• More scams

    Posted by Michael Fennig on 3/15/2013

    Land of Scams

    So, now I’m convinced that every single tour guide in Beijing is connected to some kind of scam, in which everyone on every level must get some kind of kickback. The scam-of-the-day was the ‘herbal medicine’ scenario. In hindsight, it was such a blatant rip-off (isn’t everything retrospectively?) and hysterical, because it was so elaborate. It all started with a trip downstairs to the hotel lobby to ask about their hotel-sponsored tours to the Great Wall. Mrs. Fennig, the sightseeing guru, had already scrutinized the logistics in getting to the Wall by ourselves, but this would consist of taking a series of packed, public buses, in which we would have to recognize the characters displayed on the digital sign in the windshield. This feat would have to be repeated many times over a distance of approximately seventy miles, one way. The other alternative was to pay the 600Chinese Yuan and sit back and relax, on a chartered bus, and allow the English speaking tour guide to enlighten us about the history of the area and of course, the Wall itself. 600 Yuan is equivalent to approximately $100 US, so when we thought about it, we didn’t mind spending $50 each for a six-hour bus tour, which included two hours of walking around on the Wall. Part of the itinerary of the bus tour to the Wall included a stop at ‘Long Mai’, a traditional, herbal medicine hospital where many famous celebrities and dignitaries have sought herbal alternatives to inflictions, which western forms of medicine failed to cure.


    It all sounded good to us. We had spent the last week walking everywhere and collapsing back at the hotel, late in the afternoons, and forcing ourselves to wake up just to have dinner somewhere. Finally we got to sit back and gawk at Chinese society from behind the safety of a bus window.


    We received a call the night before from our English-speaking, Chinese guide, Christine. She informed us that the departure time would be 10:30 in the morning and that she would call again in the morning if there were any changes. She did indeed call the next morning to tell us that the departure time was now 10:00, due to the fact that not a lot of other people would be joining us. No big deal to me.


    We loaded our backpacks with snacks, water,and cameras and met Christine and the driver downstairs in the hotel lobby. Both of them were very nice and although the driver couldn’t speak a word of English, Christine’s English was very good. She told us that they couldn’t find the hotel and had parked on an adjacent street. Fine by me. We were led to a car and the driver opened the doors for us. How nice, we are being driven to the bus. Wrong. The bus was the car. Christine informed us that since no one else was taking the tour, it was more monetarily efficient to take a car. I could see that. Mrs. Fennig and I simply shrugged our shoulders at each other, and giggled under our breath.


    Beijing traffic is off the charts but since we weren’t driving, we got to do a lot of people-watching while Christine didn’t waste a breath, talking to us about the area and the Wall.


    The Wall was indeed spectacular, and we didn’t waste a minute. Our guide gave us two hours and then we were to meet her at a tea house at the bottom of the cable car. The angle of some of the inclinations of the Wall almost defy gravity, so when we came down two hours later, we fell asleep in the back seat on our way to the herbal medicine hospital.


    long mai  

    We pulled up in front of a very colorful and ornate building with a dusty parking lot. Our guide led us inside where framed pictures of national and international dignitaries lined the halls. We were pleasantly greeted by nurses and staff alike, although I didn’t see a single patient. We were led into a room and our guide told us that we were going to get a free foot massage. Well, who doesn’t like those? We sat in very large, comfortable chairs that faced several large, anatomical posters of the human foot and hand. But the ‘hand’ poster also had lines drawn to images of different parts of the human body, indicating that perhaps traditional Chinese medicine can indicate afflictions and disease simply through an inspection of the hand. Our guide left us abruptly as a young lady came in, dressed smartly in black, donning an ID card around her neck. She introduced herself as a doctor of both western and traditional Tibetan medicine. She then asked us to remove our shoes and socks and almost immediately two young men hurried in with large steaming tubs of hot water. There was also something in the water that could have been a tea bag.


    We soaked our feet as the young ‘doctor’ went on and on about the differences of western and traditional, Tibetan herbal medicine, and then went on further about the many celebrities and dignitaries who had conquered their illnesses through Tibetan traditional medicine when the western version failed. By this time, two young, uniformed men appeared and took their places on small stools in front of us, armed with towels and cans of some kind of goop, which I assumed was for the foot massage. I was correct.


    two foot massagists  

    I was trying to enjoy the massage but it was just a little strange to listen to a lecture as the young men put some elbow grease into our feet. Then the young lady informed us that a Tibetan traditional doctor was on the premise and that he would look at our palms in order to give us an examination. We were instructed by the young lady to greet the Tibetan physician with palms held together, in a vertical position with a slight bow. The doctor entered with great dignity and haste, accompanied by a female translator and a nurse. The doctor and the translator were dressed head to toe in black but the young nurse was wearing a pink, traditional nurse’s outfit.


    We greeted him as instructed and he immediately sat between us and took Mrs. Fennig’s hand. He looked at her nails and then the palm. Through the translator, he explained that she was suffering from bad digestion, poor circulation to the uterus, poor immune system, and something about the kidneys. The doctor then wanted to know if she wanted to be prescribed herbal medicine specifically selected for Mrs. Fennig’s specific ailments. She instantly (and wisely) declined. The doctor then took my hand (no nail inspection here) and told me (through the translator) that I suffered from an enlarged prostate gland, too much fat on my kidneys, and that I needed to avoid eating fried foods. And there was something wrong with my blood sugar.


    Then the doctor (through the translator) told me that in order to be able to confirm whether or not I would be receptive to traditional herbal medicine, he could perform a test, which the translator referred to as a type of Kung Fu assessment. He then had me raise my arms, and then with a deep breath and a slight exclamation, performed a mock palm strike to my arms, hovering his trembling hands over mine. Here’s the good part. Then,he held his palms next to mine and a series of visible, electrical shocks zapped my hands and arms, which seemed to be emitted from the doctor’s hands. I was in luck! I was indeed receptive to traditional herbal medicine! Of course he offered me a personalized prescription of traditional, Tibetan herbal medication for a mere 800 Yuan (approximately $130 US). When I also declined,the translator pushed the herbal tea bags, which were used for the foot soaking. Only $30 for a month’s supply. No thanks. Well then, how about some herbal massage liquid, only $20 US. Thanks but no thanks. And with that, the‘Tibetan’ doctor abruptly stood up, tossed his prescription pad (onto which he had scribbled down the prices) in disgust on the nearest table as he stormed out of the room without any further acknowledgement. We were then told we could leave. Wow.


    Our guide just happened to be coming around the corner as we exited the room and asked if we were ready to go.



    Later, as Mrs. Fennig and I chuckled about the scam, we wondered: how far up the ladder does the kickback go? We paid for the tour at the hotel lobby. Does the hotel get some of this fun? Certainly the guide was the orchestrator. She took us there and had made and received several phone calls in transit. To add to the humor of the entire situation, I was constantly taking notes (you know, the physical ones, with like, a pen and a pad of paper?) and in order to remember the name of the traditional herbal medicine hotel for the report in the blog, I asked our tour guide in the car,on the way back to the hotel, “What was the name of the hospital that we just left? Would you write it down for me?” She looked concerned as she took my pen and pad and inquired rather alarmed, “Why?” I informed her consolingly that I was simply taking notes for my blog. I would like to verify the pinyin that she wrote down in my notebook and have compare it to the characters crowning the ornate ‘hospital’ that certainly had our best intentions in mind. Do Americans have similar schemes with foreign tourists? If they do, are they as elaborate as this one?


    Mrs. Fennig and I like to think of ourselves as seasoned travelers, not easily taken by scams. Although we knew it was a ruse, we almost enjoyed it; just to see what lengths these people would go to. For those interested in international travel, some countries have pitiful reputations for pocket-pickers and scams of all types. You will be much more confident if you do the homework first, such as virtualtourist.com. Simply type in the destination of your choice and search under ‘tourist traps’ or ‘scams’. We have instantly recognized the scammers in many countries, simply because we had done the homework and were armed with knowledge. Remember, you are a tourist.Tourists have money. And unfortunately, there are those whose livelihood depends on separating you from your funds.

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  • Playing FENNIG tunes on the Great Wall

    Posted by Michael Fennig on 3/15/2013
    Guitar on the Wall
    Playing FENNIG tunes on the Great Wall of China.
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  • Tiananmen Square

    Posted by Michael Fennig on 3/13/2013

    Wednesday, March13, 2013

    Tiananmen Square is the largest public square in the world (440,000 square meters, or almost 5 million square feet). The square was the brainchild of Mao Zedong, the infamous chairman of the People’s Republic of China who died in 1976. The chairman’s intent was to project the enormity of the Communist Party to the rest of the world. Here, Mao would review military parades whose participants numbered a million. Today it is a sightseeing destination for tourists and even Chinese. On this bright, cloudless and frigid day, we were among the very few Westerners on the square. The majority of the masses who were snapping digital photographs and videos were Chinese, or at least that’s I was assumed, listening and trying to decipher the language (‘yes/no’ and ‘thank you’ seem to be my extent of Mandarin so far). But just setting foot into the square reminds one of the former iron grip held by the government over the masses.

     Tiananmen Square

    Enormous throngs of tourists were divided into two lines (far from the square in an underground tunnel that spanned the highway between the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square), those with bags and those without. Mrs. Fennig and I both had backpacks but the line moved quickly and as we approached the military inspectors, we noticed that it was the Chinese who were the recipients of the greatest scrutiny. All westerners were waved through or ignored completely. We were given a subtle nod by the inspecting officer and his outstretched, gloved hand indicated that we were free to proceed.


    Emerging from the tunnel on to the square, we were stunned at the sheer size of blank pavement. To the north stands the entrance to the Forbidden City, with Chairman Mao’s giant, framed painting hanging high for all to acknowledge. To the east stands the massive National Chinese Museum and to the south, the Chairman Mao Memorial Hall, in which (for a fee, of course), you can actually pay your respects to the mummified corpse, resting in a crystal cabinet. However, on this day, the building was shut tight, patrolled by armed guards, whose sole purpose seemed to be glaring at puzzled tourists. I don’t know why Mao was unavailable today. Mrs. Fennig is an expert when it comes to sightseeing and she verified hours of operation before we set out. There was a digital marquee out in front of the building and utilizing my knowledge of Japanese kanji (characters) and comparing it the Mandarin displayed on the marquee’s screen, I could only deduce that something was happening at the building between March 1and March 20. No dead body viewing for us.

     Mao's body building

    There is a more sinister side to Tiananmen Square. Back in 1989, millions of people gathered officially, to mourn the passing of a pro-reform party chief, but then began protesting against corruption and raised slogans for political reforms. When the military tried to intervene, the citizens of Beijing surrounded the tanks. Beijing then declared martial law and on June 3, tens of thousands of troops, supported by tanks and other armored vehicles entered the city from four directions, killing as many as thousands of protestors.


    With this historical blemish on the nation’s track record, it is easy to see why there are high-tec cameras on every light pole across the square. Big Brother is watching you.

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  • Monday: the Temple of Heaven Park and dining disaster

    Posted by Michael Fennig on 3/12/2013

     Temple of Heaven

    12:55, Monday afternoon, March 11, 2013

    After a breakfast of spicy peanuts and trail mix (from the Seattle airport) and instant coffee from the hotel room, we set out armed with water, cameras, and a map. The map turned out to be of huge assistance as we realized we were walking in the wrong direction only after thirty minutes.  An hour and a half later, we arrived at our objective, the Temple of Heaven Park. The temple is a complex of religious buildings situated in the southeastern part of central Beijing and was visited by the Emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties for annual ceremonies of prayer to Heaven for good harvest. From what I read on the plaques outside of each structure, these things have been around since the 1400s. The park was full of locals performing traditional dance, tai chi, and other whimsical activities such as juggling, or kicking around a ball to which are attached feathers. However, when I began to snap some photos of their game of keep the feathered ball from touching the ground, the ‘players’ suddenly pulled out bags of the balls and began to solicit their product.


    The park is immense, with the huge, onion-domed Temple of Heaven in the middle. Of course,you can’t go inside, but you can peek through the several openings, which served as windows.


    After almost five hours of wandering around this wooded park (which had the appearance of a green oasis in comparison to the concrete and garbage jungle outside thegates), we had worked up an appetite. However, I never realized just how much a language barrier could be in inhibiting a dining experience.


    I’m always one for opting where the locals go when traveling in a foreign country, but having no English menu and a non-English speaking staff is almost more than I can handle. The three establishments that we stepped foot in (and immediately drew the stares of everyone) had no pictures of the dishes being offered. After staring at each other and the employees, we felt it was necessary to get up and leave. But I did take the precaution before leaving, of printing off some Mandarin phrases and I showed an employee of a steamed-bun establishment my card that read, “Can you recommend something for me?” She took us to the front of a lengthy line (guilt setting in), and showed us a menu that was in English (well, sort of English). We understood enough to order six steamed dumplings, but there was nothing on the menu that resembled beverages, or the large bowls of steaming soup that all the other customers were gulping down. The overly helpful young lady motioned for us to sit down and even volunteered to pick up our dumplings for us (the rest of the customers had to stand in another long line to pick up their food). We wolfed those dumplings down in less than a couple of minutes, having worked up a decent appetite walking around the enormous, Temple of Heaven Park. We were still hungry but the five-hour walk around the park was taking its toll. Perhaps a few minutes back that hotel for a breather would give us a second wind.


    We chugged down the free Sprite (at least I think it was Sprite) in the hotel fridge and talked ourselves into believing that that the hotel staff would be able to point us in the direction of a local restaurant with an English menu. We donned our coats again and went downstairs in hopes of a full, warm lunch.


    After all four,smartly uniformed staff members blinked at me, I repeated my request for a local restaurant with an English menu. The four hotel staff members practically huddled, then murmured with exclamations of affirmation. One of the young ladies barked an order into a hand-held radio. A young man came running up, and quite excitedly placed the hotel’s restaurant menu (in English) in front of us on the counter. Now all five employees were staring at us, smiling. Eating at the exorbitantly priced, hotel restaurant is not what we had in mind. Somehow we conveyed to the staff that we were interested in dining outside the hotel.


    If not wanting to draw attention to myself was the objective, then I was, in the vernacular of my students, an ‘epic fail’. The next scene in my cinematic memory was the of bell hop, after being ordered to show us precisely where an authentic Chinese restaurant was, leading us through throngs of Beijingians (Beijingites?) to a restaurant literally just around the corner from the hotel. I typically walk fast but even I was struggling to keep up.


    More on how this dining experience tomorrow; it’s almost 5:00 in the morning.

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  • The Forbidden City (and a yummy lunch)

    Posted by Michael Fennig on 3/12/2013

     Forbidden City

    Tuesday, March12, 15:44

    Back at the hotel, resting and reading, in preparation for the evening’s plan, which hasn’t been verified yet.


    This morning we made the long journey to the Forbidden City, which was the Chinese imperial palace from the Ming Dynasty to the end of the Qing Dynasty. ‘Long’ is a relative term, based on one’s decision on mode of transportation. We opted for a thirty-minute walk to the nearest subway station, ‘Ciqikou’ on the number 5 line, north to transfer at ‘Dongdan’ station for the number 1 line. Now, even walking several blocks in downtown Beijing is intimidating at the very least. Does the green light with the digital numbers counting backward and walking stick figure mean that it is safe to cross? No. Of course not, round eye. Not only is turning right on red legal, apparently it is unnecessary to stop, regardless of the throngs of pedestrians and cyclists choking the crosswalk. Just remember, Mrs. Fennig has officially coined the term “There is safety in numbers” when applied to the context of crossing eight lanes of Beijing traffic on foot. We quickly decided the safest method was to melt into a group of Chinese citizens as they maneuvered their way across the chaos. We even found ourselves shadowing individuals, very closely.


    We finally reached the subway station and descended into the cold and dank cavern of subterranean transportation. Bags must be scanned, although I question whether or not anything was scanned at all. All persons entering the subway are required to put their bags on a conveyor belt through a scanner of sorts. The passenger then retrieves his or her articles on the other side. I noticed that the subway official in charge of ‘inspecting’ the bags on the screen was leaning back on his chair, staring at some reading material. The purchase of tickets was actually simple, as the ticket machines offered a menu in English. Having traveled through Tokyo, I was prepared for crowded trains. But these trains were crowded. We missed the first train to our transfer station, ‘Dongdan’. The train came to a stop, the doors opened and the wall of commuters didn’t budge. It was like staring at a ceiling-high mural of people. The doors shut and the train took off. We decided that being nice was no longer an option. When the next train arrived, we turned our back on the wall of human flesh, dug in with our heels, and backed in. It worked!


    For those interested in history, The Ming Dynasty was the ruling dynasty of China beginning in 1368 until the demise of the Qing Dynasty in 1912. The Forbidden City was the royal palace for the dynasties. The reason why it was called the Forbidden City is because only royalty and/or invited VIPs were allowed to set foot inside the massive walls. It was off limits to the commoners. The emperor enjoyed the status of a deity. Kind of like coach Wright back in Sunnyvale.


    The City is located in the middle of Beijing, China, and now houses the Palace Museum. For almost 500 years, it served as the home of emperors and their households, as well as the ceremonial and political center of Chinese government. The palace grounds are massive, surrounded by a quintessential moat (no one is going to reach this palace without paying for it).
     Northwest guard tower
    We had done our homework before we left and found out that many Chinese citizens (or even Westerners) will charge a fee for a guided tour. We were immediately accosted by a covert guide. I thought that $20 US was appropriate, and besides, the young lady wouldn’t leave us alone. She originally demanded $50 but I haggled her down to $30. It was worth it. Her accent was thick but she could communicate very well. She took photos of us together at our request. The guided tour lasted almost two hours.


    And then something bizarre happened (it’s comical in hindsight). Our petite guide led us to a tiny, bolted door, through which we were beckoned. I turned around and noticed that the other billion tourists were not following and entering this locker-sized door. Inside was a courtyard, adorned with framed photos on the wall. Our guide began to inform us about the individuals whose black and white photos adorned this tiny courtyard. She went on about the last emperor’s nephew, who was expelled from the Forbidden City, and went on to be a highly regarded calligraphy professor at the Beijing University. She extolled further: the nephew rarely makes an appearance at the palace, but does so in order to ensure that the royal calligraphy remains such. Then she led us inside the building, where, Oh my gosh, is that him? There was an older gentleman sitting behind a desk with scrolls and books of Chinese characters. A younger man, wearing a uniform that suggested he might be associated with the employees of the palace, approached me and informed me that I was truly lucky. The emperor’s nephew rarely makes an appearance and I was one of the few to meet him. We were ‘allowed’ to shake his hand and then the young man produced a book with examples of the nephew’s famed calligraphy. In fact, if we wanted, the nephew would paint the character of our choice, sign it, and even pose for a photograph with us, all for only $200 US!! What a deal! And, most of the proceeds would be a donation for the preservation of the Forbidden City!


    When I politely declined, the young man looked disappointed and then countered with a cheaper, smaller calligraphy. When I declined again, both the young man and the ‘nephew’ disappeared. While I was talking to the young man, our guide was quietly encouraging Mrs. Fennig to take advantage of this very rare opportunity. I thought it was suspect from the beginning, but I could see how some people could be taken in by this scenario. In fact, when we got back to the hotel, we googled ‘emperor’s nephew’ and ‘calligraphy’ and we found images of people who had posted their picture with their calligraphy of choice, scribed by and standing next to the emperor’s nephew…but each picture was represented by a different nephew!


    Our guide then hurried us outside, through the tiny door where she explained the history of one more building and then announced the tour was over. But she did give us her card if we were interested in a guided tour of the Wall.


    As with all great sightseeing in which great distances are covered on foot, a healthy appetite is formed. This is one of my favorite parts of traveling abroad; sampling the local cuisine. To paraphrase Bart Simpson, “I come for the sightseeing *sigh*, but I stay for the cuisine.” We had read in the guidebook to avoid the eateries just outside the Forbidden City and took the advice of the authors to walk a little further to the west and explore the dumpling shops in that vicinity. We finally came across a young lady, beckoning to us with a large menu…with colorful pictures! Yay! We were going to have a stress-free lunch!


    We scored. The place was packed with nicotine-addicted Chinese. I noticed that many of the locals were eating with chopsticks in one hand, and smoking with the other. She led us through the tiny restaurant and even forced some men to stand up so that we could squeeze behind their chairs. She placed us into a tiny, spare dining room with a circular table on which rested my favorite culinary piece of furniture, the ‘lazy Susan’. I was drooling as I thumbed through the large menu with glossy page after page of exquisitely photographed dishes. We indicated our order of dumplings, spicy pork, and sweet and sour soup by pointing.

     $12 meal

    After it was all said and done, I pushed back my chair from the table completely satisfied, and almost dreaded the long walk back to the hotel. The total price for our succulent fare of local cuisine and beverage? $12 US. Indeed, we scored.

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  • In Seattle, waiting for the long flight to Beijing

    Posted by Michael Fennig on 3/9/2013

    Saturday, March 9, 2013

    Complaining is for impatient, insensitive, and self-centered individuals. Which is precisely why I am venting.


    Things went south from the very beginning. Mrs. Fennig failed to pay the credit card bill in a timely manner and the attempt to buy the small list of necessaries for the journey with my credit card was embarrassingly "denied". Our small, indoor cat, 'Delia', was apparently upset with all of the commotion of packing, and let Mrs. Fennig know how she felt about it by urinating in the suitcase full of clothes, on the living room floor. Delia was then the victim of long and loud verbal abuse, whose contents are not permissible on this blog. Next, on the way to the airport, I realized that I had left my phone at home...after charging it all night...and having packed my earphones to listen to music for the, over fourteen hours of flight time (each direction). Tragic? Of course not. It’s just the fact that I allowed that to happen. If it had happened to someone else, I would have considered it a character flaw and wouldn’t associate with an individual that possessed such a level of ineptitude.


    I intentionally refused my mother’s kind and repeated offers to drive us to the airport, simply because she has cataracts and I didn’t wish to perish at my current age in a fiery automobile accident on 635. So you can imagine my surprise when my father pulls up into the driveway and the first words out of his mouth are, “Do you mind driving? I’m having difficulty in seeing recently.” At least he let me drive.


    The words on the check-in screen scolded us, and then ultimately dismissed us. “A representative must verify your documents.” and then “We are unable to process your request.”We were sent to the “full service” line (whatever THAT means) where we were, according to the airline employ, to be finally issued our tickets. The full-service representative stared at us. “Where are your tickets? This is just a reservation.” Thirty minutes in line and we were finally granted boarding passes for a flight that we had already paid for weeks ago.


    We are now cruising at an altitude of 35,000 feet, hurtling toward Seattle, Washington.The plan is to be in the Seattle/Tacoma airport for only three hours, and then take another eleven-hour flight to Beijing. The snow-capped mountains that appear below us through the tiny 737 windows are beautiful. It is a clear day and the white, jagged peaks extend to the horizon.


    The game plan is relatively simple. Once in Beijing, we can either utilize the bus system, which will take us to the nearest subway station from our hotel, or opt for the most convenient route, which is to take a taxi. As of this moment, we haven’t decided. Utilizing public transportation systems has always been a source of adventure (which also equals entertainment for me). And trains and subways have always occupied a special place in my heart, after I spent a year in a suburb of Tokyo, Japan.


    We will most likely being doing all of the touristy stuff for which Beijing is known; The Great Wall, the Forbidden City, and literally hundreds of other temples to gawk at. I am particularly interested in the food. I will purposefully avoid the restaurants which are choked full of tourists and perform some quality control with the more exotic product, hawked by street vendors (I can’t wait to try the scorpion-on-a-stick!).

     Mt. Rainier
    Mount Rainier at the Seattle airport

    Sunday, 22:27,Beijing

    We’re in the hotel. Although we lost 24 hours in travel, the taxi deposited us in front ofour hotel just in time for us to throw our belongings into the room’s single wardrobe (there are no closets), take our customary walk around the block, and promptly get in bed. Fortunately, technology allowed to us be taken to the hotel with nothing more than muttering mutually unintelligible grunts at the taxi driver and finger pointing at a map on an iPad.


    5:15, Monday morning. I have been up since 4:00 but couldn’t stay asleep any longer. Mrs. Fennig finally woke up so now I can turn on a light and start studying the travel guide book in order to plan the itinerary for the day. The plan so far is, check out the Temple of Heaven Park, suck some cash from an intimidating, Mandarin ATM, procure some subway tickets, grab some cheap, tasty lunch, and walk around clumsily in a grocery store, trying to figure out what to buy for breakfasty items. The hotel has a tiny fridge and a electric water pot. If we can’t find any instant coffee then I’ll make the cultural switch to tea…but I want my caffeine.

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  • T minus 5 days...

    Posted by Michael Fennig on 3/4/2013
    Monday, March 5, 2013. It's 11:18 and I am watching my German 1 students interact socially, in distinct groups, of course. They talked me out of taking the chapter 6 vocabulary quiz (they're getting quite good at this) and instantly congregated into their social circles.
    I am preoccupied. I am departing for Beijing early Saturday morning, and this is an extremely busy week. Tomorrow night, I am taking the 'historical linguistics' mid-term exam at UNT. I have studied but not nearly quite enough. Wednesday evening, I am attending a meeting of the district Technology Action Team. So as not to be disappointed, I am going to assume the duration of the meeting will be hours. Thursday evening I am presenting my findings on a variety of English spoken in Nigeria, known as Nigerian Pidgin English, or Naijá, for my 'World Englishes' class.  And Friday nights are reserved for my coed soccer games, which typically start at 9:00 in the evening, in Frisco, almost an hour's drive from my residence. So, when will I find time to pack? Hence, my preoccupation.
    Rapidly approaching the goal of a Masters degree in linguistics could potentially give someone the incorrect impression that I could effortlessly speak and read Mandarin, the language spoken by the inhabitants of Beijing. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I do speak and read some Japanese but the only thing that Japan and China share are the same, broad area on a world map and some blemished history during World War II. Even the characters are different, based on my brief, sporadic dabbling into online Mandarin lessons.
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