from the other night, which involved making brownies in a microwave because I couldn't figure out the oven.  Turns out microwaves in China are significantly stronger than what we used in the U.S.-- resulting in 2/3s of the batter coming out as burnt chocolate crust.
I was making brownies as a thank you for Anna for lending me her apartment last week, then for us just to eat... but as you can see, I messed up a lot.
Milk didn't even help to much.  HA!  I can't wait to bake again in the U.S...

So, the weekend was great and it rolled into an anxiety-inducing week.  I guess you don't know stress until your wallet with a debit card go missing, the Chinese government changes their visa policy again, you have to make an emergency trip to Hong Kong because leaving the Mainland is the only way to acquire a new visa less you go back to the United States/be deported this weekend, but then can't withdraw money because you don't know the credit card pin number, all the trains which made the most economic sense are sold out, your internship organization has no idea about the visa policies nor can provide funding, and there are flights but then the credit card company is rejecting your payments..
Yup, never really understood stress before that.
 In summary, I'm flying to Shenzhen in four hours and crossing the border into Hong Kong to apply for a new Chinese visa.  I hope to be back in Beijing by Sunday, because I am not done here for the summer.  Sending endless gratitude to my parents for helping me sort through all of this, as well as Peter for giving me great detailed instructions on how to succeed.  Here it goes!

Listening: "Dance, dance, dance" by Lykke Li

Thursday, June 20, 2013


I'm a bit disappointed in myself today. I was absolutely planning on going to Ritan/Temple of Sun Park this afternoon when I left work, because it's less than two blocks from the apartment I've been living in. But then after jostling between dozens of people on metro, sliding through interchanges in sandals that have walked too many miles, sweating incessantly, finally making it to the 21st floor of the building feeling tired and slightly hungry-- and then I checked the U.S. Embassy's most recent AQI, air quality index, update.  不好!It was in the red Unhealthy zone for PM 2.5, those small particles that can do some serious damage.  Here, check it out yourself :  http://aqicn.org/city/beijing/

Maybe it's better at this point, but I don't know, that was enough of a deterrent not to leave the apartment.  That, and when you can't see more than a few dozen meters, sort of ruins the enjoyment of park-going.  I might be over dramatizing (wouldn't be surprised), but the air pollution makes my eyes water and if I keep the conditioner on or the windows open, I end up hacking and blowing out dust from my body the next morning.  I have to figure out some way to cope with this, less I scare myself out of a decent quality of life this summer because I know Beijing has so much to offer.  Gah!  Anyone have any advice?

In other updates, Mary and I went our separate ways on Sunday because she's back at school.  I've been couch-surfing off the amazing generosity of my friend Anna this week.  Her apartment is also only three metro stops from my internship, in a building development located behind a sterility hospital.  Keep making that One-Child Policy easy for everyone to follow, China!
It's a small, simple flat, and despite the concrete floors Anna's made it charming with plants, mix-matched upholstery, and her elegant aesthetic.  And best of all, there is a usable kitchen!  So of course after settling in, I took the five minute walk to the grocery store and it was honestly like therapy.  My parents know best that letting me loose in Wegmans (a western New York grocery store sort of like Whole Foods except less expensive) with a credit card is more dangerous than me in a mall (though both are arguably a poor idea :D).  I had 'budget' on the mind as well, and after much consideration in every aisle, I was able to purchase a week's worth of breakfast and dinner groceries for less than 30 RMB, or 6 U.S. dollars.  Can you believe that overflowing bag of onions was 2 RMB/35 cents?!  If there's one thing I'll always appreciate about China, it is their value of food and the price affordability.  
So after not cooking a meal for myself since February, I fired up the wok and made a huge vegetable stir-fry with eggs.  Everything was right in the world.
Beijing, like every Chinese city, is in a constant state of destruction, construction, and rebirth.
My internship with The China Foundation Center (CFC) is going well.  I am still not quite used to a 8:30-5:30 all-week desk job, but it's a really great taste of a possible future. The organization was established in 2010 by leading Chinese philanthropic leaders in an effort to bring more transparency to China's growing social sector.  Organized philanthropy is not yet integral to the public psyche, largely due to the social disruption from the market transition.  In light of so much corruption and suspicion of money being mishandled, many people don't trust non-government groups.  CFC produces annual publications on non-profit organization trends, and have China's most comprehensive searchable data base of non-profits' missions, locations, management teams, financial reports if available, and so on.  By promoting the accessibility of this type of knowledge, hopefully the government, public, corporations, grant advisers, etc. will gain understanding and trust in the social sector.  I'm also learning much about the U.S. social sector (IRS tax forms, anyone?) because China is turning to our well-established tradition of philanthropy as a model.
Looking up, that's the building I work in (on the second floor though).  
The view out the floor of The China Foundation Center offices.  Not bad when there isn't smog, or when other employees (from different companies) aren't smoking next to the window.

In an effort to save money, I really have been eating the same dinner all week.  However, during lunch break, I go out with the other ladies and 'splurge'.  I really enjoy lunch time because our office is fairly quiet, so I try to practice my Chinese (which is in danger of being lost!) and learn about their lives.  I love all the new foods I've been able to eat; there are so many restaurants on our street that I never would have known about, largely because I can't read the menus.  We've managed to go to a different location every lunch this week!

Tomorrow I'm hopping to another apartment of one of my friends from ultimate frisbee, that I met when I played at a Ningbo tournament back in April.  It's quite lovely how a casual obsession with this off-beat sport has lead to so many connections with great people and unique perspectives of China.  I went to the Beijing team's pick-up practice Wednesday night, and that was cathartic to be sprinting around again.  Here's to hoping my lungs hold it together!

Listening: Chopin #13 In C Minor

Saturday, June 15, 2013


我现在住在北京一个星期以前~ I've been in Beijing for about a week now!  One of my CIEE friends, Mary, is also here for the summer continuing her studies, so it's been comfortably hilarious to have a travel buddy.  After we braved a horrendous luggage transfers through the Shanghai metro stations (my suit case was so heavy that the extending handle broke, removing itself like a sharpened Excalibur..), it was a pleasant 5 hour ride on the bullet train.  We were tired and flustered enough to take an illegal taxi (no meter) to our hostel with a very kind, yet illiterate man that couldn't quite find our hutong (a traditional Beijing alley).  Not only that, but after adjusting to the Shanghai accent now we are faced with the reflexive 'r's in the Beijing accent, which undeniably sounds like pirates arguing.

That first Monday out, the sky revealed peaks of blue -- no such luck since.  Actually, the pollution is quite bad.  It's been irritating my throat and eyes, and perhaps the reason why we feel tired more quickly than we should when we set out to explore.  It's pretty darn hot here as well, with temperatures pushing the high eighties then nineties, though without the humidity I can manage.

My impressions are bound to change, but so far I find Beijing refreshing (other than the air pollution issue).  This city has a completely different feel from Shanghai; much older, not as flashy; more authoritarian yet at street level, more relaxed.  People actually obey the metro security and place their bags in the scanners!
We haven't been any rush to hop through all the monuments in a week, which are more historically sound and culturally significant than that in Shanghai.  I haven't explored too far beyond the hutongs of Dongcheng, but the sights from the imperial age are just unbelievable.  With all the people today and clashes with modern development, it's hard to imagine the royal capital several centuries ago.
Standing in the hutong of our hostel, Dragon King Hostel.  It's been a blast rooming in a dorm with other students who are interning in Beijing, backpackers, weekend visiters, and hearing all their stories.
 The Summer Palace in the northwestern side of the city, where the emperor used to take his retreats.

More views from the Summer Palace, and then a nighttime dance party in front of The St. Ignatius Cathedral on Wanfujing Road!
Crazy delectable foods at the Wanfujing Lu night market.  There were your average fried dumplings, to fried squid, then boiled starfish and roasted silkworm pupae.  The prices were inflated but the ambiance was enjoyable; the vendors are part salesmen, part entertainers.
I think because of the number of food safety scandals in China (just wrote a paper on the issue), the government is really set on implementing higher standards.  There's a noticeable lack of food vendors in Beijing, aside from those selling bottled drinks and yogurt in ceramic pots (still haven't tried that)-- which is good and bad.  It's a positive sign because perhaps licensing and health codes are obeyed; it's negative in my opinion, because every province has such a unique culinary snack-world to offer, and it's hard to find something good to eat after 11 PM.
Yong He Gong, or the Lama Temple, which is the largest Buddhist lamastery in Beijing (yes, that is a term).
Dancing with a crew from the hostel, and hot pot with Mary.  
No meat + minimal peppercorns = happy stomachs
Mary also has extended relatives in Beijing, whom on Wednesday were amazingly gracious to take us out to one of the most famous restaurants in the country for a Peking duck lunch!  Yes, it really was that delicious: the orangey, sweet but smoky, crunchy skin; slices of duck with pickled cabbage and hoisin sauce rolled into rice wraps; duck liver and dijon mustard; Shaanxi braised cactus; braised cabbage; cooked cucumbers; and glutinous rice desserts with rice bean that were cooked into bamboo leaves-- a traditional dessert called Zongzi, celebrated for the Dragon Boat Festival.
A first-class lunch with even better people left us very happy and food coma'ed.

That afternoon we wandered around the 798 Art District, which is comparable to an industrial park of contemporary art galleries.  We entered this one unsuspectingly, and it was an opening with complementary wine, champagne, fruit, and desserts.  We were surrounded by enormous portraits of Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping, and other nearly-photographic paintings of former Communist leaders.
On my way to work -- less than 10 minutes of a walk from the hostel!
Lunch with my co-workers, then dinner with friends from the hostel.  I never go hungry here in China...

This photo quality is poor, but Mary and I spent two hours on Friday night repacking all of our suitcases.  She displayed a stunning amount of discipline and relinquished enough of her clothes for donation, that she's going to be able to ditch her hiking backpack!  Now she just has her school backpack and a suitcase.  Although I'm donating my CIEE backpack and a few shirts, I still have a giant suitcase, carry-on size, hiker's backpack and purse... 
Ah, the weekend.  Today, we walked around the Houhai and Behai Lake areas.  There's a lot of off-beat bars and cafes, so I'm looking forward to going back some night to have my fix of live reggae music.  The heat and smog were so tiring that we nearly passed out in Behai Park, but then found 1901 Cafe outside the gate.  It used to be a former cathedral, with three stories of post-and-beam structures, creaky floorboards, crooked stairs, book cases, lovely staff and lots of charm.  We hid out there for the rest of the afternoon and I certainly plan on going back.

So I can see how people could dislike Beijing after a few days of passing through; the weather and air quality really bring things down.  Ugh and I just remembered that the taxis during certain times of the day, are completely corrupt and you have to bargain the price of your trip as opposed to using the legitimate meter.  Nonetheless, I think that the places and things that take time to learn to love are more rewarding in the end.  I already miss Shanghai but I'm excited this summer to learn about this city.

I started my internship at The China Foundation Center on Thursday.  Let's just say an 8 hour workday at a desk will take some adjustment-- yet I've already been given significant assignments dealing with English translation and interpretation, statistical research, and organization content analysis.  Yes, those may be made up duties, but it's the easiest way I can explain :B  Ha!  I haven't met everyone in our small office of 20 or so employees, but I've been introduced to all the ladies who I've enlisted to help me maintain my Chinese this summer.  It's an all-Chinese office, but the best English speakers work with me.

Tomorrow we're departing from the hostel, Mary's going to Beijing (Peking) University to start her new semester, and I'm spending the next two weeks as a working gypsy!  I've made enough connections and friends in the city that I can couch surf every few nights until I can officially move into my apartment in July.  Might be stressful, but hey, I'm still young and can handle it.

Sunday, June 9, 2013


As I sit here and try to reflect on my 15 weeks spent in Shanghai, the strongest phrase that comes to mind is too fast.  I've studied abroad before, but I forgot how life-changing it can be.  I was walking slowly through the neighborhood yesterday, and I realized how much I'm going to miss this crazy city.  CIEE has some kinks to work out in their program here, but I look forward to sharing it with future students from St. Lawrence that decide to take the leap to China.

Studying in Shanghai has brought new life to my desire to learn Chinese, in between an insanely generous host family, enthusiastic 老师们, friends at East China Normal (Chinese and foreign alike), and the confidence I have gained in navigating life in China.  No doubt, it's tiring at times; I'm not used to cities (let alone the largest in the world), there are cultural quirks I will perhaps never be used to, and I am constantly reminded about the power of language.

Although my experience in Shanghai is coming to an end, my adventure in China is not even close to being over; I'm taking the bullet train north in a few hours to Beijing!  I've acquired an internship at The China Foundation Center and will be living there for the summer, probably until the last week of August.  I'm thrilled to have another perspective of Chinese culture, continue practicing my language skills, gain professional experience, and dig into a new city.  As much as I miss home, I wouldn't stay here if I didn't like it.
Thursday night my Chinese class invited our teachers out to Mexican food!  Granted, we've all had better, but I thoroughly enjoyed the endless chips and salsa with my sizzling vegetable fajita.  The idea was inspired by my one teacher who didn't know what tacos were-- something as being a North American, I totally take for granted.  I've had such a good experience learning with them and it motivated me to study harder and speak more.  They also said that we have also helped them learn about Chinese culture.  I'm really going to miss this class, we've had such a comfortable atmosphere.  I had a lot of fun drinking happy hour margaritas with them.
Photo 1
Friday was an afternoon full of CIEE photo-taking, the graduation ceremony (in which I was a M.C.), then a ritzy dinner on the 26th floor of the Renaissance Hotel at the Cloud 9 shopping mall.  The high-end buffet was such a treat, and I definitely should have eaten that much!  This is a photo of us 10 students from St. Lawrence University that studied in Shanghai this semester.  I cried last night when I had to say goodbye to Kat; she's been my wing-woman this semester, but I wish her so much luck for her adventure this summer out west in the U.S.
Photo 2
My host mom and younger brother.  My host grandma didn't attend, but she has been such an integral member of my Shanghai experience as well.  I can't articulate how thankful I am to them.  Each meal, clothes washing, bed changing, shopping trip, helping me with my electronics, school work, bank business... everything.  My life would not have been nearly as good had I not lived here.

Yesterday was an anti-climatic way to spend my last day in the city; the rain was a deterrent, though I had a Korean barbecue lunch with my four Chinese friends that I met at ECNU.  These girls are amazing and I hope that they can come to Beijing this summer and visit, or that I can dig up some money and visit them in Nanning, or Xiamen.  I spent time in the dorms with my program friends, then had dinner with my host family.  I went to the student bar, Ellen's, and was mystified by the new faces, and the lack of representation from the CIEE crowd (lots of last-minute packing).  I guess it makes sense, because we all have to move on.  Haha, I'm even going to miss the staff there, who've learned to deal with our enthusiastic, if not rowdy, antics.  I know I'm not going to see most of my classmates ever again, but I will never forget this semester.  I hope to see you once again, Shanghai!

Monday, June 3, 2013


What?!  It's already June.
I can't believe how quickly my time in Shanghai has gone by.  After breaking my bank in Thailand (even despite the exchange rate), I really dug in here these last few weekends. I can truly say that when I leave this city, there isn't anything I didn't go out of my way to find, see, or do.  I've gone back to The Bund on the Huangpu River a few times, admiring the spectacular neo-classical architecture, and also dressing up with my friends and having classy rooftops for dinner.  I have to say that this semester overall, although shorter than France, was more fun.  This could probably be a few things: Shanghai is a nuts-o city where you can have world-class experiences for under 25 U.S. dollars; this program isn't directed by St. Lawrence so I had the opportunity to meet 60 other students from around the country (and world); my host family is just incredibly generous and made my introduction to Chinese culture enjoyable; I've struck a nice balance of travelling in the city and out; and I believe that my Chinese has improved!
Oh, and even though it's only been a year and a half, I've grown up a lot.  I haven't been timid to take the chance and just go out and discover things, even if it means going alone.  Fatter and wiser and happier, for sure.

Lookin' fine on The Bund with some of my favorite CIEE friends.
 [photos courtesy of Matt's amazing Canon DSLR]
 Views from the rooftop of my 26-story apartment.  I haven't told anyone I can go up there because I'm not sure if it would be an issue or not... but on a non-polluted day (HA!), I can see all he way to Pudong!
 Shanghai has such a towering skyline that sometimes it's difficult to feel the full scope of the city.. but it sure is unbelievable.  

 Before Thailand we ascended the World Financial Center, which is in Pudong but with awesome views of the Oriental Pearl Tower ( the 3rd tallest TV tower in the world) and The Bund.
 We also had a dozen of us ladies take over the Shanghai Brewery to celebrate Mary's birthday!  That's her with the head scarf, along with some of the Chinese roommates.
 And we hit up a concert at a small venue called 390 Panyu, where a indie folk-rock duo called Wye Oak came from Baltimore to Shanghai!  I'm always a sucker for live music, although I didn't have enough money to go see the Backstreet Boys last week..

So this last bit of news has been confirmed for a while, but with a few loose ends I am still thrilled to announce that I'm staying in China for the rest of the summer!  Yup, rather than fly back to the U.S. on Sunday, June 9th, I'll be taking the 5-hour bullet train north for a big move to Beijing.  I have an internship in at The China Foundation Center, which is unpaid aside from a food stipend and will literally leave me broke by the end of the summer, but it's all worth it!  Without a doubt, life in China can be difficult at times but I wouldn't work this hard to stay if I didn't like it.  I've had to deal with visa procedures, finding a place to live, figuring out transportation.. gah, one week and I'll be there!
I definitely miss the United States and I have pangs when I think of home in the summer, going to festivals, hanging out in the woods, farmer's markets and barbeques with family and friends-- but it's time for me to shake it up a bit.  I've been pining for a professional experience, just to dabble and maybe inspire a future career track, and this internship couldn't have worked out better, unlike my applications in the U.S. that have gone unreplied.  I'm also enthralled by the idea of doing things on my own, because I have to figure it out eventually (chill out, Mom and Dad).  So, if anyone is free and feeling like travelling a bit this summer, you'll know where to find me (sort of)!

Thailand Travels, part II

I am so behind on posting about my more recent life of the last three weeks, but here is the last photo splurge from Thailand!  Basically we tanned ourselves to a crisp on Koh Samet, went snorkeling, sat in the softest sand, drank amazing mango and papaya smoothies, and indulged on mango sticky rice and crepes.  The island had such a relaxed and fun vibe, and at night you could eat on the beach because the restaurants set out mats and tables.  The fire dancers were a thrill, Kat and I tried convincing them to hang out with us, but alas we weren't cool enough...

Sorry about the photo explosion, but these were all too beautiful not to share. This trip really set me back financially, but I don't regret basking in the Thai sun and posting up in a pavilion ensuite... it just won't happen again for a while.  But, I recommend that you all book your flight to Thailand ASAP, and invite me along!!