Beijing: Sounds, Smells, Suds, And The Summer Palace

The Sites, Sounds, And Smells Of Daily Life In Beijing

I did eventually make it to the other side of the lake

Beijing is a great city. Every time I’m with a group of friends, especially American friends, we all always seem to come to that conclusion. Of course, I’m not really sure why, seeing as Beijing is one of the most out there places I have ever been in my life. It’s a combination of the American wild west circa 1875, modern technology, long-standing (and outdated by U.S. standards) traditions, and just general ridiculousness. And I mean that all in a good way. I actually feel less out of place here than I did in Scotland. Anyway, here’s how life in Beijing has gone over the past week or so.

No need to save the best part for last. This past Saturday, the CET staff took us to the Summer Palace, the site of the Royal family’s summer home since 1750 . The photos can do more justice than my words, so I’ll keep them minimal.  I will say that it was extremely big and extremely beautiful. It’s technically a public “park”, but at 2.9 square kilometers (most of which is a lake), I’d say “park” is an understatement. And of course when you’re the emperor and you divert 30 million taels of silver (no clue what a tael is), originally designated for the Chinese navy, into construction and enlargement of your palace, it’s obviously going to be beautiful. (By the way, the park was so big that we never actually had the time to go in the palace, but I plan to go again in the near future.)

I’m still eating like a king, and my waistline is still somehow shrinking. I’m contemplating buying a knockoff Swiss Army knife for $1.00 so I can make more holes in my belt.  I feel like Jared the Subway guy holding up his fat pants on the commercial, except I wasn’t fat to begin with, and I’m definitely not eating subway. I’m still waiting for scorpion on a stick or a beating rattlesnake heart, but today I did eat donkey filled dumplings, and thoroughly enjoyed them.

My dorm room window is open 24/7 and there’s a new sound (or disturbing noise) almost every minute of every day. Right now, I’m pretty sure I’m hearing the elementary school kids across the street at recess (I also hear them every morning reciting slogans, which may seem a bit Communist until you remember that you recited the pledge of allegiance everyday for the first 18 years of your life), earlier today I could’ve sworn I heard either a dying dog or a duck on the chopping block, car horn honking – which is continuous so at this point I can ignore it, and most nights at around 4:00 or 5:00 someone nearby plays the 2011 Chinese version of Brittany Spears.

It’s the same situation with smells – it’s always something new or different.  Sewage, flowers, cigarette smoke from the guys who play cards (in front of almost any store as long as there’s a table), street food, garbage, exhaust fumes, and this random smell that is pretty much a permanent fixture in the Beijing air, yet I can’t identify it…it’s all there. Some people might find it off-putting, but I genuinely enjoy it.

My room's not actually a mess. That's all clean clothing strategically placed on every open surface in my room for drying purposes.

Speaking of smells, I did my first load of laundry this week – although somehow my clothes managed to smell almost as bad as they did before they were washed (and yes, I know how to use a washing machine), but no biggie.  I doubt anyone can distinguish the smell of my clothes from anything else around here (or that they even care).

Dryers are somewhat of a rarity in Beijing, so we’re definitely lucky to have a couple at CET.  That being said, they do a god awful job. I put my clothes through 3 full cycles, and could’ve gotten the same result had I just rung them out. And just as a little bonus, the one place you can hang your clothes also serves as the unofficial smoking area. So what did I do? I MacGyver’d a clothesline out of my 50 foot, otherwise useless, Ethernet cord – obviously. Worked like a charm too.

I also got my first Chinese haircut this week. (Look at that – in my last post I said I still needed to do my laundry and get a haircut, and I’ve done both.) If you know me, you’ll probably know I get my haircut every 4 weeks almost on the dot. I like to look good, what can I say…

Check out that forecast

I’ll admit, I think the single time I’ve been nervous and/or scared in Beijing was walking into that Chinese version of Supercuts. However, it was all for nothing as this was legit one of the best haircuts I’ve ever gotten. Here’s how it went: They took my bags, put them in a locker, and gave me the key; my hair got a full wash; got cut; then washed and rinsed again! That’s better service than I’ve ever gotten in the U.S., and I didn’t even have to ask for it. I told the guy (who looked like he was about 18) “same style, a little shorter”, seeing as that’s all I knew how to say, and he absolutely nailed it. Normally a good haircut wouldn’t prompt too much excitement from this guy, but I’ve yet to mention the best part…it costs 10 kuai, or the equivalent of $1.56 US. I usually pay $20 for my cut back home, so after doing some basic math, you’ll see that I could now get my hair cut every 3 days for the same price.

Not too much to report on the academic front. Even though I can’t tell, I’m sure my Chinese is getting better. The whole no English thing is actually the harder part. I can understand a large portion of what people are saying, but a lot of times, especially if I’m speaking to a Chinese person amongst a group of other people, I have to ask them to slow down. Unfortunately, this makes them think that they need to dumb down their speech and talk to me like I’m 5 (in actuality, they could probably still only talk to me like I’m 14), which I know is inconvenient for them, and therefore makes me feel bad.  But it is what it is, and hopefully in a few weeks I won’t have that problem anymore.

The weather is getting colder quickly, but as of right now, I don’t think it could get any nicer. And on that note, I think I’ve covered everything.