September 14 – Mid Autumn Festival

Today was the last day of the orientation schedule, the morning was a scavenger hunt to get us feeling more comfortable with the city, and the afternoon was a picnic with our tutors in celebration of the mid autumn festival. (mm, moon cakes)

Last night I walked over to the room where most of the pitzer kids have been hanging out, and confirmed that I’d meet with the other two guys on my team at 8:30. I got down the the cafe on time, and they straggled in a bit later. I was the only one in our group that knew chinese, so they decided to rely on me for directions and communication. Eventually we got started, after they remembered they wanted to bring backpacks and cameras, and headed towards wudaoko. It was the same lightrail train that we’d gotten off at on the way back from the olympics. We caught a bus and took it two stops over rather than walking the whole way. I didn’t bother trying to read the schedule and just asked the driver if the bus went to wudaoko when it came to the stop, the second one did.

The bus wasn’t particularly crowded, which was nice, and the light rail also wasn’t a problem. I went to the counter rather than the automatic ticket vendor, and tried to buy a pass, but after getting what I wanted and understanding why I was trying to give her a $100 for a $2 ticket the lady said I’d have to go to the other side of the street for that, so I gave up and just got a single trip ticket.

The trip through the subway system was uneventful, though it’s a shame that there won’t be a stop right by us. I’m hopeful that once we relocate midway through this week and are on the other side of campus there will be a closer station.

We got off at the tiananmen station, and headed over to the main square. The only real upgrade from last time I’ve been there is that there are now security checkpoints at every entrance through the square, where you have to pass all of your bags through a metal detector.

The square was about the same as last time; tons of tourists, very hot. The edges were lined with intricate flower displays celebrating the olympics, and there was a 50 foot rotating paralympics sign placed in the middle next to one of the statues of toiling workers. We asked one of the guards when the flag raising ceremony would be tomorrow, and he replied 5:55 AM. (Flag raising ceremony incidentally is sheng qi yi shi). We headed south, to explore the hutongs next passing by mao’s mausoleum.

The Mausoleum was still active as ever, I’ve heard that it will have to close at some point because the body is actively deteriorating due to a botched job with the formaldehyde. The line was way longer than it was 4 years ago though, probably 5 wide and a good 4 hundred meters long.

We headed out of the square, and walked east for a few blocks until we saw a street that headed south into a hutong. The hutong we ended up in was somewhat disappointing to me, but cool in it’s own right. The road went a block, and then got much smaller, there were two pillers in the middle about one car length apart that were painted with stripes of black and yellow, and two temporary road blocks on either side of them. Beyond were high walls recently painted an industrial gray, but the street itself had a bunch of litter. It really looked like one of those ‘end of civilization’ lines commonly seen in post apocalyptic movies. We continued down a few blocks, and then took one of the alleys to get into the actual hutong part, and off of the road that had been cut through it. There was a small store, with three guys in front of it. I greeted them, and the younger guy who looked like the current proprietor didn’t have a particularly strong accent and I was able to understand him pretty well.

He asked where we were from and I told him we were americans studying at beida. We had a discussion on whether the united states or china was better, and decided that they both had their own pros and cons. He also pointed out that everyone has to say that their country was better, but overall they were both good. We parted with him inviting us to look around the hutong, he seemed like a very nice guy.

The hutong itself seemed to be on the way out. Many of the houses were now empty, and it wasn’t exactly bustling. After a bit of walking we found a small group of vendors that were putting together a market. There was a guy with some produce, and another with a bowl of live fish. Farther on were various pancakes (with leeks or corn) or steamed buns. At the other end was another small store. We bought some bottles of water, since the other two were thirsty, and I used the phone to call our teacher since she asked us to check in from the hutong.

I picked up a couple steamed buns on the way out of the hutong since I was getting hungry, and we walked out to the next major street.

We hailed a taxi cab, although to be fair he had already spotted us and gotten into the bike lane and I just had to acknowledge that we did indeed want a ride. He was from beijing, and drove way slower than the normal pace of traffic. It was a good thing that you paid based on distance rather than time, because he certainly wasn’t breaking any records. There wasn’t any particularly interesting conversation in the cab. Rebecca attempted to talk to him, but since she hasn’t had any chinese and was reading off of flash cards I’d have to interpret, and he’d answer.

We got off at the university east gate, and walked back to the hotel. Matt had forgotten his key, and so waited for his room mate to get back in my room, and read from one of our reading packets we’ve gotten in the last couple days.

I did a bit of math, and kept up with some emails.

At about 3 I took off for the classroom on the other side of the university to meet with the tutors. I handed in my health questionnaire, and then talked with the tutors for a few minutes until the rest of the kids arrived. We walked north to the summer palace ruins. The tutors are all really nice, and seem to be really smart. After getting into the park we found a deserted grass area and sat around to eat the moon cakes and snacks that had been brought. they had us do a little exercise where we acted out situations that showed cultural differences and then reflected on them, which was fairly silly. Afterward I we wandered around the park a little bit and then headed out.

We stopped to watch an older guy using a large brush with a sponge at the end to draw a large calligraphic character with water. As we continued out one of the tutors explained to me that it was a performance art. There isn’t any permanent result so the art has to be seen in the drawing as much as the resultant character. there are apparently clubs of guys that get together every day and work on their performances.

We got back to the hotel at about 6 pm, which felt really early, but there had been a lot of walking in the morning. I wrote up my formal proposal for doing a math class next semester. Then at about 8:30 I decided to take a walk, rather than spend the night in. My original destination was to a big bookstore on the other side of campus. I headed first towards the classrooms, and the supermarket next to them. That route passes a big field where taiji is practiced, and this evening it was full of small groups of people eating moon cakes and celebrating the holiday. As I was arriving at the supermarket the wind picked up a bunch and people started moving more purposefully. The whole time there was also lightning in the distance. It was far away, and the evening was nice.

I got a can of milk tea, which wasn’t bad at all, but exiting from the supermarket is started spitting, so I decided to head back rather than continue towards the bookstore. This was a good Idea, because by the time I got out of the campus the lighting was right overhead and it was pouring. I jogged the last few blocks, and ended up soaking by the time I was back at the hotel. I wrung out my clothes, and hopefully my shoes will dry out before tomorrow morning, and decided to call it a night.

I have my first chinese class tomorrow at 8 am, and I want to to an edit and then turn in my proposal for at least the math class by tomorrow as well.