Thursday, May 14, 2009

School and other fun

Another beautiful day in Beijing! I love getting all the comments from friends and family on this blog. It is so great to hear from you. I hope things are going well for all of you in the United States. I didn’t have time to upload pictures this morning, but plan to do it soon!
Got up this morning, went for a run. I love running in the morning because it is a great opportunity to explore the Tsinghua campus and get a feel for the city. Showered and went down to breakfast. We have a Chinese continental breakfast at the hotel each morning. There are a really wide variety of foods ranging from eggs and cereal all the way to fried rice and a cold peanut salad. I have been trying to have something new every day. Also, we are served watermelon all the time. I love watermelon, but right now I would do a lot for a banana. Chinese people are awesome, but like Americans have their quirks. This morning JB, Diane and Lynne went down to breakfast. While they were up getting their food, a random Chinese man sat down at their table! That is not the crazy part. He had two fried eggs, and to eat them he proceeded to pull a straw out of his pocket, stick it in the egg yolk, and suck the yoke out with the straw. He did it not once, but two times! As Denton would say, “Every day is a school day!”
After breakfast we headed over to the university for class. Our lecture in the morning was managing competition in China. The professor was Xudong Gao. He was the first real communist I have ever met in my life. He was very proud of being a member of the communist party for over 20 years. Did you know that you have to apply to be in the communist party in China? Apparently, they track individuals and only choose the brightest with the most potential. I have some other comments on that part of his lecture, but due to the censorship year, I will wait to post that until I return. I did learn some interesting facts from him. The average Chinese person who works in a fast food type restaurant in Beijing makes approximately $150 per month. He said housing for him, which I am sure is pretty nice, costs about $3000 per square meter in Beijing. You can see what a huge gap there is between the wealthy and poor here.
We went to lunch again at the same place as yesterday and then headed back for another lecture in the afternoon.
After school, we headed out to check out another market area. I had so much fun bargaining yesterday that I just had to do it some more. It is like a sport. So much fun! We bargained until this market closed and then headed to dinner.
JB, Ben, Roland, Alan and I ate at this great place for dinner. After having Chinese food for breakfast, lunch and dinner for several days, we wanted something different. We ate at this really cool restaurant named Alameda. Very hard to find! You walked down a sketchy dark ally, turned a corner, and all the sudden were in a really cool little shopping area. It was a set menu. I chose a chicken appetizer and had grilled salmon for dinner. For 6 people, including drinks, the whole meal was only $150 American! After dinner, JB, Ben and I headed over to a bar. We decided to walk because it didn’t look that far on the map. Like everything in Beijing, it was further than we thought! It was definitely worth the walk because it was a great bar. It is called Suzie Wong’s. It had three levels. The upper level was cool, but sort of for normal people. They played dance music and there were a good mix of Asian and Americans.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Silk Market

After class today, we made a mad dash back to the hotel and then jumped in a cab to head off to the Silk Market. It was quite a long cab ride, but on the way there we got an unexpected surprise in a really cool tour of the city. Beijing is huge, and there is tons of traffic, so it takes forever to get places. Cabs are incredibly cheap. Our 45 minute cab ride only cost about $8!! There is tons of construction in Beijing:
so you see sites like this with huge cranes all over the place. There are also countless rows of high rise apartment buildings...most of them do not look plush either. It is just crazy the number of people in this city!

The number of bikes is so incredible, it is not at all unusual to see a site like this with just tons of bikes crossing the street. You would think with all the cars on the road, there wouldn't be this many bikes. Just another testament to the huge number of people in this city.

Also, it is not unusual to see bikes incredibly loaded down with stuff. I still don't really know what these people are doing with all these broken down pallets, but I assume there is someplace you can take them for money.

The architecture here is sort of wild and insane. I guess in that way it is sort of like Las Vegas.

So after a long cab ride, we arrive at the Silk Market. This is 6 stories of stalls carrying every knock of Chinese imitation of designer clothes, watches, purses, sunglasses, and silk you can think of. You can get custom tailor made suits, shirts and dresses. You have to bargain with everyone for deals. I am sure that they took advantage of me as an American, especially once I bought something and was walking around with a bag. My friend Jonathan from Purdue was pretty good at it and after a bit I think I got the hang of it.
Check out all the Polo shirts in this stall, and there are at least 10 other stalls like this. Jonathan got 10 polo shirts for about $6 a piece.

The little chinese girls at all the stalls are so cute too. We stayed really late, right until it closed. At the end, we started to make friends with all the girls in the stalls. They were really funny and nice. I think this has got to be a tough life, on your feet haggling with people all day long. I am sure they make practically nothing. I know they were just trying to get my money, but it tugged at my heart how sweet they were, especially towards closing time. They loved taking pictures with us too:

This girl was especially neat. She had a tailored clothing booth. We looked around a bit, but didn't really want to get into the tailor made clothes thing yet. Maybe we will go back later in the trip. You can get dresses made out of all those silks in the background for like $50. This girl was so sweet. We started talking and she showed me her collection of types of money from all different places. She also had a state quarter collection. She was so excited to show me that she had quarters from four different states once she found out I was an American. She really wanted one from North Carolina, but I didn't have one. I found her a Hawaii quarter in my purse to add to her collection. They also had a collection of autographs from the atheletes who had come through during the olympics. Apparently, Paul Pierce and Charles Barkley are big fans too because they had framed photos with them mounted on the wall. The haggling for prices at different stalls was really fun and thrilling (especially when you are haggling over less than $10, it feels like a lot because $10 is 70RMB). They all have these calculators they use to show you the price. It is really funny. But, the coolest part of the night was talking to these girls and getting to know them a bit. It was crazy to think about what their life is like. One of the girls was the same age as me. Imagine how different my life might have been if I hadn't been born in the US.
After 4 hours of walking around, haggling, and making friends. We headed to Pizza hut for dinner. We figured we might as well go see what american food was like in China. Surprisingly it was pretty similar. On the way home in the cab we looked at all our purchases and had to take some goofy photos, our friend Alan was rolling his eyes and laughing hysterically:

Today was a great day. We learned so much in school and had such a great time at the Silk Market. I was definitely beat when I got home, but up again at 5am today. Oh well, there is just too much to see and do to sleep. Plus, I love having this time to blog about the trip. It gives me a great opportunity to reflect and remember everything from the day. To all my fam and friends: I love you and miss you!

1st real day of class

Yesterday was our first real day of class. In the morning we had a lecture on Chinese Cultures and Values. The lady who spoke to us was really interesting. We learned a lot about the differences between China and the US. For example, in China people believe in absolute virtue more than absolute truth. They believe the truth is always relative and that honoring hierarchical relationships are more important than the truth. A couple of examples to see how this manifests itself in the real world: a mother/wife would lie to the police to protect her husband or child or the opinion of a well respected elder in a business is more important than the truth of what might actually be the best strategy for a company. Having been raised in a society which holds democracy and capitalism as the ultimate truth for the government and economy, it was really interesting to here someone speak about the benefits of communism. We believe that electing our leaders holds them to a higher standard. She spoke about how the severe punishment a leader would face in China for making mistakes keeps their government leaders ever wary and cautious. I didn't agree with everything she said, but she definitely had some interesting opinions and it was a really great unique perspective.

In the afternoon, we had this really energetic Chinese economist speak to us. He was one of the first graduates of Tsinghua University. Tsinghua, where we are studying, is one of the best universities in the countries. Many of the leaders of the country are graduates as well. China's economy is in a really interesting place right now. There is so much depth for growth and they have had the opportunity to learn from the mistakes of the United States. The sheer number of people here combined with the wide disparity in wealth leads to a really deep economy. China is very quickly becoming a nation of consumers. He predicted the rise of Chinese multinational companies in the future in addition to the huge potential for Chinese investment around the world due to the high savings rate. It was such a privilege to get to hear one of the top economic minds in the country speak to our group about issues that are at the forefront of business. The chinese economy is very regulated. We asked him how the central bank controlled interest rates in comparison to the US. He said it is very simple, they just tell the banks what the interest rates should be! Ha, at least he was honest!

In between our classes we had lunch at a pretty neat restaurant. Apparently it was a traditional ten course chinese meal. It was served family style on a lazy susan. Don't ask me what the things are, I have no idea. Actually, I have stopped asking on the advice of our professor. He says sometimes you would just rather not know!!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Rooftop Dinner Night 2

Last night our whole group went to dinner at this really neat called Nuage restaurant on the Hou Hai lake. We sat on the was so are some pics of us and the view

Carina and Katy:
Carina and Me:
Irene, Dawn, and Me
Seth and Diane:

Just Me:
Beautiful View:
And this is for Lee...
I had shrimp rolls....
and Ginger Chicken Rice....
for dinner!
and I had some beer too Tsing Tao...Delicious Chinese Beer!!!

1st day of school!

Lee, in response to your comment, there are a bunch of crazy foods, and I will get to that later in the post.

Yesterday morning we started out with breakfast at the hotel, this morning I will take some pictures of that and post tomorrow.

After breakfast we headed off to school. The campus is really nice and just a short walk from the hotel. Here are some pictures of the campus. This is me at the gate of the campus with my friend Ben and a picture of the whole group from UNC. Notice the cool Chinese letters on top of the archway. I am still trying to understand what some of the symbols mean, but somehow I cannot figure any of it out. They gave us this book that has some useful Chinese phrases in it, but since it is a tonal language and I have a serious southern accent, I think it will only be helpful if I just carry it around with me and point at the phrase I need. I have learned a couple of phrases: Nehow is hello and shi shi is thank you...they are very helpful. I said them yesterday morning to one of the hotel employees and he was super excited.
The campus is really gorgeous and there are some really cool lakes and canals. I did not get any pictures of it, but there were even some men fishing out of the lake. Here is the lake and then a picture of me and the canal, and JB and me in front of the canal.

Everybody rides bikes here. We have thought about renting bikes and still might do it, but if you do you are taking your life into your own hands. Traffic is crazy here, there seem to be no rules and people do not pay attention to the stoplights at all. My brother Denton would probably say that it is like a whole country full of Anna's! Last night on the way home I thought our cab driver was going to kill a biker, and on the way to the restaurant a chinese man got out of his truck at the stoplight, ran around it, and got back in the driver's seat. My friend Katy said, "this is just too perfect for words, a real life Chinese fire drill!." Look at all the bikes parked outside of the school building:
Check out the gorgeous flowers outside of the entrance to the garden, there are a lot of petunias, begonia, daffodils, and what mom would call hummingbird plants:

Oh yeah, there are some students from Purdue here too. This is a picture of a couple of them being goofy with the statue:
So we are walking around the campus, and it is very picturesque and beautiful. Lots of very classic Chinese architecture and design as you have seen from the pictures. Then we round a corner and see these buildings:
and we were like....Wow, there is the evidence of communism!

and this was the start of our first true food adventure......We actually ate lunch at a cafeteria in one of these buildings. It was like eating lunch at the Chinese equivalent of the cafeteria on South Campus at Chapel Hill when I was in undergrad, the name of it escapes me right now.

There was a giant pan of tofu:
Fish heads, which the meat was quite delicious once you got past the fact that it was a fishhead:
Some quite delicious dumpligs from a dumpling station:

And just to make me feel truly at home....Pigs Feet! (I abstained from this menu choice)

There were also lots of other options. I had some rice (surprise, surprise, rice in China!) and some sort of least I think it was chicken!

Here is some of our group eating at lunch:
All in all it was a good first day in China, we had lots of interesting adventures and I felt very immersed in the culture!

1st night adventures

After I arrived in Beijing the group of us headed off to find some dinner and bottled water because we were all very dehydrated. After wondering around a bit and being harassed by many Chinese trying to get patrons in the restaurant, we settled on a hot pot place that had menu items listed in English. Little did we know that we were basically doing the Chinese equivalent of The Melting Pot which is an extremely complicated ordering process. Also, no one that worked at the restaurant spoke any English....It was definitely an adventure for all of us! Our little Chinese waitress could not even wait on us because she was laughing so hard!

Here are some pics from the hot pot restaurant...

Today was our first day of school Tsinghua University is a really pretty school. Not quite as pretty as UNC though. I woke up at 3:00 AM this morning due to the jet lag. Katy and I went running around the campus around 7:00. The weather was beautiful and we had a great time exploring. We ate breakfast downstairs and walked to class around 9:30. The Purdue students are really cool and I even met one that is going to be on the same flight as me back to the US, so that was super exciting. We toured the campus with a really nice MBA student named Richard (He is Chinese, so I am sure that is not his real name :)) who is going to be on exchange at UNC in the fall. Pictures of the campus later...Gotta make a starbucks run and then off to dinner in Hou Hai district!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Arrived Safely!

After a very long flight, I have arrived safely in China. The flight landed ahead of schedule due to a strong tailwind. Before I left, I was speculating with some friends on what direction we would fly, east or west. Well, guess what...the answer was neither. We actually flew North, directly over the North Pole.

Here is a picture of the north pole taken from the airplane:
I think if you look very very closely you can see a little red mailbox that says "Claus Residence"

On the ride from the airport the country side is very similar to North Carolina which is not surprising considering they are both in the temperate deciduous forest biome. The plants are even similar, along the highway there are lots of gingko, weeping willow, begonias and petunias. It is very interesting to see everything written in Chinese symbols. I even saw a car with the emblem in Chinese:

I am off to eat dinner with the other DBIC KFBS'ers (that is one BIG acronym). I'll check in again soon!