Catonese Food and a Language Barrier

Catonese Food and a Language Barrier

Curtis Bratton

Meet ... Curtis Bratton

China Study Abroad Major: History
Location: Beijing, China
Studying: Spending four weeks immersed in the Chinese culture while visiting majestic, historical sites and studying at the prestigious Institute of Chinese as Second Language of Peking University.

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On Saturday (July 7) Dr. Jing Luo told us we were to have our second ethnic meal; Cantonese. There was a new restaurant near the dorms he wanted to try, so off we went. One thing about saying things are “near to the dorms” in Beijing, they aren’t. “Near” means about a 15 to 20 minute walk.

Cantonese is popular in southern China and is quite spicy. I had a noodle dish and fried beef, and I could barely handle it. As a person who doesn’t eat spicy things often, I could barely finish down the beef. The food was great — really it was — but I could not put out the fire in my mouth.

After dinner, Dr. Luo gave us the choice to look around the mall or head back. I chose the latter. When I got back, I put my items in my room as usual, and then hit the bathroom. Upon my return I discovered the door to my room — which I thought I left open — had magically shut. I thought I could head up to Dr. Luo’s room and ask him for help. But all of his information was in my iPod, which was in the room (lovely). So I decided to head to the front desk.

There was a woman at the desk, very friendly. I explained my situation, and she understood. Then asked me my room number, which I gave her. She put it into her computer, and the name that came up for the room was Brian (Brian Toth). She asked me if I was Brian, I said no.

Then she asked me why I had Brian’s room (If you’ve been following since the first blog, you know the group swapped rooms due to the mix up in roommates). I tried to explain to her how we had already been assigned roommates before leaving, but she didn’t understand.

Then she saw that I had been taking Chinese courses at Peking for the past week and yelled at me for not speaking Chinese (We had only covered how to say different countries, not explain why my room key is in a room I shouldn’t have).

After a half-hour of this, I managed to get her to look up Dr. Luo’s room phone, and he was able to explain the situation. I was able to get back in my room. I need to learn better Chinese …

Learning Tai Chi

Tai Chi On the day of orientation for the summer courses at Peking we were told the university was scheduling Tai Chi classes for anyone interested. So I thought, “Why not?”

About half of the group also wanted to try it.

On the first day we arrived at the spot to meet the Tai Chi Master, to find a 75 year old man waiting for us. I’ll be honest, myself and the rest didn’t expect this. We thought he be a young guy. Then he demonstrated how to use Tai Chi on his assistant (who was younger), and we were astounded by how nimble and strong he was.

There are five schools of Tai Chi, and we are learning Yang. Our master is a 11th generation Yang Master (To be an 11th generation, you must have learned from someone who learned from the original founder of the Yang style, which is very impressive as Yang is the second oldest school of Tai Chi). There are twelve classes in total and by the sixth, only three of us remained. The rest of the group either wanted to sleep in (Tai Chi’s at 6:30 a.m.) or thought it was useless. Dr. Luo joined us later, so there are technically four of us in it.

I really don’t mind getting up early. I like going to Tai Chi. It lets you be a part of a cultural tradition of China that has existed for centuries, and to me that’s fantastic.

The Legend of Kungfu

On Wednesday (July 11) we went to the Hong Theatre to see the “Legend of Kungfu,” which showcases all of the forms of martial arts. The plan was originally to leave at 5:30 p.m. and get to the theatre around 7, so we’d have an hour to eat dinner and gather back at 8 for the show. Beijing’s traffic had a different idea.

If you’ve read my earlier blog, you know how the traffic in Beijing works. So we didn’t arrive until 7:45 p.m. No dinner for us. Some of us tried to buy popcorn of chips, but they were so over priced in the theatre that it was best to save our money.

The show itself was amazing. The performer’s skills were absolutely brilliant. They showcased many of the different forms of martial arts. They broke boards, stone blocks, and metal pipes — broke them all over their heads, absolutely crazy. There were even kids doing flips and landing on their heads.

They displayed a lot of different weapon skills too. It was really awesome and to do it all perfectly in unison, was so very impressive (makes my Tai Chi look pathetic). It went by so fast. I was actually sad that it ended. One of the best things I’ve ever seen hands down.

Mount Tai

Mount Tai Over the weekend (July 13-15) we went to two cultural sites — Tai’an (The city centered around Mount Tai) and Qufu (The hometown of Confucius). We left Beijing by bus on Friday (July 13) then took a train to Tai’an. The two-hour train ride I’d take over the 13-hour plane ride. At least there was room to move.

On Saturday (July 14) we were going to start our climb. Mount Tai was a location of significant importance during Imperial China. Since it was the tallest mountain in the region. The emperor would go to the top to commune with God. The path up the mountain was lined with 7,000 steps. Due to time constraints (and the potential of no BU student making it to the top), we took a shuttle bus up about halfway — so we’d only have to climb about 3,000 steps.

The bus ride up was an adventure in itself. The guy drove like Mad Max in Road Warrior (Most people in China drive like him). We were taking turns so fast we thought we’d flip over, and the bus was rattling so hard it could have fallen apart at any second *#8212; a riveting ride.

We started our climb around 10 a.m., to go up the 3,000 steps the peak would take two hours. It wasn’t bad as we began, but after about 50 steps my knees felt like they were going to give out. The steps themselves were too small for my feet; so I had to basically walk on my toes on the way up, stubbing them every two steps.

It leveled out for a bit, and we all thought “oh, this’ll be easy” until we made it to the last bit; a sheer incline up the temple at the peak. I had to stop every few steps just to keep from crawling my way up. Dr. Luo looked like he was having a blast. He had bought a walking stick and was taking his sweet time up (he also wore all white, so with the cane he looked like John Hammond from Jurassic Park; we even tried to get him to say “Welcome to Jurassic Park”).

I didn’t even know if I could reach the top. I was so tired, and my knees hurt so much, that I was ready to give up.
When I finally reached the top, my shirt was completely soaked. The soles of my shoes were nonexistent, and I was so tired. The view from the top of the mountain was awesome though (too bad there was quite a bit of fog).

We had lunch then we had to make a decision — walk back down the mountain or take the cable car down (the walk was free, cable car cost 50 Yuan). I decided that since I walked up it; I’d walk back down.

The walk down was so very much easier, though the few of us with large feet had to duck waddle it again. I also had to pay close attention to my footing. Some of the stones were loose and there was the possibility falling down the mountain (not my preferred method of transportation).

If you’ve read the past (2011) blogs, you’ve probably read about the famous Taoist Monk who lives on the mountain. We met him. He’s was a very friendly person … who liked hugs. He hugged me, then Matt (Matthew Albertson), then he tried to get Steph (Stephanie Diehl). She ran away from him.

When we got back to the bus, we were tired, sweaty, and in some degree of pain. Then we set off for Qufu.

Qufu

Qufu We made it to Qufu very late, so we all basically just went to sleep when we got to the hotel. The next day, Sunday (July 15), we started out tour of the home of Confucius in the old city. We would visit three locations; The Temple, the Manor House, and the Forrest (Cemetery where the Confucius family was buried).

The Temple and the Manor House were in the same location and were marvels to behold. The architecture from that time period truly is astounding and is the pinnacle of what many westerns think of when they think of China. We learned quite a bit about Confucius’ life and how his teachings affected Chinese society for centuries, even today.

On the way between the Temple and the Manor House, there was a large Bazaar that we stopped at. Matt and John were really getting into the whole haggling deal.

In China, you shouldn’t pay full price for an item at a vendor. You should try to cut the price down to what you want — 95 percent of the time the shopkeeper will want your business so badly that they’ll take the deals you give them.

The final stop we made was to the grave of Confucius. The cemetery was huge. Many of the decedents of Confucius are buried there as well in different locations depending on what Dynasty was in power at the time. But because we were short on time, we went straight for the big man himself.

Along the path, we saw the grave of Confucius’ grandson and his son. Surprisingly, there were not many people … because they were all at Confucius’ grave. There were so many people packed around the grave we were lucky to get a picture (not a repeat of the Forbidden City; great success).

When it was all said and done, we went back on the bus, headed for the train station and returned to Beijing.

    — Curtis Bratton, history major