Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Finally in Beijing!!

Thank you everyone for all the well wishes! The flight was great, it actually went by pretty fast (as fast as a 14 hour flight can go), and before I knew it we were finally in Beijing! The time difference is + 12 hours, so its a difference of night and day, which means huge jet lag. My husband and I woke up yesterday at 2:30 in the morning and we were both wide awake. Last night was so much better though, we went out all day and made ourselves really, really tired, then went to bed and we were able to sleep from 9:30pm to 5:45am. Awesome! Hopefully that is my first step to getting over the jet lag.

This is the sign from customs at the airport. We are the foreigners here in China, or waiguoren, 外国人. Or, as we have heard a lot of already as we make our way around town on the subway, or as people run over to us pointing and excitedly exclaiming, "laowai!" - 老外. Laowai is the colloquial way to say foreigner. It doesn't necessarily have a bad connotation, I think its all in how its used... hah.

Yesterday we went to our new language school to register and sign up for classes. I'm so excited to start Chinese classes again! About a month and a couple weeks after graduating from my DLI Chinese program, and its definitely time to start going back to class to learn new things and even get some refreshers. Chinese is the sort of language that you really need to stay up on!

Luckily my Chinese has proved useful already - in the subway station, at the hotel. Its funny because I always start with English, and its like - why? Why do I do that? I never understood that in the U.S. when people who knew the language, at least a little bit, started with their native language and then switched to English as a last resort. Well, I know why after just a few days here ... its so much more comfortable to use your native language!! But I'd be doing myself and the people a disservice if I always start with English - so my goal is to immediately start with Chinese from now on and if I get stuck, switch to English and see what happens. Most English-speaking Chinese take one look at me and speak English, so I am going to work on answering them in Chinese and see if I can get them to speak Chinese with me instead of English.

Yesterday at the hotel, housekeeping knocked on the door and asked me if I had laundry. I didn't know exactly what she was referring to, so I said something asking about towels, did she want to switch out our towels? She looked at me and told me she didn't understand. I called for my husband - and luckily he didn't hear because I know just as much Chinese as he does! He's just way more outgoing than me, and not at all self conscious like I am. SO, I switched to Chinese and asked if she wanted to change our towels - she had a really surprised look of relief on her face and broke out into a huge smile. I explained in Chinese that we just arrived the night before and our towels were still clean, so we didn't need new ones. It was really awesome to use my language like that! And that stuff is so basic, its really majorly within my "ability" zone.

One thing that we really need to work on is the names of different foods and Chinese dishes. We didn't learn a lot of that type of info because there are so many varieties, but actually being here, you sort of need to know or else you really have no idea what you are ordering, and the English translations are usually not very useful. Yesterday we had a friend who has been living here a year already help us at lunch, so our food was delicious. The Chinese food in China is really different from Americanized Chinese food, and SO much tastier! I have to admit though, that I am the type of person who could eat Chinese food once every 2 months and not crave it for another 2 months. The food thing is going to be a challenge for me! Luckily our friend also pointed out some non-Chinese restaurants that she says are actually very good.

This is the Chinese restaurant we ate at for lunch. It was packed with natives and for good reason - its delicious! The food in China is so cheap. We ordered like 5 dishes, 4 of us ate and we had enough to feed a small family in the end! And it was only about $20 total.

These were so delicious! I don't know what type of meat it was and at this late stage I don't want to know either.. :) Sometimes I think you are better off not knowing. Its probably just pork. Anyway these are definitely going to be a favorite of mine I can tell!

Yum! This next dish had these little round things in it, don't know what they are, and they have a sort of almost numbing effect. Anyway this was a really tasty dish.

Yum! My friend called this slapped cucumbers. Whatever, it was good! very crisp and refreshing on a hot day!

We took the subway for a quick trip to Tiananmen Square. SUBWAYS IN BEIJING... are an experience. One word sums it up: SARDINES. We were packed in like sardines. Its so tight in there you don't even need to hold on because you are surrounded and squeezed in so tight, you all just sway together and no one falls down. At one point, the subway stopped at a station, NO ONE GOT OFF and several more people GOT ON! It was CRAZY. I have no idea how we all fit. Its nuts.

Anyway on the way out of the subway these two guys ran over two us and asked us to take a picture with them. The funny thing: this happened all day long. We were blatantly stared at and had our picture taken, whether we were asked or whether it was sneakily taken. I think a lot of the people who stare or who are so shocked by us are from smaller towns, not from Beijing.

This is our first view of the Forbidden City - we didn't tour it yet, thats a half day at least and we were still so tired.

This cute old Chinese guy selling China flags in Tiananmen Square.

Two Chinese something-or-other (I'll have to find out) guard Mao's tomb in Tiananmen.

And my husband and I in front of the Forbidden City.

Interesting cultural experiences of note (other than those already mentioned!):

1. Walked off the plane at the international airport, decided to use the restroom... walked in and promptly walked out after I saw it was only Chinese-style toilets, which are flat in the ground that you need to squat over. Don't get me wrong, its no big deal. I walked out because I need to figure out the logistics of all of this - how? How low do you go to ensure no splashage? How do you squat, keep your balance, and make sure your pants don't fall where you don't want them to fall? And with my crampy legs after a 14 hour plane ride? I took a raincheck.

2. A mom in the subway station had her little boy, about 5, stop, drop his pants and pee right there in the main hallway, on the floor. I guess if your kid has to go he has to go!

3. Split pants. Babies/toddlers wear them around here, we saw a lot of this around Tiananmen. Would have taken a picture but I felt weird snapping one. Here is one I found on google images:

When I talk about things like this - I'm not judging or poking fun or thinking its gross - I'm just taking notes. Its really interesting to see these aspects of a different culture!

And I knew you guys would appreciate this:

This is China?! There is also a Zara just a few feet away!

Today my friend (who also just got here) and I are going to take a walk by ourselves. I'll be the only Chinese-speaker so this should be an interesting test! I'll try to add more pictures later!



  1. Oh Steph, culture shock, huh? Thanks for the updates and glad you and your husband got there safe.:D

    Enjoy and please update us when you can!:D

    I'm not sure if there's a Watson's Drugstore around where you are staying but they do have good asian beauty products there. You might want to check it out.

    Have fun and stay safe!:D
    ...and everything girly under the sun!

  2. Marie, thanks for the tip! I will keep my eye out! I haven't seen any drugstore kind of places, and just this AM I was wondering if they have them. I will check into it!

  3. You're welcome!:D Have fun, Steph!:D

  4. Hi, I came across your blog from The Nest. I was born in Taiwan and moved to the States when I was 10, been here ever since. I think this is really neat that you're moving there? At least that's what I've gathered. When I went back to visit for the first time after being gone for over 10 years, I myself had culture shock. I couldn't deal with the chinese style bathrooms and would always wait until I got back to my grandparent's. Anyway, hope you have a great time there. It's always fun to see Chinese speaking Americans!

  5. I LOVED reading this post. I can tell I am really going to enjoy reading about all of your adventures. I find Asia so interesting. My fiance spent 15 months living in Korea just before we met and I worked as a nanny for a woman from China. We always talk about all the fascinating aspects of Asian culture. We'd both love to live there together before we have children but couldn't leave our dog, lol. We seriously just talked about this last night because I told him about you and your bathroom experience, haha.

    Good luck and have fun! Can't wait to read more :)

  6. wow! i learned a lot just reading this post. thanks for sharing! now i want to learn how to speak chinese. :D

  7. AHHH I am SOO jealous! I have pictures that look almost exactly same (you know another blonde in Beijing ;) omg so glad you made it and SOO excited and jealous to read about your adventures!! Have fun girl!! Oh and I wonder how you feel in about two weeks eating that food ;) LIVE IT UP!!! <3

  8. I loved this post! So many very noticeable cultural differences right off the bat! It's so cool you're teaching us all as you go--thanks :)

    Way to use Chinese to explain about the towels, that is so impressive! It's one thing to 'know' a language and another to use it! So exhilarating!!

  9. Thanks Kelsey! Asia really is is so interesting! I'm so excited to explore it, and I am really glad you enjoyed reading about it! I do miss my pup so much, but I video skype with my mom and she puts my little guy right there with her! love him.

    JCHokie- yep, I just moved here this week! If you want to know more about why and all that, I made a post my first month I had the blog, you can go back and check if you are interested. I am sure I will have to use one of those toilets in the near future, trust me I am sure you will hear about it on here when I do... lol.

  10. Thanks Andi!! Seriously, being able to USE the language in a real environment is the coolest thing ever! It really does feel great and I was just telling my husband how cool it must be to be our Chinese teachers knowing they taught us how to do this!

    Amber... ahaha, I know! I bet you know exactly what I am talking about. People are really funny here. The food in two weeks will be interesting. I'm already planning to go out today to a German bakery to buy some fresh baked bread... lol. What did you think of the food while you were here? Did you have any, um, issues, if you know what I mean?! I keep hearing about that and it makes me nervous!!

  11. Oh how lucky! Looks so beautiful there and the food looks yummy. :)

  12. I'm so happy you made it to Beijing safely! I would love to speak Chinese ;)

  13. Interesting post, glad you got there safely!

    That whole bathroom and bathroom manners bit was weird, or I should say unfamiliar. That would be difficult to adjust to for me, the bathroom is the room your most vulnerable in! Im a freak when it comes to the bathroom. I always make sure its completely private and comfortable, I wont even go to public restrooms lol

  14. The small spicy numbing balls in that dish were probably peppercorns. They're a different type of spicy, or "ma-la".

    As for the toilet situation - I thought they would've improved by now, especially after the Olympics! I visited China in 2002 and the bathrooms were my least favorite part. If you're lucky there should be some grating on both sides of the toilet which I guess is anti-slip. I bring a little packet of TP with me at all times because some bathrooms don't provide any (or you have to pay for it). Think of it as doing squats and at least you'll have toned thigh muscles! :)

  15. Bella - you are right, it IS ma-la! My friend told me at the time but I have to admit I wasn't really listening, I was a little overwhelmed with everything I was taking in! Anyway I was surprised with the toilets because it was at the capital city's int'l airport. I thought they'd have western style there, or maybe I just wasn't thinking:) Anyway my bag is already filled with my own tissues for that exact situation! good tip.

  16. I cannot wait to read more! You are so fortunate that there are retailers like Sephora there - none were in Changsha!

  17. I loved this post as well. You seem so open to new cultures and it's so refreshing to read your take on things! Oh dear - I wore those split pants as a child ... wish I could bury the photos.

    I'm so impressed you're willing to openly speak Chinese. When I visited France I was too embarrassed to speak the language despite having taken classes for years. It takes a lot of guts to not care about sounding bad in front of locals : )

  18. Wow, goodluck with everything in China! I can't wait to read more about your exprience in Beijing. I've been there once and it was really dirty and loud, felt a bit rushed but I was like in a really busy area I guess? Aah the toilet! I hope its thin enough that you don't fall through -_- but I have had so many experiences with that myself, I think it really depends on your own limitations when it comes to how you squat and etc. Girlfriend china has EVERYTHING lol so you will not have any trouble finding a different type of food, or any make up stores...its all made in CHINA ;] hehe have fun!

  19. PetiteAsianGirl (I'll have to find out your name, I don't like addressing you that way, lol!) - I know exactly what you mean, like I said I am very self conscious about it but I am trying to be more outgoing with speaking Chinese. Today I spoke with the housekeeping lady again and I totally jacked up what I was trying to say, but I finally worded it in a different way and she knew exactly what I was saying and rephrased it for me. Its the only way you learn ya know?!

    Beyond Me - LOL! you are right, everything is made in China! hah. Should have no problem finding it here. :) I've heard from others that the city is really dirty but its funny because I didn't feel that way at all yesterday, but, maybe I was just in the clean parts. The subway was so clean, and the stations were great too, 1000x cleaner than the subways in NYC! Well, besides the little kid peeing right on the station floor. When I was in Budapest, I saw adult-sized defecation in the subway station so the little kid peeing seems mild in comparison. hah.

  20. I am glad you made it safely! Thank you so much for this post. I can't wait to hear about all of your adventures. It sounds like a good one thus far! I completely forgot about the "floor toilets"! Looking forward to your next post-

    (The Pretty Pauper)
    Feel free to follow my blog :)

  21. how exciting! what an amazing experience you are having..can't wait to hear more and glad you made it there safe :)

  22. You and your hubby look so cute and happy! What an adventure! Don't worry, soon the restaurants will become the easiest part about using Chinese. You HAVE to eat, so you catch on quickly. I am fluent in German when I am hungry. LOL, yeah right.

  23. I'm glad you had a safe trip!
    We have those bathrooms here too...their very interesting arent they? Lol I'm still not 100% comfortable with them.

  24. Hey, glad ur flight was great!
    Wow, and I thought moving from Germany to the states was a culture shock...but nothing compared to China. I have never been to China but I can only imagine!
    Those toilets haha, my hubby told me about the squad toilet in iraq.
    About using the language, thats just the way to do it, dont be afraid to speak it and the easier it will get. Cuz u only learn when u speak it.
    Cant wait to read more!

  25. I love to read this post! I hope you have the best time ever there! And maybe before you know it, you get use to those toilets ;)

  26. Great post Steph!.... I bet those guys wanted your picture because they thought you were famous... seriously though two cute blonde americans, I would have thought you guys were movie stars too :)

    Glad to see you are safe and sound, love the pics and the recaps!

  27. Great post! It's so interesting. I love reading about all of the culture differences. Def keep us posted...have fun!!

  28. Glad you got there ok! Wow, you've accomplished a lot in a very short period of time :) Congrats on being able to communicate! That's a big deal!

  29. I read *all* your posts over the weekend, and have been checking for an update since then!

    I love reading your posts, we get pictures + fun descriptions of your adventure!

    Also, it is so! rad! that you speak chinese! I'm sure you'll get more comfortable with it as time goes by!

  30. Steph, I can't begin to explain how excited I am for you. This is such an amazing experience for you and K and I'm so happy you're getting to enjoy it!

  31. My bf is an officer in the army and we do the long distance thing as well. I think perhaps I should pick your brain a bit on this!!

  32. There are a lot of good resturaunts in Humen Square.. more western with Chinese influences.

    The bathrooms... always check every stall because sometimes the last stall is a western toilet (or they have at least 1). Depends on where you are though. Make sure to have kleenex in your purse in case their is no tp provided.

    Forbidden City- You can hire a chinese/english speaking guide outside for around $30 I think (plus his admission). It was well worth it.

    Great Wall- try not to use the bathroom if possible, it is the worst I have seen in China!

  33. How awesome! Thank you so much for sharing!

    Enjoy! I am looking forward to reading more and seeing a lot more pictures! I love your observations!

  34. That picture of you two in front of the Forbidden City is great! Can't wait to read more!

  35. Lol! My name is Jean ... it does feel really odd having messages addressed that way.
    Btw - just read the scary news about what happened at a school in Beijing..stay safe! I just realized something too - you have blogger access in Beijing? My relatives say they cannot see my blog because Google is blocked!

    PS - To answer your question I think petite items will be too "shrunken" for you : ) Trust me, you're not missing out on anything though by not needing special petite clothing.

  36. i'm glad you guys finally made it! and wow, reading about your experiences so far is really interesting! i had no idea about the split pants- how weird?!! i can't wait to read more about your trip. also, i feel the same way as you, i don't know if i could use the chinese style toilets...a little too bizarre and out of my comfort zone! <3

  37. PPS^ just realized I completely didn't answer your question. No regular sized line, just shorties : )

  38. Yay for chinese food!! I would be in heaven right now...yum.

  39. My absolute most favorite part of this post of yours, is that people were coming up to you and your man asking to take pics of and with you guys. I love that feeling - it makes you wonder:

    1) Do they think you guys are someone else, a certain celebrity, a power couple?

    2) What do they do with these pictures? Do they too have a blog and want to post about the American couple they ran into that day to make good blog?

    Bask in the attention and keep on blogging. Enjoy the trip!

  40. hi! i just wanted to let you know that i gave you an award on my blog. :D

  41. Jean - I definitely knew I wouldn't fit in petite, but I was hoping that designer made non-petite sizes because that top and dress you have are so, so darling! (since blogging I've learned I need to expand my vocab from "cute" and "gorgeous" lol!)

    Alison - thank you so much! what a compliment!! The internet here is a little slow for some reason, especially loading pics, but I will definitely be making another post soon. Today we are going to find a place to live!! so a new post will be soon.

    Cindy - thank you, sweetie!!

    Jamie - anytime! We've been through an Iraq deployment and lots of trainings, now foreign living. Any questions or just want to share or vent, you know where to find me!

    Mimi -I will check out the award, thank you so much!

    Whitney - thanks for the tips!

    Jenny Jen - I have no idea! Another friend of mine said they probably think we are celebs, haha. The people who do this are probably from outside the city and are just shocked at foreigners. BUT a good amount of people stare us down! Not rudely though, just sort of curious, I think! And they love when we open our mouths and chinese comes out!

    Thank you everyone soo much for posting!!

  42. OMG - those split pants are too adorable! Baby butt cheeks! Can't wait to read more about your adventures. :)

  43. Steph,

    Glad you made it there safely. You are going be fluent in no time, sounds like you are doing pretty well already! OMG those potty training pants are pretty hilarious. What is the point of wearing anything, really? LOL. What a great adventure!


  44. So glad you made it safely Steph! I could go for a plate of those slapped cucumbers right about now. Cannot wait to see more pics of your adventures!