One of the first orders of business here in China is to get us cell phones so we can communicate with one another and organize things and not be completely forsaken if we get lost. Our trip coordinator/guide person Wang Wen said she knew of a place we could go to get phones. The day after the Forbidden City during the language lesson our student leader, (person who went last year who has volunteered to help run the show this year and show us around), Han Li came in and said here are three phones you can get. Tell me now what ones you want and later we’ll go pick them up and then get sim cards for you. They were purported to be the same price and equivalent except in style of button and design. We were all very pleased at this prospect of having the trouble of getting phones much reduced and went along happily in our language lesson learning greetings and other key phrases.
For lunch I went with a group of people to a place called Secret Garden which is near the Chem buildings. It has hunan style food which is a bit spicy. I liked it a lot. The best thing we had there, and I’d hazard to say the best single thing I’ve eaten here, were these spicy shrimps on skewers. They had the shells on, but no heads and you just ate them shell and all which gave them a good crunch but somehow it wasn’t super tough or anything. We didn’t order quite enough food, though, so people decided that was the restaurant’s fault and now don’t like that restaurant. Also, rice noodles, some of which are stuck to the plate, are reallllly hard to pick up with chopsticks.
We had culture class… The days have blurred together but we’ve talked about birth/death rate and the family planning legislation (one child policy), migration. It’s not the most interesting thing ever but that’s in part due to the teacher who’s thorough in being clear about definitions used but could speak english slightly better and be a better teacher overall.
The fun began after this. We took the subway to this place. I don’t know where this place was (update: I now know where this place is), but it was what I thought of when I thought of Beijing. Towering buildings around, scattered vendors, lots of foot traffic between small shops. We went into a large building full of small shops (not like a mall, though, more like an office building where each office is sort of it’s own business) and arrived at our destination which was, apparently, an electronics store. We were somewhat confused, though, because this electronics store had several red couches with tables and there were several Emo kids hanging around and some people smoking, including the proprietors of this fine establishment, at least by the end of it. In short the entire place consisted of this lounge with a wall of computers and a wall of cameras and a cashier booth. There were a couple people looking at a camera and us there milling around hoping that phones would appear soon and the people would stop smoking. So an example phone was brought out followed after some time by two other possible phones. They were all essentially equivalent so everyone getting a phone chose to buy the cheapest one. While we waited for a mass of these phones (15 or more) to be acquired from who knows where we worked on getting SIM cards for our phones. The SIM cards were priced differently depending on whether the number was easy or hard to remember, whether it contained fours (which are pronounced si4 in chinese but si3 is death so superstition makes four a bad number 四=4 死=die.) as well as how much money was precharged on the card. So we all chose numbers and wrote them down while phones were dredged from some storeroom or bought by our establishment from other nearby establishments. Phones slowly trickled in and then we were informed that the list we had chosen numbers from was not updated and nearly all of the numbers we had chosen had already been sold. A new list, handwritten, was procured after a guy went… somewhere and found out what numbers were available. These cards have a lower per-minute cost than the other ones and so were a bit more expensive, generally, (that’s their explanation for the price, at least). The handwritten list had no price information about the numbers so when it came time to settle the difference between the amount of money we’d given for the FIRST sim cards we’d signed up for and the second sim card people were simply told “you owe 15 more RMB” and it felt very much like a shady business and people started getting very angry. Keep in mind that this is a good 2 hours after the affair has begun and we’ve been in this lounge full of smoke and emo kids the whole time. Eventually we had phones, those who simply needed sim cards for their phones had sim cards, and all was right with the universe. There might be a few people’s phones who are messed up in some way or another, but I haven’t really heard the details of that. Oh, and the cost for everything was~300 RMB which, at a 6.8 exchange rate is 44 dollars. We will have to add more money as we run out of what’s on our cards. Using the phones is .2 RMB/minute.