Saturday, May 2, 2009

Estimated Time of Arrival

Hello family, friends, world...

We are back! (And have been since sometime in the wee hours of Tuesday morning, I'll admit). The idea of writing or even just posting pictures, though, has felt a little daunting. The trip was excellent, as to be expected. I think it will be one of those things that's hard to process or reflect on in any sort of explicit way, but that will just slowly weave its subtle, vast memories into the constitution of the person that is me. That said, I'll do my best (at future points, not now, sorry) to identify my thoughts in the contexts where they belong and to retell whatever little bits and pieces that occur to me in versions retell-able. For now, I'm simply letting each of you know all is well. Beijing is hot. A soft-serve ice cream place has opened next door to our favorite "little eats" restaurant. This weekend is the May 1 holiday, which means the busses are packed and we have no classes Friday or Monday. Post-trip papers and a book review for religion class keep me busy when I'm not walking the warm streets at night or eating afternoon popsicles or making the morning's tea. It is my fullest intention to post again soon with something longer and more interesting, but for now I'll leave you here with a reminder again than I'm thinking about and loving all of you. Happy May 1!


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Qinghai, baby!

Hello friends and family!
I was hoping to post a longer blog before leaving for Qinghai. Alas, ETD is less than two hours. So I'm just saying a quick hello, letting you know all is well here, and making sure you each know how much I'm thinking of and loving you. Last weekend Rebecca and I took the train down to Suzhou and Hangzhou to spend three days wandering through gardens, eating giant baozi, reading, drinking tea, and experiencing direct sunlight. Yes! I hope to say more about our trip soon, but I've got to finish pulling things together here. We will return from Qinghai sometime around the 29th or 30th of April. I'll be back in touch then with plenty of things to ramble about, I'm sure. 
Endless love,
(Mak, Kenzie, Kenz, Kiki, Older-sister-not-Tatyana)

Giant, wonderful-smelling peonies in Wangshi Yuan (Master of Nets Garden).

Here is China! Qinghai is the giant purple province. We will be in the north-easterly part in the Tibetan area Amdo. We tend to think of Tibet just in terms of the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR), the big blue province. But Tibetan regions also exist in Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan, and Yunnan.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Hello beautiful friends and family!
I'm sorry it's been so long since I last posted anything. Days and subsequent weeks really have been passing quickly. And nothing too exceptional has conspired since I last wrote. Maybe that's just the nature of acclimation--more happens, less feels noteworthy.

Of course, as with anywhere, these days are packed with moments of contentedness or humor or frustration or wildness or awakening, and while some are obviously more enjoyable than others, all leave me feeling awake and part of something. We had a brief and beautiful warm spell, a couple clear days with unusually blue sky, tiny breezes, and sunny walks. I've been disappointed by the temperature plummet over the last week or so, particularly since we've passed the arbitrary mid-March date marking the end of heat in our rooms. In the morning I layer up for class--long underwear tops and bottoms, a belly full of fresh coffee, and a mug full of hot tea are key for survival of four hours sitting in our vacuum-for-warmth classroom. All things cold aside, I'm still really loving the language study. We recently had to write an essay on some world-famous individual from our country. (Given the number of well-known American, male politicians, I think my teacher was slightly dissatisfied with my focus on Mia Hamm, but I couldn't resist the opportunity to broach the subject of female athletes). But the real high point through all this took place during a class discussion. Our professor inquired about the Kazakh's most famous world figure, in response to which he received a consistent, low round of 'A-teel-ah, A-teel-ah' (Attila). 'Of course,' he nodded his head, 'just like Mongolians, like Genghis'. And then the uproar ensued. 'Not the same, not the same,' both groups insisted to the shocked professor, and then, quickly switching out of Chinese, each side engaged in a zealous debate referencing differences and superior points. There wasn't much more to do except sit and smile.

We also recently visited Beijing's 798 Art District. This area originally existed in the form of abandoned, military-supply warehouses, but has slowly been beset by artists looking for a little free space. In the last year or so, the district has become more commercialized, and there were plenty of Chinese and foreign tourists wandering through the galleries or enjoying some coffee-patio time (ah Portland, how I miss thee...). I think my favorite part of all this, though, were the different doorways. There were just so many, crumbling and rebuilt, brick and iron, quiet and waiting and still, all just seeming like little welcome ways for tiny, bold thoughts. I don't know why, but each just felt like it had its own personality, like it was saying something, and not for the purpose of letting others hear, but just because it cared about its idea. It all sounds silly, but I liked the day a lot.

Well, the news of the hours is, we're definitely going to QINGHAI! Because of the political situation with China and Tibet right now, we couldn't know until the first of April if we would actually be allowed into the region. But now we know, and we are! Unfortunately, my excitement for the trip keeps me from writing with any semblance of composure or articulateness. Until we were looking at pictures and piecing together our itinerary, I didn't even have a sense myself for the degree to which I am genuinely, wholly, expressionlessly looking forward to the trip. It will be brief--around two weeks, leaving the 17th or 18th of April--but I feel so certain that this is an area I will return to. I don't know, sometimes it seems like maybe my excitement is based on some subconscious impression that this is the start of something bigger for me, the discovery of a new, all-engaging love. Something that will shape future decisions I make. Or maybe I'm getting ahead of myself. Either way, I can count on two hands the number of stars I've seen in the last couple months, so I feel confident knowing my mind and everything it reaches out to touch will feel freed and energized and happy, just so so happy, at getting to run and be wild on the open, cold plains with whipping winds and faultless skies. And horizon lines, I miss horizon lines! I could speculate for pages on all the wonders of mountains and yaks and clear waters and trails and rich tea. But maybe I'll wait, save it all for the retelling of the real thing.

This is Thursday, tomorrow is a holiday. Three-day weekend, what what! I think I'll hop on the bus soon and head out to a bookstore or a tea shop. Not sure yet, I've got a couple potential destinations in mind. Next week I have mid-term exams in my listening, speaking, and comprehension sections, so I'll do a fair amount of studying this weekend. But not today, not with this popsicle-friendly, warm afternoon. Next weekend roommate-Rebecca and I have Suzhou or Hangzhou travel plans. Still working out the details--yeah logistics!--but it should be an excellent few days of spring and water and walks and blooming flowers.

I'll sign off now, though there's always plenty more to say. Just know I'm sending so much love to all of you!

Good is natural and primitive. It is not miraculous to itself.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

First Month Photos

Hello all!
It's a beautiful Saturday evening and I'm going to wander out soon for some dinner, but I thought I'd do a little photo-uploading first. We've been here a month now--very exciting! School is going well and Chinese gets better all the time. I have favorite restaurants and study places and daily routines. I can't believe how quickly the time's going. Really, I know everyone always says that, but it's crazy how fast the weeks pass. I could say more, of course. But I've decided to post some photos from the last few weeks instead. Some may be replicas from the slideshow, but I don't think that worked too well anyways, so who's gonna know the difference. I hopes you likes...
This is the gang: Brett, Nick, M, Rebecca

The most cuddly zoo pandas in the world!

This was the view from my living room window one snowy Beijing morning. My favorite noodle place is in the strip of tiny buildings down to the left.

Bamboo walkway at the most wonderful park near our school.

Great Wall Success!

Printed windows at the Palace Museum in the Forbidden City. We had a field trip here for our religion class, 'The Sacred in China'.

A certain excited Temple of Heaven visitor.

View of the enormous Forbidden City from beautiful Jingshan Park. As it gets warmer and I get better at the bus system I think I will go here often to wander around and read my books.

Drinking tea with Dekyi and Dan at Dan's place. Dekyi is our friend and Tibetan instructor. Dan is the program director and head professor for our anthropology classes.

Looking down a narrow Beijing hutong. Beijing is famous for these long, neighborhood alleys, first established in the Zhou dynasty over 600 years ago. We visited the well-known (and touristy) Shichaha hutong in our 'Social and Cultural Transformation in Contemporary China' class.

Today the hutongs house a hugely significant proportion of Beijing's population. Many families and their businesses have been there for generations.

Sitting next to a lake at the park near our school. There's lots of small lakes here, and people walk and fly kites and gather to sing Chinese songs.

Hanging out at the park on the first of many warm days to come!

So much love to you all!

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Second Saturday

Hello wonderful friends and family!

Tonight was the first night of the weekly Tibetan dancing that happens on the school's beautiful, turf soccer fields. At the urging of a few present friends and teachers I hesitantly joined the expanding, twirling, snaking crowd. Unfortunately, I think whatever bits of circle, group, pattern dancing I've experienced over the years surfaced in an embarrassingly doe-see-doe type way tonight, while everyone around me swung their arms in naturally nonchalant, perfect cadence. I like to think maybe getting to laugh at me made someone's night.
Where progress in my Tibetan dancing is lacking, at least I can count on enormous forward movement with my Chinese. Yeah! I've been in classes for two weeks now and have definitely decided to stay in the higher division class with students from other international programs. This means I have four hours of Chinese every morning from eight to noon, each morning divided into two hour sessions of reading, listening, speaking, or comprehensive. It's taken a little time to figure out all the different sections and their corresponding teachers and books and assignments, but now I'm really starting to love it.
Let me elaborate. Here is our class. Four Korean girls, who fulfill any and all stereotypes that ever may have existed about Korean girls, but who I've really come to appreciate over our shared snacks and broken Chinese conversations. One older (fifties, sixties?) Korean man who speaks at every given opportunity in indecipherable tones and bewildering run-on sentences. The bulk of the class is six to nine (on any given day) Kazakh guys. Add a quiet, gangly Korean boy, a couple Mongolians, an Uzbek, and a brooding Russian given to sudden outbursts and arm-waving, and you've got our class. Oh! And an Italian girl who's 'wei's' and 'wo's' come out as 'vei's' and 'vo's'. Now, the socio-linguist in me wants to comment on which of these groups and individuals tend to know the most languages outside their native one. (Kazakh's and Mongol's--what can we determine about power and language acquiescence?) The feminist in me wants to comment on the obvious gender imbalance. (Hey Eastern Europe/Western Asia--where are your women?) But for now I'll try and stick to daily going-ons. 
Class is conducted entirely in Chinese, not just as a teaching model, but because this is far and away the most universally spoken language between all of us. Collaboration, however, occurs in every available language. Kazakh is the background noise to any new vocabulary word I learn these days. Whispering conferences ensue immediately following a professor's misunderstood instructions, and conclusions are transfered from Kazakh to Russian when being yelled across the room. When I'm lost, my best bet for help is conveying my confusion in stumbling Spanish to a Kazakh who, coincidentally, speaks the language flawlessly. He may then turn to his counterparts for group decision-making, who may seek further assistance from the silent Uzbek or the sleepy Mongol. Meanwhile, the professor has asked a question about Korean public transportation, and the girls revert to their native tongue to decide whether the cost of taking the subway is the equivalent of three kuai or four kuai, while the older Korean explains to the distracted teacher that it's somewhere around six kuai. And in the crowded halls on breaks you can easily add another four languages to this mix.
As a sort of side note, I learned this week that Chinese Uighurs (living in the far northwest), Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and Mongols can all communicate in a language native to the Steppes.
So, needless to say, the part of me that loves all the struggling and grappling and frustration involved in conveying your ideas and intentions in brand new ways is feeling plenty satisfied these days.
My classes in English are also going well. Three hours each Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday afternoons are dedicated to a Sociology, Anthropology, or Religion class. We read and discuss and take field trips. Sort of your predictable standard, but all of our reading has been really valuable and relatively interesting. Our teachers are good and I think simply getting a greater sense of the many facets of historical and contemporary China is adding a lot more depth to how I can process this country.
Finally, Tuesday nights we have a two-hour Tibetan language class, taught by the wonderful Dekyi and by our program assistant Jabeh. We're working on the alphabet and introductions and all those unexciting, trustworthy fundamentals. The beginning stage of learning a new language always gives me that fluttery, nervous, excited feeling you get at the start of a new relationship. Seriously, I sit in class and take slow, diligent notes, hoping the language finds me a respectable partner. And you have no way of knowing where or how or if this new bond will become significant in your life! After class we all wander home in the cold dark, and Jabeh lets Dekyi ride his bike ahead, knowing she won't get too far without training wheels. Her front wheel dips and turns unpredictably. She gains a little speed pushing off the ground with her white high-tops, left than right, left than right. Last Tuesday we taught her the mechanics of breaking.

There's so much more I could say, still. About the deliciousness of egg and tomato omelets with rice, and the therapeutics of scrubbing my clothes clean, and the unembellished  bigness of the national library. But there is plenty of time for all that later on.

I think about each of you going about your lives. Teaching, listening, waiting for sunshine, reading about Japan, writing papers, doing handstands, drinking tea, running, riding bikes, planting flowers, building lego ships, drawing, eating ice cream, wearing spandex, playing board games, making breakfast, snuggling, laughing. All these things make me happy.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Hello friends.
All is well here this rainy evening. Soon I will venture out for some dinner noodles, but for now I am warm in our cozy apartment.
The last few days have been full of Beijing things. Big meals, famous sights, crowded streets, newness. Being in the beginning now makes me grateful I already know I love China. Maybe I make no sense. I think what I mean is that all transitions send your head every which way, wondering if you're making the right decisions or if you have a clue what's happened to your life at all. And maybe I've been feeling some of that these days, but then I know--in my gut, no questions--that I love China. Transitions are by definition and nature impermanent. So nowadays when I'm feeling hesitant I think about long walks and being full of tea. There's something so big and inherently human about all of China, it's like being here makes me feel that much smaller but also that much more human. Maybe it's the flaws--the not expecting anything of the world and making no excuses in return. I don't know.
Tomorrow I'm visiting a language class full of other international students--some even from Kazakhstan, I think. Usually students in my program take language (and other) classes on our own, but my program director and the different teachers we've met with think I may be able to enter the higher division class. I'm a little nervous about being ready for the class, but I'm sure it will be a sweet opportunity to meet more students on campus, and in the end my Chinese will be significantly better for it. If I decide I'm not ready for the class, I'll just have a one-on-one language class, so no bad options really. We have three other classes that all happen within the program--another good reason to take the outside language class. I'll say more about classes once they actually start on Monday. Oh, and we get to audit Tibetan language classes!

Below is a slideshow of our first week or so. Our campus and day trips. I'm not much of a photographer, and my inclination tells me the video/slideshow may run a little slowly. Still, I hope you enjoy!

And finally, my mailing address is below.

Makenzie Barron
CIEE Students
Rm. 611 East Gate International House
The Central University for Nationalities
27 Zhong Guan Cun South Ave.
Beijing, 100081
P.R. China

It's delicious noodle time.
Know that I'm thinking of you all and sending love.

Monday, February 9, 2009

This is the center

Hello friends and family!
I am in China--land of noodles and bicycles and tea!
This will be my simple introduction into the land of blogging, but rest assured there's more to come. For now, I will tell you I'm living on the eleventh floor of the Central University for Nationalities International Student House, sharing a bedroom, bathroom, and living room with the other girl from my program. 
We have about a week of orientation activities before beginning classes next Monday, which means the mornings have been filled wandering the streets in our little clump and the afternoons spent desperately trying to stay awake and beat the jet lag. So far it's pretty casual, but it sounds like once classes start there will be a fair amount of work. I'm excited (in a painfully nerdy way) for the readings in our various classes and for the repetitious character practice. We'll take language placement exams on Friday.
Alright, dear people. I realize this is brief, unpoetic, and without pictures. Really it is just to let you know I'm here, full, and warm.
So much love,