Two weeks ago was our Fall Break for MIC-Middlebury, as I have said in previous posts I stayed in Beijing for the week. Let me tell you, it was an absolute blast if you enjoy sleeping in everyday, working out, and doing the occasional homework to get ahead. But over break I got this amazing package that my mom sent me with about ten DVDs and some classic buttery American-styled popcorn. (Chinese popcorn is like an extreme kettlekorn with globs of sweetness, not really my cup of tea per say…I prefer the amazing movie theatre popcorn back in the states) So over break I had the chance to revisit my childhood and watch Pocahontas I and II, and chow down on some buttery goodness. I am saving the other movies for a rainy day, which rarely happen here in Beijing, or a weekend that I have a little free time.
Over break I went to Beijing’s Kro’s Nest twice, once to watch the Final Presidential Debate and once to watch a movie on the Internet. My good friend Brian and I decided on a lazy Saturday to go and watch “Looper” on the Internet while indulging in the delicious pizza and Strawberry milkshakes that Kro’s Nest has to offer. Originally we were planning to go to the movies to watch it, but it was too much of a hassle to arrive at the movie theatre and not know if there would be a showing around that time, because the Internet site for the movie theatre was down. Watching the Final Presidential Debate two Tuesday’s ago was a lot of fun. I met up with an old classmate that I did the Middlebury Summer Program with two years ago, and got to get an amazing “Americans in China voting for ____ Candidate” shirt.
The rest of the week was pretty much racking up some mileage on the treadmills at the gym and sleeping in, but on Thursday night I had the opportunity to meet up with some Wofford students that are also studying abroad in Beijing. It was great to actually see familiar faces, and chat about picking classes for Jan/Spring Term. One cool thing that my friend George recommended, was to try something from the 小吃 road in WangFuJing, so we decided to eat the small Scorpions that they were selling on a stick. The next day, because of my dad, I was able to meet up with a China Foreign Area Officer (FAO) and go to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. For those of you who do not know what an FAO is, they are commissioned officers from any of the four branches of the U.S. Armed Forces that specialize in regional expertise, with political, economic, geographical, cultural, sociological, and economic awareness. FOAs also have to be able to speak the language of the area in which they are studying, and in their case it is Chinese. To have people that have regional expertise and are able to speak a country’s language is obviously crucial for current foreign policy. Because I am an ROTC cadet, I was able to see the military side of the Embassy, where as majority of the time when people meet with people from the embassy, they are just government workers. China FAOs are required to after going to DLI (Defense Language Institute), to come to China for a year to study the country. As students they are literally given money to just travel throughout China. With regards to this aspect I am absolutely jealous, because the only places I have been in China are the capital and Luoyang.
I had the opportunity to tour the Embassy, which is absolutely amazing. As we have learned this past week in our Experience Beijing class it is the most expensive Embassy that the U.S. has built, and it is only second in size to the Embassy in Bagdad. An interesting fact that I learned while visiting the embassy, was that everything that was used to build the embassy, down to every brick, was imported from the United States. This also includes the American contractors who had to have security clearances to come and build the embassy. While visiting the embassy I got to meet other Army and Marine FAOs, who have all been in China for almost a year. Also I discovered that the U.S. Embassy has a store stocked with American products such as Mac n’ Cheese and protein shakes. While I was there I got some Kraft Mac n’ Cheese and got my dad a couple of Embassy Souvenirs to give him when he gets to China next Thursday.
On my last day of freedom I went to this amazing little café near Wudaokou 五道口, where I previously stayed the last time I was in Beijing two years ago, called the 桥咖啡馆 which literally means the Bridge Café. The menu has a variety of western foods, such as a Chicken Croissant Sandwich, a pancake breakfast, and a variety of Pasta dishes. This was only my second time going here, but the service is always great; they refill your cup with water if there is even a hint that you have had a sip. I ordered this delicious cup of Peppermint Tea, which made me even more excited for Christmas time when I get back stateside on December 17th. (43 days!)
After studying some characters for upcoming quizzes, Brian and I went to Xidan to try and find me a pair of black high heels or 高跟鞋, because I was invited to go to a Joint Concert Program between the United States Army Band and the PLA Band. Brian really gets major props for putting up with me going up and down the five stories of one of the huge shopping centers in Xidan. It is strange that when you are trying so hard to find a particular thing, how hard it actually is to find it. After about two hours of no luck, I had an epiphany that we should go to Zara (a popular Chinese Brand store) because they were bound to have black high heels. Luckily they had a pair of semi-decent looking black heels that were my size. However, for the price that they were, the quality was absolutely horrible. But I was in a squeeze for time, so I just bought the shoes and left. (I also discovered the next night that they were the most uncomfortable heels that I have ever bought in my life) On our way back Brian and I could not find a cab, so we ended up getting driven back to campus by a “black cab.” Black cabs are not always black, but the reason that they are called black cabs is because the fact that they are not actually legal cabs. Once we got back, we ended up grabbing dinner at one of our new favorite restaurants right by campus. We call this restaurant the 饺子饭馆儿, because it is the only restaurant near our college that sells dumplings. Brian’s favorite dish to order at any restaurant is Kung Pao chicken, so we often order that when we go, as well as a really delicious veggie-egg bread, that is a type of 饼.
Monday evening was the night of the Joint Concert Program between the Military Band of the People’s Liberation Army of China and the United States Army Band “Pershing’s Own.” The concert was held at the Bird’s Egg or The National Centre for Performing Arts, 国际大剧院. Some of the major military figures that were there were: Major General (Two Star Air Force) David R. Stilwell, who is the United States Senior Defense Official and Defense Attaché to the People’s Republic of China; Major General Linnington; the PLA’s Lieutenant General Qi Jianguo, who apparently is currently in a four-star general’s job; and Captain DJ Skelton. Because I was a guest, I did not go to the reception before the concert, but instead I had the opportunity to help hand out tickets at the Beijing Military Attaché Corps (BMAC) table. While I was there I got to see Military Attaches from countries like Argentina, Russia, South Korea, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Switzerland, Bolivia, Uruguay, Serbia. Spain, and Turkey. While talking to one of the people that works for BMAC, I learned that for small countries like Switzerland and Norway (etc.), they only have one Military attaché that is assigned to a couple of countries in Asia. For example, I believe the lady I was talking with said the Military Attaché from Switzerland is in charge of North Korea, China, and several other small Asian countries. Which as you can imagine has to be an extremely difficult job.
One thing that I noticed at the concert, was the similarity in military dress uniforms between the PLA and the U.S. Armed Forces’. The PLA “Land Army” dress uniform are the exact same as the Army’s old green Class A’s, and the PLA “Air Army” dress uniform are also exactly the same as the Air Force blues. I was talking to an U.S. Army LTC, who is the Assistant Attaché at the Embassy, about this, and he jokingly (also seriously) said this was why the U.S. Armed Forces change their dress uniforms not that long ago. My seat during the concert was only about five rows up from the stage, and only two rows in front of all the important U.S. and Chinese military figures. So to say the least, I definitely had one of the best seats in the house. I also got to sit next to one of my Army FAO friends, a State Department worker who specializes in Nuclear Proliferation, CPT Skelton and his wife. CPT Skelton is a truly amazing soldier, for those that would like to read more about him, simply Google him and you can read all about him. But my absolute favorite part of the concert was when both bands together played part of the score from the movie “Cowboys” by John Williams. Let me tell you it was absolutely amazing to just hear John Williams through the use of the French Horns. (Star Wars fans know what I am talking about)
This past week was a good one, however, I was happy it flew right by. But one unfortunate thing was that this past Wednesday was Halloween. Even though a lot of the bars and clubs here in Beijing celebrated Halloween last weekend, it just was not the same as it is back in the states. I am not talking about the short outfits that girls wear on Halloween, but the traditions that come with the holiday. The director of our program organized for us to go to a Chinese Kindergarten, to go there and celebrate with the little kids. And let me tell you, their version of Halloween is only slightly based on our Halloween. The costumes that they were wearing were more so related to Mardi Gras in my opinion. But it was great to see all the little kids dressed up and carving strangely shaped Chinese pumpkins, trying to make Jack o’ Lanterns. Once we got there, we were given these Mardi Gras masks and asked to go individually and dance with separate Kindergarten classes. Being the only blonde-haired foreigner in the area, I got a lot attention, but I showed off my “Gangnam style” dancing skills… so that was a blast. Even though I did not go out for Halloween, because we had an early field trip the following morning, surprisingly my Chinese roommate went out clubbing.
This past Thursday our Experience Beijing class took a field trip to the Beijing American Center, 北京美国中心 , which I thought was extremely interesting because this past week our topic was the American Embassy in Beijing 美国驻华大使馆. Once we got there it was interesting to see that the two embassy workers we met with, that their Chinese was not much better than ours. (In my opinion I would say we have about two students whose Chinese surpassed theirs)
One thing I have come to appreciate while being in China, are the weekends. You only have about a total of a little more than 48 hours to relax, write essays, and start on the following week’s homework. This weekend went like any other. Last night I met with some FAOs that are currently working/studying in China for some drinks at one of the Hiltons in Beijing. However, before I had the opportunity to grab some drinks with the FAOs I got to experience something that not many people can say they have back in the states. Not a single cab that drove by would stop for me because I was a foreigner. The cabs would see me running towards the car, or aggressively trying to hail a cab and they would just drive away…but not 10 seconds later, they would stop for a group of Chinese students. I had thought that I had gotten ready and left with plenty of time to hail a cab, to arrive at the hotel on time, but I never took into consideration that getting a cab this particular night as a foreigner would be such a difficult task. After about 45 minutes I started to get extremely upset that not a single cab would stop. However, finally after 50 minutes of trying to hail a cab, I got a cab to stop, and headed towards the Hilton.
It was really interesting to sit around and listen to a group of married military guys who are doing what I consider doing in the future. Most of them did ROTC programs, but a couple of the guys went to West Point. (My family alma mater) It started out a little awkward because I am only 21 and everyone else is in their early to mid thirties, but I really enjoy having the opportunity to hang out with older and more experienced people, and get to listen to their stories and advice. The main purpose of going to the Hilton was to meet up with a LTC (Lieutenant Colonel) and do a Q&A about studying Chinese, future careers and such, but apparently there was a miscommunication about where to meet and we ended up being at different bars within the same hotel.
On our way out of the hotel we ran into a couple of his military buddies in the hotel, and we figured out the miscommunication and finally got in our Q&A. It was fascinating to see a man who has such an extensive background with regards to China, and how he got to where he is today. He said he came out of DLI (Defense Language Institute), with 11,000 vocabulary cards; and apparently that is what I need to do if I want to speak fluently in Chinese. I found it really interesting to see that he said American Foreign Policy is like the beginning of the old television show Laverne & Shirley. I have never seen that show, so I did not really understand the imagery, but I think the LTC said something along the lines that every person has a tool that they have to use for a specific task. He also recommended a couple of good books that will improve my memorization skills and books that relate to being an FAO such as: The Memory Book by Harry Lorayne, Confidential (the first half), and Please Understand Me by David Keirsey. There are a few points that he made about the Sino-American relationship, that I felt that I should share with those that might be reading my blog. The first being that it is essential in this type of relationship to look into what the other country could need or benefit from in the future, so that you can prepare sufficiently before going into talks with said country, or to know how to manipulate a situation. In relation to the first point, a country must have a long-term multi-year strategy, which is what US-Foreign Policy (at least with regards to China); this is absolutely essential. I believe the LTC also said that the United States is the only country that does this. Listening to this amazing, talented LTC talk and discuss things that I have thought long and hard about with regards to my future, definitely gave me inspiration and motivation to only work harder. (So now 250% ☺ instead of 200%)
Then today I woke up at a fairly decent time, and went to the gym before I went with my Chinese roommate to go see “Anna Karenina.” (I will talk about the movie in a bit) Well to start off today’s weather is not the best, it was pouring and the temperature continually kept dropping. Currently the temperature is around 30 degrees Fahrenheit without the wind-chill…My roommate and I thought that we left with plenty of time to spare to get to the movie on time, but once we got on our bus we realized that we had a 堵车问题, or a huge traffic problem. We ended up getting to the movie theatre almost 20 minutes after the movie was scheduled to start, but it was worth it because the movie was only 10 kuai a person because it was the weekend. So after quickly grabbing some drinks to take into the movie, my roommate and I found our seats and indulged in the delicious American popcorn I sneaked in. As most of you know I am an absolute movie fanatic. When I am back at school I typically go to the movies almost every weekend. Therefore, overall I believe that “Anna Karenina” was a good movie; the cinematography was amazing. Do not read the next part if you do not want to read spoilers, I really loved how the whole movie was centered on and around a stage, so no matter what everything tied back into the stage.
On our way back, we sprinted through the freezing rain and winds to find our bus stop to go back to school. It was absolutely freezing. On the bus ride back, it was so cold you could see your breath. But one good thing about the ride back, was the fact that it was pouring so much that nobody was driving on the road. Now I am finishing up this blog that I have been attempting to write for the past two weeks, but have been too busy to actually finish it, and start on some essays that are due tomorrow. Lucky you I just remembered to mention my wonderful gym experiences with the locals and the personal trainers this past week. The past few days when I finish a run and go do abs, I have all the trainers constantly staring at me doing abs. Finally one of the trainers came over and walked in circles around me, and then finally told me in Chinese that I need to slow down when doing my sit-ups. Well for one, I am doing them fast to get them done to get out of the gym, and two I am doing them fast because in ROTC you are timed to see how many sit-ups you can do within a 2-minute time-frame. To top that, last night as I was on my way out to meet with the group of FOAs, I had one of the personal trainers call my cell phone (guess they got it from my contract…already creepy) and wanted to know if anyone had ever taught me how to use a treadmill and if I wanted a full-breakdown on how to get into shape and lose weight. Awkward… Another wonderful only in a Chinese-Gym moment was this morning after I finished running. I had a guy come up to me and started speaking to me in English even though I told him I could speak Chinese. (Our conversation consisted of me speaking Chinese to him, and him responding in English) He asked me if I was working out to lose weight, and why was I working out so hard. He then asked me how old I was, and when I responded saying I was 21, he said that I look a lot younger than that. Then our conversation went on to talk about the favorite topic that the Chinese love to talk about with Americans, the NBA. I have never watched the NBA in my life, but I just kept nodding my head when he told me about how much he loved Michael Jordan and how his English name is based on an NBA star.