Thursday, October 6, 2016

Kristin (barely) makes it home from the China Open

So as I mentioned in my last post, my school is located within the National Tennis Center. Our school building is actually underneath most of the "ground" (it's not really ground because the school is located on the ground and what I'm talking about is actually the roof of the school) around the Lotus Court (The National Tennis Center has three courts. In order of increasing size and importance, they are Moon Court, Lotus Court, and Diamond Court.) Our school building is used once a year for the China Open. This of course, means we are closed during the China Open. It also means we get some free tickets to the tournament. The teachers got two tickets each to Moon Court, but I learned tonight that some people got tickets to the Diamond court (I learned this from a student I ran into in the Diamond Court who got apparently three free tickets from the school - yes, I'm a little jealous).
Since Moon Court is the smallest court I assumed (correctly I might add) that as the tournament progressed fewer and fewer matches would be held in Moon Court. Thus I chose October 5th and 6th for my tickets (I returned from Baotou on October 4th). On Wednesday I had a fantastic day. I arrived at Moon Court during the first set of the first match of the day. I watched three matches, two women's singles matches and one men's doubles match. The men's match was two Chinese players against Carreno Busta and Nadal.  It was an excellent match and I had a fantastic time. I decided not to stay for the final match because I was coming back the next day and I felt a little tennised out. Unfortunately, my trip home was quite a struggle. I live 3.5 miles from the National Tennis Center. There is however, no direct mode of public transportation. To get from my house to school (aka the National Tennis Center) you have to take line 13 and transfer to line 8. This means that you are taking a rather circuitorious route (and is also why I have plans to get a scooter). When I arrived at the subway station yesterday I found a surpise: line 13 was not running. I had to take line 5 down to line 15 and then to line 8 (except I forgot to get off at line 15 and so I went to stops further to line 10 - which is a shorter transfer, so I did the same thing on purpose today). When I went to leave the China Open yesterday, there were a bunch of people who taking line 8 south so I decided to go north. I thought maybe it had been temporary or I figured I could take a bus from Houying or something. Well, when I got to Houying there were some professional signs that I'm guessing were explaining about the closure. I can't read Chinese very well and after reading the name of my stop and line 13, I stopped reading. The signs at the entrance to line 13 in my direction had been removed (they were still there going the opposite direction), there were signs (written only in Chinese) which said do not enter (I can read the important stuff afterall), and there was a woman standing at each entrance. I went up to one of the women and told her where I lived and asked how I should get home. She told me which bus to take and which exit from the station to take to find the bus. I followed her directions and found the bus stop. Then I proceeded to wait. And wait. And wait some more. Quite a crowd gathered, I apparently was not the only one who needed to get my stop. Finally, the correct bus came. We all started heading towards it. Then it turned off the engine, turned off its lights and shut down for the night. To say I was frustrated was nothing. I looked on my Uber app and it would cost a whole lot more to take an Uber from Houying home than it would from school so I decided to go back to the National Tennis Center. Along the way, I debated about whether or not I should just keep going and take the metro all the way home. In the end, I decided to get off and call an uber. Well, that didn't work. When I tried to call an Uber I was told my payment method was invalid. Now, I'm extremely frustrated. I left the tennis center about an hour earlier and I'm right back where I started. It's also well past dinner time and I'm hungry. I pick up some street food and a bottle of water and take the subway home. Two hours after I left the National Tennis Center the first time, I'm home.
On Thursday, I debate back and forth on whether or not to go to the tournament. I take a nap and when I wake up its 2 pm. As I'm looking at the schedule, I see that nothing in Moon Court even started today until 2 pm (rather than 12:30 the day before). Around 3, I'm bored and decide there are still plenty of matches to see. I eat a late lunch and head out. I get there are watch the end of a doubles match. I'm waiting for the next match to start and it starts raining. At first it is just spitting, but it gets a bit heavier and they announce that the match is postponed listen for announcements. I then spend sometime wandering around. I map out where different parts of the school are underneath us. It was actually a really cool thought exercise. Then I heard an announcement playing several times, but only in Chinese. I cannot understand the annoucement (between some specialized words I don't understand and the fact that it is a PA system, I simply cannot understand - something that frustrated me terribly). After I heard the same announcement numerous times, I decided to ask in the information center. The English in the information center isn't very good (the first woman couldn't do much more than greet me), but they were able to tell me that the matches were post poned until at least 7 pm. It was already 6:30, so I figured I would stay around. I wandered the booths (very elaborate booths more like actual buildings rather than what one would think of as a temporary structure) and contemplated buying a ticket to see the matches on the Diamond Court. The Diamond Court has a retractable roof (that was of course closed) and was the only court where matches were still playing. Evening tickets (from 7:30 onward) started at only 200 yuan ($30) and Shuai Zhang who upset Venus Williams in round 1 was playing at 7:30 and Rafel Nadal was playing at 9:00. I decided I had already ventured all that way, I should go ahead and enjoy it. I looked at the seat map on my phone and decided to buy the 400 yuan tickets (The best grandstand ticket you could get. Matter of fact, it was the best single day ticket still available). I went into the upgrade both and asked in English for a class A ticket. I got this panicked look and the two women in front of me started looking around. I then told them in Chinese that I speak Chinese, but I don't know how to say class A (meaning I don't know what term the use because I had read it only in English), but I want to buy a class A ticket. Did she understand class A? They replied that they understood and told me that it was 400 yuan. Then they told me they would give me a 10% discount (I don't know if that was because in order to be there I already had a ground pass which costs 30 yuan or because it was raining or why). I got my ticket and still had some time to kill.
At 7:30 I went into the Diamond Court building. It is nice (both the building at the court). Matter of fact the bathroom even has both toilet paper and soap. I took pictures of both (Strange, I know, but in China bathrooms don't usually have either of these items and the bathrooms for the other courts sure didn't have them).
Shui Zhang upset another person, much to the delight of crowd. I wouldn't be surprised if she wins the tournament. She seems to be on fire. Nadal beat up on Mannarino in the first set winning 6-1. I was starting to think it was going to be a blowout and perhaps a waste of my money, when Mannarino came alive in the second set. The second set ended up going to a tie-breaker. Nadal won the tie-breaker and thus the set (7-6) and the match).
As it was getting later and later I started checking the times on the last trains and getting more and more nervous (the Beijing subway shuts down sometime after 11). I couldn't find any information for line 8, but after a while it became a moot point because I wasn't going to make the last train on line 5 and I didn't want to risk it since my route home involves me getting a lot further away from school. Additionally, at the beginning of the match I reached 20% battery life and realized that after charging my powerbank I forgot to put it back in my purse. I was going to run out of battery if I wasn't careful and have no way to get a car to take me home. I switched the phone to airplane mode until the end of the game. I then switched it back to try to get an Uber to take me home. I had made some changes to my Alipay and so I thought it would work, but it didn't (Alipay is an app linked to my debit card that can be used to pay for things). I can't use my debit card directly in Uber because I do not have a national ID card (Alipay gives me the option of changing it to my passport number, which is the number my account is registered under). I then tried to link my Chinese paypal account to my Uber account. It wouldn't accept it. Now, I'm getting really nervous. It's pouring down rain. It's 11:30 at night. My battery is down to 14% and I don't have any way to get home. There is no way I will be able to hail a taxi the old fashioned way because thousands of people are using apps to call taxis and ride app cars and there simply are not any available taxis. They are literally all pre-booked. I'm praying and trying to figure out what to do. I cannot get my Uber to work. As I'm looking in my Alipay app (the first screen on which is in English, but anytime you move past the first screen it is no longer in English) and I see Didi Taxi. Now I know that Didi Dache (Dache being one way to say taxi in Chinese) is Uber's biggest competitor in China (actually they are merging) and since this is within my working Alipay app I think I can use it to get a car. I click on the icon and of course it now switches to Chinese. Thankfully I can read enough Chinese that I successfully call a car (I can type my address is, but it's a very slow process so I always copy and paste it). Unfortunately, I have 2 problems (or maybe three). 1) There are a lot of people and so even though it is almost midnight  there is a traffic jam on this road 2) the drivers always call and ask where you are and 3) its pouring down rain (I know I've said this one before, but I don't want you to forget it. It adds so much to struggle. Just using a multi-touch touch screen as water keeps getting on it is very difficult). When the driver is about 1 km away he calls me to find out more precisely where I am (I guess the maps in China aren't as accurate at placing you as they are in the states. I've never had this in the US, but it is standard procedure in China). I try telling him, but I don't know very well how to identify where I am. I tell him I'm accross from the Lincuiqiao subway station, but he doesn't seem to like that statement. I also try to tell him I'm just south of Lincuiqiao bridge (qiao actually is bridge in Chinese), but again that doesn't seem to satisfy him. So I tell him, I don't speak Chinese very well, please wait a moment. I go up to a random young couple and in Chinese ask them if they would tell him where I am. The girl takes the phone and spends a long time speaking to the driver explaining where we are. I am growing very nervous as she talks longer and longer because I can just seen the battery dropping further and further (figuratively of course as I can't actually see it). She gets off and tells me the last two numbers on the license plate are 62 (something I already know because it shows the entire plate number in my app) and which direction he's coming from (by the way after I didn't know the Chinese word for license plate, she switched to English. See, there is some English in China. Oh and in my defense she didn't use the word license plate in English so I think she didn't know it either).
After a while the car came (explaining that it took him so long because of the traffic jam), he got me home driving me all the way to the door (he was insistent I told him he could let me out at the gate, but he wanted to take me all the way to the door) and paid him through my alipay app. I have never been so happy to make it home. It was about 1.25 hours after the match ended and the drive home took less than 10 minutes, but boy was I thankful to have made it home!

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Kristin Returns Home

Stop. The title doesn't mean what you might think it means. I have not given up and I am not leaving China. What I mean is I returned to my second home, my Chinese home. When I decided I wanted to write this post and give it this title I simply meant that I had returned to Baotou, the city where I first lived (for three years) in China, but while I was in Baotou I discovered that the friend of several of my friends (both American and Chinese friends) actually lives in my old apartment and so I got to visit my old apartment too. Boy was that weird (but also really cool)!
Here comes the train!

Let me back up and start at the beginning. My school in Beijing is located in the National Tennis Center (国家网球中心). By in the National Tennis Center I mean our school building is the building that surrounds the Lotus Court. Usually, this doesn't mean much except that it's a long walk through the National Tennis Center to get to the school building (I need to buy a scooter!) and that the elementary kids actually have recess on the Lotus Court (I've got a post coming soon about the school itself). There are, however, two weeks out of the year when this has a very significant impact and that is the last week in September and the first week in October. During these two weeks, China hosts the China Open, an international tennis tournament that as you can guess is held at the National Tennis Center. Several of our classrooms and offices are taken over by the China Open. Our students use the lockers in the China Open locker rooms as their regular lockers and so, of course, they have to empty them out prior to the China Open. As you may have guessed by now all this means that we cannot hold school and so we get a two-week break! Now all of China has the first week of October off to celebrate Chinese National Day (commemorating the founding of the People's Republic of China on October 1, 1949). However, having the week before off is awesome because you get the opportunity to travel without the masses (the so-called Golden Week is a crazy time travel-wise). I took the opportunity to travel to Baotou, Inner Mongolia.
Each car has a conductor who after a while collects
all the tickets and exchanges them for a card. She then
wakes you up before your stop (unless it's at the end like
mine was in both directions, then they wake everyone up
about an hour before arrival)
My berth is top left through this window.
I left Beijing after work on Friday, September 24th and took the train overnight to Baotou. When I first arrived in China in 2002 this was a 16-hour train ride. Now you can take it in about 8 (and I heard that a high-speed railway will open next year reducing the travel time to only 4 hours!). I chose to take a slightly longer train ride, 10 hours because this would be more conducive to sleeping. A friend of mine ordered my tickets online for me, reserving me a top berth in the hard sleeper section. I prefer the middle berth, but apparently, none were available. I was able to then go the Beijing Railway Station a bit early and pick up my tickets. This is a big improvement from when I lived in China before when you had to go to the railway station or a ticket office and you could only get tickets one-way (although in Beijing you could get return tickets to Beijing) and you could only get the ticket 6 days in advance (I think it was 12 in Beijing - I'm not positive because I didn't live in Beijing back then). This time, I ordered my tickets about a week before I left (we weren't worried about the trip to Baotou because that was before the holiday, but needed to order the ticket for my return because that fell within the holiday week).

The view down the train car.
The train was not quite as nice as it used to be (you might be thinking this is a product of memory, but I know at least to a degree it is not because there used to be carpets in the aisles that they would roll up at the end of the trip and those weren't there), but the prices I think actually went down (not sure of this, though) while people's earnings have gone up. Thus, the hard sleeper tickets that were once the realm of the middle class are probably now the realm of the lower middle class (the bottom in China is still incredibly poor). I also noticed people didn't seem as interested in talking to me (usually, but not always, in the past when people discovered I spoke Chinese they wanted to talk to me). However, I also spent a higher percentage of my time on my berth because of the shorter trip duration.
In Baotou, I got to spend a lot of time hanging out with friends. I was able to work around my friends' work schedules to spend almost all of my time (over the course of 10 days) with various friends. I visited my foreign friends (and made some new ones), my former co-workers (and one former student who now works at the university) and my former students (my first year in Baotou I worked with the Iron and Steel Company's training center and my students were all adults, many of whom became good friends). I stayed in a hotel two nights and with friends the rest of the nights and I had a great time. I'm going to let the pictures (and their captions) do the rest of the talking. Enjoy!

I went to Saihatala park with one Chinese friend
and four American friends (who are also blondes).
We attracted a TON of attention.

I decided to take pictures of the people
taking pictures of us.

They were not the least bit covert in their
picture taking.

I had deluded myself into thinking this
didn't happen as much because it doesn't
usually, happen in Beijing but in Baotou the
foreigner is still the fish in a fishbowl.

Baotou is known as the city of deer. However, this park and a statue
in the middle of a traffic circle are the only places where one can find
any deer in Baotou.

You thought the picture taking was over, but you were

This is a really cool market street near the university where I used to teach. The market wasn't there back when I taught there...
Meat on a stick, anyone?

On Saturday, October 1 I went hiking with a group of my friends.
We went to Ma'An Mountain (马鞍山), but because it was
National Day it was unbelievably crowded! I'm glad we went in the
morning because as we left the crowds were a LOT larger
and there was a HUGE line of cars trying to get into the

Just when you thought you'd reached the top you turned the corner and saw that there was more!

I got asked (at least they asked) for SO many pictures! This was a group
of middle schoolers who talked a lot about asking me, but for the longest time
didn't ask. I told them (in Chinese) that they had to ask me (one of the people
with me tried to tell me they wanted to take a picture, but I insisted they had to ask
me personally). I didn't mean they had to ask me in English, but after I said that they all
worked on figuring out how to ask me in English. When one of them got it right, I took a
photo with all of them.

I ran into a woman I had known 11 years ago (the on
the left. The one on the right jumped into the photo.
After this photo, she wanted one of just the two of us,
however, it wasn't until that point that she realized this
was my camera)

Behind me is a screen made of water. They are
showing a Monsters Inc movie on that screen
(in English). When I lived in Baotou they would
show videos on this water screen, but it was usually
just pictures of Inner Mongolia with music.
Occasionally it included cartoons, but never
a full-length film (and never in English).

It's kind of hard to see because of the lights behind us,
but this is my former university student and her mother.

This donut shop belongs to a friend of mine. Unlike Beijing, Baotou
doesn't have Dunkin' Donuts, but these donuts have a pretty
authentic taste.

I couldn't resist a picture of this dog. I thought its
grooming was unique, to say the least.

Here comes my train back to Beijing!