Thursday, July 11, 2013


 So what’s it like celebrating the birth of your nation while halfway around the world in another?  Actually, a lot of fun, and more patriotism than I ever imagined!  Maybe it’s the vacuum effect of being a minority expatriate; we've come to China seeking something different, but the U.S. is our commonality.  Thursday on the 4th I was acquainted with a lot more ultimate frisbee players at a friend’s rooftop cookout, while venues around the city had drink and barbecue deals and live music the rest of the weekend.

When in rains in the city, I can’t help but cringe and veer away from puddles, not quite sure what it’s washing away.  But summer storms are still welcome; on the 4th of July, a menacing storm from the north blustered through the city and took the pollution with it!  Peter’s new apartment had jaw-dropping views of the northern mountains, meandering clouds, a saturated sunset, and even stars later into the night.  Apparently this only happens, like, once a year—so I was thrilled to be a witness.  It did pain me a bit though, knowing that this is how it should be but now is only experienced rarely.  I can understand why Beijing was chosen as an imperial capital.

We donned our red, white, and blue, waved garden-sized flags, and someone brought a kiddie pool (it was 8 feet long and a logistically humorous to fill up).  There were grilled vegetables and meats, pasta salad, home brewed iced tea and lemonade, Pabst Blue Ribbon, and desserts: I savored the joy of stuffing my face with frosted banana bread and carrot cake, with vanilla bourbon frosting.  In a land of sketchy meat and very few ovens, it couldn’t get any better.  The only things missing were fireworks and a rousing rendition of the national anthem (which occurs at least once at every frisbee party I’ve ever been to).   Happy birthday, U.S.A.! 
A kiddie pool, barbecue, clear skies and good company -- what more do you need?

In the spirit of the holiday weekend, other events also included an Independence Day-themed Food Club at Justin's house.  He's another frisbee player who's been living in Beijing for a few years, and each month he hosts a themed meal and brings friends, neighbors, and people he just met off the airplane (literally though) together to enjoy the food.  He used a sous vide method in his bathroom and cooked a pork shoulder, made his own barbecue sauce (heavenly), mac and cheese with a thick roux and crusted top in a toaster oven, coleslaw, potato salad, and one of his roommates contributed a peach pie-- another case of food-induced coma heaven.

 Justin, demonstrating how the pulled pork sliders (on baguette) should be eaten.  He was also quite proud of the bacon jam.

On Sunday, we had one last hurrah for the U.S.A. by taking over a Xinjiang restaurant's sidewalk and hung flags, played Americana music, drank more PBR, and gave them good business by ordering a lot of chuar (roasted lamb skewers).  Like I said, who knew the 4th of July could be so exciting in Beijing :).


 It’s events like these, and subtleties in our behavior and language, I think, that construct our appearance to others.  Since being abroad, I’m acutely more aware of how identifying your origin influences how people perceive you.  We all have stereotypes, or at least ideas, about a person when they tell you what country or region of the world they’re from.  Most Chinese natives’ reactions range from surprise, to curiosity, to confused, or impressed when I say that I’ve lived in the U.S. all my life (meiguo 美国).  Just like in China, you say you are from the North, then you probably have a very hardy personality; from the South, you must have a great penchant for eating (whether that’s biological or socially learned or not is another story, but I’d like to think as being born in a southern city, I certainly uphold this trait haha)!

I remember my freshman year of school, I was in a Race, Culture & Identity class and we were discussing labels.  Someone pointed out that saying, “I’m American” is a lot less descript than us, er, Americans (U.S. folk), would like to assume.  ‘America’, to the rest of the world, is a set of two enormous continents!  The Canadians, they’re American, they’re from North America; Hondurans are Americans from South America… you understand my point, right?   It’s a language subtlety, and an indicator of power, that struck a chord and hasn’t left me since.  Just because the U.S. dominates these two continents, does not mean we can make claims on being more ‘American’ than anyone else that inhabits them.  And while I’m still guilty of saying, “I’m American” (especially with an obnoxious twang), I make a conscious effort to identify as citizen from the United States.


The first full week in my apartment was a good time—I’ve smoked out the place by not plugging in the stove fan, disconnected one of the kitchen sink pipes by removing the drain, couldn’t figure out how the breaker box worked to repower the electricity—the place has a few charming, dysfunctional quirks.  My roommate Tom has been there for nearly a year and he’s worked out so many of them, and my mistakes tend to be a reminder of issues he can smooth over without a second thought.  I also have a bike now!  It’s a creaky single speed with scarlet red frame that’s a bit too small, but silver wheel fenders, and a black seat and back rack.  The best part is, my co-workers helped me locate the bike online and we went to the vendor together.  She wouldn’t negotiate the price down, but for 220 RMB (about 33 USD) I received the bike, a lock, and a basket.  What’s more, my co-worker FangFang bought the bike, and is simply letting me use it for the rest of the month!!  It’s so generous of her because now I don’t have to worry about reselling the bike before I leave. 

Some photos of my Beijing home base:
 The apartment is right around the corner from Nanluo Guxiang-- one of the most bustling streets in the city -- but because it's set back, we have quietness and privacy.  Well, aside from the construction that usually starts at 7 AM all around us.  My roommate speculates that they other proprietor is turning the surrounding apartments into a big hutong hotel, though we'll be gone before it's finished.
 My room!  Simple, yes, and the comfortable bed (thickest mattress I've slept on in China) takes up about two-thirds of the room.  Can't complain.

FangFang has also enlisted me to help her learn English.  She’s aiming to take the TOEFL next winter to boost her resume and accreditation, and I happen to be her most accessible candidate as a language partner.  Much to my resistance, she’s treated me to dinner twice now, even though I’m more than happy to talk through her lessons for free.  So for a few hours after work we enjoy delicious food together and tackle general topics in English (with some Chinese lessons thrown in for me), then review the TOEFL text.  

Chinese hotpot (above), where you're given an individual pot of the broth of your choice -- like vegetable stock, meat stock, mine was tomato-based -- and it's placed on an electric heater.  Once the broth is forming, toss your food in until its cooked!  We ate heaps of vegetables, lamb, and small dumplings.
This quaint Japanese restaurant, Suzuki, is a complete hit in Beijing.  We just went to their newest location down the street from the office.  The interior has dark wood, clean lines, and charming rabbit-themed decorations.  We shared a huge tuna salad, Japanese hotpot, and a tofu-egg rice bowl.  太好吃了!

I'm actually feeling settled in, which is a lovely realization indeed.
Listening: the drills, hammers, and scuffles of the construction 


Donna said...

Great pics. The view looks wonderful. Can't wait to see more!!

Sara Louise said...

I can't believe you managed to get some Pabst Blue Ribbon! As far as I'm concerned, that made your 4th of July celebration completely authentic! :)

Allison said...

This is fantastic - I'm on picture and info overload and don't even know where to start with my comments.. Seriously, everything looks incredible and I'm glad you're feeling settled in. I love all of these posts and appreciate you writing down all of your journeys and information :)
Though, I'm judging you for the PBR when you could be having Tsingtao! ;)