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Chris Erway's Experience
  • 12/10/2000: packing up and getting ready to go
  • 12/14/2000: eating DOG DOG DOG DOG DOG
  • 12/17/2000: beijing jazz, american students, tourist stops reviewed (great wall!)
  • 12/18/2000: buying a horn, pretending to be chinese
  • 12/19/2000: skating on thin ice at the summer palace
  • 12/21/2000: sick, beijing jazz jam session
  • 12/23/2000: still sick, mcdonald's
  • 12/27/2000: chinese christmas, shanghai first impressions
  • 12/29/2000: i DON'T look like terry lin, okay?
  • 1/4/2001: five-day roundup:
  • 1/7/2001: beijing roundup
  • 1/11/2001: new jersey. jetlag. home!

    cast: i just realized i've been mentioning all these people without explaining who they are.

    • samson and jeremy my traveling buddies. we were classmates over summer 2000 in the chinese FALCON intensive mandarin program. they're still in the program (full-year), but i'm now just a regular undergrad again and taking one-hour-a-day chinese instead of 3871035-hours-a-day chinese like them.
    • wang laoshi one of our FALCON teachers that summer, on loan for a couple years from qinghua (tsinghua) university's IUP program. ("laoshi" means "teacher.") found us our hotel in beijing and was a great friend as she helped us see the city. (and the great wall. that's really nice.) also extremely patient to our dinner-table antics.
    • waley runs waley's bar at the jinghua hotel in beijing, which has some reputation as beijing's cheapest (but still nice-n-clean) backpacker hotel. met her on the train to shanghai (with dutch boyfriend robert and english girl jenny). she's the nicest person ever.
    • me eurasian/hapa/chonky fool who had deluded notions about world travel as a panacea for typical college-student depression and "i want to get out of upstate new york"-ness.

    Thursday, January 11, 2001, 4:50pm

    new jersey. jetlag. home!

    try to wrap your head around this one: on wednesday in beijing i board a plane leaving at 6:05pm for new york. what seems like a day later, i arrive at jfk airport, new york, but it's still wednesday night, now only four hours later, 10:15pm. i still haven't figured it out, and all i know is i only slept an hour last night, finally falling asleep this morning, around 9am or so (10pm beijing time). such is the magical time-traveling nature of airplanes, i guess.

    in any case, i'm back now, and america is GREAT. there was a water fountain in the airport in vancouver (air canada had us switch planes). a WATER FOUNTAIN! you know, one of those things from which you drink tap water, unboiled, unbottled? i know this doesn't seem amazing to most of you, but after a month in china, drinking water straight from the tap was so luxuriously, refreshingly "first-world" -- it just screamed "welcome to a developed country." similarly refreshing was the price of my orange juice from the airport starbucks ($3.50 USD!). that's 28 RMB! for that much i could buy a delicious dumpling-and-dog dinner, a taxi ride home, and maybe even the taxi, too! oh well -- that's america, i guess. thank goodness for that little plastic "worry-about-it-later" card in my wallet.

    so our last few days in beijing were pretty tame. the snow stopped, but slush and ice stayed and slowed traffic somewhat. revisited all the markets and picked up some more gifts; loaded up on mao lighters (the ultimate "back from china" gift). jeremy and samson had some visa trouble: they arrived in beijing a day earlier than i did, and thus were leaving china on their 31st day here -- perhaps posing a problem with their 30-day travel visas? the police gave samson the following very confident response: "uhh ... keneng ... yingai meiyou wenti." ("probably ... shouldn't be a problem.") oy!

    sunday night i crashed the jazz jam session at the "big easy" for the last time. it was great -- sunday night was jazz night, meaning i didn't have to wait through playing backups to r&b and soul songs before we could play a jazz tune. half of the "beijing jazz scene" (which itself, as my friend atsushi the saxophone player estimated, numbers about 15 people) showed up and amazed me by, uhm, playing really well. ridiculously well, considering that they all just learned from listening to CD's. a chinese girl got up to sing a few, and i'll admit i was a little skeptical of how she'd sound, but when she opened her mouth, she WAS billie holiday. i mean, yeah, wow, billie holiday. we all stayed up until the bar closed at around 2am and played real book tunes. i learned how to say "trade fours" in chinese (huan4 si4). a good time was had by all.

    on monday and tuesday, hung out at the foreign student dorm with some "study abroad" kids at renmin daxue (beijing people's university). they were mostly brits and europeans (the UK is NOT part of europe, as i was politely informed), all undergrads, spending a year abroad purportedly "studying chinese." however, their courseload is relatively light (about two morning classes a day), leaving them plenty of time to -- well, hang out with other english speakers, watch movies (VCD's) all day, nap, go out to the expat bars, and forget their chinese, i guess. it reminded me a lot of my freshman dorm, except for the part about being in china. it seems like they're having fun, though, and now i'm going over my schedule yet again try to see if i can fit in study abroad next fall.

    wednesday i said goodbye to most of my new friends in beijing -- waley, of course, who still was showing us too much of her chinese generosity (bought us all goodbye presents and gave samson a bottle of jack daniel's "for the plane"), and sachi, the cute half-asian british girl at renmin daxue i met. i lugged my two bags (one with a chinese trombone tied on top) to the taxi, then through the airport, checked them (trombone and all), and boarded the plane.

    on the plane i found myself sitting next to wang kuan, a 17-year-old from harbin soon to be a student at the university of new brunswick (new brunswick, canada). he had never been on a plane before, and, needless to say, had never left the country before. i don't think he'd even left harbin that much before. but he and two other students were going from harbin to new brunswick to study. he wanted to major in computer science but had never studied it before. i told him i was studying computer science as well. "is it hard?" he asked me.

    he was pretty, well, young, i guess -- i know i'm 20 and writing this, but trust me, wang kuan was still quite young yet. the best part was when our meal arrived -- chinese food (rice, chicken, mushrooms, vegetables) but with western utensils, a salad, and a desert! wang took out his utensils, looked at his food, looked at me, and asked, "how do i use these?" i sort of thought he was joking, and laughed. he continued. "i've never used a fork and knife before. can you teach me?"

    well, it was a fun flight. i taught wang some of the more important points of eating in western culture -- starting with which hand holds the fork; which holds the knife; which side is "up" on the fork; etc. then i continued on to finer points, like: desert comes last; eat your salad before or along with your main course; you don't have to finish EVERYTHING if you don't like it or are full. i also filled in some spots in his vocabularly, teaching him a few words for things that would be pretty important once he got to canada: like "fork" and "toilet," for example.

    wang kuan was a nice guy though, he was just really nervous to leave his family for four years. he opened a suitcase and showed me a map of canada he'd brought. "in case i get lost," he said (joked?). the school he was staying at was all the way in the east, just above maine. he had two more planes to catch after we landed in vancouver. i assume he's been in canada for a day now. i hope he's doing okay. he's got other chinese friends there, so i guess he'll manage. it's bad enough being a freshman, but being a freshman from overseas in a whole new continent where he'd only just the day before learned how to use a (and say) "fork"? wow. brave kid, i guess.

    the plane pulled into jfk, my parents picked me up, and in an hour or so i was finally back in new jersey, the greatest place in the world, eating bowl after bowl of french onion soup my father made. then i had a couple bagels just to remind myself i was in america.

    which means, i guess, that my little odyssey has come to an end. i'm not in china anymore, i'm pretty sure: i just checked, looked out the window and didn't spot a single bicycle, street vendor, or mao portrait. i assume this is the part where i'm supposed to draw some conclusions from all this traveling, but i don't think i can make any broad generalizations about china, given how little i've seen and how short a time i was there.

    all i can say to sum up is: uhm, china was great. just about every person we met was friendly and (usually) helpful, and each day, each place we went revealed new beautiful, amazing, or just fun experiences. i guess you could say this about traveling in any foreign country, but china, i believe, is unique in that it was just, well, so ... uhm, different from anywhere i've been before. and also similar, too. both of them. yes.

    "different and similar." yep.

    woo-ee. well, it looks like maybe i'm getting a little too deep here, so i'll stop. thanks for reading; if you're still reading this now, why not let me know and write me a note welcoming me back and voicing your disgust at that animal i ate once? (clue: starts with "d", ends with "og".) i'm curious about who's reading and what they think.

    so that's all. no more china.

    until i go back, that is.

    Sunday, January 7, 2001, 7:45pm

    beijing roundup

    back safe and sound in beijing: land of the free, home of the brave. no, i'm sorry, i was thinking of NEW JERSEY. oops. let's try again: beijing, land of the 15RMB ($2 USD) dog dinner, home of the, uhh, "whopper." actually, i had a "big mac" for lunch yesterday and today; i'm getting my stomach ready to return home to america on wednesday. also, the mcdonald's is right next to our new hotel, so it's just too convenient. the grease draws me in and my american soul screams for the big mac "special sauce."

    anyhow, staying at the jinghua hotel, where our new friend waley (met her in shanghai) works as, uhm, bartender at the bar in the hotel here. the jinghua is dubbed the "beijing backpacker hotel" and it's always full of foreigners from all parts of the world. the bar is called "waley's bar" and waley serves as half hostess (but not THAT kind of hostess) and half "mother hen" to an ever-changing cast of cheap travelers looking to see china on $10 a day.

    i guess i need to do another roundup. this one will be shorter.

    Thursday, January 4, 2001, 6:30pm


    hello all. apologies for not having posted for almost a week, but i've been really busy lately. two planes, a lot of minibuses, a bicycle rickshaw, and a mountain later, i'm finally in a city with internet access: xi'an. i'll recap.

    Friday, December 29, 2000, 7:50pm

    i DON'T look like terry lin, okay?

    well, still in shanghai. today we went to the top of the pearl tower, which is a big space needle / CN tower type thing. the view further convinced me that shanghai is NOT china, it's been transplanted from someplace in america.

    not much else to say this time around, except they think i look like this taiwanese pop star Terry Lin (Lin Zhe Xuen) here. i'll admit there's a LITTLE similarity but my friends have been bugging me about it ever since. last night we went out to a restaurant, and they asked the waitress, "can't you see you've got a superstar eating here? that's terry lin!" they all giggled and for the rest of the night the entire wait staff kept peeking in on us and catching glances because the guys made up some story about me being his brother. they knew i wasn't his brother, obviously, but then one of the waitresses came in and blurted out: "we all think he's cuter than terry lin!" very embarrassing.

    like the great friends they are, they bought me one of his CD's, so next time i find a CD player i'll hear what kind of music he sings. i suspect it's mostly 80's-style love ballads (still insanely popular in china), which would be too bad for his reputation, since i'm planning to come back to china with a punk band and pursue rockstardom. unfortunately, having the CD around means that my friends now take every chance they get to take it out and show the album cover to people we meet: "he looks like terry lin, don't you think? how about giving us a discount, he's a star!" or "don't tell anyone, but he's terry's secret half-brother!" embarrass-o-rama.

    here are some terry lin photos. here are some more from the sony music taiwan site. see for yourself, i guess.

    tomorrow i'm going to go to suzhou for the day, and then return to shanghai for new years. after that maybe huang shan (yellow mountain) and xi'an. hopefully i'll get to see more of china than just to cities before i leave.

    bonus new: here's an email i sent from shanghai around this time, written to the hapa issues forum (HIF) email list. "hapa" means half-asian, and the HIF is the only national organization for "asians of mixed heritage" (which is what they call it). if this all sounds silly to you, don't worry, i agree with you. however, the HIF email list is a nice place to discuss "being mixed," so that's why i joined. so here's the email:

    Date: Fri, 29 Dec 2000 06:51:14 -0500 (EST)
    From: c. chris erway <>
    Subject: Re: [hapa-list] Re: Feeling close to strangers
    On Sat, 23 Dec 2000, Jonah Ewell wrote:
    > On Sat, 23 Dec 2000, c. chris erway wrote: 
    > >> this beijing place is great.  they love hapas here.  everyone on 
    > >> this list could come here and become pop stars.  that's my new plan, 
    > >> anyway.
    > Dude, I am SO there!
    seriously.  everyone, i know this sounds weird, but hapas are beautiful here.  i didn't believe it before i left -- a few of my chinese friends said that they would think i was cute, but i thought they were ridiculous -- but when i got here it's been, well, really DIFFERENT.
    i don't know about everyone else, but in the states i'm just another guy and usually people assume i'm white.  here people have mistaken me for all-white, all-chinese, japanese, korean, "hong kong person," taiwanese, all sorts of things, which is part of the fun too.  but the best part is that i'm *attractive* here.  and that's never happened to me before.
    there's a pop star i'm supposed to look like they have here, some guy named "terry lin."  now the guys i'm traveling with like to annoy me by asking our waitresses or young people we meet "do you konw we're traveling with a superstar?  that's lin zhe xuen (terry lin)!"  they did this last night at a restaurant and all the waitresses giggled and said "oh, he does!  he's even cuter than lin zhe xuen!"  then from then on, all the waitresses kept coming by our table, peeking at me, and giggling.  it was really embarrassing.
    at clubs girls give me googly eyes.  i've never received googly eyes. it's crazy!  points and giggles!  and in the states i'm just goofy, funny-lookin' and too-tall too-skinny!  it's too much for me.
    so to all you hapas who thought you weren't cute, come to china. seriously.  it's very strange at first, but they will think you're handsome/pretty!  it's changed the way i think about my appearance
    completely.  hapa guys especially, whom i think get a bad rap in the states -- hapa girls are beautiful in all countries, but hapa guys, i think, aren't considered that attractive in america.
    a friend of mine from thailand says there are a bunch of pop stars (my going rough measure of what a culture considers beautiful) who are half-thai there.  same goes for phillipines, and most of the MTV asia VJ cast is supposed to be hapa.
    someone here told me about a hapa from america who is a pop star now in china.  she told me he was studying music, went to america to become an opera singer, and came back to become a chinese pop star.  his mother is from shanghai and father is american.  anyone know who this is?
    so guys, get to asia and see for yourselves.  and if you've got time, study some chinese and write some songs!  that's my current goal-of-the-moment :>
    but the most depressing part is having to go home in two weeks and being goofy again.  sigh.  my confidence might be a little better though.  and i can always study abroad! :>
    (oh, and i'm still writing my china travelogue at   -- check it out if you're interested.)
     .g$$g, c. chris erway          .g$$g, cornell university
     $$$$$$        $$$$$$ class of 2002, a&s
     `S$$S'  `S$$S' comp sci & music major

    Wednesday, December 27, 2000, 6:20pm

    chinese christmas, shanghai first impressions

    a belated holiday greetings to all from shanghai, where i've been since tuesday. christmas day was spent in transit, on a sleeper train from beijing to shanghai, beds stacked three bunks high in sardine fashion. merry christmas! on the train we met some other english-speakers -- jennifer from london, robert from amsterdam, and waley from beijing -- and made friends.

    on their suggestion we decided to stay at the pujiang hotel in shanghai, formerly the "astor hotel," shanghai's first western hotel. it's an old victorian-style building, but very cheap and caters mostly to the backpacker crowd. lots of westerners, far more than we'd seen in beijing, where we were staying in the student district and met mostly chinese college students and american study-abroad undergrads at the student bars there.

    in that sense it's very different hanging out with the three of them -- jennifer and robert don't speak any chinese, so we go out mostly looking for other westerners, and are making friends with expats and backpackers. this is in stark contrast with what we were doing in beijing, which was meeting and talking to chinese kids, mostly in chinese (though they very often want to practice their english, and we oblige), and getting a more "cultural" experience -- perhaps? not speaking chinese and talking to locals seems a little snobbier somehow, making me feel more like a typical western 20something traveler rather than a student wanting to practice his chinese, which is what the three of us were doing in beijing.

    nevertheless, our new more western approach seems to fit in right here in shanghai, which is hard for me to believe is a chinese city. shanghai, if you removed all the chinese-lettered signs everywhere, could pass as any modern metropolitan city, replete with skyscrapers, fast highways, fancy stores, and starbuckses on every other corner. impressive 1920's art deco style buildings line up in the western district, left over from the days of european control, reminding me again of new york.

    so i've only had 24 hours in shanghai so far, but let's see what we've done. upon getting here we walked around the european district and looked in a few shops. while walking down the street a beggar woman tried to talk to samson, and when he ignored her, she said something like "you don't talk to me, i take off my pants for you" and promptly took off her pants, squatted, and shat right on the sidewalk there. we spent most of the evening in a seedy hippie-themed "woodstock bar," with blacklights and pictures of jimi hendrix and other hippie legends on the walls. pretty boring until we realized most of the women were, well, professionals, and we did our best to ignore them (although jeremy told one of the ladies she's have to pay HIM for an evening) as a group of fat, balding western men came in and started dancing with the ladies. we rang up quite a tab, though -- these shanghai bars are a lot more expensive than the beijing student bars we'd been visiting before.

    i'll close with my chinese christmas eve. in beijing and shanghai, christmas trees, santas, and garlands are pretty popular in stores and restaurants, but the holiday isn't a religious one or even really a gift-giving one. it's mostly just another new year's eve -- a party on christmas even, and business as usual the next day. so while most of you were sleeping with visions of sugarplums dancing in your heads, samson, jeremy and i went out to a beijing student club "solutions" for their 10RMB-per-drink ($1.25 USD) christmas party! samson wasn't feeling too well and went home to sleep early, as the evening before he had had a few too many, and danced the night away mainly with chinese guys (not uncommon, and not a "gay thing" in china) on account of all the girls being taken by their jealous boyfriends. so jeremy and i stuck around and a good time was had by all. christmas day was spent sleeping in and recovering, and then packing and getting on the train.

    once again, merry christmas from shanghai to all! i'll fill in with more later once i've seen more of shanghai.

    Saturday, December 23, 2000, 11:30pm

    still sick, mcdonald's

    this country seems to have taken its toll on me. i'm still sick. friday afternoon was spent napping; friday night i was running a slight fever and left the guys and our teacher early to go back to the hotel and sleep. i had a bad sore throat (that hasn't gone away yet) and some cold symptoms (mostly went away) and a little fever (completely went away). so hopefully i'm on the comeback.

    needless to say, i didn't do much interesting friday or today (saturday). went out with wang laoshi (our only friend in beijing, our chinese teacher from last summer) to eat both nights. tonight we had mongolian hotpot, which is a gas-fueled boiling pot of seasoned broth placed on your table with raw thinly-sliced meat and vegetables served on separate plates. you're supposed to stick the ingredients in the hotpot, and they come out cooked and seasoned in half a minute's time. very tasty. need to find this in the states.

    yesterday we tried to go see some famous temples (tibetan lama temple, confucian temple), but they closed a 4pm and we didn't get there in time. so we changed our mission and looked for a KFC instead, which is almost like a temple -- there's an idol (all the KFC's in china have a statue of the colonel by the front door) and a sacramental titlear (counter) over which a sacrifice is made (payment) and generous bounty is handed down by the gods (fried chicken). unfortunately, we couldn't find a KFC in the area, instead we found a lot of depressing beijing ghetto. oh well.

    today, however, our luck changed. on the way to the bank to change more money (this monopoly money spends real fast here) we ran across a MCDONALD'S. needless to say we ate our lunch there. apparently it's mcdonald's is very popular here: the place was so full of people that after getting our food we had to wait around for 15 minutes or so before we could find a table. not only that, the place wasn't a tourist trap: we were the only americans in sight -- everyone else was chinese! but it didn't matter -- the meal was glorious. i never was crazy about mcdonald's in the states, but while eating my burger and fries i found myself satisfying a certain hunger i never knew i had before. i felt ... well, full, for the first time since coming to beijing. full of greasy american food. and, my friends, it was WONDERFUL. never have i been so happy.

    tomorrow is christmas eve. hopefully i'll be doing something interesting then. i gotta get hetitlehy now. time for more cold medicine and tea!

    Thursday, December 21, 2000, 11:15am

    sick, beijing jazz jam session!

    the past couple of days i've been feeling a bit under the weather. beijing has the worst air pollution i've ever seen -- they say that living in beijing is like smoking two packs a day. it's worse in the winter -- everyone burns coal here -- and most days the smog is visible as a grayish haze blanketing the city.

    i've got a bit of a sore throat and a cold. samson started taking antibiotics yesterday -- he says it's too easy to catch strep throat or some sort of lung infection here. as for food poisoning, i'm taking these chinese magic pills that are supposed to keep my stomach safe from bacteria, and they seem to be working pretty well. dayquil and vitamin c for everything else.

    tuesday night i crashed a friend's gig at the big easy, a new orleans-themed bar. we played mostly blues and r&b songs, backing up the singer, who's african-american and from chicago (or detroit?), but spends six months in beijing and six months in singapore each year, singing five nights out of the week. crazy gig!

    around 1:30am she sang her last set and we had a little impromptu jam session right on the bandstand. we were playing from the real book, which is apparently is just as popular in china as it is in america. some of the musicians didn't have such a good command of english, so whenever someone called a song, they used the page number rather than the english name! so instead of saying "anthropology," all i had to say was "number 67" and they all nodded their heads and knew the song immediately! pretty funny. we started out with "all the things you are," which the piano player picked and did a great job on. i suggested "anthropology" next because i wanted to play some easy rhythm changes. an adventurous saxophonist called a hard coltrane tune, the name of which escapes me now, and i got pretty lost. to make up for it i called the fun-n-easy "blues for alice" and everyone had a good solo.

    what impressed me was that the players were all very good, and the quality was better than many of the open jams i've played in the states! the rhythm section was solid, and the soloists were coming up with great lines and sounding great. i asked my friend where they learned to play jazz. "just from listening to CD's," he responded. "they don't teach jazz here." that was pretty amazing to me; these guys were better than many of the players i've heard in the states with many years of "jazz education" behind their belts. the trombone player gave me his phone number in case i wanted to meet him sometime to trade technique, hints, etc.

    when we were done, it was 2:15 on a tuesday night and the bar was empty except for us and the staff, who really wanted us to leave. all in all a fun night, but i felt like i might've overstayed my welcome since i played with them all night and they already have a trombone player. i wanted to go to a different jam session at another club, the cd cafe, but when i showed up there i found it'd been bought out recently by new owners who were bringing in punk rock acts from around china. pretty drastic change, since it's still in listed in most tourist guidebooks as the best jazz club in beijing. i'll need to come back dressed as a punk rawker and check that scene out, too.

    wednesday didn't do much, just browsed the clothing markets on sanlitun. all the rip-off name brands you'd ever want to buy, some better copied than others. i wanted to buy some pants that had armani labels on the back and nautica buttons on the front just for laughs, but the guy wanted too much for them. i got a sweater and some corduroys instead. nice place.

    hopefully i'll be feeling better this afternoon and do some more stuff. or i could just waste another day and sleep off this cold. we need to buy train tickets to shanghai (going monday) and plane tickets for xi'an, so we'll probably do that today. stay tuned!

    Tuesday, December 19, 2000, 7:20pm

    skating on thin ice at the summer palace

    today we went to the summer palace, a huge park around a lake with a palace by the water. it's also famous for the "17 arch bridge" leading from the shore to an island temple. all very beautiful, but as a dutch student we met there said, "once you've seen one, you've seen them all, yes?" so to my untrained eye this was basically the forbidden city or the heavenly temple built around a lake. mostly the same stuff.

    the fun started when we saw men on the ice pushing sleds around the lake. i figured at first they were just having fun, despite the big signs everywhere asking us to PLEASE DO NOT STEP ON THE ICE: VIOLATORS WILL BE RUN OVER BY TANKS. when we reached the island temple, though, they called to us from the ice: "hello! hello! do you want a ride across? hello!"

    well, the ice seemed pretty thin, and there were parts that definitely weren't all that frozen. we asked them about the whole safety issue, and they of course responded, "oh, it's very safe! don't worry!" the whole legality issue was a worry, also -- especially the whole "getting crushed by tanks" thing -- so we asked them if the police would mind very much our getting out on the ice? "oh, don't worry! no matter, it's okay!"

    well, their sales pitch sold us. it was easy to tell that these very reputable and eager gentlemen simply wanted to offer us a fun and exciting experience at a reasonable price! surely they had some sort of permit to operate the sleds on the lake, or they certainly wouldn't have been there in the first place, right? we negotiated a price -- 20 yuan titleogether -- and climbed over a fence and down to the ice. the cracking sounds we heard when we got down there, the men assured us, were perfectly normal. we sat down on what looked like a metal two-step stepladder welded to some handles, and the men, on ice skates, began pushing us across the lake.

    it was all very exciting and by the time we reached the other side, we were so impressed with these fine, enterprising young gentlemen that we decided we were wrong when we said 20 yuan titleogether, we meant 20 yuan EACH! i'm sure it was just a simple mistake when he gave us back 30 yuan change instead of 40, but we didn't notice his error until later. what we were more concerned with was the situation developing on the shore.

    we had arrived right in front of the main palace, and while we were still on the ice, a crowd of gawking chinese tourists and interested policemen was rapidly growing on the shore. the presence of authority (presumably with the ability to call whole battalions of tanks into the park in the blink of an eye) seemed to irk our newly-made friends with the ice skates, many of whom began to leave. we quickly realized we wouldn't be going back to shore on this bank, and with luck some of the men agreed to push us across to a more remote location where we could sneak off. we agreed this would probably be best, and we got back on the two sleds (one of our friends had fled already, so samson and i shared a sled) and made off like bandits.

    along the way i asked our friend why he was so afraid of the police. "they want a cut -- they want a bribe," he told us. "but we won't give them any money, so they chase us." that made me feel a little guilty right there -- all this trouble, the possibility of arrest, for just 70 yuan (less than $10)! and only three of them made the money -- while probably 15 other men waited around for other customers.

    once we arrived, we got on land as quick as possible and assumed our "dumb americans who didn't know we were doing anything wrong" positions. a white van sped into the area 30 seconds later, and some menacing-looking men got out and began to chase after our friends. they ran off as fast as they could, some escaping on ice, some on land, throwing away their sleds to hasten their way. jeremy, samson, and i simply walked off the scene and out the nearest exit; it seemed the police weren't interested in us.

    we went back to town in high spirits, ordering a feast -- a whole fish in bean sauce, a giant leg of lamb mongolian-style with sesame seeds and fennel, sliced up, some bok choy, and a couple bottles of erguotou -- for 48 yuan ($6)! i love this country.

    gotta run. stay tuned for more!

    Monday, December 18, 2000, 5:30pm

    buying a horn, pretending to be chinese

    i'm waiting again in the "feiyu" internet access center here by beijing university for my mail to load up. it seems all the middle school kids just got out of school and now they're all sitting at rows and rows of computers chatting it up on some chinese webchat site. so i guess beijing's youths are pretty quickly adopting the internet's biggest time-waster. that'll come in good use when they get to college.

    today i went out by myself and bought a trombone. jeremy and samson were busy getting haircuts so i caught a cab to xinjiekou street, where a friend told me i could find music stores, and comparison-shopped and haggled like the best of them. i got a horn for 650 yuan (that's about $80 USD) and it plays okay. now i've got to go to some clubs and show these kids a thing or two.

    while i was walking around today i realized something: no one was staring at me. it's not something you'd notice in the states, of course, but walking around beijing with samson and jeremy had gotten me accustomed to people pointing at us, staring at us, or calling us "laowai" (foreigner). it's actually pretty funny when they realize we know enough chinese to understand they're talking about us (that is, we're not complete american idiots) and they're usually impressed we can speak a little chinese. but today while walking around, i realized -- no one was staring! pretty strange, right?

    that's when i realized i'm "chinese enough" to sneak by these people without that whole "dumb honky" baggage thing. that is, until i open my mouth -- then they realize i'm a foreigner and suddenly everything changes. that moment sucks. not being a native speaker is a tough break. being here really has given me a little more motivation to study my chinese a little harder.

    the people here taught me a new phrase: hun4xue3er2, or "mixed blood child". that's all i need to say to explain to them what my ethnicity is -- apparently they all know the phrase and the conversation usually goes like this:

    "where are you from?" (looking confused that i can't speak chinese that well)
    "i'm meiguoren (american)."
    (still confused) "you look a little chinese to me, are you ABC?"
    "no, i'm hunxue'er."
    "OHHH!!! hunxue'er! (smiling now) oh, hunxue'er dou hen congming! ye hen piaoliang." [translation: hunxue'er are all very intelligent, and beautiful.]

    so suffice to say it's been pretty weird getting that reaction from everyone here. flattering, but definitely off-putting, since in reality i'm an ugly dumb-ass. good thing they don't know that.

    okay, well, it's time for me to run again. tune in next time for the what's-my-ethnicity roundup, and more about china and less about my stupid identity crisis issues. :>

    Sunday, December 17, 2000

    beijing jazz, american students, tourist stops reviewed (plus the great wall!)

    once again, sitting in an internet cafe waiting for my email to load. it seems like someone must've stepped on the only outgoing wire from china to the usa, and now only chinese-based webpages load. oh well.

    so, what did i do? okay, friday night we went out to a bar called "the big easy" with a new orleans theme. it was mostly all middle-aged foreigners, except, of course, for their 20-year-old chinese "dates." very depressing. the exciting part was that the sax player in the band that night was a friend of a friend; i got to get up, borrow a trombone, and play a couple of blues tunes with the bnd! it was fun, and i might go back tonight or sometime during the week to play if i can find a trombone. apparently there's a bit of a jazz scene here in beijing, and ever since i got here i've been missing playing a LOT. i had a couple dreams about playing, so it's getting pretty serious. i might buy a trombone tomorrow ...

    what else. so after that i went to a club called "solutions" where all the foreign students hang out. it was great, i got along well with a girl from fordham (?) university studying abroad this semester, but she's leaving to go home monday. because apparently i found my "niche" -- girls there who like chinese guys, but find the language/culture barrier to be too much. so maybe i'll see how that goes.

    the weirdest part is, the fordham girl thought i was chinese at first! it was a little strange. me: "hi." her: "hi, wo jiao sarah." like i didn't speak english! wow. so if she was willing to speak to a total stranger chinese guy who didn't speak any english, my guess is being able to speak english was a definite plus. so i'm going to investigate that department and see what the foreign student crowd is like.

    let's have a quick rundown of all the touristy places i've seen so far.

    • forbidden city really beautiful, but after a while it seemed like door after door and throne room after throne room going on forever. i mean, does the emperor really need that many places in which to sit down?
    • great wall uhm. uhm. WOW. yeah. as mao zedong said, "bu dao chang cheng, fei hao han!" or "if you haven't been to the great wall, you're not a good chinese person!" so i went to the simatai great wall, one of the oldest sites (many sites have had cosmetic repairs recently) and supposed to be pretty dangerous, too. the stairs were really steep and at all sorts of odd angles and widths. i was well equipped -- wearing my vans -- so i managed to make it up the steep mountain passes and scary drop-off cliffs with no problem. one of us (i won't mention who, but it wasn't me) had a little problem coping with the vertigo, though, and started grabbing the wall, not letting go and decided to turn back. jeremy and i pressed forward, climbing six of the towers until we got tired and the stairs changed to just stones arranged on the ground. but the view was magnificent. i can't believe they built it -- instead of going through the valley, it's built right on the top of the mountain, always along the highest part. they were crazy. if it had been my gig, i would have cut right through the valley. would have been a lot easier that way.
    • beihai and baita (the white pagoda) this is a pretty park. yay. baita is nice too, but there were three tickets (one for beihai park, one to climb the stairs to go up to the pagoda, and then another ticket to go and climb up and look in the pagoda) just to get to the thing, which was a little sad. these communists are learning capitalism too well -- all they want is money now. hmmph. nice pagoda, though. i've always wanted to say that: "nice pagoda," but i never had the chance to go to a pagoda. yay.
    • tiantan (heavenly temple) more doors and thrones. had this cool spot you could stand in and have your voice amplified magically; also an echo wall where you could hear someone talking all the way at the other end of the wall. problem is, i think they had the wall tuned to the wrong station, it was all in chinese and i couldn't understand it. oh well.
    • panjiayuan (dirt market) real cool, lots of cheap chinese stuff. you have to haggle for everything here -- we haggled down from 180 yuan to 30 yuan, and i got something down from 80 yuan to 10 yuan. that was pretty fun. the hard part is finding something here that i can give my mother (she's chinese) that isn't culturally condescending. like, "here's a stupid chinese-looking coin purse, mom." or "here's a little buddha statue" to my chinese buddhist uncle. no good, right?
    • tiananmen square cool. a big door. no tanks though.

    okay, as usual, time's short and i'll finish this later.

    Thursday, December 14, 2000 7:45pm


    [ed. note (okay, just me, how silly): arrived in china on tuesday dec. 12. this first "from-china" journal entry was thrown together real quickly because i didn't have much time, so pardon the quality of the writing...]

    I'm sitting in an internet access place in china right now. pardon the lack of caps and bad spelling -- i will correct this later -- but the connection is too slow to correct myself as i type. anyhow.

    the last few days have been "culture shock" city for me, i guess. at first it didn't seem like such a gbig deal -- the taxi ride from the airport felt like driving through new york city's chinatown more than anything else -- but the differences really started to stand out once, uhm, i got out of my hotel room and looked outside and realized this is CHINA. DAMN.

    WARNING: this communicade may contain objectionable material about certain subjects such as EATING DOG. please use discretion accordingly.

    okay, first you might be thinking, "no, he wouldn't really be eating dog, would he?" which is what i was figuring when i got here, too.

    but, well, uhm, things changed. i guess. i can't explain it myself. it just HAPPENED.

    so, uhm ... right. so we're sitting in a little restaurant and we ask the waitress what she'd suggest. she first says, "oh, this pork dish is good (pork bones. hmm.) ... oh, and the DOG!" except she didn't capitalize dog like i just did, she said it like it was the most normal thing in the world. like it was OKAY for her to eat POOR LITTLE DOGGIES every day. but anyhow. so one of my travelmates says, "uhm, okay, that sounds good too.." and it was a done deal.

    so the dog arrives. you'd expect maybe they'd try to dress it up a bit, to hide the fact that's it's DOG MEAT, but NO. it's a pile of meat and bones, staring us right in the face. ribs mostly. DOG RIBS. okay? no garnish, no vegetables, no sauce, just DOGS. actually, there was a sort of dipping sauce on the side -- aparently the idea is to dip the dog meat in there.

    dog RIBS. RIBS RIBS RIBS. the saddest little skinny puppy ribs you ever saw!

    okay. so samson takes the first bite ... "not bad..."

    jeremy next. "hmm, surprisingly good ..."

    me next. "surprisingly ... delcious!"


    so recently i've been doing what any man in my circumstance would do, which is reevaluating my life and trying to figure out what string of bizzarre events led me up to this point. i'm struggling with some deep philosophical issues here.

    i'll write more later. we've got to go, and the internet access here is pretty slow. okay, dreadfully slow, i'm pretty sure it's the 30 of us all sharing one modem. so i'll check in later.

    Sunday, December 10, 2000 10:30am

    packing up and getting ready to go

    I'm packing and getting ready to leave Ithaca right now. I was supposed to finish my Music 351 take-home final and leave last night, but somehow I couldn't stay awake to write a 12-tone flute/clarinet duet, or a 20-bar piano prelude, so I fell asleep. It's probably because of the all-nighter I pulled the night before studying for my music history and Chinese finals (the all-nighter worked great, though, thanks Amy!). So I'm going to bring the take-home with me to New Jersey and try to finish it up there.

    I'm leaving for New Jersey as soon as I'm done packing, then I'll leave for JFK at 4am Monday morning, and then after a nice 18-hour flight I'll be in Beijing! Great. Looks like I'm not sleeping until I get on the plane. Oh well. Wish me luck.

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