Saturday, June 18, 2011

No use crying over unpasteurized milk (and pollution)

(Dang it - Yale VPN dropped on me again. I'm using a friend's computer, who uses Harvard VPN, which I must admit, is much much faster and more reliable. Below entry from two nights ago.)

Wow, so a week has already passed and we have our first test tomorrow, though I’m not too worried – I realized I could have enjoyed last summer at HIF (Japan) more if I didn’t stress so much over cramming in every character, and I’m taking the Light Fellowship’s “Aim for the A-/B+” philosophy to heart. I’ve accepted the fact that I can’t memorize everything that’s taught in class, and even if I did, I would just forget it in a week or so. Not to mention the fact that my work ethic plummeted sophomore year …

Ooh ooh temple ... The famed Lama Temple (), Beijing's center for Tibetan Buddhism. Giant Maitreya Buddha statue at the end (26m tall) = awesomeness. 

Nonetheless, I know I’ve improved my Chinese a lot, even in just four days of class. The language pledge is no joke – the second-year students have been reduced to the capabilities of five-year-olds, grunting and playing charades to get our point across when our limited vocabulary all too often couldn’t. HBA’s teachers and teaching methods are also top-notch, and I appreciate the fact that we have different teachers in each section everyday (this was a noticeable disadvantage at HIF). One thing is lacking though – without regularly hearing native speakers (like you would in a homestay), I don’t feel like my listening skills are improving much. I’m coming to realize more and more how weak my listening is (this goes for any foreign language) as the teachers constantly catch me off guard with a question I can’t fully digest. Guess I should watch more Chinese TV or something…

Also, I haven’t really experienced the high of Light’s infamous study abroad curve. Last year, I claimed I didn’t have one in the beginning either, but I still remember gushing about eating real ramen for the first time and meeting my awesome homestay family. On the other hand, there have been interesting moments in China, but nothing near a high. Eh, I’m not too concerned, seeing as how my high towards the end of last summer made up for every little frustration I had before. I’m definitely not expecting the exact same thing this year, but I know China deserves a chance (rather, I should give China a chance).

 Some fruit I bought from a street vendor - purple part wasn't edible (as I found out the hard way), but the white core was yummy and sweet. Anyone know what it's called?

Yet one thing I will dearly miss from America (yes, this sounds pitifully minor, but trust me, it’s a major staple in my life) is good ol’ fashioned milk. Already forewarned by friends, I still bought a half-carton of milk from the supermarket, only to spit it out on the first taste. Along with being sketchy (the milk probably isn’t pasteurized), they just dump sugar in it to result in a really sickening taste. But I’ve discovered pretty good yogurt (酸奶 - literally means sour milk, no idea why) in the cafeteria.

Another commodity I took for granted was reliable Internet. After four beautiful days of Blogger and Facebook (well, beautifully is comparatively speaking, since the connection always lags), my VPN dropped again. I’m pretty clueless as to why, but anyways, I should be spending less time on the Internet anyway. I feel like I haven’t really reached past the surface level of “experiencing” China, but I’m not kicking myself yet because it’s still pretty early in the program. Don’t know what I want to do yet, but I think I’ll just take the subway one day and see where I go. Maybe I’ll take a friend, but I’ve realized how easy it is to fall into the trap of just hanging out with other students in the program. My interactions with the locals have been limited to 几块 and ~在哪儿?

Houhai Park (后还) - The rowers were quite energetic!

Speaking of which, I’ve had somewhat of a memorable experience with the fitness trainer at the campus gym. HBA students were able to barter the membership fee down to 400for two months, but signing up meant that you would also get assigned a personal trainer who insisted on scheduling a trial session. I kept saying 我自己可以跑步 (I can run by myself), but “Jack” insisted I needed to work out other muscle groups under his guidance. The next day, I found myself showing up to the gym at 6:00 p.m. to work out with Jack. First, he did an extensive interrogation about my eating habits and measured my body fat with a skin caliper. My new goal for two months? Lose 10 kg and reduce waist size by ~15 cm. Um, I know that’s possible and will probably do me a lot of good in terms of my overall health, but getting baller at Chinese AND doing a total body makeover was not my original plan. Nonetheless, Jack led me through a series of dumbbell routines, squats, and the works – at the same time, I realized how limited my vocab was in terms of saying how to pick up/move/push/ various limbs. I think Jack gave up telling me what to do after a while in lieu of hand motions, which was a bummer. But after working out with a trainer for the first time, I can see why people pay so much money for them – Jack, for one, gives AWESOME massages. After the workout, however, Jack gave me a sheet with prices for each session, to which I once again said 不要 不要. I hate saying no to people, but with the unexpected fees of installing Internet, buying a cell phone, and the gym membership, my miscellaneous costs under Light are adding up.

Ah, for those of you know me, why the gym membership? I did, after all, write an essay in English 120 on my utter hatred for treadmills. Well, Beijing air pollution is something else. I religiously check the air quality index every couple of hours, but the average right now seems to be around 200, which is more than enough to leave me hacking after only a mile outside. Even after a huge thunderstorm, the AQI still hovers in the high 100s. On some mornings, I stubbornly ran outside anyway, but multiple friends who’ve stayed in Beijing have warned me running outside in the pollution cancels out any health benefits I might have gotten from running. Nonetheless, I still see tons of people exercising on the track despite the smoggy skies … maybe, along with the food, I can become somewhat resistant to pollutants?

Okay, I seriously need to start studying now for tomorrow’s test. But no stress … I feel like Chinese is being pounded into me everyday, whether I’m super motivated or not. 

  "不到长城非好汉." ("If you don't go to the Great Wall you're not a real man.") - Chairman Mao (So as a woman, I don't need to worry? Either way, expect lots and LOTS of steps - you do literally climb the wall.)

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Kelly McLaughlin said...

Harvard's VPN is better! We have to fix that....

Kate said...

miriam! love reading your blog (: hahah i totally love that fruit too! i found out today it's called a "mangosteen"...

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