This week has been pretty crazy. First of all, the first of October was National Day, and the week following that is called Golden week. We get this entire week off of school. People love to tell you about Mid Autumn Festival when they talk about China, but there is hardly any celebration of that holiday here in Dalian. People just eat a few mooncakes and call it good. National Day, on the other hand, is actually a big deal. People travel all over and a bunch of stores close for between one and seven days. Nobody tells you this when you learn about Chinese culture, I guess because it’s not ancient. But I’m telling you now that National day/Golden week is way more important to real people in China than Mid Autumn Festival. National Day, by the way, is the anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China (October 1st, 1949) so it’s basically like the Chinese 4th of July.
The first thing that happened over the holiday is I found out about a 50k in Dalian on October 25th. I was going to wait until I had done a long training run to test whether or not I’m still capable of finishing before I signed up, but the deadline turned out to be September 30th so I just signed up without really thinking about it that much. Signing up was a 5 hour process, especially since it seemed like you had to pay before the deadline (by this point 2 hours away) using Alipay, which I don’t have and which requires a Chinese bank account (which, hilariously, I have two of but I don’t have enough finance-related vocabulary to know how to use them, nor did I actually try to obtain them. One was given to me by the school and I think it has my scholarship money on it, and the other was just given to me when I exchanged money because they didn’t want to go find small bills so they put 67.88 yuan on a card). I never did figure out how to pay online, but the next day the race organizer texted me to say that I could pay at their office on Huangpu road on the 24th when we pick up our race packets, which was handy because now I know when to pick up the race packet and which road I need to go to. I’m sure absolutely nothing will go wrong with this race that I am severely undertrained for, especially given that I don’t always understand the information people send me about it.
The next bit of craziness is that my parents decided to visit China over the Golden week holiday because I didn’t have school, so they arrived on the first. They were supposed to arrive at 6pm but it ended up being midnight because flights to China never go as planned. They were exhausted the next day, but marched around the underground mall and my campus anyway, then ate some Chinese cafeteria food, which actually tastes pretty good. On Saturday, we climbed some crazy stairs trying to get to a building that we saw at the top of a hill, which turned out to be a war memorial. Then we saw some graves on the hillside across from us, and realized that both our hill and the one across from it were basically giant graveyards, and we saw on the way down that we had walked right past at least 20 graves without noticing. It was creepy and a bit surreal and getting dark, so we made our way back down the hill quite quickly.
On the 5th we went to Beijing, which was quite crowded and expensive. In Dalian, nobody even tries to charge you extra just for being a foreigner. Even my roommate, who knows no Chinese, gets reasonable prices on everything because they post their prices and bargaining doesn’t really happen. In Beijing, however, people will gladly charge you three or four or ten times the normal price. It also is very smoggy. I had underestimated the amount of smog, but now I know, it really is terrible. I think I was there on some of the worst pollution days too, so it was awful. Despite Beijing’s shortcomings, it was still incredible. Unfortunately I had to come back to Dalian on the 7th to begin school on the 8th, but my parents stayed in Beijing until the 9th. I got to see the Great Wall, Tiananmen Square, the Summer Palace, and a Beijing Hutong before I began the 6 hour train ride back to Dalian. The train was followed by the most frustrating taxi ride in traffic I’ve ever experienced. So frustrating, in fact, that the driver just stopped about a mile away and asked (probably would have begged if I had refused) if I could get out and walk so that he could just stop driving already.
As always, the break ended with a mad rush to finish all my homework, or at least just remember what it was. To be honest, I wasn’t successful in either endeavor, but it was worth it to travel with my parents, especially considering how good of a time they had. And I only forgot homework for one class, so it almost counts as a success. That’s it for now!