On work, food, and walking around Beijing, as an Asian girl, with a white male

Saturday, June 21

(Again, pretend I’m posting this yesterday instead of at 3am Sunday morning)

This coming Tuesday, I will have spent exactly one week in Beijing. The past Friday marked our first full week at work (well, for Brady at least), which definitely felt like an achievement. After cracking our brains on Thursday trying to solve the problems we were assigned, we presented our ideas to the team and explained our thought process. Some ideas had already been considered and rejected for assorted reasons, but some were new and, I hope, will be considered. My supervisor commented that we were rather efficient, which definitely made my heart warm — I suppose he didn’t expect for us to check in with ideas/solutions so soon. After the review, we discussed and agreed upon our tasks for the next week, which I’m excited about. Onwards and upwards!

Some things I appreciated about the presentation and review was how much visual communication went on between us interns and the other Lenovo engineers. I had drawn up quick sketches of our proposed designs, which helped to communicate our ideas across, and our supervisors would reply with sketches of their own — Brady doesn’t understand a lot of Mandarin, I unfortunately don’t understand many technical terms, and our team members aren’t very comfortable with English. I was able to translate a few terms (and am currently building a list of technical terms for myself and perhaps future interns), which helped, but the aspect of visual communication was probably the most important. However, even if there wasn’t this language barrier, I believe that visual communication would (and should!) still play as important a role in design and engineering.

Another thing I appreciated, and this is going to sound weird, was having design constraints to have to work around. After we presented our ideas, we received feedback on certain constraints that we had to work around, such as lowering power consumption, using commonly-used power sources, avoiding waste power, keeping costs low, etc. Shush, I know these are all common sense design, but to be totally fair 1) they were indeed in the back of my head when evaluating our ideas and 2) our supervisors had not told us any of these beforehand, probably because they wanted to see what we could come up with at the first go. Still, even though we were on the receiving end of critique and it felt as if we were butting up against many walls, I realize that I enjoyed having these walls to butt up against. It really brought home the fact that this wasn’t just a school project, but a real design/engineering project with actual meaningful considerations and parameters, and that really gets me excited 😀

Anyway, after we got off work on Friday, we had dinner at the staff canteen and headed back to the hotel to kick back and chill. Brady was trying to meet a friend who was having a long layover in Beijing, but she didn’t manage to contact him on time, so we just walked around the neighborhood near the hotel in search of cheap fruits. Didn’t manage to find a fruit stall, but we did stop to buy some ice-cream to eat while walking. When we went to pay for our ice-creams, however, the lady boss (LB) asked me a few interesting questions. My memory’s bad, but it went something like this (the entire conversation was in Mandarin, and this is a rough translation):

LB: (motioning to Brady, but speaking to me in Mandarin) Do you speak their language, too?
Me: Yes
LB: How did you meet?
Me: (realizing that she thinks Brady and I are a couple) Oh no no no, we met in school in the US, but we’re not a couple!
LB: You have quite a pretty face! Oh, I thought you two were…
Me: No no no!
Brady: (being a clown, or should I say a goon) Yes, I am her boyfriend!
LB: (laughing) But he says he is your boyfriend!
LB’s friend: You’re drunk!
(and to be fair, LB was very friendly, and it looked like she had indeed downed about a glass of hard liquor)
Me: You are drunk! (walking out) Goodnight!
Brady: 晚安!再见!

It was a pleasant, funny, and mostly-harmless exchange, and hey, the lady said I had a pretty face! But this is something that has happened quite a few times already — when we were looking for apartments one of the landlords asked (in Mandarin) whether we were lovers, and I hurriedly said no. When people walk past Brady and I on the street, they stare especially long and hard, not just at Brady but at me as well. On one level, I can kinda understand — a guy and a lady walking down a street together (or renting an apartment together), what else could they be but lovers? It’s probably the first thing that jumps into most people’s minds, and it’s hard to fault people for that.

But on another level, I feel that the association is all the more automatic because Brady is a white male and I a Chinese girl, and I resent that it is so automatic. It makes me feel uncomfortable, because I feel that people judge me for (they think) being in a relationship with a white male, for (they think) worshipping white males and devaluing my own ethnicity, when the reality is really not the case. And just like any other person would, I feel indignant at being misunderstood, even if the misunderstanding is only that people think we’re together when we’re not. I should get (or make) a shirt that says in Mandarin and English, “No, we are not dating.” I’ll post more on this issue if a similar incident happens, or if more thoughts occur to me.

Anyway, we got back to the apartment for some much needed rest and relaxation, and slept in till noon today. It’s been a long time since I’ve slept in on a weekend, and it was glorious. I really needed it, after a pretty taxing week of work, apartment hunting, and adjusting to Beijing in general. About 1pm we figured that we should probably grab lunch, and so we ventured out of the hotel and ambled around the neighborhood. We found an all-you-can-eat barbecue restaurant right across the road from our hotel, and since we hadn’t eaten in about 16 hours, it seemed like a good choice.

And it was. It was fantastic. A few things about me and food, which you might have noticed:

1. I love food — cooking it, eating it, searching for it, all of it.
2. I eat pretty slowly. I’m usually the last to finish in most dining situations because I like to take it slow and enjoy my food. And because I make a point to chew well before swallowing, I suppose?
3. I can eat quite a lot, when I’m in the mood and the food’s good. We definitely got our money’s worth out of that lunch (Also, it was pretty cheap by US/Singapore standards, at 36 RMB). Also, we basically didn’t need to have dinner today. Brady was rather surprised at how much I could pack away. I definitely kept up with him, or should I say he kept up with me, which I suppose is because of points #1 and #2.
4. If you go out for a meal with me, and if it is at all appropriate and possible for me to, I will take care of you. Especially if it’s your first time trying out something, I will try to make sure you have the best culinary experience possible. This happens mostly but not only at hotpot / barbecue / dim sum restaurants, and you may see me 1) taking charge of deciding which dishes to order, 2) cooking and grilling, and 3) nagging at you to eat more vegetables and drink more water to balance out the oil/grease so you don’t fall sick 😛

By the time we got out of that restaurant, it was 3pm and we were stuffed, so we went on a late afternoon stroll around the neighborhood, bought some laundry detergent, breakfast foods and snacks at a nearby store, and headed back to our hotel. After resting for a while (and trying to figure out how to pay our rent when we sign the lease tomorrow), we headed out to a movie theater 30 minutes away by foot to watch Maleficent. Unfortunately, the 8PM showing was totally sold out, but since we had come so far, we decided to commit to the cause and purchase tickets for the 10PM show. Tickets were a tad more expensive than I thought they would be. We killed 2 hours pretty effectively — ice cream (Brady), boba (me), good conversation, exploring the mall, and playing arcade games (I definitely failed at Dance Dance Revolution, but it was real fun and definitely brought me back to high school days). Finally, 10PM rolled around and we slumped into our seats to watch the movie, which was actually pretty good. No spoilers, but oh god those cheekbones.

Alright, time for sleep and rest before Brady and I finally move into our apartment tomorrow!

On work, food, and walking around Beijing, as an Asian girl, with a white male

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