Thursday, September 30, 2010

last post for a while

In a few short hours, Alison and I will take on the Chinese equivalent of the day before Thanksgiving--all of Beijing is leaving (via plane, train, or bus) to go home for the week-long vacation of National Holiday. Pray that we pull a Moses and are able to weave our way through a Red Sea of Chinese people to get our tuckeses to the airport in time for our flight. Getting there will suck (and we budgeted 3.5 hours from apt to check in, which is 3x longer than it should take), but once we're out of the city, it'll be glorious. We're going camel trekking, desert camping, yurt-sleeping, route-to-Pakistan exploring, and (if Alison doesn't restrain me) hardcore-tchotchke buying. Apparently, there's tons of silk factories there that originated during the time of the Silk Road, so we were thinking of buying some yards of silk to bring back to the talented tailors of Beijing...but need advice as to what exactly we could make out of it. The only thing I can come up with is to get Blake, my dad, Ben, and me specially tailored Hugh-Hefner-esque, as you can see, I need your suggestions.

More importantly, we're not going to have access to email/internet until Thursday, Oct 7th, when we return to our apartment with our first visitors, Courtney and Stacy! Alison and I are both really excited to show her fam (and our first guests!) around. Expect a bit of a dry spell before a flurry of posts about our trip in Kashgar and also our adventures with the Rosenbergs as soon as we have time to put them online.

Also, because I am here on a research fellowship and haven't really spoken about what I'm researching, I decided to give a quick blurb for those of you who were wondering what exactly I've been up to. Granted, it's not nearly as fun as Alison's job ( offense to my colleagues, but they aren't nearly as cute as Alison's students), but here goes:

CICAMS has collaborated with the Cleveland Clinic (shout out, Abelson fam!) and the International Agency for Research on Cancer for the last 13 years and have conducted a gabillion studies on 17 research sites throughout China. I'm taking all of their data (well, actually, they've taken the data, made graphs, and given me the graphs), and using the 30,000 women they've studied to estimate the how many women in China have Human Papillomavirus (HPV, the virus that causes cervical cancer...and that you get the Gardasil vaccine to prevent) as well as precancerous and cancerous cervical issues. After I write that paper, which we are submitting to Lancet by Nov 1 (I don't anticipate being accepted, but they're having a special issue on public health in China, so people here are keeping their fingers crossed), I'm going to use the same data to write up a paper discussing cytology results for different tests. Dr. Smith, my UNC mentor, also sent me a paper to finish up...and while I'm writing the last two papers, I'm going to be researching with Sarah's twin, helping her with data collection, data analysis, and paper writing. Then, finally, once all that is done, I'll develop the protocol for that public health intervention I was hoping to do and that project will become a big focus for next year and the follow year's Fogarty scholars here. It's a 5-year study, so my job is to basically outline the entire project and get it off the ground, which is easier said than done. All in all, it's tons of work, mostly writing (which I am happy about because I love academic writing and it's something I feel that I'm good at), and it's nice to use my brain once in a while.

Hope everyone is well. Miss you guys.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Picture update

I wanted to share some pictures that haven't really had any other place thus far. Before I do that, I have to explain about some hilarious things that happened today at school.

1. A kid in my class came down with chicken pox 2 weeks ago, so the nurse came in, examined each kid, decided there was potential for rashes to spread, and  called all of the parents. By the end of naptime, there were only 2 kids left. Now the class is "closed down" until further notice. The 3 Chinese teachers will have to spend tomorrow cleaning the entire classroom (even though they clean it every day), redecorating, and then cleaning the school building; I would almost rather have the kids!

2. I was told this morning that I would be teaching the Chinese teachers English phrases today. So I went into the meeting room to take my seat....and was ogled by at least 25 Chinese women clad in orange shirts. It was silent except for one "ahhhh, so beautiful" and another "oh, English!"  I have been in all of their classrooms twice a week, I eat lunch with them daily, and yet they were carefully watching my every move. It felt very strange and made me kind of uncomfortable, like I was on display. I was then handed 3 sheets of paper with classroom-style phrases (single-spaced--there were TONS!) and my job was to say them aloud and have the Chinese teachers repeat after me. It took about 35 minutes of my enunciating such things as "Line up!" and "Wait your turn, please." The principal, one of the nurses, and the head teacher even came in to participate. Turns out that the teachers will "take exam" on their pronunciation next week. Who knows--maybe I'll be the one assessing them? 

3. There were 2 throw-ups in my presence and I held my ground. A proud moment in my life for sure!

4. I sang the Scholastic ABC song with a class today, which is different from the regular ABC song that we all know and love. After the 1st time, the teacher asked if I would do it again; she then took out a small video camera thing and video-ed the entire song!! Too bad there's no YouTube in China...

Here are the pictures:

I know you've been wondering, so here is your answer: the inside of a squat toilet bathroom!! (these are the closed stalls)
...and this is what the toilet looks like! (Notice the ridges on either side for your feet, so you don't slide. That would be extremely unfortunate. Also, the trash can is for all toilet paper--which can be obtained outside of the bathroom--because you cannot flush it down).
Below, you see a tent and a few carts. This tent is one of three on the side of the road, home to the construction workers who are adding a sidewalk to said road. The carts are their tools, used for transporting bricks. They have been sleeping here for a little over a week now, just as the temperature has begun to drop. Only in China.
Adam standing next to a crab store. The window consists floor to ceiling aquariums chock full of crabs.
2 of my oldest kids, Clive and Bowen, with the boat they constructed. They are adorable and so smart!!
Johnny (left) is the youngest in the class, and Joe (right) is new this year. They are definitely 2 favorites. Johnny looooves music and knows lots of English songs. He also says some words funny, and calls me "Ayyyy-lison".
 Leon (right) is showing you how the kids (and many adults) eat here. They put the bowl or plate right up to their mouths, open up, scoop the food in with chopsticks, and suck it all in. It's kind of like a vacuum and hilarious to watch.
Art class means that everyone has a canvas and a palate with oil paints. You paint the picture as seen at the front of the room with the colors specified by the teacher (unless you're finishing last week's painting, as Joe is doing on the bottom left). That way, everyone is a beautiful artist...with no originality?

Monday, September 27, 2010

spinning part 2

Yesterday's spinning class was special because:

1) the people in front of me each brought a carton of skim milk and were drinking that instead of water

2) a man came in a full suit and used his jacket as a sweat towel when he needed it

3) a Chinese woman came in wearing a bikini top that barely covered 1/2 of her massively fake boobs. She was also wearing one of those belly dancing jangle thingies...she stretched, pedaled slowly for 2 minutes, stretched again, and sauntered out.

4) They played a techno Chinese version of "she'll be coming around the mountain."

Other than that, everything here is same-old, same-old. Alison had to work Saturday and Sunday, and I stayed home and did my presentations and worked on a paper. And we're gearing up for a few crazy weeks of adventurous travel.

Hope everyone is well!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Best Day Ever: Tourism

This week is Mid-Autumn Festival, which means we have Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday off of work, which has been awesome!!  Unfortunately, the Chinese way is to make up these missed I get to work both Saturday and Sunday this weekend. Not as awesome.
At the Temple of Heaven with the Imperial Vault behind us.
We spent Wednesday at the Temple of Heaven with an American couple that we met at Kehillat Beijing on Yom Kippur. It was a lot of fun to hang out with another couple who is similar to us, and we had a great time. The Temple of Heaven is basically a massive park with a few temples that were used for various purposes (sacrificial offerings, prayer, and other temple-ish things). Many of the structures had names that were similar to those of other Chinese sites, such as the Imperial Vault of Heaven and Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests.

I don't know if it's because of the national holiday or just another day in Beijing, but the park was very active!  There were people dancing....
 playing a hacky-sack-esque game with a feathered "ball"...

and watching a performance on the side of one of the temple buildings.
While these structures had similar characteristics to most of what we have seen in China, like at the Forbidden City, they were also different because many were rounded. They were beautiful. Adam loves looking at the dragon detail on the individual tiles; they are even on the ceilings and throughout the roofs. He also says the colors remind him of the Southwest, which is probably one of the reasons why he likes them so much :)

Inside one of the temples were desks with examples of some of the offerings (mostly cattle). They would clean and shave the animals and then put them into a sacrificial burning area, which is right next to the "blood-draining pit." Yummy. Our favorite was the Circular Mound Altar. It is a big open space made of three levels of marble. The sign said that if you stand on the center stone, your voice will be "sonorous," so there was quite a long line of people waiting to stand in the middle. While we were watching them, a young girl's parents kind of pushed her in our direction and held up their camera. Hilarious! Adam captured the moment:
We sat down in one of the park areas and people watched for a while. I learned that China has it's own version of the Red Hat Ladies: Purple Hat People! (We also saw Orange Hat People on our way out, but I had already put my camera away. They basically looked just like this, but with bright orange hats instead. Adam's comment: "This makes me very happy that we are not doing a Chinese-led tour during National Week!")

On our way into the Temple of Heaven, we realized that the much-talked about Pearl Market is across the street! How convenient. We decided to walk across the street and have a look. Yes, there were TONS of pearls, but each booth had pretty much the same thing. None of us really know much about pearls or how to tell the real from the not-so-real, so we were quite amused by all of the salespeople attacking us with shouts of "REAL PEARL! NO FAKE!" They were desperate to sell, so we quickly became desperate to get out of there! We walked through different floors and realized it was more than just a pearl market; they had everything you might need! Clothes (Ralph Lauren, North Face, Dolce and Gabbana), electronics (iPhones, iPods, antenna-ed Blackberrys), shoes (Uggs, Crocs), and of course, accessories. The grabbing, attempts to sell and "You need iPhone?? Here, iPhone!!" were humorous for a few minutes, until they got a little to aggressive. So basically, we learned that the Pearl Market is nice to talk about but not as nice to visit.

Adam and I had a big night ahead, so we then headed home to prepare for Mid-Autumn Festival activities!

Best Day Ever: Festivals!

After we left the Temple of Heaven and Pearl Market, we went to my colleague's dinner party in honor of the Mid-autumn Festival.

Because of the worst traffic in the whole world (the half-hour trip to work took over an hour and a half!), we arrived an hour late to my twin's apartment, so my entire office was already busy cooking, stratified according to where they were from so they could cook local specialties together. Some of the geographic variation we knew already from being here already, like the famous spicy fish soups from Sichuan, where they put the entire fish in the pot......including the heads. But others we had no idea: for example, Shanxi province is famous for homemade noodles
. The officemates from Shanxi humored us by letting both Alison......and me out by rolling dough. Within an hour, all the food was set on the table. It was a huge feast!Anyone notice the chicken head and foot in the pot? (Side note, the same woman who ate the fish head ate the chicken foot. blech). Culturally, it was interesting how different they do huge potluck feasts. In the US, we're used to loading up huge plates and then sitting and eating in smaller groups. But here, you take your bowl and stand or sit around the table where the food is and constantly nibble out of the pots. It makes for a much more social experience.
We were each handed "pre-dessert," which was a fruit salad (with yellow watermelon!) in a bowl made out of dragon fruit skin!

We politely declined the offer to put mayonnaise on the fruit, but we did eat it with chopsticks. Then Dr. Qiao, the epi dept head (my Fogarty PI) came and we took a group picture, minus Alison unfortunately (and the guys, who were all in the kitchen).
He also brought a platter of mooncakes, which are always beautifully packaged. I don't remember if I posted about this already, but on this holiday you give your friends and bosses mooncakes to symbolize that you wish them a year of happiness, and the holiday is always on a full moon. The best mooncakes are insanely expensive (for example, Haagen Das sells 4 for 40 dollars).
Anyways, we were a little apprehensive considering we had already been forced to eat a beef mooncake and an egg one (we had to choke them down to show our appreciation for being offered a year of happiness...small price to pay I guess). But these ones were filled with stuffing made of flower petals and were DELICIOUS. Afterwards, we headed to the nearby park to see the lanterns. Alison and I were both envisioning a few lanterns strung in trees so we were pretty impressed by our first sight of "lanterns" in the water:

They had a ton of different ones, ranging from cool... uber creepy the Snow White and Seven Dwarfs exhibit, complete with rainboots and fake knives. This being China, there were about a billion people in the park, but it was still so charming, especially seeing how excited the little children were about the lanterns.
They also had a section with carnival-like games. We at first thought how similar this was to our American fairs, but then we looked closer and saw that the prizes ranged from typical American stuffed animals to what would definitely raise eyebrows in the rabbits and birds in cages. We actually ended up closing the park--they turned off the lights, but not before we got a great pic:

All in all, it was an absolutely delightful day. We first went on another successful double date to a beautiful historic site with a fun, smart couple and then experienced a true Chinese festival. Everyone keeps asking us if we are making Chinese friends, and I think we are making great leaps. But, after spending 5 hours with my officemates, we realized that all of our interactions have to be on our terms (because they have to speak English to include us, and that is very difficult and tiring for some of them), so I don't think we will ever become the types of friends that sit for an hour to catch up over coffee...but they have definitely welcomed us with open arms into their circle. Long story short, we were so happy to be included--I hope they enjoyed showing us their culture as much as we enjoyed the American evening last weekend!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Beijing Fashion...

…or lack thereof. I have really enjoyed people watching while in restaurants, on the bus or subway (minus the sweaty, crowded congestion of the mornings), and just about everywhere else. You can’t really fathom the amount of people everywhere in this city until you see it. Anyway, the clothing that most people wear has surprised me. I guess I expected that Beijing being the capitol city would mean that people would be more style-conscious than in other cities (except Shanghai, which is definitely the “New York City” of this country). However, it is not that way at all!

I would say that about 75% of the women I see on a daily basis are wearing heels. Heels in the subway, heels along the street, heels on the bus (go click-click-click, click-click-click, click-click-click….haha welcome to pre-school!). For the most part, they are the tackiest heels I have ever seen. Many are layered with rhinestones, bows, and other d├ęcor, have several colors, and do not in any way match the rest of the wearer’s outfit. I am constantly reminded of playing “Pretty Pretty Princess” or those Disney princess shoes little girls wear on Halloween.  Those who don’t wear heels wear Crocs. This must be the biggest Croc market on Earth because they are everywhere! All ages, all colors, and all styles can be seen at any given time.

Back to clothing. The men are pretty generic with their styles (nothing that you wouldn’t see in America), and I’ve already talked about the baby style of exposed tushies. The only thing worthy of note: the men tend to lift up their shirts when they are hot, which is only now changing as the weather has cooled in the past few days.  It is very common to see men sitting on the side of the street, standing in line for the bus, or just about anywhere outside, with their shirts lifted up to their chests and their bellies sticking out. (By the way…they are ALL hairless! Adam’s response: I’m hot as hell but I don’t want to scare anyone by lifting my shirt!)

As for the women, anything goes. Oftentimes nothing matches and it looks like everyone on the subway got dressed blindly. I constantly think that just because 2 articles of clothing have 1 or 2 colors in common does not mean that they should be worn together!!

Some examples include:
--Outside of the subway: woman in a silver sparkly dress, leopard print leggings, and purple crocs.
--On the street: woman with a plaid shirt, plaid shorts (totally different plaids), and white plastic-looking heels with silver rhinestones.
--On the subway: woman in a skirt with splashes of salmon-pink, blue, green, and white, wearing a “matching” striped shirt with similar colors and black short heels with a bow.

A very "special" hat!
Additionally, T-shirts are everywhere, just like at home. Also like at home, most are written in English. The big difference? The shirt I saw yesterday that said “Don’t Wrory, be Happy.” Another that said “Ksis Me!” Many of the shirts are probably exactly the same as someone in America or some other English-speaking western country might buy, but they are slightly messed up in some way. I guess that’s the benefit of having so many manufactured goods made here—you can keep and sell the ones that don’t quite make it to the West!

Hats and umbrellas are big selling items in tourist areas because the Chinese do not like to “get tan,” as we have heard. On particular sunny days, the umbrellas will be numerous and can really get in your way when walking on the street! Those without a hat or umbrella will hole up a bag, folder, newspaper, or anything else to block the sun. While massage parlors are everywhere, I doubt you’ll find to many tanning beds in this part of the world…

So I mentioned my surprise as the random style of dress in Beijing to another foreign teacher during training a few weeks ago. She pointed out that it wasn’t so long ago that the Chinese were required to wear “Mao Suits” (google it!), so the compensation seems to be an “anything goes” attitude: “As long as it fits and is brightly colored, I’m wearing it!” This actually makes a lot of sense; so lately I have been looking at people’s ages to determine if they are of the Mao Suit generation and can use this to “excuse” their clothing choices.

Another observation: very few Western-style wedding rings. I am interested to know how people in China show that they are married, if they do so at all. Any ideas? Please pass them along!

**I would love to have more pictures, but it's kind of awkward to take a picture of someone else while staring at them on the subway and my camera isn't always on hand while walking on the street. I'll work on this and update soon!

Monday, September 20, 2010

proud to be an american!

Last week, Sarah asked one of our colleagues if we should wear our white coats during our presentations, and the answer was, "Well you guys are foreigners, and I think in China you can do whatever you want and get away with it."

Today, we proved that correct. There is a travel agency that is a licensed train ticket seller (rare to find) near our apartment. We've been trying to buy tickets for our own trip during MidAutumn festival (side note: we don't understand the point of this holiday, other than to buy little desserts called "moon cakes" that are buttery circles of dough filled with some sort of gelatinous substance. We bought 5 today for $2.50 US, and they alternate between absolute deliciousness and vomit-in-your-mouth disgustingness.). Anyways, today, we went to buy our sleeper train tickets for our trip with Stacy and Courtney to Xi'an (terracotta warriors).

When we got there, it was raining outside and there was a line of about 35 people waiting patiently for the one person assigned to book train tickets to get to them. Through the other doorway, we could see 5 people talking in a circle who were the "travel agents." So Alison and I decided to play the dumb American tourists and went to the travel agency part to see if we could book the tickets. We handed them the date, train we wanted, number of passing, and they started gesturing and speaking Chinese to us. We said back in Chinese, "we are learning Chinese but don't understand you." The women looks at us, smiles, and books the tickets. The whole process took about 5 minutes. Not a single Chinese person in line batted an eye at us when we walk out the door.

Now imagine the response in NYC if 2 Chinese people cut a big line of people waiting to buy metro cards. It'd be a guaranteed riot!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

spinning and swimming

My parents gave us an early Channukah present--a 9-month membership to the gym that's between the subway station and our apartment. Both of us had really wanted to join the gym to burn some anxious energy from random things that happen in this crazy place every day (like yesterday, when there were 250 people crammed on a bus the size of the 86th street crosstown, and I was no joke molested 5 times by people trying to get out.) as well as counteract the fact that we are unable to find food at restaurants that isn't fried or drenched in oil. But because we're going on some AMAZING trips the next few weeks (check out this website for the one that has been adapted for us for our Sept 30 to Oct 7 vacation), we decided to save our money for travel instead. Long story short, it was the best. present. ever...and we were so excited to start exercising that we went the next day for spinning class.

To paint a picture of the class--the room has lots of discoballs, strobe lights, and lasers, and the
music alternated between Chinese hip hop and American songs from the 90s (like Aqua's Barbie Girl). Of course, the instructions were all in Chinese, so we didn't know if we were climbing up mountains or racing downhill...and after every song we stopped to wipe off, drink water, and stretch before starting the next song. The best part, however, was that the guy in front of me was doing acrobatics on the bike--pretending like he was speedskating, throwing one leg behind/in front/across the handlebars, doing push ups on the handlebars while pedaling, etc. It's hard to describe the level of his awesomeness, but it kept us laughing the whole time. I hope he's back there next class!

Then, yesterday, I went to their 25-meter pool, and I swam for about 20 minutes. For those of you who aren't familiar with my "career," I loved swimming until senior year of high-school started, but became so burnt out that by sophomore year of college, swimming (especially at meets) made me really unhappy. Due to my friendships with my teammates and psychological support from my Amherst coach, I was able to plow through the rest of college swimming, but when I got out of the pool after my last race, I vowed to never swim another lap again...It's crazy now to realize that, a mere 5 years later, my attitude towards swimming has done a 180--instead of causing me so much stress, I'm plan to use it as a way to clear my head and relax.

Tomorrow, Alison has to work, but we'll talk about Yom Kippur and flexible travel plans.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Incredible things at Yi Xian Guo Ji

Yi Xian Guo Ji (yee see-ann gwah gee) is the neighborhood where my school is located, so that’s basically how we refer to it. Some craaazy things have happened in the past few days that I must share.

1. I named an entire class of 2 year olds (no, I didn’t take Barry and Steph’s advice and name them General Tso and Eggroll. I was definitely tempted though!). My 2nd time with the crying class resulted in less crying, more gaping mouths, and one kid who was in such hysterics that he threw up. (Luckily, it was just as I was leaving, so you know I basically ran out of that room!). After a few songs, the teacher thrust a pen and notebook at me and said “names? English names?” The problem here is that many people add vowels or an “uh” sound at the end of most words because in Chinese, many words and sounds are consonant-vowel-consonant-vowel. That immediately eliminated names like Blake and Stacy (sorry guys).

So I started with the first girl and said “Courtney,” knowing that they would pronounce it “Courteney.” The teacher looked at me and said “Co-ert-e-nee? No no. Different.” So I picked one that I knew a kid in another class had—Annie.
Next kid: Jen. Response? Jen? Jen? Me: JennY. Response: Oooooh, Jenny! Ok!
Next kid: Adam. Response? Aaaaa-dum? Aaaaadum? Me: [writing it down] A-d-a-m.  Response? No, no, no. No Adam. Me: Kevin. Response: aaaaah yes, Kevin! Very good!
Next kid: Sandy. Response: We have Cindy [points to ceiling, where there is a teacher named CINDY].
This pattern of trying to name kids after family or friends and being shot down continued. And then…
Teacher: She is very smart. You have name to smart? Me: um, our names don’t mean anything. Just names. Response: confused look. Me: How about Lauren? Response: Laur-EHN? EHN? Laur-AH ok? Me: Yes, yes, very good.

By this point, I just named the rest of the kids after every other kid in the school. Sorry friends. However, when I got to the last one, I thought I’d try again with Michael. The teacher looked at me like I had 2 heads, so I tried Sam. Same response until I said “SammY” and she got very excited and that was that. Whew.

2. The 2 nurses go around to every classroom every day and check each kid’s hands, mouth, and temperature. No idea why, but it’s done. When they came to my big class today, the nurse took the Chinese teacher aside. She came back and said “Billy [absent kid] has a sickness. We have to keep the kids apart.” I’m thinking “Ok so he wasn’t immunized and now we all have polio? This is China. We are all going to die of TB.” She typed something into her phone and showed it to me. 1. Varicella. 2. Chicken pox. So totally normal and no big deal in the U.S., but here, it’s a cause for mass hysteria and nobody sends their kids to school. (My thought: wow, if every kid gets chicken pox progressively, that would be 12 weeks with no students! Amazing!) So because my class had to be isolated, they could not go outside and play in the playground area. Thus….

3. They rollerbladed on the roof? Seriously? Each of the 9 4 to 5 year olds had his own little bag, filled with a personal pair of roller blades, helmet, and enough padding that they could have been hit by a car and walked away unscathed (all except one boy, whose parents apparently didn’t want to contribute to his rollerblading education). I was absolutely astonished.  Dumbfounded. Baffled. Confused. What was going on?? If only I had my camera because this was absolutely photo-worthy! I laughed and laughed as I got these kids rollerblade-ready. All I could think was “Too bad I gave Courtney my rollerblades!!” They just played around a bit, and a few of those kids were REALLY good!! They could have given me a few lessons (I’m thinking of that time I face-planted in Central Park while chasing Lauren…). Then, out of nowhere, some guy comes in already on roller-blades, and gives the kids a 20-minute lesson. WHERE AM I?? I’ve never seen him at the school before. So his sole purpose is to spend 20 minutes having kids skate around a circle on the roof?

This leads to point number 4…
I was told that I write English incorrectly by a Chinese woman who speaks little to no English. So with the oldest “normal” class that I have twice per week for 20 minutes at a time, I thought I would start practicing letter writing. Obviously we started with A this week, and I showed them a capital A starting at the bottom of the line (basically a reverse V with a line across). She told me in broken English in China they do not write the big A like that, and I should change it before next week because she does not want her kids to be on the short bus. (I think that was basically the bottom line). Oh, China.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

My first haircut in China...and other stories

1) On the way to work today, my bus kept going playing leapfrog with one of those trucks filled with water that you see on construction pits in the US that they use to spray the ground to keep it wet. But this one was spraying the entire street as it drove (maybe street cleaning? maybe broken?), and my window didn't close, so I was repeatedly doused with a mist of what I can only hope was not sewer water.

2) Sarah and I have been asked to give monthly lectures about a topic on American healthcare/hospitals/medicine, and she went first today. We thought the audience was composed of medical students, but actually, she lectured to the young members of the Communist Party. Thank goodness we weren't lecturing about free market economies or human rights!

3) I got my first haircut here today. I figured it would be a disaster (my first haircut in Chile, when I barely could speak Spanish, resulted in a full-fledged mullet). So I asked my officemate to write down "shorter on the sides, longer on top" in a way that the barber could understand. When I handed it to another officemate to see what it said (as the first speaks the best English but is a bit of a jokester, and I didn't want to end up with blond highlights), he laughed and translated. When I got to the haircut place, I swallowed my dignity and handed the man a card that read: "Esteemed hairdresser: I request that you use only scissors to make a similar hairstyle as I currently have, but in a shorter manner. Please do not add any dyes. Thank you for your diligence." He laughed at me, but it was a small price to pay for a somewhat normal appearance for the next few weeks.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

This weekend

This weekend was a blast--on Saturday, Sarah and we co-hosted an American dinner for our officemates at her apartment. We cooked spaghetti bolognese (American enough, you naysayers) with garlic bread; Sarah made bean chili, iced tea, and assorted vegetables. The coup d'etat was Sarah's delicious banana splits for dessert!!!! The evening was really fun: It was our first realization that our culture is just as foreign to them as theirs is to us, and I enjoyed that our officemates got to see a more relaxed side of us (and we of them). Some funny moments:
1) We told them we like to put lemon wedges into our tea; so, the first few people just plopped the lemons into the glass. We forgot to mention that you had to squeeze first and had to show them how.
2) They had never seen penne noodles before and asked what it was.
3) In China, they don't eat cheese. So Sarah provided yummy feta cheese with toothpicks, and one of the officemates (the one from the infamous bike buying adventure) took a nibble from one side, smelled it, saw we were watching, ate another nibble, saw we were still watching, and then braced herself and swallowed it like a shot of nasty tequila.
4) When Sarah served her sundaes (complete with homemade chocolate sauce swirled on top), the guy who got the first one looked into it with the same expression I feel like I'm making when the waitress drops off chicken feet at the table next to us. And all the Chinese people got up and stared into the bowl, like it was some sort of
magic potion. They all loved it, though one did admit that she understood why Americans were so fat(!).

The highlight though was teaching them to play spoons. Each time anyone got 4 of a kind and reached for the spoon, the whole group ERUPTED in giggles and talked excitedly in Chinese for a few minutes before we could play another round. Alison and I decided that what made their reaction to the card game even more endearing was that these people were hand-selected in high-school for their sheer intellectual manpower and have risen to the
pinnacle of Chinese medical the fact that they could get such a kick out of a child's game was incredible.

Then today we went to Panjiayuan, the famous antique/crafts market, with a couple that I met in a police station. Anywhere but China, writing "police station Adam" in the subject of an email to invite someone to join you for an afternoon would be extremely odd, but here you have to register for the police when your visa status or your living situation changes, and so we happened to be there since we live in neighboring apartment complexes.
The day couldn't have gone better: the two of them are really easy to hang out with, and we a lot of fun. So, when we got there, we quickly looked at the entry map......noticing where we could lie fallow. Then we started walking around. I think we spent 2 hours there and saw about 20% of what they were selling. Everything was grouped, so, for example, here was the fake-porcelain-vase section...
...and every so often they'd have a vendor selling something completely random... an E.T. model. I also talked to a man selling extremely cheap rugs made in Afghanistan. It was kinda sad though because he said the rugs were all handmade (because there are no machines in Afghanistan) and naturally dyed (because there are no chemicals in Afghanistan). And it was less than $500 US to buy an ornate rug that was 2 meters by 6 meters...and since that was his asking price, I'm sure we could have gotten it for closer to $300. But we didn't buy much: we were there pretty much casing the joint to figure out what is out there to build up a list of things we want to bring back stateside with us. However, we did buy beautiful pillowcases that we decided would help add vibrancy to our apartment:
and were so happy we bargained this old Tibetan lady down from 150 RMB to 90 RMB for all 3 (meaning each one was slightly more than $4) until an hour later we saw the same ones being offered at a starting price of 25 RMB each (meaning they'd go for closer to 10 RMB). So this is Alison feeling
duped in our apartment:

Friday, September 10, 2010

world rocking

Every Friday, we have a mandatory hour-long meeting of the entire Epidemiology department. It's conducted entirely in Mandarin, of course, so even though our Fogarty twins and officemates translate some into English, I have no idea what's going on. I've realized that our being there is a matter of putting in facetime and hope that our presence shows how much we value the hard-work that the department is doing. So basically, I spend the hour listening attentively to pick out the 150 words of Mandarin I know as a way to show respect to my Chinese colleagues.

But today, I learned something that rocked my world. They were celebrating the fact that the national government recently awarded CICAMS with a congratulatory letter for significant improvement of patient care. I've known for a while that because it's the premier cancer hospital in the country, even though it has 1200 beds on the inpatient ward (meaning the hospital is slightly bigger than Mount Sinai!) many patients end up renting apartments in the surrounding areas. (I learned that the first day because a lot of people sit outside the hospital holding cardboard signs with numbers of them and my Fogarty twin explained that they're advertising the square meters and price of the apartment...and I've seen people almost every day who have some sort of tube (iv, ng, etc) walking into the hospital with me.) But the reason that the government gave CICAMS the award was that they've recently decreased the time it takes to admit a patient to the inpatient two weeks. Meaning (assuming nothing was lost in translation) if you come to the cancer hospital for inpatient treatment, you register and are put on the waiting list and only have to wait 2 weeks to get medical care.

During my rotations last year, many times Sinai's painfully small Emergency Room became so crowded that they had to divert patients to other hospital ER's. And many times, patients would have to spend a few extra hours or even the night in the emergency room before they could be moved to an inpatient floor. I would always feel so bad for these unfortunate people because the ER is so loud and bright and impersonal that I myself get overwhelmed as soon as I get there...all I'd want was to push the patients up to the hospital myself so we can get them hooked into the system right away (and so I can leave the ER). I can't imagine how overwhelmed the doctors who work here must feel--the people who arrivate at CICAMS are each tremendously complicated patients for whom the regional medical infrastructure has failed in some way. And while those the doctors work heroically for every patient they help, there are 10 more on the list who desperately need their expertise waiting in a rented apartment nearby just to get in the door. It's Sisyphus defined, really.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

L'shana Tovah!

While everyone at home is sleeping or getting up for temple, Adam and I are hanging out at home. It's a little strange to be in a place where everything is "business as usual," especially after 3 years in NY, where even the public school system is closed for Jewish holidays. Luckily, we found an organization called Kehillat Beijing and went to their Erev Rosh Hashanah service last night. Just outside of the subway, a girl stopped us and asked if we knew where the Capital Athletic Club was located, which is where the services are held. She is in college and studying abroad in Beijing for the semster! The 2 of us followed Adam (we should have known better!), and then turned around after she asked someone for directions :)
We got there on Jewish Standard Time after wandering around a bit because it is located in what looks to be a banquet hall in the back of a business center. We met and sat with 2 of Adam's friends from the Fogarty. It felt like we could have been anywhere in the U.S.! The organization brought in a rabbi for the High Holidays; he had a northeastern accent, was pretty relaxed, and definitely wanted to move the service forward to get to the meal. Adam put it best: "I like this style of Judaism!"
There were probably close to 100 people, which is pretty amazing considering we're in the middle of Beijing, China! Most of them were white, though there were several Chinese woman and biracial kids. I was surprised by the number of young people. We met and spoke with a few girls who just graduated from college, but most of them were staying for dinner. (We left because we figured that we would scope it out, and if we liked it, we would go back for Yom Kippur and stay for Break Fast then).
On our walk home, Adam and I talked about the different Jewish services that we have attended over the past few years. This felt the most "homey," probably because it was American-run. It is a comfort to know that this will be here for a small taste of home when the homesickness eventually sets in. For now, I'm looking forward to Yom Kippur at Kehillat Beijing!
(PS: in response to Adam's "Happy New Year" post...that was the best darn mango I've ever eaten!)

happy new year!

I'll let Alison talk about the wonderful service we went to last night...I just wanted to post a few pictures of Alison's Rosh Hashana transformation:

1) Alison devouring a mango in our kitchen before she gets ready:

2) Alison about to walk out the
door: L'shana tova to friends and family.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


Today, I had a revelation. I now completely understand why Adam does not want to go into Pediatrics.
Background: I have a temporary schedule for the month of September, while my school phases out another foreign teacher from the Small International Class. That means I teach the Big International Class (12 4- and 5-year old boys!) per usual and then I will start with the other class in a month. In the mean time, I spend 15 to 20 minutes with the "normal" (read: Chinese) classes twice per week. My presence is pretty much the only English these kids get.
Most of the time, the kids look at me with big eyes and gaping mouths. I usually start off with a song, everyone introduces themselves (though a few don't have English names), and then we sing the song again at the end. I have never in my life sung the Eensy Weensy Spider so much!! When I was telling Adam this, his response was "Wait--you don't actually sing, do you? You subject those kids to your singing?!" Um, yes. And clearly, as I am the only English speaker, I am the only singer. The kids make some sounds, follow the hand motions the 2nd or 3rd time around (mouths hanging open the 1st time), and the teachers do try their best to follow or motivate the kids. Their participation definitely depends on their age, but it's been ok so far. Until this morning...
I walked into the smallest class, consisting of 15 or so 2- and young 3-year old kids, while they were finishing a snack. Now, one of the kids was already crying. As soon as I entered, half of them burst into tears and ran to one of the 3 Chinese teachers in the room. The rest just started at me, open-mouthed, as if they had no idea what to do or think. I have been working with kids pretty much my entire life, and my presence has caused a wide-range of emotions: cursing (Bronx), hugging (babysitting), waving hello (camp)...but screaming? Not in recent memory. So the teachers gathered the kids and they sat in a row with me in front of them. One of the teacheres even sat next to me with a puppet. We sang the Eensy Weensy Spider....tears. We sang it again....more tears. I said "My name is Alison" and they howled. One teacher suggested "Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes," but I didn't want to stand up or make any sudden movements, for fear of screaming, so I chose a much more familiar, softer song: "Twinkle, Twinkle." Yes, I even used hand motions that they could imitate, but the only result was more crying!! We sang it again, and that was it for me. I felt like I was just making the situation worse, the teachers were overwhelmed with the number of criers on their hands, and I couldn't do or say anything to comfort these little ones. I said thank you, goodbye to the kids (tears and sniffles), and went on my merry way.
I could not take that on a regular basis! Last fall, Adam described his Peds rotation as 30 minutes of trying to get the kid distracted by singing, using stuffed animals, checking out every member of the kid's family, etc, only to accomplish a very short medical exam. That's what I felt like when I was with this class; they must have thought I had a white coat on and a syringe in my hand because that's how they looked at me. I'm looking forward to having my own group of small kids next month so they gradually adjust to me and I feel like I can actually teach.
For the most part, I am enjoying my time with the Big Class. It is a definite change from middle school in NY! (ps: Happy 1st Day of School!)

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Stealing Alison's post

I want you guys to pretend this post is funnier and better written than it is...because this is Alison's story. She just didn't have enough time last night to put it in writing.

To give you the background: we started taking Mandarin classes last week (resulting in a fairly grueling weekly schedule as they are Mon Wed Fri from 7 pm until 9 pm), but we've had 5 classes thus far and have felt like we're learning so much. We now know how to say, "Hi, we are American from New York City, how are you? Do you have any brothers? I am an English teacher, where are you from? I am very hungry" type things. Not bad considering we knew absolutely nothing but hand gestures and picture-drawing last Monday.
(side note 1: Alison may be tone deaf, but she gets the 4 tonal sounds perfectly almost every time. She finishes and the teacher claps. Everytime. Total superstar.
side note 2: The "h" sound has a slight hebrew h sound to it, and sometimes she forgets to do a light throat gurgle and lets loose a sound that belongs on the end of baruch or beginning of chamotze. I crack up everytime thinking of how superJew Alison can't help bringing our roots to this new language ;)

Anyways, back to the story. Buoyed with our rapid Mandarin acquisition, Alison went to the bank by herself after work and organized our rent money to be transfer into our landlord's account and paid for our internet. The people there didn't speak English, and as she was telling me this story while we were walking to the restaurant, I was so impressed with her! We immediately sit down, Alison says, "well, we should get a beer to celebrate!"

Normally, we'd thumb through the menu to the drinks and point at the picture of the beer, but today, Alison decided to order beer just like we learned in class. The waitress nods, doesn't even repeat what we say, and we high-five at the table, so impressed with what just happen that we don't think twice when the beer doesn't come in the next ten minutes.

Then, a steaming pile of ground pork and tofu in hot chili sauce comes from the kitchen...and the waitress says the word somewhat similar to the word for beer as she sets it on the table.

After laughing hysterically for a few moments, we agreed that the misunderstanding was a sign from above to not be too cocky about our Mandarin abilities yet ;)

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Great Wall Adventure

Yesterday, Sarah, Alison, and I went on 6k Great Wall hike from JinShanling to Simatai based out of a backpacker’s hostel. (Note, if you want to take full advantage of Alison's spectacular photography, just click on the pictures to get them in their full glory!)

During the 3 hour drive to get there, the air quality improved gradually until we arrived…and we seriously took our first deep breaths in 2 weeks! You don’t realize how bad the pollution is until you get out of it—it’s amazing what the human body can adjust to and how “pollution” has become our baseline.

The thing about the Great Wall is that your impressions of it change while you’re visiting it. When you first walk 30 minutes up a mini-mountain to arrive on the wall, with the Wall directly in your sights (this is what you see)...’re thinking, “Wow, it is much taller/bigger than I had pictured, “ or “Interesting. I didn’t realize that it’s built on the peaks of all the mountains.” To, “There’s absolutely nothing around here. And there are a million stones stacked on top of the mountains? How many Chinese peasants died building this thing?” You can’t help but reflect on the sheer amount of labor that went into the construction.

Then you get on the Wall itself and you’re just awestruck not only by the size where you’re standing... ...but by how far it stretches. Just look how far it goes in either direction!

(And look at the difference between Alison's camera and mine!) When you start the hike, the Great Wall remains the Great Wall for about an hour. There are definitely lots of steps up and down, but you're so enthralled by the scenery and so excited that you are actually walking on a structure that was built so long ago that you don't really notice the physicality of it. So it’s completely delightful. (Alison kept saying outloud, "I cannot believe I'm walking on the Great Wall of China!") You can see, however, that the hike is still difficult as I’m already starting to sweat!

Of course, Alison is having a grand ol' time sweat-free. Life's not fair sometimes. But, the Great Wall helped kick-start Alison's sweat production when out of nowhere, it turned into ... the Great Stairmaster.

You feel like you’re climbing 1000s of steps straight up a mountain side only to get to the top where a watch tower is located, have your mind blown by the view, take a few silly profile pictures, be bombarded by old Chinese people selling souvenirs or cold beer/water/tea/cookies and rest…before you take the Stairmaster down and start the process over.

This is particularly tame part of the Great Stairmaster. On a more difficult stretch, the steps are like 2 feet tall each! Here's Alison, 2 steps down, before we start our climb up that huge mountain in the distance.

By this point, I’ve sweat so much that my once-light gray shirt is now dark-gray, the backpack (which admittedly is very heavy since we packed a ton of water, food, and guidebooks) is SOPPING wet. Here's my "beautiful," schweddy self after the Stairmaster:Note the backpack strap lines, the backpack outline on my back, and my stomach sweat. Dead sexy. Lucky for you, the internet doesn't transmit smell with pictures...By this point, I stank almost as bad as Dad does after a round of golf in the summer. Never fear, though: we’re still having the time of our lives--even Sarah, who wasn’t feeling well.

After a while, the Great Stairmaster turns into the Great Treadmill. For some reason, in a few parts of the wall, there are no steps, so it slopes up the mountain. You can see that It’s the type of incline that would be fun to ski down…not take baby steps up. For me, this was the worst part of the hike because I hate treadmills.

The Great Treadmill then turns into the Great Crumble. One of the huge advantages of this tour is that there were very few other people on the Wall with us since the hike is in a more isolated, less touristy part. So it makes sense that not all of the wall is restored. And by not restored, I mean crumbling steps and steep inclines! Climbing up and down during this segment was actually my favorite part of the Wall because it just felt so much more…historically authentic?

Then, we finished the hike and took this picture of the wall that is currently off limits to tourists.

And then we started on the last leg of our journey, the Great Bonus, because we had another 30 minute hike down a huge mountain to get the car. We then napped and planned future trips on the way back and had a delicious dinner with Sarah at a Korean restaurant by the backpackers’ hostel! On our way back to the subway, there were 100 couples dancing in a parking lot (only in China, right?):

Long story short, yesterday was our favorite day in China thus far: yes it was not an easy hike but it was so worth it! We’re going to suggest the tour for anyone who come…and then we’ll meet you after the hike for Korean food in a cool area and take you back to our apt for foot massages!