Maria Holland

Archive for August, 2009|Monthly archive page

Let’s Go to a Chinese Hospital!

In Uncategorized on August 31, 2009 at 10:59 pm

Saturday morning began with a welcome ceremony for the international students. It was more a reiteration of rules than a welcome, necessarily, but I was so relieved to be a part of a group again that I didn’t mind at all.

I met a few friends for lunch in the CaiQingJie Cafe – Joseph from Ethiopia and Joao and Antone from Capo Verde. It was nice because it was the first meal that I had eaten communally since coming to China. A few times I had eaten by myself, but even when I ate with the UNC students in the canting, we had our own meals. I had missed eating family-style, but this was a chance to put our chopsticks in the same dishes together.

Apparently Joao and Antone know my roommate. Her name is Lenira. She is also from Capo Verde and is also studying Biochemistry. She’s in Shanghai right now, visiting her sister, and her classes don’t start until the 12th of September, so she won’t be back until then.

In the afternoon, we had a campus tour. The English-speaking group was rather large and we had one soft-spoken tour guide, so I didn’t get a whole lot out of it. We did, however, go up to the top of the Tall Building (don’t know the name yet) for a great view of campus:

After the tour I went with some friends who live off campus. Sonia is from Germany, Dietrich is from Holland, ?? is from Sweden, and Joey is one of the few other Americans (from Chicago). We bought some beer (wine for Sonia and I) and then climbed approximately a billion stairs to get to Dietrich’s apartment. It did, however, have a great view of campus, the city, and Gulangyu, so I guess it was worth it. We had to stop eating and drinking at 9 because of the physical examinations in the morning, so I went home, took a shower, and fell asleep immediately.

This morning we had to meet at 7:50. We took a bus up the coast to a hospital for our health examinations. It was . . . an experience. It was very crowded, although that might have been our fault. It was also surprisingly centralized; basically, the hospital consisted of one hallway with signs over the doors like “X-Ray”, “Bloodtaking”, “Gynecology”, and “Surgery”. While there was a little less concern for privacy and hygiene than in America, it was only striking in one instance. We had to give a urine sample, which required us to pee in a cup. I’ve done this in America, but usually the cup comes sealed in a sterilized package and has a cover . . . here, though, it was a flimsy plastic cup without any sort of lid. After filling the cup, we placed it in a closet lined with shelves, next to dozens of similar cups – not a pleasant sight. Anyway, it was very hard to produce such a sample after over 12 hours of no drinking!

I called Carlos, a friend from Spain, when I got done, and we met at the ferry station. He also brought a friend from Turkey, David. We bought our tickets to Gulangyu, but they were more expensive than we had expected. We figured out why about 40 minutes later, when we realized that we had gone almost all the way around the little island – apparently we got on the tourist ferry. Once on the island, we shook off a few wannabe tour guides and just started walking. We happened on the Organ Museum and went in before going to lunch. Afterwards, we went to Haoyue Park, where I finally took some pictures.

We bused back to campus, where Carlos showed me how to use my air conditioner (!) and I took a shower (!!). I met up with Jamie, a Chinese friend, for dinner at the canting – not my favorite meal there ever, but it was okay. Then she took me to the big supermarket just off campus. By “big supermarket”, I basically mean Target. It had clothes, groceries, cleaning supplies, blow dryers, etc. It was just like being in America because they had almost all of the products that I use back home. They have Pantene, Dove, Venus, Tide, and more Johnson & Johnson baby care and Clean & Clear products than I’ve ever seen in America. There was even a Tupperware lady!?! It was a little bit ridiculous. No sign of American deodorant or lotion yet, but I’m still looking.

They had two whole rows of feminine hygiene products and Jamie asked me how to say them. I told her that these ones were called pads and I tried to find some tampons so I could teach her that word. I really didn’t want to have to pantomime it, but she didn’t know what I was looking for. Finally I told her they were the things that go inside, which confused her because she said they all go inside. I shook my head . . . Finally I found them – about four packs of o.b. tampons hidden on a middle shelf. She said they don’t use them, but maybe she will try. I felt like the mother of a pre-teen.

We went to a small park nearby to sit and eat the ice cream that I had bought. There was too much for us, so I tried to give some away . . . apparently I scared the people I asked, though, until Jamie taught me how to explain what I was doing. I don’t know that I would take ice cream from me either, but it finally worked. We sat there and talked for a few hours I think. Mainly, she spoke English and I spoke Chinese, but I cheated some :-/ I don’t remember exactly how it came up, but I told her that I liked to play card and board games. This caused her to ask me if I had ever played a game called 杀人 (Killer). It sounded familiar, because she was describing the game Mafia! I told her that I knew it and then tried to explain what a mafia was – significantly harder than I thought it would be, by the way.

We talked about food (she has never eaten butter!), standardized tests (she took the GRE!), music (she likes Avril Lavigne), and our families (she’s one of SIX kids!). I told her about my family and tried to say that I’m going to be their tour guide (dao you) when they come to China, but actually said I was my brother’s wife (da sao). Oops. That’s definitely the most embarrassing thing I’ve said in Chinese – yet. (Although I did make the mistake – relatively common, I think – of telling Carlos I was pregnant instead of embarrassed when we were speaking Spanish earlier. Not doing too well today, I guess!)

I learned a lot of new words while we were talking, and so I am feeling pretty good about my prospects of learning Chinese this year. I do wonder, though, if I will get used to responding to English in Chinese as a result of these language partnerships . . . that would be funny!

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Music of the Night

In Uncategorized on August 29, 2009 at 11:53 pm

After the wang ba, I retired to my room for the rest of the lunch break. I decided to check out the TV in my room and flipped through the 60 available channels. My favorite show was a speaking competition for foreigners! Each contestant was given a fan with 5 Chinese phrases on it, and they had to incorporate those into a story. I was really impressed with their speaking ability . . . I could have closed my eyes and pretended they were Chinese!

I met Amy at 2:30 to figure out the rest of my registration. We went back up to the OEC building, where Amy talked to one of the workers. He looked up my information and verified that I am supposed to be here now! After he made a quick phone call to the next building, we went over there and I got refunded 900 yuan! (In case you don’t remember, when I first arrived they told me I was almost three weeks early and made me pay for moving in early, 60 yuan a night, for a total of 1,020 yuan. I was actually only two nights early, though, so I got most of my money back.)

I felt so triumphant. I’ve been here for three days now and have only added about 10 words to my Chinese vocabulary, but my knowledge of Chinese culture and experience of getting stuff done in this country has gotten so much better. I really wanted to stand at the top of the stairs (these stairs are intense, seriously) with my arms up and yell “MEI GUO REN!” (American!). But I didn’t.

Amy wasn’t done helping me yet. She walked me to the North Gate, which is a major bus stop, helped me buy a map of Xiamen (5 yuan), and then got on the #21 bus (1 yuan). She got off before me, but pointed me on my way to the mall, where I spent a few hours eating and looking around.

Eventually I realized I’d better get to church. I went down to the bus stop and went straight for the BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) bus waiting there. It didn’t seem very rapid, though, because I stood there for several minutes outside a locked bus with no driver. Another bus pulled up and I got excited, but everyone got off and they locked it, too. I was starting to panic so I went over and got on the first bus that I thought was going the right way. Well, some day I’ll learn my lesson, but it wasn’t today – buses go both ways, and I went the wrong way. Go figure.

After realizing what I had done, I managed to get on the BRT going the right way, and then took a taxi from the last stop. He dropped me off at the entry to a pretty seedy alley – again, go figure. I ran in there, asking everyone I saw “我找教堂,你知道吗?” (I’m looking for a church, do you know it?) Chinese don’t like to admit not knowing directions, so I got a few bad leads before finding the church. I stomped through some dirty puddles, turned a corner, and then saw my church – big, beautiful, and distinctly Catholic.

Despite being 15 minutes after the published time of 6:15, Mass hadn’t started. When it did, it was pretty easy to follow everything except the readings, although I only caught single words or very short phrases – God, Jesus said, why, because, we, you, etc. The only thing I picked up was the ending: “Thanks be to God”. I haven’t even figured out “And also with you” yet!

After Mass, I tried to find a way home. I was walking in the right direction when I was distracted by the sound of music. I wavered for a few seconds before deciding to go investigate, and I’m glad I did. As far as I can tell, I happened upon a talent show thing. It was mostly singing, but one guy did some tricks. The performers were called up by name, but they were sitting in the audience and weren’t dressed fancy, so it seemed like anyone could sign up to sing. According to the guy next to me, they do this every Friday and Saturday night, from 7:30 to 10:30. I didn’t particularly love the music, but I enjoyed the experience as a whole. It seemed authentically Chinese, with cigarette smoke wafting by every few minutes and a little boy running around in split bottom (more like gaping-bottom) pants.

From there, it wasn’t too far to a bus stop where I caught the #71 bus back to campus (another victory!). It dropped me off at the North Gate, where I was again distracted by the sound of music. Following it to its source, I came upon a group of people dancing. Classy dancing! A woman was sitting outside, so I asked her what was going on. Apparently they do this every Wednesday and Saturday night, from 7:30 to 10:30. I asked her why she wasn’t dancing and she said she didn’t have a partner, so we took to the dance floor together. The first dance was really simple, but then I was asked to dance by a variety of men and they got harder. One was almost like swing dancing and involved a lot of twirling; I absolutely loved it. Another found me sweeping across the floor with long steps.

I left after only about 5 dances because I needed to shower, but I absolutely intend to go back. I was so jealous reading about Whitney’s experience at a ball in Austria, but now I’m thinking it’s okay. I couldn’t believe my fortune – I actually found myself “leaking happiness”, a la Kate. Basically, the moral of this story is “Always follow the music”.

Especially after such a slow start this morning, I can’t believe how wonderful today was. I was vindicated on the issue of registration! I don’t think I saw a single foreigner after leaving campus. I managed to have a few perfect (albeit simple) interactions with local people, and learned a few new Chinese words. I had my first excursion on a Xiamen bus and managed to get everywhere I wanted to go. Plus . . . dancing!

感谢天柱 (Thanks be to God!)

KTV!

In Uncategorized on August 29, 2009 at 12:34 pm

Yesterday afternoon, I took my placement test. First I had to read some passages out loud. I didn’t understand any of the first one, because I only knew about half of the words; the second one was something about parking cars; and I finally understood the third one, about eating some kind of food in Beijing in the winter because it’s cold.

Then I went on to the written test. I accidentally started out on the second part, which was way over my head. Out of the 30 questions, I knew about 6 of them. When I figured out that I had skipped part 1, I did slightly better, but still only knew about half. It was definitely discouraging, but I guess it is a placement test, so hopefully I will be placed well.

Last night I went karaoking (?) with the UNC group. Next time I go I would like to go with some Chinese people, and I won’t cross it off my Chinese Bucket List until then. It was fun, but thanks to Amy taking excellent care of us, we were almost completely isolated from interactions in Chinese, even in the taxis, which have historically been very fruitful practice times for me.

It was my first time off campus really, and it was at night to boot. I feel very country-mouse-y because Xiamen is huge and bright and shiny and busy compared to even Yanji, which is the closest thing I have to a comparison. My favorite thing is probably the highways, which are made out of (or at least covered with) a shiny white material, and accented with a thin strip of lights along the bottom. They wind around each other a little bit, and it feels almost magical when you go underneath or next to another one.

I was hoping to finish up registration this morning with the help of Amy, the UNC Chinese assistant. But they went on a tour of Xiamen this morning and now it’s time for the 3-hour lunch break where nothing can get done.

While waiting for Amy to call, I continued with my cell phone learning experience. I’m trying to figure out text messaging, which would probably be easier if I ever did it in America. My favorite find of this morning is the “范本”(literally, example book) option. It’s a collection of commonly-sent texts that you can use. I especially like them because I can read most of them. There’s one that says “我在开会,晚些给你打电话”(I’m in a meeting, I’ll call you a little bit later). Another says “我XX点到”(I’ll be there at X:00). The last two options are really funny to me, though: “我也爱你!” and “生日快乐!” (I love you too! and Happy Birthday!, respectively). If these exist on phones in America, then I hate texting even more.

I just came over to the wang ba and was absolutely delighted as I walked out of my room. Especially yesterday, my glasses fogged up every time I left my air-conditioned room for the sweltering hallway. (Here in Xiamen, only individual rooms are air-conditioned; while it is uncomfortable sometime, I appreciate it from a conservation standpoint. Not so much with the open doors to said air-conditioned rooms, though). Anyway, my glasses didn’t fog up! It’s actually decent outside! As one of my UNC friends said yesterday, it’s pretty much necessary to take a shower whenever you’re not currently taking a shower, but today I managed to walk down to the wang ba without becoming utterly repulsive even to myself. This is good! According to weather.com, it is currently 91 with a heat index of 109 (70% humidity), but yesterday the heat index was 115, so I guess that’s progress.

Other things of note in the wang ba: I’m constantly in a flashback here, as the music selection is best defined as “All Boy Bands, All the Time”. When I came in, it was “Larger Than Life”, and now we’re on to “Everybody”. Also, I saw a t-shirt with Chinese characters on it! In case you didn’t know, this is extremely rare in a country where clothing with English is insanely popular.

So, I Registered Anyway

In Uncategorized on August 28, 2009 at 6:06 am

Using my new cell phone, I was able to contact the other students from UNC to join them for dinner in the cafeteria last night. It was much busier this time, causing us to explore a little bit more. It turns out that there are three floors with distinct food choices. I didn’t look at everything, but the second floor (where we ate) had some spicy Sichuan food and make-your-own soup, where they give you a bowl of hot water, some dried ramen noodles, and various ingredients including meat, vegetables, and eggs. The third floor is apparently the Muslim floor. They have a picture of a mosque on the wall and serve what I’m assuming is halal food? It’s the nicest of the levels, with real wood tables and chairs, but it was full when we looked.

The food in the cafeteria is alright, but I think the portions are too large. I’m used to being able to try each of 6 or so dishes and then get more of the ones I like. Here, I get a fist-sized portion of one or two things, and I don’t really want that much of them. I think that at least half of my calories are coming from drinks so far . . .

After dinner, they all went to study, so I went back to my room and showered. I think showering is definitely going to be a night thing here, at least while it’s hot, because I couldn’t even imagine getting in to bed as nasty as I was. Once I was clean, I got into bed with my cell phone, dictionary, pen, and one of my new notebooks to “learn” my cell phone. Everything is in Chinese, so only my general knowledge of cell phones has enabled me to do anything. Unfortunately, I’ve never really texted in America, so preexisting knowledge will not help there. Anyway, I figure it’s a good way to expand my vocabulary!

One thing I’m quickly learning here in China is that knowledge of characters does not directly correspond to vocabulary. I know about 700 characters and I see them everywhere, but most of the time, I can’t understand them in context.

For example, here is a quote from the cover of my fish notebook, with the meaning of each individual character, all of which I already knew:

心 (heart)
满 (full)
意 (meaning)
足 (foot)

These four characters together, however, mean “to be perfectly contented with one’s lot”. Obviously . . .

So it was kind of slow going, but I did learn “shortcut”, “function”, “news/information”, “mobile” (as in “mobile phone”), “correspondence”, “to store up”, and “to take notes”.

I did notice as I was doing this that I have gotten better at using a dictionary, not because I’ve been practicing, but because my general knowledge of Chinese has gotten better. I’m better at identifying the radicals of characters; the radical is part of the character that functions kind of like the ‘root’ of the word. I can actually count strokes now, too, making it easier to find the character I’m looking for among the list for each radical. Also, now that I’ve stopped ignoring tones, I’ve noticed that entries that are spelled the same are organized by tone – 1st (shī), 2nd (shí), 3rd (shǐ), and then 4th (shì).

I fell asleep around 9. I think I could have made it later if I had been doing something physical or if I were with other people, but it was hard to fight jet lag while sitting in bed with a dictionary.

This morning I was up by 7:30. After working on my cell phone for a little longer, I decided to go register. Yes, I know that they told me I was a few weeks early, but there was a huge welcome banner next to my dorm for “New Overseas Education College Students”, and on my acceptance letter, it said “Overseas Education College”. I went up there and immediately knew I had made the right choice. They didn’t even give me a second glance once I told them I was a scholarship student. I got some paperwork and went to the “Form Filling-Out Room”, where I was told that I needed to have a bank account number.

The Bank of China is really close to my dorm, and it was relatively easy to open an account. I don’t really know what all went on, but they asked for 25 yuan and I gave it to them, and I signed my name in a bunch of different places. Now I have an ATM card and a little check book thingy!

I went back to the OEC building, where I passed through two rooms full of stations. I got my passport checked and my information entered into the computer. I bought insurance (or rather, didn’t, as I’m on scholarship). I tried to get my health examination accepted, but I didn’t bring a copy of my chest X-ray (apparently I was supposed to; I walked in to see some official holding an X-ray of somebody’s chest up to the light). I got my student booklet thing, lecture permit, and a packet of information for new students. And a new 中国朋友, who wrote her name and phone number on one of my papers! One thing to note for future registration at Chinese universities – when they ask for passport sized photos, they don’t actually mean 2”x2” passport photos. They mean 1”x.5”.

But, basically, I registered! Take that, China!

By then it was their lunch time, so I went back to my room and then came over to the wang ba. My glasses fogged up when I stepped out of my air-conditioned room into the steamy hallway . . . Ugh. Two UNC students, Chip and Jen, just joined me, and Jen let me in on a site that lets me access my blog! Kinda. The music in the wang ba is back to Boy Bands, which is getting me fired up for karaoke tonight!

Exploring XiaDa

In Uncategorized on August 27, 2009 at 3:59 am

After getting back from the internet cafe last night, I laid down for a little nap. I set my alarm and expected to be woken up by either that or my roommate returning. I don’t know if it was jet lag or just me being me, but it was several hours (after my alarm was set) before I woke up. My body was loving sleeping in a bed (even a rock-hard one), so I just went back to sleep. I guess I missed out on whatever the UNC kids were doing, which was really sad. Also, my roommate never came home, so I still have yet to meet her.

This morning I woke up around 6. I spent the first hour or so organizing my stuff in my suitcases (although I still can’t move in because my roommate’s stuff is all over.) Despite the things that have gone wrong since I got here, I am very pleased to note that 1) all my suitcases arrived in Xiamen on time, 2) nothing was broken or damaged, and 3) I haven’t discovered anything I forgot yet!

I was a little bit down while doing this, because I’m kind of overwhelmed by all the things that I don’t know about the year ahead. But I had my spirit lifted in several small ways. I listened to my iPod, put some good dance music on, and soon found myself grooving along as I moved around. Secondly, I opened a roll of quarters that I had brought as gifts and discovered that they are from American Samoa. I found this hilarious because I don’t know anything about American Samoa and, frankly, didn’t think they were enough of a part of America to get their own quarter! What a fabulous gift from my homeland . . .

After a little while, I decided it was time to go out, because XiaDa was not going to explore itself! I took my purse (containing passport, wallet, camera, soap, kleenex/toilet paper, dictionary, etc.), grabbed a little notepad, and set out, drawing a little map as I went. It is certainly not to scale or anything, but it’s a good start and I’m feeling a lot more comfortable with the small area surrounding where I live. Basically, what I’m trying to say here is that everything I need to survive in China, I learned from SENEA.

After exploring, I joined some of the UNC students for lunch in the student cafeteria. The cafeteria is a large, open-air room (will they close it in winter? I don’t know) filled with tables with attached stools. The food is along one wall. You tell the lunchpeople (not all female!) what you want, using those ubiquitous Chinese words, “zhege” and “nage” (“this” and “that”). They serve it to you and punch the price into a little machine. To pay, you just wave your student card in front of it. Super easy, except I don’t have a student card, so I owe Ben 5 kuai (80 cents).

I’m glad I found these people. I don’t want to hang out with American exclusively, certainly, but right now there is so much for me to figure out and no one whose job it is to do so. They have almost a week of experience, which is more than I have right now! Anyway, they are actually a pretty good influence because they at least use Chinglish between themselves.

After lunch, I went to the supermarket with a few of them. Some things about it are very familiar and comforting because they remind me of Yikelong, our beloved supermarket in Hunchun. The dried stuff row, for instance, has the exact same packages of squid and chicken feet. They sell Alpenliebe candy here, too, which taste exactly like Creme Savers, and Orion snack cakes, which were Tanner’s favorite. But there are definitely differences. They have a lot more American brands here – I had seen Coke, Sprite, Snickers, and Dove before, but they also have M&M’s, Mountain Dew, and Lay’s. Granted, the Lays come in flavors like blueberry and kiwi and Sichuan spicy and Mexican Red Tomato, but still . . .

I couldn’t find the Chinese brands of shampoo and conditioner that I liked last year, so I ended up buying Pantene (one of the many American brands they stocked) but as the American brands had less English than the Chinese ones, I’m only hoping that I got both a shampoo and conditioner.

One main thing on my shopping list was notebooks, and I was more than satisfied with their selection. I got some pads with official-looking 厦门大学 (Xiamen DaXue, my school) headings on them, some postcards (get excited, all of you who gave me your addresses!), and a few cute notebooks. I bought one of them because of the inspirational message on the front. I think we would all do well to heed its advice:

“However mean your life is,
meet it and live it; do not shut it and call
it hard names. it is not so bad as you are.
it looks poorest when you are richest.”

It took me a while to find France bread, because it seemed like they only sold French Bread (way less cool), but I finally did. It was even harder to find my favorite yogurt drink, Mengniu, but I was eventually able to reward myself with delicious creamy strawberry yogurt.

Yogurt in hand, I went shopping for a cell phone at China Mobile, which I had heard had English speakers. I was greeted immediately with a “How may I help you?” I bought a Nokia cell phone and SIM card for 380 kuai ($54). The prices here are a welcome relief after America. I pay 5 yuan (80 cents) a month, but that comes with 50 free text messages. It costs .1 yuan (1.5 cents?) per minute to call someone, but receiving calls and texts is free. If I’m in a different province, then it is “very expensive” to call people – 0.6 yuan (9 cents) a minute. I think I’m going to spring the extra 6 yuan a month for caller ID, too.

The young woman who helped me spoke very good English. While someone set up my contract, we talked a little bit. She asked if I was a student, where I came from, if I’d been to China before, etc. When I told her I had been to Jilin, she literally took a step back – it turns out that she’s from Changchun, the capital of Jilin! She studying Oceanography here at Xiamen, which surprised me because with her level of English, I figured she was studying to be an interpreter or something. When I finally got my phone, we exchanged numbers and she helped me enter hers into my phone book. So I now have a Chinese friend!

I’m still kind of high off that victory – a cell phone AND my first 中国朋友 (Chinese friend)!

A Place to Lay My Head!

In Uncategorized on August 26, 2009 at 6:15 pm

Shortly after my last post, it became 2:30. As I entered the lobby to make my way towards the place I was supposed to be going, I encountered a woman who spoke English. She told me that the people who were supposedly coming back at 2:30 weren’t working today. This was the obvious conclusion to this saga and I should’ve seen it coming. Then a gaggle of American students (from UNC) and their Chinese helper approached. The Chinese woman, Amy, decided to help me. We set off for a different office, where I was told something even more obvious.

Registration isn’t until the 12th of September. I just started laughing. I mean, I knew in my heart of hearts that this was a possibility the whole time, but what could I do? If there was even a possibility that I had to be here on Friday or forfeit the scholarship, I couldn’t take the chance. I tried not to even consider it, because the small chance didn’t change what I had to do.

I felt a little bit stupid, because they asked why I thought it was the 28th. Of course, all my paperwork said the 12th, but it also said to check the website for changes, and the website said the 28th. And I’m not stupid, so I had called to check and THREE different people that I talked to in the Overseas Education College (through two different Chinese translators) said that it was on the 28th.

So, I’m here almost three weeks early. I have to pay for my accommodations for that time, so I had to go withdrawn more money today. It could be worse; as I told Elizabeth, my mistakes here won’t be as expensive as many other places. I’m out about $130, plus I’ll have to feed myself, etc., during that time.

My room is on the 4th floor of the overseas student dormitory, which does not have an elevator. After checking in, Amy and I had to haul all of my luggage up three flights of stairs to my new home. By this time, I had been traveling for over 24 hours, hadn’t slept in a bed in over 48, hadn’t eaten a meal in over 30, and it was probably over 100 degrees with the heat index. Thankfully, though, I did not pass out and we made it up.

My room is very Chinese. There are two slightly-wider-than-twin beds, pushed next to each other. I will be sleeping closer to my roommate than Lucy and Ricky ever did. There are two small desks with shelves, four cupboards in the wall, and a TV and stand. The bathroom is a small sink, toilet, and showerhead – basically, the bathroom is the shower. The most Chinese feature of all is the inside balcony thing. It is our washroom, I guess, but in a real Chinese apartment would be a kitchen.

Right now my roommate is using everything in the room. I felt really awkward moving my stuff into there and leaving without having met her. Judging by some stuff that was up on the walls, I think she speaks Spanish, but that’s really all I know. I left a note for her, so I hope she won’t be too annoyed.

After Amy left, I sat down on the bed to process everything. I’m not horribly upset about this most recent miscommunication; as I said, I half expected it. The only thing is, I now feel like I can’t trust anything. In fact, I am not even convinced that registration isn’t on Friday. A schedule that my roommate has up on her wall has registration for the Overseas Education College listed for Friday. So please don’t think that I’m lying to you; I’m just presenting the information as I know it right then.

I was becoming disgusted by myself, so I tried out the awkward shower arrangements. I was scared for a little while there because the water was coming out of the faucet BROWN (not so lightly rust colored that it’s only apparent in a glass, but legitimately brown), but the shower was pretty good.

I then ventured outside to get food. There’s a cafe next door, so I went there and got jiaozi (dumplings) and Passionfruit Ice Sand. It’s funny, now that I know some Chinese characters, I know that they translated it literally (it wasn’t just a spelling error or something) but it still makes no sense to me in either language. Oh well, it was full of “Romantic flavor and good feelings”.

Since dinner, I have been on a hunt for internet. Bless you, Jin laoshi, for casually mentioning that 网 of 网球 is used to refer to internet! (网球 means tennis and 球 means ball, so I think that 网 means ‘net’.) Everyone pointed me in different directions until I ran into my new friends from UNC. They have been here a week and are so knowledgeable . . . they pointed me in the right direction and also mentioned that they will be going out tonight for Chinese Valentine’s Day (which apparently is today).

So that’s where I am right now, Coffee Lake. It’s just down some stairs and across the street from my dorm. It’s cute and small, with a soundtrack that consists almost exclusively of Backstreet Boys. There’s a great view of some body of water, too – a little lake or something. Probably my favorite place so far.

I think they’re actually closed now but haven’t tried to tell me because they figured I wouldn’t understand. Fair enough; I probably wouldn’t . . .

~ Maria

PS – I haven’t quite figured out how to work the VPN, so I’m posting these via email. I hope that works. As of now, I have access to Gmail and Skype, but not facebook or my own blog.

I Have Arrived in Xiamen!

In Uncategorized on August 26, 2009 at 1:21 pm

I think it’s tradition – the last leg of any of my trips is the only one to ever be delayed. This time? Over an hour because of “military exercises” in Xiamen.

The flight was short – only an hour once we finally got going. I talked to the other man in my row a little bit at the end of the flight. He’s a businessman in Hong Kong who frequently travels to Xiamen. He gave me his business card – the first in what I’m sure will soon be a large collection.

As we headed in for the landing, I got my first real glimpse of Xiamen. The first thing I noticed is that the city is very tall. Unlike most American airports, which are surrounded by one- or two-story suburbia, the entire city seems to be comprised of buildings at least a dozen stories tall. The airport is very nice and modern-looking and easy to navigate and conspicuously lacking in Chinglish. There were more foreigners there, too, than the times I’ve flown into Yanji – as in, there were other foreigners there.

Outside, I joined an orderly line for taxis and soon my turn came. We fit my bags into the back and I said “I want to go to Xiamen University. Do you know it? How much will it cost?” in Chinese. The taxi driver was obviously not aware of what words are in my roughly-700-character vocabulary, and he quickly tried to go outside of my knowledge base. Eventually, though, he dumbed it down a little bit and we were able to converse – about the weather.

Driving through Xiamen was somewhat reminiscent of driving in Hunchun, but there were differences. There are no motorbikes allowed here, first of all, which means there are significantly less instances in which I am positive someone is about to die. Also, the main road that we took was divided by a wide, grassy median for most of the way, eliminating the common occurrence of cars driving on the wrong side of the road. Perhaps most importantly, cars and taxis seem to actually use the main road, leaving the side road open for bikes and pedestrians (as opposed to Hunchun, where cars crowd the sidewalks, forcing pedestrians to take to the streets for safety).

The list of differences could go on and on, though. There are palm trees EVERYWHERE. Their buildings look strikingly less Soviet, which I definitely appreciate. Some of them are not rectangular in shape! There are bus stops along the road – not just gaggles of people whom you assume are waiting for a bus, but covered areas with benches and buses waiting nearby.

I think the city is really beautiful from what I’ve seen so far. I was even more excited when I asked about the prettiest buildings yet and was told that they were part of my new university! I’m so looking forward to exploring.

First, though, I wanted to resolve this issue of where I’m going to be sleeping tonight. Dragging around three suitcases, a briefcase, and a purse does not really incline me towards immediate adventuring. We asked several people where the Overseas Education Office was and eventually found it, at which point I unloaded my bags, paid the driver, and he left.

It turned out the doors were locked, though. After a brief moment of despair (not panic; I knew I could walk somewhere but didn’t want to), I knocked at the door until someone came. He was also not fluent in 700-word-Chinese. Our successful exchanges consisted of me saying I was a student studying abroad, him asking if I had a visa, and him saying something about somebody being somewhere at 2:30 (it was then 1:00). He offered me water, which was hot and therefore disgusting, and a classroom, which was air-conditioned and very much appreciated. And here I wait, for these people to return to their place.

The Journey (to Hong Kong)

In Uncategorized on August 26, 2009 at 7:15 am

Scene A
Location: Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport, Bloomington, MN
Time: 8:50 p.m. Central US time.

After a very satisfying dinner with the family at Texas Roadhouse (my traditional pre-departure and post-return dining location), my parents drove me to the airport.  I had a margarita with dinner but it did nothing to calm me down.  I’m not nervous, I don’t think, but I am jittery as anything.  I feel like I did every day of Chinese class at 11:50, when it felt like class should be over but we still had 15 minutes to go.  I’m done counting down the days and hours left and home, but my getting-to-China countdown is still over 24 hours!

Scene B
Location: flight 881 over Los Angeles, CA
Time: 2 a.m. Pacific time

Once I got through security and onto the plane, I calmed down a lot.  They had a movie – My Life in Ruins – which I watched, but I mostly slept.  The flight was a little longer than I expected (I guess Minneapolis is further from LA than Tulsa?), but really, what difference does an hour make in a trip like this?  LAX was a little frustrating, but once I was in the capable hands of Peong, my Cathay Pacific attendant, everything was okay.  I felt even better once I got on the plane.  The man next to me (actually, the man one seat away, thanks to my buddy Peong who put me in a window seat next to no one) told me that Cathay Pacific is the best airline in the world.  The claim doesn’t seem too outlandish yet.  We have individual screens without probably 100 movies (even 3 that I want to watch!), animated videos of our plane making the trip from LA to Hong Kong, actually comfortable seats, power outlets below the entertainment console, and complimentary wine with the not-bad meal.

Scene C
Location: a ??? somewhere over the Pacific
Time: The only time that means anything is 8 1/2 hours in, 6 hours to go.

Going through LA, and therefore adding a third time zone into the mix, jumpstarts the confusion over the seemingly-simple question, “What time is it?”  All I know is, I did Monday Night Prayer and it is dark outside.  I’ve slept a lot, watched Little Miss Sunshine and am now starting He’s Just Not That Into You.

Scene D
Location: Hong Kong International Airport, Hong Kong SAR
Time: 8:00 a.m., Beijing time.

Flying, especially across the vast, featureless Pacific, is an adventure out of time.  We were flying west, and it took a while for the sun to catch up with us, so it was dark for almost the entirety of the trip.  The sun rose around 4:30, and I did Morning Prayer (from Wednesday) while enjoying the colorful sunrise.  I’m not exactly sure what happened to Tuesday, because I thought I had it figured out . . . I watched 17 Again and slept a bit more.  I haven’t had a good stretch of sleep in a bed in about 48 hours, but I’m not feeling too bad.  I think my body could possibly even believe that it is 8 a.m., with a long day ahead.

So, basically – I made it across the ocean, but I’m not technically in China yet.  (Hong Kong is a Special Administrative Region or, as I call it,  “kind-of China”.)  Hong Kong doesn’t seem like China anyway.  Everything is in English with Chinese as the second language – so basically, just like LA.  There are touches of America (the Starbucks a few gates down) and some things that seem foreign, if not Chinese (the moving walkways are on the left, not the right).  My flight leaves in an hour or so, but until then I’m enjoying the free wi-fi.  I’ve even talked to my parents and my aunt on Skype!

I Packed My Suitcases, and In Them I Put*:

In Uncategorized on August 24, 2009 at 2:48 am

*note: this list is not comprehensive

  • 4 dresses and 5 skirts (enough for No Pants Week!)
  • 1 pair of bright yellow rain boots (to show the Chinese that they are fashionable!)
  • 1 pair of heels (in case I want to stick out even more)
  • 3 sticks of deodorant (because Chinese deodorant is NOT the same!)
  • 12 tubes of Carmex (because I can’t just go to the C-store every time I misplace one)
  • 2 packs of soap sheets (for sub-par bathrooms)
  • 1 jar of Nutella (because for many people, peanut butter was their only link to sanity when they were abroad – but I know I can get peanut butter in China)
  • 1 case of Hershey’s chocolate bars (because I don’t enjoy eating Chinese chocolate, a.k.a. brown crayons)
  • 2 spray bottles of Febreeze (for those times when laundry is unavailable or inconvenient.  Also for my underclothes, which are packed in my rain boots)
  • 1 Bible (the only book that could provide reading material for an entire year)
  • 1 copy of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – first book only (which has made me laugh out-loud each of the many times I’ve read it)
  • 4 decks of cards (for teaching and learning card games, like real-life King Mao)
  • 1 Catan board game (minus the ocean hexes, because they take up too much space)
  • 2 photo albums (so I can show all my new friends all my old friends)
  • 40 pages of sheet music (so my piano-playing fingers don’t atrophy)

As you can see from the list above, I’m about as ready as I’m ever going to get!  I leave in just about 24 hours, which seems very real.  Arriving in China another 24 hours after that, however, has definitely not sunk in yet.

I am fully aware that I’m in for a big shock, despite having been to China several times.  To me, right now, China is a farm outside a small city in the northeast.  China is a place where half of the people speak Korean as their first language.  China is a place where I am mistaken for a Russian everywhere I go.  China is a place I go with some of my best American friends, to see some of my good Chinese friends.  China is a place where I shovel manure, bale hay, and slaughter chickens.

I know that I can’t expect these things to hold true, but I don’t know what to expect in their place.

If I’ve learned anything since heading to college, though, it’s that sometimes things turn out much, much better than you could have ever expected.  Take this summer, for example.  Even 10 weeks ago, this was not how I pictured this summer, but it has been much more than I hoped for.  I got to see almost all of my extended family, which is quite a feat.  I got to celebrate the marriages of three good friends.  I saw friends in Tulsa and was also fortunate enough to meet up with some of them in other places.  I got to visit several of my high school friends at their new homes, something I always missed out on by being so far away.  I kept busy but was never really stressed about anything.  I gained a lot from the Chinese class I took and, because of that, am much more confident about this year.  My teachers (except for one) were great, making class enjoyable and productive.  I got to attend the U for a few months and get a little bit of a feel for the benefits of a big school, while not having to endure some of the drawbacks, like big classes.  I got to experience public transportation on a daily basis and gain enough confidence to attempt it (successfully!) in another city.  The Udall conference was an amazing few days that far surpassed my expectations, and I got to share it with incredible people whom I plan on staying in close contact with.

So, with all this in mind, I’m feeling very content and mellow right now.  This is somewhat surprising, considering I just finished another phone call with my Chinese friend and the Overseas Education College of my university, in which I found out that classes may or may not start until the middle of September and I may or may not have a place to live after that point.  I’m looking on the bright side, though.  Think of all these interesting, informative cultural experiences that I’m having even before leaving my country!

And so, I am soon to embark on this journey, armed with enough Chinese money (and hopefully enough Chinese words!) to get me to Xiamen University.

Surprising News From China … Again …

In Uncategorized on August 13, 2009 at 3:20 am

I decided it was about time to buy tickets last night.  In order to do that, I had to find out if I could move in early, so I went online to get the contact information.  There, I stumbled upon this page:

Academic Schedule:

Autumn semester: Sep. 16, 2008 to Jan. 16th, 2009

The 2009 autumn semester of regular Chinese program will start on Aug. 28th, 2009. Please apply before the application deadline, July 10, 2009. If you want to apply after the deadline, please contact us for more advice.

Registration dates: Aug. 28 & 29, 2009
Opening ceremony: Aug. 31, 2009

I wasn’t sure which date to believe – the one I’d seen before (12 Sep) or this new one (28 Aug), but figured it was worth looking into.  I got Wang Pu (a Chinese friend from TU) on the line and called the Overseas Education Office to straighten everything out.  Wang Pu did most of the talking (although I did understand more of this phone call than the last time we called China together!) and eventually told me that registration was on the 28th of August.

So basically, I just happened to figure out in the nick of time that I have to be in China TWO WEEKS earlier than planned.  In fact, I need to be at XiaDa to register two weeks from tomorrow, which means I need to leave before that.

All of a sudden, my departure date is just over a week away.  It looks like I’m going to take my final on Friday and fly out on Monday.

Sure am glad my visa is already on its way back to me . . . I barely even have time to order things and have them get to me!

Oh, China, why do you insist on messing with me?  Do you enjoy it that much?  Couldn’t you at least wait til I get there?