Thursday, September 30, 2010

Give Gaobedian a miss

BEIJING – If you’re in Beijing, give Gaobedian a miss unless you’re into expensive classical furniture.

I had heard about Gaobedian in east Beijing which was described as an ancient village and Beijing’s version of Cuandixia. I’ve been to Cuandixia twice on earlier trips and really loved it. It’s a 500-year-old village in the mountains about 90k from Beijing.

So one day on our recent trip to Beijing we set off to go to Gaobedian. It was a long trip, starting with a bus ride to the ditie as the subway station is known in China. We then took three different subway lines, with all changes involving going up and down dozens of stairs, to get there. We left the subway station at Gaobedian and followed the signs for a 10-15 minute walk – in the rain no less. What we found when we got there were numerous new buildings constructed in an old style. It looked more like a shopping mall than an ancient cultural street. Modern as it was, it didn’t have a Starbucks (they’re all over Beijing) where we could get something warm to drink.

Gaobedian, as it is now, is essentially a place to buy classical Chinese furniture, and shops had some very nice pieces, but I didn’t go there to look at furniture. It was a big disappointment for me.

The day, as well as the weather, did improve. From Gaobedian we took the subway back to central Beijing and then changed to another subway which took us out to TianTanYuan where we had a very lovely lunch with our friends. The menu included Peking duck (my fav!), chunks of sweet potato dipped in a sweet syrup and then rolled in corn kernels and deep fried, pumpkin sticks and quail eggs pictured above. I wasn’t adventuresome enough to try the eggs, but Jon said they were good.

Going to China?

If you’re planning a trip to China, check out my website, or you can email me if you have questions about travel in China, especially Beijing.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The terrible TOEFL!

I'm glad I was born a native English speaker.

It got me out of taking the TOEFL. TOEFL stands for "Testing of English as a Foreign Language." If I'd been born in, say, China, and decided I wanted to attend college in the United States, I'd have to take the TOEFL. The purpose of the test is to see how well foreign students understand the English language. If their writing, listening, reading and speaking skills in English aren't that good, students will likely not succeed in college.

It's a dreaded test for international students. And it's dreaded for a reason: It's hard! A student's TOEFL score can affect the college he'll be admitted to. The higher the TOEFL score, the better the college that will admit him.

And how do I know the TOEFL is hard? Well, for starters, my Chinese friends have told me this. Secondly, one of my recent freelance writing gigs has been doing TOEFL test practice questions. The assignments mostly involved editing an existing passage on various subjects, and then writing additional questions in a pre-set format. Just for the heck of it, I tried to answer the existing questions and missed a few more than I'd care to admit. This was assuming, of course, I could even understand the articles! I sat at my computer thinking that if I, as a college-educated native English speaker had problems, how is someone for whom English is a second language going to get through this test. That may be the $64,000 question!

Academic writing admittedly is a different genre for me. I've spent 40 years as a journalist and writer making my articles simple and easy to understand. Now I have to make them more difficult  One assignment involved inserting tougher vocabulary words in a passage. It was very hard for me to do this as I felt I was ruining a well-written understandable passage by making it significantly harder to understand. I do understand the need to make it harder to read so it will be more in keeping with textbooks the students will use in college. But I am just so darned glad my future doesn't depend on the results of a TOEFL test!

Are you going to China?

If you're going to China, take a look at Cheryl's China about travel in China, particularly Beijing. And for more information about my China travel guides, including DIY Beijing, Parents Guide to Beijing and Cuandixia, check out Cheryl's Guides. If you have questions about travel in China, please feel free to email me.