Its been busy ‘round these parts

The past couple weeks have consisted of midterms on midterms. Nobody likes a test, especially one in a language you really only vaguely understand. So, needless to say its been busy ‘round these parts. In addition to midterms, Alliance students have all been planning our independent travel itineraries. Since I switched into to study robot mode, Matthew took on all of the travel plans…which I greatly appreciated, because planning travel here stresses me out. We both wanted to get out of the city for a while and take in some fresh air, so we’re headed out to Guangxi and Yunnan provinces for the week. Next time you hear from me, I’m sure I’ll be an experienced mountain-climbing rice farmer. Of course, you might not hear from me again if I decide to live out the rest of my life in a hot spring. 

So, I’m (very) happy to say again: Zaijian Shanghai! 

Shanghai Marriage Market. I think this is what life would be like if online dating didn’t exist. Basically parents post a flier of their unmarried child’s credentials here and lounge around the park until someone takes interest. Matthew tried to pimp out his roommate with moderate success, update to come if it works out. 

Eating Dog and Visiting the Doctor in China

Believe it or not, the two activities are not at all related. Although, I wouldn’t be surprised if the bad karma from trying dog meat caused some future visit to the doctor. I only tried one bite, I swear. Since I’ve been in China I’ve become a much more adventurous eater. Octopus noodles? Sure! Jew’s ear? I’ll try it. But let’s get to the interesting stuff, right?

How did the dog taste, you ask? I would say its pretty comparable to beef, but it was a lot fattier and somewhat stringy. Maybe it depends on the breed of dog you’re sampling? Who knows. We ordered what literally translates to “mixed dog meat.” I’m not sure if this implies the dog was some sort of mixed breed, we got multiple parts of the dog, or we received a mix of several dogs’ meat. I’m not actually sure I want to know. You got me this time, Chinese-style Korean restaurant. 

Before I left for China, my friend’s dad told me explicitly not to get hurt because Chinese medical care is (according to him) a real mess. Well, sorry Gary! During my trip to Qinghai, I somehow managed to contract an infection on my finger. I put off going to see a doctor for as long as possible, but after a week of no improvement I thought it might be necessary. Luckily part of the fee for my abroad program is to pay for overseas medical insurance, so I was completely covered to see a doctor. Chinese medical care was the opposite of what I expected. The office I went to was located in a ritzy little shopping center near People’s Square, everyone spoke perfect English, and my doctor was German. I was seen 10 or so minutes earlier than my appointment time, and only had to wait about 2 minutes for my doctor to come in. He asked me a few questions, checked out my infection, prescribed me some medicine, and we went our separate ways. It kind of felt how medical care should be (take notes America?). 

JUST STUFF IT IN!

Woah! Hey there vaguely inappropriate blog title, how you doin’?

But in all seriousness, this is highly descriptive of my experience traveling to Qinghai Province for a week and then to Beijing for the Chinese National Holiday. For example, before we left for Qinghai, we were advised not to check a bag at the airport. How does one pack more than a weeks worth of warm clothes and daily necessities into a carry-on bag? Just stuff it in! (same goes for the laundry afterwards….) How does one experience a completely different kind of Chinese culture in just over a week? Just stuff it in! How does one see all Beijing has to offer in 4 days? Just stuff it in! Alright, I’m pretty over using ‘one’ as a subject for a while. Seriously though, seeing and doing everything I wanted to during our study trip and short holiday was next to impossible, and I am exhausted. Instead of writing out a detailed itinerary, I’m going to try to hit most of the highlights. 

1. Minorities in China

Qinghai is the only place in China where I’ve felt the difference between China’s minority populations and Han Chinese people. Much of Qinghai is made up of minorities including Tibetans and Chinese Muslims. And while I’ve notices some differences between Chinese people in the two major Chinese cities I’ve been to now, Qinghai is the only place where I’ve felt surrounded by a different kind of Chinese people, and it was really cool. The clothing, food, and way of approaching life are all much different even in Xining, a large (by American standards) city in Qinghai. 

2. Monasteries 

At times it felt like you wouldn’t be able to throw a rock in Qinghai without hitting a monastery. Don’t get me wrong, monasteries are really beautiful and an important and cool part of Tibetan/Buddhist/Chinese culture. But I am most definitely monastery-ed out. There’s only so much I can appreciate about something I barely understand, maybe with more time and knowledge and a smaller group of people I could really enjoy a tour of rural monasteries…(can you sense my shifty eyes? I’m not convinced). Maybe it was the monk that almost ran me over in a BMW? Or all of the iMessaging in Tibetan the monks were doing, but something seemed to be amiss in many of the temples/monasteries/stupas we went to. Though its probably because we didn’t have much of a chance to get off the beaten path. 

3. Kickin’ it with Nomads

One super cool outing we all took as a group (all 30 of us) was to pop a squat with some nomads in their cool-weather residence and experience a bit of what they eat and drink on a day-to-day basis. It was an interesting experience to say the least. Milk tea (made with yak milk) with optional add-ins of yak butter and yak cheese! Practically Starbucks, who am I kidding?  Let me take a little detour and tell you, this cheese was not your garden-variety Kraft American singles, nor was it a tasty, sharp European cheese. This was crack your teeth, scrunch your eyebrows, “huh?” cheese. If stale grape nuts tasted tangy, I would call them yak cheese. The weird part was, all mixed together, it was actually pretty delicious. From the yak milk/butter/cheese tea we were able to take a type of flour and make a snack called “tsampa”. If I didn’t know what it was made of, I would swear on my life it was healthy, diet food. We enjoyed this with our, what is directly translated as “old yogurt”. No, I’m not sure what it was or how it was made, but I’m assuming it was another yak product. Mmm, yak. The whole experience was pretty amazing. 

4. Mountain Climbin’, Sand Dune Conquerin’, Yak Ridin’, Lake Swimmin’, Tomfoolery and Such

If you know anything about Qinghai, you know its breath-taking. At several points during our tour of the province we stopped to take hikes or just admire the scenery. From the Yellow River, to a temple on top of a mountain, to grasslands, to sand dunes, to Qinghai lake, we had an amazing experience to enjoy some of China’s most beautiful landscapes. Also, I rode a yak. Briefly. A bit strange considering I ate bits and pieces of what may have been a friend of his throughout the trip. On another note, bars and such in Qinghai are a lot of fun because they don’t get many Westerners out that way! One place we went to served us some complimentary food to show their hospitality. I’ll take it! 

5. Mutton

If you don’t like mutton, don’t come to Qinghai. That’s a bit of an exaggeration, but most of the meat eaten in the province is sad, old sheep. Can you tell that I’m a little bitter about it? Qinghai will never be my favorite food-place. 

6. Thanka Painting

Google it. There is so much more to know than I could ever explain about it, but this is a super cool type of art. 

7. Beijing

Beijing is just a cool city. In an effort to keep this post semi-short I’ll make another post for some pictures of Beijing. 

Finally — traveling

Tomorrow all of the Alliance Fudan students are shipping out to Qinghai for a week-long study trip, here’s hoping I get to say Tibetan botanical garden at least once.

My Chinese roommate helped a group of us book tickets to and a hostel in Beijing for the Chinese National Holiday that happens directly after we get back from Qinghai. I don’t really understand the purpose of the National Holiday, but all Chinese people get 3 days off for some reason. This year (every year?) it coincides with the Mid-Autumn Festival, which means mooncakes in Beijing for me! I’m ready to live out some Mulan fantasies in a more traditional Chinese city.

Zaijian Shanghai!