Friday, June 17, 2011

People here wear funny shirts.

So the "in" thing to do around Beijing is to wear graphic tees that have English phrases on them.  So far, the greatest hits include "US Marine Crops," "I want your trashy passion," and "Undecided Mustache." What may end up happening is that the title of each of my blog posts will be a phrase from one of these t-shirts.  

My living situation: I actually can't remember what I posted so far, so bear with me if any of this isn't new information.  The apartment that the orchestra provided for us is quite nice. It's technically a 2-bedroom with an office, kitchen and large living room. I, being the only single individual of the group, get the office. Chris and Brittany are sharing the bedroom with the queen bed, and Kyle and Keyondra are sharing the room with a king bed.  I have a little love-seat thing that folds out into a small twin bed--this situation will have to change.  Luckily, there is an IKEA not too far from where we live and once I get my first pay-check I am going to invest in a nice queen-size bed, an air-conditioner (because my "room" doesn't have one of those either) and air-purifier.  What I do have, however, are two nice, tall bookshelves that I'm using to hold my music and clothes.  The desk will eventually be moved into the living room once the bed gets here.
Our flat-screen TV and coffee table.

The apartment is completely furnished; the living room has a leather couch, leather love-seat, coffee table, 24"X36'' flat screen TV, and a large dining table. The kitchen has a two-burner stove, but no oven (they're not really popular here).  There's also a nice refrigerator and a dish-disinfector (it dries and heats the dishes and sanitizes them after they're hand-washed, but it doesn't wash them).  We'll (Key, Chris, Kyle, and Brit) be investing in several of those giant office water-jug thingies because we also have the corresponding water dispenser. For now I've been saving my small plastic water bottles and refilling them with 10-minute-boiled water.

Learning the Language: Yesterday (Thursday) Mrs. Wang Xinyi took us to the Wangfujing Dajie (wáng fǔ jǐng dà jiē) shopping district. There is a Foreign Languages Bookstore here that sells cookbooks, fiction and non-fiction literature, maps, DVDs, and Chinese-language learning tools/books.  I bought a small Vegetarian Chinese Cookbook for 30¥ (about $4.50) and a mandarin text workbook for 68¥ ($10.50).  Afterwards, Keyondra (whom I shall call Kiki from now on), Chris, and Brittany and I strolled down the rest of the street (about a mile long).  The entire district is an up-scale shopping center (think Ferrari, Gucci, Lamborghini, Prada, etc).  Brittany and I settled on some Jasmine tea from a popular tea shop (which I later found is a chain store that can be found on literally every corner... like Dunkin Donuts in Boston, MA).  We left for our apartment at about 5:30pm.

Traveling: The best and cheapest way to get around Beijing is by subway.  It's about 5 or 10 cents (American)  per trip (but we also suspect they charge based on the number of transfers... haven't figured it out yet).  You swipe a subway card at  gate both on the way in and the way out (we think that's how it tracks the number of transfers).  When you need more swipes, you go to a kiosk at the station and and pay the clerk more money to have the points added to the card.  Having never lived in a city with a subway, I can only assume that this is  pretty normal.

It takes about 50 minutes to make the entire commute from our apartment to the Central Opera house.  On Wednesday we left at 7:15am and the subway cars were PACKED!!!  Chris and Brittany managed to squeeze onto the first train, but Kyle, Kiki and I had to wait four more trains!  And even then, we were literally shoving people aside to fit on.  It was hot and crowded and a little smelly.  We have since learned that 7-8:30 is the worst time to try and catch a train.  In the future we will leave much earlier to get to work.  Or take a taxi.  When it isn't rush-hour, however, the subway is very pleasant and and the trip goes rather quickly.  Another item I shall purchase in the near future is a bicycle. There aren't really any bike racks anywhere, but people kind of go on the honor system and leave them all in a row outside their apartments and subway stations.  Riding a bike to our station will cut off 10 minutes from our commute, and aid us when we want to get around town without hailing a taxi.  I want my bike to be pink! (Or blue... haven't decided, though   I can guess that Rachel is rooting for Blue).

Food!  The food here is absolutely wonderful!  At first I thought maintaining a vegetarian diet would be difficult, but it's not!  So far I've found Vegetable Ramen noodles, soy milk, cheerios, flour, sugar, salt, pepper, skim milk, bananas, onions, garlic (very important!!!), potatoes, carrots, peanut butter, jelly, handmade bread, and tea. I'm still working on stocking up my foodstuffs; I hope to find Tempeh, beans, and more veggies.  Things I haven't bought but recognize are Coke, Pringles, Lays, various candies, butter, every kind of meat you could imagine, yogurt, baking supplies... basically everything but cheese. And from what I've read, when you do find cheese it's very expensive (think $15-$20 USD for a regular package of Kraft).  The store I mainly buy from is called "Wu Mart," the upper level of which houses beauty and health products and household products (toilet paper, cleaning supplies, dishes, cooking utensils, some clothes, linens, etc). The whole thing is kind of like a small Meijer.  Minus the cheese.

Eating Out: My first night in Beijing (Sunday the 12th) we went to a Korean restaurant around the corner (by the Wu mart) where we ate a traditional stone-bowl meal.  They heat the entire bowl (which, yes, is made out of stone) so that the rice and noodles and vegetables get all crispy and yummy in their sauce.
Korean Restaurant
On Monday I think I just had Ramen for dinner.

Tuesday we went out with Jing Huan and her boyfriend, a Chinese friend named "Charlie,"and Liya Huang (harpist for another Beijing orchestra).  We went to a Sezchuan-style restaurant (think very, very spicy)  and had everything from Ma po Tofu (spicy tofu in a spicy brown sauce with pork) and Chicken Curry to a Spicy vegetable dish made up of sweet potatoes, peas, Sezchuan red peppers, thick rice noodles, garlic, and onion.  Actually, it was so spicy I could only eat a bite at a time...and that was after we asked them to make it less spicy!
Jing Huan and Brittany trying out the food.
What was left of the chicken curry.

Eels in a red sauce.

Very spicy mixed vegetables with whole Sezchuan red peppers.

Ma Po Tofu.

General Tso's?

 Bean curd with ham in a yellow sauce.

Liya, Kyle, and Charlie (in the background).

My plate, chopsticks, and the mixed veggies.

Chris, the model.

Me, standing in the Sanlitun district.

Kyle and Kiki in the Sanlitun district.

On Wednesday we went out with Jing Huan to a restaurant that specializes in whole roast duck.  The table ordered two ducks, braised eggplant in an awesome brown sauce, roasted-herbed bamboo slices,  traditional leafy green cold plate thing (I have no idea what it was, but it was good), and shaped tofu filled with a seafood pate (i took the seafood out and gave it Kiki). For dessert we had green  bean ice cream (I liked it, but it definitely was different), and an assortment of traditional Chinese sweets (mostly bean pastes wrapped in a dough) and Lychee (an awesome fruit that has a bumpy, thick skin that peels like an orange but tastes more similar to a pear, but not really...).
At the duck restaurant.

Lychee, the Chinese fruit.

Jing Huan.

Keyondra and Kyle eating Green Bean Ice Cream. Mmmmm...

I am a chopstick professional.

Roasted/herbed bamboo.

Yummy green stuff with yellow bamboo shoots.

Shaped tofu with seafood center.

Carving the roast duck.

The table setting with condiments for the duck.

Thursday I cut up potatoes, carrots, onions, and garlic and added them to my Ramen noodles. And, today is Friday so who knows what the future will bring???

Signs you won't see in China...

..include "Pardon our Dust." It's pretty dusty here all the time. There's a lot of construction going on all over the city: new sky-rises, new shopping centers, etc.  Although there is a bit of smog, it's not so terrible you can't live here.  I don't have any issues breathing. In fact, the most uncomfortable thing is the temperature which has been in the high 90s the past two days. 
Today was my first day of work with the Central Opera.  We (Keyondra, Kyle, Brittany, and Chris) met up with Huan Jing (she was a student conductor with me at CCM but her home is Beijing) around 11:30am; she has been helping us find out way around town.  Since Wang Xinyi, the lady who is the head of international relations, was in a meeting, Huan Jing took us to a free lunch that is provided every day for those musicians who are asked to attend double rehearsals during the day. Although we only had one rehearsal today, the orchestra was nice enough to feed us anyway. And lucky for me, the lunch was entirely vegetarian except for a side of fish. Woo!
After lunch, our group left and met one of the conductors (don't know her name) who led us through the three pieces we'll be playing for out concert tomorrow.  We then moved straight into rehearsal at 1pm and met each of our respective sections.  Everyone warmly welcomed us.  At 2pm we moved into the actual opera hall for a quick dress rehearsal with the chorus and soloist singers and then left at 3pm.  We signed some paperwork regarding our salary and then left to go to the bank and opened accounts there.  The banking process took about 3 times as long as it would i the US to open a new account. I had to give the teller Chris's phone number as mine since I don't have one of those yet... hopefully by this weekend. 
The bank process took about 2 hours.  I was ready for some sleep at 3 and was hard to stay awake the whole time.  At 5:30 our group said goodbye to Wang Xinyi, and took the subway back to our apartment. I'll describe the apartment in a later post... I just want to keep my blog updated as much as possible but I'm super tired right now and really just looking to do the minimum tonight.  Well anyway, the entire subway trip takes about 45-50 minutes (including the walk to and from the station/apartment) so we arrived back in BeiYuan JieYuan (our little district)  at around 6:30, stopped at the local "Wu Mart" (think like a small Meijer or large Walgreens), and brought our food back home to eat. I bought some peanut butter, jelly, and fresh bread for dinner, and then bananas, onions, potatoes, garlic, ramen noodles, and Honey Cheerios. 
Now I am going to go to bed.  There is a lot of lightning outside... I seem to be the only one in the apartment who's excited about that... the rain helps clear the smog away, which is a really good thing. 
I'll write again soon. I miss everyone and hope that you are all well. 
~The Big Cat (meow!)

Saturday, June 11, 2011

On my way!

6:35 am: I'll be touching down in O'Hare airport in about 25 minutes. This morning came so fast... Waking up at 3:45 wasn't fun either. But then again, Dad woke me up just before the alarm and it's a nice gesture.
I checked 3 bags at check-in... Two bug suitcases and a duffle bag. I hope I dont buy too much in China... How will I get it back???  Mom and Dad waited until I was through security to go back to the apartment.  And just for the record, that leather couch is comfy to sit on but definitely not ok to sleep on.  I didn't have any issues with security... Sometimes they swab my horn to check and see if I'm trying to smuggle drugs... Which is hilarious to me. So, less than a 5 minute wait at security and I went to Gate 5 at CVG. My flight departed at 6 am on the dot... No hassles about bringing my horn on this tiny puddle-jumper.  Lots of turbulence the first half hour of take-off... Reminded me of Cedar Point when Paul, Melissa and I went on the roller coasters on Monday.  But that's another story.
The flight attendant today is being trained... I told him he was doing great.... Kinda sucks to have such a bumpy flight the first time you're trying to serve people's coffee.  
So now the plane is descending... I wish the flight to Beijing only took an hour, but then this whole trip wouldn't be as special.   Another big thanks to Mr. Gibson for buying my ticket.  I don't know why the orchestra couldn't buy it... Here's hoping they reimburse Mr. Gibson very soon... I told him I'll buy him dinner when he visits Beijing in July. Also glad to have received communication from Wang XinYi this morning regarding my new apartment address.. Helps to take the edge off my nerves. Don't get me wrong... I'm so happy and excited for this opportunity, but I thought I was going to puke all morning... And most of last night.   Blarg!   Well, here's signing off for now... I'll write more on my connecting flight to Seattle, WA.

1:16pm Seattle time... Whatever that is (western- eastern semi-standard small central mountain time?!?!) well, here i am. Back at the terminal awaiting my next flight from Sea-Tec to Beijing. I just bought one of those nifty neck-sleeping-comfy pillows so that my head and neck will only be stuck at a 45 degree angle instead of a 90-degree angle for the rest of eternity.
My 4.5 hour flight from Chivago to Seattle was mildly uneventful, except for the guy who couldn't keep his elbows to himself. Let's be honest here: I know limbs. I am a lengthy-limby individual and somehow I manage to keep then to myself. Well, on airplanes anyway. On the upside the stewardess gave me an exit row seat!!! That's like winning the lottery... For your legs!!!  Oh, and I should also mention that 1.) "Rango" is a hilarious movie but it is not for children. 2.) 4.5 hour flights should come with mandatory FREE food and 3.) if you ever meet a horn player and ask her where she is going and why please, please, PLEASE do not angrily and stuffily tell her about how your daughter hates her traveling life as a concert violinist. If she doesn't like it she can stop anytime. Also, I am not your daughter.
Next: lunch was udon noodles at the airport. Ok, not exactly Chinese cuisine here, but getting warmer. And it was pretty darned good. Especially since noon was the first time I stopped feeling all pukey ( I don't mean to be gross, but you tell me if you don't get nervous about traveling for a year at a time.  
Seattle is cloudy. Typical.
I just got called to the gate desk... We had a little "show-me-your-passport" party.  It was good... They gave me a new ticket in Chinese. Also, the desk lady said the area I'll be living at in Beijing is really a good part of town with lots of shopping.  *must not spend money... Must save money for future... Saving... Getting... More....... Difficult....*

Well, that's it for now. The flight should start boarding in about 30 minutes and departure is at 2:40. Small delay, but who counts minutes when the flight is 12.5 hours long? Not I!!!!
Oh! Oh! I also bought the next Connie Willis book "All Clear" which is the follow-up novel to "Blackout" which was originally supposed to be one giant book but the publishers said no and oh god the desk lady is speaking in Chinese... Things are about to get really interesting...

Thursday, June 2, 2011

7 days and counting...

Well, my Visa is currently being processed in Washington DC... I expedited the order...I hope I get it by tomorrow.  My flight is scheduled for Wednesday the 8th, departing out of CVG.  I'm getting a little nervous about wrapping up all my loose ends here in the U.S. but Mom and Dad are a huge help.  Rachel and Emily are planning a good-bye picnic at Mt. Storm Park this coming Tuesday... I think I'm just going to invite everyone I know in Cincinnati.  Monday I'm meeting up with my brother Paul, his fiance, and some of their friends at Cedar Point.  I think Rachel said she might be able to go as well, and I'm trying to talk a few of my other friends into joining us.  Saturday and Sunday will be devoted to moving all of my stuff (I have at least 10 boxes of just books! Holy crap!) over to my parents new house somewhere in Kentucky.  I'd tell you exactly where but I really have no idea what the name of their city is... Kinsgate???  As I am a GRATEFUL and LOVING daughter (here's looking at you, Mom and Dad) who has GENEROUS, PATIENT, LOVING, parents I will also be helping to clean up the new house a bit on Friday.  Luckily, I am at one with cleaning supplies.

At noon today I performed in an Atrium Concert with Rachel... the 23rd Piano Concerto of, one, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Actually, what really happened was that I got the music at 6pm last night and read the piece down and the handed the 2nd horn part to Rachel at 11:15 this morning who sightread the concert.  Are we amazing or what?  That's right. And while you might be asking, "Well Cecilia, wasn't it fracktacular?" I must respond with a big "NO!" because, once again, Rachel and I are amazing.  It was more like frack-light on my part.

As for tomorrow evening, I'm performing with the Wind Ensemble under the direction of the brilliant Dr. Terrance Milligan.  Nothing like a little Sousa to end my time here at CCM. 

Well. Until next time. 

~Big Cat   *meow*