Sunday, December 24, 2006

my most recent discovery is that Chinese friends are awesome. Somehow, after living in Beijing for significant amounts of time twice before, I never really spent much time socializing with Chinese people. but lately, mostly through work-related activity, i've come to know some, and they can really be a lot of fun. my first new friend is named Dan-Dan, and she's my coworker at BOB. her english is really good because she spent a year living in Amsterdam, an experience that also I think opened her horizons and made her someone that I could actually be on the same level with. That isn't meant to sound insulting, but most Chinese people are really sheltered, and they always end up seeming younger than they are, so that generally talking to someone around 22 would feel like talking to a high school student. so Dan-Dan's english is good, but that doesn't mean that i won't be able to improve my chinese by being friends with her. i think its really important that a Chinese person speaks english in order to become actual friends with them, and then as you feel more comfortable with them you can speak more and more chinese. and its nice to be able to be like "what??" when i don't understand something, rather than just nod and feel confused the way i do with people who don't speak english. anyway, dan-dan works in my office so we go to lunch together and take the bus home in the evening. also, since my boss will be away for a week after I get back from India, we'll probably do a bunch of chilling in the office.
my second friend is the girl i tutor, Jenni. It's funny because i always call jenni a girl, but actually i think she's 37. but she is just the cutest person i've ever met. she's like five feet tall, and her english has reached the point where she can communicate anything, but it always comes out a little off. for instance she sent me a text recently after a ski trip she went on, all in caps because she's not used to texting english, that said "TEACHER- DUE TO TOO TIRED I WOULD LIKE TO CANCEL THIS WEEK CLASS" and basically she's just really sweet and scatterbrained. so after class yesterday she invited me to play badminton with her friends. She actually invites me every week, but this was the first time i didn't have a deathly hangover. so i went, and it was sooo much fun. i haven't played badminton since sophomore year in college (when i played on the varsity team despite lacking any talent at the sport), and its just a really fun game. i got to meet a lot of really nice taiwanese people who, again, are maybe more worldly than the mainland chinese. they also speak english pretty well, which is nice, and one guy even grew up in Queens and went to SUNY Buffalo. and after the game we all went out to eat, which was fun because i got to eat what chinese people order (though the taiwanese go a little heavy on the fish) and hang out with a cool group. they have a really great rapport with each other, and are also really friendly and willing to work english into the conversation or explain a joke. and after the meal, they did secret santa. some people had brought extra gifts, so i even got one. the first person would pick a name out of a hat and then take that person's gift, then they would have to do a performance or song for everyone, and then whoever's gift had just been given would come up and do the same. for my turn, i sang the "dreidl" song, spreading the joy of jewishness throughout the world. i got two cute coffee mugs with spoons. anyway it was a really nice time, and i'm glad that i'm starting to get to know people from this crazy country (debatable whether taiwanese are from this country).

Friday, December 22, 2006

a glimpse into the awkwardness that is my life- as my roommate and i will both be out of town for the holidays, we have asked one of our friends to watch our precious cat for us. our spare key has gone missing, and so we had to make a copy of the key so that Carmen could get into our house to feed the cat. although i'm pretty much always a failure at these kinds of things, i was nominated to go make a copy of the key. i felt like i had seen key copying places all over, so i left my apartment with key and money in hand to find one. not one block from my apartment, i saw a key place, and thought to myself, "oh, how lucky." i had forgotten how to say both "key" and "copy," but trusting my ingenuity to pull me through, i entered the store. i walked up to the woman sitting behind the desk, and pulled out my key, and said, "i want this." She looked at me blankly, and all of a sudden i realized my mistake. the storefront had said "golden key" and had a picture of a key, so i had assumed that it was a key copying place. not so. i had actually just walked into a well-established real estate firm. i mean it didn't even look like a key copying place, and there were pictures of houses all over. that woman must have thought i was the stupidest person alive. she looked from my confused face to the key i held in my hand, and figured out what i had thought, and said (in chinese) "no. this is not a place to get keys copied. you'll have to go somewhere else." won't be going back there any time soon.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

well my visa worries have somewhat subsided as my boss is allowing me to leave work early to pick up my visa. but as always, new problems arise just as the old ones are resolved. for instance- last night, after a long day of working, getting off at the wrong bus stop and having to take an expensive ride home, talking to my language teacher about my new schedule and discovering that no one has time for me, i came back to my apartment and settled in, ready to watch Clerks II (which i have heard is very good) and then go to bed. But not ten minutes into the movie, everything went dark. i guess my roommate and i forgot about paying the electricity bill, and so our electricity is out. forgetting to pay the bill isn't as stupid as it sounds, there actually is no bill, you have to figure out when you've used too much, based on a counter that goes up instead of down. what happens when our electricity goes out? we have to call our landlord and tell her to put more time on the electricity card. my roommate, having drastically better chinese skills than i, has always been the one to deal with her. but she left yesterday morning for a vacation in america. so here i am, with no power and no way to reach my landlord, and i'm not sure if this can be resolved within the next four days. but it sort of has to be, because i have stuff in my refrigerator that i don't want to go bad.
i've gotten my first assignment at work, reading over a guideline for people hired to assist with the olympics. that's what my company does, overseas all olympic broadcasting stuff in 2008. my section publishes all the print material related to this. the more i read about it, the more i hope that i can get a full-time job working here. sure its not superinteresting now, and probably won't be for a while. but if i'm working here during the olympics, it'll be really cool. okay one of my contacts has ripped so i can only half see right now, and writing this is giving me a headache so I'm gonna stop.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

india is going to have to get its act together if it wants me to visit. specifically, the indian embassy in beijing is going to have to get its act together. i am currently finding myself in the conundrum of trying to pick up my visa and passport, only possible between 3 and 4 o'clock, when i work until 7 about an hour away from the embassy. i have tried to call the embassy to figure something out, but it seems there are no numbers where people actually answer. what kind of embassy cannot be reached by phone! so then i decided to try emailing them. I knew, of course, that it was unlikely i'd hear a response, but i didn't expect that i would immediately get the response that the email address did not exist. what kind of embassy doesn't have a working email! this does not bode well for my trip, but i hope everything works out, i get my passport back, and i'm able to head over there because i am super super psyched to see india. Inja!

Monday, December 18, 2006

okay, well even though i just did an update, i thought i'd do another update cuz i'm here on my first day at a new job and not much to do. you may be thinking, whaaat? a new job? i don't remember reading about this, what happened to that sweet city weekend gig. and the answer is 1) as sweet as the internship at city weekend may have been, there was none of that stuff i like to call money, 2) i think i did mention this new job a few posts ago, and 3) i didn't want to write too much about the new job because i didn't want to jinx it. no, it is not the perfect job, i think the majority of what i do here will be proofreading fairly technical documents, and its hella far from my home. but the most important thing is that they pay well. and it'll look good on my resume. and the people here are really nice. it's only a four month temporary gig, but at the end of it i'll have enough money to travel around for a while, which is just what i wanted for the summer, and maybe then i'll head back to the states. we'll see.
it will be a bit difficult adjusting to the new work schedule. at cw i worked from 10-2, which was pretty nice. here i think it'll be 10-6:30, and since it's so far from where i live i'll be waking up at 8:30 and not get home till like 7:30. but since i'd decided on giving up on a social life anyway after recently discovering the importance of looking before one leaps, as well as the fact that good things will find their way to you when it's time, i'm okay with a little break.
the other day i ate some beef stroganoff in my favorite russian restaurant while reading The Brothers Karamazov. sometimes over here it is possible to forget that you are in china. oh, but wait, don't let me start on a new topic till i finish the whole hong kong/macao update.
sorry, dear readers, that i left you hanging on that one, no doubt checking this page one, two, eight times a day to find out about the rest of my trip. but now i've forgotten most of it. i was pretty fatigued after all that walking around hong kong (yes sam, i will add the pictures) and didn't get enough sleep, so its all gotten kind of fuzzy. but i will say- my room was fabulous, by far the nicest i've stayed in. there was a chocolate on the bed when i arrived, and also a bowl of fruit that i devoured with alarming speed as it was 8 when i arrived and i hadn't eaten since a very mediocre and early lunch. there was a huge tv, and one in the bathroom, which i watched while i took several long and luxurious baths. unfortunately there wasn't much good on tv, so i was forced to resort to watching terrible sitcoms the likes of which i had never seen. and i've seen a lot of bad sitcoms.
my trip was part of a media tour for journalists, photographers and such from beijing, so our whole time there was planned out for us. i was the only non-chinese, so i had a great chance to work on my chinese- this reminds me of something i wanted to mention. tuesday morning, the day i left for hong kong, i woke up and i could speak chinese. i dunno what it was, but i went around doing my errands and i felt like i could speak fluently. this lasted through hongkong, where i used my putonghua rather than my english to get around (although english is probably spoken more commonly than ole putong), and even the first day and a half of hanging out with my new chinese media buddies. but on the third night of my travels, my ability left as miraculously as it had came. maybe it was because i was really tired, maybe it was because the chinese buddies, having been convinced that i could speak chinese began to speak to me like they spoke to each other, but starting at around dinner time i could barely say a word. this led me to make such stupid mistakes as thinking my friend had said she would teach me korean and saying "oh, you speak korean?" when actually she had said she would teach me chinese. right, like the country i'm living in, the language we've all been speaking. oh the look she gave me when i asked her if she spoke chinese was priceless though. then i was talking to the one guy on my trip about going home for the holidays, and he said that in china people always tried to live near their parents. and i was like, oh well that works if its in a big city, but if your parents live in a small town, not so good." but actually i said "if your parents live in a small market."
um, also there was this photographer in our group that i thought was so awesome, she was one of those really sharp chinese women with a mean tongue on her. it was so funny, she would always make comments about the one guy on our trip like- at one of our dinners, they took a picture of her, him, and a woman on the hotel's staff, and she was like, oh, the prettiest (the staff lady), the oldest (herself), and the fattest (the guy). and then later on she was like, i'm worried about my son, he's getting so fat, almost as fat as this guy. but to be fair, chinese people in general are more open about calling people fat, maybe because the chinese are not as obsessed with thinness as americans.
we ate amazing food from the hotels' restaurants, one italian meal, one japanese, one cantonese, and two breakfast buffets that were hot shit. oh it was so nice to eat well. i also tried a lot of macanese snacks- this really good ice creamy custard, almost cookies, dried meats that were a mix between jerky and fruit rollups, and this sweet soup that's supposed to be healthy and each flavor targets a different problem but actually made me want to vomit.
also while writing my article about this trip, i became obsessed with Stanley Ho, the man who used to have a monopoly over casinos in Macau before the western places came in. he is one of the richest men in Asia, and he has four wives and seventeen children. he started out of a fairly low status, but after he was overseeing an overseas shipment that was attacked by pirates and managed to gain control of a gun and get the pirates of the ship before they could get the 10,000 dollars on the ship, he was promoted. like, what? i saw that on wikipedia. you gotta respect people like that, you just got to.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

back from my Hong Kong/Macau trip, and i've gotta say, it was everything i hoped and more. first of all, it was really nice to get out of beijing, where i've been now for over three months. i went to macau to write a hotel review for city weekend, and then added an extra day to my trip to get a visa from hongkong. i hadn't really thought much about hong kong prior to going, it always had just sounded like some place where rich businessman took body shots off of ugly prostitutes. i was totally unprepared for the fact that i would fall in love with the city. it didn't seem promising at first. my flight was through macau, and after an hour ferry ride to hong kong and a long cab ride with a man who jabbered away at me in a dialect i couldn't for the life of me understand, i was ready to meet up with my friend and party up the town. i went to the hostel i'd booked a room in, and was surprised at how crappy it was, especially since i'd missed my reservation so they gave me a mattress on the floor to sleep on. the area i was staying in looked shady, and feeling desolate, especially once i found that my friend was staying really far from me, i begged him to let me crash at the house of the family he was staying with. setting out for the trek over there, i stopped at a mcdonalds to grab a meal. i don't know what did it, maybe it was just the mcdonalds magic, but for some reason when i walked out onto the street again, it didn't look so bad. and thinking about the hostel, it didn't seem so bad either. i decided that if i'm going to be travelling around asia this summer, i'm going to have to toughen up and deal with stuff. and that's what i did. i walked around the kowloon area where i was staying, looking at stores and taking in the atmosphere. when i got back to the room at around 12:30, all the hostelers were back, and i played an enjoyable game of kings with two germans, an australian, and a canadian. i even taught them some of my american rules, which were greatly appreciated. go u.s.!
the next day, feeling rejuvenated, i headed out to deal with visa issues. i went to the address of a travel agency that my boss had said would give me a work visa no questions asked (you're supposed to have a letter from an employer to get one), but was annoyed to find that they served everyone but americans. damn you, u.s.! so i had to head over to the american visa office, over on Hong Kong island. there i made the stupid move of trying my luck at a work visa, saying that i had forgotten the letter. stupid! they said they couldn't give me the work visa without the letter, and since i had admitted that i was living and working in China, they couldn't give me a travel visa. i finally convinced them to give me something to get back into the country, but they would only do a 30-day single entry. and i had to pay 650 kuai ($80) for it. don't mess with a visa office.
i had four hours before i had to pick up the visa, so i decided i'd see as much of the city as i could. first i headed over to victoria's peak, the highest point on the island. there's a cool tram that takes you up there, and then there are amazing views of the city. also a Madame Tussauds, but i couldn't afford it. this took way less time than i had planned, so i decided to walk back down rather than take the tram, something one of my fellow hostelers had recommended. i should have known better, damn germans. i don't even think people are supposed to walk down, i found myself walking along a straight-up road with no space for pedestrians, hoping that i would at some point start to head downhill. eventually i did, and within an hour i was somewhat near to being back in the city. i was getting tired of walking though, and frustrated that the streets i had reached still weren't on the map. at this point, i walked into a pole. just straight up walked into it. i banged my nose and my shoulder really hard, but at least no one saw. from there, i somehow wandered into the zoo, where i looked at some pretty birds and compared camera megapixels with another tourist. i made my way over to Central, the central area of Hong Kong island, and took in all the stores and tall buildings. i'm really into seeing the subway system in every major city, so then i took the subway back to the visa building's area. it was pretty nice, not among my favorites, but not bad. got my visa, and still had a while before i was going to catch the ferry back to macau for check-in at 8.
so i crossed the water again back to Kowloon where my hostel had been. luckily for me, wednesdays are free museum days, so i strolled through the space museum and the art museum. in the space museum, they had a thing that would make you feel like you were weightless, like the astronauts. looked cool, but once they put me in the harness thing i realized it was actually extremely painful. so then i had to pretend to be having fun while my hips were being sliced open, and a bunch of chinese people stared at me. also at first my shirt came up so my whole stomach was hanging out for them to see.
at the art museum, i saw their contemporary chinese exhibit, which was a bunch of screens and things made of human hair. there was also a room full of shoes made from human hair, all of which looked like something i pulled out of my drain. i'd like to talk to the brainiac curator who picked that exhibit. at this point my time had run out, so i headed for the ferry to macau. now i must go to sleep, so i'll tell about macau tomorrow or something.