Surprise! This blog is finally being updated. Silly me wrote up a blogpost last month but forgot to post it, heh. In the weeks since this post was written, I’ve been back home to Singapore (for a day!), then back out gallivanting with the fam to Tagaytay in the Philippines, back home to Singapore again (this time for longer), and as I type this I’m sitting at boarding gate 35 of Hong Kong Airport, about to fly back to California and Stanford for senior year. So, this is incredibly out of date, but at least it’s better than nothing?
August 22, 2014
I was just struck by the horrifying realization: I have less than 2 weeks left in Beijing! I can’t believe the summer has gone by so fast. Without realizing it, I’ve settled into a comfortable sort of life in Beijing. I have most conveniences I need such as a clean decent apartment with WiFi, Stanford VPN, phone, and bike. I have a sort-of weekly routine: Mondays is swing dancing at CD Jazz Cafe, Tuesdays is dinner with the crew, Wednesdays is stand-up comedy at the Hot Cat Club, Thursdays is stay-in-and-cook-and-watch-GoT, Friday is (usually) movie night at Galina’s place. Time flies fast when you have a weekly routine. Weekends do see a bit of variation: usually we make some effort to sight-see and explore Beijing and the surrounding areas.
Take for example last weekend — on Saturday, I went to the visa office to collect my passport and extended visa. Yay to finally being over with the highly bureaucratic process, and much thanks to the HR staff at Lenovo for helping me out with it 🙂 At some point, I actually held in my hand Lenovo’s original business license, as it was required for the paperwork. 0__0 After my visit to the visa office, Brady and I met up at Olympic Park an hour before sundown for dinner, and then to see the Bird’s Nest (鸟巢) and the Water Cube (水立方). After putting it off for weeks, we finally made our way out there to see it! Another item to check off the Beijing bucket list. They’re both fantastic works of architecture, and it was great to witness the transition from day to night, and to see them both light up. There were many vendors selling lights and toys, and it was just as entertaining to watch people play with the lights. From a distance, they looked like stars falling from the sky.
Then, on Sunday the Beijing 7 sans Roger went to Longqing Gorge! At first, we naively thought that we could take the S2 train to Yanqing County, but forgot to factor in the crucial detail that the same S2 train also goes to Badaling Great Wall. Needless to say, at 8am in the morning the line for the train was already spilling out of the station, and to get on the next train we would have to wait close to 3 hours. Luckily, we found a driver who would take us there, wait for us, and take us back… for a price of course. And so we hopped into his van, and started the 1.5 hour drive to Longqing Gorge. A lot of crazy driving and illegal passing of huge cargo trucks ensued.
The main attraction for us at Longqing Gorge was in fact neither the beautiful landscape which we had heard about, nor the stunning “Dragon Escalator” that hugged the side of the gorge, but bungee jumping, and at a very reasonable price of 200 RMB. Not going to lie, I was terrified. But since we had made the trek out of Beijing, and since I wanted to be able to say that, in my life, I had bungee jumped at least one, I decided… Carpe Diem! Carrrrrrpe Diem! (Re-watched Dead Poets Society recently, that movie gets me every single time.) It’s been a summer (and spring) of trying new things, and I wanted to keep with the spirit.
The bungee jump operator got us to read a safety disclaimer, weighed us, and sent us up the tower to get geared up and everything. Brady jumped first. While getting geared up for the <65kg bungee cord, I was of course nervously asking the operators how I would go about jumping off the platform — both feet first, one foot and then the other, swan dive?
Don’t worry about it, they said. Just stand on the edge of the platform first.
Okay, and so I did.
Let go of the railing. Raise both of your hands, they said.
Okay, I did that too.
AND THEN THEY FREAKIN’ PUSHED ME OFF THE EDGE!
Anyway, that’s how I got over the “jumping” part of bungee jumping.
The first few seconds were pure terror and screaming, and then I opened my eyes and saw the blue-green water of the gorge rushing up to meet me… Took a moment to appreciate the scenery (!) and the fact that I was in fact falling towards the ground with a bungee cord tied around my feet. Then, the bungee cord kicked in and yanked me up again. We were quite worried about whiplash, after seeing other people being jerked around like a rag doll, but it wasn’t too bad. Bounced up and down a couple more times, before I lost height and momentum. Then, I basically swung around on the end of the bungee cord waiting for a person operating a motor boat below in the gorge to come and retrieve me.
And that was it! All in all, an exhilarating awesome experience that I’m glad I signed myself up for. Couldn’t stop laughing and just riding on the adrenaline high afterwards. That night, I replayed the moment of free fall in my mind over and over, still unable to believe that I actually did it.
After all of us who wanted to took the plunge (heh) did, we went on two hikes (one short and another one significantly longer) around the gorge to get better views. I learned that I’m very out of shape, and that I should probably engage in some sort of sport — apparently walking and biking everywhere and swing dancing isn’t quite enough, no surprise there. The view was totally worth it, and these photos don’t even do it justice.
After the hike, we made our way back to the boats, which took us through the gorge back to the entrance, and hopped back into the van for the ride back to Beijing. Unfortunately, we ran into quite a bit of traffic, which we dealt with by playing songs (Bryson DJ-ed), trading stories, and napping. There’s something about traveling by car/van on the road that’s very comfortable — the gentle rumbling of the vehicle, the company of friends, good music for the road, watching the scenery zip by. It’s slower than travel by train or plane, but it’s very genuine and enjoyable. All very good reasons for me to get my driver’s license, mm.
And that was our day trip to Longqing Gorge! Although the prices were not cheap at all (100RMB for the boat ride — mandatory to see most of the sights, and 40RMB for the entrance fee), it was still worth it, and I would recommend it as a day trip out of Beijing, especially if you want to get out of the city and away from the smog.
In the two weeks since I last posted, I have also gone back to the Hot Cat Club and done stand-up comedy two more times. Strangely, both times didn’t measure up to my ‘debut’, but I still managed to earn myself quite a few laughs. Round 2 was about Singapore and chewing gum, and Round 3 was about a couple of things, including:
- How seeing your roommate’s poop in the toilet (because the flush isn’t working, not because someone forgot to flush the toilet) is bound to bring the two of you closer
- Visits to The Company and seeing porn as the desktop background, and
- Getting lost in translation
Round 3 was also the week we got outed as Stanford students and teased for it. All in good fun, though.
Brady and I also went swing dancing on Monday at the CD Jazz Cafe in Chaoyang district! It’d been a long, long time since the two of us had danced, and it was great to get back into the swing (heh) of things. It took a while to get used to the scene though, as the style of swing that most people in that club danced was kinda different from how we learned swing at Stanford. A couple of leads would also lead an underarm turn without warning, which took me by surprise quite a few times, and not in a pleasant way at all D:< Overall, though, there were quite a few dancers who really knew how to dance, and were an absolute pleasure to watch and dance with.
- After dancing with a few leads and observing a few couples, I came to realize a few things:
After a certain level of mastery in swing it seems like it becomes useless to count beats. I’m still at the stage where I’m really rigid with how and when I step, and get really confused when leads don’t follow the basic step to a tee
- Of course, sometimes leads just do their own thing and expect follows to well, follow, without giving enough hints or direction, which is not cool.
- Follows have a lot more freedom of movement and expression than I’m capable of exercising right now, and really,
- The variations are really endless!
Probably the most enjoyable dance of the night (excluding dances with Brady, those don’t count) though, was with a beginner who didn’t know many variations, but made up with it with stellar musicality and very sensitive leading, making for a very comfortable, un-rushed, relaxed dance.
Brady and I have also gotten well-acquainted with the lady who sells corn at the subway station. For lack of a better name, we call her the “corn lady”, and her sweet, sweet corn has really nourished our souls and bellies.
Same goes for the guys who run the ma2 la4 tang4 (skewers in spicy soup) place right outside our apartment. Brady and I have eaten there a couple of times, and Brady always manages to charm the stall owners and fellow diners with his rudimentary but earnest command of Chinese. The last time we ate there, a fellow diner and his friends were so tickled and charmed by his company that they offered to cover our meal! Yes please and thank you!
The past week at work has been hella stressful as the department had been preparing for a showcase of our research projects to Lenovo’s top dogs on Friday, but I’m also ecstatic to announce that the project Brady and I have been working on was presented at said showcase to Lenovo’s top dogs, CEO included. What a freakin’ ego boost. Besides the project that I just mentioned, Brady and I are also taking on 2 new projects, and while that certainly makes work more busy and stressful, it’s also made things very meaningful and interesting. Yay for workaholism.
We also cleaned the apartment up real good, since Brady’s parents and brother are in town to visit their darling boy. Vanquished spots on the floor that have been there for weeks. Do they approve of their new daughter-in-law? The verdict isn’t out yet, but things look good.
Peace out folks!
More travel updates to come!