11.27.2012

Internet Connection

You don't understand me
You don't know my game
I say "whats the malfunction?"
You say "the internet connection!"
I'm down like my internet connection
-M.I.A.

A common complaint among our fellow foreigners is, "I can't get into my email," meaning "I can't access my gmail." The rumor is that China and Google are in a bit of a spat right now.  Thus Google-lovers like me bemoan unreliable access to email and Google.com, and many other U.S. based websites.

So what to do in a world without Google? Sometimes I opt to read a book, but mostly I surf the web using  Baidu.com. Baidu.com is China's most popular search engine, and is great for finding free song downloads and research papers ready for plagiarism.  I ignore most of the poorly written papers, but take full advantage of the free song downloads. I have downloaded songs that I would not buy, but unabashedly enjoy. These guilty pleasures include Rihanna's "Umbrella", Carly Ray Jepson's "Call Me Maybe", Bruno Mars "Marry You", Taio Cruz's "Dynamite", and Fun.'s "We Are Young".

So why is China giving Google the silent treatment? I cannot say for sure, but from observation it seems Google's silence coincides with China's big political meeting a couple weeks ago. While police officers stationed at every street corner and gate are visible evidence of China's increased security measures, newly blocked access to Google and other websites is cyber evidence of increased internet defense. Even taxis have to abide by security measures.  According to the Washington Times, the handles in taxis have been removed to prevent passengers from spreading leaflets(a).

The meeting is now over, and we are eagerly awaiting Google and China to become friends again. Is it too much to ask? I just want to read my email whenever I want.

Chinese word of the blog: 上网 shàngwǎng (literally, on net)
English translation: 1.) to be on the internet 2.) to be netted (of fish)
I love the character, 网. It really looks like a net.


11.17.2012

Saturday Morning

We got a whole big, fat, world to see
Nothings ever gonna happen round here
If we don't make it happen
Sleep away the day if you want to
But I got something that I gotta do
Its Saturday Morning
-The Eels


I have given up many habits and comforts I had in California. Shopping at Anthropologie.com is replaced with haggling at a clothes market. Goodbye Paul Mitchell Extra Body Hair Conditioner and hello Vidal Sassoon 润发乳 purchased from the Beijing Walmart. My flatscreen television sits in silence in my parent’s basement while I stream movies with Chinese captions to my laptop. Tacos are a delicacy (if we can find them) and no longer a quick and easy meal. Instead of Peet’s coffee, I am happy to purchase a cup of instant coffee from KFC.

But on Saturday mornings, we escape China and enter America—uh, I mean, Starbucks. We hear English conversation just above the gentle hum of milk being steamed. We let the sweet aromas of Latin coffee beans intoxicate us while we unconsciously hum to cathartic tunes. After the coffee sufficiently rejuvenates us and we leave to start the day’s activities, we use the bathroom equipped with western-style toilets, toilet paper, and hand soap. Also, since the smoking ban seems to be enforced inside the Starbucks, my lungs suffer no pollution. And the coffee! A strong, pungent punch to my senses. Just like home.

And just like home, Starbucks reminds us that Christmas is just around the corner. The rest of China doesn’t care about Christmas, but Starbucks has decorated its windows with evergreen flora, introduced the Cranberry Bliss Bar for the season, and played “Winter Wonderland”. I had nearly forgotten that December is almost here.

Also just like home, Starbucks coffee is a splurge event. A venti sized coffee sets us back 23 RMB. For comparison, I buy a week’s worth of vegetables, tofu, and eggs for less than 20 RMB.

Chinese Word of the Blog: 星巴克 xīng bā kè (the first character literally means star. The last two characters sounds like “buck”)
English translation: Starbucks


11.04.2012

Winter Wooskie

Who's that girl?
She must be nearly freezing
Who's that girl?
I'll bet all that snow
Makes it hard to see her
Today she waved to me
-Belle & Sebastian




I know I said I was ready for winter, but I am not. No siree. I am not ready for winter.

Yesterday, the grey, foreboding clouds warned us to layer on our rain gear and pack an umbrella before we left for the day. A few hours later, the rain fell steadily. As the day wore on, the temperature gradually dropped and the wind picked up.

birdMAN decided to spend his rainy afternoon apartment hunting. Apartment hunting involves going to a rental agency and explaining in Chinese the amount of rent you would like to pay and how many rooms, etc. The rental agents are eager to showcase the seemingly endless supply of apartments. They usually say, this apartment is so convenient, so comfortable, and so nice. Looking at rentals is a great opportunity to practice speaking Chinese. Since the apartments are not all within walking distance, birdMAN got snuggly on the back of a tiny scooter with the Chinese rental agent. He didn’t mind the intimacy because he was cold.

Afterward, birdMAN hopped on his bicycle and headed home. On the way in the midst of a steady downpour, his bicycle tire went flat. He walked 10 minutes to the street bicycle repair shop to get the tire replaced. Afterward, he happily hopped back on his bike with its brand new tire, and about 20 feet later, the pedal broke off. Back to the bike shop.

Meanwhile, I biked home. I slowly maneuvered through the rain, wind, and deep extended puddles. The problem with puddles is, well, they are full of water. Passing cars splash the brown puddle water on you. Your own bike splashes the puddles on you. At the same time, you  hope no hidden obstruction in the puddle will cause you to put a foot down (in the puddle). Based on the accumulated water in road side gutters even during minor storms; I conclude that the storm drains must be severely under-capacity. The puddles are deep! By the time I got home, my jeans and sneakers were drenched (with both puddle water and rain) and I was really cold.

But it only got colder. That evening, we listened to the rain and wind pound the windows. Sometime during the night, the rain became snow. In the morning, the buildings and trees were soaked with snow. Yes, soaked and laden with snow. Not daintily dusted with light feathery snow that inspires snow fights and building snowmen. Today’s snow was wet. The roads were wet. Trees toppled over blocking the bike lanes. The wind was howling. And I had an important appointment keep.

So I layered on my sweater, sweatshirt, scarf, hat, long underwear, thick socks, and gloves. I got back on my preferred mode of transportation—my trusty bicycle. Obviously, riding a bike during snowfall is preferable over rain. You don’t seem to get as wet. However, combine heavy rain and subsequent snow fall, the result are bike lanes full of wet snowy puddles. If having to choose between riding through the wet, snow clumps or the slushy puddle, the puddle is preferable. Snow is either sticky or slippery, neither ideal for trudging a bike through. Just don’t put a foot down in the sloshy mess.

The ride back home was miserably cold. I had layered on all my winter clothes, and I was frigid-- desperate to wait out the rest of the storm in a heated apartment. birdMAN called me during the ride home to ask if I wanted to eat out. Eating out would require being outside—with my only pair of sneakers that at the moment were wet with snow puddle water. Eating out would require being outside in the wind and snow and increasing my chances for freezing to death. I said no thanks. I needed refuge from the storm. I was just so cold. Did you understand me? I was cold. My California self is just not ready for winter.

I am confident after I buy my winter boots, I will be ready for winter. My New Balance sneakers just will not do.

Chinese words of the blog:

下雨 xiàyǔ (down, rain)
English Translation: raining

下雪 xiàxuě (down, snow)
English Translation: snowing

I love the Chinese characters for rain and snow. Doesn’t 雨 look like rain? Doesn’t 雪 look like snow?

birdMAN in the snow with a winter mustache






11.01.2012

My Cosmic Autumn Rebellion

They tell us autumn's a-comin'
And soon everything around us will die
Only a fool believes that he is
Different from the birds in the sky
-Flaming Lips




Every morning when I wake up, cozy under my down comforter, I use my droid to log onto the Wifi and check Instagram for newly uploaded photos. During the night while I sleep, all my friends and family are awake enjoying their lives. What may seem mundane to them—taking the kids to the store, walking the dog, making a pumpkin pie—is not ordinary to me. I get to enjoy a piece of the life I left at home.

Last week, my mom posted a picture on Instagram of my 5-year old nephew swimming. My sister also posted a picture of him eating frozen yogurt. Another friend posted a picture of herself outside wearing a strapless dress. Ahhh, Autumn in the Sacramento Valley, California. According to Weather.com, the high in Sacramento is 76˚F and the low is 51˚F. Shorts for the day and a sweater for later. Swimming (albeit, a little chilly) when the sun is out and pumpkin pie in the evening.


What! Swimming in California?
For comparison, the Beijing high is 58˚F and the low is 34˚F. I leave the apartment bundled up in my down jacket, hat, and gloves.

We arrived in Beijing with our lives packed into two suitcases. Those suitcases were woefully lacking space for winter clothes. As the weather grew colder, I layered more clothes on, and I began feeling like the hobo lady. Not only did I totally mismatch (I didn’t care, I was cold), but three layers of summer clothes does not equal a winter outfit.

Fortunately, Beijing has loads of shopping malls, from the super nice and expensive (Esprit, Zara, and Uni-qlo) to the cheap and fake brand names (outdoor street market or on the sidewalk). In preparation for the winter, I have bought one thick sweatshirt, one sweater, two knitted scarves, gloves, two winter hats, and two sets of fleece lined tights. I purchased most of these garments from the hodge-podge stalls at the underground clothes market.  Last week, I bought fleece lined athletic pants for the sole purpose of not freezing in my apartment. Xialian gave me full length black down coat (formerly belonging to Bai Milan). My winter wardrobe will be complete once I find good deal on warm boots.  Mentally and wardrobe-wise, I am nearly ready for winter.

Chinese word of the blog: 秋天 qiū tiān (literally, harvest time day)
                                           English translation: Autumn


Autumn is here!