A Delightfully Tacky, Yet Unrefined Experience

A Delightfully Tacky, Yet Unrefined Experience

Meet ... Brian Toth

China Study Abroad Major: Business Management
Minor: Chinese
Concentration: Human Resources
Location: Beijing, China
Studying: Spending four weeks immersed in the Chinese culture while visiting majestic, historical sites and studying at the prestigious Institute of Chinese as Second Language of Peking University.

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I thought to myself one day here in China, “it wouldn’t be a complete trip until I go to Hooters.” So we decided to take a trip there for dinner one night. We had two guys and two girls altogether going for dinner; pretty much everyone was going out of curiosity.

It was a lengthy subway ride to get there so I was hoping it would be worth it. We were greeted by a hostess that spoke English; that’s always appreciated. The first thing I noticed was how it was almost identical to the Hooters in the United States.

Now I know that food isn’t the main attraction at Hooters, but I’ll tell you what, that was a delicious burger that I had. I asked for it to be done medium, but it came out more like rare. I had no complaints though; I ate with my hands rather than with chopsticks so I was happy. It came with French fries, which were also very good. I think Shyree and I finished a whole bottle of ketchup collectively with our meals.

Very rarely did we come across ketchup, so when we did, we seized the opportunity. After our meal, I found a gift for my brother. I had a little trouble trying to decide what he would like from here. I thought to myself that he probably like a t-shirt from the restaurant, because c’mon everyone loves Hooters. The tricky part was the sizing.

The general rule is that a Chinese shirt is two sizes smaller than an American shirt for the same measurements. So I got him an XXXXL. Now there’s something you don’t see everyday, a quad X shirt. I got one for myself also and we were on our way. Before I left the restaurant I had to get a picture with some of the waitresses. I asked the one waitress if we could a picture and she immediately started clapping abruptly.

I was confused at first because I wasn’t sure what that meant, but then I saw all of the other waitresses that weren’t busy gravitating towards us. I guess this was there signal that someone wanted a picture. I got in the picture and asked if anyone wanted in on it. The girls from our group refused, I wonder why. Overall I had a great time; I was just happy to leave somewhere with a full stomach.

Seeing Greatness

Today was our trip to the Great Wall of China. It’s called the Great Wall for an obvious reason. It was named one of the wonders of the world, and stretches to about 5,500 miles long. We got off the bus at the bottom of a hill and had to walk up to the wall. Walking up the hill, it was like Mount Tai all over again; steps upon steps. When we got to the wall, the view was amazing.

The Great Wall The disappointing part was that it was an overcast day with a lot of fog. We could see some of the wall in front of us, but we couldn’t see far off in the distance. Fortunately, it wasn’t very crowded so we had a lot of room to walk around and check everything out. After we walked for a while, there was a rest area under some shelter.

The prices for everything were outrageous. A bottle of water for 10 Yuan (1.5 dollars), no way! I know it’s not really a bad price at all, but after being use to pay 1 or 2 Yuan for it, I felt like I was getting ripped off. I tried once again to use by bargaining skills to get him down to a lower price, but to no avail. He had somewhat of a monopoly because he was the only vendor in the middle of nowhere. It was very humid and I was sweating uncontrollably, so I gave into his demands.

Next to this vendor was a woman with an etching device and some bronze plaques. She said she could etch my name (in Chinese characters) on the plaque and the date with a title saying, “I climbed the Great Wall” for about 3 U.S. dollars. You got yourself a deal lady. I had to write out how my name is pronounced for her to understand because I couldn’t even remember the Chinese characters to my own name. The characters in my name are a lot to remember and are harder than the characters we’re used to writing in class.

After that, we descended down the Great Wall to our point of entrance. It was pretty incredible to see how the condition of the Great Wall was still pristine. There were some bricks and steps missing here and there, but for the most part everything seemed to be in the same condition as the day it was built (which was a long time ago). We ate lunch at the bottom of the hill and entered the bus. After being exhausted from the past couple days, I slept like a baby on the bus ride home.

Getting a Taste of Korea in China

Throughout our stay here in China we made a ton of friends from our classes, dorm, and everywhere throughout Beijing. It was one of our friend’s birthday from class and he invited us out to dinner at a Korean restaurant. His hometown was Korea, so he and all of his friends that came with him from home were Korean. It seemed like a good idea to us so we tagged along. When we arrived, there were typical Korean dishes on the table along with about 20 bottles of what looked to be water.

Brian Toth When we sat down, I asked one of them what was in the bottles. They told us that it was Soju, a drink that is very famous in Korea. We all decided to try it because we were their guests and they were doing a toast. I tasted it with mixed reactions. At first I thought it was okay because it wasn’t very strong, but it had a unique aftertaste. I don’t know if it would be my first choice of drink, but I liked it.

We drank the Soju and were handed a menu. I thought to myself, “I could stick with the old faithful Tsingtao, China’s most famous beer, or venture off and try a Korean beer.” I ordered a beer called “Max” which I was told is also very famous in Korea. From what I understood, it was similar to a Bud Light or Miller Light in America, almost everyone recognized it. I really enjoyed this beer; I can see why it is so popular in Korea.

I had already eaten dinner, so I wasn’t much in the mood to try any authentic food. It all looked very appetizing though, and the smell was inviting also. Our teacher warned us to “never drink heavily with Koreans because they’re very good”. Well we all tests the next day so we weren’t planning on it anyways, but we heeded his warning. We had some Soju and a Korean beer or two and we were on our way. It was just crazy to learn about some of the Korean traditions along with those in China.

Learning the Do’s and Don’ts of Chinese Etiquette

One thing I noted throughout my stay is that the Chinese and Koreans are very similar in the sense that when you are their guest, they treat you like royalty. Pulling out chairs and always filling you cup up with whatever it was filled with, even if you refuse politely. One thing I found interesting was that when at dinner with one of my father’s business associates was how I was treated. Like I said before, royalty, and that’s exactly how I was treated.

Every time I would take a sip of my drink, the man I was with would order the waitress to fill it to the top. Along with that, the waitress also rolled my food into tortillas for me. I tried to prepare my own food once at dinner and she took it out of my hands and finished what I had started. It was all very nice, it was just something I was not used to. Whenever he would propose a “Cheers,” his glass would always be below mine when we touched glasses.

My father told me that it was symbolic to mean that I was the guest, so that apparently meant that I was of higher status. I thought this was a bit odd. The man was a very established businessman and I was just a typical poor college student. How was I of higher status than him?

It didn’t make too much sense to me, but that was their way of thinking of guests. He also told me about the customs for the host of a bigger gathering. He said that before the dinner even started, the guests would make the host drink 3 bottles of wine. And this was before they eat any food. Thank goodness I wasn’t hosting a large party this night because I had class the next morning. The dinner was great though, I got a chance to practice my Chinese even further, and I learned a lot. I just felt honored to have dinner with this man and his son and learn all of their typical traditions and customs over here in China.

History Buffs Heaven and Leaving the Place I’ve Come to Know and Love

Dr. Jing Luo scheduled one of the weekend days for us to go the history museum. He told us that he was there for a couple hours and didn’t even get beyond the first floor. I knew then and there that it was going to be huge.

It was the National History Museum of China and people came from all over the area to receive some insight on the country’s rich history. We started on the ground floor and had to be back at the starting point within two hours. I can see why Dr. Luo spent all day on one floor. I wanted to be able see everything so I wanted to walk pretty fast. Even doing so, I still spent 45 minutes on the ground floor.

There was so much interesting stuff that always caught my attention. It was separated by the different dynasties so you could compare the different art styles and techniques of the different time periods. We saw things such as bones from the Paleolithic period, ancient Chinese characters carved in stone, and a tribute to the Terracotta Army in southern China. The ground floor was ancient history, the second floor was paintings and other brushwork, and the third was mainly pottery, Chinese scrolls, and historic currencies.

Later on in the trip we went to the Temple of Heaven and Pearl Market. The Temple of Heaven was similar to the Forbidden City with a lot of the buildings that looked alike. It was built for prayers and sacrifices given to the gods in hopes of receiving good harvest. People would give whatever they could to these temples and they believed it would grant them the appropriate weather for their crops or livestock to thrive. Many important people have visited there in the past. One collage had pictures of presidents from all over the world, including president Richard Nixon. After the Temple of Heaven, we visited the Pearl Market.

This market was arguably the most famous market in Beijing. It was known for having items that were fake, but looked real and being incredibly cheap. Our tour guide told us “about 99% of the pearl market is fake, the one percent of real stuff is KFC and Starbucks.” The thing was that the items were priced outrageously high prices off the bat, hoping to trick a foreigner or two and make their money for the day.

So when I would tell them their price was too high, they would ask me to name a price I would pay. It would usually be 10 to 15 percent of what they were originally priced at. When I would tell them this, they would put their hand over their heart and look as though they were personally offended. They would then proceed to tell me that they would be losing money if they sold for that price. I would walk away and they would get me to come back and agree to the price I originally said.

They obviously weren’t losing too much money if they agreed to it that quickly. You definitely have to be careful if you go to shop at the Pearl Market because these vendors can be pretty deceiving. I saw an S-Shock Watch (as opposed to the American G-Shock brand) and a pair of Sone headphones (as opposed to the American Sony brand).

Overall all three of these places were great to visit. It is now our second to last day in Beijing and the time felt like it just flew by. I feel as though just yesterday I was getting lost around campus and asking people for directions. It has been a great experience to study and live here in Beijing, something I will never forget. I learned a lot about the language during class, but I also learned about the culture from just walking around the streets. Looking back I feel like I got the most out of the four weeks spent here in Beijing. If I could do it all over and do one thing differently what would I do? Stay Longer.

    — Brian Toth, business management major