The Phenomenon of Being a Foreigner

Photo of Longmen
Posted by on October 20, 2012

There is this pizza place in Beijing called the Kro’s Nest 乌巢 it absolutely has the best pizza in Beijing. Everytime we go there, it’s like a little piece of home, because of the amazing salads and amazing flatbread pizza. Also if anyone wants to know, they have the best strawberry milkshakes in China. I know that when my dad gets here for his Confucius Institute conference in November I am planning on taking him here, I know right definitely authentic Chinese. There are two of these locations in Beijing one in Xiaoyun and one in Sanlitun. Sanlitun is the foreigner’s area of Beijing; you can’t walk a block without seeing a foreigner. But the Democrats in China, I do not think the Republicans have one, have had Presidential Debate watching parties at the Kro’s Nest in Sanlitun. It is an absolute blast to be able to stay caught up on the debates, even though most facebookers have ruined the debates for us before we had the chance to watch it because of the 12-hour time difference. But getting to watch the debates with pizza, a delicious strawberry milkshake, and great company is the best. (Here I am not saying I am a Democrat, just saying that it is a great opportunity to have Americans in China who care about our nation’s future gather together and watch the debates.)
Well this past weekend we had our MIC Middlebury planned small trip to Luoyang, Henan. This is in the southern part of China, so we had to take an overnight train there. The trip was really well planned, with the whole trip and itinerary laid out; we even had a little booklet with little excerpts about the places were going. Even though the trip was well planned, I think they overlooked, one tiny little factor. The day after we got back from our trip, our midterms started. Because we were only going to actually be in Luoyang for one night, we had to pack light. So that meant taking no study aids, except for maybe a little notebook. So on Thursday after a full days worth of class, with some of our roommates, teachers, and fellow students left for Beijing’s West Train Station. Our train left around 9:30pm, and after we got on that train oh the fun started. China has many types of trains; they have the high-speed rail and the regular trains. We took one of the regular trains. On a long distance trip, the train can be split into four different sections or classes: hard seat, soft seat, hard sleeper, and soft sleeper. The most sought after ticket is the hard sleeper, because it has a bed and isn’t that expensive. The hard sleeper has three different prices of its own; you can get the bottom bunk, the middle bunk, or the top bunk. The lower the bunk, the more expensive and the more space you have. Well because our teachers just randomly bought us tickets with our passport numbers, I got the short end of the stick. I got stuck with the top bunk. Truly the hard sleepers were not that bad for only a little over a hundred kuai, but they were super crowded and there was absolutely no privacy. So lucky us after the mandatory lights out at 10:30pm we got to hear old people snoring, young chatty Chinese talking on their cells (definitely not with their inside voices). One thing that is worth mentioning are the non-western style bathrooms, so pretty much you have a whole in the train you get to use while the train is rolling along. Being in a country that does not have western style toilets in most places, really does make you appreciate the little things in life, like toilets.
Because we were getting off the train before it arrive at Luoyang to go hiking at Yuntai Mountain, we got off the train at Jiaozuo at 5am. Because I was on the top bunk, I did not sleep that well. I think if anything I got maybe 20 minutes of sleep before they turned on the lights to give us our tickets before we reached our stop. The night before they collected our tickets and gave us a card to hold onto, just incase we lost our tickets while we were on the train. After we got off the train, everyone seems pretty well rested except for me. Apparently I do not have the ability to sleep on transportation, except for buses and cars…because I also cannot sleep to save my life on international flights, which definitely makes the jet lag worse. Well once we got off the train and gathered into our little group, we got on our tour bus and met our tour guide of the next two days Little Wang. I think everyone was dragging because it was 5am on a Friday morning, after a full week of classes. It was interesting to see that even though it was still extremely early, there were tons of older Chinese walking backwards, stretching, and doing Tai Chi in the square in front of the train stop. We had the option of grabbing a quick breakfast at KFC; which was sort of a disappointment for it being so popular in China. At KFC we had the option of changing out clothes that we slept in, into hiking clothes. On the way to KFC it was it was interesting to see the skyline had no skyscrapers, the highest buildings were housing facilities. Which was definitely a scenery change from Beijing. And then we were off to “hike” Yuntai Mountain. Yuntai Mountain was about a thirty minute or so drive from the KFC, so majority of us passed out within seconds.
When we arrived at Yuntai Mountain we were instantly surrounded by hoards Chinese tourists. There were so many Chinese there, that it was not really a hike, it was more so like a walk because you had to constantly wait for endless lines to move. Everything was really beautiful at Yuntai Mountain, except it was really sad to see with so many trashcans everywhere that there were still people throwing their trash on the ground or into the water. The really weird thing was that the whole day we were at Yuntai Mountain we did not see any other foreigners. So it was just a ton of Chinese people, 7 extremely obvious foreigners, and 3 Chinese/Taiwanese-Americans. With this being said, throughout the day I had 16 people and their relatives wanting to take pictures with me, because of my oddly blonde colored hair. Typically in China people do stare, because my hair color stands out more than the typical black or brown. But it appeared as though majority of these people have never seen foreigners outside of the movies or television. It was an interesting opportunity to get to get to feel like a celebrity for a day, but by the end of the day it was getting a little annoying that everywhere we went, it looked like we were walking down a runway of never-ending stares. My good friend Cire, who is from Senegal, also had this problem. So it was like we were two different species that had never been seen before, on display. Definitely a little culture shock is that Chinese do not even attempt to hide the fact that they are taking your picture or staring at you. A cool little blurb from the trip was that I introduced our program director Zhang Laoshi to candy corn, the amazing Halloween candy from the States. Luckily my package from my parents that took over a month to get here arrived shortly before we left for our trip. So I brought along a lot of the Halloween goodies my mom wrapped up for my classmates and I. I also had the opportunity to introduce Qian Laoshi to peanut butter M&Ms. ☺ Such a bad influence.
After a full day on the mountain, we finally had the opportunity to get back on the bus for the three-hour ride to Luoyang. Most people passed out as soon as we got on the bus, but I watched an episode of this new show I discovered called Revenge, I know not a Chinese TV show, but it a really nice break from the stressful life of a semester at Midd Abroad. After I finished the episode, I passed out until we got to the “lovely” restaurant that our tour guide reserved us two tables at. The name of the restaurant was Zhen bu tong, which means really different. And let me tell you, it was really different. Majority of the dishes were soups with some sort of meat, or vegetable. However, there was one dish that I absolutely did not want to try…it was turtle soup, with the shell of the turtle in the soup. I think some students from the other table tried it, but the only people at our table who tried it were the two teachers sitting at our table. I stuck to the 馒头, or steamed bread with no flavor. Once we finished dinner, we arrived at our hotel. It was an extremely nice hotel, which was a nice change from the overnight top bunk from the night before. Before we went in for the night, a couple of us went to go buy water for that night and the next day. (I am a water-loving fiend) On the way to find a store, these little girls playing stopped playing to start pointing at me/my hair. In the hotel I shared a room with a really nice girl in my program, Celine. She can speak French, Arabic, Chinese, and English…I think maybe more than that. But once we got into our rooms we got on our phones and called our parents. She talked to her parents in French, and me obviously in English. Luckily for us the hotel had western-styled toilets, so no holes in the ground!
The next morning I woke up around 7:20am, and grabbed a quick bite to eat downstairs in one of their dining areas. However, I do not recall if I have mentioned the difference between Chinese and American’s breakfast yet, but Chinese people rarely (if ever) eat the same type of breakfast we think of. Their typical breakfast are steamed bread sometimes filled with meat and vegetables, or Chinese noodles and sautéed vegetables. The ideal breakfast for me would be fresh fruit, cereal with skim milk, or pancakes with syrup and butter. Unfortunately I will have to wait to get back home to Pennsylvania to see anything similar to that. I would even be open to a protein shake right now with a little bit of banana, yum! But after we grabbed a quick bite to eat, we got on the bus to head to Longmen Grottoes. Because we got there so early, there weren’t that many tourists. It is amazing to witness what men are capable of creating. For the most part the statues were well preserved, except for the ones that had their heads taken. My good friend Jihad said that Chinese people had a lot of free time on their hands, because they built the great wall and these amazing statues.

Here’s a group picture!


After this, we had the opportunity for free time where my friends Brian, Jihad, Cire and I attempted to find a Muslim restaurant that my friend Jihad could eat meat at. While we were attempting to find a restaurant, we saw a person selling these adorable golden retriever puppies and had the mother dog just lying there. It was so sad; I wanted to buy all of the dogs. (For those of you who do not know, I have a 3 year old adorable golden retriever named Caeli…she is truly man’s best friend) But unfortunately, the only good restaurants we could find weren’t Muslim. But we ended up eating had a pretty good Szechuan restaurant, that had fried corn with sprinkles, really good dofu (tofu), and these delicious little egg/veggie pancake slices. After that we went on our last activity of the day going to the White Horse Temple. It was not really that interesting except for the fact that it is the oldest Buddhist temple in China. After the temple, we had a quick dinner at a Szechuan restaurant, before we grabbed our 7pm-ish train back to Beijing. Almost everyone, except for a few people whose grades do not transfer back, was starting to freak out about the upcoming midterms. So some of us started studying on our bunks on the train. Luckily this time I got the middle bunk, which had a little bit more room. Our teachers were so shocked to see us all studying for our exam that was on Monday, but I mean even though we had all day Sunday to prepare (and I started to prepare the week before) we were slightly freaking out. But with the mandatory 10:30pm light outs, I actually got a good couple hours worth of sleep this time. I think it was because I was so exhausted from everything. But we arrived at the train station around 6am, and got back to our dorms before 7:30. Even though a slept a little on the train I was toast, so I uploaded all of my photos onto Facebook, downloaded new TV episodes that I had missed, and slept until about 11am.
Before I move on and talk about midterms this past week, I think it import to comment that in China you can see two things at once, you can see what you are thankful to have, and what you wish you had. Even though majority of China’s popular is in extreme poverty, there are a lot of millionaires. I mean everywhere you look in China there are the most expensive brands of cars and clothes. With this being said, anywhere you guy in China there are people begging on the streets with deformed bodies, and starved bodies. It is absolutely heartbreaking to witness, but the only thing you can really do is look away (I know that is horrible to say, absolutely kills me every time I see these beggars).
On a more positive note Chinese boyfriends are whipped. Everywhere you look you see a Chinese boyfriend carrying his girlfriends books, purse, etc.
This past week was our midterm week, so with that comes the horrible overwhelming stress. I had a total of three big oral presentations, one written exam, and 4 essays. Now that it is Friday evening, it is such a relief to have this week over with. Beside exams, I have worked out 6 times and ran about 30 miles since being back from Luoyang. Working out seriously has become my outlet for stress, which I do not know if it is a good or a bad thing sometimes. But at the gym they have a lot of trainers, who majority of the time just stand there and watch you work out. One even has a popped collar, lanyard, and a fanny pack, which makes him even cooler. Interestingly, tonight at the gym there was an arm wrestling competition. I did not really watch it, because if I do anything at the gym I typically have people following me with their eyes. This being said, most of the time I go to the gym I am the only female who looks like she is trying to get a decent workout in (i.e. not working out in jeans walking at a rate of 1 km/h), and the only foreigner. The only other people I know that work out at that gym are three people in my program, but we rarely go to the gym at the same times.
This past week a good friend of mine back at school, told me he was planning on doing the same program that I am currently doing in the winter term and in the spring. When he messaged me, he asked me what I thought about the program. So I thought it suitable to write out my thoughts of the program here. The CET-Middlebury program overall is absolutely amazing. It is a great program, great teachers, and great curriculum. However, there is too much pressure here in my personal opinion. In a normal semester I typically pull multiple all nighters a week, but here the stress is always there. If you are not in class, you are studying. And if you are lucky, you have an hour to go squeeze in a workout. Now I know some people doing this program do not have the same opinion, but our program also has some people whose grades do not transfer back to their GPA, whose parents are Chinese, or some students who started learning Chinese in high school. The classes are not really put into different language levels, because we are at some-what similar Chinese levels I guess. Also, we have a couple students that are Middlebury Chinese majors or minors, so they are used to having the same level of difficulty.
Well it’s 1am my time, I am toast after a week of midterms. A couple of my friends decided to go out tonight, but I decided it was best to finally update my blog. But for now, Ciao! Ciao!

4 Responses to The Phenomenon of Being a Foreigner

  1. Lindsley Harner

    Love sharing all your experiences! Love your attention to detail because it makes it seem like we are right there with you and seeing what you are thinking.

  2. Big creature

    Thanks Little Creature for marvelous blog. You are excellent writer and observer.

  3. Bill Harner

    Feel like I was there with you Jess. Incredibly descriptive with great detail.

  4. uncle john wickham evergreen

    Jessica your mom fw me your entry . Hope ok to add few comments. Your funny story about nonwestern toilet holes reminded me of living in phillipines in 1971-73 . We had to learn going off base to use squat holes! Also by mistake ate hamburger of pagogee (dog meat). I was 13 with blond hair and filipinos always stared saying “hey joe!” All americans were joe. Uncle john