Maria Holland

Archive for September, 2009|Monthly archive page

Off to Taiwan!

In Uncategorized on September 30, 2009 at 11:14 pm

The trip began this morning at BaiCheng gate on campus, where I met some of my travel companions to catch the bus to the ferry station.  I am going with five other people: Carlos, from Spain; Diederik, from the Netherlands; Aleid, from the Netherlands; Alice, from Austria; and Keiko, from Japan. 

At the ferry station, we were taken care of by a very helpful travel agent.  She speaks some English and seems to understand that we don’t really know what’s going on.  This trip involves handing your passport over to random people for varying lengths of time, but we trust her and always get them back, so it’s okay I guess.  After getting our tickets, we went through “security” (consisting of a metal detector that may or may not have been watched) and got on the ferry.


The ferry was very spacious, with ridiculously wide aisles and no overhead bins (because all the luggage just goes in a pile in the front).  I was in the middle of the boat so, with no option of looking outside, I went to sleep.  I think I like the gentle rocking of a boat even more than airplane turbulence!

Our destination was Jinmen, which is an island very close to Xiamen (visible from Gulangyu) that is owned by the Taiwan.  I had never crossed international lines on a boat before!  We got our passports stamped (and stapled?!) there and were officially in Taiwan!  Funny, it still looks a lot like China . . .

One of the most noticeable differences between China and Taiwan is, of all things, the language.  In my continued saga of how ridiculous the Chinese language is: the aspect of Chinese that most people find so fascinating is that almost all of China’s many dialects, which are mutually unintelligible when spoken, all use the same written language.  A Cantonese-speaker and a Mandarin-speaker can only communicate by writing things down.  HOWEVER.  This was before Mainland China introduced simplified characters and Hanyu Pinyin (a standard for romanization of the Chinese language) in the 50’s.  Other Chinese-speaking countries continued using traditional characters and random attempts to phoneticize the language, and those differences persist until today.  So as soon as we crossed the border, we were in Kinmen or 金門 instead of Jinmen or 金门.  I studied the traditional characters in America, so that was actually less annoying to me than the horrible spelling. 

A shuttle bus took us to the airport, which had one too many camouflaged towers for me to believe that they aren’t always conscious of their large and not-always-friendly neighbor on the mainland.  The check-in process was easy, although I noticed that I was checked for swine flu much more thoroughly than for, say, grenades. 

After a one-hour flight, we landed in Taibei/Taipei and accomplished our main immediate goals: bathroom, ATM, and EasyCard for the metro system (MRT).  We took the MRT to our very centrally-located hostel and checked in there.  The four of us (Aleid and Diederik came later) are in a room with 2 bunk beds and approximately 4 square feet of floor space.  We’re only paying 300NTD ($10) per person per night, though, and they have 2 bathrooms, 2 showers, and a common room with computers, so we’re pleased. 

The name of the place is Hostel TaiwanMex, because one of the owners, Raul, is Mexican.  He and Carlos did most of the dealing in Spanish, which was a little weird.  When I hear Spanish in China, my thought process goes like this: “okay, 300 dollars each . . . cool!  I understood that! . . . Wait, it wasn’t in Chinese . . . what’s that other language I understand? . . . oh, yeah, Spanish!”  Unfortunately, I sound like a stuttering 3-year-old when I attempt to speak Spanish because the easiest words to produce right now are Chinese, but at least I can still comprehend.

After dropping off our things, we went in search of food.  Our first choice – Italian – was closed, so we went to a quasi-Mexican place.  We all got fajitas, which were NQR (Not Quite Right) at best.  The tortillas were good, and they are the most important part, but the cheese was sliced American singles, the meat was seasoned and cooked like normal Chinese stir-fry, and I’ve had better sour cream even in China (because Anna is a cooking ninja!).

We returned to the hostel to meet up with Diederik, a latecomer, and then went out on a quest to get cell phones.  For some reason, they’re ridiculously regulated in Taiwan – we needed to provide two forms of photo ID which, like Henry Ford famously said, could be anything as long as they were a passport and a driver’s license.  We eventually found an even better deal, though – a government-sponsored program that lends cell phones to traveling students with only a photo ID as collateral.  After much badgering, we got her to accept the International Student ID card (which is touted by study abroad officials but is, in my opinion, almost totally worthless).  It was a pretty sweet deal – free use of a phone and charger for 15 days – and was made even sweeter by the fact that the SIM card had leftover money on it so it ended up being totally free! 

After this success, we went out for food again, this time at one of Taibei’s famous night markets.  We got some snacks, but were pretty disappointed in the famed ShiLin Night Market, which seemed pretty small.  (Turns out we only saw about 5% of the night market.  Oops!)

Back at the hostel, we perused some Taiwan guide books and tried to find about the typhoon heading our way.  And with those clouds looming over our trip, we went to bed.  (Our beds in the hostel, by the way, are ridiculously soft compared to our beds in Xiamen.  I slept on my side without regretting it later for the first time since leaving home!)

Yay! I Won A Tube of Imitation Pringles!

In Uncategorized on September 29, 2009 at 11:56 am

The weird Sunday and Monday we just had really messed with me, and I didn’t really know what day it was.  Then I realized this morning that I had 24 hours before going to Taiwan.  Oops! 

I had class this afternoon, including Horrible Class.  Today was tolerable, though, because I brought stuff to do.  A few days ago, I realized that I know nothing about Cape Verde, where Leinira is from.  Actually, I knew exactly four things:

  1. It is located off the west coast of Africa
  2. They speak Portuguese and Creole
  3. If a woman is carrying something heavy, a man will offer to carry it
  4. If you’re the only passenger in a car and you’re sleeping, policemen will pull you over to wake you up

I thought it would be a little ridiculous if I lived for a year with someone from Cape Verde and only learned this much.  So Leinira leant me a book about Cape Verde and I spent the class period perusing it.  It sounds pretty wonderful, and after class, I asked her when we’re going! 

Tonight was the big Mid-Autumn Festival party for the Overseas Education Office.  It was quite the event.  The auditorium was packed with at least three times its capacity and we were entertained by a variety of talents including, but not limited to: singing, dancing, calligraphy, violin, break-dancing, opera, Chinese-speaking, and Mid-Autumn Festival trivia. 

DSCN4962This part of the show was reasonably interesting, but as the largely-Asian crowd had no reservations about talking in a normal tone of voice throughout it, it was pretty hard to hear.

(Incidentally – I think I wrote about watching a Chinese-speaking contest on TV the one day I was flipping through channels.  One of the MC’s tonight looked familiar, and I finally figured out it was because I had watched her compete.  Apparently XiaDa sent a few students to Beijing to compete, and I just happened to catch them on TV!)

The real fun – Bo Bing – was afterwards. 

DSCN4963I was in a group with mostly my classmates, so we knew how to play.  Unfortunately, they assigned us a Chinese girl to teach us, and she didn’t know how to play.  They won’t admit that, though, so we played wrong until someone came along and corrected her.  I’ll never understand why it’s worse to admit you don’t know than to be corrected publicly after faking it.

The prizes this time included such things as the highly-coveted laundry soap, rewarded for four 4’s.

DSCN4967 I didn’t get one of those, but I came away with a pretty good haul anyway:

  • 3 small packages of Kleenex (awesome, because I was almost out)
  • 3 packages of milk biscuits (hopefully they’re good with Nutella!)
  • 3 cartons of room-temperature milk (yum . . .)
  • 1 tube of imitation Pringles! 

The last prize was for my straight – 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.

DSCN4969 Two turns later, David, the other American in my class, rolled the same thing and we immediate launched into a loud chorus of “MEI GUO MEI GUO MEI GUO” (America, America, America!).  It was pretty exhilarating.


I think I’m going to have a Mid-Autumn Festival party at TU next year, complete with Bo Bing.  If there were ever a game invented for Dining Dollars, this is it!


Anyway, this my last post from 中国 (China) for a little while.  I leave for Jinmen in 10 hours, and from there will head directly on to Taibei, Taiwan.  I will be keeping a paper journal while I’m traveling and will try to send in quick updates whenever I get online.  In the meantime if you get bored, you can check out this article about China’s preparations for it’s 60th birthday party, or you can always go back and relive your favorite adventures!  There’s a tag cloud at the bottom of the page, so you can even choose to read all the posts about a certain topic – dancing, for instance, or 麻烦 (hassles and inconveniences). 

I will be back on Saturday afternoon, October 10th.  I’m coming home a little bit early a) so that I can have time to write about the trip before classes resume, and b) so that I can make it to dancing that night :)

Today’s Class: Learning to Gamble

In Uncategorized on September 28, 2009 at 7:13 pm

Today instead of class, we went to Gulangyu.  It was a very fun morning, but now my brain is totally confused as to what day it is.  A one-day weekend, Mass on Saturday, class on Sunday, and no class on Monday . . . goodness!

Our teacher suggested the fun day and a student suggested the location.  I was hoping for a cool local view of Gulangyu, but Zhang laoshi had only been there once, I think – at least, she didn’t know that you only buy a ticket on the way back, and even I knew that . . . We walked around for awhile and then grabbed a large table by the beach for the main purpose of our field trip: learning to play Bo Bing.

DSCN4946 Bo Bing is a very important Xiamen tradition related to 中秋节, or Mid-Autumn Festival.  It started about 300 years ago when Koxinga (same person as the statue that “guards” Xiamen) and his soldiers were stationed in Xiamen before retaking Taiwan from the Dutch.  Mid-Autumn Festival is an important time for family reunions, so the soldiers were very homesick.  To distract them, Koxinga invented the game of Bo Bing, or Mooncake Gambling.

It’s a cool story, but the game isn’t quite as fun as I would expect from something that distracted soldiers from missing their families.  It consists of throwing six dice into a bowl.  That’s it.  You don’t even get to reroll some of the dice, like you do in Yahtzee.  Depending on what you roll, you get prizes.  4’s are the best, so even if you only roll one you get something.  Four-of-a-kind and a straight are also prize-worthy.  The biggest prizes are for all 4’s and four 4’s and two 1’s.  (I do not know why this particular combination is so coveted, but I feel that if I did I would have a deep revelation on Chinese culture.) 

The original prizes were mooncakes, which kind of seem like the Chinese equivalent of fruitcakes (very traditional but not very tasty).  Nowadays, common household objects are often used (although apparently XiaDa is offering a car?!?!)  Zhang laoshi brought 1-kuai pens, notebooks, candy, and shampoo, which seemed like a pretty typical spread from what I’ve seen. 

DSCN4948 We played until all the prizes were gone, which meant that we passed the bowl around for a ridiculous amount of time waiting for someone to roll 一二三四五六 (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6) to win the mid-sized bottle of shampoo.


The site of a bunch of foreigners learning how to play the traditional game was very interesting to some of the local people, and at one point we had a small crowd watching. 

DSCN4952Or maybe they just wanted to see who had the best luck.  Xiamenren get really into this – Zhang laoshi was inordinately excited every time someone rolled anything halfway decent. 

I nearly won the shampoo (which would have been nice, as it was my brand and I am almost out) but I did walk away with a cheap pen and a small tube of candy.  wOOt. 

By then it was lunchtime, so we returned to Xiamen for lunch.  We ate at a delicious Sichuan restaurant where the food was pleasantly spicy – not hot enough to hurt but enough to clean out my nasal passages.  Because no Chinese meal would be complete without, there were a few mystery items.  The last course was a soup that had “gan bei” and “ju sun”.  Even after eating them, discussing them with Zhang laoshi, and looking them up online, I am not quite sure what I ate.  Only in China . . . Gan bei is supposedly dried scallop, but are those sweet?  David said Ju sun was some cucumber-like vegetable, the one they make loofahs from.  Hmmm.  I do not know about this, but I supposed my insides feel a little bit cleaner now. 


At the beginning of that last paragraph, I was going to write that we returned to the mainland.  I corrected myself, but I would like to mention the interesting challenge of geography and politics here in Xiamen.  Mainland China is a geopolitical term that refers to the large land mass governed by the People’s Republic of China (PRC), with its capital in Beijing.  The “mainland” includes Xiamen, which is an island, and excludes Hong Kong and Macau, which are not separated from the rest of China by any water . . .  

So in Xiamen, we’re in Mainland China but we’re not on the mainland of China.  Also, compared to Gulangyu, Xiamen feels like the mainland, so sometimes I refer to it as that. 

Mainland China also excludes Taiwan, which is both an island and a different country.  It is the Republic of China, or ROC, although China still claims it and some countries don’t acknowledge it as a separate entity.  While telling a Chinese friend about my trip to Taiwan, I finished it by saying that I would return to China, and he corrected me by saying “Mainland China”, because they believe that Taiwan is part of China. 

As if this weren’t enough, there’s more.  There are a lot of parts of China that are what I call “kind of China”.  Hong Kong and Macau, for instance, are Special Administrative Regions (SAR)– while they’re part of the PRC, they have different political and economic systems.  They’re so different that if you’re in China and go to Hong Kong, you need a multiple-entry visa to get back into the Mainland, just as if you had gone to a totally different country.

There are also Autonomous Regions, like the recently-publicized Xinjiang Province.  There are five, each an area with a high minority population: Xianjiang’s Uighurs, Tibet’s Tibetans, Guangxi’s Zhuangs, Inner Mongolia’s Mongols, and Ningxia’s Huis.  They have their own local governments like the other provinces do, but they theoretically have more legislative power.  On the scale of China to not-China, these are pretty China; they’re just the parts of China that are most often closed to foreigners . . .

There are also Subautonomous Regions, which I only mention because Yanji is the capital of one.  These are like the above mentioned, only less important.  Yanji is the capital of the Yanbian Subautonomous Region, which has a high proportion of Koreans. 

Lastly, there are 5 Special Economic Zones (SEZ): Shantou, Shenzhen, Zhuhai, Hainan, and my island, Xiamen!  They are all coastal locations that have been opened up to foreign investment to a much greater degree than the rest of China.  Basically, things are possible in these cities that are not possible in the rest of China. 

I hope that was both interesting and educational.  Perhaps slightly bewildering also, as that is how I often feel about it all.  Although, to be fair, I think the US also has regions that are “kind of America” in the same ways – Native American reservations, Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, etc.  I sure as heck don’t understand those things, so maybe it’s not so surprising that I find China’s geopolitical situation a trifle confusing.

To finish this post up, I have two interesting encounters with local people to relate:

ONE: Yesterday as I was wandering around trying to find the place to buy my tickets, I asked an old woman for directions.  She waved her hand in front of her face in the universal negative sign and said “我听不懂普通话”- “I don’t understand Mandarin”.  That was my first time trying to talk to someone that only spoke the local dialect and not the national language!  I felt a little bit happy, actually, as I walked away, because for once the lack of communication was not due to my inadequate Mandarin.

TWO:  On the way back to campus after lunch today, I stopped in a street market to buy more of my 2-kuai bracelets.  As I was paying, I realized that the two women behind the table were discussing whether or not I was a 外国人 (foreigner).  I usually make people guess where I’m from, just for funsies, and they guessed that I was from Xinjiang!  Carlos, my Spanish friend, has also been told this, so there must be something about Hispanics that make us resemble the Turkic Muslims of China.  Who knew?? 

祝你裙子星期快乐!(Happy Skirt Week!)

In Uncategorized on September 28, 2009 at 12:52 am

I’m not a fan of 8 a.m. class on a Sunday, just for the record. I had the hardest time staying awake and, upon returning to my room, immediately passed out for about two hours.

This afternoon I went out on a massive adventure. Goal: buy tickets to Taiwan. I got on the same bus as yesterday and managed to stay awake this time, but I still missed the bus stop I wanted (the last one on the island) and ended up going to the mainland again.


I made it back, got off near where I thought the ferry was, and started walking. I found the DongDu MaTou, where I was told to go, but I seemed to be the only thing to pass through those gates under 20 tons. The guards told me to go to TongYi MaTou, but once I arrived there I was told that I was looking for DongDu. It was a lot like being given the runaround at XiaDa, only the two locations were a 15-minute walk apart, not in the next building over and up a flight of stairs. Over a half hour later, and after asking a dozen people for the “buy-boat-tickets-to-Jinmen-place”, I finally gave up. I called a taxi and got the agency on the phone – easiest way to get around in a foreign language.

Anyway, I bought my tickets. I leave Wednesday morning and will be back a week and a half later on Saturday afternoon.

By then it was almost time to meet my travel group for dinner. I had a little time to peruse the street vendors by XiMen, in the process finding a TV show based on 10 Things I Hate About You. The correlation is a little iffy, but it’s pretty enjoyable so far.

After dinner, I met Leinira at ZhongShanLu for some shopping. I bought some leggings, a couple dresses, and a wonderful new t-shirt:


Also, I shouldn’t forget to mention that today is the first day of Skirt Week! This is the 10th SemiAnnual Skirt Week, and it has been global for a couple of years now. Kind of a big deal . . . It’s still Sunday where you are, so it’s not too late to start!!


One last thought from today:

I saw a clown on a bike today. No, I don’t mean a silly-looking guy on a bike – I mean a CLOWN. He was wearing a bright, multi-colored wig, bright polka-dotted clothing, and white face paint with a comical expression. I wonder if that’s what I look like to Chinese people . . . It would explain the staring!

Happy Month-iversary!

In Uncategorized on September 27, 2009 at 12:00 am

I had lunch and an interesting conversation with Carlos (from Spain) today.  We talked a lot about America – race and affirmative action, immigration and illegal immigration, economics and the prices of housing, and our constitutions.  Apparently the Spanish Constitution (from the late 70’s) states housing as a right, which seems a little weird to me.  Our constitution seems more abstract than physical – for example, it protects the right to bear arms but does not consider owning a gun to be a right.  The American constitution is the oldest and shortest still in use, and Carlos asked if it was about time for a new one.  I don’t think so!  I like our constitution . . . I like that it is relatively timeless, and is supplemented by laws and the interpretation of the Supreme Court to be more relevant to current issues.  Anyways, I think the entire nation would come to a dead halt for a decade if we tried to write a new constitution . . .

In the afternoon, I headed out for the International Ferry Quay to buy my tickets to Taiwan (since the ones I had bought were canceled for some reason).  I was kind of tired, though, and kept dozing off on the bus ride.  Each time I woke up, I tried to figure out where we were, but although I’m quite familiar with the XiaDa-ZhongShanLu part of the island, we were far north of my usual stomping grounds.  I didn’t figure it out until we were on a bridge that seemed suspiciously large for such a small island.  It was . . . because it was headed to the mainland.

By this point I was way too late to buy my tickets, and had to just get on a bus and head back to ZhongShanLu for Mass.  I wasn’t late, though!  In fact, I arrived early enough to catch the tail end of a Rosary before Mass.  I felt a lot more comfortable with Chinese Mass this week.  I think part of it was that it was my third time going (second with a copy of the words), but part of it was definitely my session with the Deacon this week.  I understood more of what I said instead of just reading the pinyin in front of me.  I managed to catch a few words in the prayers, homily, and announcements besides “Jesus” and pronouns – some of my new words were ‘glory’ (光荣) and ‘grace’ (圣宠), which were very helpful.   I was even able to respond a few times without having to read (也与你的心灵同在, or “And also with you”)!

I almost forgot to mention this – we lost power for a few minutes during the Gloria.  I was really struck by the lack of reaction this elicited, and wondered how often it happens.  I didn’t mind at all, although I couldn’t read along anymore; I have some very good memories of unplugged Masses – ice storms at TU, for instance.

After Mass, some people that I met last week asked me if I had eaten yet, which I hadn’t.  We went to dinner together, and they took me to a nice restaurant.  (It was the nicest place I’ve been to yet, but that doesn’t really say much as I usually eat for $1.50 or so.)  Carmen, John, and Peter are all Cantonese-Canadian expats and they’ve been really welcoming to me.  It turns out that Carmen and John are going to be in Taibei next week as well, so I’m going to join them for Mass at the church they went to when they lived there.

The only downside to this unexpected dinner date was that I missed dancing.  It’s going to be 2 weeks before I can go again – how will I survive?!?

Anyway, today is my one-month anniversary here in Xiamen.  Today’s adventure to the mainland made me realize that I have lived the last month not only on an island, but I have not traveled further than 5 miles from where I live!  What a month!

I’ve been doing some thinking over the last few days, evaluating my first month here.  While this isn’t the longest I’ve been in China yet (last summer was 60 days), this time is different because it marks about one-tenth of the total duration, instead of half.  This year has the additional challenge of transitioning from the excitement of life in a new place to the reality of living there for an entire year (or 11 months, but still).

I think balance is a really big issue in this – for instance, when deciding what to eat every day.  I have some favorite foods here and know where to get them, but each time I go to eat I have to decide whether to try something new, which is hit-or-miss, or just eat an old favorite.  This also goes for free time – do I explore something new or go someplace I’ve been before?

So here are the highlights of this month:

  • Best New Friend: Leinira – she is truly wonderful.
  • Favorite Thing to Do: Dancing – you probably all knew that was coming :)
  • Best purchase: My residence permit?
  • Best Discovery: Magnum bars!
  • Favorite Food: 西红柿炒蛋 (tomato and egg)
  • Best Story: the mercury spill, I think
  • Biggest Victory: registering!!
  • Most Useful New Word: 奖学金 (scholarship)

Well it’s a Saturday night, and you know what that means . . . homework.  Because I have class on Sunday.

Thank Goodness It’s the [One-Day] Weekend!

In Uncategorized on September 26, 2009 at 2:38 am

After class finished this morning at 11:30, it was officially the weekend!  Unfortunately, it’s the shortest weekend I’ve ever had – just one day.  It’s just funny because my work load at TU as an engineering student was absolutely ridiculous to the amount of class and homework that I have here, and sometimes it felt like I had no weekend, but at least I always had two days of no class.  

I’m looking forward to the weekend, but I must confess that I’m pretty frustrated right now.  I feel like I’m wasting a lot of time on the internet – not doing the things that I want to do, but trying to do the things I want to do.  After trying several options – websites that reroute individual sites, downloaded programs, VPNs, etc. – I thought I had finally found a solution a few days ago.  A friend told me about a site and, after registering, I was immediately able to get on WordPress, Facebook, and the Onion.  Things were great for two days or so, but now I can no longer sign on.  Also, my Skype account was hacked – the password was changed without my knowledge and I have very little hope of getting it back.  I can’t be sure, but I certainly suspect that one of these proxies was not as secure as it should have been. 

Then yesterday I figured out how to use the TU VPN, which should theoretically let me access the internet as if I were at Tulsa.  I was able to get to my journal perfectly and even managed to watch the first episode of The Office, Season 6.  Today, it’s not working and even some sites that I used to be able to access aren’t available.  So yeah, I’m frustrated.  Not only can I not do the things that I want to, but I’m also starting to get concerned about my security online.  I finally decided to pay for a VPN service – $60 for the whole year – and am tentatively pleased with it . . .

After that frustrating afternoon, I went in search of a library.  It was a good expedition from the start, as I ran into both a friend from English Corner whose phone number I never got, and to Jerry, my 小朋友 (little friend, one of the kids I’m ‘tutoring’).  I got on a new bus, #15, and headed north.  The library was much further than I thought, in a totally different part of town than I’d been in.  It seemed more residential and corporate . . . I don’t know if those words mean what I want them to mean, but it seemed to consist largely of huge apartment towers and big office buildings, with much less of the sketchy-but-sometimes-delicious restaurants every few feet.

Following the sound of music and the sight of a ton of people wearing the same thing, I came upon a taijichuan rehearsal.  Every city in China is going to have a huge National Day celebration, and I had discovered the rehearsal! 

DSCN4934 They had grandmas doing taiji and little kids doing martial arts.  It was quite the community event, and while I was the only foreigner watching, I was by no means alone.  It definitely made me a little bit sad that I’m going to miss China’s celebration, but frankly not quite enough to make me want to spend my longest break of the school year in Xiamen. 

I’m glad that there was something going on in the area because it was quite a long bus ride and the library is – you guessed it – closed only on Friday afternoons.

The bus ride back was notable because I saw my first traffic accident in China!  It took place right in the middle of an intersection, stopping traffic in all four directions for about 15 minutes.  It took about that long for the police to arrive, too.  I wish I had some pictures of the ridiculous positions that some cars got themselves into, but if you would like to see for yourself, I suggest this video

Leinira and I went back to The Key tonight, and checked out a nearby club as well.  Here’s what I learned tonight: Crocs are perfectly acceptable clubbin’ wear, and chicken feet must go well with alcohol and dancing.  Who knew??

Go Back to Your Fiery Lair, O Evil One

In Uncategorized on September 25, 2009 at 12:37 am

TingLi (listening) class is the bane of my existence. I’m becoming convinced that we had a different teacher for the first week because this teacher was in her lair in the Underworld becoming more evil.

This is probably a slight exaggeration. I hate the class for more reasons than just her. The uncomfortable stools that are too low and have no backs, for instance, or the headphones that are clearly made for Chinese-sized heads and don’t adjust at all. There are also the playback machines, which are fixed in place in a way that seems to be optimized for limiting the usable surface of the desk.

But really, a lot of it is her. These things didn’t bother me nearly as much when we had Ma 老师. But this teacher . . . I hate the way she prefaces each class with a lecture in high-speed Chinese about how important 听力 is and how twice a week isn’t enough. I hate the harsh sound of her voice, and the disapproving sucking-in sound that she makes is even worse. I hate how, when she writes a word on the board that many people got wrong, she always asks “学了吗?学了吧!” (basically, “Have you studied it? You’ve studied it!”). In fact, she is the reason for my automatic resentment of all uses of the particle 吧, which indicates a suggestion or presumption of correctness (as in “Let’s go” or “. . . right?”). I hate the structure of the class since she started teaching it – an hour and a half straight with no breaks, listening to about 10 sentences over and over ad nauseum and maybe even beyond. I hate how she hovers over us as we write, waiting to swoop down with her pencil and mark the one single character that we got wrong.

As if all of this weren’t enough, she had to go one step further in pissing me off today. After an entire class period of getting on our case about tones and how important they are, she tells us to write down what she says: “chun jie”. Now, chūn jié is the Spring Festival, which is a big deal here in China. It’s a big enough deal that I even know the correct tones off the top of my head. It kind of sounds like she’s saying two second tones instead of a first and a second, but I write it down as I know it anyway. She makes a round of us students, contentedly telling us that we’re all wrong, and then reveals what she was actually saying: chún jié. This is a word that none of us know (turns out it means “pure”), but that doesn’t matter. She was convinced that she proved to us the importance of tones, but she actually just reinforced to me the importance of context. And gave me further proof of her evilness . . . as if I needed it.

The evening started improving as soon as I got out of that classroom, as I met my Taiwan group for dinner. We’re a bit larger than we were a few days ago, with the addition of Aleid from Holland and Keiko from Japan. Also, in accordance with the Law of Entropy, our plans are less coordinated than they were a few days ago. Aleid bought her tickets without consulting us, so she’s leaving for Kinmen a day early and getting to Taibei a day later than us. On the other end, Diederik is leaving Taiwan a day earlier than the rest of us. And, after I successfully bought my ticket this afternoon, that flight filled up. Finally, Kinmen doesn’t have a Catholic church, so I’ll have to come back to Xiamen earlier than the others to make it to Mass. This is all pretty much what we should have expected, planning things in China. We’re “adventuring towards Taiwan”.

After dinner, a few of us went over to check out the first Chinese Corner of the year. There were a ridiculous number of people there, and, to my surprise, plenty of Chinese. I made a few new Chinese friends and got some good Chinese practice in, so I’m glad I went. One of the most memorable parts of the conversation was when they were trying to talk to be about an American actress who had black skin, big lips, and a famous husband. The answer? Angelina Jolie. I also found need to memorize how to say Timberwolves (森林狼) and Kevin Garnett (凯文·加内特) in Chinese because that’s the #1 reason why they have heard of my state.

I was a little bit tired, but decided to extend my enjoyment of the beautiful evening a little longer by exploring the tunnel. Just to the north of where I live is a large forest on a hill/mountain. XiaDa has some dorms on the other side, so they built a tunnel right through it.


I went through it on a motorcycle after meeting the families that I’m tutoring for, and saw that there was a lot of interesting graffiti, and I’ve been wanting to go back ever since. It was so worth the walk.







The graffiti is only at the two ends, so I was going to turn back after capturing the paintings on the near end. But my picture-taking was quite the spectacle and had attracted a few Chinese students, who started to walk with me. I didn’t want to turn back, so I went all the way to the other end with them. According to Google Earth, the tunnel is about 0.6 miles long, so it was a pretty good walk. I think it was all worth it, though, both for the conversation with some of the rare Chinese people who actually approached me, and for the murals dedicated to the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan.





Dancing With Old (and Older) Chinese Men

In Uncategorized on September 24, 2009 at 12:21 am

Today’s been a pretty normal day. I had class this morning and spent two hours this afternoon trying to buy our tickets to Taiwan. It turned out that the site we found last night only sold paper tickets for some reason, and they could only be mailed to the US or Canada . . . so, I’m hoping that works out before too long.

In addition to figuring out what we’re going to be doing in Taiwan, I’m also trying to understand what’s going to be going on at XiaDa these next two weeks. As I mentioned, October 1st is the anniversary of the founding of the PRC, which is kind of a big deal in the PRC. They give everyone a week off, but that comes with some major conditions. They’re actually giving us 6 weekdays off, BUT we have to come in for two days on the weekend. So this week is normal M-F, but next week is Sunday to Wednesday, followed by a vacation from Thursday to Thursday. There are two random days of class on Friday and Saturday, which I plan on skipping, and then the normal schedule resumes on Monday, October 12th. This is such a foreign idea to me . . . Weekends are so special in America, I could never imagine having class!

It causes some really interesting issues. For instance, I will be having the first 1-day weekend of my life (at least from school). We want to go back to The Key, which means we have to go Friday night. I also HAVE to go to Chinese Mass on Saturday night this week, because I will be in class on Sunday morning.

Leinira is a graduate student in Biochemistry and spends all her time in the lab. I mean "all her time" almost literally, as she is there from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m., Monday through Saturday. As if this weren’t enough, she only gets three days off for this upcoming vacation. But as willing as Chinese students and professors are to give up their weekends and vacations, they can’t live without their 休息 (rest). She gets a several-hour lunch break every day, more than enough time to eat and take the almost-mandatory after-lunch nap.

This evening I went dancing again. There were a lot of people, and I danced with some men who hadn’t been there before. One of them was an old, white-haired man, and he was tiny – he didn’t even reach my shoulder. It had a little bit of a hard time dancing with him because he couldn’t raise his arm high enough for me to realize I was supposed to spin underneath. (I commented on this later to Karolina, but it’s quite hard talking about the dancers because we don’t know many of their names. Karolina tries to refer to them as "the older man" and things like that, but that’s about as effective as saying "the Chinese woman". We do, however, have "Karolina’s teacher", "Maria’s Teacher", "Short Skirt Lady", "Bus Lady", "Woman Who Always Dances With Other Women", "The Professional", "The Professor", "The Man With the Amazing Hands", "The Cranky One", and our favorite – "The Couple", which includes "Military Man" and "Shoe Lady".)

In addition to dancing, I also enjoy the walk back with Karolina. Today we talked about how we’re looking forward to the dancing class that is supposedly starting after the break. It’s put on my the student dancing association and we’re assuming some Chinese boys will be participating, which is sure to be delightfully awkward. It’s also a good opportunity for us to vent about how we 还没有 (still don’t have) our e-cards and update each other on the lengths we’ve gone to get them.

I think I’m going to share a few more Chinese words with you tonight before going to bed. These are a little bit more random than last time, but these are words that I think make more sense in Chinese:

  • Computer is actually just one I forgot to include last time. Literally – "electric brain" (电脑). Kind of creepy, but I like it.
  • A traffic light is a "red green light" (红绿灯) because in China they don’t have yellow lights.
  • Air conditioning is "air adjustment" (空调). If you think about it, the English is almost the same, but in America it is basically synonymous with cooling, whereas here, as far as I can tell, it refers to any kind of adjustment – both heating and cooling.
  • A cabin is a "small wood house" (小木屋), which is very easy to remember.
  • Civil engineering is "dirt and wood engineering" (土木工程). Hahaha. But mechanical engineering is "machine tool engineering", and petroleum is “rock oil engineering".
  • Kindergarten was obviously translated literally from the German, to "small child park" (幼儿园). It’s just funny because we just left the word in German, so I never really thought about it much until I learned the Chinese word.
  • A pharmacy is a "medicine store" (药店) which just makes me feel sorry for all those foreigners who have to learn such a hard word like ‘pharmacy’.
  • A highway is a "high speed public road" (高速公路) which I think pretty much sums that up. The English seems a little misleading by comparison, as not all highways are raised.

Ah, the simple pleasure of understanding Chinese for once.

Are You A Mechanical Engineering Student?

In Uncategorized on September 23, 2009 at 12:31 am

Today I decided to make a friend.  I went out in search of the engineering building, which turned out to be about as close to my dorm here as Keplinger Hall is to my apartment at TU.  Figures.  I went in and wandered around for a little while, soaking in the decor (which makes KEP seem extremely aesthetically appealing).  Finally the guard, who was quite conspicuously following me, asked me what I was looking for.  I said I was looking for a Chinese engineering student to study Chinese and English with.  I was whisked into a room where I happened to meet a junior ME student who was excited to hear my request.  I may have mentioned that several Chinese men have been creepy to me here, but I was really impressed with this guy.  He actually called a friend because he thought that she would be better for me to work with, walked me over to meet her, and offered to walk me back to my dorm.  All without being creepy in the slightest – someone give China a point!  Anyway, Chinese college students don’t seem to have much sense of a weekend, so we’re meeting on Friday evenings and Sunday afternoons. 

It wasn’t hot enough to kill today, so I bought a lime-honey drink and sat in front of the KFC reviewing vocab until I met up with a friend, Eunjeong, for lunch.  She brought a Chinese friend, who took us to a "New York Fusion Food" Restaurant, where we had pineapple rice and curry.  Definitely reminded me of New York . . . not.  I was really impressed with the restaurant, mainly because it was so clean-looking that it warranted comment from all of us, until we saw roaches scurrying up and down the walls. 

This friend asked me about the differences between Chinese and American people.  I took the opportunity first to tell her that Americans don’t like to talk about money, age, or weight – the #1 cultural point that I think should be taught in English classes.  I also told her that female Chinese students dress up way more than Americans, which was the perfect segue into telling her about Skirt Week (裙子星期)!  According to facebook, 76 people will be attending, but based on my observations here I’m going to go ahead and count 1/4 of the population of China as participants.  This means, if my calculations are correct, this year’s event is going to be slightly bigger than we’ve ever had before. 

We also talked a little bit about American music, movies, and TV shows.  She told me that Desperate Housewives and Sex and the City are the most famous TV shows in China, which made me kind of sad.  She said that Lie to Me and Big Bang Theory are also really popular, which surprised me.  I’ve barely even heard of them.  I don’t want much TV, but are they big in America?

After class this afternoon, I went to put some more money on my phone.  As I walked over to the conveniently-located China Mobile store to use their convenient automated machines, I was thinking to myself how convenient it all was.  In theory at least . . . I managed to put money on but was told that it is impossible to see a detailed account statement until the month is over, which is up there with the stupid things phone companies do in America.  This discovery came only after 15 minutes of dealing with instructions entirely in Chinese and the least helpful employee ever, who at one point walked away from me while I was asking a question.  Argh.

I joined a few friends for dinner and we started planning our trip for the upcoming National Day holiday.  October 1st is the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, and in celebration, I am going to Taiwan.  Haha!  I’m going with Carlos from Spain, Alice from Austria, and Diedrick from Holland.  I’m really excited for our trip!


In Uncategorized on September 21, 2009 at 11:59 pm

Class was pretty hard to get through this morning, but I managed to stay mostly awake until that most beloved of all Chinese customs, the noon nap. In the afternoon, I set out with a small list of things to get done on campus, but now that I think about it, not one of them was 做完了 (done successfully). I went to the office in the Tall Building were supposedly all my problems would be solved, but – shockingly – I was told that they would all be done in the indefinite future. I’ve been here almost a month and still don’t have my student e-card . . .

The good news is that I ran into a Korean friend in the office and we went to Coffee Lake afterwards to get something to drink. I hadn’t seen her in a while and it was good to have an actually interesting conversation with someone in Chinese, our common language. The only negative part of it all was our drink choice – we both got "mint smoothies", which was most certainly a bad idea in hindsight. It basically tasted like drinking the water someone else had just gargled with. Okay, maybe not that bad, but it wasn’t pleasant.

Leinira and I met for dinner in Furong CanTing again, and I happened to run into an American friend there. It was her first time so we showed her around the wonders of the 3rd floor of Furong and then ate together. She was really impressed with my roommate and probably a little bit jealous, and I was reminded again (not that I’ve forgotten) how lucky I am and always have been with roommates.

I had fried ?子(dumplings) on a fried egg which, as a combination of my two favorite foods (egg and jiaozi), is now my new favorite food. 6 yuan – I highly recommend it.

It was just nice to run into friends on campus, because it’s such a rare occurrence here. I have fewer friends to start with and in a larger student body and on a larger campus, the proportion gets even smaller. Today was a good day, though.

All day, I was looking forward to tonight, which was my first meeting with Deacon Joseph (or, in Chinese, 赵执事). I met him in the downstairs of the Xiamen church, which is kind of a parish hall. We talked for a few minutes and then started going over the Order of the Mass in Chinese. We went word-by-word and character-by-character so I could understand the translation. After making it through two pages (through the Gloria), I asked him what he wanted my help with. I think he’s going to bring some of his writing for me to read and correct, and we’re going to read the Gospel together and discuss it. This is all exactly what I was hoping for, so I’m really happy! The only unfortunate thing is that he’s going somewhere next week and then it’s the darn October break, so we won’t be meeting again for a couple of weeks. Meanwhile, I have a lot to work on . . . the Sign of the Cross (which is the title of this post), "And also with you", the Confiteor, etc.

On the way home, I listened to a podcast that was talking about the Church in China. I can’t say that I really have a lot to say on the issue yet, surprisingly. I feel like a little kid here in China – not only because of the way I speak, but because of all the subtleties that are constantly eluding me. I just googled "Xiamen Catholic", showed up to Mass, and went from there, but I don’t really know anything beyond the schedule of services and the canon law regarding the validity of their sacraments. I saw a sign for an international Christian fellowship on the stairs the other day and, in addition to prohibiting Chinese nationals from attending, it says that "according to government regulation, newcomers must bring their passports and register". I haven’t done that at my church, though, and no one has told me to, so . . . I don’t know. I did notice a PSB (Public Security Bureau) truck parked outside the church on Saturday, but there was no imposing presence.

Anyway, I’m hoping to learn more about the Church here through my studies with Deacon Joseph and increased language skills, so stay tuned for updates.