Wednesday, July 13, 2011

One last thing: recommended places to visit in Beijing!


Beijing City Planning Exhibition- not on the most frequented museum, but definitely one of Beijing's finest. Located next to Qianmen (前门), the highlight is the fourth floor which is covered by a detailed miniture model of Beijing.

The National Museum- Located next to Tiananmen Square, the National Museum just opened this year after years of construction. The lines are long, but if you decide to spare the 10kuai (which I recommend) to buy your tickets at the north entrance as oppose to waiting in the “free ticket” line (which can take an hour) you can get in really fast. The exhibit to see is 复兴之路 which recounts modern Chinese historical narrative from the Chinese perspective.

Other things to do:

Tiananmen Flag Rise

Panjiayuan (and if you wear glasses, visit glasses city-- four floors of high quality glasses at very discounted prices!)

Great Wall sections not to be missed: 金山岭(jinshanling), 水长城(Water Great Wall), and 黄花长城(Huanghua Great Wall)。
Jinshanling is a very mild hike (no strenous climbing is necessary) with lots of fun forts and posts. There is a very steep, unkept climb at the end thatn. It's also a pretty beautiful section of the Wall (for more pictures refer to previous post)

Picture taken at the steep section

Water Great Wall and Huanghua Great Wall are located very close to each other, and with the names being frequently interexchanged, you might find yourself at one while intending to find the other. Either way, both great wall sections are considered 'wild sections' and are located along winding water.


The dam

Underneath the dam

the appearance of the great wall sinking under water, hence the name


Melissa (another Yalie in JE), my aunt and I

Melissa and I brushing up on our kungfu skillz

Melissa lol

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

now home

Now that I'm back in the comforts of home, I feel in some ways less proactive and less capable than I did at Beijing—when I felt like my time was being more efficiently used. I guess that's what happens when you know your time is limited (by the nearing date of an airplane ticket) and you're constantly encountering novel situations, and committing new names, alternative traveling routes, and tid-bits of helpful information to memory.

The ~6 months I spent in Beijing have been far more rewarding than I could have imagined (4 at ACC, 2 doing independent research). Before leaving for Beijing I had some reservations. Studying Chinese in Beijing was a plan that I made in the spring of Sophomore year, but by Junior fall, I had other things on my mind. Even after being admitted to the ACC program, I was still unsure. One of my suitemates who also made similar plans to study abroad in France and was accepted into a program, eventually decided against it. Despite my reservations, I decided to take the plunge. The Light Fellowship really does make studying an East Asian language too tempting of an opportunity to pass up.

One of my mom's recent mottos is you never know what you're capable of unless you're tested. Difficult circumstances have the ability to pull out your hidden potential. My mom, now nearing her 50s, says she has constantly been amazed by what she has been able to overcome—and she often laughs when she thinks about how her friends from college would react.

My time at ACC has given me more confidence in my Chinese abilities, which was so invaluable for preparing me for my last two months (May and June). My goal (after revisiting some of my earlier posts) for this time spent in China was to improve my Chinese to a level where I “wouldn't be exposed”. I'm not quite sure if I've reached this goal because I've realized that different people with differen't backgrounds react to me in a range of ways. Now I've come to accept that no matter how proper my tones are and how big my vocab is, my American mannerisms also makes me stand out and keeps me from completely “blending in”--but what is “blending in anyways”?. As someone who not only looks Chinese, but is actually Chinese (by heritage and nationality), it's pretty strange when I have to explain to someone that I'm currently in China studying Chinese. Some people are surprised by my revelation and reassure me that they would have never guessed that I didn't grow up in China; others kind of realize that I'm slightly different because of my strange word choices. One example occurred during my research period when I was getting feedback on my surveys from a Statistics student at 民大 who found it strange that I kept on saying “In China, blah blah blah”. I realized after he pointed it out, that my way of speaking was the equivalent of saying “In the US, Americans elect their government officials” vs. saying “We elect government officials.” While it makes sense for someone who is distinctively foreign, it didn't make much sense for me who kept on saying “In China, Chinese people blah blah blah.”

Ethan also pointed out that one of the reasons people find my speech strange is that I sometimes insert random 东北话 (northeastern dialect) slang into my otherwise very standard 普通话(mandarin). I always thought that I spoke very standard mandarin, and never consciously thought that I had any tendency for东北话 until one of our teachers pointed it out to me. And the funny part is, my 东北 slang started to rub off on other students at ACC. The teachers could even tell apart the ACC students who spent a lot of time with me by the appearance of 东北slang! At least this was an indication that we kept the language pledge. (Postscript insert of apology for this entry not having any particular order or theme).

Before arriving in Beijing, I expect a very large concrete metropolitan, with a few very crowded touristy must go's interspersed in between. I anticipated pollution, I anticipated traffic, I anticipated myself to have a valuable opportunity to learn Chinese, to see my Chines relatives for Chinese New Year, and eat lots of delicious 油条 and 豆浆. What I didn't anticipate was how beautiful Beijing could be in the winter, how many good friends I would make, and how even in the last month before I left, I would find an amazing group of badminton lovers on the Beijinger. I didn't expect that I would learn Chinese history (and realize how big of a knowledge gap I have), visit so many beautiful sections of the Great Wall, and I didn't expect how my time and my familiarity with other people's point of view would come to shape my own.

In my last two months, I stayed in Beijing to do research for my senior thesis project. I interviewed professors, participate in conferences at universities, and wrote and then conducted a survey of Chinese university students. I got to experience what living on my own post graduation might be like. I experienced what it's like finding my place a city without many friends or allies, and then building something from nothing. Even renting an apartment in Beijing is different, I imgaine, from other cities. Because housing prices are so high, wealth disparity is so great, there is literally a huge spectrum of housing available for rental. I chose the higher quality end of student housing (which wasn't that great coming out of ACC dorms), which mean that my new room included a wooden bed (no mattress) and rickety furniture that broke if you moved it. Other options on the cheaper side of the spectrum included basement level air-raid shelters and haphazardly put up shacks (If I had the time, I could really write a whole entry just on housing in Beijing, and then a completely separate one on my experience with finding housing in Beijing).

All in all, I am so thankful for the time I've had this semester the capital city. Thank you Light Fellowship for having made everything possible!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

End of the year wrap up report

ACC End of the Semester Report

Out of 5
Teaching quality: 5
The engagingness of the course material: 5
The engagingness of class: 3
Living environment: 5
Outside of the classroom activity: 4

Overall, I liked ACC a lot. On one hand, my experiences were unique as the only 5th year in the program, however, on the other hand, because we were all living together, my social experiences are very similar to other students.

I can say for sure that being at ACC improved my Chinese ability. My reading, writing, and vocab bank has increased dramatically. As a native speaker, ACC 5th year was exactly the kind of structured language learning that I needed to make progress. However, I know that a lot of the students from other years found ACC's way of learning too structured and inflexible. They especially didn't like how ACC program did not give students very many chances to put their Chinese to practical use (because we were for the most part, memorizing vocab words every day).

One thing that I should stress about ACC is its language pledge. ACC has a very strict language pledge that for some reason, the students this semester did not follow it very well (I would even dare to say that we were probably the worst group in all of ACC history). ACC staff will tell you that the language pledge is the cornerstone of ACC Chinese education. You chose to attend this program knowing about the language pledge, and thus you should follow it. Additionally, if you choose not to, your grade will drop by a letter if you are caught speaking in English twice, and you will be expelled from the program if you are caught three times (one student was sent home with only 2 weeks left of the program).

I think there is great value is keeping the language pledge. Some students managed to do so all through the semester, and it was pretty obvious to everyone, teachers included, who had been sticking to the pledge and who had not. Students who did stick to the pledge really did improve by leaps and bounds while other students who were speaking in English all the time, did not have very dramatic improvements.

Although I am a strong advocate of the language pledge, I was not a student who stuck with the language pledge at all times. For me, the benefits of keeping the language pledge were few. In fact, by keeping with the language pledge, I actually started to unconsciously absorb other ACC student's foreign accent. Also, it is very difficult to speak to 2nd years and even 3rd years if the language pledge was maintained. Our group gave up on it fairly early on because 4th years essentially had to ignore their 2nd year friends.

In the end, I do not regret not keeping the language pledge because talking to students who spoke grammatically incorrect Chinese also caused me to pick up grammatically incorrect habits. However, if you are a future student who does not intend to keep the language pledge, please do not be a negative influence on the people around you and unknowingly pressure others to also violate the pledge. I think for many people there is great value is keeping to it.

The material at ACC, at least for 4th and 5th is quite engaging, however the repetitiveness of the teaching method can make class boring.

Tips of advice:
Go to office hours! The teachers are available in the dorm hotel, so not only are they super conveniently close, but it's also a great opportunity to practice speaking in Chinese and to get to know the teachers.
Buy a bike! It's like freedom on wheels.
Bali Gym membership: while I did not purchase gym membership at this gym down the street, everyone who did loved it

Monday, April 18, 2011


Perhaps right before finals is not the best time to be updating my blog, but life has been so fun lately and I've got pictures! :D

This past weekend was ACC's 中文之夜 (China Night), which were filled with student performances. I was a serious part of three performances, including impromptu Beijing Opera (never heard of it? that's because we invented it!), a game show challenge, and a movie! For Impromptu Beijing Opera, think Whose Line Is it Anyway + really high pitched Beijing Opera voice + foreigners speaking in Chinese + ridiculous props/acrobatics/costumes, and VIOLA!

As to the game show challenge, we had ACC's most beloved couple (an adorable Buddhist couple from Japan compete against ACC's most extroverted bros). Of course one of the challenges had to be Charades.

Lastly, I also wrote/directed/produced a movie. The movie is basically 75% true and all of the little stories in the movie are vignettes from ACC students' personal experiences. When I get the chance, I'll post it for you to watch!

And then, yesterday was one of my good friend 江磊's 21st birthday and so we went to one of his/mine favorite parks-北海公园. I'm not sure how much fun he had, but I sure had a blast. I danced with a group of elderly retirees inside a pavilion on the lake, and the proceeded to play badminton with some old timers near the famous double sided dragon wall. The dancing pavilion reminded me of my high school days when my friends and I used to go to Dance Away, a gathering at the downtown Unitarian Church. There, people from all walks of life (some donning flashy masks, some dancing with feathered boas, and some playing with glow in the dark hoops) gathered to do their own quirky dance. At Dance Away, my friends and I were the youngest participants, which is probably why I found the retirees' dancing pavilion so familiar.

Today I visited an awesome professor at 北大 (Beida)University (basically the Yale of China) who agreed to help me with my summer project and introduce me to survey work in China. Unfortunately, it wasn't as much of a done deal as I expected. She was so great and welcoming, but she says that the work that she's currently doing/having her students do is unrelated to my interests and also that at the moment, she doesn't have any full-time work for me. However, she did agree to contact me if they have field work/training sessions. She also provided me a lot of resources to consult as well as names of other professors and organizations that are also involved with public opinion survey work. My summer plans are slowly, but surely materializing! :D

My meeting with the Beida professor was also a good addition to my day. My thoughts on this visit are as such: 1) WOW, BEIDA facilities are so baller. 的确名不虚伪 (the name lives up to its reputation)。2) She told me that after looking through my resume, she really respected my independence. Students from the US (and perhaps more so at Yale) are very eager to pursue their own independent research projects and to 想方设法 (by any means necessary) reach out to professors, which is something Chinese undergraduates don't get much of a chance to do.

Dancing Pavilion featured with bonafide old timer hipster

She was really nice and tried convince 江磊 to dance!

However, because 江磊, being 江磊, kept on refusing, I took her up on her offer instead and we ended up dancing salsa together!

This lady is in her 80s!

She and I also became good friends. She is a retired optometrist and likes to dance solo. She dances mostly ethnic dances, and I had a good time imitating/branching off from her moves

Guess who!

Getting her stretching on

Badminton! I also played a few rounds, but I was terribly sub par.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Beijing Urban Planning Exhibit

Wins the award for most amount of impressive technology found in a museum/WOW factor. It also had a 4-D theater that cost less than $1.

The cool model of Beijing. The whole floor is either covered by models or maps

During the light show

talk about detail!

The digital book that you can flip by waving your hand above it

Of course, what city planning exhibition would be complete without a part dedicated to sustainability?

Saturday, April 2, 2011


WOW! What an amazing experience! It just rained yesterday too, so the air was as fresh as fresh could be. :)

doing an Amber

the group

Friday, April 1, 2011

3 weeks left

These past few days, ACC has really been looking up for me. With our graduation date coming up in less than a month, I'm beginning to feel like I don't have enough time left. This week, I had many high moments, and I began to think about the adjustment curve that we saw during orientation. I don't think I ever sunk into a "low point", but I do feel life at ACC improving these last few days. I love my teachers, I love my curriculum, I love my classes(except the earliest class, but only because of its timing), I love the other students here, and I love Beijing.

One thing that does affect me in a very negative way is my current state of health. Although I anticipated pollution, I didn't anticipate to feel so physically miserable so often. It's not completely horrible, I'm just so use to being healthy that comparatively, to be coughing and sneezing on a daily basis seems like a health disaster. I've only come down with a cold once this whole semester, but my respiratory system has been displeased with Beijing this whole time. Many other students have come down with things way worse than me, especially those who have asthma. Especially in the days right after New Years, the entire program was sick (teachers included). I suspect that it had something to do with the amount of pollutants, such as heavy metals, the firecrackers released into the air.

I think what I'm trying to say is, my spirits are high, but my physical health is low. Given what I've seen of the ACC program this semester, I would suggest that students with asthma consult a doctor before they decide to study in Beijing for a semester.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Inspired by kites and concrete buildings

I was walking back to my dormitory the other day, when above one of Beijing's distant highrises, I saw a colorful kite gliding in the sky. It was so hard to not believe that the kite flew itself, headstrong, going steadily against the wind. I wondered about the person at the end of the kite. Who are you? What do you do? Where are you? And there I was, surrounded by concrete, and suddenly, overcome with a strong feeling that was so similar to what I felt when reading 100 Years of Solitude, a feeling of fascination with the strangeness of life and the magic of what we've taken for granted as ordinary . Perhaps I was suddenly hit by a wave of magical realism. And the more I got to thinking and let the it set in, the righter it felt.

As someone who likes to frolic in fields of wild flowers and have day dreams about hiking in Yosemite, I was, needless to say, worried about going to Beijing. From the two or three times that I've visited, the capital city has only left me with the impression of an infinite and unending concrete sprawl. But that is just a surface.

It's hard to pinpoint what makes Beijing so magical, so heart-moving, and tragic. It's like a well-made coming of age story that transcends genres and makes you laugh and cry all at once. You root for that adolescent youth, because they're noble at heart, but also hates them when they betray their best friend to hang out with the “cool kids”. Perhaps it is the contrast that makes Beijing so bittersweet. In comparison to how dismally stoic the city looks physically, the people of Beijing have personalize this space and their surroundings and oozed culture and life into every possible nook and cranny.

Here in Beijing, ground means cement, not soil;
Toxic air is accepted and not challenged;
More often than not, snow is made possible courtesy of the Beijing government , not mother nature.
There are rural villagers who have come to Beijing to pursue a better life,
and for them, spending all day on a bridge, selling socks to passerby or competing with two other guys to put the plastic sheet on your cellphone, is a better life than what they left behind.
There are foreign students in Beijing, who are suddenly are rich! because China is cheaper than home. They spend like they are the boss and are treated like objects of curiosity/royalty.
Outside the clubs at night, they run into 5 year-old panhandlers waiting in the freezing cold, who they refuse to give anything to even though they are spending 50kuai on drinks and it's 3am in the morning.
There are people who rent out their kids to panhandlers because panhandlers with young children get more sympathy.
There are handmade kites that are painted by handicap people, who are on one hand being exploited, and on the other hand, employed.
In a country where freedom of speech is restricted, it's socially acceptable, if you just shout as loudly as you can into the air because you needed to let off some steam.
There are young men playing ice hockey on the lake when it freezes over, and wobbly grandfathers learning how to roller blade with their grandson.
When middle aged men ride their bikes on the ice, they are not being rebellious, they just need to get somewhere.
There are adorable kids! with wind-blown red cheeks and animal ears on their puffy winter coats, who speaks with heavy Beijing accents like old-timer cab drivers.
In the country with the world's greatest population, young people have a hard time meeting people.
There are kites flying above concrete buildings.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


This man is so adorable!

Swimming in ice water

Ready to take a dive

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


When I talk to a Chinese person about China's problems, our conversation often strays or ends with China's population problem. May it be inhumane labor conditions, governmental corruption, or rampant inflation, everything seems traceable to China's massive population. Recently, I've begun to think that the root of the world's problem lies in Americanization. This is not a critique of America itself, but rather the products that America is exporting to the world at large. Americanization is not just characterized by mass culture (Hollywood, Lady Gaga and the like) and democratic ideals, but also high consumerism—which is where the environmental disaster begins.

Whereas colonialists viewed western civilization as a superior form of civilization and sought to better the “dark” uncivilized people by bringing them into the light, America since the dawn of the 20th century has sought to make the world in its image. Without regard to historically entrenched beliefs and cultures, democracy is championed as the only “right” form of government, as if methods of governing could be ranked on a linear scale not much unlike previously concocted distinctions between “uncivilized” and “civilized”.

My daily readings for Chinese class usually addresses some kind of societal condition within China. Today, the article was about the proliferation of internet use among Chinese youth and concerns over internet (which is 95% in English and mostly dominated by US sources) use affecting cultural inheritance. Within the article is a keen fear of Chinese youth growing increasingly indifferent of traditional Chinese culture and customs, which is being displaced by international (read, American) culture. While the article was not extremely convincing in its argument, I do believe that as much as America is about diversity, Americanization has come to mean sameness. The anxiety apparent in my textbook's article reminded me of an article I read for a US history class I took at Yale back in Freshmen year. The article, called “A Monotonization of the World” was written by Stephen Zweig, a slightly elitist German author, who lamented the death of national dances—the waltz in Vienna, the csardos in Hungary, the bolera in Spain---to the “same short winded, impersonal melodies” coming from America”. While Zweig's language erred on the strong side, his message is clear.

In my daily life in Beijing, I am reminded of Americanization every where I go, may it be because I am nearing one of KFC's many ostentatious neon signs or every time I return to my dormitory and hear the security guards blasting Ryan Secrest and the Top 40 Count Down on their walkie talkie radio stations. Yesterday, we were out eating with a Swedish international student and a French international student, when the Swedish student asked us if we liked musicians such as “Lady Gaga”, etc. From the look on his face, we could tell that he disapproved of American mass culture in very much the same way as Zweig, and from our response, it was obvious that all of us realized exactly what kind of un-welcomed connotations “American pop culture” also carried. Under his scrutiny, we fumbled in our answers and before admitting to our musical preferences we skillfully prefaced our answer with “but only in clubs”. One girl even quickly added that it of course “doesn't to speak to her soul or anything”. Our answers were judged acceptable.

Nevertheless, even “high culture” Europe has been invaded and conquered by America. Whether Europeans like it or not, the fact that American goods have conquered a corner of their consumer market suggests that they do. People have a choice between America's “impersonal melodies” and the Spanish boleras, and from the course of things, it seems like they have chosen the impersonal melodies which have found its way into every club around the world. The same story is playing out here in China, where McDonald stores are always unbelievably busy, even if McDonald's is fairly costly and the frequency of visits has (or at least should have) a direct correlation with obesity.

However, along with the loss of cultural diversity, what also worries me are the environmental implications “Americanization” carries. According to the latest estimation, if every person in the world lived as Americans did, we would need about 5 planets. In one of my favorite books “Hot, Flat, and Crowded”, one of the chapters is “Our Carbon Copies or, Too Many Americans”, which points out that much to many environmentalists' dismay, the standards to which people in developing countries are aspiring to is not that of a decent and healthy standard of living, but rather American affluenza as portrayed by mass media. A 1960 American publication called “The Five Stages of Growth” by Rostow outlined the linear progress of societies in a manner similar to Morgan's incredibly racist publication regarding the progress of civilizations. Whereas Morgan's linear progression affirmed the supremacy of the European civilization, Rostow deemed high consumerism, a positively American concept, the apex of a matured society. Looking at the traffic jams (the result of personal car consumption) around the city and the construction of suburbs named “Orange County” and “Long Beach” which are literally replicas of Southern California homes on the outskirts of Beijing, I am dearly hoping that the American way of life is only some aberration from normalcy and not society's end goal. Indeed, if the American standard or some version of it continues to serve as an end goal, it could very well be our end point.

Unlike the French and Swedish students we just met, as students studying abroad from America, we are in a unique position to see all of America's influences in Chinese society today. Consequently, we have a very large responsibility to champion and become a sustainable standard that we can be proud of and in good conscience export to the world. Until then, I can only hope that on some fortuitous day, the whole world will suddenly gain clarity and by some miracle resist Americanization.

Snow day! made possible by the Beijing government's man induced snowfall!

Today, I woke up to...SNOW! Not surprisingly, I decided to ditch work to go explore. Unfortunately, all my neighbors/friends were still sleeping off a long night of partying. I too stayed up till 3:00 watching Inception with some peeps, but I woke up at 8:30 regardless.
The opportunity to see Beijing beautified by snow was too good to pass up, so I ventured out by myself. Along the way, I made friends with a few new people, including a security guard at Gulou (one of the fortresses), some dudes playing in the snow, and some people building an awesome snowbunny! I too built a snowbunny for my mom whose zodiac is a rabbit. Happy Year of the Rabbit mom! :)


1 bicycle + a line of cars = Beijing's current traffic problem. Private cars suck. I hope I never get one!

Bell tower

Opposite of the Bell tower was the Drum tower.

View of hutongs from the top

My snowbunny!