Notes from China

The sun rises at 3am and sets at 8pm. In the morning, the light shines through the curtains so brightly that in the few days I’ve been here, I’ve been unable to sleep past 4:30am. I’m not the only one awake though because outside the dorm, there are people playing tennis and basketball. The garbage cans on campus are hidden within toadstools and the vans here are narrow and tiny by American standards. People jaywalk all the time. P1040090-copy


I go with a friend to the supermarket to buy a SIM card. She actually has a larger Mandarin vocabulary than I do but when the woman at the counter asks a question, she turns to me. I turn to my friend because I don’t understand, my vocabulary is so limited but I want to be the fluent speaker my face makes it appear I am. We are beginners here and there are plenty of other foreigners but there are the little things that feel like pressure to me because I look Chinese. Instead, I am quieter and more timid in a shop or asking for help because I don’t want to appear to be a foreigner, to disappoint them with my lack of language. A has the opposite problem. For them, she will always be a foreigner with her blond hair and blue/green eyes but she knows how to play it up, to speak with confidence and smile and go along with gestures if words won’t do.


On the plane to Beijing, I sat next to a native Beijing woman who was just coming back from her first visit to the U.S. We spoke in Mandarin, simple questions and simple answers. Later, she helped me find my way to the baggage claim, waiting for me after she had gone through customs, watching to make sure I was alright. I forgot to ask for her name before we parted. There is sometimes a sense of the surreal in these short friendships, of finding out so much in so little time and then leaving, mostly knowing that you won’t see them again even if you get their card or their phone number.


Today I was given my class schedule after an oral exam. I wasn’t quite sure what the point was in the written and oral exams because in the end, the teachers created new classes for the 5 Fulbrighters, regardless of our language level. Because my modern Chinese literature course didn’t meet the requirement of having at least two people in it due to the fact that the other Fulbrighters’ research is based on math education, energy, economics, and sociology, I will be taking newspaper reading instead. 我觉得这样没有道理。 I can understand the reasoning behind it but it’s frustrating when the other course was so much more relevant to my interests and my research.


Last night we had 烧烤 for dinner which involved grilled meats and veggies on sticks. Skewers and skewers appeared along with plates of salted cucumbers and sugared tomatoes. Everything was delicious and it came out to be 28 rmb per person, including beer, which isn’t cheap for a meal here but in the U.S., it’s about $4.50. It’s funny though how many people mentioned that eating shao kao will likely give us stomach problems (but of course, after we had already eaten dinner) but today I felt fine. On the way to a cheaper supermarket today, we passed a man under the overpass, with a small grills and skewers of meat. In a bowl in front of him were rounded, banded grubs that squirmed slightly, just enough for me not to be sure. I had to ask one of the Chinese roommates later if it was indeed a type of bug and she said yes. In other odd food news, we went to a Korean restaurant tonight, choosing from sample plates laid out with signs that told you what the main tastes were and what the price was. It was a surprise though when soup appeared and someone mentioned that the meat with it was dog. I don’t have anything against anyone eating insects or dogs but I’d rather not eat either, especially insects. We were treated to lunch though with our 1 on 1 professor at a place called 西苑宾馆, I think. We had some really delicious Harbin specialties but also a few sichuan dishes like a more authentic kung pao chicken. Also, so far we’ve had ba si 3 times! It’s usually some kind of vegetable deep-fried with a sugary syrup on top. You grab a piece and the sugar trails after it, stretching into long thin threads. It’s really good but also very sweet.

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Tomorrow is the first day we have absolutely nothing planned which is nice but also a bit frightening. After all, there is tons of homework involving learning new words (and their newspaper synonyms!) as well as reciting entire passages. But there’s also the opportunity to actually leave campus before classes start or going to the museum my roommate works at part-time. Too many choices! P1040085


4 thoughts on “Notes from China

  1. Your writing is really good. But theres is some little mistakes.

    It’s not “xiao kao” but “shao kao(烧烤)” and is not “西演兵管” but “西苑宾馆”.

    Actually, we had lunch at a place called 金博士(a Korean restaurant).
    西苑宾馆 is a guesthouse.

    I think you must not eat yours fill for you ate less at that night.

    1. Thanks for the corrections! I was just guessing at the way things sounded and trying to figure out the correct characters but obviously wasn’t very good 🙂 And actually, I ate at the 餐厅 in 西苑宾馆 for lunch. We went to the korean restaurant for dinner! (Also, does that name mean “gold doctor”?)

      1. Sorry,it’s my fault.I confused the lunch and dinner.

        You are right. It means “gold doctor”.

        By the way,you get up very early.(It’s a good habit.)

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