September 29, 2006

Bank Account II...
I'm now the proud owner of a second Bank of China bank account. Let me explain.
Before leaving for Xi'an I wanted to get a bank card, which is much more convenient for getting cash when the bank is closed (i.e. during a holiday or in the evening). When I originally opened an account, they didn't have any cards in the bank (meiyou!), so I was told to go back again. I decided to hit up a larger branch today figuring they would have cards in stock.
I guess I went into the wrong part of the bank, but the lady understood what I wanted and told me to go through a door into another part of the bank. I evidently didn't have the correct type of account to have a bank card, so they gave me some papers to fill out. I have a "Savings Account", but I need a "Passbook of Savings Accounts" to be able to have a bank card. So I opened a second account, paid another 15Yuan, and transferred money back and forth until I got a Great Wall Card, for use in China only.
They were quite efficient, the lady behind the counter even serving four people at the same time! Yes, there were four of us squished up against the glass, pushing paper back and forth to the lady, and entering our PIN codes multiple times.

September 28, 2006

Happy Birthday Confucius...
Today is Confucius' 2557th birthday, if he was still alive that is. It's believed that he has around 2.5 million descendants in China, 100,000 in Korea, and many more in the overseas Chinese population. The China Confucius Foundation has recently trademarked a 'standard image' of the philosopher to be used in China and abroad to reduce confusion over the various images in different parts of China. Of course it has raised a lot of debate as to which painting/drawing/statue is the closest to the original man. I wonder, what does Kong FuZi say?

September 26, 2006

Here I come! I'm leaving for Xi'an (西安) for a week during the National Holiday. I'll be leaving the following Saturday, which is the Moon Festival. The festival is celebrated on August 15th of the lunar calendar, so the date on the western calendar changes every year. Normally the festival falls in September, but this year there's a double 7th lunar month so it's in October.

September 24, 2006

Busy Weekend...
It started on Saturday with a visit to the Ancient Lotus Pond (古莲花池), first started in the 7th century during the Tang Dynasty. After being ransacked by the British, French, Germans, and Italians at the end of the Qing Dynasty (early 1900's), it was rebuilt to match the ancient style. There are many pavilions, a stele from 740AD, and many huge lotus leaves in the middle. I actually have no clue how many hours I spent in the park just wandering around.
I met an English teacher from the university and two students for dinner at a restaurant in another park, overlooking a pond. It was a beautifully warm night, and the food was excellent (except for the bitter melon which I'm not a fan of). I even loved the sticky black rice, which looked less than appealing.

I was out all Sunday, getting groceries, visiting friends, and eating (China's pastime, along with playing pingpong). In the evening I went for dinner with some Chinese friends at a cool restaurant that was done up with old communist stuff (Mao posters, red stars, and waitresses dressed in mock military uniforms). Amongst the dished I had one of Mao's favourite, which I nicknamed the "Mao Burger". It was pork in a sauce, eaten on a steamed bun. I loved it, though it was quite fatty.

September 21, 2006

German Terracotta Warrior...
I read an interesting story in the Yahoo! Oddities section today about a German art student who dressed up as one of the terracotta warriors, and jumped into the pit containing rows and rows of them. His disguise was so good that the security guards had a hard time finding him. They released him eventually, after a lecture, since he hadn't damaged the warriors.
In related news, things are shaping up for my National Holiday trip to Xi'an to see the terracotta warriors for myself.

September 19, 2006

My version of that MasterCard commercial...
-Instant coffee to survive next day 7:30 class... 75fen ($0.10CDN)
-Bus ride to Heda... 1kuai ($0.15)
-Taxi ride back after missing the last bus by over an hour... 10kuai ($1.50)
-Rooftop/outdoor Chinese dinner with way too much food, split 20 ways... 20kuai ($3.00, my share)
-Meeting almost every Westerner in Baoding (20 or so), having good, natural conversation in English and French, getting tips on China... Priceless

September 18, 2006

Chinese Wedding...
I just got back from a wedding reception for one of the English teachers at the school. The wedding ceremony was yesterday, and early this morning (around 3:00AM), the groom picked up the bride from her house. Needless to say they were a bit tired around lunch time when our busload of teachers stopped by the reception which had been going for a couple of hours already.
We got there at 12:30, just in time for the most important part -the food and the toasts. There were about 10 people at each table and countless tables. The food started with a few small dishes, pop, baijiu, and sunflower seeds. The dishes slowly got bigger and more elaborate until the mutton, whole chicken, whole fish, and huge hunk of ham for each table arrived. The food was really good, and the piece of small intestine that ended up on my plate wasn't too bad either (a piece of meat from a Sichuan dish that I didn't realise was intestine until I put it on my plate).
Of course there were many toasts too. The emcee went around to all the tables singing and toasting into a microphone. When he came to our table, he zoomed in on me saying "Hello! Welcome!" and putting the microphone in my face. When the couple came around I gave the bride a hug (Canadian tradition). The other people at the table said I must be brave for hugging a policeman's wife (though I think he had enough toasts of baijiu to notice too much). We made it back to school for the 2:00 afternoon classes.

September 17, 2006

Laowai Hunting...
As I've probably mentioned before I haven't seen many laowai ('old outsider', or foreigner) in Baoding. OK, so I've seen one before yesterday since I arrived 3 weeks ago. As nice as it is to meet Chinese people, I think it's good for my sanity to have a few foreign friends as well. Friday night one of the English teachers showed me where the foreign student and teacher dorms are at Hebei University, so yesterday I decided to wait outside the dorms until a foreigner walked by.
You might call me a stalker yes, but how else do you meet foreigners in a city with so few foreigners?
In any case it worked and I met a foreign teacher and a foreign student. The one laowai I had seen previously, at the bank, was the foreign student I ended up meeting yesterday. We went out for dinner a bit later in the evening, and had a great fish and winter melon soup (we approved the fish flopping in a bucket before it went into the kitchen, and the soup included the head and tail of course).

September 12, 2006

I'm Legal...
It's official -I received my "Residence Permit for Foreigner in the People's Republic of China" from the PSB (Public Security Bureau) today! It took less then three weeks to get all the paperwork, medical tests, and translations finished. And to top it off, I got payed yesterday. A big wad of red 100Yuan bills in a white paper envelope. Needless to say I got one of the teachers to help me open a bank account so I don't have to hide the money under my bed.
That's much faster than the 3-4 months it took in France to get paid and receive my carte de sejour.

September 11, 2006

House Call...
On Saturday morning there was a knock on my room door. One of the ladies who works at the entrance of my dorm building started saying something frantically. I had no clue until she said "lai lai" (come come), and I followed her. It turned out that the main dorm phone was for me, and it was one of the cousins of my Mandarin teacher back in Canada calling. My prof let her cousins know that I was in town, and where I was staying.
Half an hour later a lady came to pick me up, and whisked me away on the bus. We bought some groceries for lunch, and she bought a bag of sweets for me to take back with me (moon cakes, crackers, and cookies of all kinds). Lunch was a big affair with various family members and friends showing up for the feast. There were all sorts of food -home made mutton dumplings, chicken, sausage, tofu, veggies, ribs, beef, etc.- and many toasts (including some welcoming me to Baoding and to their house). I even tried a chicken foot, which doesn't have much meat on it in case you're wondering.
The other cousin then invited me to their house for the afternoon. I met the grandparents, and was plied with even more food! It was the first time that one of the cousins had a foreigner in their house. Apparently as little as 10 years ago foreigners weren't allowed to go into common Chinese people's houses.

September 10, 2006

Teacher's Day...
September 10th in China is Teacher's Day. It's not a stat holiday so nobody gets the day off, but students sometimes give flowers to their teachers or sing them a song. Maybe I'll have to bug my students on Monday to sing me a song.

September 09, 2006

Zhili Governor's Office...

I decided to learn a bit more about Baoding's history, so today I went to the old Zhili Provincial Governor's Office (直隶总督署) which is now a museum in the heart of Baoding.

Baoding used to be the provincial capital and the original governor's office was built here during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). The current building though was rebuilt during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) and used from 1730 to 1911. It was cool to see some the traditional Chinese architecture and to get a better idea of the history of the country (try comparing it to a similar building in Canada?).
After wandering through the complex of over 100 rooms, I was a bit hungry and decided to test my newly firmed up innards against some of the street food. I wanted to buy a fried chive bread but the lady in line beside me insisted that she buy it for me. Doing the polite thing I argued a bit, then let her buy me lunch.

September 08, 2006

On Wednesday, after making it through 3 classes and 190 students in the morning, I decided to go into town in the afternoon to do some shopping and exploring. I did a lot of wandering through back alleys, and main streets.
I came across a Buddhist temple that I hadn't seen before through the haze and although it was closed there were people burning incense outside. Walking back, a really old guy came up and started chatting with me asking where I was from and how old I am, what I'm doing here, etc. I went into a store and an 80 year old (I asked him how old he was) guy working there asked me to stop, sit, and chat a while. People here are quite curious and friendly, especially when they're not rushing from here to there. It's a great chance for me to practice my Mandarin.
On the way back I went into a CD/DVD store and bought "The Promise" on a whim, a Chinese action movie that came out a year or two ago in China. I got it for 6Yuan, or about $0.90 (Canadian). The lady even had it in DVD Code 1, which means I can play it on my computer or when I get back to North America.
For dinner I got 20 freshly made dumpling for 5Yuan, or about $0.75. They were really good and the ladies who made them beamed when I said "hao chi" (delicious).
After the grocery store I went into KFC, to give into temptation and splurge on an iced coffee with ice cream on top -two things I've been craving since I arrived. I figured it was well worth the 8Yuan, despite the little amount of iced coffee in the cup after the ice and the dolop of ice cream. Eating it on the bus back to the school the bus didn't seem so crowded, nor the streets so busy. It was well worth the cold treat and the little splurge.

September 05, 2006

First Classes...
I had my first class on Monday afternoon, when I got back from the medical exam in Shijiazhuang. I was a bit surprised to have 62 eager faces staring at me -I had been expecting 30-35. Aside from that the class was OK, although I need to explain the activities in smaller steps.
Yesterday I had two classes, one with 65 and the other with 66 students. They went much better, and I think the students learned more as well. I did an exercise where I put my name on the board, then draw a star around it. In each of the 5 points I put something about myself -Canada, chocolate, French, green, sister- and I get the students to ask me questions about these things i.e. "What country do you come from?" I then get the students to do the same with themselves, and put a list of favourites on the board they can talk about. Next they are paired up, and they must present their neighbour to me (I met 'X-Men' in my class today). It's a good way to get to know their level of English, about them, and for them to know a bit about me. For the last 5 minutes of class, I let them ask me any question they want.

September 04, 2006

The Medical...
I was driven into Shijiazhuang (capital of Hebei province) yesterday to get a medical exam done before I can get my residence permit and foreign expert card. I wasn't allowed to eat anything in the morning, which wasn't a problem because it probably wouldn't have stayed in very well anyway.
For a mere 280 Yuan (about $45.00 Canadian), I got a full medical exam. Although it was fast, it was the most thorough medical exam I can remember. It started in a room with two people behind Plexiglas taking blood samples. You stick your arm through and they take a vial of blood to test blood type, HIV, blood sugar, etc. Next was an X-ray of my lungs, followed by an electronic measurement of my height and weight. What's weird is that there are a bunch of rooms, and you scurry from one room to the other, waiting by the open door for the person ahead of you to finish and not letting anyone behind you cut in front. No privacy. Next I went into a room called "Internal Surgery", which worried me a bit, but they just took my blood pressure, listened to my lungs, did an ultrasound of my kidneys, liver, stomach, and intestines (all good). That was followed by an EKG (random electrodes attached to my body), and a final room called "Facial Features" where they checked my vision (the lady gave me a strange look when it came to my left eye), tonsils, and ears for earwax.
The whole thing, from paperwork, to paying, to all the tests, only took one hour! I can't imagine how long it would take in Canada to get all those tests done.

September 02, 2006

English Corner...
I spent much of today wandering around the city checking out a few of the parks, listening to ladies singing classic Chinese songs, old men play the erhu. I ended up meeting a Chinese tourist who didn't speak any English, but we managed to communicate with my broken Mandarin, and went for lunch at a cool place on the lake in the park.
In the evening, one of the English teachers took me to the western part of the city to show me a few different places to check out. He also took me to a local "English Corner" where people, mainly high school students, meet to practice their English every Saturday night. Of course I was like a piece of meat thrown into a tiger cage. Almost immediately 20-25 people circled me and asked all sorts of questions. I met some students by the names of Tom Sawyer, Arthos (I asked him to spell it), Smiling, Betty, and many more.