Going West by Mark Powers

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Summer in Beijing 2009

Mark's Frisbee Trick
Wow, this feels strange, to write a post in English! I have been writing in Chinese so much I almost forgot what its like to write in my native language. Unfortunately because Blogger.com was blocked since June, it has been difficult to find ways to get posts onto this website. Since then I focused on the Chinese website because A) it gets more viewers and B) I use a different system to write posts with the Chinese blog which is more convenient where I am.

Since my last post I have moved to Shuangjing, not far from downtown Beijing. I like this area quite a bit because it feels more international and cosmopolitan. There are nice restaurants and shopping. Traffic, particularly public transportation, is also more convenient than where I stayed before in Lishuiqiao.

Since March I have done a lot of sightseeing around Beijing with my Chinese friend. We have had such a good time I have stayed much longer in China than I imagined. I have also live in a nice apartment with a good view of downtown. For the price, and few thousand Yuan, which amounts to a few hundred US dollars, I can't imagine living in such a nice apartment in the US. Honestly, to live in the capital city, near downtown, in an apartment with a spacious living room, bedroom and nice kitchen and have a nice view of downtown and only pay few hundred dollars a month would be nearly impossible in the US.

For exercise, I usually do a little workout in the morning I have been doing for years. And nearly every evening before sundown my friend and I play Frisbee near the apartment. My friend has really improved since the first day we played. A lot of Chinese people pass us on the street as we play and seem very curious and interested in Frisbee as its not a sport or activity played at all in China. Matter of fact, we had to buy the Frisbee online because none of the stores around here sold them.

There are some international stores nearby and those have really helped me. I can buy things like cereal which I like to eat and even some taco sauce and pepper-jack cheese so I can make Mexican tacos, which I made for my friend. Life has been pretty nice this summer. However, I do need to start working regularly again soon. I prepared my resume and need to remember how to get myself into the job market. I have decided long-term that I want to be a website designer or media mogul, but a decent job would be good for the short-term.


Sunday, May 10, 2009

6 weeks and counting in Beijing

So I have been in China for a little over a month and a half, most of that time in the northern edge of Beijing, an area called Lishuiqiao. It feels more like the wild west in this part of Beijing. The streets are wide and dusty, the traffic chaotic, people everywhere going to and fro. That is a distinct feature of the eastern half of China where 90% of the Chinese population is located, it feels like there are people everywhere. You can't hardly go anywhere without seeing someone else.

It feels like a frontier town because everything is this area is relatively newly built, but not necessarily more modern or nicer. Its seems like people rushed to build up on the outskirts of town like a fevered gold rush during the boom around the Olympics. The contrasts of a modern shopping mall nearby surrounded new 30 story high rises, followed by tiny little brick housing left over from 30 years ago where some people line up to buy hot water.

Anyway, there have been some things that have struck me over the past few weeks, good and not so good, so I will be sharing them here. Here are some examples:

For example, Beijing transportation has improved. The subway and monorail system has gotten so much better in Beijing than before. I live near a very convenient station and it is much easier to get around town than my last stay when I often had to take the bus. The fair is still about the same, only 2 RMB per ride, that is about 25 cents. Still very cheap. Taking the bus is even cheaper.

However, I was shocked to see a new phenomena on the streets of China. There wer children literally, in the streets working. They would walk between lanes of traffic, going from window to window, passing out fliers or putting little cards into doors. Drivers hardly slowed down to avoid them.

I was dumbstruck to see this. I asked, how could people pay children to do such things, how could a society permit it? But I understand when some people are so poor, safety and education may not be above survival and eating. As everyone here tells me its not uncommon and that China is a developing country. When I see people struggle to survive here, it makes me treasure even more the opportunities for education and work so available and accessable in the US.


Sunday, May 14, 2006

Opinions on Beijing

Mark near Fragrant MountainAt the end of this month, I will have been in China for one year. I have officially declared the weather in Beijing to be crappy. Based on my experience 5 out of every 7 days in Beijing the sky is cloudy or hazy and the air is bad. There have been some nice days during the fall and spring, but not enough.

Where does the bad air come from? Well, Beijing is surrounded by mountains. That was done on purpose to help protect the city and the emperor from invaders. So like Los Angeles or Phoenix, the smog and dust is generated by cars, construction, manufacturing, and the like and has no place to go. It takes strong winds or rain to clear it up.

However there are plenty of reasons to like Beijing too. This city is thick with culture. From the monuments, temples and palaces dating back hundreds of years, attractive Chinese style gardens and parks, to the attitude of the people, Beijing is the government and cultural capital of China and will never give it up and proud of it. Even Chinese people say when Beijingers meet people from other cities they always show interest and curiosity like an official from the capital going out to keep tabs on the provinces and keep the country unified. Beijingers are famous for being pretty generous too, which I have found to be true. Flowers at Beijing Botanical GardenThat is in comparison to the people from Shanghai who are renown for stinginess and business savvy. Beijingers will welcome lots of guests and treat them well. I have been treated by many people for meals and entertainment. It makes me think customs learned by how the emperor and officials treated their guests.

Another big reason for liking Beijing is that the people speak standard Chinese (Mandarin). From my experience in some other cities, many people can speak Mandarin, but usually speak the local dialect among themselves. This makes for learning Mandarin much more difficult. So for students of Chinese, Beijing is the best place to live to have an environment of the target language.

I was back in school this past week after a week vacation. That vacation time was really good, I felt rejuvenated and ready to go back to school. Especially going to the Botanical Garden and smelling the flowers, breathing the fresh air, and walking through the hills was refreshing.

Flowers at Beijing Botanical GardenI have an idea to make an 80 year plan. When I am 113 years old and look back, what will I have wanted to accomplish, what will I have wanted to see and do, what will I want my life to have been like, what kind of legacy will I have wanted to leave, where will I live, what kind of house will I live in, what will my family be like, my children, my grandchildren, my health, my hobbies, my spirituality, my education, where will I have been, etc. Having a far-reaching, thoughtful plan will make everything I do have purpose and meaning. I will be able to check off items on my plan, making the most of each moment and use my time efficiently and effectively, and I can make adjustments along the way as necessary. I like the idea of a long-term plan because I can make my short-term plans with greater objectives in mind. This is along the lines of what I had in mind in creating an exciting vision for the future.

My classes will end at Renmin University on July 7th. My current plan is to go to Hong Kong the week after school is out and renew my visa then return to Beijing and work through the summer while I stay in the dorm. I am still waiting to hear back on my scholarship application.

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Monday, February 13, 2006

Tiger Claw Strike! Flying Duck Kick! - Chinese TV

Did I mention there is a plethora of Kung-fu movies and shows on TV. I like martial arts and will forever be a fan of Bruce Lee, so it does not bother me much. However, sometimes you flip the channels and its one kung-fu fight after another. Sometimes it looks realistic and practical, and sometimes fanciful, magical and unattainable. If well done, it can be fun to watch.
Many movies, shows and music come into the mainland from Taiwan and Hong Kong. However, more and more are being produced on the mainland. I watched a part of the New Years Special Music and Entertainment Special on TV. It lasts for hours, leading up to New Years Day. I read the Super Bowl, the most watched show in the US, was watched by about 100 million Americans. The Chinese New Years Special was watched by an estimated 800 million Chinese. Notice that is 8 times more than how many watched the Super Bowl. That happens to equal the number of Chinese who live on less than $2 a day.

New Year's TV SpecialThe Chinese New Year Special was performed live. It had the top new and favorite celebrities singing, dancing, comedy sketches etc. A good performance by a new talent can bring instant stardom.

Another thing Chinese like to watch is acrobatics and super-human feats. Some of the acrobatic stunts are amazing. I think of the long, long hours of practice that went to doing them. However, I do not enjoy watching girls who can do amazing feats of contortionism. It just sends creepy shivers down my spine to see a girl touch her nose with her toe, over her back! I have a hard time just touching my toes with my fingertips without bending my knees.

Commericial for Hi-Tech pillowChinese TV is certainly unabashedly commercialistic. Not only do commercials interrupt programming as much as in the states, there is no shortage of Infomercials. Infomercials selling everything from masks that will turn your skin a lighter, whiter complexion, bust and butt enhancers, shoes that add 7 cm to your height, body suits that straighten your back and improve your posture, magical hair boosting and restoration creams, liquids, sprays, and helmets that shoot some kind of beam into your scalp. For kids who are pressured to studying all day and night, gadgets and games for children to help them learn English faster and make studying more fun.

Are people lives determined when they are kids?
You can see the extremes people go to sometimes. I have kids as young as 12-14 in some of my English classes. Their parents make them go to school to pick up and absorb what they can, knowing that if the kids read and speak English well they are more assured of a bright future. I have also seen kids made to grope, pull and beg on people, especially foreigners until they can get some money out of them. I have seen a child about 5 or 6 years old laying out on a pedestrian bridge everyday for over three weeks. The little child acts like a child, rolling around and fiddling with the little can, showing little awareness of anything. I got fed up of seeing this day after day and talked to the Security at Renmin University on how to report that. But they said I was wasting my breath informing the police. The child is being watched by someone and being used to beg.
But when you compare some kids who are starting off early in school to study versus a child who spends his days holding a can, I wonder how the begging child can ever reverse course and have a better life.

Trade Deficit
I have been reading articles about the US and Chinese economy. As far as America is concerned, the trade deficit was the largest ever recorded, and China is the biggest so-called culprit. Some blame the Chinese government for not allowing the Chinese currency, the RMB, to fluctuate according to market factors. The Chinese have the RMB pegged to about 8.11 to the US dollar. This helps keep Chinese goods cheap and drives exports. I feel this certainly needs to be looked at.
Cook makes soup at Ditan Temple FairIf you look at Chinese exports, a majority sells based on its value. Decent quality at a cheap price. The cheap price primarily comes from cheap labor. It is my feeling that cheap labor is the biggest contributor to China’s growth. With 800 million still making only $2 dollars a day, that reserve still can be tapped for years.

By keeping the exchange rate fixed, this allows the Chinese to keep making use of cheap labor. If the rate of exchange were allowed to change, all the dollars being used to buy goods in RMB would cause the price of RMB to increase. Chinese goods would become more expensive, and production and manufacturing in China would be more expensive. Thus factories and jobs stay in the states, more goods made in the US are bought in US. I have seen US politicians putting more pressure on China to change its exchange rate policy, everything from direct comments to Chinese officials to putting forth bills in congress.

In the meantime, how can America compete? In the short term, getting China to change its exchange rate policy is needed. But in the long-term, it seems clear to me that Americans need to be smart, creative, inventive, and efficient. But that is too much for me to discuss at this juncture.

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Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Ditan Temple Fair

The entrance to Ditan (Temple of the Earth) Park, New Year's Fesitval
I went to Ditan (Temple of the Earth) Park in the north part of the city. By the way, Beijing has a long history. Used during the last three dynasties, the Emperor's palace, also known as the Forbidden City, is in the center of the city. The entrance to the Forbidden City is the one that is particularly recognizable, because it now has a big framed picture of Mao Ze Dong on the front. There is something very conspicuous about this placement to me. As if they replaced the emperor with Mao Ze Dong. There is something fitting in that, replacing one dictator for eh-hem.

Making my way through the crowds was not easyAnyway, Ditan, the Temple of the Earth is to the north of the Palace, Temple of Heaven is to the south, Temple of the Sun and Moon to the East and West. I understand one of the Emperor's big jobs was to go to these temples, offer prayers and sacrifice.

My visit to Ditan was not to make any sacrifices or offer prayers, rather to see the festival being held there. The Temples have all become public parks now, open to the people. The parks are used to hold public fairs and festivals. Inside Ditan, there were many shops selling all kinds of special New Years gifts, toys, games, arts and crafts, and food. Unique arts and crafts. This man was making little animals out of some kind of taffyThere were areas that had games for people to play and win prizes like a state fair. I tried a few including throwing Chinese coins through a big wooden board in order to hit a bronze gong and trying to break light bulbs over a metal bowl. I don't know what the trick is, but I threw those light bulbs hard and still couldn't break a single one.

Popular sweet candy treatsThe crowd was big. The mass of people moved through the many different twists and turns of the paths. The shops outnumbered the entertainment and arts and crafts, but it was still interesting.

Some scorpions on a stick please!I saw food there I will never forget. Rather, they were unforgettable because they were disgusting. Something that one might see on Fear Factor! Bugs and scorpions, little chickens on a stick. I am not sure if the scorpions were some kind of gimmick food, but I did see people buy and eat them. Though I don't think that is normal Chinese cuisine, I have heard that in China anything that moves can be on the dinner table. This group would carry kids around on traditional style carriages

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Monday, January 30, 2006

Beijing New Year's Festival

Beijing went crazy last night. I walked with some friends around 9 pm to have dinner at Bi-sheng-ke, the Chinese name for Pizza Hut, to celebrate the Chinese New Year. As we were walking there were many people on the streets unleashing powerful firecrackers and dazzling displays of light in all directions. Fireworks were going off all around the city in little alleys and next to main thoroughfares. People were swinging long strings of firecrackers around them and even holding pipes that shot off huge rockets that exploded into light. I thought it looked awfully dangerous, having been injured slightly when I was young by a little bottle rocket.

At around 11:50 the city just exploded. I went outside to hear the action. There were lights and explosions in all directions. I jumped because I would look in one direction to see a display when right behind me another guy lit a string of firecrackers that went off like a machine gun. Then I jumped again as the pops shot off from another direction. What really blows me away is how close to the buildings the fireworks go off. I would think lawyers or insurance people might be watching.

I hear that Chinese usually spend this time with their families. In some cases they sit around a table and make dumplings together. Kids are asked relentlessly by their grandparents about school and their grades. I understand that is a way of showing affection!

Its late January, and I have come to the conclusion Beijing winters are not sooo bad. Over the past month temperature hovered around the freezing point, but it has barely snowed and has been dry. It was windy in December, but not recently. Not as good as Arizona, but better than Chicago.

Recently Mom told me, "if you have a positive attitude you will be more successful".

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