Monday, June 20, 2011

zero-displacement/birthday weekend

Since my last post, I've passed a monumental milestone by entering my late 20s. The weekend was perfect--we finished our apartment (pics to come!), except for the part the lazy super has to do, had a lot of close friends over for drinks and boardgames on Saturday night, and then spent Sunday afternoon reading the NYT in Central Park, feeling like total New Yorkers.

One of my friends wrote me a nice birthday card that discussed the idea of zero-displacement: that things and people feel and are so similar that it's hard to remember you were ever gone. I definitely agree with him--it's remarkable how easily Alison and I have fallen back into the fold of New York life and how our relationships have picked up seamlessly where they left off. But even without the beautiful things we brought back with us, including an amazing collage of framed pictures, it'd be impossible to notice three big ways I've changed from China:

1) I'm better at knowing when to pick my battles--10 months being illiterate and unable to communicate with the population-at-large and never knowing 100% of what was happening at CICAMS has taught me when I should speak up to ensure I'm not being taken advantage of (or to ensure I'm not offending anyone!) or when to just keep on truckin', trusting in the general goodwill of humanity.

2) I'm much calmer: Coming back to Sinai and starting to do the whole residency application process is obviously anxiety-provoking. However, Alison and I have navigated much trickier obstacles, so even one as supposedly all-encompassing as residency doesn't seem particularly overwhelming.

3) Inquisitiveness in my home city. I've spent three years living in on 98th and Madison, barely going to 80s/2nd or the Upper West Side and rarely, if ever, going to Union Square, Brooklyn, or Astoria. Basically, I feel that I now know more of Beijing than of NYC. However, between how close and accessible everything seems to be and how pleasant it is to get there on public transportation, my attitude of this city has completely changed. In the three weeks we've been back, I've been on a yacht cruise with a friend from home that left from Wall Street, to the Brooklyn Bridge for dinner with Ben's dad, Tom, all over the Upper West and East Sides to hang out with friends, Harlem to meet with a florist, and Brooklyn to eat dinner with family. NYC is now my oyster ;)

So yes--everything feels the same but I am slightly different ;)

PS My former roommate and his fiance are both children of Chinese immigrants and tested our Mandarin knowledge at the birthday party. Alison did amazingly ;)

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Top Pictures!

Adam and I decided to create a sort of photo gallery on a wall of our apartment with our favorite pictures from this year, so we have been poring over them to decide what we like best. Of course I just had to share...(this will probably be long, but the pictures are awesome!). I can't wait to put them up!
And there you have it! (Favorites of us to come...). There are obviously many more pictures--any favorites from reading our blog all year? 

Friday, June 10, 2011

Have I become a Beijinger?

Today, Alison and I went to Macy's. Before China, going downtown on a single subway line downtown to Trader Joes was an ordeal for me--the subway took forever, it was packed, and Trader Joes was too much to deal with--so I was preparing myself for what I assumed would be a horrific experience, particularly since today was 95 degrees, we had to transfer subway lines, and kitchen ware is my personal nightmare.

We walked out of the apartment, got to the subway, waited three minutes for an air-conditioned train, walked 2 minutes to transfer lines, and sat both on both trains. 20 minutes later we arrived at our destination. (Keep in mind that in Beijing, 20 minutes was how long it took to get from locking the door to boarding a bus, so this trip felt like it happened in a blink of an eye.) On the way back, it was much more crowded so we had to stand on the trains. But no one was touching us, the train was still air-conditioned, people were very polite getting off and on at each stop, and no one was screaming into a cell phone. It was one of the most peaceful experiences in public transportation I've had in a year!

The icing on the cake of a wonderful day together (those zappy things made registering really fun...until I had to excuse myself when Alison was drooling over KitchenAids) was that we stumbled upon this Chinese antique store relatively close to our new apartment. The owner ignored us when we walked in, and we browsed beautiful antiques with well-documented authentication cards from Chinese and American experts. On the way out, we asked him how he managed to obtain Chinese antiques from as early as 500 CE considering export laws ban anything from leaving China if it was made before 1800. I guess he realized we knew what we were talking about or something, because we started chatting about Chinese antiques, Beijing, etc. Turns out, he's created a lucrative business by buying Chinese antiques from Americans (after proving they're legit) and then selling them to mainland Chinese for 10x more than he bought it. In essence, he plays directly into Chinese nationalism, as one manifestation of patriotism is purchasing "plundered" Chinese antiques to return them to China. Long story short, we made a friend and he offered to take us to his warehouse to show us his merchandise...and most excitingly, he also does antique furniture, which we decided not to buy while in China, as we knew we would get ripped off. (see, things work out!)

Another highlight was asking the lady at Macy's to see their selection of silk rugs. We had no intention of buying anything, but we wanted to compare prices as we bought one from the silk-rug factory in Xinjiang last October. She looked at us with disdain written on her face and said in a thick Jersey accent, "Real silk rugs start at $30,000. Are you sure?" And we laughed about what a great deal we got and walked away. Typing this now is actually really sad: one rug sells at Macy's for more than what the rug makers earn in their entire lives.

Over the next week or so, we'll be blogging more frequently about leaving Beijing, arriving in NYC before wrapping up the blog. I can't believe it's been 10 months since we left NYC! Feels like it was a dream.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Top Lists

Now that we've had a bit of time in America, we're ready for Top 10 (or 5 or 8 or anything in between!) lists about China. Here goes...

Craziest Foods We Tried:
7. Fish cheeks
6. Duck blood tofu (very popular in hot pot)
5. Lamb heart [kebabs]
4. Mule [tacos]
3. Pig skin jelly
2. Pig's ear (accidental order and unpleasant discovery a few weeks ago...)
1. Duck neck

Things We Miss:
12. Massages
11. Having a washing machine in our apartment
10. Street food
9. Getting away with things we could not get away with in America (being visibly foreign does have its advantages!)
8. Low prices of basically everything
7. Hopping into cabs when we don't feel like taking the subway...and it costing $3
6. No tips. Ever.
5. Waking up to lots of emails from home (and getting rid of those pesky listserve and advertisement emails all at once)
4. Availability and cost of fresh produce
3. The ability to just pick up and travel to a new, exciting place
2. My students making me smile and laugh
1. The amount of time we get to spend together (which we still get to do until July 5th!)

Things We Do Not Miss:
10. The constant communication challenge
9. Not really knowing what's going on. Ever.
8. Pollution (people pollution, noise pollution, cigarette pollution, air pollution, etc.)
7. Creepy men at the gym
6. Walking 15+ minutes to the bus and subway
5. Fearing for our lives when crossing the street
4. Cigarettes
3. Things never going the way they are supposed to (while we're used to's enough already!)
2. Subway line 1 (my commute and the most crowded, sweaty place in Beijing. Ugh.)
1. Have I mentioned pollution and cigarettes?

Things We Enjoy in America:
10. Our gorgeous apartment
9. Fast internet
8. Free use of our cell phones (for calls other than each other)
7. The variety of food at our disposal
6. New York City
5. Being able to communicate exactly what we want in a store, restaurant, etc.
4. Brunch!
3. Having social lives
2. Pedestrians have the right of way (no more "No dying in China!")
1. Seeing friends and family

While we both miss some things about China, it feels like we never left. But it's definitely good to be home :)