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Not exactly a typical Friday evening…

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…but a typical insight into daily life in China.

Last Friday, we went to try out a Xinjiang cuisine restaurant about 5 minutes walk away from where I live, which we’d kept meaning to go to, since it was so close. I’d been here with my brother way back in my first week in China, but due to a combination of, a) – not being accustomed to the food yet, and b) – not knowing the cuisine well enough to know what (and how) to order, it’d be an understatement if I said that we were not the restaurant’s biggest fans. As expected, given our now-excellent ordering skills, and acquired taste for the food, last Friday’s was a much better experience.

However, the restaurant is not what I’m planning on writing about, but rather, the ‘adventures’ that ensued after dinner. This is, instead a post to give an idea of the sort of things we see as standard (A bit of Chinglish coming up). We walked back from the restaurant on a different road and saw some clothes shops which looked half decent and decided to go in for a look…

On the bottom half of the back of a pink t-shirt.

On the bottom half of the back of a pink t-shirt. Makes total sense to me.

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The heart on your shirt could suggest otherwise.

The clothes were surprisingly cheap for the look of the shop though, even for China. A lot of the tops were only 25RMB, but none of us bought anything. I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned how weird most Chinese fashion is to us… as you can see from the above examples. We spent a good while in there though, quite literally sifting through every item of clothing and amusing ourselves. When we left the shop, possibly 15minutes later, I commented that the woman inside might have been quite annoyed with us, having spent so long looking around and then left, having bought nothing. “Actually,” corrected Nafeesah, “spent so long looking through all the clothes and LAUGHING at them, and then left!”. Yeah, about that… Oops.

A little further up the road, was a supermarket. that despite being so close to us, is not one we usually frequent. (This is because there is an even closer, albeit smaller, one for most of our daily needs.) Some of the following pictures are not meant to be amusing, (though some are), but just to show a little of what the inside of a Chinese supermarket is like.

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srtrange odour?!

Strange taste beans?? I’ll take 20!!

In the above picture of ‘Strange taste Beans’, it’s not so clear, but we originally misread the company name as “Shaming Foods”, and just found it amusing (Alright, so maybe we were in strange moods – finding not-so-amusing things overly hilarious. What can I say? Maybe it was the Friday night fever…) Then we remembered we were in China, checked with the Chinese characters, and realised it was Sha-Ming and not pronounced ‘shaming’ as in ‘shame’. Ah well, it was funny at the time…
I just put the characters for ‘strange taste’ into my dictionary app, and it translates it as ‘strange odour’. They’re both equally strange beans to have, anyway.

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The fish counter

Not only is the fish counter, very literally, alive, it’s also self-service!

Not only is the fish counter live (quite literally), it's also self-service!

Nafeesah, just helping herself.

“What did you get up to on the weekend?”
“Ah, just did a spot of fishing…”

Part of the meat counter

Part of the meat counter… some nice pig feet in the foreground here.

At least this looks vaguely like a refrigerated section. In the ‘butchers’ outside, i.e. not in supermarkets, the meat just hangs…. outside, a lot of the time. Who said raw meat needed to be kept cool??

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Spice it up!

(Actually, I’m not really sure what they all are, apart from the red chillies.)

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Rice and lentils…and stuff. No Tilda Basmati though, sadly.

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…So cats can enjoy a holiday at home!

Admittedly, I don’t know anything about taking care of cats, but I’m sure I’ve never seen or heard of ‘cat sand’ before. Anyone care to enlighten me?

And finally, by the checkout counter: (Not very clear, sorry, taken on my phone!)

Free soy sauce with your orange juice

Free soy sauce with your orange juice. So stereotypically Chinese!

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Adventures on the bus

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The original plan
Pick a random bus, ride it all the way to the end, and then get off. Find yourself in some new, unexplored and fascinating part of Beijing. Wander around, and get to know this exciting new place, before finding another bus and repeating the process. At some point, think about finding your way home.

What actually happened
As planned, we did find ourselves in a new and unexplored part of Beijing. Fascinating, however, was something it was not. We proceeded to wander… soon got bored of the motorway, found another bus stop, and tried again.

Yes, it was totally unplanned – but that was the idea! Spontaneous, impulsive…and possibly a little stupid. And alright, so we didn’t find the most exciting places, I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting, but I’m glad we did it anyway!!

I was telling a friend back home about what we planned to do, who replied: “Ahh you’ve taken so long to do that. Most people do that within the first few weeks!” Strange. In my first few weeks in Beijing, taking a random bus and essentially, getting lost, was not at the top of my agenda. (In hindsight though, knowing the city a bit better, as we do now, makes this better anyway!)

We had a vague idea of what area of Beijing we wanted to head to, which was the southwest, since we’re in the northwest corner of the city (yep, just like home :)) and we’ve been to places in all the other vague directions. So yesterday (Sunday), at the bus stop outside campus, we stood and analysed the bus routes of those heading south, and picked one that went through Niujie (Ox Street) which is the Muslim area, and ended somewhere even further down. The bus came, we got on, and indeed, headed south. In a totally straight line. On a completely straight road. For quite a long time. We got overly excited when the bus made a right turn! And then turned north… and then west again, before continuing south. By this point, we were passing through Niujie. It was much smaller than we remembered, though to be fair, we had been walking the last time we’d come here. However, I hadn’t realised how strong the Uighur influence was here, until I saw a little China Mobile shop, with Uighur script on their shop front!
We finally got chucked off the bus at our unplanned destination, and the first thing we saw outside the stop was a Wu Mart (supermarket). We thought we might as well head in, because… well, supermarkets are adventures in themselves. Something amusing I found inside:

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Am I missing something here? What is the connection between forks and batteries?

We walked a bit further, and then admitted that we weren’t particularly impressed by the place we had ended up in. There were a few shops, and buildings, but mostly just road. And nothing that really caught our attention… apart from another bus stop. And this very pink blossom tree:

If this picture spoke a thousand words...

Just what we came to see..

Again, we inspected the bus routes at the next bus stop we came across, and chose a bus that went west and then north from where we currently were, and ended up further northwest from where we’re based. We decided we’d get off before the end though (cos that hadn’t really worked well for us the first time), at Haidian Park, firstly because we didn’t really want to go all the way out to the end, and secondly because not only would a park be nice compensation, Haidian is the district of Beijing in which we live.

Because this is China and our plans don’t work out (I’m not complaining, this is kinda how I’d imagined this day to go in the first place!), we got off at the stop named Haidian Park… and didn’t see any park. We walked all the way around the block, and realised that we actually knew where we were! If we walked further out, we’d end up near the Summer Palace. This actually pleased me: knowing where we were after having got off the bus at a random stop. It made me feel like I was actually getting to know my way around this huge city! We knew this because we’d come to the Summer Palace a few weeks ago – courtesy of a bus that had very recently put a new stop outside Nafeesah’s accommodation. Clearly, that bus was to be our ticket home. We enjoyed a nice walk to the nearest stop we knew, and actually, I was happy. Walking around seemingly aimlessly and then realising that you actually knew where you were going – not a bad feeling! If I can replicate this in other areas of the city, then I really will feel like I’m able to say to people that I lived in Beijing for a year, and yes, I do actually know my way around! (Because, really, I should know my way around a city I’ve been living in for a year, right? Let’s conveniently ignore the fact that I don’t know my way around London at all, regardless of the fact that I’ve lived there for 19years).

On the bus home, the aircon fan above us:

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“Only offering to open”

Well, that was the end of that ‘adventure’. As I said, not quite what I expected, but then, what should I have expected? We decided that we should plan this spontaneous and impulsive activity better next time (yes, there will be a next time!). I also decided that I want to go visit some other universities, especially the more famous ones like Peking University, and Qinghua University.  It might sound strange and boring, but it’s quite common practice here, and some university campuses are actually really nice! My ulterior motive, though, is to check out the competition in terms of Muslim canteens 😉

Back to work..

After a three month break from studying, I have to admit it’s somewhat refreshing to be back at university, in a study environment. I’m pretty happy with my timetable, in which I have only one 8am start. Yes, that’s right – 8am. Classes here start from 8am and can run until 7:50pm. Each lesson consists of two 50minute periods with a supposed 10minute break in between. Even if you get given the full 10minutes, be warned that it’s no easy feat to get anything done in that time. My university campus, like most in China, is huge. Our teachers had described it to us as ‘a little city’, and they’re not wrong. As well as all the teaching buildings and departments, student dormitories, and halls of residence for staff and teachers(!), there are also a number of canteens, an enormous library, a kindergarten, an elementary school, a middle school, a clinic, a couple of supermarkets, two gyms, two full size sports tracks, tennis courts, basketball courts….and an electric appliance store. Oh, and a campus police office.

University library. I’m not sure if the picture does justice to its size, but this is just the front of it…

Photo taken from the university website (because I haven’t ventured all around campus yet)

From the building where my classes are held, the supermarkets and canteens are definitely not breaktime destinations. The closest little dormitory shop for any students who wish to get a snack is a 5minute jog away, not forgetting the return journey. Unless you want to turn up to class late, your best bet is to stay put. It’s not all bad though… some speedy students have been known to make it to the toilet and back. Just.

Arriving to class late brings its own problems, and seeing as the teachers’ explanations of the consequences are not fully understood, you better not be late. Attendance counts towards your final grade – different numbers of marks are lost, depending on which class it is, and whether you’ve informed the teacher that you will be absent or not. If a student is late or leaves early for 15minutes three times, they will be considered as missing class for 1hour. (I am curious to see how stringent the teachers are about keeping record of all this).  And, of course, if your attendance record falls below the standard, you will not be permitted to sit the exam.

I have no issues with the majority of university life here as yet, though it does make me appreciate the university system back in London more.