The Let’s-Embarrass-the-Foreigners Competition

The extracurricular life at Peking University could rightfully be described as ‘dead’ or at least ‘uninteresting’. However, as the International Office’s conscience may be weighing heavy for failing to include the international students in any sort of campus social scene, all the classes of foreigners are invited to take part in the ominously-named “Foreign Students Performance Competition”. It was probably a covert excuse that the staff had concocted to make the silly foreigners prance about on stage making fools of themselves behind the veil of “cultural interchange” and improvement of our language skills. It all has to take place in Chinese of course (because the judges were our Chinese teachers), but it promised a good laugh nonetheless.

Since our Oxford group has been pretty much self-contained since the beginning of the year (with only fleeting contact with any other souls in the building where our classes are held), this was an opportunity to embrace with open arms – be it an opportunity for social acceptance, or rather an opportunity for social suicide. Many of the classes were inevitably going to do boring things – i.e. “comedy” sketches that invariably just weren’t going to be funny. We didn’t like to slam the competition before we had seen it, yet we were determined to stand out. What better way than to work on two things that the Chinese judges could relate to: Mulan and Justin Bieber.

After spending a few days obtaining the music from the Internet, choreographing the dance routine and getting our heads around the lyrics, we prepared to take to the stage. In the hall sat all the foreign students, many of whom were Korean, clad in silly costumes (we played it safe with red t-shirts, black trousers and one of us wearing a wig), and chattering away throughout all the performances. They of course had a light-hearted approach to this whole spectacle, contrasting from the intense concentration on the faces of the dozen-or-so judges lined up at the front.

The majority of the performances were sketches, some of which were fairly funny, in face. It also turned out that we were not the only ones to have thought of Mulan, yet Justin Bieber was a safe bet for being unique. We had downloaded Jackie Chan’s Mandarin rendition of I’ll Make a Man out of You and a karaoke version of Baby, and were armed to the teeth with flimsy paper shields (of course with emergency lyrics scrawled on the back). We were last up. The choreography on the Mulan song comprised of lots of jumping and kicking, and Bieber gave way to lots of cheesy “oooh”s, an altered version of Ludacris’ rap, two girls being lifted on to guy’s shoulders and phrases to the general meaning of “Beijing, I love you, you’re my home, I’ll cry so much and I’ll miss you when I’m gone”. For many of us, quite some irony, here.

We got a nice big cheer and round of applause at the end and eventually ended up ranking in second place, although the whole thing was pretty much an everyone’s-a-winner situation. It was all great fun, despite the fact that Baby is stubbornly remaining in my head and refuses to budge. It wasn’t too harsh a social suicide, yet I fear that among the other foreign students, I’ll forever be remembered as the one who looked like a bit of a prat waving his arms around in the air singing “Beijing, Beijing, oooh, Beijing, Beijing, oooh”. And if the organisers wanted to laugh at foreigners, they certainly got what they were looking for.

If you have me on Facebook, it’s already been let loose on there.

China’s take on Chamonix

It’s only been about two weeks since I last put things up on here, but in that short space of time lots has happened! The two most noteworthy of these are…

First, skiing.

So I’d never been skiing before, and was among a group of friends who had very varied skiing ability – my Swiss friend has been on the slopes since before she could run, others had been on a good few skiing holidays in the past, and then there was me with zilch. I had been assured that I’d be whizzing down reds or blacks within the day and, although I took this assurance with a slight pinch of salt, I still felt a little complacent that I’d pick it up fairly easily and I was determined to avoid crashes and bruises.

Another question mark was hovering over what a Chinese ski resort included. Nanshan Ski Village (南山滑雪场 Nánshān Huáxuĕ Chăng sells itself as one of the best ski resorts in China, and failing that, Beijing’s premier resort (which wouldn’t be hard, as the rest of Beijing is as flat as a pancake). It is a fair hike from the city centre though – around two hours on a coach which conveniently left from Wudaokou and went directly to the resort – and is situated in the same mountains which are home to the Great Wall (unfortunately not within visible distance though). The buildings in the resort were desperately trying to masquerade as alpine chalets but, frankly, failing. Not to complain though, it was really very cheap – I seem to remember that the whole day out, including transport, ski and clothes hire, and entry tickets, cost around 200RMB (£20).

View up the slopes from the draglift

And as for the quality of the resort and the slopes (covered in artificial snow), it even lived up to the expectations held by my Swiss friend. There were a handful of green, blue and red runs, which were seemingly well-maintained and equipped with lifts, and one black slope which was an icy nightmare, according to the skilled skiers in our group. It exceeded our expectations of what a Chinese ski resort might be (as it is easy to imagine the Chinese might not really get it), and although I can’t compare to any European resorts, it seemed to be well run and good fun for people of all levels. It was fairly surprising to see how popular it was; affluent-looking young Chinese seemed to have expensive skis, snowboards and clothing, and they were pretty impressive on the slopes because they probably came to Nanshan fairly regularly. I also didn’t expect there to be so few tourists either. I suppose foreigners who come to China specifically for the skiing haven’t really got their priorities straight, it requires Chinese language skills to find out about it and get there in the first place, and Nanshan resort is very poorly publicised.

My first steps into the skis were clumsy and I have to admit to falling over about five or six times over the course of the day, but once I learned to get a little control and was familiar with the weight of the skis, how to stop and how to turn (sort of), it seemed to pick up and I really did get a nice taste of it. It was definitely a tantalising introduction to skiing and I’d definitely want to ski again in the near future.

So that’s a brief recount of what we did last Friday. Unfortunately the ski season’s finished apparently, now, otherwise I’d definitely be really tempted to take another trip back to Nanshan, given the good times there and the cheap cost.

The skiing was great, but it was frankly blown out of the water by a visit to the Great Wall and Jinshanling which we visited yesterday. More on that in a while…

This week – Jingshan, Beihai and Skiing!

I’ve been back from Harbin for a good week now, and the Beijing weather which we considered to be so cold before is now feeling nice and warm in comparison to last week! The air has been fairly clear of late, although it currently seems to be turning a turn for the more smoggy – the current state of air quality is a common point of conversation among our group, and is usually measured by the visibility of the building which stands around 200/300m from the window of our flat.

So making the most of the free time and nice weather last week, we headed into the city centre to Jingshan Park (景山) and Beihai Park (北海 – meaning “northern sea”). There is a long north-south axis cutting through Beijing (with the Olympic Park at the northern end and the Temple of Heaven park at the south), and Jingshan Park is situated immediately north of the Forbidden City. Beijing being a totally flat city, the views from the top of the artificial hill in the park are amazing (and really, on a clear day, they are amazing, and you really get a sense of the sprawling mass of urban area). The skyscrapers extend as far as the eye can see in every direction, and you get a good idea of the city’s overall layout. The view over the Forbidden City’s roofing is definitely the highlight, though. It was here on this hill that the Chongzhen Emperor hung himself from a tree at the downfall of the Ming Dynasty. Right next to Jingshan Park is Beihai Park, a former imperial palace, with lots of pavilions, a large lake (which gives it the name Beihai) and all sorts of other Chinese things. They’re both pretty nice places, but Jingshan is definitely more impressive with its views – you often forget that the Beijing scenery sometimes does have a certain charm about it at times.

My classmates have now arrived back in China and we’re back into the grind of routine at the university (with 4 exams this week, hence the fact I haven’t got round to writing anything this week). An exciting activity coming up is this Friday: we’re going skiing! Nanshan is a resort to the north of Beijing and claims to be the best resort in China (although, of course, this claim would be held by quite a few resorts). I’ve never been skiing before, so I’ll be taught by some of the others and hopefully it’ll be great. None of us are really sure what a Chinese ski resort is like, but we’ll see.

I’ll keep everything posted up on here in the next week or so, providing the Internet in our flat doesn’t keep on throwing tantrums like it has done this week. Since I have to connect to WordPress with a VPN (which is basically by-passing the Chinese internet censorship, because it doesn’t like blogging), the connection is painfully slow so I’ll at some time get round to putting pictures up on the posts.