It’s funny that after a year away from the theater scene, I could feel so alienated from something that was once the air I breathed… I miss it and don’t miss it, depending on the day, but I certainly haven’t felt thrilled in that crazy-creative-energy-explosion kind of way since I wrapped up my last project at HJT. I get my highs these days by working with kids and traveling, but there’s nothing like working on a theater show. Here are some pictures from my play — written Wednesday, performed Sunday — which, as mentioned in my previous post, was a silly blend of Le Petit Prince, The Lorax and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
In the past few weeks, my top highlights around the city include:
- Bicycling solo over to Houhai Park and a series of lakes around there. I navigated with a map in Chinese, saw many new parts of Beijing, and got my first glimpses of the epic topiary phenomenon all around the city! The lakes themselves were lovely – I will have to come back with friends! See photos below:
- Hot pot meal with the family at a fancy restaurant. When eating hot pot, each person has a personal boiling pot of broth before him and many plates of raw seafood, meats and vegetables around the table. You grab what you want, plop it in your pot, let it cook for awhile, and eat when ready. This felt like a precursor to Thanksgiving – the meal just kept going on and on, and was so delicious, I got to the point where I wished I had my sweatpants 😀
- Morning at NAMOC, the National Art Museum of China. Turns out it was fairly straightforward from where I live – I’m starting to get a hang of the fantastic grid work system here! It’s really very easy to navigate on bike. I enjoyed a collection of paintings by contemporary Chinese artists, some of which looked just like French impressionism, but ended well with some bright works in traditional Chinese painting style. I had to duck out pretty early though, due to annoying visitors. I can’t tell you how many people entered a room and walked briskly from one painting to the next, snapping a photo and then moving on! Well, I can’t say I haven’t seen this behavior from tourists in other parts of the world…
- Hanging out at the Alliance Française, checking out a couple graphic novels and admiring an incredible display of collage art in their lobby. I came back later for a free jazz concert, the singer throwing in a bit of scat and throat singing. I love this place, and am so thrilled to have an outlet for my French love and a place close by for cultural outings.
- Discovering the craft brewery scene in Beijing. Whodathunk that China would have such great beer? The Autumn Craft Beer Festival offered an incredible taste into all the hoppy offerings of Beijing and beyond, and my friend Dana works at arguably the city’s best brewery, so it’s been a blast to explore this side of the city – something I would expect in the States, or Europe, but not China!
- Attending a drama competition in English for Chinese elementary and middle schoolers. Some of these groups were decked out in amazing costumes and had even worked song and dance into their show! It was fun to watch, and fascinating that even though Brendan and I just sat in the audience, we were approached afterward by kids wanting to know what we thought of their performance. I guess being the only white people in the room does single you out a bit, but it was interesting to see too the assumed “authority figure” role it put us into, even without an explanation as to who we are.
The big things from this period are work-related, though. I am choosing to embrace the living/working/learning philosophy of Armada, which means that I officially don’t have a day off – but could sleep in or take time off whenever I need. It reflects a mental shift that I am all in for the team and accept responsibility for the group, prioritizing our projects over my own plans, sometime. Since I made the choice to stop trying to clearly separate work and “life,” I have felt a huge weight lifted. I have also started to enjoy my work a lot more, since I am choosing to be there willingly rather than because it’s a work obligation. This has always been a challenge for me, and was a big part of why I stopped enjoying theater – when you start to put things you love doing into the “work” box, you start to resent them. I am really trying to look at work through a positive lens. Would I prefer to be doing anything else right now, anyway? If I do, I can communicate to my group anytime I need a break and take a day off, but it will suit my time and priorities better because I can take time when I need it.
My biggest projects of the moment are planning two promotional events, a show this weekend and a Halloween party. The show will include reading poems and stories that we have written during our evening programming, and performing a play that I wrote this week! I feel the same thrill of HJT days – I had a major deadline, wrote this play in about two hours, and am now running around trying to direct, make costumes, star in, and do marketing for MY play! What a thrill! The play draws inspiration from Le Petit Prince, The Lorax, and Alice and Wonderland. Wish you could see it! And as for the Halloween event, you can imagine my delight that part of my job next week will be to bake and decorate for hours on end. Now, to think of a costume…
One thing that my “boss” (in quotation marks because we don’t operate under clear boss/employee relations here, but he’s more my boss than I am his) said during my interview for the Armada job was that in China they value alone time much more than we do in America, so I would need to be prepared to change some of my habits and encourage myself to, likewise, spend more time alone. We are, for better or worse, pretty social beings in the States, but I really appreciate the Chinese mentality that aloneness is to be cherished too. I have felt pretty lonely this last week, aching for more friendship and reasons to leave our apartment complex, but lately started to question this feeling. I do have a lot of passions I want to explore – I picked up piano again since coming to Beijing, I enrolled in a Nutrition class through Coursera, I am baking more than ever (praise be that we have an oven, a luxury in China!) and I am doing my best to kick butt in the workout zone. I would like to explore the city a lot more than I have so far, really invest myself in my Chinese lessons (which started this week!), and do a lot more deep thinking about who I am, my goals, and where I want to be heading. All of this falls into me time, and is hugely important to prioritize if I want to nurture myself, build my strengths, and grow spiritually and mentally. This shouldn’t be pushed aside. Even if I long for more buddies to go out with, it’s a mistake to look at evenings where I have “nothing to do” as unfortunate. It’s golden time, and the correlation is clear: the more that I invest in myself and make myself a happy and better individual, the more others will love and appreciate me for it. Here’s another way in which we often want to jump the gun and get the reward before the work. If I want to be loved and valued for who I am, I need to first love and value myself, not mope about feeling lonely. The first step is investing more time in myself and not being afraid to love every minute that I fly solo.
Malls reign supreme in Beijing. It was pretty strange to get here and realize that the mall next door (The Place) has basically every kind of food I should hope to eat, a grocery store, bookstore, pharmacy, many of your American clothing brands, fro-yo, gelato, five cafés… kind of everything I could want. But once I explored The Place, I wanted to keep going and get to know my neighborhood… but EVERY BUILDING IS A MALL! Slight exaggeration, but only slight. It’s crazy, all these 30+ story buildings with let’s say five floors of shopping mall-esque stores followed by gobs of offices or apartments. It would be impossible to explore them all, soo… now I just appreciate the funky architecture of the modern skyscrapers as I bike on by.
Since my back and my brain are in constant battle, I decided to prioritize getting regular massages in Beijing, for my physical well-being as well as general sanity. It was Week 2 or 3 when C took me to a spa/massage place in our apartment complex. We were greeted with enthusiastic “Ni hao”s, bowed to many times, offered tea and bonbons, and shown the full menu of massage options. My first foray into Chinese massage was with the Chinese traditional massage, and for twenty bucks an hour, sans insurance benefits, I was pretty psyched to be a regular customer! My enthusiasm quickly waned though, as I realized just how different a Chinese massage is. To start off, they gave me yellow silk pajamas to change into. I can’t lie that I was tempted to sneak away with a pair, they were so gloriously comfy. Then we had a funny exchange regarding whether I wanted a boy or a girl to massage me, and I ended up with a sweet woman who spoke little English but tried to ask me about myself, whether I have a boyfriend, and what I am doing in Beijing, all while pounding on me. Because that’s most of what the traditional massage is – a good deal of closed fist tapping on the arms and legs, some lifting and stretching of the legs, and oh, my butt was massaged for the first time! It was a pretty hilarious experience, but not exactly soothing, and didn’t do too much to loosen the atrocious knots in my back. So I have waited and wondered what to do next, and my back has gotten progressively tighter until I decided to try again today with their 30-minute head, neck and shoulder massage. This time I asked for a boy masseuse, and he thankfully didn’t limit the massage to the shoulders and above, but went to town on the knots in my back (digging with elbows)! He massaged my behind, too, but focusing more on the knots there and in my lower back. It was a beautiful experience, and I feel like a rock star.
I was warned against it. The study abroad office advised me to pack a helmet – I ignored them. And now, here I am, against my better judgment, bicycling around this crazy traffic mess of a city. AND I LOVE IT!!!
As soon as I arrived, it became clear that even if bicycling in Beijing is a health hazard, it’s a necessary one. The Beijing subway shuts down around 10:30/11 p.m., if you can believe it, and while the cab rides are fantastically cheap, they add up. On top of that, I live too close to take the subway to Sanlitun (where the foreigners go, or the cool kids who want to be foreigners) and far enough for the walk to feel annoyingly long, but a bike ride? A measly 10 minutes, and hurrah! I have reached the Institut Français, Anglophone bookstore, and American-friendly bars J = Happy Ryan.
Yesterday I had a ball getting my first bearings via bike. I sought out the American Embassy, where I hoped to find a Styx cousin on display (shout-out to the WW Foundry/Whitman campus art!) but gosh darn wouldn’t ya know it, you have to make an appointment to get past the Chinese guards and barbed wire. Another time! I was pretty proud that, despite taking detours to explore some neighborhoods along the way, and getting totally turned around, I was able to pick out some recognizable buildings close to my apartment and figure out the route home. This was in rush-hour traffic, mind you! But I must say, it feels pretty exhilarating to get right in the thick of things. There’s a lot of energy out there! The substantial bike lane (separated by a guardrail from the normal car lanes) certainly helps me to feel safe, too, although a lot of taxis do sneak their way in, mopeds and motorcycles are constantly whizzing past, and there are plenty of pedestrians to dodge… nonetheless, there are so many vehicles and everyone is fairly cognizant of the various moving things around them. And as a friend told me, it’s a lot more of a hassle to drivers to hit you than to NOT hit you, so even if they get very very close, I’m probably generally safe out there. I’ll be careful, Mom. 😉