Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Happy Birthday, Jeff - More From My Grandson

Monday, July 21, 2008

Beijing, China

Today is a red-letter day. Some days seem to go right? Days where five minutes before your alarm you lie wide awake in bed savoring the last moments of warm sheets. Days where friends call at the right times and dropped pies land right-side-up. Imagine one of those days lining up with your golden birthday, something that has about the same probability of Pluto not being a planet. That is how my day has gone. My Internet which has been out for two weeks today miraculously works, letters sent by friends were in my mailbox, emails poured in, happy birthday was sung in four languages.

On every birthday that I can remember my parents have spanned my door with a banner wishing me happy birthday; this year is no exception. My parents sent me a care package a few weeks ago containing a banner that I did not open until this morning to hang above my bed. It's almost as good as home. At lunch in the cafeteria I was asked to stand up and had Happy Birthday, in varying degrees of intelligibility, sung to me. My roommate is making dinner, and there are 10+ people that are going to eat and celebrate here. Chinese tradition is to eat long noodles as they are a metaphor of a long life. Dang, 21 sounds so old. After this, the next milestone is either the age where I can rent a car (varies by location) or 35, when I can run for president and take over the world's remaining old fields (if there are any left.)

Thank you to all of you that have made my birthday special.


The weather for the past week has been surprisingly auspicious, blue skies every day with a few scattered showers to make us second guess China's changing fortune. Is it coincidence or have they actually managed to control the weather? We shall see as we weather the last of the rainy season (terrible, I know) and the Olympics start.

It has also been hot, which does not bother me. The only complaint I have is a cultural one, I cannot acclimate to drinking boiling-hot tea in non-air-conditioned restaurants when outside it is over 90ºF. Sorry China. Pop (soda(-pop)) always has tasted so good after being outside on a hot day, but the pop here is not the same as in its birthplace. Take a two-liter of warm soda and shake it viciously until you are sure it will explode, open it and leave it out for a week. Then re-carbonate it. That is what the pop here tastes like, old, warm and re-carbonated. How hard could it be to make the same product? Their TANG though, is a masterpiece, sugary, cold, and thirst-quenching, it never disappoints.

I'm hungry, so this all seems to return to the food theme: I have fallen into a routine when it comes to eating. I have fallen in love with two more foods, wanzi, (fried meatballs with green peppers and garlic) and fried, canned dace, a small fish similar to a sardine. There is a small restaurant around the corner that has wanzi for 4 dollars, and every time I go I order them. The waitress now knows my preferences, and all I have to do is sit down and she knows what I will order. As for the fried dace, they have taken it off the shelves in the US because of some cancer causing substance that is found within its tin confines; I believe that contraband substance to be the most delicious flavor in the world. I don't believe in mercury poisoning.

The subway is a good hike away, so after a long day of exploring the city, I often take the subway back only to have a 20+ minute walk ahead of me. To make it more bearable (I have to justify my greedy consumer streak somehow) I have made a habit of buying 2 lamb kabobs and a mango ice bubble tea which I eat at a small-dog walking park a few minutes from my school. Total cost: $1.32.

Last Saturday I went to the Forbidden City, the imperial palace of the Ming and Qing dynasties. It's right in the middle of the city, behind Tienanmen Square. It housed the emperors if its time with 3000 of his servants and concubines, and was where he held important meetings etc. The bricks under the city, in order to prevent people from digging in are interlocking and 15 layers thick. It is surrounded by tall walls, and the emperor's sleeping quarters have multiple beds so the would-be assassin would not know where to strike. Nine was considered lucky so the palace has 9999.5 rooms (a room has 4 pillars, ½ of a room as 2), and the emperor had 72 concubines (7+2=9). The buildings are raised above the surrounding area, and were thus susceptible to lightning strikes. According to feng shui, placing water around the grounds would prevent fires. It didn't work, and many buildings have been rebuilt multiple times due to fire damage. Along the north gate stands the temple to the water God, the only building that has never caught fire.

I know this because we hired a guide. Total cost: 30 dollars split 6 ways for 2 hours of a private guide.

A short update today, but I have a birthday party I must attend.

Until next week,

Jeff Vredenburg

吴杰 (Wú Jié)


P.S. I have not posted pictures lately because I have not had Internet, now that it is back up I hope to get some pictures up soon.

P.P.S. The Chinese phrase for cramming (study method) is 填鸭式 , "tian ya shi" and translates as "force feeding duck style."

Fois gras or an A+, the world may never know.

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