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China, here I come!

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Allow me to summarize my respite from blogging:

I graduated from university in July, with a degree in Chinese and Economics. I spent the summer at Middlebury College, Vermont, studying for a Masters in Chinese, which was an incredible experience. I’m going to Shanghai next week for a year, to maintain and improve my Mandarin before I join the world of work. I plan to blog (regularly) during my time in China, just like old times.

In short, I’m back.

Let’s go.




对了, 我回来了。




It has now been one month since I arrived in Beijing, and I can happily say that I’m pretty much settled; that is, I can see myself living here for the year, with the dust everywhere, the food, the bureaucracy, the frustration of not being able to communicate, the stares and the disbelieving looks I get when I reply ‘I am from England’ to all those who ask. I’m deeply grateful to friends and family for their constant support, and also to those technical experts who have conquered the Great Firewall, without whom I wouldn’t be writing this right now! Furthermore, thank you to all of you for your positive and encouraging comments!

Talking to a friend a few days ago made me think about why I wanted to start a blog for my year abroad in China. I know that I decided I wanted to after being inspired having read a couple of other blogs, and thinking that I’d like to record my own experiences somewhere. I could have done this without publishing online, but I wanted to share my time here with family and friends back home. That said, I realise that a big part of the reason is for myself, to have a record somewhere of what I did, thought, saw, learned, discovered and explored while in China. As my friend pointed out, sometimes it’s not always the biggest things that you think need to be recorded, like visiting popular tourist sites. Sometimes it’s the more mundane, everyday things you see, do and think that you might miss when you leave, and these might be the things that will make my time here unforgettable.

Writing about ALL of this is definitely very ambitious, and is also likely to make for tedious reading, but I’m certain that I want to try to write more often than I have been so far, so please pester me if I start slacking!

On another note, many of you may know about a group of islands that have recently sparked anti-Japan riots across China. The Senkaku Islands (Japanese), or the Diaoyu Islands (Chinese) are located in the East China Sea, northeast of Taiwan, and have been the subject of territorial dispute between China and Japan for many years. Underlying the recent riots, however, is not just the issue of the islands; many Chinese still harbour deep resentment at Japan for World War II, and these feelings have been reignited. Japanese students at my university were told to stay in and be careful, just as the Japanese embassy is advising their citizens in China to avoid demonstrations and not to draw attention to themselves.

Chinese nationalists’ anger runs so deep that I heard, for example, someone took their Toyota back to the dealership and set it alight. Many Japanese-made cars have also been vandalized and reports say that the possibility that the disputes could lead to actual military conflict is very real.

Although China’s economic growth has slowed recently, it is still a very important player in the global economy. If the dispute fails to be resolved, the consequences will not be limited to Asia; international trade would be affected and would delay the tentative global economic recovery.

A pen, anyone?

If, like me, you lack creativity, and find it difficult to think of a name for your blog site that you like, here’s a tip: Ask a Chinese taxi driver.
However, if it turns out that the name is already taken, I have no advice. In my case, I quickly settled for an uncreative name.
For those of you who don’t understand any Chinese, I will try to explain, but we all know what happens when you try to explain something amusing…
Over a week ago now, I had my first experience with a Chinese taxi driver on the ride from the airport to my hotel, where I’ll be spending a few nights until I can move into my new accommodation.
My friend and I were asked our names; not in the mood for repeating my name multiple times and then almost certainly still having to correct the taxi driver, I gave him my nickname, Ibby, to which he laughed and said: “ibby jì hǎo” (Ibby is easy to remember).
Shortly afterwards, when our names came up again in conversation, he turned to my friend sitting in the passenger seat, pulled an imaginary pen out of his shirt pocket, and offered it to her, saying ‘yī zhī bǐ!’ (literally meaning “a/one pen”) and then proceeded to laugh heartily at his excellent joke. (Just to add, I have seen him several times around the place, and each time, he says, “Iiibbyyy!!!” with a big laugh, so his method of remembering certainly has worked.)
Yī is pronounced ‘ee’ and means ‘one’.
Bǐ is pronounced ‘bee’ and means ‘pen’.
Zhī is simply a measure word (Chinese has LOTS of these) for objects such as pens, which I’m choosing to ignore here, for purposes of making this story work…
I then decided that yibi would be my blog site name, discovered that it was already taken, hastily settled on a boring name, took a few days to get past the Great Firewall of China to make an account and another few days to make it allow me to post this.
Not a very successful first post, but I hope to get better at this, so please do check back soon!
(I just managed to make ‘yibi’ the blog name rather than the site name, which is what I had originally intended, but I’m more than happy! I won’t edit the whole post though, after the time it took for me to get that one up.)