blogbury in china, part 3

Notes that are EVEN LESS STRUCTURED than usual:

  • AQI was middling yesterday and is pretty poor today; it’s like the weather or traffic or newspaper headlines most other places in the world: it sets the day’s mood across the whole city
  • Much like the old story that airplanes’ air quality was better back when they allowed smoking because they actually had to filter it, it seems like the places with the best air quality are the places where smoking is allowed indoors so the room has giant air purifiers. This includes the lobby of the Beida international students’ center next to our dorm (which has a no smoking sign but usually at least two or three people smoking, and two huge air purifiers of the kind that you only see in places that do allow it), every bar or club, and many restaurants.
  • Yesterday was orientation, which included meeting our language partners, a program-wide buffet lunch, and a campus tour.
  • Six of us went to dinner at an expat bar with good NY-style pizza (we can’t have Chinese food every night) then went to a KTV in Wudaokou (Korean area of Beijing east of Beida) for an hour (video karaoke in a private room; this was the last weeknight we could do something like that without it being at least slightly irresponsible)
  • Today was the first day of class; it turns out first-years are lucky to have one of our teachers (Zhu laoshi) carry over from the Stanford portion (the other levels have entirely new teachers) because we’ve established class structures and routines that work rather than having to adapt now to completely new homework patterns, etc.  I miss my whiteboard; practicing characters on paper will be annoying but I probably can’t justify buying a whiteboard here that I can’t bring home–similarly I’m debating buying a cheap, prepaid Chinese cell phone because my iPhone is carrier locked so I can’t just buy a SIM; it would certainly be useful to send and receive domestic texts here and three people have already asked me if I have a Chinese number.
  • We went to a Hong Kong restaurant immediately outside the Beida southwest gate for lunch; I’ve now been to three of the twenty or so restaurants in the restaurant cluster/strip mall there.
  • The internet: is absurd. IN THEORY: we have Beida network accounts and can pay RMB100/month (about $16) for access via ethernet in our rooms and wifi elsewhere on campus that includes international websites or RMB20 (or nothing, nobody is quite sure because it seems like we have domestic access without paying anything) for access to domestic websites only. IN PRACTICE: even without paying anything (and we haven’t paid yet because our language partners told us that the relevant payment period is the calendar month and we should wait until August 1) we have incredibly sporadic, but definitely real, access to domestic+international websites via ethernet.  That is, it’s enabled unpredictably for a few hours a day.  The wifi seems to be domestic-only until we pay, but in the lobby of our hotel there’s a different network that gives free domestic+international access. In any case, if and when we have international access we can turn on an inexpensive paid VPN service (mine is $9 for a month) and access websites like Facebook and Twitter that are blocked by the Great Firewall. This is established practice among the educated/cosmopolitan, and I wouldn’t be surprised if most Beida students have a VPN installed.

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blogbury in china, part 2


  • Air quality index was 70-80 today as compared to just over 200 yesterday; what a difference that makes…
  • Tian’anmen Square and the Forbidden City were considerably less crowded than I had expected; a few people had told me that we’d have trouble staying together as a group while walking through, but that turned out not to be a problem.
  • There is a clear and consistent narrative being pushed throughout the complex, both by the place itself and by our guide: the greatness of Imperial China is, in reality, the greatness of China and the Emperors themselves were a superfluous result of a feudalism that the country has grown out of. What makes this interesting is how it knits the two revolutions together, combining a Marxist reading of the 1911 revolution, as starting the transition from feudalism to socialism, with the Maoist revolution of the Chinese consciousness as completing it.
  • I’m glad I got to meet up with Andrea before she returns to Shanghai this week, even if it was only for a few hours.  She’s doing some incredible things at an internship with one of Beijing’s best-known artists, but I don’t think I can say more than that as most of her projects aren’t public.  She also showed me the Stanford center at Beida where the study-abroad program is based and introduced me to the director, who was (surprisingly enough) at best only faintly aware that there were a dozen Stanford students about to start a month of classes on her campus–the language intensive and the study abroad program are completely separate despite being about a mile apart.

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blogbury in china, part 1

okay, let’s see if this works.

Quick notes that aren’t clear from the pictures:

  • On our descent into Beijing, the ground didn’t become visible until below 100 meters of altitude; we arrived to the worst pollution in at least a week and visibility was worse than even I expected.
  • After checking into the dorm at Beida (which is really more of a hotel in the way it’s run) four of us were still a little hungry (the two meals on the plane were edible and vaguely Chinese but not particularly good or filling) so we walked to a little shopping center/food court a block outside the university gate and picked a restaurant that looked clean and reasonably popular.  We couldn’t read the name (something like China First House of Whole Fish Boiled in Soup, it turns out), so we didn’t know until we got inside that it sold exclusively…boiled whole fish.  Not a single waiter spoke a single word of English (seriously), and the boiled whole catfish (forgot to get a picture) was actually pretty good: success.

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