Greetings from China again. The last couple of days have been interesting. Not necessarily in a bad way, but interesting nonetheless. It is about 5pm Chinese Standard Time as I write this. It has been a long day of walking and I am beat. So let me recap the last couple of days.
Tuesday, May 26th
Tuesday started out as a fairly uneventful day. I got up early in the morning, walked down to the train station and bought a couple of train passes that you could keep putting money on them. It is just more convenient. When I walked back I saw my colleague Jabbar and his wife. We decided to go to a local bakery where they picked up some items and then went around the corner to have some coffee. I don’t drink coffee so I stuck with water. Ironically, this coffee shop was showing the Rockets-Warriors game. The other day we were there and I got to see the last few minutes of the Cavaliers-Hawks game. It is the only place in China where I viewed any sports on the television. Not that I have been looking.
We actually spent about an hour or so just talking and the like. I went back to my room to prepare for the lecture I was giving later on in the day. In Beijing, it has been really hot. I mean really hot and it was no different yesterday. I only mention this because I get warm really easily and I was sweating bullets the entire night. I took three showers yesterday because I was so hot.
Anyway, I get to the lecture and there are primarily undergraduates and a few graduate students. Some of the faculty were also there. One of the things that has been frustrating so far is that we haven’t been really told exactly what they want us to do. I am still not sure what they want us to do. So I actually just gave a normal lecture that I would in one of my classes, a class that students at Beijing Jiaotong University have to take.
Like a lot of professors I thrive on an audience. The give and take between students. The banter, etc. Unfortunately, Chinese students aren’t used to that. Nor are the faculty. I did my best, but for the most part my entire lecture was just that: lecture. I knew this before hand, but I have now experienced it up close, it is just not customary for Chinese students to participate in class. They prefer the sage on the stage method of teaching where the professor gives them information, they copy it down, and that is it.
That didn’t stop me from trying. Anyone who has viewed my teaching knows that I am a bit wacky in the classroom. I am energetic, make jokes, do voices, sometimes I swear, give examples about my life, etc. I did all of that and I did get a lot of the kids to laugh, but I know they were a bit taken aback my teaching. C’est la vie. However, several of the students came up to me afterwards and told me they really liked it. They just aren’t used to someone like me in the classroom. That is ok with me. Again, When In Rome. Even though I still don’t know what I am doing for teaching, meaning that I am still not sure what they want, I am just going to continue providing content like they told us originally. If it goes well, so be it, well it is a learning experience.
After the lecture and i was drenched by that time. The classrooms in China aren’t air-conditioned and I was sweating big time (TMI?). One of the professors invited me to go out to dinner with her, some colleagues, and eventually attend a lecture. I accepted of course. And let me say it was a lot of fun talking with professors from various universities.
This time i actually remembered to bring business cards and each professor I met (about 12 in all) I gave them a card and they reciprocated. Another lesson learned: exchanging business cards are very important. And the way you exchange them is interesting. Chinese professors hold them with both hands and gently give them to you like they are putting a precious stone in your hand. I tried to do the same, but I think I might have messed that up.
The dinner we had was fabulous. The professors graciously treated me to dinner. The food is delicious and my chopstick usage is getting better. I still will eat with a knife and fork but I only dropped a couple of things.
We then proceeded to a lecture that lasted about three hours. I didn’t understand a word, even though someone was attempting to translate for me. The lecture was a professor introducing a model for analyzing Big Data. I am sure it was good, but the room we were in was really warm and I literally had sweat dripping down my back. I didn’t want to get up and leave so I managed to make it through the lecture. Not their fault or mine. I was just hot and I hope I didn’t insult anyone.
After that they took me back to my hotel room. It was really a lovely evening, if not for the fact that I looked like I had run about three miles from being drenched. The company was good, conversation I could follow, food was excellent. Again, the hospitality of Chinese is really amazing.
Wednesday, May 27th.
So today I wasn’t teaching, but my other two colleagues were. So I got up early and decided to hit the National Museum of China. I will tell you what happened before that, which was fun, but expensive and irksome. I will explain in a moment.
If you are in Beijing you should experience the National Museum. There are some magnificent works of art from China’s history. Silk screen paintings, porcelain, statues, money, and a really cool exhibit of gifts that Chinese leaders received from other heads of state. I spent about 4 hours in the museum taking it all in. I would recommend that you get a translation device. I didn’t see many people with them, but halfway through I felt like I was missing something because most of the descriptions of items were in Chinese (duh?).
Like in most museums there were enough English explanations of events, different dynasties, etc that let me get a sense of the period and the importance of the exhibit.
The last exhibit I saw was called “The Rejuvenation Road.” Essentially, it is an exhibit about the Chinese revolution and how it has led to peace and harmony for the last 75 years within China. Whatever your opinion of communism it was interesting to see. Lots of propaganda, but I would expect nothing else. Museums are often items of propaganda anyway. After that I left and came back to my hotel.
How I Spent $250 On a Glass of Wine
So here was the most interesting and irksome part of the day. As I was leaving the train to go to the museum three Chinese gentlemen asked where I was from. I told them the United States and we began to have a very interesting conversation. Apparently, they were in Beijing for a conference. Two of them had never been and the other one was there presenting. Before I knew it we got into a great conversation about a whole host of subjects. But as we were leaving the train station they guided me down a street toward the Palace Museum, near the Forbidden City. Well, I was going to the National Museum, which I think got lost in translation.
Anyway, we are talking and I had been down to Tiananmen Square a couple of days prior so I thought I knew where the museum was, but we were talking and having such a good conversation that I thought we were going a different way. As we proceeded down a street one of the gentlemen pointed to a little bar/place to relax and suggested we go in. Not thinking more of it I was like “When in Rome.” So the four of us sit down, they order tea for two of them who don’t drink. I have a beer with one of the other gentleman (it is 10am, but “When in Rome.”) Anyway, they next suggest that we have a bottle of wine. Apparently, most Chinese only drink wine on very special occasions (e.g. national holidays). Red Wine especially because red is good luck in China. So we get the bottle and each us have a glass.
During this time, it was a really open and interesting conversation. The gentlemen I met were not shy about talking about money. They asked how much I made. They told me how much they made. How much their homes were. They asked about how expensive it was in the U.S. Told me how expensive it was in China for luxury items (e.g. cars because of the heavy import duties). I don’t give them a lot of a specific information, but they give me a lot more. We basically have a discussion on wealth, economics, and the like for about an hour. It was really great. We were laughing, joking, and they invited me to Shanghai if I am ever there.
So we were there about an hour and then we get the bill. Apparently, the number 4 is bad luck in China, but the number 2 is not. So they said we should split the bill two ways. And I have no problem with that I have enough money.
When we get the bill it was 3400 Yuan for tea, two beers, and a bottle of wine. Translation, almost $550.
When I saw that and did the math in my head I almost was like what the hell.
Now before this we were talking and they had mentioned that Red Wine in China is really expensive because of the taxes. Again, I have no problem paying for a good bottle of wine, but this bottle was almost $500. Damn and it wasn’t the best bottle of wine I have ever had. It was ok, but certainly not $500 worth.
Not wanting to cause a scene or anything, I pulled out my credit card and we split the bill in two. I basically spent over $250 for a bottle of wine…really for a glass of wine. The most expensive glass I have ever had.
Now why do I tell this story? Am I mad at those Chinese gentlemen? No, not at all. We had a great conversation, they were very nice, gracious people, etc. I mean they paid for half it wasn’t like they stiffed me with the bill. I guess I am mad at myself because Mrs. ROB isnt’ here with me and I guess I have trouble justifying to myself to spend that much money without her here, particularly for a bottle of wine. WTH? Also, considering this is a personal finance blog maybe it will help others not to make the same mistake.
Again, I don’t begrudge anyone. It was a good conversation, etc. I just wish I had paid more attention. If I am going to spend that kind of money on wine it should be a really special occasion and should involve my better half. So chalk this up for another financial mistake I have made. Apparently, I made some new Chinese friends in the process.
1) Don’t drink wine in China it is too expensive. It really is. Stick with beer or tea. It is cheaper.
2) Chinese students are extremely reserved. I guess I knew this, but I thought my personality could get them talking a bit more. Nope. I have to work on that for tomorrow’s 4 hour teaching schedule.
3) I don’t do well in hot weather. I really do wish i could wear shorts while I am teaching. But I think that would be too informal. By the way, I already know that I am not a warm weather person. In fact, my heat malady is a bit of a medical issue, but I have always been able to massage those situations where I can wear shorts or I can get into a cooler environment quicker. That wasn’t the case yesterday.
4) Traffic laws in China are sort of obeyed, but not really.
So far it has been an eventful few days and I am sure the next 10 will be also exciting and interesting.
Update–Here are a couple of other lessons that I have learned so far. Mostly cultural tidbits.
1) It seems that most Chinese people like their water hot. Not just with tea, but just drinking water. Apparently, it helps digestion and the stomach.
2) An inordinate amount of people like popsicles, ice cream drumsticks, ice cream bars, etc. There hasn’t been a day gone by that I have not seen at least a couple hundred kids and adults eating a sweet treat during the day or after dinner. They are fairly cheap, about $.50 but I guess people here like ice cream.