Beijing: Recovering from travel fatigue, birthdays, and delicious things to eat.

Have we only been gone for such a short amount of time? Steve and I find it incredible to believe that we  only left Chicago on September 7, which was barely three weeks ago. It however, feels like months and months ago that we were last around English-speakers and other flip-flop wearers. (One of the many signs that we are such foreigners.)

Welcome to Kyoto, foreigners!

To get the whining out of the way first, we’ve been feeling some travel fatigue, which is unsurprising. Most of our week-long visit to Japan was a whirlwind — we pulled several 12-hour days of trekking around giant cities, reading maps, navigating subway systems, and drinking in the sight of ancient temples and shrines. Steve and I both collected our first blisters of the trip. Here in Beijing, where we’ve been for about a week now, we’ve had time to lie back a bit more. We’re currently in an apartment in Xi’erqi, where my aunt and uncle on my dad’s side live, but due to my uncle’s work, we currently have the place mostly to ourselves.We’ve been spending our time visiting and hanging out with my relatives, which has been extraordinarily fun, but also means that every mealtime becomes an exercise in simultaneous translation of stories,  jokes, family trees, and food selections for Steve’s benefit. The family also want to know in great detail (rightfully so) our lives in Chicago, whether Americans eat [insert food item here], where else we’re visiting on our trip, and what schools I’m applying to, and the list goes on. All in Chinese! And mine has been rusty.

Steve gets to know my family, which includes cousin Feifei and his wife Zhengjie (both in background) and my cousin Da Yan’s husband.
Tingting, my niece twice-removed, and her husband at our Mid-Autumn Festival family gathering. (And yes, they’re expecting!)

Beijing is also a large city to navigate by public transportation; not inconvenient, but it will take you time. We clocked at least an hour in transit each time we left the house. In the past few days, we have crisscrossed east and west in pursuit of train tickets, real bagels, visiting UChicago’s Center in Beijing, and felt equally dust-worn as a result; not metaphorically, unfortunately, but literally, as this city is definitely not as clean as anything we saw in Japan.

Amazing view on a gorgeous day from the 20th floor of Renmin University’s Wenhua Plaza, where UChicago’s Center in Beijing is located. Thanks to Dennell for the tour!
Steve enjoys a sausage, egg and cheese bagel sandwich, a rare find even for Beijing, in the lively Sanlitun neighborhood.

This past week has also been remarkable for the first time that I’ve celebrated my birthday in the city I was born in, since I was 6 years old. September has never been a great month to travel overseas until this year, but it has always been my favorite. My birthday was also on the Autumn Equinox this year, and thus, marks the beginning of my favorite season. All good signs! The actual birthday itself was pretty quiet – Steve and I had delicious malaxiangguo (which is like dry hot pot) at a local shop for lunch. I cracked open MIT’s OpenCourseWare, course 14.01 or Introduction to Microeconomicsand read and took notes on the first class to start teaching myself economics while Steve napped. In the evening, we hung out with two friends in Beijing – Mary, who was my best friend in kindergarden and lived across the street from me, and Amber, her friend from high school, who studied abroad in England and is also delightful, and had zhajiangmian, a Beijing specialty. During my birthday week, we also made a trip to my niece’s TaoBao store, where she sells amazing clothing, and procured a few new dresses for me and a dapper winter jacket for Steve. Finally, my cousin Feifei and his wife Zheng Jie presented me with a lovely new phone that we can use with other SIM cards around the world.

Myself, Mary, and Amber. Mary and I were best friends in kindergarten!

The funniest and most poignant thing about this present is that Zheng Jie thoughtfully downloaded WeChat, a chat app which she and several other relatives use frequently. Since my parents and I moved to the United States in the mid ’90s, the only contact I’ve had with any of my relatives while physically in the States is by phone, and rarely by email. It seems very proper and overdue for our mode of communication with family in China to finally move into the 21st century as well.

A wonderful birthday present from Feifei and Zhengjie.

A few things about our next steps before I go to bed. In a few days, we are taking a train to Shanghai and exploring the city for a few days before our flight in early October to Taipei. In thinking about our next steps, I think it’s actually good that we had this early experience with travel fatigue. Other things Steve and I want to do on this trip –like work on freelance app development, compose grad school applications, self-learn econ, stats, and new languages, read books that should’ve been read years ago, and more– need a different sort of environment than the frenetic pace of travel we’ve been keeping up so far. We’ve thus decided to extend our time in Taiwan, and also to look for places that we can spend more time (like a month or two) in Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe. Suggestions gratefully entertained!

Finally, we had a boatload of fun Skyping with Steve’s parents this week. We miss you, friends across the world; let us know if you have time to talk online. There’s an exactly 12-hour time difference between Beijing/Shanghai/Taipei and Eastern Standard Time. So right now, it’s about midnight here, but 11 am in Chicago and exactly noon in Boston. So it’s convenient to talk in the morning to you if you have some free time in the evenings! Just send us an email.

Later this week, I hope to upload more photos of Japan, maybe of China as well. And of course, I will work on badgering Steve into posting about his fascinating foray into voice acting and  how much Chinese he has absorbed by drinking baijiu hanging out with my relatives.

Good night!

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