Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Forbidden City

I know this is a few days late….sorry! We finally got internet on Sunday night (yay for wireless!), but since then, things have been hectic for me with school and whatnot.  But back to Saturday’s outing to the Forbidden City….

One of the entrances to the "Outer City"
So we had no idea what we were getting into when we decided to go to Tian’anmen Square on Saturday. It’s so different being here than a Western country because neither of us really do not know much about Chinese history and I haven’t read up on too much because I mix up all of the names of the dynasties and their time periods and whatnot.  I thought we would go to the square, walk around the Forbidden City for an hour or so, and then head to the famous “snack street” nearby to experience scorpions on a stick and fried cockroaches. WOW, was I wrong!!! When they said Forbidden City, they mean a real city! That place is HUGE! I realized it is a Chinese palace, so it’s like the equivalent of Windsor Castle or Versailles, which makes a lot of sense :)

Hello, Mao.

So I met Adam and Sarah on the bus (they had something to do earlier in the morning) and we rode up to Tian’anmen Square. The first thing you see is exactly what you think—the huge portrait of the man himself. (If you want to see him in the flesh, you can go across the street to his mausoleum. We opted out of that one). Because it was actually a gorgeous day, there were throngs of people and a lot of navigating, holding onto each other’s backpacks, etc. Once we got behind the square, I thought we had reached the entrance to the Forbidden City, but no. We walked through 2 or 3 massive buildings, just to get to the entrance! On the way, we passed the typical tourist fare—hats, tchotchkes, water, snacks, etc. Everyone was eating the same popsicles, so Sarah and I decided to check them out. The flavor was familiar, but we couldn’t quite place it …until Adam tried and immediately knew: “It’s banana! Like a banana runt!” (Cathy, he is absolutely your son!)
Sarah and I enjoying our banana popsicles. Best part: The women shoved Sarah right before this picture because there wasn't enough gate on the other side of them...?
We tried to buy a museum pass for the year from the ticket booth, but after some confusion, ended up with tickets to the Forbidden City, Clock Exhibition, and the Treasure Gallery, which was perfectly fine with us. We split the audio guide so we could socialize a little—Adam put on the headphones and proceeded to repeat everything the guide said so we would all know.  It got a little repetitive after a while, but many parts were very interesting! It’s kind of crazy that there were people who spend their entire lives within these walls.

We walked and walked and walked around tons of buildings….after some time, they all ended up looking alike! I’ll spare the history lesson (mostly because I would probably end up looking up the info on wikipedia!), but some favorites included the concubine choosing area, the place where an empress was banished because it was a fixed political marriage (and apparently she was ugly?), and the gardens. All of the different buildings and areas have awesome names: Hall of Supreme Harmony, Palace of Heavenly Purity, Palace of Earthly Tranquility, and our personal favorite: the Hall of Continence and Confidence. Our conclusion is that continence could inspire confidence, right?

The Clock Gallery was incredible—the Chinese imported tons of clocks from the West (mostly British and French) and then made many of their own as well. It seemed that the timepiece was not nearly as important as the ornate designs and decorations.

The Treasure Gallery was interesting, but I think we were all pretty exhausted by that point (aka no pictures). Much of the jewelry was jade or pearl, both of which are plentiful in China. I liked seeing the portraits of the emperor and empress wearing the jewelry that was on display. It gave me context for everything at the end of a hot day!

Adam snapped this as they began to pose...hahaha!
While we were walking out of the Treasure Gallery, a woman tapped me on the shoulder and held out her camera. Naturally, I reached for it, expecting that she wanted me to take a picture of her with her friend. Nope! She wanted to be IN a picture with me. Gotta love being different, right? Haha. Adam thought it was hilarious, so he took a few of his own. Then he posed with the girl as well!! This was the 2nd time during the day that this happened...earlier, I was sitting on a bench and Sarah was standing next to me, when the woman beside me got up and motioned for her to sit down. Before we knew it, her daughter was standing behind us and she was snapping a picture. I think it's like being from a rural or distant area and visiting Washington D.C. -- you might see someone or something you've heard about, but never seen in person. But honestly--me? Exotic? Seriously? (Keep laughing...!)

When we got home after a trek to Carrefour (grocery shopping!), both of us had very achy feet. Solution? A foot massage in the building next door! This was my very first massage, and it was wonderful!!! First, we soaked our feet in a bucket of HOT water with tea for 10 or so minutes. Then, someone came over and started with the lotion and creams or whatever. She spent a good 30 minutes on each foot. Heaven! I think the business was in their apartment because there was another woman with a baby who looked to be in her pajamas and someone else hanging out eating these mini apple things. She offered me one and I said “apple?” in Chinese and they all burst out laughing. Ohhhhh man. They loved us and kept motioning and talking in Chinese, but the only thing we got out of it was more mini-apples. Adam and I both agreed that everyone who comes to visit should probably get a foot massage after long days of walking around the Forbidden City or the Great Wall (ps: we’re going on a 6km hike to the Great Wall on Saturday and then Adam, Sarah, and I already have plans to return for massages!).

End of the day: no Chinese food! Although I like a lot of the food, it felt great to finally cook! A lot of the food here is salty or drowning in oil, so both Adam and I appreciated making our own food a lot more. We got a bunch of vegetables and basically just sautéed them and then I made salmon because it was the sole recognizable protein in the grocery store (and I love it!). It was delicious! We were even able to have leftover veggies in eggs on Sunday morning.
SIDE NOTE: I went to the produce stand/store today and everything was incredibly fresh and inexpensive. The only recognizable protein this time: Tofu. I stir-fried it tonight because that’s all I know how to do, so if you have any [easy] tofu recipes, please send them my way!!

Enjoy the pictures below!
AMAZING sign in one of the palace parks.

Ancient fire hydrant. These are located all around the buildings and were filled with water in case of a fire.

Animals guarding on top of a building. The more numerous the animals, the more important the building.

Another palace guard :)

Happy but tired (and ready for foot massages!)

Monday, August 30, 2010

addendum to last post

China's just like med school--full of ups and down that happen so frequently that you feel insane.

As soon as I finished writing the previous post, Sarah and I were summoned to the director's office and found out that:

1) We are going to be interviewed tomorrow or Wednesday for a segment about on China's only English-speaking TV channel about our research. The segment will be about foreigners who come to China for educational purposes, and they want to talk to us because we're not here to learn Mandarin.

2) We have an option to teach students at PUMC about latin and greeks roots to help them learn English medical jargon easier. The course will be in the Spring. I'm really excited about this opportunity. It's going to be pretty cool to meet the best and brightest med students in China, and I love teaching so much. I know I'm "meant" to be a doctor, and am happy about it, but I always fantasize about my career as a teacher if I hadn't decided to accept enrollment at Sinai. Maybe incorporating teaching in medicine is in my future? Who knows.

So, yea, the morning/afternoon of today was pretty damn frustrating...but the day ended up evening out ;)

the day i discovered i'm a political pawn (and almost had to ride a bicycle with no brakes home)

First off, sorry for the lack of pictures with this post. I just wanted to write down what happened before we post about our fun weekend trip. I think Alison had an equally disastrous/adventurous day setting up her classroom at school; hopefully she'll post tonight about it (and more importantly, hopefully whatever was going on will be resolved by tonight!).

So, Sarah and I went back to Peking Union Medical Center to get the student form for the residency application. It's the best medical school in the whole country and is very "Beijing"--it has state-of-the-art buildings with American-looking laboratories and then the next building is beautifully historic and then the next looks kinda run down. And, of course, there's tons of construction. Anyways, we go to one office, get sent to another, get lost in the maze of buildings, and finally end up at the correct place. The director of foreign faculty calls the police at the exit/entry station, where we went on Saturday and were rejected because the form that PUMC gave us wasn't correct. There is some shouting and gesturing and then a dramatic phone hang-up while Sarah, our poor Chinese officemate, and I all sat there. He told us that, basically, to get the Fogarty students' visas last year, they had to "pay extra" to a police officer, but as part of the "payment agreement," they were supposed to enroll in a course to learn how to register foreign students. PUMC then asked about the course last Spring and were told not to worry about it by the police department and now, as to be expected, the new policeman is furious about PUMC's lack of respect and as punishment will not let them supply us with the correct form until they take the course. Which means, unless they work out a compromise (depending on which organization is willing to lose a little face), Sarah and I will be without residence permits, living in Beijing on visas that expire Sept 14. Keep your fingers crossed someone folds.

After we left his office, the Chinese officemate (a supernice, teeny tiny woman who looks 15 but is actually 25) told us that she saw a cell-phone promotion near PUMC that if you buy a 500 RMB calling card, you get a free bike. So, we waited in line for 45 minutes in the sun for Sarah and she to buy the unassembled bikes. I asked if we should take a taxi back with the boxes, but there was a lot of confusion and Feng really wanted to get her bike made immediately. Long story short, some old man on the sidewalk made the bikes, and, as Sarah and I were saying our "see you at CICAMS" farewell so she and Feng could ride back, Feng tells us that she doesn't know how to ride a bike so I'd have to ride hers back! When we explained we'd have no idea how to get back, she suggested that she get on the bus and that Sarah and I follow her bus so we don't get lost...Bad idea, I know, but there really wasn't any other option as both subways and buses ban bikes in Beijing. So, I get on the bike to practice riding and getting used to peddling with a billion people/bikes/motorcycles/cars/buses around only to find that the bike's brakes barely work (it takes 5 feet to stop after slowly peddling). Visions of plowing into oncoming traffic started flashing before my eyes, but I quickly became resolved to my fate. Then, like a deux ex machina story, Feng saved my life by begging a bus driver to let us on, and everything worked out fine. Just another day in China, I guess.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

we're alive...don't worry

Sorry for the delays in posting--our internet service was cut off Friday because the last tenant's payment period ended. It's very strange process to get internet here; Li Rong, Sarah's twin, called the company and gave them our address on Thursday, then an "English speaking professional" who didn't speak English called today to let me know the worker was coming in a few hours to install the internet (all I understood was 3 pm). Then the guy came, was stumped by our English Macs, and, long story short, we paid him 100 yuan to install our PPOE internet ourselves. The strangest part is that now we have internet but don't have to pay for it until September 6th. Definite highlight of the experience was Alison installing a wireless router following instructions in Chinese, including setting up a new network and a password. I couldn't do that in English!

Sometime in the next few days, we'll put up our pictures and stories from our adventures yesterday to the Forbidden City and my failed attempt to get a resident permit. And, we are almost done turning our apartment into our home by putting up pictures and rearranging furniture. Life is good in Beijing :)

Friday, August 27, 2010

adding to Adam's post...

I'm subbing for the teacher whom I observed earlier this week, and it's a lot of fun! Practice for next Wednesday, when I will teach my classes for the 1st time. There is a 3 hour break in the middle of the day, when the kids eat lunch and nap (it's necessary when you're 3 and in school from 8:00 - 5:00!), so I wanted to quickly add to Adam's post about things we take for granted.

4. COLD WATER. If you order water at a restaurant and actually receive water instead of spoons or beer, it is generally boiled and in a kettle. Not so refreshing when you're eating hot or salty food! The reason is to basically prove that the water is ok for drinking, but it definitely takes some getting used to. Adam and I have begun bringing our own full water bottles to dinner after spending much of the time feeling thirsty.

5. Being able to ask for what you need. Although eating at a restaurant isn't the easiest thing to do, Adam has a card that says "I'm allergic to shrimp" in Chinese and he always hands it to someone immediately. Then we can generally look at pictures and figure out what to eat. But doing this at stores is another situation. The first time we were at Carrafour, we were looking for toilet paper and couldn't find it anywhere. After checking out, we finally pointed to it in someone else's cart, and a man said 2 (good thing we studied our numbers!) Adam stayed with the cart while I went back to aisle 2, only to find electronics. I walked around on my own for a while, but that place is huge, and I couldn't get anyone to understand me. I finally resorted to showing what I wanted....as in squatting and making an "ssssssss" sound. Awkward. Still nobody understood. This has happened several times, but Adam thought to bring paper and a pen with us the next time, so we drew out a surge protector and someone found it for us. Much improved experience, though still a challenge.

6. Buying groceries. At home, we can read the label and know what we're getting, and know that it is what we want. Not the case in China. Aside from the grocery store being a zoo, it's hard to figure out what you want. When Adam and I went to buy eggs, they had tons of sizes and labels and varieties. To make sure we were getting chicken eggs instead of ostrich or something, we looked for the box with the chicken picture on it. This goes for fruits and veggies too--we know what we're getting, which is a plus, but then we need to figure the sanitation thing. Some people have said it's fine to wash your fruit in the water, other say definitely don't, and others say not to eat the skin or some produce at all because of the pesticides. (PS: I just ate my first apple, skin intact, so we'll see how that fares later this afternoon...). I guess we'll eventually figure it out for ourselves, but it's not as easy as just going into Harris Teeter or D'ags.

I have 1 hour before the small class, so I'm going to try to finish Mockingjay. More on teaching to come!

Things Taken for Granted

ode to things in the US that I've never noticed until now:

1) Genetically engineered fruit, like pomegranates and watermelon. Everyone makes such a ruckus about how our fruit has been manipulated by Mendelian inbreeding or genetic tinkering, but, 1 week here makes me say, do what you want with my fruit to enhance it! That's because some of the fruit in China is stuck in the 1990s. For example...we bought pomegranates (2 for 90 cents!) at the store the other day and tried them this morning. Yes, they were delicious and maybe sweeter than the mammoth pomegranates at Costco. But, the overall fruit was much smaller, the seeds were enormous compared to one in los Estados Unidos, and the rind was thicker and harder to get off. No big deal, but I got full a few bites after swallowing the seeds so started spitting them out. As in, Alison and I took turns juicing the seeds in our mouth and spitting the leftovers into the trash. Very romantic. In terms of watermelon, here they're smaller and circular, like our seedless watermelon, but have tons of seeds. Eating one reminds me of when we used to go to Rala's farm on the 4th of July and have watermelon-seed spitting contests in the field and then go to Papa Jerry's house to eat my total annual consumption of bratwurst and hotdogs in one afternoon. I guess this makes me seem like a food snob, but I never noticed how much I enjoy eating all of the pomegranate and watermelon I put in my mouth.

2) Toilet paper and hand soap in bathrooms. I think we've had the "wash your hands to decrease disease spread" talk in med school 4 times (2x a year). So, imagine my surprise when, at the research portion of the largest, most storied cancer hospital in China, they don't have toilet paper OR soap in the bathroom (maybe it's different in the actual hospital, but I don't know). Everyone brings their own though, so it's all good. And now that I think about it, it's a great "training squat toilet" because it has a bar to hold onto. Considering right now my biggest fear is falling backwards, that's a small blessing.

3) Accessibility for people who aren't in perfect health. To get to the cancer hospital from the bus stop coming south, you have to walk up stairs, cross an overpass, and walk down stairs. The last few days, people I've seen crossing this trip include a few with internal jugular lines, a few getting out of wheelchairs to climb up the stairs, and people who are obviously mid-chemo. There is definitely some sort of shuttle that picks patients up, because there are constantly mini-vans filled with patients getting dropped off, but I imagine those cost much more than the 0.4 yuan bus ride (5 cents). They definitely don't have social workers at this hospital to help people cope financially and physically with their illnesses!

I'm going to have to cut this post short bc I'm at work and feel guilty about not being productive. Tonight, we're going to dinner with the Fogarty peeps and, afterwards, Alison will talk tonight about her first day teaching!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Language and Research

After that whirlwind of a busride, I arrived at CICAMS ready for my first full day of work. At 11:00 am, a famous Italian epidemiologist presented his university’s research to begin a collaboration with CICAMS. When he was introduced by a Chinese epidemiologist with a thick accent and started his presentation with a thick, Italian accent, I immediately started chuckling to myself about how ridiculous the whole situation of speaking in 2nd languages was. But as the presentation continued, my perspective changed. It is supercheesy to say, but I think it’s so cool how small the world has become…both with the normalcy of international research and with my own life (living in CHINA and being able to communicate constantly via blog, email, phone, and videochat).

We then went to the weekly meeting of the epidemiology department, which was held entirely in Chinese, which, to be honest, continues to boggle my mind that everyone can understand the random assortment of syllables. We introduced ourselves, and Sarah and I both said basic things in English, but I also mentioned being excited to learn Mandarin, and everyone laughed (not the response I was expecting). Dr. Qiao, the Fogarty head, responded to my introduction by saying that it would be impossible to learn Mandarin in 10 months. Of course, I agree with him (my goal is to learn enough to get by while here and conduct a medical interview in Mandarin on my return at the same level as the hackneyed Spanish medical interviews I heard last year), but I think the response to my innocuous goal crystallized a thought that's been bubbling under the surface of my mind the last few days. Granted, I’ve only been here for a week, so you have to take everything I say with a grain of salt, but I think that the complexity of spoken and especially written Chinese language is a tremendous source of pride to the Chinese people. It seems as though they believe Mandarin is a bastion grounding them firmly in Chinese tradition while preventing Western culture, or any foreign influence, from influencing their daily life on any level but the most superficial. So, when Sarah, who started learning in earnest a few weeks ago says some words and phrases in Chinese, all of our superbusy officemates stop what they’re doing to repeat and say, good job if she’s right or help her pronounce it better if she spoke incorrectly. Part of me thinks it’s a really nice gesture (especially because our officemates are AWESOME—more on them later), but the more cynical part of me wonders if it’s more of a wow-I-can’t-believe-she-learned-how-to-say-is-it-lunch-time-what-trick-will-she-pull-out-of-her-tophat-next type thing. Either way, I’m really excited to start my own Mandarin studies in the next few days because I think it’ll be fun to try to turn this gibberish-sounding language into words that have meaning to me...and maybe no one else haha.

Most importantly, today I have a much better idea of what I’ll be doing here. It seems that my main projects will be nestled into an enormous 5-year project of ending cervical cancer in rural provinces in China. So, assuming everything goes smoothly, I will be comparing the effectiveness of intervention techniques for HPV vaccination to see which public health strategy works best and also do a baseline survey of knowledge and attitudes about HPV, HPV vaccine, and cervical cancer. I’m excited!

random adventures

I know it's been a few days, but I've been too tired at night to write anything, so now this will be a compilation of hilarious things that have happened over the past few days and school stories because I got to observe a Scholastic kindergarten the past 3 days (and those kids are AFREAKINDORABLE!)

This morning, Adam and I walked to the bus stop to catch the bus to work (my training is a few stops from the hospital). While waiting, another bus came and a biker pulled up right next to the entrance, blocking the people from getting on. I thought this was strange, but maybe he wanted to be the first because he had to bring his bike along? Nope, too logical. The guy simply wanted to stop traffic on a veeerrrrry jammed street to yell at the bus driver. It was very funny to see him screeching, the bus driver waving his arms, and the orange-clad woman (whose job is to shoo people on the bus from the stop) waving that orange flag and trying to manage all of the people and chaos. Our bus pulled behind, but we couldn't get on because the biker had stopped all flowing traffic in the bus lane. We finally got on, thinking nothing could get crazier at 8am, when a van started yelling at OUR bus driver!! I think our bus had pulled out a little too closely or something. So the van sped way up, cut off the bus so we had to stop, and a little man got out yelling and screaming. He stomped over to the front of the bus, where he and the driver argued back and forth. It honestly sounded like being in one of my mom's soap operas. Then the back-of-the-bus lady pushed her way up front (remember: this is rush hour), presumably to argue on behalf of the bus. The little van man finally walked off when our bus driver decided he had to have the last word. Big mistake--another few minutes of gesturing and shouting. Adam and I could not believe that this happened twice in one morning. Where ARE we??

Another big adventure for today: I experienced my first squat toilet! My training is at an RYB (aka Scholastic) Play Center, which is kind of like a Gymboree. I really had to use the bathroom at one point, and my options were 2 little training pottys or 2 squat toilets. Had the bathroom been empty, you know what I would have done... ;) However, there were other people, so I took some toilet paper from the training area (thank goodness!) and popped a squat. On a porcelain "toilet." Very interesting experience. For those of you who have this in your future, I would recommend holding your nose and making sure that you don't touch any part of that pot. The strangest thing to me was that you flush!! I kind of figured that it would all sit in the bottom together instead of drain into a pipe, but it's like a flat western toilet.

After work, Adam and I relaxed with slices of dragon fruit (see below) and MOCKINGJAY while the laundry was running. We were so proud because the first time we did laundry, there were some problems. We thought we figured it out because the washing machine ran, but when it was done, all of the clothes were soaking wet. We proceeded to ring them all out in the sink, hang them to dry, and then remove the remaining water from the machine with a cup. It was actually really funny and something neither of us ever expected to do! The landlord helped us out and we thought things were ok, but today we put too much in (that's what happens after 2 weeks of dirty clothes!) and had to do the same thing. Adam was the hanger (I can't reach...), and I was the ringer. As a reward for all of that hard work, we gave ourselves a few more minutes to read (side note: Adam is already finished!!!) before going to dinner.

I haven't posted anything about this, but I have spent 3 days observing 2 classes at one of the Scholastic kindergartens, and I really really liked it. The kids all have semi-ridiculous English names, chosen by their parents. The first day, a girl came up to me and said "Hello. My name is Mavis. What is your name?" There was even an Aristotle in one of the classes!! The younger kids are just so little (older 2s and 3s) and absolutely adorable. They are a little hard to understand, well-behaved, cuddly, and so eager to learn. Along with the English curriculum, they are doing a lot of fine motor work because they are so young. One of the little boys, Leo, sporadically growed Daaaaaafaneeeee in a deep throaty voice throughout the 2 hours (their teacher is Dafne, but the kids tend to add an extra vowel between each consonant sound, as that is how the Chinese language sounds work). The older kids needed much more differentiation, as some of them are young 4s and the others are older 5s. They were less cuddly but more playful and really liked individual and small group work. There were lots of songs and books in both classes with repetition and movement. I'm really excited to learn the age group and get started with my own kids, though I know it will be a challenge. I will probably enlist the help of some of my preschool teaching friends and relatives...(hint hint:)  The kids as a whole were much more independent and meticulous than in the West, as is probably expected. They could do a lot more for themselves than I would expect from a kid at home, and they took care to notice every detail. The kids put the tops on every marker, swept under the sand table, and constantly picked up and moved their own small chairs.  It was very interesting to note such cultural differences and expectations. I start with my own class on September 1st!

It's time to read more Katniss Everdeen :) Enjoy the pictures!

Supermarket exploring!
FINALLY, here are a few pictures that have been missing: 
(the one to the right is a Hutong, or an old alleyway that used to be reserved for the elite) 

A fruit truck on the side of the road--they are everywhere!
Side of the drum tower.

In front of Houhai Lake in the center of Beijing.
Chinese pinkberry. Adam tried, but didn't like it so much.

Cutting a dragon fruit in the kitchen.
A dragon fruit looks bright on the outside, has the consistency of watermelon, but just tastes like sweet water. It's tasty!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

move-in day

Hi everyone: Alison will update y’all later about the events of the last few days, but she graciously allowed me to post about OUR NEW APARTMENT. I want to give a virtual tour.

(But, before we begin with the apartment showing, here is ph
otographic evidence of the mule tacos. Turns out, Alison and I continue our trend of picking out matching clothes unintentionally even when we live together).Here we are looking back at the entrance of the complex. You need an electronic swipe key to enter: Entry way to our building… …with another swipe key to enter our actual building from the lobby, seen below (Mom and Sandy, look how safe we are!)
We’re on the 3rd floor. Off the elevator, we see a fluorescent green hallway. Our door is the one on the left with the red mat. All Chinese doors have those signs on them;
I don’t know what they say, but I imagine it’s some sort of welcome/good luck sign.

Now, we enter our actual apartment! There’s a little hallway, then
you see this part of our enormous living room, with view of a very quiet street. Two factors sold us on this apartment more than the other nice ones we went to: 1) the immense natural light we get every day from not being directly next to a building, a la Manhattan. And 2) the garden (to be shown later). Moving on with our “tour,” here is our master bedroom (with the most normal bedcovers to be found in all of China…Other options included techno zigzags, 1970s green floral patterns, etc) and ½ of the enormous window in our bedroom.
Here’s the second room with bed and a smidge of the fold-out futon.
Come on guys, doesn’t it look like it’ll be a nice place to crash for a week or two? (Subtitle: COME VISIT!) I actually forgot to take pictures of the kitchen and bathroom, but they’re nice too! We are in love with the apartment and also our landlord, who speaks English and has been very helpful. And if he’s not, our realty agency specializes in foreign residents in Beijing, so part of our contract in the housing says that we can contact them at any time for help with any issues.

Back to the fun tour! Now, we’re going to take you out the back entranc
e and into our second favorite part of the apartment…the community park! It is a quiet haven in Beijing—filled with grandparents entertaining grandchildren (or vice versa), people playing Chinese checkers (or Chinese people playing checkers...tomayto tomahto), and people just enjoying the Zen-like gardens, no matter the time of day. Here are a few pictures:
Of note, in the picture above us, the building in the background with the steel is one of Beijing's art districts, so we're super close to a really cool part of town, which, knowing our uncool selves, will never be graced with our presence.

Finally, here's a picture of the crazy place Carrefour, which all visitors will come to with us (refer to last post for reason why). In this pic, Alison is trying on a winter coat next to a man who is changing clothes midstore:

And today, I went to work for the first time. Sarah had a genius idea of making a seating arrangement of our office because we were having an impossible time remembering names (not made easier because one guy is Liang Li and he wants to be address as LiLiang and the other is Liangyi Wang, addressed as Liangyi). We started reading and then went to the cafeteria, where they serve you your 5 yuan (80 cent) feast in a plastic bag. After lunch,
Sarah and I were dismissed home to prepare for our big day tomorrow of meeting the head of the Chinese Fogarty here. All I could think of when I got home, however, is that there may be problems in the future as the hospital only has squat toilets and the lunch induced a gastrointestinal "situation." Wish me luck for tomorrow, both for the meeting…and for the afternoon stomach problems!

Sunday, August 22, 2010


After 2 days of sifting through spectacular and disgusting apartments, Alison and I have locked in on a beautiful new home—96 square meters of hardwood floors, 2 bedrooms, 1 western bathroom, TONS of natural light, etc etc etc—in an oasis of an apartment cluster complex. The apartment complex has a large park ringed by the buildings and a fence, is very safe (you need a key to get to the park and a different key to get in the building), and is between the subway/fancy mall area and the new art district. For those who know Beijing or who want to look it up, we are in the Pingod neighborhood near the Shuangjing subway stop. We are SO excited and can’t wait to unpack our suitcases and get settled tomorrow.

It wouldn’t be a day in Beijing without some sort of hysterical “mishap.” Right before we signed the contract, we invited our English-speaking realtor to lunch at the restaurant of her choice to discuss our top two apartment choices. She asked if we wanted authentic Chinese from the province she’s from (don’t remember which), and we said, of course, so we went to a little hole in the wall place she knows. As we sat down, we asked what type of meat they’re serving, because it seemed to be that the only menu option is variations of the same meat. As in, mystery meat soup or mystery meat taco-like treat. She replied, “Oh, I don’t know how to translate it. The combination of horse and donkey.” Alison and I looked at each other and I said under my breath, “I wish she hadn’t told us that.” But, low and behold, when our food came, we learned that MULE TACOS are delicious.

We also braved Carrefour, which is the French equivalent of Walmart, and a 7-minute walk from the Casa de Two Mushu Jews. Once again, I was amazed by how many people can be crammed into one space. Another Chinese twist to shopping at Carrefour is that, as soon as you stop walking, 3 or 4 employees start hounding you to buy whatever you’re looking at or suggesting more expensive versions. Since we don’t understand a word of Mandarin, it’s easier to keep walking.

However, being illiterate and non-communicative is usually not an asset like at Carrefour. We are entirely dependent on the linguistic abilities of other people and unable to do the most basic of tasks (for example, at dinner tonight, we asked for water and the waitress disappeared and came back with spoons). So, every little thing we do is an adventure. Luckily, we have friends who are bilingual, including Ben, who was born in China and moved to LA when he was 9. So, after a delicious dinner last night in a really cool Hutong that we will take all visitors to, Ben wrote out in Mandarin characters, “I am very allergic to shrimp.” Now, at least, I have a card to show the waiters and don’t feel that I’m playing Russian roulette with anaphylaxis every time we eat out. I also think we are lucky because we are white and in a country that respects, or at least tolerates white people. So, when we stand up and point to the water jug at the neighboring table because we are thirsty, people laugh and don’t seem insulted. I couldn’t imagine how much more difficult it’d be if we were Chinese moving to the US, because if I were eating at a NYC restaurant and the Chinese couple next to me started mooing to make sure they were getting beef, I would definitely not be too understanding of their perspective.

Off to sleep. Hope everyone has a wonderful Sunday!

PS We’re having trouble loading pictures at the hotel. Will upload a bunch once we get settled in our apartment, including pics of the apt and neighborhood!

China eats

We have been running around the past few days looking for an apartment, going to schools (scholastic, also known as red-yellow-blue or RYB) and hospitals (CICAMS and the foreigner medical registration hospital out in bfe), and getting acclimated. The most interesting part has definitely been the food!  We have learned that our stomachs are stronger than we thought—even Adam’s!—and that neither of us is adventurous enough to try chicken feet, duck neck, oxen ear, or pig fallopian tube….yet.

On Friday night, we went out to dinner in Sarah’s new neighborhood, which is very, very Chinese. We were absolutely the only white people to be seen! In the restaurant, the host knew a few English words and that was about it. Luckily, most restaurants have pictures of the food, so we ordered according to what things looked like. We had 3 dishes (spicy tofu, garlic string beans, and chicken with an unidentifiable vegetable) and rice, but the waiter did not believe that this was enough. He tried and tried to have us order more because, as we learned, the standard is to have a variety of meats with contrasting flavors and a few vegetables.  We noticed this when the 4 girls at the table next to us got a second HUGE fish platter and several vegetables. The 3 of us just looked at each other in astonishment—these were small Chinese girls eating more than we had eaten all day! It was hilarious, and we then understood more of what the waiter meant. We have also learned that food in Beijing is known for its saltiness, and this place was no exception—we guzzled water when we got home!!

Our breakfast standard has been American—a zone bar or oatmeal in a mug with boiled water from the hotel room. It’s easier to just eat something quick and be done, especially because we will be eating Chinese food for the other 2 meals.  We stopped into a grocery store to look around on Thursday and saw lots of oatmeal and cereal—some Chinese, and some American, recognizable by Tony the Tiger or the Captain Crunch. It’s good to know we will be able to have a regular, low-key breakfast once we get into an apartment and go grocery shopping.

On Saturday for lunch, we went to a dumpling restaurant in an artsy neighborhood near one of the apartments we visited. Everything looked delicious and we weren’t worried because every restaurant has had pictures thus far….until now.  We knew we were going to get dumplings, which was good, but trying to tell them that Adam is allergic to shrimp was hilarious!  He wrote the phrase down, but his pronunciation is so off that the waitress had no idea what he was saying. She kept giggling and laughing and brought her friend to try and understand. Adam gave them the card, and they were absolutely lost. Then the waitress friend went through the menu and said stuff in Chinese—probably cow or pig or something—that we didn’t understand. Finally, the mutual phrase was Adam MOOing at her and giving the thumbs up sign!! In the middle of a restaurant in the middle of Beijing, Adam Lewkowitz mooed like a cow. It was awesome. The reward? 16 delicious soup dumplings! When you bite into the noodle, soup broth spills out. Yum!

We went to dinner on Saturday night with Adam’s fellowship friends in historic Beijing. Luckily, one of his friends, Ben, was born here, and he knew where to go and what to order. We had a wonderful array of mutton, an entire duck (head and all!), and assorted vegetables and noodles. Afterwards, Ben lead us to a 300-year-old “cheese shop” in one of the hutongs (an alley) that had a dessert yogurt, sort of like rice pudding. It was a great night of eating!

We’re off to go apartment hunting; hopefully we’ll be putting up pictures of our home in China next time!

**addendum: I'm having trouble loading pictures, so hopefully that will be fixed in the next few days. We also found an apartment this afternoon!!! More to come....

Saturday, August 21, 2010


Yesterday was a success on all fronts.

Alison went to a Scholastic kindergarten to observe and met a new spitcracker Peruvian teacher who invited us to her birthday party tonight and gave us the phone number of an English-speaking realtor (we're going apartment shopping in a few hours!). She also returned home from work happy, which is a HUGE change from last year!

As for me? I used a squat toilet.

Decide for yourself which person had a more momentous day.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

First Day Recap

Hi everyone!

Sorry for the delay in posting; I'm sure everyone (aka my mother) is chomping at the bit to hear our first impressions of China. So here's the problem. Our time here has been too hectic to reflect yet. But don't worry, as the pace of our life settles into a more mundane/realistic rhythm, the posts may change from oh-my-god-can-you-believe-what-crazy-things-happened-today to be more reflective. Having said that, in the next post, Alison wi
ll probs talk about our crazy adventures of today involving Chinese hospitals for foreigners who need health approval to live here...resulting in getting blood drawn for unknown reasons. Maybe I'll find out that I don't have syphillis/HIV or maybe I'll find out that my cholesterol is high--lord only know what they drew the blood for. At least they used disposable needles ;)

So, back to yesterday. We go to leave our hotel and grab our free water bottles to find...

...that PBR had entered into the Chinese bottled water business.

Because my Principal Investigator is at a meeting in another part of China, I don't officially start the research until August 24th, so I decided to accompany Alison to her office to have our first adventure in China together. It was a good decision. First, nearly every car that passed us was a taxi, but none were empty, so it took about 20 minutes to finally hail one. (It was worse than being stranded downtown at midnight in the rain in Manhattan).
Then, we were betrayed by all of our guidebooks. Everything we read in our pre-trip preparation says that you need to have the address of where you're going written out in Chinese characters, and you simply give it to the cab driver in order to get there. We had the front desk do exactly that and entered the cab very confident. He then proceeded to call 3 different drivers to ask where to go and then resorted to driving in circles, stopping to ask pedestrians the correct address.

To make a long story short, we arrived after tipping the nice cabbie--ps: no tips in China. He was so very grateful that Alison and I figured we had made a tourist's mistake. Alison had her first meeting with her school people, and we learned that the districts that are between our job are very modern and foreigner-friendly (but not true expat communities--don't worry Mama). The best part is that they are by a subway station to take Alison to her job and by a bus stop that will take me directly to the hospital!

After lunch, Alison ran errands for work (all alone in Beijing!), and I took a taxi to the Cancer Hospital to meet with Dr. Shangying Hu (my twin, on right), Dr. Ron Li (Sarah's twin, on left), and Sarah. Here they are!
We then met with Dr. Zhao, the head of the cervical cancer research program there, had a tour of a hospital that was comfortably modern down one corridor and strikingly rural-Mexico-esque down the other. As in, they have a new 10-story beautiful surgical oncology building, but to get to it, you walk on a semi-paved pavilion and look into a shed where people are hang-drying what looks to be hospital pillow cases.

Fast forward 3 exhausting hours of cell-phone buying (you have to buy a phone then buy a number, and the prices are different based on how "lucky" the number is, because four in Chinese is pronounced similar to the word for death. We got the cheapest numbers, with 4s in them, bc I figured we'd have such bad accents no one would confuse the two words), picture taking for aforementioned hospital visit, and waiting for 30 minutes for a broken ATM to never be fixed. Ended up being majorly frustrated when we got home. But, we dined with my friend
Kate at the most delicious restaurant in the Beijing in the nicest shopping mall I've ever seen (don't worry--everyone who comes to visit will be taken there). Peking duck is delicious! So the day ended up wonderfully. Here we are at Da Dong Peking Duck restaurant, after a grueling first day:

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Ni Hao!

(that's basically the only thing either of us can say in Mandarin!)

Ohmygosh I don't know where to begin. I cannot believe we're in CHINA!! After all that talking and planning, we're finally here! We already have tons of stories and have had some veeery interesting experiences in our 15 hours in China. I think it will be easier for me to bullet point some of them to keep it somewhat concise.
We made it!!!

FLIGHT: relatively painless. 13 hours (we landed early!), several solid naps, a little reading, and a little movie watching. The highlights include a girl across the aisle watching a Harry Potter movie on her computer sans headphones--very loud--and a guy eating pizza with chopsticks.

AIRPORT: after going through customs, we piled into a tram to get to baggage claim. We were looking out the window when Adam commented that it was funny to put grassy areas along the sides of the tram's path because we were still indoors--his [very logical] reasoning was that there was an orange ceiling above us. I agreed, but Sarah (Adam's co-Fogarty) looked closer and realized that it was not, in fact, an orange ceiling, but the night sky!! That was definitely a strange revelation. I guess you don't really know what to expect with the smog until you actually experience it. (Side note: today is also extremely overcast, but it's also the worst time of year for the smog. The combination of humidity, lack of wind, and pollution creates the thickness in the air. It should dissipate somewhat by early September).
Thank goodness for the little buggies--
we piled our stuff as high as we could!

Try understanding this!
HOTEL: Adam's Chinese counterpart (his "twin), Shangying, has been very helpful in picking us up from the airport and arranging a hotel for the first week that we're here. We are very close to Adam's hospital, which we got to glimpse as we drove in last night. This hotel is a maze; our room is on the 2nd floor, but we had to take the elevator (with all of our stuff) to the 3rd floor because it only goes to 1, 3, and 4. We walked down 2 never-ending hallways to get to the elevator that took us down to our room. After settling in, Adam and I tried to go back to the lobby, which was no easy feat. We tried 4 different staircases before eventually succumbing to the elevator scramble. When we finally got back upstairs, I went to shower, but was completely confused by the sign on the shower door. At least there was a picture to help! Read it carefully and see if you can translate the English into something that makes sense. When you do, let us know!

When we were FINALLY ready for bed, we realized that we couldn't turn off the lights in our room! To get power, we have to put our room key in a slot by the door to turn on the power (lights, A/C, power outlets). We tried everything to get the lights off, but when you take out the key, it also turns off the air conditioning and the computer that we had set up to function as an alarm clock. After testing a bunch of things, we realized that we had a big decision to make: sleep in a cool, bright room or in a warm, dark room. We ended up putting the A/C on super low for 20 minutes to cool it down and then went to sleep. However, we just learned that there are light switches hidden behind the bedside table--tonight is going to be a cool, dark room. Thank goodness because we're exhausted!!

Jet lag has caught up, so I'm off to bed after a crazy/overwhelming/hilarious/ridiculous first day in Beijing! Adam will probably write about Days 1 and 2 tomorrow--he fell asleep in the cab on the way home from our Peking Duck dinner with Kate (an Amherst friend in Beijing--what a great way to start us off in China!)

Thursday, August 12, 2010

holding pattern...

Hi everyone. Sorry for the lack of updates! Basically, Alison and I have been in running around Phoenix like chickens with our heads cut off doing a billion last-minute errands, including 7 trips to Best Buy (this place is no genius bar) and Alison buying an awesome new camera...We also had a whirlwind road trip to LA to watch my brother compete at US Swim Nationals (pictured below, looking pensive on Camelback Mountain after a hike a few years ago). But mixed in with the dreariness was scheduled family time--Alison and I were able to visit with all of my Phoenix immediate family at least once, which was wonderful. All I kept hearing were rave reviews, with much discussion about how well she fits into my family...I guess, as my mom says, "the shoe is in my court."

But now, let the whirlwind begin! Tomorrow morning, we fly to Chicago for my cousin Emily's wedding. (Selfishly, I couldn't ask for a better opportunity to say farewell to everyone on such a happy occasion, so thanks for choosing this weekend, Emily and Vance!). We'll hopefully make it to their post-wedding brunch on Sunday before our flight to Minneapolis to join celebrating in Alison's study abroad friend (and my new NYC friends) Naomi and Justin's wedding that evening. Then, that Monday we return to Chicago, pick up our aforementioned luggage, meet my co-Fogarty buddy Sarah in the airport and head to CHINA!!!(This picture is from my birthday party. After surprising me with a picnic in Central Park with my friends, people came back to Alison's apartment where we had a China-themed party!)