Hello world!

So karaoke was a blast. We sang for about 3 hours and I've decided I love karaoke. Why don't we have karaoke places like KTV in America? We need some.

The entire place is entirely dedicated to Karaoke. You walk in and there is music playing and everything is marble floors and disco lights and mirrors everywhere. You can make a reservation before 7pm online and when you show up, you pay and they give you a room number. We went down the stairs to the karaoke rooms and there were so many rooms! We walked down the halls and heard people singing through the doors and finally got to ours.

It wasn't really a bar like people said. Upstairs you can buy alcohol (or water or snacks) and bring it to your room but it wasn't a bar like what I was picturing (and which is the way it was worded). I really think it could be successful in the right area in America. People get embarrassed by singing karaoke in public places, but havign a private party seems like a good idea.

I took pictures on our way back of the same area I was at for lunch the day before where I took pictures. At night the city is all lights.

On Monday (and I haven't posted any pictures because I didn't have my camera with me. I might be able to get some from my room mate later) we had a presentation on the Peking Opera. The presentation itself was very short. We learned a little about the history of it but it was not translated very well so I didn't follow much of that.

After the presentation, we listened to two college students sing Peking Opera songs - one female and one male. The female had the most controlled voice and it was so pure! I was extremely impressed. But the male didn't sound great, and I couldn't tell if it's because my ears aren't accustomed to what Peking Opera is supposed to sound like (people walk around playing it on radios and it always sounds harsh like his voice, not nice like the females) or if he just wasn't doing a great job. To me, it sounded like he kept losing control of his voice. Either way, I was impressed that these two students had devoted so much time to memorizing and learning the art of Peking Opera.

After the two singers finished, we were invited into the lobby of our building to look at some costumes. They had so many! They showed us all the masks and explained that each color mask represents a different type of person. For example, one color represents loyalty, one bravery (often worn by warriors), etc. What I think is cool about that concept is it means that if you understand Peking Opera, you can go to one and not be able to understand a word of what is being said, but still understand vaguely who the characters are and what they represent. I think that's really important because from what I understand, the language that they speak isn't common speak and most Chinese people can't understand it. Or I could be generalizing - most of the college students say they can't understand the words.

After that we all tried on costumes. Once again, the rule about different types of costumes being for different types of roles applied. The costumes they brought could be used for several different plays if they had the same basic characters. I need to look this up, but I don't think that Peking Opera is something that is still being written. I think it is a collection of old stories that have survived and are played over and over again. The costume part was great though! However, I definitely got the most boring costume. I was the only person who didn't have cool sleeves and I didn't get a hat. But, I was a princess, which is pretty cool.

On Tuesday we went to the Tea House. That was a neat experience and we were drinking some of the finest tea in China. Going to a tea house isn't something that all Chinese people will experience in life. It is mostly used for business occassions or private somewhat formal get-togethers. People don't just go there whenever they feel like it. It is a minimum of 120yuan a person (with a minimum of 4 people) at the one we went to. We were sat in a room appropriate for our group size (thought they have different rooms for different sized groups) and served lots of healthy snacks and our tea glasses never went empty.

Let me tell you, the Chinese people have a relationship with their tea. They showed us the traditional ceremonial way to serve tea. It was almost comical because they gave us the details down to boiling the water. But anyway, first they put a TON of tea leaves in a bowl (it's enough that when they expand, it will fill up the entire teapot). Then, they put the tea leaves in the first tea pot. This tea pot is called the mother. They pour the water into the first tea pot from high up (which is supposed to do something) and then they don't let it steep for even a minute before they pour it out all over the second tea pot to cleanse the tea pot (this one is called the son). They then pour that water back over the outside of the mother teapot to clean it. I feel like there might have been more cleaning or perhaps a second round of this, but I'm really not sure. The reason that it's not making a mess to pour water/tea all over the place is they have these tea trays that they use to collect the water that they do the tea making process over.

So after all the cleaning is done, they pour the boiling water into the mother teapot again. It steeps for about 1 minute, and she pours it back into the son teapot. From the son teapot she begins to pour into one of the little bitty mugs they use. Here is the thing about that, they have a tall, skinny one and a short, round one. They first put the tea into the tall, skinny one. Then, they put the short, round one on top of the tall, skinny one and very ceremonially flip it in a way that there is suction keeping the tea in the tall one while it is upside down in the round one. This is how they serve it.

Once everyone has received it, we are supposed to first carefully empty the tea from the tall glass into the round one. The tall glass is purely for smelling the tea, so at that point you may smell your tea. Let me tell you, it smelled sweet like honeysuckle. I was very surprised. Then, you may pick up your round cup and begin drinking the tea. Men and women are supposed to hold the cup slightly differently. All parties hold the cop between their thumb and index finger, with their middle finger supporting the bottom of the cup. Then, men fold their pinky and ring finger in and women hold them out. They didn't explain why there is this difference, but I'm sure it relates to male superiority in China.

You are supposed to drink the tea in 3 steps. The first sip is for something - somehow I missed it. I think it was to either cleanse the palate or something like that. The second sip is to taste it. The third sip is bottoms up(干杯).

That's pretty much it for the teahouse other than it was very pretty with extremely expensive clay teapots for sale. Oh, and there was a block of tea (that's fairly common here) on display. We sat there for over an hour and constantly had our tea refilled and we just ate and laughed and relaxed. We did have some discussion on the fact that we don't actually know what we are doing in Beijing though. From what we understand, our University hasn't actually planned anything for us, and we leave in less than 3 days. That may or may not end up being a nightmare. More will be revealed.

After we got back on Tuesday, Kate and I went to get our nails done. She has been doing it the whole time we have been here about once a week and has built a relationship of sorts with the woman at the nail salon. It is only 10yuan to get your nails painted...which is less than $2. It was my first time going. She was extremely nice to me and we sang karaoke because it was on the tv in there. We got our video taken while we were singing, and we are wondering if we are going to end up famous on Youku (which is their version of youtube).

While our nails were drying, apart from taking pictures with us, she showed us this video that she was determined that we should watch. It was awful. We think it might have been part of a Final Destination movie, but it was basically a horror flick. Neither Kate nor myself like horror flicks and gore and we were sitting there watching so that we won't be rude since she was so excited about it but talking in English (since she didn't understand English) saying "why are we watching this?? Oh my gosh, I am not sleeping tonight. This is so terrible. Why does she think we want to watch this?!" And so on and so forth. It took about half an hour before our hearts slowed down, but we both slept just fine last night.

This morning I finally got a picture of the couple that do TaiChi every morning. I did it from far away with the hope that they wouldn't see me taking a picture of them and that they wouldn't glare at me, but I was unsuccessful on both accounts. This particular morning, they even had samurai swords, which made it all the more intimidating when she stopped and looked at what I was doing and turned to tell the man to stop and that I was taking their picture. I had a moment of fear that they would come after me, but nothing happened and it was an extremely irrational fear anyway.

Kate and I both think it's funny that they could be so offended. The Chinese people are SO nosy. I don't know why they can't handle a curious American that appreciates that they do Tai Chi out in the open every day for us to watch.

Today Kate and I took our language partners to Haagen Dazs. Neither had ever been there because it is so expensive, and after having it back in Jinan and deciding it was definitely the best ice cream I had ever had in my life, we decided it might be fun to treat them to it as a goodbye gift (and as an excuse to get more). My language partner cried and hugged me when I insisted that I was treating her. I didn't realize that we were going so above and beyond.

The experience I had tonight with them was a really powerful one. Honestly, it was the first time I was able to see them as peers. When we left, my language partner seemed like she was only coming to be polite because I had asked, but after the icecream she explained to me that I made her night and that she has been extremely overwhelmed these last few weeks. She is in charge of the school radio, and between that, a part time job, and her school work, she has been struggling. It was the first conversation I had had with her where I could really relate - especially after the spring semester I just finished.

This lead to more conversation and the more we talked, the more I realized that she worries about the same things that I worry about and that even though it often feels like we are from completely different worlds, we really aren't. We both worry about grades, we both want to be successful. Honestly, the best part was when we started talking about relationships and the expectations that people have on them in China. I explained that to an extent, there are the same sort of pressures on women in America, myself included, though on a different level. I live in a first world country, and she lives in a third world country, but in so many ways our lives are parallel. I could definitely expand on this, but it is not something I feel comfortable blogging about right now. At the moment, it feels to private to speak of unless in a conversation which I would be happy to have with any of my readers who are interested. I would like to do some actual journaling about it, but not tonight.

Well, that's all for now! Thanks for listening!