God, things have been going wrong right and left. First, I forgot to have a syphilis test. So I had to take a taxi to the other end of Beijing to go to this hospital to get it done. The set up was that they had this room with a bank teller-like counter with a big Plexiglas window. And just like in a bank, you walk up when it's your turn and the nurse on the other side takes your blood with a questionably sterile needle. All the stuff they have behind the counter is straight out of the set of MASH. The place was filled with bewildered white tourists, wasting their time waiting in line. Lines are meaningless here; you have to fight your way to the top.

To make things worse, they also lost my placement test. So I had to go argue with some department head. That was even more of a bitch. They stuck me in the second lowest class but after taking a peek through the textbook, it's probably fine. (Ed- It wasn't. I got into a higher level class.) You see, at Swat I learned traditional characters (which is used in Taiwan and Hong Kong) while in mainland they use simplified, and the correlation between the two is not always apparent. I've had to relearn how to write such words as "after" or "read."

But since then I've learned to count to 10 and relax and breathe. I've hit up the major tourist sites, frisbee in hand. I've tossed in the Forbidden City, which was the home of four dynasties of emperors. I've tossed on Tiananmen Square, site of the massacre of 1000s pro-democracy students. I've tossed at the Summer Palace and in front of Buddhist temples.

Well, I'm hanging out with a small group of people. Mostly my roommate and his Japanese friends and someone who graduated from Amherst who's on the same grant. Suffice to say, I've managed to avoid hanging out with any white people. Dinner conversation is rather interesting. We seem to flow from English to Chinese to Japanese rather smoothly.

Translation of Ricky Martin's name: Ruiji Mading - "Auspiciously Sent Horseman"

The one English-speaking FM station in the area is Easy 91.5. It's propaganda from the Chinese government mixed in with Spice Girls and Yanni. Absolutely surreal.

I bought a shiny red bike for about $25. It has only one gear. But it's not like you want it to go too fast. Weaving in and out of the traffic here is fucking insane. It's like being in a Mountain Dew commercial. While in America, if you're riding with the light through an intersection, cars making a left or a right will generally wait for you to pass. Not so in China.

Well, I've learned not to eat at the cafeteria again. You can get a big bowl of noodles for about 50 cents and a fatty bottle of beer for 25 cents.

God, I could use some Appetito's right now.

Communist my ass. China is so much more free-market than the US. America is infested with such dangerously Marxist institutions like parks which you can walk into for free or bike racks you can park at for free.

That's about it. Of the 23 new mails I have, about 19 were reserved-students (of which 7 announced some new drumming class). Keep it rolling in.