Sunday, June 17, 2007

Summer Abroad 09 - Post Script

It's been a fun trip, and a part of me, the part that doesn't worry about bills or money, wishes I could have stayed longer. I made lots of new friends, and bonded with the locals. I would have loved to have cultivated and developed the new friendships a little more. Perhaps there will be more chances for that in the future. In any case, this trip has been a blast, and will always occupy a great place in my heart and mind.

Beijing is a rapidly modernizing place. It's still a little behind Taipei, but not as far as it used to be. In the next 20 years, China will resume its "rightful" place among nations; I don't mean "rightful" as a place that China deserves because of its history or past glory, but "rightful" as a place that China and her people will have earned. Frictions with the West remain, and geopolitical interests can never be identical with any other nation, much less any particular Western nation; but for the most part, now that China is moving into the 21st Century, its overall interests are largely congruent with Western commercial nations.

We didn't see the countryside, really, so it's difficult to tell what things are like there. The rural population of China remains high; even though there are more people in China living in urban areas than there are people in the whole of the United States, there are still at least almost as many people in China's rural areas as there are people in the whole of India. Much of China's future stability relies on how her people transition from an agrarian culture to a commercial culture. As we in the States are reminded of every four years, it is folly to discount those that live in the heartland.

Finally, a few more pictures from Hong Kong International Airport, which is itself a veritable consumerist paradise, with at least one, maybe two Gucci stores, as well as a large space for Johnnie Walker Blue Label.

This is the plane that took us to Beijing.

The indoor flora added a humanizing, Zen-like effect to the huge, single-terminal airport.

Hong Kong International Airport also flaunts its distinct Chineseness with its assortment of choices for all kinds of food, as seen here at one end of the terminal.

This was the great metal bird that took us back to Los Angeles.

This concludes the Beijing Travelogue. Please help yourself to the other entries, and have fun exploring this blog!

Summer Abroad 08 - Hanging Out

Although it sometimes felt as if we had no time to ourselves, with all the things we were out doing, there was some down time. We learned to enjoy them whenever we could.

Kaktos Coffee (仙人掌咖啡), where we first discovered the ¥9 bottles of Tsingtao (青島啤酒), was our primary hangout. It was in Building 0, where only one subgroup of us would end up staying, thanks to the Treasury Department of Jin City, Shanxi Province.

The first day Ted, Aaron, and I arrived, we devoured those bottles of Tsingtao. We came back the next morning wondering aloud whether or not it had been restocked. That comment alerted Mark and Diane that we were Americans, and from there on we began making friends with people in the program. By the way, the beer had, indeed, been restocked. Indeed, at one point, they removed one column of Heineken to make room for the Tsingtao.

For those unfamiliar with the concept, Aaron and Mark demonstrated the "Asian squat" as we left the Forbidden City.

There were so many leftovers after the welcome banquet that we were able to have a "leftovers party" of our own, complete with "1.8s".

Sara loves balling.

At $0.25 each, we had to make sure we maximized our marginal utility for "1.8s".

Ted blending in with the locals.

Another place that quickly became a hangout, especially since it was on the same side of the street as the hotel that many students ended up staying at, was Sculpting in Time (雕刻時光), a chain cafe dealing in Western fare. This particular one had a nice atmosphere, but the service was practically non-existent. They have trouble dealing with large orders involving people who don't speak the language.

Claudio strikes a GQ pose in front of Sculpting in Time at night.

Not until near the end, when everyone was, I suppose, finally tired from doing all sorts of things, that all four roommates were able to spend pretty much an entire day chilling together.

It was so chill that Ted and Aaron fell asleep, and it took a little while to get Ted up.

Kaktos Coffee was a popular hangout for locals as well, such as this beauty.

She's beautiful at Starbucks, too.

The people of Beijing have adapted to modern traffic conditions in different ways.

Ted is sad to leave.

Sara loves balls.

The crew at Kaktos Coffee before calling it a night. They were up again early in the morning the next day, when Ted, Aaron and I left.

Our last night of chilling together.

Farewell, Beijing!

Summer Abroad 07 - Farewell Banquet

The farewell banquet was held at the Crowne Plaza Beijing Wuzhou Hotel. The food was pretty good, but I didn't get to have much of it because we were just too busy taking pictures and chatting with friends.

Paul and Rob rocked the bling they'd acquired at Silk Alley (秀水街), a famous indoor flea market in Beijing, and hoisting "1.8s". A "1.8" is a bottle, containing somewhere about an imperial pint worth of Yanjing Beer (燕京啤酒), a local brew, that costs just ¥1.80, or about US$0.25. Although it's quite skunky at room temperature, if you've got a cold one and you get past the neck, it does its job, and at that price, certainly can't be beat. "Target" is the only place we've found that carries them at that price, and its stock is regularly raided, not only by the Americans, but by local students looking for a cheap buzz.

Rob was also sporting the tailored suit he got at Ruifuxiang (瑞蚨祥) in Wangfujing (王府井).

Sara loves balds.

Courina and Raven look excited to be going home.

Eric's had a good time, for sure.

Dr. Xia, who organized the logistics at UIBE, seems relieved that the second week went by without major problems.

Taiwan represent!

Lushes represent!

Sara and her coterie of Loyola men.

Diane, usually so quiet, came out of her shell for the banquet.

Section 2 represent!

Sara loves her Loyola men.

Chang and Chang. We'll see you in court.

Afterward, almost everyone piled into Cash Box KTV (錢櫃). In the interests of world peace, no pictures or videos from the drunkenness of that event will be posted.

Summer Abroad 06 - Food

Of course, what travelogue of a Chinese city would be complete without a discussion of food? I was among the very few that were comfortable doing all Chinese food all the time while in Beijing, because as I was growing up my parents introduced me to all sorts of Chinese food. When other students from the program began arriving, they looked to me, among others, to order.

I made sure they did not get Americanized Chinese food that first day they were there.

That day, we discovered Sino Hot Taste, a hot pot place across Huixin Dongjie (惠新東街) from UIBE. It smelled great, and there were always a lot of people there, so the six of us had to sit outside while we waited.

We got the twin-flavor pot, with clear broth on one side and medium spicy broth on the other. Can you tell which is which?

Thin-sliced ribeye was the staple of this and other occasions at Sino Hot Taste.

Sara loves balls.

At the end of the meal, Mark challenged Ted to a round of rock-paper-scissors. The loser had to drink a shot of the spicy broth. Here, the gents discuss the proposed shot.

Mark lost, and decided to sip his punishment.

Along the way to the Olympic Park the next day, we espied this grand-looking restaurant.

It's just as nice inside as out.

Later that day, we got lost looking for Bodhi, a massage place near Workers' Stadium. We ended up having dinner at this Hunanese place, that had dog on the menu. We did not eat the dog. Mark was so disturbed by the thought that he could not eat much.

One of the highlights of the welcome banquet was the duck. Head included.

On the first day of class, we tried a beef noodle place across the street from the east gate of UIBE. I don't think we ever went out that gate again, at least to eat.

One of my favorite places was Xue Jun (雪峻); our first foray included a delicious but (relatively) expensive spicy shrimp dish.

Among the fancier places we went to included a Cantonese place called Jin Ding Xuan (金鼎軒) ...

... and a Taiwanese place calling itself Bellagio (although in Chinese it is named 鹿港小鎮, after Lukang, a town in Taiwan where my mother grew up).

Of course, we could not stay away from Sino Hot Taste. We raved about it so much, we had to organize a large party there.

We were split into two tables, and at the other table, one of the guys bought a flask of Chinese wine, which he shared with us. Ted proceeded to corrupt the new inductees with both spice and wine, even as they tried to knock him off his win streak.

The next day, for simpler fare, we returned to Xue Jun, where Rob demonstrated his proficiency with chopsticks.

Sara loves balls.

It's not just the restaurants that are interesting. Prepared "food" was interesting as well. "Target" carried, of all things, pineapple beer!

Of course, the alcoholic content was so low it was really pineapple juice with some fermented hops.

The Chinese have gotten better at marketing, I suppose. Nongfu Mountain Spring Water (農夫山泉) is touted as the official water of the taikonauts!

Now, I for one didn't mind Chinese food all the time. However, the others got a little nostalgic for Western food. So we went to Wudaokou (五道口) and had burgers at Lush, which sits above a book store. Lush has a quaint ambience reminiscent of Raleigh's on Telegraph in Berkeley.

We managed to find a seat next to the window overlooking the street.

The deluxe burger was 200g (almost half a pound) of beef patty so tender and greasy it melted on our tongues, with some bacon on top, held between focaccia bread. Aaron dearly missed American food.

Sara loves balls.

My fourth time at Sino Hot Taste was also my second time there with a large group. Over half of our 12-person table (the table was designed for 8-10 guests) opted for the spicy option. Here they are before the meal ...

... and after.

All 12 guests somehow squeezed into one picture.

On the last day in Beijing, I stopped by Xue Jun again for one last ¥8 (~$1.10) lunch. This dish, preserved vegetables with pork shreds in soup noodles, is one of my perennial favorites.

Our last dinner was, appropriately, at Sino Hot Taste. Aaron doesn't usually eat spicy food, but he had hot pot at least three times in Beijing. Thus the expression on his face.

I'm really going to miss Beijing food prices!